The early Soviet system of 1917

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appledoze
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Nov 18 2009 01:25
The early Soviet system of 1917

Although I'm definitely not a Leninist, I did admire the way the very early stages of Soviet Russia was governed by workers' councils that elected delegates directly from the ranks of the people through local and national levels. These councils didn't even necessarily have to be governed entirely by the Bolshevik party, many of these councils had multiple parties, and some had no parties in it at all. It was an interesting but flawed prototype of the modern concept of bottom-up workers' democracy as advocated by councilists such as myself. I was trying to see if I could find a chart of some sort of the early structure of the Soviet government, but I haven't found anything yet.

Cleishbotham
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Nov 20 2009 22:55

I think this is one of the most fundamental questions we need to look at but you will find (I think, and I have been studying this question for 35 years) that the idea of a diagram or chart to sum up where soviet power worked and where it didn't would be well nigh impossible. Tthe main reason for this is that we are looking at something that was vibrant, transitory and moving all the time. For example, initial representative quotas which favoured officers in the soldiers' soviet were eventually overturned in the course of 1917 and the periodicity of the calling of new elections kept shifting. Contrary to some councilists and all anarchists the council movement actually spread after October 1917 (and the Bolsheviks consciously spread it) but the civil war led to a major reversal and a weakening of soviets (which though continued, along with factory committees, to have (an increasingly stunted life) into 1922. The best bet is to look at the tradition of historical writing of those who look at the revolution from below (but then I suspect you have already read some of this) like Mary Mcauley. I have yet to read a detailed study of the mechanics of voting, recall and delegation etc which would offer us a deeper insight into the problems of building a real workers society. Now we have access to the archives perhaps some Russian-reading scholar will come up with such a study but it likely won't be from a normal academic as it is not a great career move just now. I sincerely hope someone contradicts me...

Anarcho
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Nov 26 2009 16:11
Cleishbotham wrote:
Contrary to some councilists and all anarchists the council movement actually spread after October 1917 (and the Bolsheviks consciously spread it) but the civil war led to a major reversal and a weakening of soviets (which though continued, along with factory committees, to have (an increasingly stunted life) into 1922.

The Bolsheviks had started to gerrymander and disband soviets before the start of the civil war. They did so because they were starting to lose elections and, to hold onto power, they simply destroyed the soviets as independent working class organs. This reached its peak with the gerrymandering the Fifth All-Russian Congress to deny the Left-SRs their rightful majority.

In a nutshell, to blame the civil war on Bolshevik policy and the "weakening" of the soviets cannot be supported given the evidence. See:

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/review-the-bolsheviks-in-power

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/how-the-revolution-was-lost

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH6.html

ernie
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Nov 26 2009 18:47

I agree with Cleishbotham general outline of how to approach this. There is an interesting book on the soviets, funnily enough called the The Soviets, (I cannot remember the author) which makes an interesting investigation of their nature, running etc. Martin McCauley's The Russian Revolution and the Soviet State 1917-1921 is an interesting selection of source documents. There is also a very interesting two volume book called Bolshevik Dreams (again I cannot remember the authors name) about the social experiments that took place in the early years of the revolution. It has sections on the law and justice, education, etc all really eye opening stuff. Most importantly it brings out the huge explosion of social creativity that took place. For example, the explicit rejection of the idea of revenge being the main motivation for trying to deal with crime.
Anyway good luck with your reading, and a small plug for our book The Russian Communist Left, which whilst not a descriptive history of the soviets does go into the theoretical ferment that took place at the time around the question of the soviets, role of the party, etc. The introduction gives an excellent overview of all the main issues raised by the communist left in Russia.

ernie
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Nov 26 2009 18:51

Anarcho, fully agree with you that to blame the civil war on Bolshevik policy cannot be supported by the evidence, and I think that Cleishbotham would agree on that!

ernie
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Nov 26 2009 19:06

appledoze, you may find Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia: ideology and industrial organisation 1917-1921, Thomas Remington, useful. It deals with the workers councils and the running of the economy. Very interesting on the difficulties that workers confronted through the experience of trying to organise the economy. Obviously, there is a lot on the discussion amongst the Bolsheviks on these problems but it gives a good idea of the efforts that took place.

posi
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Nov 26 2009 20:34
Anarcho wrote:
In a nutshell, to blame the civil war on Bolshevik policy and the "weakening" of the soviets cannot be supported given the evidence.

Did you mean to say that? No one blames the civil war on Bolshevik policy... didn't you mean to say that the weakening of the soviets cannot be blamed on the civil war alone, rather that blame must be laid at the door of Bolshevik policy?

Anarcho
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Nov 27 2009 09:32
posi wrote:
Anarcho wrote:
In a nutshell, to blame the civil war on Bolshevik policy and the "weakening" of the soviets cannot be supported given the evidence.

Did you mean to say that? No one blames the civil war on Bolshevik policy... didn't you mean to say that the weakening of the soviets cannot be blamed on the civil war alone, rather that blame must be laid at the door of Bolshevik policy?

Yes, I meant to say that you cannot blame the civil war FOR Bolshevik policy. The policies pursued in the civil war started before it. Soviets where being side-lined by the party from the start, one-man management was raised in April 1918, soviets were being gerrymandered and disbanded by force long before May 1918. The fixing of the Fifth All-Russian congress in July 1918 was just the climax of a long process of securing Bolshevik power rather than soviet power.

As well as the links I provided above, I would recommend Silvana Malle's The Economic Organisation of War Communism, 1918-1921 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985) on Bolshevik economic ideology -- and how it made a bad situation worse.

There has been a lot of new research done on this period, which I have summarised in H.6 Why did the Russian Revolution fail? of An Anarchist FAQ -- including workers resistance to the so-called workers' state during and after the civil war period.

Cleishbotham
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Nov 27 2009 17:06

Anarcho writes that "Soviets were being sidelined by the party from the start". This is typical of his assertive (and often with the vaguest of time frames) but unproductive method. The start? When was it? 1917, when the Bolsheviks were the only party to constantly advocate Soviet power? His review of Rabinowitch (which is the first of his tags) is amusing. After solemnly relaying every anti-Bolshevik comment he finds useful in Rabinowitch's latest book he then laments that Rabinowitch used to write about the anarchist contribution in his earlier work (The Bolsheviks Come to Power) but now doesn't. If he was not blinded by his rabid anti-Bolshevism he would see that Rabinowitch, like so many academics of his generation, has CHANGED SIDES (he is now squarely on the side of capitalist democracy) so ALL revolutionaries and the revolutionary experience are to be ignored or condemned. His basic premise is that the Bolsheviks should have gone into coalition with anti-soviet social democrats and that would have led us back to some kind of parliamentary system. A better review of Rabionwitch is here

http://www.ibrp.org/en/articles/2008-03-01/the-first-years-of-soviet-rule-in-petrograd

Anarcho's approach (dig up all the negative facts about the early days of proletarian power and throw them into the vitriol of his bias) is ultimately sterile. There were many reasons why the Russian Revolution failed and the lingering social democratic conceptions of the Bolsheviks do explain the how of that decline (and there were plenty of problems from day one - such as the bourgeois idea of having a cabinet (coyly christened Sovnarkom [Council of Peoples' Commissars] by the politically astute Trotsky to make it sound revolutionary) when in actual fact it was the first step in building the party state. Few realised it at the time (but some Bolsheviks like Ossinsky later did) but for every criticism we make today there was a faction in Russia (and usually Bolshevik) which articulated it in the heat of history. This is sometimes quite humbling in the face of the desperate situation the Russian proletariat was in. Obviously when the working class comes to power in any area it lives by the seat of its pants and only then it learns what it really has to confront. This means that the experience will have inevitably negative developments but no-one planned these or had a programme to deal with them. And in the end even if the Bolshevik Communist Left (as referred to by Ernie above) had been successful in winning over the party, defeat would have come but in a different way (or you could put it another way the best Bolsheviks were gradually sidelined because all revolutionary options were disappearing off the agenda in the horror of the civil war and the isolation of the Russian working class). Perhap this is of no interest to Anarcho as he presumably dismisses the whole experience but for those of us who understand that no proletarian revolution is perfect but we want to make it as near as such in the future then a serious examanination of everything that went on in the post 1917 period is important.

ernie
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Nov 29 2009 01:30

Fully agree with your post Cleishbotham, an excellent defense of the revolution and Bolsheviks.
On the question of what would have happened if the Left Communists had won over the party, yes there would still have been a defeat if the international revolution had failed. However, I think Miasnikov raised the question of the need to think about how would the party respond to such a defeat: what would the party do knowing there had been a defeat. It would have to call for a retreat.

Hungry56
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Nov 29 2009 11:56
Quote:
There is also a very interesting two volume book called Bolshevik Dreams (again I cannot remember the authors name) about the social experiments that took place in the early years of the revolution.

Do you mean 'Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution' by Richard Stites? Looks interesting, buying it off Amazon.

Dave B
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Nov 29 2009 17:47
Cleishbotham wrote:
There were many reasons why the Russian Revolution failed and the lingering social democratic conceptions of the Bolsheviks do explain the how of that decline (and there were plenty of problems from day one - such as the bourgeois idea of having a cabinet (coyly christened Sovnarkom [Council of Peoples' Commissars] by the politically astute Trotsky to make it sound revolutionary) when in actual fact it was the first step in building the party state. Few realised it at the time .

Some predicted it before the heat of history;

From the Leninist historian E.H. Carr in chapter 2 volume one, ’The Bolshevik Revolution’ concerning the reaction to Lenins What Is To Be Done.

Quote:
Lenin was now declared guilty of fostering a ’sectarian spirit of exclusiveness’. In an article entitled ‘Centralism or Bonapartism?’ he was accused of ‘confusing the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship over the proletariat’, and practising ‘Bonapartism, if not absolute absolute monarchy in the old pre revolutionary style’. His view of the relation of the professional revolutionary to the masses was not that of Marx, but of Bakunin.

Martov, reverting to the idea which he had propounded at the congress, wrote a pamphlet on ‘The Struggle Against Martial Law In The Russian Social Democratic Workers Party’. Vera Zasulich wrote that Louis XIV idea of the state was Lenins idea of the party. The party printing press, now under Menshevik auspices, published a brilliantly vituperative pamphlet by Trotsky entitled ‘Our Political Tasks’; the present Menshevik affiliations of the author were proclaimed by the dedication..…….Lenins methods were attacked as a ‘dull characture of the tragic intransigence of jacobinism’ and a situation predicted in which , ‘the party is replaced by the organisation of the party, the organisation by the central committee and finally the central committee the dictator’.

The final chapter bore the title ‘The Dictatorship Over The Proleteriat’.

The state repression of the Soviets and all other opposition probably started in earnest around March 1918 after the Bolshevik coup d'état in October as documented for instance in chapter 2 of Jane Burbank’s ‘Intelligentsia and Revolution’ and in Brovkin’s ‘The Mensheviks After October’.

That it was a coup is revealed I think in the following last section of V. I. Lenin THE CRISIS HAS MATURED where all sorts of spurious excuses about cossacks are used to justify seizing power.

Quote:
Everything to this point may be published, but what follows is to be distributed among the members of the Central Committee, the Petrograd Committee, the Moscow Committee, and the Soviets.

VI

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/CHM17.html

Cleishbotham
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Aug 27 2011 09:23

Have a coup theory if you like but you can then enjoy discussing with the liberals. The actual takeover of power as Rabinowitch points out did not come about through Lenin's urgings but from the intolerable situation in which Kernsky tried a preemptive strike to prevent the Bolshevik supporters from dominating the Soviet Congress on the night of 24 Oct (old style) by trying to close the bridges from the Vyborg (i.e working class) side of the Neva but was forestalled by workers' militia. Only then was there a general mobilisation against the Provisional Govennment possible.

All the quotes about Lenin being a Jacobin dictator from the cradle etc (OK 1902-3) etc are ahistorical. If you read Neil Harding's Lenin's Political Thought you will see that Lenin himself goes through very different periods in his thinking usually linked with the rise in class consciousness of the working class. From 1914-18 Lenin was amongst the best elements on the left of Social Democracy. His position on the war, on the soviets and on the revolutionary potential of the working class are his greatest contributions. After the so-called coup it was Lenin who toured factories urging workers to take control on theri own organs and build socialsim "because no-one else can do it for you". This was still the Lenin of the State and Revolution not the Lenin of What is to be Done or Left wing Communism. By 1920 Lenin has moved with the counter-revolution into defending the state as the Bolshevik achievement (and on the international front he is urging non-Bolshevik polices on the communist left as Gorter pointed out to him) and here of course he is en route to being the mouthpiece of counter-revolution (But even in 1922 he realises that the state they have created is a monster which even the communists do not control). The trouble with the Lenin question is that Stalin turned Marxism-Leninism into a state religion and anarchists and councilists only see the counter-revolutionary aspect when in fact the whole issue is much more complex. If the October Revolution was just a Bolshevik coup were the majority of the working class in Russia just fools? The more I have read the more sophisticated I found them (both in support and opposition to the Bolsheviks). What I don't want to do is abandon their achievements because they furnish us with major lessons for the future of our class.

Dave B
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Nov 29 2009 18:44

Incidentally the Bolsheviks were not ‘constant’ supporters of the soviets.

They only agreed with the soviets as long as the soviets agreed with them.

Something that was to have ramifications 12 months later.

V. I. Lenin ON SLOGANS, mid-July 1917

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/OS17.html

And from Joe, at the end;

J. V. Stalin SPEECHES DELIVERED AT AN EMERGENCY CONFERENCE OF THE PETROGRAD ORGANIZATION OF THE R.S.D.L.P. (BOLSHEVIKS)

July 16-20, 1917

Quote:
As Marxists we must say: it is not a matter of institutions, but of the policy of which class the given institution is carrying out. Unquestionably we are in favour of Soviets in which we have the majority. And we shall strive to create such Soviets. But we cannot transfer power to Soviets which have entered into an alliance with the counter-revolutionaries.

What I have said may be summed up as follows: The peaceful path of development of the movement has come to an end, because the movement has entered the path of socialist revolution. The petty bourgeoisie, except for the poorer strata of the peasantry, is now supporting the counter-revolutionaries. Therefore, at the present stage the slogan "All power to the Soviets!" has become obsolete.

http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/SEC17.html

And on the other stuff, yeah lets stick to 1918 then, presumably you and Ernest are OK with this kind of material;

V. I. Lenin THE IMMEDIATE TASKS, OF THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT

March-April 1918

Quote:
There is, therefore, absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is, socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals.

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/IT18.html

And if you think that is out of context please, please read the rest of it.

As to;

Quote:
All the quotes about Lenin being a Jacobin dictator from the cradle etc (OK 1902-3) etc are ahistorical. If you read Neil Harding's Lenin's Political Thought you will see that Lenin himself goes through very different periods in his thinking usually linked with the rise in class consciousness of the working class.

Well back that up rather than making an assertion from another lying member of the bourgeois Leninist intelligentsia.

What the say before they get into power and what they do after is not something peculiar to the Bolsheviks and it was the bolsheviks who thought the workers were stupid.

Dave B
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Nov 29 2009 19:07
Quote:
All the quotes about Lenin being a Jacobin dictator from the cradle etc (OK 1902-3) etc are ahistorical.

Maximilien de Lenin

Can “Jacobinism” Frighten the Working Class?

July 7 (June 24), 1917.

Quote:
Bourgeois historians see Jacobinism as a fall ("to stoop"). Proletarian historians see Jacobinism as one of the highest peaks in the emancipation struggle of an oppressed class. The Jacobins gave France the best models of a democratic revolution and of resistance to a coalition of monarchs against a republic. The Jacobins were not destined to win complete victory, chiefly because eighteenth-century France was surrounded on the continent by much too backward countries, and because France herself lacked the material basis for socialism, there being no banks, no capitalist syndicates, no machine industry and no railways.

“Jacobinism” in Europe or on the boundary line between Europe and Asia in the twentieth century would be the rule of the revolutionary class, of the proletariat, which, supported by the peasant poor and taking advantage of the existing material basis for advancing to socialism, could not only provide all the great, ineradicable, unforgettable things provided by the Jacobins in the eighteenth century, but bring about a lasting world-wide victory for the working people.

It is natural for the bourgeoisie to hate Jacobinism. It is natural for the petty bourgeoisie to dread it. The class-conscious workers and working people generally put their trust in the transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class for that is the essence of Jacobinism, the only way out of the present crisis, and the only remedy for economic dislocation and the war.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jul/07a.htm

Dave B
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Nov 29 2009 19:18

Maximilien de Lenin

The Enemies of the People , June 20 (7), 1917

Quote:
The Jacobins’ example is instructive. It has not become obsolete to this day, except that it must be applied to the revolutionary class of the twentieth century, to the workers and semi-proletarians. To this class, the enemies of the people in the twentieth century are not the monarchs, but the landowners and capitalists as a class.

If the “Jacobins” of the twentieth century, the workers and semi-proletarians, assumed power, they would proclaim enemies of the people the capitalists who are making thou sands of millions in profits from the imperialist war, that is, a war for the division of capitalist spoils and profits.

The “Jacobins” of the twentieth century would not guillotine the capitalists—to follow a good example does not mean copying it. It would be enough to arrest fifty to a hundred financial magnates and bigwigs, the chief knights of embezzlement and of robbery by the banks. It would be enough to arrest them for a few weeks to expose their frauds and show all exploited people "who needs the war". Upon exposing the frauds of the banking barons, we could release them, placing the banks, the capitalist syndicates, and all the contractors “working” for the government under workers’ control.

The Jacobins of 1793 have gone down in history for their great example of a truly revolutionary struggle against the class of the exploiters by the class of the working people and the oppressed who had taken all state power into their own hands.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jun/20b.htm

Cleishbotham
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Nov 29 2009 22:52

Dave

The article "On slogans" is very important and does not show what you think it does (or if it does then you are a Menshevik or worse). The context in which Lenin wrote On Slogans was after the physical smashing of the July Uprising provoked largely by anarchists and some Bolsheviks at Kronstadt which Lenin opposed on the grounds that it was putsch since the working class as a whole was not prepared for it. Publicly he did not dissociate the Bolsheviks from the demonstrations although was furious that the Bolsheviks at Kronstadt had done nothing to stop this premature adventure and when asked to address the demonstration told the demonstrators to have nice day and go home peacefully (which thye found mystifiying). Moving across the river they went into the bourgeois aprt of town and the Provisional Govt had its troopps ready - with the agreement of the EC of the petrograd SOicet which had been elected in Feb-March and its membership never altered. The subsequent massacre of the demonstrators and the outlawing of the Bolsheviks was the context in which Lenin denounced the soviet apparatus. this is why he attacked not the institution but the "these soviets" (i.e the Menshevik -SR majority which no longer represented the working class.This was why in exile Lenin was arguing that the Bolsheviks had to bandon their slogan of "All Power to the Soviets". As it happens this piece of writing did not affect the Bolshevik rank and file (some people forget that Boshevism was not just Lenin) who continued to work at the grassrooots and ultimately won majorities in the soviets after the Kornilovschina.

As to your other pieces of quote mongering they show an admiration for the revolutionary stance of the Jacobins but not jacobinism (which was in nay case grossly overrated in Social democracy throughout the 19th century since the aim of Robespierre was to establish a petty bourgeois republic which was anti-working class hence the attacks on the "bras nus"Jacques Roux and the Hebertistes). As Lenin says in your quote "the Jacobins of the twentieth century don't copy" them.

Now can you construct an argument please?

Dave B
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Nov 29 2009 23:30

Ah so then, construct an argument, well I thought I had with;

Quote:
Incidentally the Bolsheviks were not ‘constant’ supporters of the soviets.
They only agreed with the soviets as long as the soviets agreed with them.
Something that was to have ramifications 12 months later.

It was you who said Lenin’s attachment to Jacobinism was ‘a-historical’, the ‘quote mongering’ that I gave speaks for itself I think.

What is offering up a synopsis of book by a bourgeois intellectual wanker called then?

Incidentally the 1902-3 thing is taking the piss, where do you want me to a-historically leap to?

As to ‘not copying the Jacobins’ that only went so far as not guillotining bankers etc.

I can presume that you and Ernest are in fact OK with the ‘dictatorship of the individual’ then?

I think I will go along with my anarchist friend Chomsky on this kind of thing for the moment, who undoubtedly struggles to ‘construct an argument’ as much as I do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQsceZ9skQI

Cleishbotham
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Nov 30 2009 10:42

Chomsky is an anarchist? Mmm...

Quoting Harding who is a bourgeois intellectual but unlike some a very serious one (and we have criticised him ourselves in a review of his book on "Leninism" - you'd like it because he also does a Rabinowitch and changes sides).

I suspect that you very well know that Ernie and I are not even happy with the dictatorship of the party let alone the individual. Are you suggesting that Lenin had a personal dictatorship 1917-24? Go enjoy Richard Pipes - he's a bourgeois wanker in just your style.

The original theme of this thread was the mechanics of the soviets after 1917 but I pointed out that the mechanics of the soviets in 1917 were not perfect which is why Lenin was criticising "these soviets". The Bolshevik Party as whole did not take up Lenin's call from Finland exile to abandon the slogan "All Power to the Soviets" because they were already aware (as Lenin was not) that the working class was rallying to the defence of the Bolshevik Party against the Provisional Government and its allies on the Soviet executive Committee.

ernie
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Dec 1 2009 16:38

Hungry56

You are correct and thanks for finding the full title etc, I will join you in buying a copy. I found reading them so inspiring :to see what was really being tried rather than the bourgeoisie's usual dismissal. It is also a good reply to those who can only see the revolution through anti-bolshevik specs. To have lived a just a few days through these events must have been like living a whole life time.
Our comrade MC, who was a child during the revolution would say about what he always remembered was the discussion, discussion every where. Someone would stand on the street and start to speak and a crowd would gather and discuss. Discussion on trains everywhere.

ernie
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Dec 1 2009 16:42

Dave B

Quote:
I can presume that you and Ernest are in fact OK with the ‘dictatorship of the individual’ then?

Huh?

ernie
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Dec 1 2009 16:51

What Lenin was illustrating with the use of the Jacobins was that the proletariat had taken over the revolutionary role that the The Jacobins played in the French Revolution. To avoid confusion he is talking about the Jacobins in the collective sense not just Robespierre.
A more detailed analysis of the Jacobin would show that there were different parts to this grouping. But as a general historical example of a revolutionary force/party etc in history it is a good point.
Yes it can be taken as meaning support for individual dictatorship, but only if you totally ignore the context of its use and willingly distort what Lenin was trying to say.

ajjohnstone
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Dec 2 2009 02:36

Perhaps someone can tell me the author of this article on Libcom the Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21

Some extracts:-

Quote:
The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists.
This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was vital to create harmony between Party and masses. But this version of the history of the Russian Revolution contains a double mystification. On the one hand, there was not one type of soviet, but two quite distinct types. The first made its appearance in Russia in 1905, and we find traces of it up to May 1907. These were councils that had arisen spontaneously out of the January-February 1905 strike. We may say that these soviets largely expressed the self-action of the Russian proletariat. Then there were the Russian soviets of 1917, followed by their central European counterparts. In Russia, at least, their emergence was supervised, provoked even, by all those bustling around the revolution in one capacity or another: politicians, trade unionists, journalists, adventurers and demagogues...

...According to a variety of matching accounts, the 1905 soviets arose absolutely spontaneously and were independent of any external 'initiatives'. The popularity of these soviets among the masses derived largely from the absence of political agitators and party representatives in their midst. They expressed the workers' political and economic demands in a situation where trade unions were non-existent and where the parties had little real influence over the masses...The situation was quite different in 1917. Although the February strikes were completely spontaneous (both the Putilov strikes on the 18th and the general strike on the 25th), the councils did not arise directly out of them as they had done twelve years earlier. This time they resulted from the combined efforts of politicians and workers' leaders... the politicians of the Duma Committee and the members of the Workers' Group sitting on the Central Committee for the War Industries (an employers' and State organization), attempted to organize elections in Petrograd for a Central Soviet. The impetus for this came from the latter group, which installed itself in the Tauride Palace on 27 February and set up a provisional executive committee of the council of workers' delegates, to which committee several socialist leaders and members of parliament attached themselves. It was this committee which called upon workers and soldiers to elect their representatives. This explains why, when the first Provisional Soviet met that very evening, it still contained no factory delegates! ...

...the 1917 soviets were neither an entirely spontaneous nor a completely original institution. It would be a mistake to think, however, that they were imposed from above: the idea of a central workers' council was in the air, and was widely favoured by workers and soldiers. What had changed was the way the parties now assessed this institution. Seeing in them a springboard to power, they wooed the councils from all sides, which explains why the intellectuals acquired decisive influence in the Petrograd Soviet and why this Soviet so rapidly lost contact with the masses....

....with Lenin still absent from the scene; Molotov's programme, drawn up on 28 February, did not even mention the soviets. On his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin astonished everyone with his slogan: 'All power to the soviets'. But, from the outset, he had identified the revolution with the seizing of power by his Party. The slogan he was now propagating with such vehemence was of a purely tactical nature. As if additional proof were needed, see the Bolsheviks' sudden volte-face after the events of 3-5 July 1917, organized under their auspices and designed to force the Petrograd Soviet's hand into seizing power. When the latter refused, the Bolsheviks resumed their old hostility to the institution of the soviets, calling them 'puppets, devoid of real power'...

...When the capital's council regained popularity after repulsing Kornilov's attacks, the Bolsheviks returned to their old slogan of 'All power to the soviets', at the end of September. This time, it was for good, especially now that Lenin's partisans had won a majority inside the councils.Power was seized in the name of the latter: the Party gave power to the soviets and thus established its superiority over them. They now served merely to confer legal form on the Party's power.As early as December 1917, Maxim Gorky was able to write in the newspaper Novaia Zizn (no. 195, 7 December 1917) that the revolution was not attributable to the soviets, and that the new republic was not one of councils, but of peoples' commissars. What follows is history: the councils were institutionalized by the July 1918 constitution, which voided them of all content. This was a superfluous precaution insofar as the Bolsheviks already had complete control over them...

... If the councils were still an independent expression of the Russian proletariat in the course of 1917, they only were so partially and ephemerally. Contrary to what happened in 1905, they became the scene of factional and partisan in-fighting: they were fought over partly for their historical prestige and partly for their real leading revolutionary role. The Bolsheviks played their hand masterfully in this struggle. They were unequalled as tacticians, but it would be presumptuous and a perversion of the simple historical truth to try to set them up as the defenders of the soviets if one sees in the latter the expression of the struggling masses....
[my emphasis]

The article then goes on to counterpose the soviets with the factory committees

Quote:
The factory committees (fabzavkomii) (14) emerged in the wake of the January-February 1917 strikes. They mushroomed throughout Russia, taking on the role of workers' representation inside the factory....The role of the committees expanded throughout 1917 as the soviets increasingly lost contact with the mass of workers and stuck to political programmes proclaimed in advance....The Bolsheviks were naturally interested in these revolutionary bodies and conquered them from within more easily and earlier than in the case of the councils, inasmuch as the fabzavkomii were still free of any massive partisan intrusion. But they implanted themselves in the regional (subsequently national) coordinating bodies, which themselves had little influence over the local and factory committees. Thus, at the first conference of the Petrograd factory committees (30 May-5 June 1917), the Bolsheviks already possessed a majority, and the radicality of their slogans competed with those of the revolutionary left. They cunningly called for 'workers' control' in opposition to the Mensheviks and the social revolutionaries, without ever stating very clearly what they meant by it....

....Visibly moved by a desire to conciliate the masses, Lenin introduced workers' control into all enterprises employing more than five workers. While legalizing a defacto situation he provided for the annulment of decisions taken by the fabzavkomy, the 'congresses and the trade unions' and made the workers' delegates answerable to the State for the maintenance of order and discipline within the enterprise. This plan, which already marked a step backwards by comparison with the existing situation in certain factories, was still further watered down before being published in its final form on 14 November 1917. In its definitive version, the decree laid down that factory committees should be subordinate to a local committee on which would sit representatives of the trade unions; the local committees themselves would depend upon a hierarchy crowned by an All-Russian Workers' Control Council. Moreover, as Pankratova notes, this did not imply workers' management such as the anarchists had called for, but the supervision and control of production and prices...Lenin had never made much of a secret of the fact that he saw workers' control as a 'prelude to nationalizations' or that an accountable administration should exist alongside the factory committees....

....the fabzavkomy were heirs to an ancient tradition of delegation, of 'elders' (starosty), in short, of legal or clandestine workers' representation, whereas trade union organizations had been stimulated into life by the parties and were, as a result, battlefields in the struggle for influence between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. At the moment of the conquest of power, the latter found themselves masters of the trade unions, still poorly represented in the factories. The conflict between unions and factory committees is therefore between a largely bureaucratic structure, without any real base, and the direct organs of political and economic struggle of the industrial proletariat.

The rest of the article has much to say about the manouverings and manipulations of workers organisation by the Bolsheviks.

The essence of this debate is simple , did the Bolsheviks desire the working class to control its own destiny or did it simply use the working class as stepping stones to political power and a totally different agenda from one of workers self management ? In retrospect , many early supporters of the Bolsheviks such as Pannekoek re-evaluated the role of them and grew critical . Who said , never judge from what people say but instead judge from what they do ? For me , its clear what judgement should be made on the Bolsheviks and Lenin . There were cross-roads and choices to be made and different roads to travel down .Some will defend the turnings that Lenin took , but where did the destination end up ?

ernie
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Dec 2 2009 10:18

The Bolsheviks central concern was that the working class controlled its own destiny. The problem was that that concerned increasingly came into contradiction with the fact that they had identified the party and state.
Also for the Bolsheviks (as for Left Communist today) they were an expression of the proletariat and thus part of its efforts to control its own destiny. The contradiction between that and being increasingly drawn into defending the state was played out within the party through the struggles between those seeking to defend the proletarian nature of the party and its role in the self-emanicpation of the proletariat and those defending or being pulled into defending the interests of the state over those of the class.
Pannekoek did indeed become increasingly critical of the role of the Bolsheviks, but he ended up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But even before Pannekoek was becoming critical Lenin was seeking to try and address the multiple contradictions the Bolsheviks found themselves in.
I think it is rather black and white to simply concentrate on whether the fate of the revolution was down to the 'nasty' machinations of Lenin and the Bolsheviks (which is the bourgeoisies way of writing off the whole of the revolution). For Marxists it is necessary to look at the wider dynamics as well. Here I would like to suggested the series of articles we did on the question of the Italian Lefts analysis of the period of transition which obviously takes up the question of the role of the Bolsheviks, but in the context of a very profound discussion of the wider problems of the period of transition. You may not agree with what they say on the Bolsheviks but I think the wider analysis will give comrades plenty to think about;
The problems of the period of transition (I)
Problems of the period of transition (2) first part of the articles in Bilan 1936
The problems of the period of transition (III)
Period of transition 4
This is another article from Bilan on the period of transition, whichh deals with the Bolsheviks and the problems they and the rest of the class faced.
These articles are really worth the read, they are fascinating especially given when they were written, and take the discussion of the problems of the revolution way beyond Bolsheviks good or bad

ajjohnstone
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Dec 2 2009 16:22

Ernie writes

Quote:
I think it is rather black and white to simply concentrate on whether the fate of the revolution was down to the 'nasty' machinations of Lenin and the Bolsheviks (which is the bourgeoisies way of writing off the whole of the revolution). For Marxists it is necessary to look at the wider dynamics as well.

Indeed , the SPGB view as expressed repeatedly in the Standard is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism . The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them.In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia , the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital .

For the SPGB the opportunism the Bolsheviks was demonstrated by the abolition of the workers councils and the instructions to its followers in the more advanced capitalist countries to adopt the policy of "revolutionary parliamentarianism" aiming not to smash the state and transfer power to (malleable) workers councils , but to capture state power without recourse to the supposed "universal form" of the soviet Those soviets originally thrown up as products of popular will and democratic intent under Tsarist autocracy proved to be the dispensable means to an end for the Bolsheviks .

The SPGB recognised the unique role of the soviets in the absence of legitimate bourgeois parliamentary government but as a product of backward political conditions they were easily used by the Bolsheviks .

Martov's critique was from a Marxian not a bourgeois one , as is the SPGB'S.

Marx knew from experience that before there could be a Socialist revolution, capitalism must have reached a high stage of development for "no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society" The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the vague aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed.

What would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes?

In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. Hence, let it be remembered, in running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its slave position. Says Marx: "its victory will only be a point in the process of the bourgeois (capitalist) revolution itself, and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794, and will happen again as long as the march, the movement, of history will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie"

The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet .

And for thwe SPGB view on Lenin himself , the article "The Passing of Lenin "
stated :-

Quote:
The first thing Lenin did when in office was to keep his promise. He issued a call for peace to all the belligerents on the basis of’ “no annexations, no indemnities.” This astonished the politicians of the Western Nations to whom election promises are standing jokes.
It was at this point that Lenin made his greatest miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various Governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call, except the snarling demands of the Allies that Russia should continue to send men to be slaughtered. This lack of response was a terrible disappointment to Lenin, but, facing the situation, he opened negotiations for a separate peace with Germany. And here he made a brilliant stroke. To the horror and dismay of all the diplomatic circles in Europe he declared that the negotiations would be carried on in public, and they were.

What then are Lenin’s merits? First in order of time is the fact that he made a clarion call for a world peace. When that failed he concluded a peace for his own country. Upon this first necessary factor he established a Constitution to give him control and, with a skill and judgement unequalled by any European or American statesman, he guided Russia out of its appalling chaos into a position where the services are operating fairly for such an undeveloped country, and where, at least, hunger no longer hangs over the people’s heads. Compare this with the present conditions in Eastern Europe!
Despite his claims at the beginning, he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions. So far was he from “changing the course of history”...it was the course of history which changed him, drove him from one point after another till today Russia stands halfway on the road to capitalism. The Communists, in their ignorance, may howl at this, but Russia cannot escape her destiny.

Cleishbotham
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Dec 2 2009 19:23

We have to thank AJJ. He has returned the discussion to the original question and the account of the origin of the soviets in both 1905 and 1917 by the anonymous libcom text are consistent with what we know of the facts. The problem with it that this account is vitiated with the hindsight school of history which says that the Russian Revolution failed therefore it was something in Bolshevism which caused it and thus we have the fallacy of asserting the historical consequences as the premise for the analysis.

The original soviets grew out of strike committees but they were not without politics as they were initiated by RSDLP (Menshevik) workers. In 1917 the soviets arose out of the Tsarist War Industries committtees (see the CWO Pamphlet 1917 for more on this). However in the course of 1917 they gradually changed, becoming more representative of the workers and rank and file soldiers (rather than as at the beginning officers). This process is a story that really needs investigating more as it is at the heart of the issue. And as we know as they became more representative of the workers they more delegates the Bolsheviks had in them. The Bolsheviks did not have one programme and implemented another (as even the SPGB source recognises). They implemented the April Theses as best they could (the promise of bread became a problem in an economy which had already failed in 1917). The ananymous source (which owes a lot to Oskar Anweiler) is a depressing account becaue if true it implies that the Russian working class led by some ruthless adventurers were easily led up the garden path. But as Mary McAuley and others have shown the Russian working class was a lot more sophisticated than the caricature posed by the Mensheviks. As the SPGB account concedes the Bolsheviks only led the proletarian revolution in October because they believed it the first step on the road to world revolution. The fact that it was not was only answered by history. In 1917 every revolutionary proletarian was hoping that it was. If the Bolsheviks hand the revolutioanry working class had gone down to defeat in 1918 we would still have another episode like the Paris Commune which was rich in positive experiences. As it is virtues of the soviet experiment of 1917-20 are lost in recrimination about how we arrived at Stalinism. We all know that we want to avoid that but we should also not bury what the proletarians of 1917 achieved.

Jason Cortez
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Dec 2 2009 19:30
Quote:
Perhaps someone can tell me the author of this article on Libcom the Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21

If you click on the heading "The Radical Tradition" you will find that is part of 'A Study in Modern Revolutionary Thought' By Richard Gombin (1979)

Anarcho
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Dec 2 2009 23:28
Cleishbotham wrote:
Anarcho writes that "Soviets were being sidelined by the party from the start". This is typical of his assertive (and often with the vaguest of time frames) but unproductive method. The start? When was it?

Ah, yes, my "vaguest of time frames" -- only if you do not read the links I provided! To save time, I linked to various resources (all documented) as evidence of my summary. Clearly I need to just cut-and-paste blocks of text...

Cleishbotham wrote:
His review of Rabinowitch (which is the first of his tags) is amusing. After solemnly relaying every anti-Bolshevik comment he finds useful in Rabinowitch's latest book he then laments that Rabinowitch used to write about the anarchist contribution in his earlier work (The Bolsheviks Come to Power) but now doesn't.

To translate, after summarising Rabinowitch's extensive evidence I wonder why he fails to discuss the anarchists given his earlier books. As an anarchist, I wondered why that was the case as I'm interested in such things. However, the main point of the review was to summarise Rabinowitch's account of what happened in 1917-8 as this is ground-breaking new material.

Cleishbotham wrote:
If he was not blinded by his rabid anti-Bolshevism he would see that Rabinowitch, like so many academics of his generation, has CHANGED SIDES (he is now squarely on the side of capitalist democracy) so ALL revolutionaries and the revolutionary experience are to be ignored or condemned.

Ah, yes, that explains it! He has "CHANGED SIDES" -- by presenting evidence which our comrade does not like... Now, I assume that this conclusion is based, like Rabinowitch, on extensive research in the ex-soviet archives? For some reason I doubt it...

Cleishbotham wrote:
His basic premise is that the Bolsheviks should have gone into coalition with anti-soviet social democrats and that would have led us back to some kind of parliamentary system. A better review of Rabionwitch is here

Better? Well, only if you want to ignore the dynamics of the class struggle in 1917-18 and instead assert, against the evidence, that the Bolsheviks were defeated by objective forces and that their politics played no role...

Cleishbotham wrote:
Anarcho's approach (dig up all the negative facts about the early days of proletarian power and throw them into the vitriol of his bias) is ultimately sterile.

Yes, presenting evidence of the repression of strikes, protests and the gerrymandering of soviets really is "sterile" -- if you do not wish to learn from history....

Cleishbotham wrote:
There were many reasons why the Russian Revolution failed and the lingering social democratic conceptions of the Bolsheviks do explain the how of that decline (and there were plenty of problems from day one - such as the bourgeois idea of having a cabinet (coyly christened Sovnarkom [Council of Peoples' Commissars] by the politically astute Trotsky to make it sound revolutionary) when in actual fact it was the first step in building the party state.

ROTFL! Yes, indeed, that is a point I have made myself. Yes, from day one, Bolshevism replaced workers' power with party power. And acted to maintain it -- as documented in Rabinowitch's book (and elsewhere).

Cleishbotham wrote:
Few realised it at the time (but some Bolsheviks like Ossinsky later did) but for every criticism we make today there was a faction in Russia (and usually Bolshevik) which articulated it in the heat of history.

which Bolshevik faction opposed Party power in 1917?

Cleishbotham wrote:
Obviously when the working class comes to power in any area it lives by the seat of its pants and only then it learns what it really has to confront.

except you just admitted that it was the Sovnarkom which really help power....

Cleishbotham wrote:
or you could put it another way the best Bolsheviks were gradually sidelined because all revolutionary options were disappearing off the agenda in the horror of the civil war and the isolation of the Russian working class

except, of course, the Bolsheviks had started to close off all revolutionary options before the start of the civil war...

Cleishbotham wrote:
Perhap this is of no interest to Anarcho as he presumably dismisses the whole experience but for those of us who understand that no proletarian revolution is perfect but we want to make it as near as such in the future then a serious examanination of everything that went on in the post 1917 period is important.

ROTFL! You are the one dismissing the evidence of this experience because the academic in question reports things you do not like...

Anarcho
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Dec 2 2009 23:36
ernie wrote:
The Bolsheviks central concern was that the working class controlled its own destiny.

someone should have told Lenin: "Bolsheviks must assume power." The Bolsheviks "can and must take state power into their own hands." He raised the question of "will the Bolsheviks dare take over full state power alone?" and answered it: "I have already had occasion . . . to answer this question in the affirmative." Moreover, "a political party . . . would have no right to exist, would be unworthy of the name of party . . . if it refused to take power when opportunity offers." [Collected Works, vol. 26, p. 19 and p. 90] Lenin's "democracy from below" always meant representative government, not popular power or self-management. The role of the working class was that of voters and so the Bolsheviks' first task was "to convince the majority of the people that its programme and tactics are correct." The second task "that confronted our Party was to capture political power." The third task was for "the Bolshevik Party" to "administer Russia," to be the "governing party." [Op. Cit., vol. 27, pp. 241-2] Thus Bolshevik power was equated with working class power.

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH3.html#sech33

Writing in 1907, Lenin argued that "Social-Democratic Party organisations may, in case of necessity, participate in inter-party Soviets of Workers' Delegates . . . and in congresses . . . of these organisations, and may organise such institutions, provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party", that is "utilise" such organs "for the purpose of developing the Social-Democratic movement." Significantly, given the fate of the soviets post-1917, Lenin noted that the party "must bear in mind that if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous." [Collected Works, vol. 12, pp. 143-4]

Bolshevik party's Central Committee: "a purely Bolshevik government" was "impossible to refuse" since "a majority at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets . . . handed power over to this government."

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH3.html#sech311

The aim was always party power. When the working class objected, then the Bolsheviks disbanded soviets, smashed strikes, repressed opposition parties and generally did what it had to to remain in power.

Anarcho
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Dec 2 2009 23:43
Cleishbotham wrote:
Quoting Harding who is a bourgeois intellectual . . . Go enjoy Richard Pipes - he's a bourgeois wanker in just your style.

ah, I detect a theme developing. If an academic produces evidence that our comrade does not like then he is "bourgeois". Rather than refute the evidence, we get insults...

Cleishbotham wrote:
The original theme of this thread was the mechanics of the soviets after 1917 but I pointed out that the mechanics of the soviets in 1917 were not perfect...

Actually, they worked well enough that the Bolsheviks had to gerrymander them to remain in power -- and when that did not work, they simply disbanded them. Needless to say, the mechanics of the soviets were not helped by the Bolsheviks strengthening executive power -- and, from day one, creating an executive on a national level which, in a matter of weeks, simply gave itself legislative powers!

All of which fits in with Lenin's 1917 argued for the PARTY to take power...

Dave B
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Dec 3 2009 18:41

Well I think I started the bourgeois wanker thing however;

Quote:
On the other hand, the industrial bourgeoisie foamed with sullen rage at the denunciations of the factory system by the landed aristocracy, at the pretended sympathy with the woes of the factory operatives, of those utterly corrupt, heartless, and genteel loafers, and at their “diplomatic zeal” for factory legislation.

It is an old English proverb that “when thieves( or bourgeois wankers) fall out, honest men come by their own,” and, in fact, the noisy, passionate quarrel between the two fractions of the ruling class about the question, which of the two exploited the labourers the more shamefully, was on each hand the midwife of the truth. Earl Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, was commander-in-chief in the aristocratic, philanthropic, anti-factory campaign. He was, therefore, in 1845, a favourite subject in the revelations of the Morning Chronicle on the condition of the agricultural labourers.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch25.htm