Questions on russian state capitalism

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zugzwang
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Feb 11 2017 00:46
Questions on russian state capitalism

Did the Bolsheviks really have to capture the state, destroy the worker councils and drag the Russian people through state capitalist development? I keep hearing that it was impossible for an undeveloped and backward peasant country like Russia to go to socialism/communism immediately. So were the Bolsheviks really justified in crushing the Makhno movement? What's the anarchist/libertarian communist perspective on all this, and could anyone point me to further reading material on this subject?

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Steven.
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Feb 11 2017 16:24

I think in a lot of ways this is a moot point. It happened. And now no Marxist can deny that communism would be impossible.

But if we are going to talk about historical angels on the head of a pin, my view is that if primitive communism was possible, which was, then you can't argue communism was not possible later on with better developed productive forces.

I think the main problem with Leninists is not what happened 100 years ago, but their practice and theory now. In that selling papers, getting elected to union positions, join pointless front groups and telling people to vote Labour is not getting us anywhere closer to socialism.

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spacious
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Feb 11 2017 18:37
zugzwang wrote:
I keep hearing that it was impossible for an undeveloped and backward peasant country like Russia to go to socialism/communism immediately.

To go into the question of '(im)possibility':

The idea that this was *impossible* was first put forward by Russian revolutionaries (who thought of themselves as marxists), and they were going against an idea prevalent in the 19th century revolutionary milieu, that the Russian agrarian commune could be freed from entanglement by exploitative forces (for example usury, the Tsarist state etc.) and become the basis for a "jump" to communist society. The reason why the commune would have allowed such a jump is because there wasn't yet a fragmented capitalist peasant class, and the soil was under control of a kind of associated labour with its own decision-making institutions (which were pretty patriarchal, but not capitalist and in fact strongly resistant to being demolished in favor of parcellized private land ownership).

Actually Karl Marx corresponded with several Russian authors and activists and roughly came to agree with this idea, but also thought that the possibility of this jump was rapidly vanishing, or possibly already had, because of the real decline of the agrarian commune. Marx also thought this possibility either depended on a successful revolution in western county or countries, or the other way round, that it might set the ball rolling for revolutionary developments in the advanced countries. So in that sense Marx had a much less unilinear viewpoint than the 'marxists' who saw a capitalist path for Russia as a necessity.

If you want to read about that prehistory of the debate, you should definitely read Teodor Shanin's book Late Marx and the Russian Road, which is a really great reconstruction of the question as it existed during the 19th century. At least that is the background to the later debate, up to and after 1917, at which point there was obviously a much transformed situation, as a result of war and the failure of revolution in the west.

I think the conclusion at a later date would be the same as Steven's: the bare fact is that it just didn't happen, but this doesn't actually prove it wasn't once "possible". Fact is that the alliance of workers and peasants on which such an alternative direction would have depended, didn't hold up in practice, or was pulled apart by the direction of real events.
All in all it makes more sense to look at the concrete situation, and the aims/actions/relative strength of different class forces, instead of hanging your judgement on the hook of necessity, so to speak, which is then used in retrospect to dish out labels of 'wrong' and 'right' for political choices.

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Auld-bod
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Feb 11 2017 20:14

zugzwang #1
‘I keep hearing that it was impossible for an undeveloped and backward peasant country like Russia to go to socialism/communism immediately. ’

Well that begs the question, ‘What do you mean by immediately?’ Was the rest of Europe/the world ready to abet a socialist revolution? Obviously not.

In my house I enjoy 'free communism' for several hours a day. The problems arise only when I open my front door and greet the rest of the world.

zugzwang
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Feb 11 2017 22:53

Didn't the Bolsheviks destroy all the socialist institutions, soviets, factory committees and so on (and the Makhno movement as well)? Was it necessary to centralize production and give decision-making power over to the Bolsheviks' party, just because Russia wasn't ready for this?

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Alf
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Feb 11 2017 22:36

On Marx and the Russian question in the late 70s, early 80s, I could point to this article, which does refer to Shanin, albeit critically:

http://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/199506/1685/mature-ma...

As Spacious points out, Marx had argued that "if the Russian revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two can supplement each other, then present Russian communal land ownership can serve as a point of departure for a communist develop­ment”.

The actual revolution in Russia came after several decades of capitalist development had severely dislocated the old communal forms. But still the question posed in 1917 was whether the revolution in Russia could be the first spark of the world revolution. It was not whether Russia in itself was 'ripe' for socialism, but whether capitalism as a world system had reached a stage in its evolution when communist revolution was both necessary and possible..Auldbod implies perhaps that Europe wasn't at that stage, but he doesn't explain why he thinks that.

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Feb 12 2017 13:19

Alf #6
‘It was not whether Russia in itself was 'ripe' for socialism, but whether capitalism as a world system had reached a stage in its evolution when communist revolution was both necessary and possible. Auldbod implies perhaps that Europe wasn't at that stage, but he doesn't explain why he thinks that.’

My understanding of why there was no revolution in Europe after the WW1, is that while the means of production were advanced enough to create ‘socialism’, which I think is a necessary condition, it is not by itself a sufficient condition.

What was missing was the revolutionary consciousness by a large enough portion of the working class to generate an overthrow of capitalism and its ideological bedrock.

Capitalism, while creating the material conditions of its eventual demise will remain secure as long as its underling ideology dominates. We are in a war of ideas, which expresses itself through class struggle, and a belief in a new economic order based on need not greed.

Note: meant to write underlying though 'underling' still fits!

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Alf
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Feb 12 2017 15:12

Thanks for clarifying that Auldbod...I agree that the failure of the revolution has to be sought in the 'subjective' side, in the difficulty of the working class as a whole to grasp the necessity for revolution. But it was still the nearest we have been to an international revolution.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 12 2017 22:22
Quote:
My understanding of why there was no revolution in Europe after the WW1, is that while the means of production were advanced enough to create ‘socialism’, which I think is a necessary condition, it is not by itself a sufficient condition. What was missing was the revolutionary consciousness by a large enough portion of the working class to generate an overthrow of capitalism and its ideological bedrock.

I think the SPGB best expressed this in their obituary of Lenin

Quote:
The first thing Lenin did when in office was to keep his promise. He issued a call for peace to all the belligerents on the basis of’ “no annexations, no indemnities.” This astonished the politicians of the Western Nations to whom election promises are standing jokes. It was at this point that Lenin made his greatest miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various Governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call

If they were reluctant to struggle for even peace,(although in Germany the protests, strikes and mutinies were far more evident than on the Allies side) then a socialist revolution certainly wasn't going to be realised

Even today some over-emphasise the 1918/1919 discontent that led to social upheavals around the globe, from Berlin to Seattle but as Auldbod says...the revolutionary consciousness was lacking. And it is in this battle of ideas that we are still busy fighting.

zugzwang
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Feb 13 2017 01:16

Okay, clearly revolution was contained and never spread throughout the world; Russia's revolution with the Bolsheviks at the helm only led to party dictatorship and state capitalism. Does that still justify the course of action Lenin and the Bolsheviks took - destroying all the workers' organizations (those socialist institutions), branding the Makhno movement counter-revolutionary, concentrating decision-making in the party, and so on? Were there not alternatives to just replacing one ruling class for another? I was hoping some of you could lend support to what Chomsky has expressed (in this essay) and what the Anarchist FAQ covers in its sections on the Russian Revolution. I disagree with the Leninists and Trotskyists I've come across who insist the Bolsheviks were a force for good and all their actions just and necessary because of the circumstances.

el psy congroo
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Feb 13 2017 06:27
Alf wrote:
I agree that the failure of the revolution has to be sought in the 'subjective' side, in the difficulty of the working class as a whole to grasp the necessity for revolution.

Communism is a great idea (today: the only idea). The problem with reaching it is a question of the internal structure of the commodity economy. A question of how our struggle to reproduce our basic means every week leads to our alienation.

Even an orangutan can seem to know we need communism, as they are very intelligent after all.

Perhaps the problem lies in some of us, the Leninists and Trotskyists and others, thinking that capturing the state and administrating it can help us. Seems doubtful a Russian revolution-styled insurrection could happen in even one country in the 21st century, much less simultaneously around the world.

Perhaps the problem is not a question of "raising" or "heightening" or "building" or "developing" consciousness and ideology, but a question of basic social activity.

el psy congroo
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Feb 13 2017 06:28

OP - Not sure if you'd come across this already, but it's far better than Chomsky: https://libcom.org/library/when-insurrections-die

ajjohnstone
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Feb 13 2017 08:50

Zugzwang, there were other options for the Bolsheviks. Lenin's political strategy was not necessarily the only choice for them and he did face opposition within the his Party by others. From February to April when Lenin imposed his April Thesis (was this the time he threatened to resign his party position, or was that later during July Days? i forget for now) a different approach was conducted.

There was various scenarios that the Bolsheviks could have chosen rather than their take-over. They could have formed a coalition government with all the "workers" parties, i.e. the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs, which was the favoured solution of ordinary workers remain an opposition party to Kerensky to abdicate as they did before Lenin's arrival or later after the Constituent Assembly election, they could have ceded power to the to the SR majority.

I usually quote this from the What Next discussion journal.

Quote:
"DURING the whole period I was active in the Trotskyist movement, I accepted the view that the revolution of October 1917 was a great leap forward on the road to socialism, and that the regime it established was a healthy workers’ state until it started degenerating from 1923-24 onwards with the ascendancy of Stalinism and the defeat of the Trotskyist opposition. Since then a closer examination of the actual history of the revolution has led me to question this view. As early as the summer of 1918, the Bolsheviks had lost the support of large sections of the working class and of the peasantry, and were ruling dictatorially...

...The disillusion of the workers was expressed in a declaration by the striking workers at the Sormovo factory in June 1918: "The Soviet regime, having been established in our name, has become completely alien to us. It promised to bring the workers socialism, but has brought them empty factories and destitution." A workers’ protest movement, the Extraordinary Assemblies of Factory and Plant Representatives, was formed in March 1918 with a membership of several hundred thousand at the height of its influence in June.

The response of the Bolsheviks was to nationalise the factories, replace workers’ control by one-man management, and dissolve the oppositional Soviets. By the summer of 1918 with the departure of the Left SRs from the government and the suppression of their uprising, and the Red Terror unleashed by the Cheka, the Bolshevik one-party dictatorship was in place. Any popular control from below of the Soviets or the government had disappeared.

In addition, there is ample evidence that the hard core of devoted self-sacrificing Bolshevik party cadres were already being swamped by careerists and corrupt elements in the party and Soviet institutions. In September 1919, a report landed on Lenin’s desk showing that the Smolny was full of corruption.

In the light of these facts, one can no longer uphold the Trotskyist thesis that from 1917 to 1923-24 the Soviet Union was a "healthy" workers’ state, and that the degeneration into bureaucratic dictatorship took off only afterwards...

...All one can say is that the "workers’ state" that was born in October 1917 was premature and infected from infancy. Unfortunately, as it degenerated, it infected the working-class movement internationally, and proved an obstacle on the road to socialism.

My old comrade, the late Alex Acheson, who joined the movement in the 1930s and remained a committed Trotskyist till his death last year, once said to me: "It might have been better if the October Revolution had never occurred."

What factors or actions by the participants might have resulted in the non-occurrence of October and a different outcome? Assuming that nothing is inevitable until it has happened, and that "men make their own history", there are three possibilities.

Firstly, that Lenin’s April Theses that set the Bolshevik party on the road to the October insurrection had been rejected by the party. Let us recall that up till Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd, the Bolshevik leadership was pursuing a policy of critical support for the Provisional government. They felt this was consistent with the view that since the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of bringing about a bourgeois revolution, this task would have to be carried out by the proletariat supported by the peasantry, but that the revolution could not go immediately beyond the stage of establishing a bourgeois republic. In February, the Petrograd proletariat had carried out this "bourgeois revolution" with the support of the peasant soldiers. Now that the bourgeois republic was in place, the next stage was not the immediate struggle for working-class power, but a relatively prolonged period of bourgeois democracy. Lenin now abandoned this view which he had himself defended under the slogan of "the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", and argued for no support for the Provisional Government, and for agitation for power to the Soviets. He swung the Bolshevik party to this policy. But it was not inevitable that he should have done. The Bolshevik party might have continued its policy of critical support for and pressure on the February regime.

Secondly, even after his steering the party on its new course, Lenin had to fight again in October to commit the party to insurrection against the opposition of Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. It is not inconceivable that Zinoviev and Kamenev might have carried the day. Then there would have been no October.

Thirdly, even after October there was, as I have pointed out, a very real possibility of a coalition Bolshevik-Menshevik-SR government, based either on the Soviets or a combination of the Constituent Assembly and the Soviets as organs of local power and administration. This possibility foundered against the mutual intransigence of the Bolshevik hardliners on one side and the Menshevik and SR right-wing on the other. But in both camps there were conciliatory wings, the Menshevik Internationalists and some Left SRs and the Bolshevik "moderates" – Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, etc....

....A coalition government of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and SRs, having a much broader based support than a purely Bolshevik one, would have been able to confront the White Armies more successfully, and thus shortened the Civil War, and reduced the destruction of the economy....

....It can also be argued that the attitudes and actions of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs, their leaderships and individuals, were themselves determined by the whole of their past histories and ideological roots, and they could not have acted otherwise than they did. That what happened was inevitable. But this is to look at events from a distance and with the hindsight of 1997. What happened happened. But in 1917-18, these parties, leaderships and individuals did have a choice of actions.....

The course although generally predetermined by the factors already referred to doesn't mean that all the events and developments were pre-destined.

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Feb 13 2017 12:16

Ajjohnstone’s post #13, is interesting and informative. What the Bolsheviks could have done with or without the other vanguard parties is academic. Any party or group that substitutes itself for the working class and attempts to pull the workers up by the hair will eventually stymie the goal it has set itself. That is the history of all the socialist parties.

As an aside some friends of mine recently visited Cuba. The government forbids individuals to own cattle, etc. The visitors were shocked at the poor condition of the beasts they saw in the fields. It would appear that in this case everyone’s responsibility was no one’s responsibility. This is not an argument for private property, rather one for worker’s control.