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Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution

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ernie
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Nov 4 2008 10:21

Berrot

Well put. Those Bolshies were a dastardly crew!

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 4 2008 10:34
berrot wrote:
And how about the slogan “All power to the Soviets”? This was Vlad the Usurper’s slogan from his arrival in the capital: this was during the period when the Mensheviks were in the majority on the executive positions in the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets.

politician in 'says one thing when in a minority, does another when in power' shocker

Dave B
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Nov 4 2008 19:26

So the Leninist thesis then is something like the folowing;

There was no Blanquist style Bolshevik conspiracy to seize power and everything was done above board and out in the open with the full knowledge and therefore support of the Petrograd Soviet.

No double dealing, gulling or lying and the Military Revolutionary Committee that carried out the coup was not in any way a mere organ of the Bolshevik central committee

The reason that people ‘knew’ or suspected that the Bolsheviks were secretly planning an insurrection was because two leading Bolsheviks had blown the whistle, thus.

E. H. Carr chapter four

Quote:
At the end of the meeting of 16 October 1917 Kamenev resigned his membership of the Central committee. Two days latter he published in Novaya Zhizn, a non-party journal of the left, a letter once more protesting in his own name and that of Zinoviev, against the decision. The letter was not only a breach of party discipline…….but a betrayal to the world of the party decision……..

Not the betrayal of an open ‘democratic’ decision, as that would be difficult.

Zinoviev and Kamenev were subsequently accused of committing a crime stike breaking and threatened with expulsion etc.

Quote:
Trotsky, in an attempt to cover up Kamenev’s indiscretion, publicly denied in the Petrograd Soviet that any decision had been taken for armed insurrection.

The following is probably Trotsky’s owned sanitised version of this;

Quote:
“During the last days,” declared Trotsky at the end of an evening’s session of the Soviet, “the press has been full of communications, rumours, articles about an impeding action ... The decisions of the Petrograd Soviet are published and made known to everybody. The Soviet is an elective institution, and cannot have a decision which would not be known to the workers and soldiers ... I declare in the name of the Soviet that no armed actions have been settled upon by us, but if the Soviet in the course of events should be obliged to set the date for a coming-out, the workers and soldiers would come out to the last man at its summons. They say that I signed an order for five thousand rifles ... Yes, I signed it ... The Soviet will continue to organise and arm the workers’ guard.” The delegates understood: the battle was near, but without them and over their heads the signal would not be given.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch41.htm

This obviously has parallels to the we have made no decision to bomb Iraq and the Downing Street memo etc.

E.H. Carr continues;

Quote:
Kamenev, believing or pretending to believe that Trotsky had been converted to his view, declared that he agreed with every word Trotsky had said; and Zinoviev wrote in the same sense to the party journal Rabchii Put.

Carr notes in the footnote that

Quote:
Trotsky explained to the central committee the motive for his declaration………Lenin afterwards endorsed his action.

Probably something to do the naivete of making a fetish of the soviet form of democracy.

On the nature of the Military Revolutionary Committee, actually set up by the Mensheviks to prevent a right wing coup, and to be taken over later by the Bolsheviks.

Thus;

Quote:
And thus the Military Revolutionary Committee, although it went to work only on the 20th, five days before the insurrection, found – ready to its hands – a sufficiently well organised dominion. Being boycotted by the Compromisers, the staff of the Committee contained only Bolsheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries: that eased and simplified the task. Of the Social Revolutionaries only Lazimir did any work, and he was even placed at the head of the bureau in order to emphasise the fact that the Committee was a Soviet and not a party institution. In essence, however, the Committee, whose president was Trotsky, and its chief workers Podvoisky, Antonov-Ovseenko, Lashevich, Sadovsky, and Mekhonoshin, relied exclusively upon Bolsheviks.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch41.htm

ernie
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Nov 5 2008 09:42

Dave B

I think you hatred of the Bolsheviks has lead you to lose your senses a bit when you say in relation to their role in the October Revolution:

Quote:
This obviously has parallels to the we have made no decision to bomb Iraq and the Downing Street memo etc

Come off it. Whatever you may think about the actions of the Bolsheviks in 1917 to compare them with Bush and Blair is incredulus. Or may be you do not rate the fact that they were the only consistent revolutionary organisation in Russia to work for the ending of the war, including sending its militants in the armed forces to spread internationalist positions, or that they were a revolutionary organisation that after Feb revolution pushed for all power to the soviets, or that after October they, along with the Left SR and Anarchists in the government brought the war to an end. All this is nothing to you, because all these activity could only have been a sham perpetuated by the nasty Bolsheviks upon a working class which was so stupid and dumb that it elected Bolshevik delegates to the soviets etc. Perhaps, just perhaps the most advanced workers in Russia understood that it may not to such a good idea to politely and democratically inform the ruling class that it was about to overthrow it. May be bloody massacres in the streets would have been more to your taste! Those poor proletarians how on earth did they manage to make a revolution when they were so gullible?

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 5 2008 10:00

your ability to equate disdain for the bolsheviks with disdain for the working class is quite remarkable

ernie
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Nov 6 2008 09:38

Joseph K

Not as remarkable that equating the Bolsheviks with Bush and Blair!

Behind Dave B's idea of the Bolsheviks misleading the class is the idea that the proletariat was not conscious enough to understand what was going. Also that they were also some form of passive mass manipulated by the Bolsheviks. But given that the most advanced parts of the proletariat in Russia were members or supporters of the party it seems rather strange and condescending to imply they were manipulating themselves. This is the logic of his position.

I do think that I was a bit too sarcastic, but it is annoying when the critics of the Bolsheviks in their critiques of them portray the proletariat as being mislead and thus not conscious enough to understand what was going on. The proletariat in St Petersburg and Moscow voted for, carried out and supported the insurrection. It is the contradiction in Dave B position for him the Bolsheviks were dastardly manipulators, a position that reduces the proletariat to passive onlookers or a mass to be manipulated. For us the Bolsheviks were the most advanced conscious expression of the proletariat, they were the political weapon of the class, thus to dismiss them as manipulators and the same as Bush and Blair is to call into question the revolutionary achievement of the Russian proletariat. This does not mean ignoring the errors and mistakes of the Bolsheviks, which became increasingly dangerous for the development of the revolution, but to see that these errors etc took place within the context of the proletariat's efforts to overthrow capitalism and spread the revolution. Simply blame the Bolsheviks for the problems of the revolution is to underestimate and downplay the truly profound and historical struggle that the proletariat engaged. It was the proletariat that was faced with how to carry out the revolution, how to organise society after October, faced with this historically unprecedented situation it is no surprise that the proletariat and its political party made mistakes.

Basically, it comes down to whether you see October as being the highest expression of the world proletariats efforts to free itself from capitalism and to end the blood bath of the war, or simply as a coup by the Bolsheviks perpetuated against the interests of the proletariat. I think Dave B defends the last position. Thus, the discussion is about the ability and the means of the proletariat to carry out the revolution, October is a reference point for this.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 6 2008 09:45
ernie wrote:
Behind Dave B's idea of the Bolsheviks misleading the class is the idea that the proletariat was not conscious enough to understand what was going. Also that they were also some form of passive mass manipulated by the Bolsheviks.

except it's a matter of historical record that there was proletarian resistance to the bolsheviks, in the form of stoppages etc, (in)famously culminating in workers being shot down like partridges several years later.

ernie wrote:
For us the Bolsheviks were the most advanced conscious expression of the proletariat, they were the political weapon of the class

and this is precisely how the bolsheviks saw themselves, and how they were able to disband/co-opt proletarian organs into the party and ultimately murder thousands of revolutionary proletarians... in the name of the revolutionary proletariat. this is not to say they set out to massacre revolutionaries, or plotted a conspiracy to this effect, but it is immanent to substituting the party for the class to do whatever it takes to subordinate the latter to the former 'for its own good.'

ernie wrote:
Basically, it comes down to whether you see October as being the highest expression of the world proletariats efforts to free itself from capitalism

because there's no distinction between party and class? the intellectual gymnastics required to justify bolshevik politics nearly a century on, just to place yourself in their tradition requires a curious chauvinism as embarrassing as those anarchists who try and justify CNT ministers.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 6 2008 10:15
Quote:
except it's a matter of historical record that there was proletarian resistance to the bolsheviks, in the form of stoppages etc, (in)famously culminating in workers being shot down like partridges several years later.

In the beginning, the majority of these were strikes organised by Mensheviks and other counter-revolutionary forces and were opposed by other more militant workers, not just the Bolsheviks. The underlying problem with Bolsheviks was the question of substitutionism, where they believed they could act in place of the class when the latter began to buckle under the weight of the revolution's isolation.

Quote:
and this is precisely how the bolsheviks saw themselves, and how they were able to disband/co-opt proletarian organs into the party and ultimately murder thousands of revolutionary proletarians... in the name of the revolutionary proletariat. this is not to say they set out to massacre revolutionaries, or plotted a conspiracy to this effect, but it is immanent to substituting the party for the class to do whatever it takes to subordinate the latter to the former 'for its own good.'

Agree with most of this, but it conflates the problem of the existence of a "vanguard" (the most advanced conscious expression of the proletariat) with the question of what the role of that vanguard should be. It's role is not to rule in the name of the proletariat, take over the levers of the state or the economy, or anything else. It was the Bolsheviks confusion about their role that led to their absorption into the burgeoning counter-revolution.

Quote:
because there's no distinction between party and class? the intellectual gymnastics required to justify bolshevik politics nearly a century on, just to place yourself in their tradition requires a curious chauvinism as embarrassing as those anarchists who try and justify CNT ministers.

Who's trying to "justify" Bolshevik politics? The ICC and Left Communism in general have written reams of stuff pointing out every point where the Bolsheviks went wrong. This doesn't preclude accepting Bolshevism as the highest point of class consciousness at that particular time. Similarly, the ultimate betrayal of the CNT doesn't change the fact that at a particular point in time it represented a real proletarian effort to advance its struggle.

capricorn
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Nov 6 2008 10:19

These people should be called "Left Bolsheviks" not "Left Communists" and it's why they'll never get anywhere. I don't understand why they want to drag this ball and chain around., but apparently they do.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 6 2008 10:30
Demogorgon303 wrote:
It was the Bolsheviks confusion about their role

see Demo, this is the apologetics. They weren't confused. There are volumes of quotes from leading bolsheviks stating the need for what they subsequently did. This is well documented, including some on this thread.

Now you could argue we only know they were wrong with the benefit of hindsight (and i could point to contemporaries - however much of a disorgansied minority they were - who were hostile to a statist revolution from the start), but none of this changes the fact the Bolsheviks didn't seize power out of 'confusion'(!)

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 6 2008 11:04
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see Demo, this is the apologetics. They weren't confused. There are volumes of quotes from leading bolsheviks stating the need for what they subsequently did. This is well documented, including some on this thread.

You're misunderstanding the way I'm using the word "confusion". I mean they were confused about reality of the demands of the situation, or to put it another way they were wrong. Nonetheless, there are contradictions in the way the Bolsheviks approached the situation - after all, their first decree was to formalise "workers control" and Lenin was very forceful in arguing for the self-activity of the workers. By 1918, it was also Lenin who had become totally disillusioned in the capacity of the factory committees to run the economy who began to push for a reorganisation of the party as an instrument of power. In fact, the Bolshevik party itself had largely been left on the backburner until that point.

Quote:
Now you could argue we only know they were wrong with the benefit of hindsight (and i could point to contemporaries - however much of a disorgansied minority they were - who were hostile to a statist revolution from the start), but none of this changes the fact the Bolsheviks didn't seize power out of 'confusion'(!)

Most of whom either allied themselves with the Bolshevik revolution (such as the anarchists who formed the main "shock troops" of the "Red Guards" and even the CHEKA and were instrumental in closing down the Constituent Assembly) or who ended up being social democratic liberals like Kropotkin.

And the "state" of this "statist revolution" emerged directly from the Soviets. It was formed as much on the initiative of the workers themselves as from any grand plan conceived by the Bolsheviks - this tendency sprang from real or perceived needs and also probably from overexuberance on the part of workers who were learning how to exercise power for the first time. Local soviets were producing committees for practically everything - the Moscow soviet even opened up its own foreign office!

The Bolsheviks encouraged this enthusiasm in the early period - Lenin never tired of saying words to this effect "workers, there is no state - if something needs to be done, you must do it yourselves". Part of the effort of the Soviet Congresses, which the Bolsheviks did largely dominate, was to centralise all this work and make a co-ordinated plan to run the country.

The "turn" against the Bolsheviks came when there was a manifest failure to deliver anything like an improvement in living conditions. Living conditions spiralled downwards after the revolution, unemployment in urban areas went up to 60%, factory committees were being recalled and re-elected on a weekly basis, and the whole economy was on the brink of collapse. Workers were on the streets demanding central state intervention! Now, as you say, with hindsight we can see there were many errors the Bolsheviks made in trying to implement this (principally being they shouldn't have been doing the implementing anyway), but you can't lay responsibility for the whole disaster solely at the feet of the Bolsheviks. They represented the "highest point" of class consciousness but also the consciousness of a class who had never before wielded social power - in that sense the Bolsheviks represented both the strengths and weaknesses of the whole working class in Russia.

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miles
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Nov 6 2008 11:40
Quote:
none of this changes the fact the Bolsheviks didn't seize power out of 'confusion'(!)

I don't think Demogorgon said that. The key point is that this was an historically unprecedented situation - no where before had the masses of a country wrested power away from the ruling class.

The problems the bolsheviks faced - civil war, hunger, etc - were problems posed in Russia, but not problems which could be solved purely in Russia. The fact that the events in Russia were the inspiration for a whole revolutionary wave felt around the world, something which shook capitalism to its core, seems lost on those with a 'conspiratoral' view of the russian revolution. In effect, the bolsheviks 'fooled' not only the russian workers, but the vast majority of the Socialist parties and workers organisations in the world at that time into dreaming - and, more importantly, acting - as if the world could be changed.

ernie
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Nov 6 2008 17:56

Joseph

Demo and Milies have made the main points I would have in reply. I would add that the workers in Russia were perfectly aware of the Bolsheviks understanding of their role etc: they read their papers, attending their meetings etc and saw this as expressing their interests and thus supported them. There is no getting away from that. As demo shows the Bolsheviks were the clearest political organization at the time. The fact that their 'clarity' was not so clear cut cannot be blamed on them, the rest of the international movement basically believed in the same role for the party etc, they had the unenviable historical role of proving the erroneous nature of the previous understanding of the relationship between party, class and state. The point is to learn the lessons not to simply dismiss this experience out of hand.

One can concentrate of the negative experience of the contradictions the Bolsheviks found themselves in, but one should also not forget that at the same time there was a whole process of social liberation taking place in relation to public discussion, collective activity, social life, education, art, anthropology.

Also we should not forget that within the Bolshevik party until 1921 there was an enormous process of discuss taking place on what the role of the party was, what it should or could do faced with the civil war etc.

None of this will convince you that the Bolsheviks were the most advanced political expression of the international working class in 1917, this would surprise me given you are an anarchist, but hopefully we can persuade youto see that they were part of the working class and not its enemy, well up until the rise of Stalin. There is such a rich mine of historical lessons for the next revolutionary wave that are missed if one just dismisses the Bolsheviks.

ernie
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Nov 6 2008 17:57

Capricorn

You can call us Left Bolsheviks if you want, it is no insult, we have never hidden the fact that we see ourselves as being in the same movement as them. As we say in our basic positions:

Quote:
The positions and activity of revolutionary organisations are the product of the past experiences of the working class and of the lessons that its political organisations have drawn throughout its history. The ICC thus traces its origins to the successive contributions of the Communist League of Marx and Engels (1847-52), the three Internationals (the International Workingmen’s Association, 1864-72, the Socialist International, 1889-1914, the Communist International, 1919-28), the left fractions which detached themselves from the degenerating Third International in the years 1920-30, in particular the German, Dutch and Italian Lefts.

http://en.internationalism.org/basic-positions

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 6 2008 17:59
ernie wrote:
I would add that the workers in Russia were perfectly aware of the Bolsheviks understanding of their role etc: they read their papers, attending their meetings etc and saw this as expressing their interests and thus supported them. There is no getting away from that.

nobody's denying that the bolsheviks enjoyed support from sections of the working class. the dispute was whether their mandate extended to seizing power in their name and then disbanding the very organs that mandated them. i don't think it did, as some of the quotes from leading bolsheviks on this thread show.

ernie wrote:
The fact that their 'clarity' was not so clear cut cannot be blamed on them, the rest of the international movement basically believed in the same role for the party etc

well this writes anarchists and possibly some dissident communists out of the historical workers movement...

ernie wrote:
The point is to learn the lessons not to simply dismiss this experience out of hand.

nobody's dimissing 1917 out of hand, it's used as an example by both supporters and critics of the bolsheviks alike.

ernie wrote:
hopefully we can persuade youto see that they were part of the working class and not its enemy, well up until the rise of Stalin.

right, so you're including wholesale massacres of revolutionary workers as "part of the working class and not its enemy"...

ernie wrote:
You can call us Left Bolsheviks if you want

quite.

yoshomon
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Nov 6 2008 19:15

Shoot them down like partridges!

Dave B
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Nov 6 2008 20:23

For a personal and non party opinion;

The position for me is not about making un-constructive criticisms, in the manner of non historical materialism, of the labouring classes that supported the Russian revolution at the time. This included of course workers outside of Russia itself as well as ‘Anarchists’. And I am not having a go at ‘Anarchists’ here but lets face it ‘Anarchist’ are quite happy to hang the dead albatross of the Russian revolution around our non Leninist Marxists necks when it suits them.

As somebody said, and it’s been said before, and there is a point to this that I intend to come to later, Anarchist did support the Bolsheviks. So from the man himself Maximilien Lenin;

V. I. Lenin, Letter to Sylvia Pankhurst.
28 August, 1919

Quote:
Very many anarchist workers are now becoming sincere supporters of Soviet power, and that being so, it proves them to be our best comrades and friends, the best of revolutionaries, who have been enemies of Marxism only through misunderstanding, or, more correctly, not through misunderstanding but because the official socialism prevailing in the epoch of the Second International (1889-1914) betrayed Marxism, lapsed into opportunism, perverted Marx’s revolutionary teachings in general and his teachings on the lessons of the Paris Commune of 1871 in particular.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/aug/28.htm

An interesting letter in its own right.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Sylvia Pankhurst and the Workers Socialist Federation, with a mention of the SPGB

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Pankhurst

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workers%27_Socialist_Federation

What the problem has been and it remains so is that Leninist intellectuals have fabricated a distorted history of the revolution itself in order to justify their own adoption of Leninist political ideology. In this process of intellectual self delusion, not uncommon amongst intellectuals, they have failed themselves to learn from those events.

I am not going to go into here in detail into any kind of psychoanalytical profiling of Lenin and Leninist intellectuals as to why they engage in this activity although it has been done before in passing. James Burnham, an ex Leninist theoretician, is using ‘rationalisation’ here it appears in its formal psychoanalytical meaning;

Managerial Revolution,Chapter 13.

Quote:
"Both communism and fascism claim, as do all the great social
ideologies to speak for the people as a whole for the future of
mankind. However it is interesting to notice that both provide even
in their public words for an elite or vanguard. The elite is of
course the managers and their political associates the rulers of the
new society.

Naturally the ideologies do not put it this way. As they say it the
elite represents, stands for, the people as a whole and their
interests. Fascism is more blunt about the need for the elite,
for `leadership'. Leninism worked out a more elaborate
rationalisation. The masses according to Leninism are unable to
become sufficiently educated and trained under capitalism to carry in
their own immediate persons the burdens of socialism

The mases are unable to understand in full what their interests are.
Consequently, the transition to socialism will have to be supervised
by an enlightened vanguard which `understands the historic process as
a whole' and can ably and correctly act for the interests of the
masses as a whole; like as Lenin puts it, the general staff of an
army.

Through this notion of an elite or vanguard, these ideologies thus
serve at once the two fold need of justifying the existence of a
ruling class and at the same time providing the masses with an
attitude making easy the acceptance of its rule.

This device is similar to that used by the capitalist ideologies when
they argued that capitalist were necessary in order to carry on
business and that profits for capitalists were identical with
prosperity for the people as a whole…………….The communist and fascist
doctrine is a device, and an effective one, for enlisting the support
of the masses for the interests of the new elite through an apparent
identification of those interests with the interests of the masses
themselves."

Clearly the capitalist culture of power relationships and hierarchies can permeate and appear in the most unlikely of places.

However the effect of the self delusions of Leninist intellectuals, and ‘rationalisation’ is a self delusional process whereby in this case the semi conscious emotional desire be the top guy is justified by a greater good, has had a disastrous on the working class movement as a whole.

Many well intentioned workers have supported the Bolshevik experiment based on the lies and delusions of the intellectual only to see them shattered as the realities become more obvious and transparent. They have equally and for the same reasons been denied by these intellectuals the opportunities to see the flaws in the Leninist ideology that led to it.

The even basic understanding of the Bolshevik revolution by Leninist foot soldiers is truly shocking, I know this as many are close friends. And the Leninist intellectuals with their uncritical apologies for it are culpable.

The Anarchists themselves also need to do a bit of Mea culpa. And I have seen a bit of that here, but that has not been much of a surprise as generally I think they seem to have a bit more intellectual integrity without wishing to sound too patronising.

The workers are never going to learn anything if they continue to take on trust the falsified accounts of history peddled by intellectuals as a separate group of individuals for their own interests.

So from Fred as prescient as ever;

Quote:
"The biggest obstacle are ……….. the importunate super-clever
intellectuals who always think they know everything so much the
better, the less they understand it. "

"You speak of an absence of uniform insight. This exists — but on the
part of the intellectuals to stem from the aristocracy and the
bourgeoisie and who do not suspect how much they still have to learn
from the workers... “

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_08_21.htm

You could ask what is the role of intellectuals who genuinely have the workers interests at heart.

Well the simple answer is to tell them the truth warts and all and not decide for themselves what is good or bad for the workers to know about because they know best. So the workers can make decisions for themselves.

The second role of pro working class intellectuals is to debunk the lies, as lies, of anti working class intellectualism.

Actually Chomsky is a good example of what they should do, even if he drives you mad sometimes in leaving it at that, and even madder when he does break the ethical code of pro working class intellectuals in ‘advising’ then to vote Obama.

I think Karl was a little bit of a shit when it came to his Machiavellian politicking in the international and it was a big mistake, he should have just left it to play itself out amongst the working class rather than interfering.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We are however entering a new era and members of the working class are being sent to universities and are learning to think for themselves and gain enough confidence to challenge the ideas of our betters.

I am working class myself almost to the point of stereotype.

On Lenin opposing the war, well I will give him that. So did the SPGB and there aren’t many that didn’t disgrace themselves on that one.

Just to personalise things my grandfather was machined gunned at Gallopoli as a member of the East Lancashire Fussiliers, but lived to be virulently anti war. I like to think that some of his rebellion and courage has rubbed off.

Apparently a member of the Small Party of Good Boys went before a judge in the second world war for refusing to fight. The judge said to him ‘go forth and kill your enemy’, he responded by stabbing him in the arm later on the court steps.

capricorn
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Nov 6 2008 20:34

They're all getting excited, heaping praises on Lenin and the Bolsheviks and working themselves up into a crescendo because tomorrow's the 91st anniversary of the Bolshevik coup d'etat, aka the Great October Revolution. Let the dead bury the dead, I say.

ernie
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Nov 7 2008 08:46

JK

Another moment of lucidity (two in 24 hrs my brain is a whirl), I would not disagree with a lot of your reply. It was those in the party that desperately tried to resist the slid into degeneration and being a state party who were the first to suffer repression (see our history of the Russian Communist Left) but they did not write off the proletarian nature of the party. As for Kronstadt, this was a terrible event, and was resisted by some Bolsheviks, but I do not think it is worth getting into this argument again .

As for the following:

Quote:
nobody's denying that the bolsheviks enjoyed support from sections of the working class. the dispute was whether their mandate extended to seizing power in their name and then disbanding the very organs that mandated them. i don't think it did, as some of the quotes from leading bolsheviks on this thread show.

The mandate for seizing power was given to the MRC, however the Bolsheviks did not hid their concern for the Provisional government to be overthrown. What organs are you talking about? The Soviets were not disbanded as far as I can remember. As far as I can remember there was a deep concern in the Bolsheviks party about the growing lack of political life in the Soviets, it was certainly Lenin's concern until he died. That does not mean that actions by the Bolsheviks did not help to undermine them. But it is not as simple as Bolsheviks gain power, Bolsheviks disband the Soviets.

Which were the dissent communst who disagreed with the party? There was Ruhle and those around him, but the KAPD defended the need for the Party, but they had begun to draw the lessons of Russia that it was not simply a question of taking power.

Get your point about not dismissing 1917.

ernie
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Nov 7 2008 09:03

Dave B

Who are these intellectuals that you criticize so much: the Bolsheviks etc? You do not mention that radical critique that the Communist Left in Russia made, have you heard of this movement?

Quote:
On Lenin opposing the war, well I will give him that. So did the SPGB and there aren’t many that didn’t disgrace themselves on that one

The SPGB did oppose the war but they did not carry out the same revolutionary intervention as the Bolsheviks, working illegally, sending militants into the armed forces to spread internationalist positions, producing an illegal. The SPGB maintained itself legally and its militants either disappeared or conscientious objectors,

Quote:
he publication of the Socialist Standard quite rapidly became the SPGB's only tool of intervention. In January 1915 it voluntarily stopped holding public meetings after a number had been broken up and some of its militants injured, although it continued to discreetly hold its annual meetings. Despite a few reports about industrial action there is no evidence to suggest that the SPGB played any part in the strikes that broke out during the war. Nor is there any evidence that pamphlets were produced during the war and there is only one reference to the production of a leaflet. In October 1914 the Socialist Standard advised the working class "to stay at home and think" and to join the SPGB. The principle opposition conducted by the SPGB was the individual refusal of its members to join the army. While some chose to disappear, the majority sought to be accepted as conscientious objectors, some even leaving protected jobs in order to do so. While the courage shown by individual militants cannot be doubted, it amounted to no more than that shown by people who objected on religious grounds and only served to further reduce the number of militants free to continue political work. The task for revolutionaries in such a situation is not to make gestures, however great the personal sacrifice, but to struggle to defend the interests of the working class.

In sharp contrast to the SPGB the Bolsheviks did not see the war as a time to reduce activity or to accept the dictates of the bourgeoisie, but as a time to increase the struggle: "The conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan�it has been dictated by all the conditions of an imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries. However difficult that transformation may seem at any given moment, socialists will never relinquish systematic, persistent and undeviating preparatory work in this direction now that war has become a fact" (Lenin, op. cit. p.34). The Bolsheviks called for illegal organisation and propaganda within the army, participated in workers' struggles and maintained the publication and distribution of its papers despite the efforts of the Tsarist repression. In Britain the approach of the SLP also contrasts with that of the SPGB. The SPGB has made much of the fact that the SLP 'wavered' at the outbreak of the war as proof of their superiority. It is true that at a meeting of the SLP after the declaration of war, one faction supported national defence in the event of invasion but, according to one of its militants, this position was rapidly reversed (Tom Bell, Pioneering Days, p102). Its attitude, while not free of errors, in particular the call for class-conscious workers to sign up in order to get training in the use of weapons, was to try and use the war to develop the class struggle. It continued to hold public meetings and to publish The Socialist even when its presses were attacked. Its militants, many of whom went on the run in order to be able to continue their work, played a central role in the strikes on the Clyde, working with militants from other organisations, such as John Maclean, who continued to defend a proletarian position on the war.

This intransigent defense of internationalism by the Bolsheviks in theory and practice played a very important role in the end of the war, in fact it was the Bolshevik scoundrels that withdraw Russia from the war.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 7 2008 09:12
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nobody's denying that the bolsheviks enjoyed support from sections of the working class. the dispute was whether their mandate extended to seizing power in their name and then disbanding the very organs that mandated them. i don't think it did, as some of the quotes from leading bolsheviks on this thread show.

No Left Communist has defended that position on this thread so where is the dispute? In fact, the replacement of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the party was one of the key disputes between Lenin's fraction and the Left Communists in Russia (not to mention Luxemburg's critique of the revolution). The point is that although we condemn this action as being thoroughly incorrect it cannot be viewed in isolation and out of context. The reason the Bolsheviks began to repress the Soviets was not because the Soviets were revolutionary and the Bolsheviks weren't but because the Soviets were starting to return to Menshevism and were demanding the reconstruction of the bourgeois state and, in some cases, even the return of the Provisional Government!

As for the so-called "anarchists" grouped around the Left SRs, they had even less respect for Soviet rule given that the impetus for the "third revolution" was a rejection of Brest-Litovsk which had been mandated by the mass of the Soviets in the face of the German advance.

It was in these circumstances - the decline of consciousness in the class as a whole - that the substitutionism of the Bolsheviks took on very negative dynamic.

But even here, the response of the Bolsheviks wasn't entirely one-sided. For all the growing oppressive weight of the state, as Ernie has pointed out, Lenin was constantly concerned to involve the working class in the administration of the Soviet state.

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Nov 7 2008 09:37
ernie wrote:
Which were the dissent communst who disagreed with the party?

i don't know, i was just open to the possibility.

ernie wrote:
it is not as simple as Bolsheviks gain power, Bolsheviks disband the Soviets.

they moved to consolidate party power pretty quickly. i can't be arsed to dig out my history books and thrash this one out again though.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
where is the dispute?

ok, how about i say "you can call us Oliver-Montsenyists if you want, it is no insult, we have never hidden the fact that we see ourselves as being in the same movement as them." do you see a problem?

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Nov 7 2008 10:54
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ok, how about i say "you can call us Oliver-Montsenyists if you want, it is no insult, we have never hidden the fact that we see ourselves as being in the same movement as them." do you see a problem?

The problem seems to be that you think that seeing yourself in the same general movement as a particular political party means that you can't disagree with them on anything. It also implies a rejection on the conception that a party can be part of the workers' movement whilst still making serious mistakes that eventually put it outside that movement. This kind of black & white, purist and ahistorical approach means that it's inevitable that you write off whole swathes of the proletariat's history and theoretical acquistion with it and leads the door open to rampant sectarianism.

Following this method, because Marx supported certain nationalist movements, unions, and even parliamentary democracy upon occasion he would inevitably be outside the workers' movement. Leaving aside the question of whether Marx was actually mistaken on these points, this vision completely rejects the dialectical process of history where class consciousness doesn't descend upon the proletariat in some ready-formed holy writ but is gradually developed through decades of struggle. It is perfectly possible to look back at political predescessors and reject their errors and mistakes, while seeing themselves as part of the same movement and also learning from their successes. Many parts of the April Theses, for example, still stand as a beacon of clarity concerning how a revolutionary organisation should act in the class.

The other problem with this approach - this organisation ended up serving the counter-revolution so therefore it was never revolutionary - is that it ignores the possibility of a genuinely proletarian organisation crossing the class line. I think ignoring this possibility and failing to understand the processes of such degeneration will disarm the proletariat in its future political struggles because there will be more such betrayals in the future. For example, I certainly don't discount the possibility that the organisation I support most strongly, the ICC, may one day betray the working class and I want to be in a position to recognise it and help stop it should this ever happen.

So we're not disuting the fact that the Bolsheviks were wrong on many things and that some of those errors ultimate contributed to the counter-revolution or rather helped determine the form the counter-revolution took. The point is to see that they started out as a genuine revolutionary expression of the proletariat.

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Nov 7 2008 11:37
Demogorgon303 wrote:
black & white, purist and ahistorical (...) door open to rampant sectarianism (...) ignores the possibility of a genuinely proletarian organisation crossing the class line.

no, it doesn't imply any of that at all. it just means i don't choose to identify myself with long-dead butchers of the working class to the point of taking their name as a point of pride. ffs.

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Nov 7 2008 12:08
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no, it doesn't imply any of that at all. it just means i don't choose to identify myself with long-dead butchers of the working class to the point of taking their name as a point of pride. ffs.

I'd be quite proud to associate myself with the principles and activity that allowed the Bolsheviks of 1917-18 to participate in the Russian revolution. They (or more accurately the left-wing around Lenin) were the only current that called for the workers to sieze power, against the vast majority of other currents who rallied around the provisional government. I'm equally proud to associate myself with those left communists who fought to keep the party faithful to that original vision as the organisation began to degenerate.

ajjohnstone
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Nov 7 2008 14:38

By fortuitous co-incidence this November's Socialist Standard has an article on the SPGB activities during the war quoting from contemporary branch minutes .

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/nov08/page17.html

Quote:
“Many questions mainly about the war...Hostility shown by the audience so soon as the speaker began to reply to the opposition and the police closed the meeting leaving Party members to get away with the platform amongst the hostile audience that had closed around it and damaged it one side of the steps torn away and lost thus rendering the platform useless for further propaganda meetings.”
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“Opposition by Grainger of Daily Herald League [sympathetic to the Labour Party] supported by several members of B.S.P. [British Socialist Party] in the audience with design of raising prejudice against the SPGB and so of breaking up the meeting.”
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“...There was a determined attack made to smash up the meeting. Just as Elliot was closing the meeting the police intervened and told him to close down. As he did not close down as quick as they wished they arrested him.Elliott was however, charged with insulting the British armies and fined 30/-. The crowd numbered over a thousand and the organised opposition attempted at the conclusion of the meeting to smash [the] platform but only succeeded in doing a little damage to it.”
Quote:
“...brutality of crowds made drunk with patriotism. The prohibitions by the authorities, and the series of police prosecutions of our speakers, compelled the rank and file of the Socialist Party to put an end to the fruitless sacrifices of their spokesmen by stopping outdoor propaganda.”

A further consideration was the issue by the Government of stringent Defence of the Realm Regulations outlawing the uttering of statements likely to cause disaffection. The decision appears to have been a difficult one as the minutes record that it was taken after a discussion lasting about two hours. The Party at a special meeting held to discuss the situation ratified the decision. There was clearly a small number within the Party opposed to this course of action and willing to “tough it out” but a motion approving of the Executive Committee decision was carried by a substantial majority.

The party of course responded to the ICC article quoted by Demogorgon

Quote:
The April and May articles criticise our members for having opposed the two world wars as “conscientious objectors” which the ICC sees as a mere individual and even pacifist opposition. This is an easy, not to say cheap, criticism from people who have no doubt never faced the dilemma of what to do when threatened with coercion into being trained to kill fellow workers in a war. Some SPGB members in both world wars did refuse, as a matter of principle, the status of “conscientious objector” but most took the view that if the state allows this why refuse to take advantage of it? In fact, many SPGB members were able to carry on important political work for socialism precisely because of this, something which seems to bypass the ICC completely.The suggestion that during the Second World War the SPGB, in the words of the July article, “was used by the ruling class as a safe channel for the questioning and anger produced by the war” is a typical example of the sort of other-wordly paranoid conspiracy theory for which the ICC is well-known....What SPGB members should have done in both world wars was, apparently, to have worked to turn, as advised by Lenin, “the present imperialist war into a civil war”. This should have involved “illegal organisation and propaganda within the army”, which presumably means that socialists should have joined the army after all. But this would have been suicidal for the individuals involved (the quickest way to a firing squad for mutiny) and massacre for the working class (as happened in Dublin in 1916 when a section of the Irish nationalist movement tried to start a civil war in the midst of an imperialist war). SPGB members rightly rejected such irresponsible advice and adopted the correct socialist position of a plague on both your houses and not a drop of working class blood for either side.

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/aug04/icc.html

The SPGB in a spirit of anti-sectarianism also published pronouncements from the European and Russian anti-war Left such as articles by Luxemburg , something that is not to be overlooked .

Anarcho
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Nov 7 2008 15:14
Joseph K. wrote:
Now you could argue we only know they were wrong with the benefit of hindsight (and i could point to contemporaries - however much of a disorgansied minority they were - who were hostile to a statist revolution from the start), but none of this changes the fact the Bolsheviks didn't seize power out of 'confusion'(!)

Except, of course, on most of the lessons about the Russian Revolution (workers' councils, not letting a party seize power and create a government, and so on) were first argued by anarchists in the 1860s. Nice to see "Marxists" catching up with Bakunin's insights...

Anarcho
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Nov 7 2008 15:23
Demogorgon303 wrote:
As for the so-called "anarchists" grouped around the Left SRs, they had even less respect for Soviet rule given that the impetus for the "third revolution" was a rejection of Brest-Litovsk which had been mandated by the mass of the Soviets in the face of the German advance.

Oh, that must explain why the Bolsheviks gerrymandered the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets to stop the Left-SRs getting their rightful majority! Yes, respect for "Soviet Rule" means ensuring a Bolshevik majority by any means possible!

Rabinowitch's new book (as reviewed in the new Black Flag), The Bolsheviks in Power proves this -- along with the Bolshevik rigging of the June Petrograd soviet elections to secure their majority.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
It was in these circumstances - the decline of consciousness in the class as a whole - that the substitutionism of the Bolsheviks took on very negative dynamic.

Yes, of course, rejection of the Bolsheviks must reflect a "decline" in working class consciousness! Best, then, for the vanguard to smash soviet democracy and impose its dictatorship. As Trotsky summarised in 1937:

Quote:
"The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves . . . if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself."

This rationalisation of Bolshevik authoritarianism would be funny, if it did not infect vast sections of the so-called "socialist" movement and so ensure that socialism is deeply unappealing to thinking people.

ernie
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Nov 7 2008 17:21

JK

OK, on opening up the possibility, as I said it was not just a possibility but there were communist who opposed the party. However, their anti-partyism and centralization helped to undermine the KAPD.
Yes we do place ourselves in the same tradition as the Bolsheviks but also as Demo points out that of the Left Communist who struggled against the degeneration of the party and who provided some of the most rigorous critiques of the degeneration of the party (have you read our book on the Russian Communist Left it is a real eye opener, well worth the read).

ernie
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Nov 7 2008 17:26

Anarcho

We would agree with you in your criticism of Trotsky's position on the party taking power, and we have done so for over 30 years as the ICC, and for 60 years in the various historical groups we came from. For us one of the main lessons of the revolution is that the party does not take power, it is the task of the proletariat to emancipate itself. The party is part of the emancipation, its political weapon, but that does not mean it should replace the class. The history of the degeneration of the Bolsheviks shows that.
You say about the rigging of the election to the Soviet, I do not know enough about this to answer you, but what about the anarchist blowing up the headquaters of the CP, the party which the class had elected. This was a rather authoritarian disregard for the workers' will.