Need some basic understanding of Trotskyism

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 11:42
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What you miss, is that Lenin and Trotsky, by virtue of being in a position to negotiate treaties with Germany were already representing the new Russian imperialism. How do internationalist revolutionaries sign military treaties on behalf of nation states? In what sense were they in a position to decide the fate of revolutionary workers in Estonia and Latvia? Estonia and Latvia of course later reclaimed by another treaty between Russia and Germany which I'm sure you don't approve of...

Actually, there were three strands of thought in the Bolshevik party on this:

- Lenin, who supported a treaty from the start - his position was basically that Germany would be defeated by the spread of the world revolution and if that didn't happen, then Germany would simply resume its attack on Russia and take even more;
- The Left Communists around Bukharin who had a position of "revolutionary war" - this position was also shared by the Left-SRs who were part of the government at this point and probably of the majority in the Soviets - it was also somewhat impractical given that the armed forces had disintegrated and probably couldn't have taken on a kindergarten let alone the most powerful military machine in Europe;
- Trotsky, favoured a middle position, negotiation with the Germans but demanding a peace without any reparation or annexation. He supported the idea of using the negotiations as a "tribune" to expose the imperialist appetites of the Central Powers. After three months of negotiation, Trotsky, who led the Bolshevik delegation, walked out on the negotiations after three months precisely because of the continual German demands for territory and declared a unilateral peace but with no official treat - "no war, no peace".

So it was actually Trotsky's position that won out until the Germans got fed up and began advancing again, which encouraged the majority of the Bolsheviks and Soviet delegates to rally to Lenin's position. Most of the territory ceded to the Germans was already under their de facto control anyway. Estonia, Latvia and Finland were actually part of the Russian Empire until the Bolsheviks encouraged and accepted their demands for independence as part of their foolish "right to self-determination" policy. The Treaty passed these over to the German sphere of influence - what this meant in practice was the Russian government gave up any claim which they had already done in any case. In addition, the Bolsheviks supported radical movements in these countries (especially Finland) and the Baltic states were part of the battleground during the Civil War.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 12:02
Leo Uilleann wrote:
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Backing it up with anything at all after October.

Do you think that the Bolsheviks suddenly revealed their "true nature" of being a band aspiring to become the bourgeoisie themselves after October?

No, I think they were radical social democrats throughout, but radical social democrats who due to their illegal status (and the personality of Lenin which made him quick to latch on to trends in the working class) appeared both to themselves and everyone else to be more than that. However, their core politics was never communist in any real sense, and their actions, both between February and October and afterwards were consistent with this - if played out under rather different circumstances than people with similar politics elsewhere.

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Work speedups, taylorism, one-man management - these are just technological changes then and have nothing to do with class relationships?

Those obviously were, above all, an expression of the miserable isolation and degeneration of the revolution, and there was an opposition to all that. Those sort of things had to do with the class relations as they fed the rising bureaucratic class, but this did not immediately finish off the revolution.

Well it depends whether you identify the revolution with the Bolshevik party or with the workers. There was a three day mass strike and the occupation of an entire town in Vichuga and the wider IIR during 1932 (short article in the Library, the J. Rossman book it's based on is also very, very good) - many of the workers involved in that were also involved in 1917, including ex-Bolsheviks etc. Of course the Bolshevik party shot and imprisoned those involved (before granting the concessions they were striking for a few weeks later), I don't see how putting down strikes in 1918 is any less degenerate.

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Thanks, I'll try to find that book.

It's out of print. I managed to find it in a library and it also turns up on Amazon and Abe books sometimes.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 12:17
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as part of their foolish "right to self-determination" policy.

Yes, this is my point. Please explain how the 'right to [national] self-determination' fits with your claims that Lenin and Trotsky were internationalists.

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 12:43
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Yes, this is my point. Please explain how the 'right to [national] self-determination' fits with your claims that Lenin and Trotsky were internationalists.

Easy. They were internationalists that got this disasterously wrong. They thought they were releasing oppressed peoples from the yoke of Tsarist imperialism and didn't anticipate the rise in nationalism this would create. Luxemburg annihilated Lenin's position on this but she never claimed that they abandoned internationalism because she understood the spirit behind their actions.

They were simply carrying out the policy Lenin supported in 1916: "The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that “its own” nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible; the hypocrisy of the reformist and Kautskyan advocates of self-determination who maintain silence about the nations which are oppressed by “their” nation and forcibly retained within “their” state will remain unexposed. ... The Socialists of the oppressed nations, on the other hand, must particularly fight for and maintain complete, absolute unity (also organizational) between the workers of the oppressed nation and the workers of the oppressing nation."

Lenin did exactly that, "freeing" the nations that were forcibly retained within the Russian state, believing that the proletariat would maintain the "complete absolute unity" of the proletarian bastion. Unfortunately, the reciprocal support from the proletariat in these new nations was crushed by their own national bourgeoisies and the whole idea of "self-determination" gave them the ideological cover needed to line up with German imperialism.

With hindsight, it's easy to see that this policy was mistaken both on practical and theoretical grounds but we shouldn't forget just how radical it was at the time. So much so that it panicked Wilson and the rest of the bourgeoisie into adopting their own version! Of course, the fact that this was so easily done by Wilson and co. demonstrated its fundamental "utopian, petty-bourgeois character" as Luxemburg put it.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 13:40

So, more 'mistakes' then.

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Alf
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Apr 16 2008 14:09

How else does the workers' movement advance if not by learning from its mistakes?

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 14:22
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So, more 'mistakes' then.

In my view, yes, the national question did not at that time constitute a crossing of the class line. And when you look at what Lenin was actually advocating, it was the international unity of workers for world revolution. That's not to say this perspective wasn't tainted with a "utopian, petty-bourgeois character" because it most definitely was. It's also not to minimise the seriousness of this error because it later led to policies which did cross the class line.

We also need to examine the continual cry about the Bolsheviks taking actions against strikes in context as well. For the Bolsheviks, in the context of a situation where the proletariat had seized power, how could you support workers going on strike when the most pressing need was to get the economy going again? This position has a certain logic as long as you accepted the premise that the workers were actually in control and I think this was the case to start with. I think it is perfectly legitimate to oppose a strike if such a strike would damage the interests of the proletariat as a whole. The question is how you oppose it and for the Bolsheviks this was a question that was increasingly answered with repression.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 14:31

Did Lenin and Trotsky learn from their 'mistakes'?
Were they inconsistent with their politics in general?
Did Leninist and Trotskyist parties learn from these 'mistakes' during the next 90 years?
Does writing off the social democratic policies of Lenin and Trotsky as simple mistakes, human error, help advance the workers movement?
Does the ICC describe the actions and ideology of Kautsky, Noske and others as simply mistakes?

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 14:38
Demogorgon303 wrote:
We also need to examine the continual cry about the Bolsheviks taking actions against strikes in context as well. For the Bolsheviks, in the context of a situation where the proletariat had seized power, how could you support workers going on strike when the most pressing need was to get the economy going again?

You couldn't, unless you substituted the Party for the class, which is of course what happened.

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This position has a certain logic as long as you accepted the premise that the workers were actually in control and I think this was the case to start with.

I think Smith's book shows that to be categorically false, even in Petrograd.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
In my view, yes, the national question did not at that time constitute a crossing of the class line.

How does this apply to, for example, the IRB/IRA in Ireland during the same period?

yoshomon
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Apr 16 2008 14:40

If I remember right, ICC folks have criticized anarchists for reducing past counter-revolutionary bullshit by anarchists to "mistakes", rather than to a fundamental problem with anarchism.

yoshomon
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Apr 16 2008 14:42
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We also need to examine the continual cry about the Bolsheviks taking actions against strikes in context as well. For the Bolsheviks, in the context of a situation where the proletariat had seized power, how could you support workers going on strike when the most pressing need was to get the economy going again?

It is always good to see the Leninists come out of the woodwork.

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 14:51
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Did Lenin and Trotsky learn from their 'mistakes'?

Lenin was constantly critiquing the development of the revolution and Bolshevik policy. For the most part, he accepted that the Bolshevik state apparatus was far from ideal. Trotsky was less so.

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Were they inconsistent with their politics in general?

No, many of their mistakes were at the core of their politics. That is not the point. Luxemburg actually supported the idea of the Constituent Assembly - effectively a bourgeois parliament. This was a chronic error in her critique and revealed her difficulties in breaking with democratism. She was still a revolutionary.

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Did Leninist and Trotskyist parties learn from these 'mistakes' during the next 90 years?

Strawman argument. You know the ICC and Left Communists in general believe Russia had fallen to counter-revolution at around 1921 - 23, that the Comintern was finally finished off in 1929 and that Trotskyism crossed the line in 1939. Moreoever, we view these dates as final points of no return, the final result of a process of degeneration beforehand. In fact, Left Communism comes from the "Leninists" and "Trotskyists" that did learn from these mistakes.

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Does writing off the social democratic policies of Lenin and Trotsky as simple mistakes, human error, help advance the workers movement?

They're not being written off. Left Communism is built on a fundamental critique of all these errors - a critique that was made at the cost of their lives of LCs in some cases. And it's not a case of "human error" but developing an understanding, through experience, of how the class can develop its revolution.

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Does the ICC describe the actions and ideology of Kautsky, Noske and others as simply mistakes?

Kautsky and Noske both opposed proletarian revolution, one ideologically, the other materially. You can't put them in the same company as Lenin and Trotsky who were instrumental in bringing about a proletarian revolution. No-one's denying their mistakes helped bring about the defeat of this revolution - they certainly determined the form that defeat took, in any case.

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 14:56
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You couldn't, unless you substituted the Party for the class, which is of course what happened.

A conception which was common in the whole workers' movement including Lenin, Luxemburg, and probably the anarchists too. Everyone thought revolutionaries should take power by winning a majority in the Soviets.

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I think Smith's book shows that to be categorically false, even in Petrograd.

Haven't read it, so I can't comment. But does this mean you think the Soviets were empty shells from the start?

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How does this apply to, for example, the IRB/IRA in Ireland during the same period?

Did the Irish nationalists call for "complete, absolute unity (also organizational) between the workers of the oppressed nation and the workers of the oppressing nation"?

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 16 2008 14:59
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It is always good to see the Leninists come out of the woodwork.

What makes me a Leninist? The idea that it's possible that workers can raise reactionary demands which should be opposed? If workers went on strike demanding the return of a bourgeois government - and this happened in Russia - would you support it?

Battlescarred
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Apr 16 2008 15:17

But we're not talking about reactionary demands we're talking about workers going on strike over conditions and pay

yoshomon
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Apr 16 2008 15:39
Demogorgon303 wrote:
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It is always good to see the Leninists come out of the woodwork.

What makes me a Leninist? The idea that it's possible that workers can raise reactionary demands which should be opposed? If workers went on strike demanding the return of a bourgeois government - and this happened in Russia - would you support it?

I would shoot them down like patridges.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 15:51
Demogorgon303 wrote:
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Did Lenin and Trotsky learn from their 'mistakes'?

Lenin was constantly critiquing the development of the revolution and Bolshevik policy. For the most part, he accepted that the Bolshevik state apparatus was far from ideal. Trotsky was less so.

Well this thread is principally about Trotsky, so I'll take that as a no.

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No, many of their mistakes were at the core of their politics. That is not the point.

It very much is the point. If something is at the core of your politics then it's hard to call it a 'mistake' - especially when it has far reaching real world applications. Unless you open that up and say that any ideology is a 'mistake'.

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Luxemburg actually supported the idea of the Constituent Assembly - effectively a bourgeois parliament. This was a chronic error in her critique and revealed her difficulties in breaking with democratism. She was still a revolutionary.

This is the second or third time you've mentioned Luxemburg. I haven't.

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Did Leninist and Trotskyist parties learn from these 'mistakes' during the next 90 years?

Strawman argument. You know the ICC and Left Communists in general believe Russia had fallen to counter-revolution at around 1921 - 23, that the Comintern was finally finished off in 1929 and that Trotskyism crossed the line in 1939. Moreoever, we view these dates as final points of no return, the final result of a process of degeneration beforehand. In fact, Left Communism comes from the "Leninists" and "Trotskyists" that did learn from these mistakes.

Well a large part of the contributions of 'left communists' on these threads has been an attempt to rehabilitate Lenin and Trotsky as authentic revolutionaries against the accusations of anarchists. While a lot written by anarchists on the Bolsheviks has been at a very shallow level of critique, this doesn't invalidated positions that see them as fundamentally counter revolutionary.

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Does the ICC describe the actions and ideology of Kautsky, Noske and others as simply mistakes?

Kautsky and Noske both opposed proletarian revolution, one ideologically, the other materially. You can't put them in the same company as Lenin and Trotsky who were instrumental in bringing about a proletarian revolution. No-one's denying their mistakes helped bring about the defeat of this revolution - they certainly determined the form that defeat took, in any case.

Considering the defeat was at their own hands, and they both "opposed proletarian revolution, ideologically and materially", I think it's quite legitimate to put them in the same company.

Leo
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Apr 16 2008 16:05
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No, I think they were radical social democrats throughout, but radical social democrats who due to their illegal status (and the personality of Lenin which made him quick to latch on to trends in the working class) appeared both to themselves and everyone else to be more than that. However, their core politics was never communist in any real sense

And you think the same about Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter and others, surely?

All of those fellas were "radical social democrats" (left wing of the second international is, I think a better term). I do think it is simply ridiculous to call the Bolsheviks "social democrats" as in they are like the social democrats of today, but all communists, left communists, council communists etc. came out of what was social democracy then (or occasionally from anarchism but that isn't the point).

Also I don't think Lenin was in any way "quick to latch on the trends in the working class", this is an unfair comment, he did after all defend internationalism when there weren't enough internationalists to fill the wagon of a train and when the "trend" among the workers of Europe was going to war on behalf of the national bourgeoisie. Had he been this unprincipled and non-communistic social democrat, surely he would have supported the war.

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and their actions, both between February and October

Can you elaborate this? All you have said on this is one case where Bolshevik unionists tried to stop a strike. There is a more fair point actually, on the position of Zinoviev-Kamanev-Stalin in this period, opposing and even trying to prevent the revolution, but obviously Lenin, Trotsky and others were completely opposed to this trajectory and were doing everything in their power to push for the soviets to take power.

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There was a three day mass strike and the occupation of an entire town in Vichuga and the wider IIR during 1932 (short article in the Library, the J. Rossman book it's based on is also very, very good) - many of the workers involved in that were also involved in 1917, including ex-Bolsheviks etc. Of course the Bolshevik party shot and imprisoned those involved (before granting the concessions they were striking for a few weeks later), I don't see how putting down strikes in 1918 is any less degenerate.

Don't know about mass strikes being put down by shooting workers in 1918, but, we can take the example of Kronstadt perhaps, in which those who supported it objectively were rooting for the counter-revolution, it was not a necessity in any way, it was plain wrong, and again it was an important point in the revolutions process of degeneration.

When this revolt was happening, the workers in Petrograd and in Kronstadt thought that the Bolsheviks were not a capitalist & bourgeois party. This is why they didn't kill even the most dangerous ones who had been arrested, they didn't break the ice and even when the Red Army was slaughtering them, their last words were "long live the world revolution" and some even shouted "long live the Communist International".

The ICC pamphlet on Kronstadt, which I will quote from, is I think excellent and I would recommend it to anyone (I even recommended it to my father once!). Anyway:

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The development of events in Russia after the revolt makes nonsense of the claims that the suppression of the rebellion was a 'tragic necessity' to defend the revolution. The Bolsheviks believed they were defending the revolution from the threat of White Guard reaction in this crucial frontier seaport. But whatever the Bolsheviks thought they were doing, in fact, by attacking the rebels they were attacking the only real defence the revolution can have: working class autonomy and direct proletarian power. In doing so they made themselves the very agents of the counter-revolution from within, and these acts served to pave the way for the final triumph of the bourgeois counter-revolution in the form of Stalinism (...) But to say that the Bolshevik Party was 'nothing but' capitalist in 1921 is to say, in effect, that we have nothing to learn about the Kronstadt events, except the date of the revolution's demise. Capitalists, after all, always crush workers' uprisings and we don't have to 'learn' this over and over again. Kronstadt can only teach us anything new if we recognise it as a chapter within proletarian history, as a tragedy within the proletarian camp. The real problem revolutionaries must face today is how did a proletarian party come to act as the Bolsheviks did at Kronstadt in 1921, and how can we ensure that such an event never occurs again?

http://en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR003_kron.htm

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Please explain how the 'right to [national] self-determination' fits with your claims that Lenin and Trotsky were internationalists.

Again, I think this argument has more teeth than the ones saying Lenin was a "Kautskyist bourgeois social democrat" etc. Regardless, I don't think the Bolshevik position towards national liberation pushed them outside of the proletarian camp, and there are a few reasons for this. First one was that, fundamentally the Bolshevik position was not half as bad as the most sophisticated leftist position today as of course you are aware of. The second reason is that actually the support Bolsheviks gave to national liberation and "national-democratic revolutionary" bourgeois factions never worked is a suitable way. The number of factions who were willing to even collaborate with them on the most basic level were already quite small, almost all of those factions double-crossed the Bolsheviks, and some of them did it more than once. Obviously, it is understandable why that "national-democratic revolutionary" bourgeois factions did not want to work with or double-crossed the Bolsheviks which does again by itself tells as much about the futility of the policy as about the nature of the Bolsheviks and at least how the bourgeoisie regarded them. However, Bolsheviks did not really realize all that, they were thinking that they were flying while falling down from a cliff. The third reason, is that the Bolsheviks did not know what the consequences of the policy was going to be clearly (although some of them who knew more were clearly against it).

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 16:08
Demogorgon303 wrote:
A conception which was common in the whole workers' movement including Lenin, Luxemburg, and probably the anarchists too.

Luxemburg <em>again</em>?

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Everyone thought revolutionaries should take power by winning a majority in the Soviets.

Thinking that revolutionaries should take power by winning a majority in the Soviets doesn't equate to thinking that having a majority in the Soviets means the working class is in power. I'd be interested to see some quotes from anarchists in Russia claiming any such thing by the way.

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Haven't read it, so I can't comment. But does this mean you think the Soviets were empty shells from the start?

Again, whether something is an empty shell or not is a separate question from whether it's in total control of a massive geographical area. I don't think strike committees during factory occupations are empty shells, however neither are they fully in control. Certainly the Soviets were a step removed from the working class compared to the factory committees. And the factory committees were themselves a step removed from mass meetings etc. and had their own bureaucratising tendencies. So not an empty shell in the sense you're implying, but certainly not equivalent to 'the working class'.

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How does this apply to, for example, the IRB/IRA in Ireland during the same period?

Did the Irish nationalists call for "complete, absolute unity (also organizational) between the workers of the oppressed nation and the workers of the oppressing nation"?

I'm sure I could find some national liberationists who've said very similar things via a quick google. More to the point, how was the working class in Russia an 'oppressor'? Do you think entire nations can be oppressed or be oppressors?

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2008 16:23
Leo Uilleann wrote:
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No, I think they were radical social democrats throughout, but radical social democrats who due to their illegal status (and the personality of Lenin which made him quick to latch on to trends in the working class) appeared both to themselves and everyone else to be more than that. However, their core politics was never communist in any real sense

And you think the same about Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter and others, surely?

I don't think they were communists in the sense the word has taken on since the '60s, no. Luxemburg tends to get off lightly in terms of an examination of her own politics because 1. she was murdered 2. she had very pertininent criticisms of Lenin. The councilists had all kinds of odd ideas about how worker self management would work, which would be given extremely short shrift if transplanted to today. Are they worth reading, were their actions positive? yes, but that doesn't make their ideas any kind of blueprint. Of course none of them carried out counter-revolutions.

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Also I don't think Lenin was in any way "quick to latch on the trends in the working class", this is an unfair comment, he did after all defend internationalism when there weren't enough internationalists to fill the wagon of a train and when the "trend" among the workers of Europe was going to war on behalf of the national bourgeoisie. Had he been this unprincipled and non-communistic social democrat, surely he would have supported the war.

You don't think social democrats can be principled?

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Can you elaborate this? All you have said on this is one case where Bolshevik unionists tried to stop a strike. There is a more fair point actually, on the position of Zinoviev-Kamanev-Stalin in this period, opposing and even trying to prevent the revolution, but obviously Lenin, Trotsky and others were completely opposed to this trajectory and were doing everything in their power to push for the soviets to take power.

I linked to the other thread. I'd rather you read that and posted any questions there rather than typing it all out again on this one (and I don't have the book to hand).

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Don't know about mass strikes being put down by shooting workers in 1918

I'm not sure about shootings in 1918, but there were big steel strikes that were repressed.

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but, we can take the example of Kronstadt perhaps, in which those who supported it objectively were rooting for the counter-revolution, it was not a necessity in any way, it was plain wrong, and again it was an important point in the revolutions process of degeneration.

When this revolt was happening, the workers in Petrograd and in Kronstadt thought that the Bolsheviks were not a capitalist & bourgeois party. This is why they didn't kill even the most dangerous ones who had been arrested, they didn't break the ice and even when the Red Army was slaughtering them, their last words were "long live the world revolution" and some even shouted "long live the Communist International".

Yes, I think their faith in the Bolsheviks certainly can be classed as a 'mistake', and of course many regretted it later. Even in Novercherkassk in 1962, where thousands of workers went on strike at the NEVZ factory and others over food price hikes, and around 60 were massacred 27 hours later with hundreds more injured and/or arrested, the strikers in large part considered themselves acting in the true spirit of 1917, the workers who were fired on had been marching with red banners and pictures of Lenin until they arrived at their destination.

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Alf
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Apr 16 2008 19:22

As Demogorgon said, Lenin's later writings were full of insights about what was going wrong in Russia, and by 1923 Trotsky had already been obliged to join the ranks of the opposition. True, unlike other oppositionists, he was not able to carry his criticisms of the degenerating regime to their conclusion, but this is fundamentally a discussion about proletarian currents, not individuals. Thousands of Bolshevik oppositionists, whether or not they regarded themselves as followers of Trotsky, did learn from the mistakes that had been made and took their criticisms much further.

As for the national question, does Catch's anathema also apply to Marx? Even if you don't agree with his support for national movements (Poland, the Union in the American civil war, Italian unification, etc), are you prepared to say that this made him a counter-revolutionary?

Leo
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Apr 16 2008 21:25
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I don't think they were communists in the sense the word has taken on since the '60s, no.

What is this "communism in the sense the word has taken on since 60s"? Who took it on? What does it refer to? Who are those "communists in the sense the word has taken on since the '60s"?

Surely, by the way, Marx and others from his era could not be included in this bunch also?

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You don't think social democrats can be principled?

Uhh, no, I don't know how you read something like this into what i wrote.

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I linked to the other thread. I'd rather you read that and posted any questions there rather than typing it all out again on this one (and I don't have the book to hand).

Will check it out soon.

capricorn
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Apr 17 2008 11:16

If I can introduce another Dead Russian into the debate, here's what Julius Martov (not a Bolshevik of course) wrote in 1918:.

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In October-November of 1847, Marx wrote on this subject with clear-cut definiteness in his article: Moralizing criticism.
"If it is true that politically, that is to say with the help of the State, the bourgeoisie “maintains the injustice of property relations” (Heinzer’s expression), it is no less true that it does not create them. The injustice of the property relations ... does not owe its origin in any way to the political domination of the bourgeois classes; but on the contrary, the domination of the bourgeoisie flows from the existing relations of production ... For this reason, if the proletariat overthrows the political domination of the bourgeoisie, its victory will only he a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794, and will happen again as long as the march, the “movement,” of history will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production, and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie. "(Literary Heritage, volume II, p.512-513. Our emphasis.)

It appears therefore that Marx admitted the possibility of a political victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie at a point of historic development when the previously necessary conditions for a socialist revolution were not yet mature. But he stressed that such a victory would be transitory, and he predicted with the prescience of genius that a conquest of political power by the proletariat that is premature from the historic viewpoint would “only be a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself.”

We conclude that, in the- case of a notably “premature” conquest of power, Marx would consider it obligatory of the conscious elements of the proletariat to pursue a policy that takes into consideration the fact that such a conquest represents objectively “only a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself” and will “serve the latter by aiding its further development.” He would expect a policy leading the proletariat to limit voluntarily the position and the solution of the revolutionary problems. For the proletariat can score a victory over the bourgeoisie – and not for the bourgeoisie – only when “the march of history will have elaborated the material factors that create the necessity (not merely the objective possibility! – Martov) of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production.”

The following words of Marx explain in what sense a passing victory of the proletariat can become a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution:

"By its bludgeon blows the Reign of Terror cleansed the surface of France, as if by a miracle, of all the feudal ruins. With its timorous caution, the bourgeoisie would not have managed this task in several decades. Therefore, the bloody acts of the people merely served to level the route of the bourgeoisie."

The Reign of Terror in France was the momentary domination of the democratic petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat over all the possessing daises, including the authentic bourgeoisie. Marx indicates very definitely that such a momentary domination cannot be the starting point of a socialist transformation, unless the material factors rendering this transformation indispensable will have first been worked out.

One might say that Marx wrote this specially for the benefit of those people who consider the simple fact of a fortuitous conquest of power by the democratic small bourgeoisie and the proletariat as proof of the maturity of society for the socialist revolution. But it may also be said that he wrote this specially for the benefit of those socialists who believe that never in the course of a revolution that is bourgeois in its objectives can there occur a possibility permitting the political power to escape from the hands of the bourgeoisie and pass to the democratic masses. One may say that Marx wrote this also for the benefit of those socialists who consider utopian the mere idea of such a displacement of power and who do not realize that this phenomenon is “only a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself,” that it is a factor assuring, under certain conditions, the most complete and radical suppression of the obstacles rising in the way of this bourgeois revolution.(http://www.marxists.org/archive/martov/1918/xx/marxdp.htm)

Engels (a Dead German) also made the same point at the same time as Marx:

Quote:
The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. (The Peasant War in France. 1850, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/index.htm

In other words Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were "irrevocably lost" from the start. Lenin's last articles suggest that he was beginning to understand this. Trotsky never understood.

ernie
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Apr 17 2008 13:51

capricorn

I can see the point you are getting at

"In other words Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were "irrevocably lost" from the start. Lenin's last articles suggest that he was beginning to understand this. Trotsky never understood"

However, the period was right for the world revolution, the problem is that the proletariat was not able carry the revolutionary wave to 1917-1926 through to its outcome. This meant that the Russian Revolution, the proletariat and the Bolsheviks were left in a terrible historical contradiction: the revolution had been carried out based on the expectation that it would spread world wide, but when this became less and less likely they were then left holdiing the baby. It would have been the same if some form of 'pure' system in Russia had been put in place. Some form of system control totally by the Soviets etc would still have been faced with the question of how do you respond to a situation where you are an isolated proletarian bastion: unless one believes in socialism in one country . It would help if those who are so vehement in their rejection of the Bolsheviks would explain how they think one can get out of this situation.

It was not only at the end of his life that Lenin worried about this problem from the beginning of the revolution his and the Bolsheviks principle concern was the need for the revolution to spread internationally because they know that if it did not the revolution and they were going to be a serious shit.

ernie
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Apr 17 2008 14:08

Catch

Your rejection of the Bolsheviks because of their use of repression against the class is clear and understandable, so would you agree with the ICC, and the Italian Communist Left i.e., Bilan, that one of the main lessons to be drawn from the experience of the Russian Revolution is that revolutionaries have to rejected the use of violence within the class, and also on a wider level the rejection of the use of Red Terror (which both the Anarchist and Bolsheviks used during the revolution)?

Anarcho
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Apr 17 2008 14:17
Alf wrote:
Yoshomon: do you think that there was any kind of proletarian dictatorship in Russia between 1917 and 1921?

Let Lenin speak for himself, when the Bolshevik party's Central Committee opposed the idea of a coalition government immediately after the overthrow of the Provisional Government in October 1917. As it explained, "a purely Bolshevik government" was "impossible to refuse" since "a majority at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets . . . handed power over to this government."

So the party is in power, not the soviets or the working class. Significantly, the first act of the new regime was to create an executive body above the soviets -- the exact opposite of the Paris Commune. Not to worry, for the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat 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]

As the Bolshevik regime became more and more unpopular, and more and more isolated from the masses, the new rulers simply started to gerrymander and disband soviets to remain in power. The Bolshevik onslaught on the soviets in early/mid 1918 is described in detail here:

http://www.infoshop.org/faq/append41.html#app6

So, no "Proletarian dictatorship" -- there was a government by the party leadership which became a dictatorship of the party leadership once people no longer voted for them.... Pretty much as Bakunin predicted...

Anarcho
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Apr 17 2008 14:19
Leo Uilleann wrote:
Also the Bolshevik Party indeed had not initially intended to take power itself but for the workers councils to take power and for the party to participate in the councils. The party did end up being more and more merged with the state, which was happening because the isolation of the revolution was forcing it, yet this was above all what killed the party and eventually turned it into a tool of the counter-revolution.

That explains Lenin in 1917 continually repeating the basic idea: "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."

He equated party power with popular power: "the power of the Bolsheviks -- that is, the power of the proletariat." Moreover, he argued that Russia "was ruled by 130,000 landowners . . . and they tell us that Russia will not be able to be governed by the 240,000 members of the Bolshevik Party -- governing in the interest of the poor and against the rich." He stresses that the Bolsheviks "are not Utopians. We know that just any labourer or any cook would be incapable of taking over immediately the administration of the State." Therefore they "demand that the teaching should be conducted by the class-consciousness workers and soldiers, that this should be started immediately." Until then, the "conscious workers must be in control."

Anarcho
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Apr 17 2008 14:29
Virindi wrote:
Looking to understand Trotsky better. From what I understand reading Berkman's piece on Kronstadt he pretty much ordered the massacre of Kronstadt in 1921, but not much more.

I'm willing to read if you're willing to write, or if you don't have time, can you shoot me to stuff he wrote to explains his views as well as criticisms of it?

May I suggest the following from An Anarchist FAQ:

Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?

Appendix -- The Russian Revolution (Trotsky's "Left Opposition" is covered here: Were any of the Bolshevik oppositions a real alternative?

My home page also contains relevant materials: http://anarchism.ws/writers/anarcho.html

Trotskyism was little more than the politics of bureaucrats who lost an inter-party battle with other bureaucrats. It followed the same state capitalist and party power/dictatorship ideology which failed so badly under Lenin.

capricorn
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Apr 18 2008 07:37

Ernie asks:

Quote:
It would help if those who are so vehement in their rejection of the Bolsheviks would explain how they think one can get out of this situation.

First, Lenin and the Bolsheviks misjudged the situation outside Russia. Although there was great discontent amongst sections of the working class in Europe this did not mean that a majority of the workers there wanted socialism. In fact, the results of elections in Germany, France and Britain showed the opposite. In France and Britain workers voted into power flag-waving patriotic politicians. In Germany workers showed that the most they wanted was a democratic republic. Which they got. In fact, in so far as there was a revolutionary wave in Central and Eastern Europe it was "anti-feudal" in the sense that it led to the overthrow of the autocratic regimes in Germany and Austria. In other words, the Bolsheviks' justification for seizing and holding power on their own (that their coming to power was the first step in a world socialist revolution) was mistaken. Such a world socialist revolution was, unfortunately, not on the cards at the time.
Second, while the overthrow of the pro-war Kerensky Provisional Government was justified, precisely on the grounds that it was pro-war and that the slaughter of the War needed to be stopped, it would best have been replaced by another, anti-war, Provisional Government made up of all the revolutionary anti-Tsarist parties. Instead, the Bolsheviks monopolised power for themselves.
Third, this new Provisional Government should have accepted the results of the elections to the Constituent Assembly and have handed over power to the government that emerged on this basis. Indeed -- and this is my answer to your question as to what the Bolsheviks should have done -- Lenin's minority Bolshevik government should have done this. (That way they would have avoided taking responsibility themselves for the development of capitalism in Russia and all that this involved including acting against the interests of the working class.)
If this had happened, the inevitable development of capitalism might have taken place within the framework of a democratic republic which would have given the working class a chance to defend its interests within capitalism and allowed socialists to continue agitating for socialism. This was in fact the programme of all the pre-war anti-Tsarist revolutionary parties (including the Bolsheviks).
Instead, once in power, the Bolsheviks decided to tough it out and govern alone. So, capitalism developed there within the framework of a one-party dictatorship and eventually took the form of a state-monopoly capitalism with those who monopolised the state emerging as a new, privileged ruling and expoliting class. The working class was completely crushed and deprived of all rights, with the Bolsheviks themselves assuming responsibility for disciplining and subduing them (smashing their trade unions, banning strikes, sending militants to labour camps, etc).
I could go on (to talk about the Bolsheviks splitting the working class movement in the West and introducing undemocratic organisational forms that the working class there had grown out of it) but I think I've said enough to show that the Bolsheviks were wrong, wrong, wrong (except on stopping the slaughter, at least on the Eastern Front).

dave c
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Apr 18 2008 09:51

Leo, are you implying that in 1917 Lenin had faith that the Russian workers could govern themselves through the council system, or that he had any qualms about the Bolshevik party seizing power? I would not take such notions very seriously.

What I was trying to say is quite simple, and I do not think it is based on any misunderstanding. As Paul Mattick put it,

Quote:
the fact was that the minority position of [the proletariat], together with the existence and aspirations of other classes and their organizations, precluded a democratic revolutionary development with an outcome favorable to the working class and socialism. . . . Left to themselves, the soviets were quite capable of abdicating their power position for the promises of the liberal bourgeoisie and their reformist allies.

The Bolsheviks sought to "secure the socialist character of the revolution" by seizing power. (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/lobby/2379/pm_lr.htm) And they maintained power despite the fact that the majority of soviets rejected sole rule by the Bolsheviks. (Anweiler, The Soviets, 206) The Bolsheviks

Quote:
created in the place of the shattered governing triangle, Czarism, nobility, bourgeoisie, the new governing triangle, bolshevism, peasantry, working class. ("Theses on Bolshevism," http://www.kurasje.org/arksys/archset.htm)

It was not the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Lenin said in 1919,

Quote:
. . .we have not reached the stage at which the working people could participate in government.

The Bolsheviks had not in fact secured the socialist character of the revolution, for only the proletariat can possibly do such a thing. This is the fundamental point which the left communists do not understand because of their idealist focus on party positions instead of social conditions.

The idea that opposing "violence within the class" is some kind of great historical lesson is bizarre. It assumes the proletarian nature of the Bolshevik state, instead of evaluating the nature of that state on the basis of, say, its violence against the working class. It goes along with Bilan's idealist maxim:

Quote:
whereas there can be no antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state, one does arise between the proletariat and the transitional state. (1936)

In this realm, "the party," "the class" (and its organs), and "the state" are all separate entities whose ideal interrelations are revealed by the Bolshevik experience. The state figures as an unmanageable beast that attacks the class. The party must defend the class, lest it merge with the state and employ "violence within the class."