Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution

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安藤鈴
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Oct 21 2008 05:27
Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution

I'm reading this at the moment. Its quite interesting and entertaining - Trotsky is a good writer.

Have others read it? Did you agree with his recount of events & analysis? I'm up to the end of the February Revolution so far.

capricorn
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Oct 21 2008 08:13

I agree that Trotsky is a good writer and anybody wanting to understand events in Russia in 1917 should read it, if only as the memoirs of one of the key actors in the Bolshevik insurrection in November. It is also very revealing. One myth about what happened on 9 November (25 October in the old calender then still in use in Russia) is that it was a soviet, or workers council, revolution, a myth spread by the new Bolshevik government in its early days, a myth which temporarily misled such Western Marxists as Anton Pannekoek and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as thousands of lesser known working class militants including syndicalists and IWW members. But, as you read on, you will find Trotsky openly admitting that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik coup d'Etat, followed up by their dissolution of the Constituent Assembly which had just been elected. At one point Trotsky actually says that on the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night they had taken power, ie had apparently carried out a revolution while they were asleep. Talk about "substitutionism"! I can't find this quote but perhaps somebody else can.

安藤鈴
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Oct 21 2008 08:36

Capricorn:

Thanks for the comment, I am not up to that part yet but that's an interesting point you raise.

Trotsky, as you said, was the Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and the MRC, the Petrograd Soviet being dominated by Bolsheviks.

Certainly, the order was given, but does that negate the fact that it gave power to the Soviets, which were representatives of the working class? Do you think that they should have waited to have a 'vote?' Don't you think that the imperialist Kerensky should have been overthrown? Does it matter regarding the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly - all the data shows that the Bolsheviks had working class support - the Socialist Revolutionaries having primarily peasant support. Even so, were not the Soviets more 'in-tune' with the working class - surely much more than members of the C.A?

But I certainly agree with you that there was a difference between the involvement of the working class in the February revolution and their involvement in the October Revolution. The ironic thing being that the February revolution gave power to the liberals, and the October, to the working class (of course, their real 'grasp' of this power may be questioned).

I thought it was quite interesting how in the February revolution, the Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries were essentially behind the working class. Trotsky made a comment, and I paraphrase, that the higher the position of authority, the more that person was out of touch of the movement of the working class.

Trotsky also made the point that regarding the so-called spontaneous nature of the revolution. I agree with him on this point, but I think its a matter of semantics; the revolution certainly may appear spontaneous but it really was led by the militant working class...and there was nothing 'spontaneous' about that but a result of long-held social conflict.

I also think its very intriguing regarding how the police were the most avid defenders of the state. I think that is something to reflect on today - that even the most reactionary minded soldiers - as the Petrograd guard was, in previously putting down the 1905 revolution, played a most prominent role in the overthrow of the monarchy. An important lesson to remember when some dismiss the military forces as purely reactionary.

Rei.

安藤鈴
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Oct 21 2008 08:52

Another comment:

Trotsky made the point that the February revolution, initially, was primarily centered in Petrograd - i.e. making up 1/72 of the population - although a large swath of the working class population.

Certainly we agree that the February revolution was a progressive step - does it therefore matter that this revolution was made by a minority (if not in the interests of the majority?). Of course, I think the question is not relevant today - Russia had a primarily agricultural population, hence the revolution, bound to be in the capital, was going to involve a minority of the population. Today, populations are fiercely concentrated in cities.

Anarcho
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Oct 21 2008 09:12

Daniel & Gabriel Cohn-Bendit provide a short critique in their post-68 book Obsolete Communism

Quote:
"In short, the success of the revolution called for action against the 'highest circles of the party,' who, from February to October, utterly failed to play the revolutionary role they ought to have taken in theory. The masses themselves made the revolution, with or even against the party - this much at least was clear to Trotsky the historian. But far from drawing the correct conclusion, Trotsky the theorist continued to argue that the masses are incapable of making a revolution without a leader."

also see: Surely the Russian Revolution proves that vanguard parties work? (An Anarchist FAQ)

ernie
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Oct 21 2008 09:21

Capricorn, Ah the Bolsheviks are nasty conspirators against the class, nice simple black and white vision of history. May be you have not read the Trotsky's work recently but he makes the very important point that before the insurrection in October the Bolsheviks had gone to the Petrograd Soviets and others to put forwards the need for the insurrection. The Revolutionary Military Committee was elected by the soviet, and had anarchists on it. Yes the proletariat did wake up to find the revolution had taken place but it was their Red Guards, soldiers and saliors that had carried out their instructions which they had discussed in their soviets and instructed their soviet to organise their insurrection. The fact that the insurrection ( and we should not forget that the insurrection was only one moment of the revolutionary process) was not carried out as in Feb by mass of workers on the streets etc was not a sign of weakness but of strengthen. The proletariat had learnt over the course of the period following Feb how to use and understand their power as a class. The insurrection was the expression of this consciousness. The proletariat expressed its collective will through the organisation of the insurrection, it did not want mass bloody confrontations with the state but to seize power for itself as effectively and with as little bloodshed as possible. This meant a secrete and well organised insurrection. But an insurrection with the full backing of the soviets. So unless you think the soviets were a hollow shell not expressing the working class or a bunch of sheep mindless manipulated by the bolsheviks, I cannot understand your dismissal of the insurrection as some form of lesser event than Feb, given that October was consciousely decided upon by the proletariat.
As for the Bolshevik central committee having an influence this is hardly surprising given the Bolsheviks had been elected into the majority of the Petrograd Soviet and were seen my the majority of the class in the city as their party.
Trosky's history of the revolution is his most brilliant work precisely because it draws out the way in which the proletariat developed its class consciousness and sort to put it into practice.

Anarcho
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Oct 21 2008 15:12
ernie wrote:
So unless you think the soviets were a hollow shell not expressing the working class or a bunch of sheep mindless manipulated by the bolsheviks

The first act of the "soviet" revolution was for the soviets to give power to a Bolshevik government. I should note that this is in direct contradiction to Lenin's arguments in State and Revolution where he argued for a combination of legislative and executive powers (as par Marx's comments on the Paris Commune). This was a government separate from and above the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the soviets congress which, in turn, was separate from and above the national soviet congress.

The Bolsheviks where well aware of what they were doing. To quote the party's Central Committee:

Quote:
"it is impossible to refuse a purely Bolshevik government without treason to the slogan of the power of the Soviets, since a majority at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets . . . handed power over to this government."

Rest assured, though, this new "soviet" government simply decreed itself legislative powers 4 days later:

Quote:
"This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d’état that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." [Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253]

yes, the new regime did have popular support but it was not a council system -- at best, the councils nominated the people who nominated the government which had real power. And what happened when the Bolshevik lost support? Well, they simply gerrymandered and disbanded soviets to stay in power:

How the Revolution was Lost? (the has been serialised in the last three issues of Black Flag, btw).

Including the Fifth All-Russian Congress, where they denied the Left-SR their majority:

Review: The Bolsheviks in Power (This review is in the new issue of Black Flag, just out!)

So, under the Bolsheviks the soviet's did become a hollow shell, almost immediately in fact.

This is not surprising, really, as Lenin aimed for Party power, not soviet power. Lenin always stressed that the "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."

capricorn
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Oct 21 2008 15:55

I wouldn't deny, Ernie, that a majority of the members of the Petrograd Soviet were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but I would deny that this meant they were in favour of the installation of a Bolshevik government. What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, as Trotsky records in his book,but they were over-ruled by Lenin's iron determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. In other words, it wasn't the overthrow as such of the Kerensky government that was a coup d'Etat but its replacement by a Bolshevik government under Lenin. There was no mandate from the soviets for this, which was why Lenin went to great pains to disguise his party's coup as the formation of a soviet government, which it wasn't. As Anarcho has just explained, once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks sidelined the soviets straightaway.
Your argument only holds water if Lenin's claim (which you accept) that the Bolshevik party represented the workers is valid. But it isn't. The Bolshevik party, a highly centralised hierarchical party, was not an expression of the political self-organisation of the working class as it wasn't organised democratically and was led by a self-appointed elite of professional revolutionaries. Such an organisational form might have been justified under Tsarism, but once Tsarism had been overthrown in March (our calender) then it was no longer necessary. The Bolsheviks could have transformed themselves into an open, democratically-organised party, but Lenin would have none of it. He wanted to keep the old organisational form as best suited (as in fact it was) for staging a coup d'Etat on the basis of working class and soldier discontent. Which is what the Bolshevik party did, going on to establish not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but its dictatorship over the proletariat and the development of state capitalism in Russia. Meanwhile the workers did what they could to try to preserve some elbow room to defend their rations (later wages) and working conditions but even that was gone by the time Lenin died.

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Alf
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Oct 22 2008 18:59

As a matter of fact the left SRs also participated in the original soviet government and the anarchists also took part in many of its important actions, such as the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. In any case, the whole idea of government by party was fundamentally flawed, whether by one, two or several. But as you yourself show, all the parties suffered from this bourgeois hangover at the time. The Bolsheviks, like all the other parties, were a product of their time.

capricorn
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Oct 22 2008 21:18
Quote:
In any case, the whole idea of government by party was fundamentally flawed, whether by one, two or several.

What are you suggesting then? Government by non-party workers or no government at all or what?

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Oct 23 2008 14:01

The council system means revocable delegates. With such a system running properly, there can't be any 'party government' because a party may have the delegates that belong to it recalled.from one day to the next by the 'lower' assemblies. We are not against proletarian parties/organisations participating in the assemblies/councils, far from it, we think their role will be crucial; but there can be no handing over of power to a party or parties; that would undermine both the councils and the party, which is what happened in Russia

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x359594
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Oct 23 2008 15:56
安藤鈴 wrote:
...Did you agree with his recount of events & analysis?...

If you want to study something as complex and as ideologically loaded as the Russian Revolution you should read more than one account and then come to your own conclusions.

One of the first studies in English is The Russian Revolution by William Henry Chamberlin in two volumes and published in 1935. Chamberlin arrived in Moscow in 1922 and decided to write a narrative history of the revolution at that time. He did his research between 1922 and 1934, after which time many documents were surpressed until the post-Soviet era.

There's also Voline's The Unknown Revolution and recent post-Soviet biographies of Lenin and Trotsky that shed light on their roles as strategists and theorists of the revolution. See for example, Lenin by Robert Service and Dimitri Volkogonov's biographies of Lenin and Trotsky.

Dave B
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Oct 23 2008 16:55

something by William Henry Chamberlin online, not read any of his stuff myself.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/chamberlin-william/1929/soviet-russia/index.htm

piter
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Oct 24 2008 06:58
Quote:
See for example, Lenin by Robert Service and Dimitri Volkogonov's biographies of Lenin and Trotsky.

both are rubbish. on Lenin in english you'de better read Neil Harding, or for a biography the recent one by Christopher Read is better than Service or Volkogonov

capricorn
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Oct 24 2008 09:43
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The council system means revocable delegates. With such a system running properly, there can't be any 'party government' because a party may have the delegates that belong to it recalled.from one day to the next by the 'lower' assemblies.

Alf, do you think that there was any practical possibility of such a system of government being implemented in Russia after 1917 ? After all, most of the population of Russia were peasants, who wanted land (and not to be sent to be slaughtered in the war). Even if it could have been established such a system would have had to face the same economic problems as did the dictatorial government of Lenin and the Bolsheviks and it, too, would have had no choice, in the circumstances, but to develop capitalism in one form or another in Russia.

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Oct 24 2008 12:49

There was no practical possibility of the proletarian power surviving in Russia in 1917 without the rapid extension of the revolution to the west. Not only is socialism impossible in one country, but even a system of proletarian political rule, however 'perfect' (or flawed, as the Russian model certainly was) it may be at the beginning,cannot survive very long without the revolution spreading.

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miles
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Oct 24 2008 12:52
Quote:
Alf, do you think that there was any practical possibility of such a system of government being implemented in Russia after 1917 ? After all, most of the population of Russia were peasants, who wanted land (and not to be sent to be slaughtered in the war).

Most of the population of the world today are also peasants and the extreme poor - this will be the one of the "practical" issues facing the world working class, how to integrate this huge sector of society behind the proletarian project.

Quote:
Even if it could have been established such a system would have had to face the same economic problems as did the dictatorial government of Lenin and the Bolsheviks and it, too, would have had no choice, in the circumstances, but to develop capitalism in one form or another in Russia.

The "choice" facing the Bolsheviks after the taking of power was how to begin administrating elements of society, feeding millions of starving people, whilst fighting a war against the 30+ armies that invaded (not to mention the civil war against the white army). But I think that this sentence misses the key point wqhich is really that once the world revolution was crushed elsewhere - most significantly in Germany - the course was laid for the defeat of Russia, the coming to power of Stalin (and then, perfectly logically, the theory of "socialism in one country") and, eventually, the build up towards another world conflagration.

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Alf
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Oct 24 2008 12:59

well put, miles

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x359594
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Oct 24 2008 13:26
piter wrote:
Quote:
both are rubbish. on Lenin in english you'de better read Neil Harding, or for a biography the recent one by Christopher Read is better than Service or Volkogonov

Maybe so, but with a critical reading you can seperate the spin from the information. My larger point is that I wouldn't give any single author the last word on the subject, certainly not Trotsky on the Russian Revolution.

capricorn
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Oct 24 2008 15:35

Yes, but was there really any prospect of a world socialist revolution at the time? As far as I can see the revolutionary situations that existed in Germany and in parts of the old Austro-Hungarian empire were belated bourgeois revolutions, ending the anachronistic political and social superstructure there that had survived into the 20th century. (same in Russia in fact). There was no chance of these developing into a socialist revolution since this would require a huge majority in favour of it. In Germany only a minority were -- the majority were content to stop at a bourgeois republic and the ending the vestiges of dynastic rule -- and, precisely because they were a minority, they stood no chance of success. And don't mention Britain, France and America without which they couldn't have been any "world" revolution.
So, if Lenin was sincere in his claim that he and Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia because they expected to be saved by a revolution in the West, he made a monumental mistake. Which left him facing the problems Miles mentioned, but could these have been better faced by an all-left party coalition. This would at least have avoided what subsequently happened (ie Stalin).
I suppose what I'm saying is that no (socialist) revolutionary situation existed in 1917 and after (even if the objective conditions for a world socialist society did). That was the tragedy -- or from another angle, the folly -- of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. They were doomed to fail to establish socialism (but not state capitalism) even before they started.

Anarcho
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Oct 24 2008 21:54
miles wrote:
The "choice" facing the Bolsheviks after the taking of power was how to begin administrating elements of society, feeding millions of starving people, whilst fighting a war against the 30+ armies that invaded (not to mention the civil war against the white army).

30+ armies? Now, that IS a record. Which ones, exactly? And it is an awkward fact that the Bolshevik state capitalist policies were implemented BEFORE the start of the civil war. As Lenin himself noted. And the Bolshevik gerrymandering and disbanding of soviets occurred, again, BEFORE the start of the civil war.

And, surely, that is the whole point -- the "choice" of the Bolsheviks. I thought it was meant to be a dictatorship of the working class, NOT rule by the Bolsheviks?

Equally, I thought Marxists were meant to believe that civil war was inevitable? Turning round and blaming it for the authoritarian policies of the Bolsheviks seems unconvincing in the extreme. Do you have an umbrella that works fine, unless it rains?

miles wrote:
But I think that this sentence misses the key point wqhich is really that once the world revolution was crushed elsewhere - most significantly in Germany - the course was laid for the defeat of Russia, the coming to power of Stalin (and then, perfectly logically, the theory of "socialism in one country") and, eventually, the build up towards another world conflagration.

And Germany was facing an economic collapse as bad as Russia's. In fact, the first thing Lenin's government did was to send the German revolutionary regime a train-load of food because of the collapse in the economy. Spreading the revolution to Germany would not have solved the economic problems facing Russia, nor is it likely that any successful revolution in Germany which had followed the Bolshevik model would have rejected the key conclusion that Lenin and Trotsky had reached by 1919 -- the necessity of a party dictatorship.

As for Stalin coming to power, well, the social relationships in the economy and political structure were identical to Lenin's regime. If Stalinism was state capitalism, so was Leninism. Who the politician in charge was does not affect the nature of the regime or economy, particularly the latter.

berrot
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Oct 25 2008 21:13

I have had a 3-volume paperback set of Trotsky's History of the Revolution for the best part of 40 years, but only got round to reading it a year or two ago. I found its most attractive feature was his ability to portray molecular changes in the temperament of masses of people - for example, the account of how a mere flicker of a Cossack's eyes during a workers' demonstration revealed more about his switch of allegiance to the revolution than any number of political proclamations.

Nonetheless, there are quite a few other texts which deserve/demand attention, notably Alexander Rabinowitch's "The Bolsheviks Come to Power" (written in the 70s, before HE switched allegiance in his recent opus) and Marcel Liebman's "Leninism under Lenin". These demonstrate, from a Trotskyist position, how - contrary to some of the contributions on this board - the Bolsheviks were not always the tightly centralised and highly-disciplined organisation portrayed by their detractors. One of their most admirable qualities, in fact, was their ability to respond quickly and effectively to the pressure exerted by workers, in particular to the pressure wielded by the new working class recruits who joined the Bolsheviks in their droves as the capitalist nature of the Provisional government became clear.

A lesser-known work by LL Men, "Two texts for defining the communist programme", includes his analysis "Russia: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, 1917-1921", which provides an incisive analysis of the principal issues from a left-communist perspective. He describes how the "Paris Commune" principles of the Soviets (direct elections, immediate right of recall of delegates at all levels) were progressively undermined by the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks had the misfortune to operate in the transition between the classical, ascendant period of capitalism and that of state capitalist decadence and still operated in many ways with the mindset of the classical era, in which the aim was for the party to take power on behalf of the working claSS. The Soviets were perceived as merely the means to achieve that target and could be dispensed with once the insurrection succeeded. However, it must be recognised that it was NOT the Bolsheviks who seized power. That task was delegated to the Military Revolutionary Committee, a creation of the Soviet system and responsible to it. To suggest, as Capricorn does in his first posting here, that it was a Bolshevik coup d'etat, is to miss the point of the insurrection entirely: it perfectly suited the Petrograd Soviet to have the Bolsheviks dominate the operation, because the MRC was the revolutionary instrument of the Soviet and the Bolsheviks were the single party most dedicated to the project and who had shown their commitment to the cause of insurrection from the July days (at least). Of course, Capricorn could argue that it was the Bolsheviks who dominated the Soviet who dominated the MRC: but then it comes down to a choice between Paris Commune principles (it was the working class who elected the Bolsheviks onto the Soviet, after all, with the mandate of insurrectionary action) or bourgeois principles. How do you plead, Capricorn? Should ordinary working people have the right to decide who their delegates are to be and what course of action they wish to have followed? Or not?

Finally, at the risk of being given a spray of anti-parasitical insecticide, I would urge everyone to read the contributions by the former Communist Bulletin Group on the subject of the Russian revolution, and on the relationship between party and class (and on much else besides). These are now available, I believe, on their own new website (http://cbg.110mb.com), and are well worth dipping into if only in order to dispel the myth - fostered by those who should (and perhaps, remotely, even actually do) know better - that the CBG had the malign intent to subvert the true course of the ICC. For those whose only point of contact with the CBG is 1ngram's Open Letter, their analyses are an antidote to the notion that they are agents of the capitalist state; if they are agents, their training must have been so thorough for them to be so easily confused with real, actual, living Left Communists (except for their genetic code, naturally; it surely must reveal them to be genuine bloodsucking parasitoids: one level below the average parasite - it deprives its host of life itself). Now excuse me while I proceed to the Decontamination Unit.

1ngram
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Oct 26 2008 08:48

I think that the article Berrot is referring to is this one, "Unity and Clarity in the Russian Revolution" which appeared in Bulletin 10. and which can be found here:- http://cbg.110mb.com/Unity.pdf_10.pdf.

LLM, referred to by Berrot, also contributed texts to the Bulletin but his small book containing his text on the Russian experience has long been unavailable, though a review did appear in the Bulletin. It is a good text and might be worth putting on the Net if someone has access to a good scanner.

Anarcho
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Oct 27 2008 11:24
berrot wrote:
The Bolsheviks had the misfortune to operate in the transition between the classical, ascendant period of capitalism and that of state capitalist decadence and still operated in many ways with the mindset of the classical era, in which the aim was for the party to take power on behalf of the working claSS.

In other words, the Bolsheviks had the misfortune to be Marxists. To quote Engels: "As soon as our Party is in possession of political power...." For "each political party sets out to establish its rule in the state, so the German Social-Democratic Workers' Party is striving to establish its rule, the rule of the working class."

Then there is this position, imposed on the First International: "In its struggle against the collective power of the propertied classes the proletariat cannot act as a class except by constituting itself a political party, distinct from and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes . . . The conquest of political power has therefore become the great duty of the working class."

So, if by "classical ear" it is meant the position of Marx and Engels on the taking of political power by the party of the working class, then I would agree. It was a misfortune for the Russian Revolution that the Marxist theory of seizing power by means of a political party was done (of course, not via a democratic republic as urged by Marx and Engels but that is another issue).

berrot wrote:
The Soviets were perceived as merely the means to achieve that target and could be dispensed with once the insurrection succeeded. However, it must be recognised that it was NOT the Bolsheviks who seized power. That task was delegated to the Military Revolutionary Committee, a creation of the Soviet system and responsible to it.

This is pathetic. The Petrograd soviet had a Bolshevik majority, whom set up the MRC. The first act of the so-called "Soviet" revolution was to create a Bolshevik government OVER the soviets. As the Bolsheviks had argued for before hand, as Lenin had repeatedly stressed! As Trotsky made clear in his Lessons of October and his history of the Revolution, the soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power:

From his History of the Russian Revolution, when he stated that the "question, what mass organisations were to serve the party for leadership in the insurrection, did not permit an a priori, much less a categorical, answer." Thus the "mass organisations" serve the party, not vice versa. This instrumentalist perspective can be seen when Trotsky noted that when "the Bolsheviks got a majority in the Petrograd Soviet, and afterward a number of others," the "phrase 'Power to the Soviets' was not, therefore, again removed from the order of the day, but received a new meaning: All power to the Bolshevik soviets." This meant that the "party was launched on the road of armed insurrection through the soviets and in the name of the soviets." As he put it in his discussion of the July days in 1917, the army "was far from ready to raise an insurrection in order to give power to the Bolshevik Party" and so "the state of popular consciousness . . . made impossible the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in July." [vol. 2, p. 303, p. 307, p. 78 and p. 81] So much for "all power to the Soviets"! He even quotes Lenin: "The Bolsheviks have no right to await the Congress of Soviets. They ought to seize the power right now." Ultimately, the "Central Committee adopted the motion of Lenin as the only thinkable one: to form a government of the Bolsheviks only." [vol. 3, pp. 131-2 and p. 299]

(see H.3.11 Does Marxism aim to place power into the hands of workers organisations? of An Anarchist FAQ -- unfortunately the new release has relevant material in it, but that is not due for release until the 11th of November!)

berrot wrote:
To suggest, as Capricorn does in his first posting here, that it was a Bolshevik coup d'etat, is to miss the point of the insurrection entirely: it perfectly suited the Petrograd Soviet to have the Bolsheviks dominate the operation, because the MRC was the revolutionary instrument of the Soviet and the Bolsheviks were the single party most dedicated to the project and who had shown their commitment to the cause of insurrection from the July days (at least).

This is double-think on extreme levels. It "perfecly suited" the Petrograd Soviet because it had a Bolshevik majority! The MRC was the "instrument" of the Bolsheviks in their aim to create a Bolshevik regime. It was supported by the anarchists and Left-SRs because they thought, mistakening, that the new regime would respect soviet democracy. As for the July Days, the Bolshevik CC opposed it and tried to stop the revolt. Why?To requote Trotsky: "the state of popular consciousness . . . made impossible the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in July."

berrot wrote:
Of course, Capricorn could argue that it was the Bolsheviks who dominated the Soviet who dominated the MRC: but then it comes down to a choice between Paris Commune principles (it was the working class who elected the Bolsheviks onto the Soviet, after all, with the mandate of insurrectionary action) or bourgeois principles.How do you plead, Capricorn? Should ordinary working people have the right to decide who their delegates are to be and what course of action they wish to have followed? Or not?

ROTFL! The first act of the Bolshevik regim was to ignore Paris Commune principles -- it created an executive body above the soviets. Subsequent acts against those principle followed, such as that execute decreeing for itself legislative power, gerrymandering soviets to have a majority of "delegates" from Bolshevik controlled organisations rather than directly elected from the workplace, the disbanding of soviets which had a majority of non-Bolsheviks elected, and so on.

So the real question is, if ordinary working people have the right to decide who their delegates are then why do you support the Bolsheviks? They quickly made it clear that they supported this right only when ordinary working people voted Bolshevik. When they stopped doing that, the Bolsheviks did all in their power to maintain their position of power.

Which, to be honest, comes as no surprise given the fundamentals of Bolshevik ideology. To support the Bolsheviks up until they seized power seems an illogical position, given that the seizure of power was their aim and what they did afterwards was hardly independent of their ideology nor that act.

capricorn
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Oct 27 2008 17:54
Quote:
Of course, Capricorn could argue that it was the Bolsheviks who dominated the Soviet who dominated the MRC: but then it comes down to a choice between Paris Commune principles (it was the working class who elected the Bolsheviks onto the Soviet, after all, with the mandate of insurrectionary action) or bourgeois principles. How do you plead, Capricorn? Should ordinary working people have the right to decide who their delegates are to be and what course of action they wish to have followed? Or not?

I've nothing against the soviets. They were makeshift local democratic bodies which emerged in the absence of any formal democratic local government structure. For all their faults (eg, no proper electoral roll, no secret ballot) they were the most representative bodies in Petrograd at the time. And of course "ordinary working people" should have the right to decide who their delegates are and what course of action they want. I'd just add that the Petrograd soviet wasn't an exclusively working class body, with soldiers (mainly recruited from the peasantry) also represented.

My argument is that although the Petrograd Soviet gave a mandate to overthrow the pro-war Provisional Government, this was a mandate to replace it by a government responsible to the soviets and not a mandate for a Bolshevik government. The Petrograd Soviet was in fact manipulated by the Bolshevik leaders and used as a cover for their seizure of power. All this is described, and admitted, by Trotsky in his book.

As I said, I think that what the Petrograd Soviet had in mind was a coalition government of the various parties (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs, etc), answerable to them. What they got was a Bolshevik government which soon turned into a one-party dictatorship. In other words, the Bolsheviks usurped power from the Soviets. This is why we should be suspicious of any group which sees the Bolsheviks as a model. It's a sign that they'd be prepared to do the same thing in the same circumstances. The Paris Commune, though now very dated, was a much better model but I think Trotsky wrote a pamphlet saying that it failed because there wasn't a vanguard party to direct and run things. In fact, I think pro-Bolsheviks think that everything fails because there wasn't a vanguard party ! For instance this.

Anarcho
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Oct 28 2008 13:39
capricorn wrote:
As I said, I think that what the Petrograd Soviet had in mind was a coalition government of the various parties (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs, etc), answerable to them. What they got was a Bolshevik government which soon turned into a one-party dictatorship.

And remember that while most delegates to the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets had a mandate for "soviet power", they meant a coalition government which was answerable to the soviets. And that without the support of the left-wing SRs, the Bolsheviks would not have got a majority of delegates to approve their overthrow of the government. By the time of the Fifth Congress, the Bolsheviks gerrymandered it to secure a majority. Without lots of extremely dubious "delegates", the Left-SRs would have had a majority.

capricorn wrote:
In other words, the Bolsheviks usurped power from the Soviets. This is why we should be suspicious of any group which sees the Bolsheviks as a model. It's a sign that they'd be prepared to do the same thing in the same circumstances.

I would agree with that, 100%.

capricorn wrote:
The Paris Commune, though now very dated, was a much better model but I think Trotsky wrote a pamphlet saying that it failed because there wasn't a vanguard party to direct and run things.

Yes, he did. I discuss it (and link to it) in my article on the Paris Commune (which also discusses the limitations of the Commune considered as an institution, building on the insights of Kropotkin and Bakunin): The Paris Commune, Marxism and Anarchism

Trotsky's article really is a disgusting and really needs to be read to be believed. As in Lessons of October and his History of the Russian Revolution, everything revolves around the vanguard.

capricorn wrote:
In fact, I think pro-Bolsheviks think that everything fails because there wasn't a vanguard party ! For instance this.

How very true, as I discussed in this article: Argentina and the Left

A close reading of these kinds of articles by pro-Leninists simply shows how anti-democratic they are -- when push comes to shove, the party and its power will always be considered the only real "gain" of a revolution. And if the revolution needs to be destroyed to save it, then so be it....

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Alf
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Oct 29 2008 00:17

Anarcho, your view of marxism, as has been argued before, is of a static, finished set of ideas. For you it seems impossible for marxists to learn the lessons of history and call into question some key ideas, such as the idea that the party's role is to take power, which can only mean placing itself above the soviets. And yet a considerable part of the marxist current, in fact the best elements within this, did this precisely because of the disastrous consequences of this error in Russia. Among those who initiated this whole process of reflection were themselves Bolsheviks - the left wing of the party.

Capricorn, I don't understand what you are saying about soviets (and by extension, workers' assemblies). Is there a better form of class organisation which uses secret ballots as opposed to open voting in the assembly?

capricorn
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Oct 29 2008 09:16
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Capricorn, I don't understand what you are saying about soviets (and by extension, workers' assemblies). Is there a better form of class organisation which uses secret ballots as opposed to open voting in the assembly?

Try the Paris Commune which, according to one contemporary:

Quote:
was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class.
Anarcho
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Oct 29 2008 09:27
Alf wrote:
Anarcho, your view of marxism, as has been argued before, is of a static, finished set of ideas. For you it seems impossible for marxists to learn the lessons of history and call into question some key ideas, such as the idea that the party's role is to take power, which can only mean placing itself above the soviets.

Marx is dead, so by definition "Marxism" is a static, finished set of ideas. And it is possible for "Marxists" to learn "the lessons of history" and conclude that, on many key issues, it was in fact Bakunin who was right, NOT Marx. Not, of course, that these "Marxists" would admit to such a thing as, being "Marxists", it seems hard for them to admit that they are closer to Bakunin!

Marx contributed to the socialist project, no question of that. His insights can be developed and built on -- as he developed and built on the insights of previous socialists (like Proudhon). However, to call yourself a "Marxist" is just silly -- particularly when, on "some key ideas", you have the OPPOSITE SET OF IDEAS!

Alf wrote:
And yet a considerable part of the marxist current, in fact the best elements within this, did this precisely because of the disastrous consequences of this error in Russia. Among those who initiated this whole process of reflection were themselves Bolsheviks - the left wing of the party.

The council communists did reject the orthodox Marxist position on party power, but they were hardly "a considerable part" of the Marxist movement. I would agree, they were "the best elements" -- they had came to many of the same conclusions which anarchists had reached a mere five decades previously!

As for the "left-wing" of the Bolsheviks, who was that, precisely? The left-communists of 1918 supported party rule, as did the Workers Opposition in 1920/1. Or do you mean those associated with the Workers' Group and Workers Truth? They did by 1920/1 and were a small minority. Needless to say, they took much longer to reach the same conclusions as the anarchists did.

For more discussion: Were any of the Bolshevik oppositions a real alternative?

So, yes, some people who call themselves "Marxists" did, eventually, draw many of the same conclusions anarchists had reached when Marx was still alive. Which is nice, but it suggests that "Marxism" is more a handicap than an aid in developing revolutionary theory.

Anarcho
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Oct 29 2008 09:28
capricorn wrote:
Try the Paris Commune which, according to one contemporary:
Quote:
was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class.

I've tried quoting Marx to these "Marxists", it really is a waste of time. Water off a duck's back...

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miles
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Oct 29 2008 09:39
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I've tried quoting Marx to these "Marxists", it really is a waste of time. Water off a duck's back...

The problem is anarcho, I have the feeling it really doesn't matter to you what anyone who claims to be a marxist says - for you it solely represents a dogma / an ideology in fact (not dissimilar from a holy book) which 'anarchists' have superceded. It would mean nothing to you if I said that the ICC had written extensive texts criticising, in detail, the failures of the Bolsheviks and so on. For you the whole thing was a 'plot' from the start and its failure explicitly is the failure of 'marxism'.