Russian revolution

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Alf
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Jan 7 2006 08:57

Lazy Riser I would hardly say that conquering the whole of eastern Europe after WW2 was an example of 'isolation'. Stalinist Russia obviously had its own imperialist dynamic and couldn't simply remain shut up behind its own borders.

But in any case we're talking about a period when there was a genuine proletarian revolution in Russia, not the period following the defeat of the revolution and the final victory of Stalinist state capitalism. This is why using the term 'Leninist guard' to describe the Russian ruling class decades later only confuses the issue by suggesting that Gorbachev was simply carrying on Lenin's programme.

From 1918-21 revolutionary Russia was plunged into a total nightmare by civil war, supported by a world-wide imperialist intervention and blockade. The most revolutionary workers were dispersed to the fronts, the cities faced starvation. Do you really not think this had some relationship to the demise in the political life of the soviets and factory committees and the swelling of the bureaucratic apparatus?

Maybe you should explain what you mean by "regenerating primary industry". Are you advocating that this should be done on the basis of commodity production, i.e. a new cycle of capital accumulation directed by the workers councils?

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2006 11:21
Alf wrote:

Perhaps we can simplify the issue to one of a strike. In today’s conditions, the only way workers can have an impact on the bourgeoisie is by spreading their struggles as widely as possible. There is clearly a link between extension and the form that workers use in the struggle. Since the trade unions are there to hold back the movement and divide the workers, it’s vital for workers to take control of the struggle, by holding general assemblies and making sure any committees and delegations remain responsible to the assembly, not the unions. This is the best form for allowing workers to appeal to other sectors to join them and for taking effective action to spread the struggle (eg massive delegations to other workplaces). But if the strike remains isolated, then maintaining the best, most ‘worker-controlled’ general assembly will not be enough to prevent the struggle from dying from within. Then you have the whole danger of the assembly ceasing to be a place of real discussion and decision and of the strike committees ending up as a new form of trade union. In short, extension is oxygen to the struggle. This is equally true at a higher level of the struggle, when the working class has taken political power in one country or region.

There are very clear contradictions in this post. First you state that the strike must be kept out of the control of the union and in mass assemblies, and that this is the best form for the struggle to spread via delegations.

In response for the factory committees however, you seem to have very little regard for these assemblies, ignore the question of the vesenka and the unions, and focus entirely on whether the struggle spreads. If "There is clearly a link between extension and the form that workers use in the struggle." and if "This is the best form for allowing workers to appeal to other sectors to join them and for taking effective action to spread the struggle" then Brinton's analysis of the very quick process to divest these organs of their power is apt. Given that moves had already been made against the committees by December 1917 I'd say that had a very strong influence on the revolution.

The question however, should be less "Would the revolution have been successful if the bolsheviks had been left alone to run things?" and more "Why were the factory committees (and the soviets) unable to resist co-option by the party?"

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2006 11:34
Quote:

From 1918-21 revolutionary Russia was plunged into a total nightmare by civil war, supported by a world-wide imperialist intervention and blockade. The most revolutionary workers were dispersed to the fronts, the cities faced starvation. Do you really not think this had some relationship to the demise in the political life of the soviets and factory committees and the swelling of the bureaucratic apparatus?

what about the fact that this process started before 1918?

the bolsheviks and workers control wrote:

December 5, 1917

Decree issued (71) setting up a Supreme Economic Council (Vesenka) to which were assigned the tasks of working out "a plan for the organisation of the economic life of the country and the financial resources of the government". The Vesenka was to "direct to a uniform end" the activities of all existing economic authorities, central and local, including the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control. (72) The Vesenka was to be "attached to the Council of Peoples Commissars" (itself made up entirely of members of the Bolshevik Party).

The composition of the Vesenka was instructive. It comprised a few members of the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control (a very indirect sop to the Factory Committees), massive representation from all the new Commissariats and a number of experts, nominated from above in a 'consultative capacity'. The Vesenka was to have a double structure: a) the 'centres' (Glavki) designed to deal with different sectors of industry, and b) the regional organs: the 'local Council of National Economy' (Sovnarkhozy).

At first the 'left' Bolsheviks held a majority of the leading positions on the Vesenka. The first Chairman was Osinsky and the governing bureau included Bukharin, Larin, Sokolnikov, Milyutin, Lomov and Shmidt. (73) Despite its 'left' leadership the new body 'absorbed' the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control before the latter had even got going. This step was openly acknowledged by the Bolsheviks as a move towards 'statisation' (ogosudarstvleniye) of economic authority. The net effect of the setting up of Vesenka was to silence still further the voice of the Factory Committees. As Lenin put it a few weeks later, "we passed from workers' control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy". (74) The function of this Council was clearly to "replace, absorb and supersede the machinery of workers' control." (75)

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Jan 7 2006 12:45

Hi

Quote:
nearly where Lazy?

Understanding that the economic autonomy of the working class is key to its success.

Quote:
I was just asking whether it would be better to deal with counterrevolutionary forces before attempting to spread the revolution.

Dealing with counterrevolutionary forces is spreading the revolution, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be concurrent activities within the overall project.

Quote:
markets make little difference as long as you have natural resources that can be traded for others that you need.

That’s a very interesting statement. I don’t think markets (as I normally bang on about them) have much relevance to this discussion at the moment, and have yet to bring them up. At the same time, “trade” implies a market of some kind, so I don’t really understand how it would make little difference, in the given context. In the interests of keeping this thread on track, I’d prefer to tackle that on a separate thread. Lucy82 is watching.

Quote:
I would hardly say that conquering the whole of eastern Europe after WW2 was an example of 'isolation'. Stalinist Russia obviously had its own imperialist dynamic and couldn't simply remain shut up behind its own borders.

Cut me some slack please. First you say isolation caused the problem, now you say it wasn’t isolated at all. The issue is not one of nationalism or imperialism but the effective application of resources to the working class project, the reason that the Internationalists are citing for the necessity of an “all or none” approach to revolution. What’s more it’s a red herring, I’ve read the ICC’s proposal for a transitional programme and it allows for a localised revolutionary movement, it just doesn’t regard that as communist.

Quote:
the cities faced starvation. Do you really not think this had some relationship to the demise in the political life of the soviets and factory committees and the swelling of the bureaucratic apparatus?

Of course I believe the threat of starvation had a profound relationship on the demise of the soviets, that’s why I think our economic autonomy is key.

Quote:
Maybe you should explain what you mean by "regenerating primary industry". Are you advocating that this should be done on the basis of commodity production, i.e. a new cycle of capital accumulation directed by the workers councils?

By regenerating primary industry I mean giving ourselves some useful means of production to direct. I’m not too sure about all the specialised Marxist vocabulary about “commodity production”, but I wouldn’t have too many objections to ramping up production of novelty toothbrushes if it suited the purposes of the autonomous working class in transition.

Anyway I was wondering, what if you regenerate primary industry as part of a transitionary programme? Would our resources not be useful to comrades abroad, increasing the chances of their own revolt?

Love

LR

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Jan 9 2006 16:02

Catch Yes, the process of absorbing class organs into the state did begin before 1918, and the Bolshevik party – which committed a major error by seeing its role as managing the new ‘soviet state’ – straight away made itself the main protagonist of this process. What we’re saying is that this error became increasingly irreversible given that the force could have countered it – a working class politically mobilised through its own class organs– itself became more and more exhausted and dispersed during the civil war period.

What we’re critical about in Brinton’s approach, and generally to the whole notion of ‘anti-Bolshevik communism’, is the judgmental attitude toward the past workers’ movement. There was enormous confusion about the revolutionary programme in 1917, but given the unprecedented nature of the experience in Russia, how could it be otherwise? The Bolsheviks (and this certainly included the left currents within it) were confused about the possibility of using statification as a lever of communism, but the anarchists were also confused about the idea of ‘autonomous’ self-managed enterprises, which doesn’t lead in the direction of communism either. Clarity is never an unbroken line, but emerges through the clash of contradictions and through reflection on the lessons of the past.

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Jan 9 2006 19:06

Good evening comrades.

Quote:
the anarchists were also confused about the idea of ‘autonomous’ self-managed enterprises

Were they? Which ones? Sources please, this sounds good. Let's teach these anti-globalists a trick or two.

Love

LR

alibadani
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Jan 9 2006 19:10

I was pretty satisfied with Luxemburg's critiques of the Bolsheviks. It is easy to list every single "crime" committed. Each one is a consequence of larger phenomena and original errors. If one already makes the original error of believing that workers' power means Party power, then an entire series of horrors will ensue.

Anyway like I said, Luxemburg's critiques were quite satisfying to me.

I must also add that I believe that the main difference between the proletarian revolution and bourgeois revolutions is that the former is international. It simply can't be otherwise. First of all because one of the contradictions of capitalism is the contradiction between the international economy and the nation-state, a contradiction which our revolution must overcome. Secondly because our class is international.

I also have strong doubts that there will be a future revolutionary movement that remains isolated for very long. I just don't see it. I mean even the riots in France spread to three other countries. Even the pacifist demonstrations before the Iraq war were international. I just don't see anything like a repeat of 1917, an isolated revolution. It will be international almost from the very start.

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Jan 9 2006 20:21
alibadani wrote:
I was pretty satisfied with Luxemburg's critiques of the Bolsheviks. It is easy to list every single "crime" committed. Each one is a consequence of larger phenomena and original errors.

As are all capitalist crimes, so cut the bosses a break.

alibadani wrote:
riots

uprisings comrade

Lazy Riser wrote:
Citation:

markets make little difference as long as you have natural resources that can be traded for others that you need.

That’s a very interesting statement. I don’t think markets (as I normally bang on about them) have much relevance to this discussion at the moment, and have yet to bring them up. At the same time, “trade” implies a market of some kind, so I don’t really understand how it would make little difference, in the given context. In the interests of keeping this thread on track, I’d prefer to tackle that on a separate thread. Lucy82 is watching.

I simply meant that the world market wouldn't really make a difference as presumably the society would be outside of the consumer market and would therefore only venture onto the world markets for resources, or possibly products that it could not produce, it would be less subject to the vagaries of the market.

edit: fixed the quote

Mike Harman
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Jan 9 2006 21:19
revol68 wrote:

We musn't judge the Bolshevisk too harshly as these things take time and need to be worked out. So one man management, the imposition of the generals in the red army, enforced Taylorism, the Brist-Litvock (spelling??) Treaty, the crushing of Kronstadt, the shooting and arrest of striking workers and dissedent revolutionaries are all honest mistakes.

But the CNT's anti fascism is a heinous crime inherent to the very nature of anarchism???

Not very often I type this, but what he said.

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Jan 10 2006 11:45

Revol68’s method is a good example of what we are criticising.

We don’t apply this method to the CNT. We try to look at it in class terms. The CNT was part of the anarcho-syndicalist current which was an expression of the proletariat. We have looked at the profound weaknesses of this current in a series of articles in the International Review, for example ( http//en.internationalism.org/ir/120_cgt.html ). These weaknesses eventually led an organisation like the CNT to integrate itself into the bourgeois state.

Fundamentally we apply the same method to the Bolsheviks. We are trying to show how an organisation which was at the forefront of the struggle against the imperialist war, and which played a crucial role in the process culminating in the October insurrection, could degenerate so rapidly and itself end up as part of a new capitalist state.

Just making a list of things to throw at the Bolsheviks doesn’t help much. For a start, they are not all on the same level. Signing the Brest Litovsk treaty with German imperialism holding a gun to your head was not at all at the same level as crushing a workers’ uprising. Similarly, the original idea of using bourgeois specialists was that they would be strictly controlled by workers’ organs; this was not on the same level as suppressing other working class political currents. And there was a process of degeneration. The situation of the Bolshevik party in 1918 was not the same as it was in 1921, and even 1921 it was different from 1924 or 1927.

Alibadani is right to mention Luxemburg’s critique of the Bolsheviks. At the time it was written, all the revolutionaries were speaking from a position of solidarity with the Bolsheviks and the soviet power. It included Pannekoek, Gorter, and many of the anarchists. Luxemburg is very thorough in her criticisms, but there is no doubt whose side she is on.

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Jan 10 2006 15:51

The Bolsheviks were never part of the proletariat? Are you basing this on their social composition or their political positions? If the former, obviously we disagree with that way of posing the problem. Political organisations have to be defined by their political positions and practice, not the percentage of workers in their ranks. On that basis, plenty of fascist, religious, or leftist organisations could be passed as 'proletarian'.

If the latter, which positions exactly were non-proletarian before 1917? You talk about their opposition to the soviets. I guess you are referring to 1905. But it was Lenin himself who rejected those 'super-Leninist' Bolsheviks whose first response to the soviets was to call for them to dissolve into the party. He argued very coherently that the working class needed both soviets and the party. The experience of 1905 also led Lenin to repudiate his argument about the workers only being able to achieve trade union consciousness.

And what was the class basis for the Bolsheviks' internationalist opposition to the war in 1914? If it wasn't based on the interests of the proletariat, which class did it serve?

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Jan 10 2006 18:43

Hi

Quote:
Political organisations have to be defined by their political positions and practice, not the percentage of workers in their ranks

Especially very small ones. Working class organisations should have a high percentage of working class people in their ranks.

Love

LR

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Jan 10 2006 19:37

No, LR, size really doesn't matter

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Jan 10 2006 20:18

Hi

Working class organisations should have a high percentage of working class people in their ranks.

Love

LR

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Jan 10 2006 20:35

Getting back to Revol68's post try contrasting what Lenin wrote in What is To Be Done? to what he wrote once the 1905 Revolution broke out "The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness." ("Reorganization of the Party," in 1905). See also Lenin's "Preface to the Collection 12 Years" in which he wrote that "What Is To Be Done? is a summary of Iskra tactics and Iskra organizational policy in 1901 and 1902. Precisely a `summary,' no more and no less...Nor at the Second Congress did I have any intention of elevating my own formulations, as given in What Is To Be Done?, to the `programmatic'

level, constituting special principles..." . Elsewhere he admits to having "bent the stick" in his polemic with the Economists. In 1917 he argued against the Old Bolsheviks who said Russia was only ripe for a "democratic revolution", insisting that the most radical workers were already to the left of the party. There's more to Lenin than the anarchist caricature - a one-sided vision which fits in so neatly with the campaigns of the bourgeoisie about the power-hungry, manipulative dictator who gave rise to Stalin.

baboon
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Jan 13 2006 16:45

On Lenin's and Luxemburg's polemic

Luxemburg lucidly exposed, identifying a significant movement in the working class early on, the spontaneity and creativity of the masses. She was the first to clearly see how the class would forge its organisations and consciousness in the heat of battle. Luxemburg came from a direct political line from Marx and Engels. But Luxemburg emphasised this important aspect at the expense of a centralised expression of the working class, expressed in a party of the proletariat, a minority organised around a platform, rules and statutes. A minority that provided itself with organisation and organisational means of functioning and action.

Whatever weaknesses, baggage and mistakes the Bolsheviks brought along with them, this organisation was a major advance and vital expression of the working class.

The debates between Lenin and Luxemburg too represented an advance in class consciousness and gave rise to some of the most important works in the class' history. Given the revolutionary tumult of the time, the profundity and speed of changing historical conditions, this is most welcome but unsuprising.

Luxemburg was right to criticise Lenin's view of national liberation and provided a much sounder framework within the changed conditions to full blown imperialism - this framework is a vital tool for revolutionaries today. She did though entertain ideas about "national defence" and the Bolshevik's and Lenin's position on "Turn the imperialist war into civil war" was an uncompromising position (and call to action) that represented the heights of proletarian consciousness.

Lenin was correct on the question of "factory discipline", pointing out to Luxemburg where he had been misrepresented and misquoted, and he defended the idea of the discipline of the workers in association, organising together - it's the only way to go forward. This was also true of the central organs of the proletariat and Lenin clashed with those Bolsheviks who wanted the Soviets dissolved into the party - he defended both.

Lenin also defended the idea of defining and attacking opportunism within Russian Social Democracy, as Luxemburg tended to be limited to its German form. Lenin identified the anarchist revolt against centralisation from part of the Iskra group and the economism of Berstein (amongst others).

The polemics of Lenin and Luxemburg represented great strides in revolutionary consciousness and there's no doubt, had the revolution extended and not been isolated to Russia - where in the terrible conditions of isolation (not least political) and the war of the White Armies, then far greater strides would have been made.

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Jan 13 2006 18:13

Baboon's point is very important, showing the falsity of making this total gulf between the nice Rosa and the nasty Lenin. Disappointing that Revol68 never came back on Lenin criticising the idea of socialist consciousness coming from the bourgeois intellectuals. If he won't take it from me, he could try this essay by Hal Draper http//www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/myth.htm, which systematically attacks the myths surrounding What Is To be Done