On reading Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution we are struck by a fundamental contradiction: as an honest historian he shows us just how much the Party lagged behind the masses, and as a Bolshevik theorist he must reaffirm that the Party was necessary for the success of the revolution. Thus he writes: 'The soldiers lagged behind the shop committees. The committees lagged behind the masses ... The party also lagged behind the revolutionary dynamic - an organisation which had the least right to lag, especially in a time of revolution ... The most revolutionary party which human history until this time had ever known was nevertheless caught unawares by the events of history. It reconstructed itself in the fires, and straightened out its ranks under the onslaught of events. The masses at the turning point were a hundred times to the left of the extreme left party.' (History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 1, 403f.)
This passage alone should suffice to destroy the myth of the Bolshevik Party as the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat. Its 'lagging behind' was patent even during the first days of February 1917 - the overthrow of the Czar and the creation of workers' councils, were the work of the masses themselves. In this connection Trotsky quotes Mstislavsky (a leader of the left wing of the Social Revolutionaries who subsequently went over to the Bolsheviks) as saying: 'The revolution caught us napping, the party people of those days, like the foolish virgins of the Bible.' To which Trotsky himself adds: 'It does not matter how much they resembled the virgins, but it is true they were all fast asleep.' (op. cit. Volume I, 147.)
This was as true of the Bolshevik Party as of all other left wing organisations. In effect: 'Up to the very last hour, these leaders thought it was a question of a revolutionary manifestation, one among many, and not at all an armed insurrection ... The Central Committee was unable to give any directives for the coming day.' (op. cit. Volume I, 147.) In short, the Bolsheviks were anything but leaders of the masses in February, and subsequently they lagged behind both the action of the masses and also their revolutionary spirit. Thus in July 1917, when 'about 10,000 men assembled, to shouts of encouragement, the machine-gunners told how they had received an order to go to the Front on 4 July, but they had decided not to go to the German Front against the German proletariat but against their own capitalist ministers. Feeling ran high. "Let's get moving!" cried the workers. The secretary of the factory committee, a Bolshevik, objected, suggesting that they ask instructions from the party. Protests from all sides: "Down with it. Again you want to postpone things. We can't live that way any longer." Towards six o'clock came representatives from the Executive Committee, but they succeeded still less with the workers.' (op. cit. Volume II, 127.)
The Bolsheviks not only played no part in this struggle but tried to squash it; they wanted to refer the whole matter back to Party Headquarters, and when their leaders arrived these were. shouted down. A wide gulf had opened up between the Party and the 'masses' who had a dynamic of their own and, from the start, set up their own soldiers' and workers' soviets. It was here and nowhere else that the real decisions were taken. In the workers' soviets, each member, Bolshevik or not, could make his voice heard and hence influence events. No political group as such had the right to decide any issues, even though the delegates were originally chosen from among Party militants (Mensheviks first, and then Bolsheviks). However, these men were picked not for their political orthodoxy but because of their active participation in the workers' struggle, and when they tried to act as dampers they were generally dismissed very quickly - at least while Soviet democracy still existed. Trotsky has described the role of the Bolsheviks in July 1917, as follows: 'The Bolsheviks were caught up by the movement and dragged into it, looking around the while for some justification for an action which flatly contravened the official decision of the party'. (op. cit. Volume II, 30.) And, so as not to lose face, rank and file Bolsheviks were forced to go flatly against the decisions of their leaders: 'Their Central Committee addressed an appeal to the workers and soldiers: "Unknown persons ... are summoning you into the streets under arms, and that proves that the summons does not come from any of the Soviet parties..." Thus the Central Committee - both of the Party and the Soviet - proposed, but the masses disposed.' (op. cit. Volume II, 33.)
Here we are not so much interested in whether or not the Bolsheviks had good reasons for opposing these demonstrations as in the fact that they had no sway over the masses. Clearly, five months after the Revolution and three months before the October uprising, the masses were still governing themselves, and the Bolshevik vanguard simply had to toe the line. 'Popular Bolsheviks - Nevsky, Lashevich, Padvoisky - speaking from the balcony, tried to send the regiments home. They were answered from below: "Go to hell! Go to hell!" Such cries the Bolshevik balcony had never yet heard from the soldiers, it was an alarming sign ... What was to be done? Could the Bolsheviks possibly stand aside? The members of the Petrograd Committee together with the delegates of the Conference and representatives from the regiments and factories, passed a resolution: To 'end all fruitless attempts to restrain the masses and guide the developing movement in such a way that the government crisis may be decided in the interests of the people (sic!)...' (op. cit. Volume II, 33 f.) The fiction of the proletarian vanguard had to be maintained at any price!
Trotsky himself added: 'The members of the Central Committee who were present sanctioned this change of tactics.' (op. cit. Volume II, 34.) As if they had had any choice in the matter! (At least before 1921, by which date the secret police and the army could be mustered against the masses.)
But the Party could not just sit by with folded arms. Speaking for the Party leadership, Kamenev said:
"We did not summon the manifestation, the popular masses themselves came into the street ... but once the masses have come out, our place is among them ... Our present task is to give the movement an organised character."' (op. cit. Volume II, 37.) Kamenev therefore admitted that the Party was no longer at the head, that it was no longer directing anything, that all it could do was to organise post facto. And how? 'The afternoon summons from the Central Committee to stop the demonstration was torn from the presses - but too late to replace it with a new text.' (op. cit. Volume II, 42.)
Pravda accordingly appeared with a blank page, and this is what the Bolsheviks call organising a movement! And despite all their efforts, the demonstration did take place, and attracted 'at least 500,000 persons'.
The conclusion is obvious: 'The movement had begun from below irrespective of the Bolsheviks - to a certain extent against their will.' (op. cit. Volume II, 71.)
Trotsky, moreover, declared in a speech at about that time: 'They accuse us of creating the mood of the masses; that is wrong, we only try to formulate it.' (op. cit. Volume II, 7A.)
In short, the great vanguard was reduced to the role of mere mouthpiece, and failed even in this. Still, it might be argued that though the Party was sleeping in February, and though it lagged behind the masses in July, it nevertheless has the October Revolution to its credit. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From April to October, Lenin had to fight a constant battle to keep the Party leadership in tune with the masses: 'Even the victory of the insurrection in Petrograd was far from breaking everywhere the inertia of the waiting policy and the direct resistance of the right wing. The wavering of the leaders subsequently almost shipwrecked the insurrection in Moscow. In Kiev, the committee, headed by Piatakov, which had been conducting a purely defensive policy, turned over the initiative in the long run - and also the power - to the Rada ... The actual overturn in Voronezh ... was carried out not by a committee of the party but by its active minority ... In a whole series of provincial cities, the Bolsheviks formed in October a bloc with the Compromisers "against the counter-revolution" ... In spite of the vast work that has been done in recent years towards concealing these facts ... plenty of testimony has been preserved in the newspapers, memoirs and historic journals of the time, to prove that on the eve of the overturn of the official machine even the most revolutionary party put up a big resistance.' (op. cit. Volume III, 145 f.)
Early in October, Lenin could only impose his view by going over the head of his Central Committee: 'His letter to the Central Committee he not only sent to the Petrograd and Moscow Committees, but he also saw to it that copies fell into the hands of the more reliable Party workers of the district locals.' (op. cit. Volume III, 1931.)
And again: 'Lenin appealed to a Petrograd party conference to speak a firm word in favour of insurrection. Upon his initiative, the conference insistently requested the Central Committee to take all measures for the leadership of the inevitable insurrection of the workers, soldiers and peasants.' (op. cit. Volume II, 132.)
Thus Lenin, aware that the glorious vanguard was again lagging behind the masses, tried desperately to preserve its prophetic role and, in so doing, had to break the very rules of democratic centralism he himself had formulated.
'In the upper circles of the party' he wrote, 'a wavering is to be observed, a sort of dread of the struggle for power, an inclination to replace the struggle with resolutions, protests and conferences.' And this is what Trotsky had to say about it: 'This is already almost a direct pitting of the party against the Central Committee. Lenin did not decide lightly upon such steps, but it was a question of the fate of the revolution and all other considerations fell away.' (op. cit. Volume III, 132 f.)
In short, the success of the revolution called for action against the 'highest circles of the party', who, from February to October, utterly failed to play the revolutionary role they ought to have taken in theory. The masses themselves made the revolution, with or even against the party - this much at least was clear to Trotsky the historian. But far from drawing the correct conclusion, Trotsky the theorist continued to argue that the masses are incapable of making a revolution without a leader. To begin with he admits that 'Tugan-Baranovsky is right when he says that the February revolution was accomplished by workers and peasants - the latter in the person of the soldiers. But there still remains the great question: who led the revolution, who led the workers to their feet? ... It was solved most simply by the universal formula: nobody led the revolution, it happened of itself.' (op. cit. Volume I, 145.)
Trotsky not only put the question very well but also gave a clear answer: the Revolution was the spontaneous expression of the will of the masses - not just in theory but in actual practice. But Trotsky the theorist could not accept the obvious answer: he had to refute it since the idea of a centralised leadership is the crux of his dogma and must be upheld at all costs. Hence he quoted with approval Zavadsky's dictum that, spontaneous conception is still more out of place in sociology than in natural science. Owing to the fact that none of the revolutionary leaders with a name was able to hang his label on the movement, it becomes not impersonal but merely nameless.' (op. cit. Volume I, 151.)
We wish to say no more. Anonymity is precisely what characterizes a spontaneous movement, i.e. one that disdains the tutelage of official organisations, that will have no official name. Trotsky's argument is quite different: there can be no revolution without leadership and if no leaders can be pointed out, it is simply because the leaders are anonymous. Thus, after recalling that the 'Union of Officers of February 27', formed just after the revolution, tried to determine with a questionnaire who first led out the Volynsky Regiment, Trotsky explains: 'They received seven answers naming seven initiators of this decisive action. It is very likely, we may add, that a part of the initiative really did belong to several soldiers.' (op. cit. Volume I, 150.) Why then will he not admit that the soldiers took more than 'part' of the initiative? Because Trotsky prefers another explanation: 'It is not impossible that the chief initiator fell in the street fighting carrying his name with him into oblivion.' Thus Trotsky, the historian, doctors the historical evidence to introduce a mythical leader, whose existence cannot be verified because he is dead! Another example quoted by Trotsky highlights the absurdity of this line of argument: 'On Friday, 24 February, nobody in the upper circles as yet expected a revolution ... a tram car in which a senator was riding turned off quite unexpectedly with such a jar that the windows rattled and one was broken ... Its conductor told everybody to get off: "The car isn't going any further" ... The movement of the tramways stopped everywhere as far as the eye could see.' (op. cit. Volume I, 151.)
Trotsky makes the following comment: 'That resolute conductor, in whom the liberal officials could already catch a glimpse of the "wolf-look" must have been dominated by a high sense of duty in order all by himself to stop a car containing officials on the streets of imperial Petersburg in time of war. It was just such conductors who stopped the car of the monarchy and with practically the same words - This car does not go any further! The conductor on the Liteiny boulevard was a conscious factor of history. It had been necessary to educate him in advance.' (op. cit. Volume I, 151 f.)
And a few lines further down he repeats the same refrain: 'Those nameless, austere statesmen of the factory and street did not fall out of the sky: they had to be educated.' (op. cit. Volume I, 152.)
The Party as such played no role in these decisive days, but those who were the real actors, 'the conscious instruments of history', had needs to be educated, and by whom if not by the Party? In short, the past actions of the Party justify its present inactivity. There are but two alternatives for Trotsky: either people have fallen out of the sky or else they must have been educated by the Party. The first hypothesis being absurd, the second is the only possible answer. But as the Jewish father said to his son: 'My boy, whenever there are two alternatives, choose the third.' Now that alternative is simply that the workers could have managed without a Party, just as they do in their everyday life. Let us see what Trotsky himself has to say on this subject: 'The anaemic and pretentious intelligentsia ... was burning with desire to teach the popular masses ... but was absolutely incapable of understanding them and of learning anything from them. Now, failing this, there can be no revolutionary politics.' This judgement applies equally well to Trotsky himself, who was responsible for the regimentation of labour and for shooting the Kronstadt rebels. But Trotsky is not aware of this fact, and his History is so valuable precisely because he is honest, or stupid, enough to list the facts that contradict his every conclusion. Forgetting what he has written on page 151, he notes that 'one of the factories carried this placard: "The Right to Life is Higher than the Rights of Private Property'. This slogan had not been suggested by the party.' (op. cit. Volume I, 419.)
No one would wish to challenge his claim that 'the thought of the worker has become more scientific ... because it was fertilized to a large extent by the methods of Marxism.' True, the use of the term 'scientific thought' is questionable, but there is no doubt that scientific Marxism has played a large part in the education of both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. It should be added that other trends - anarcho-syndicalist, anarchist, social revolutionary - made their contribution too. And as Trotsky himself admits when discussing working class thought, its development was chiefly due to 'the living experience of the masses'.
It was this living experience which went into the creation of the soviets in 1905, soviets which the Bolshevik Party largely ignored, a fact for which Trotsky himself severely criticised the Party at the time. But as soon as he himself turned Bolshevik theorist, he had perforce to dismiss the whole idea of workers' spontaneity. Thus while he says in Volume II, page 72, that the masses were complaining that 'even the Bolsheviks are dawdling and holding us back,' he goes on to say on page 88: 'What they (the German Spartacists) lacked was a Bolshevik party.'
The absurdity of his hypotheses - all due to the fact that he cannot admit the idea of a spontaneous revolution - becomes even clearer in the following passage: A careful study of the materials characterising the Party life during the war and the beginning of the revolution ... reveals more clearly every day the immense intellectual backsliding of the upper stratum of the Bolsheviks during the war when the proper life of the party practically came to an end. The cause of this backsliding is twofold: isolation from the masses and isolation from those abroad, that is primarily from Lenin.' (op. cit. Volume III, 134.) This 'twofold backsliding' is nothing less than an indictment of the Bolshevik Party: by stressing the importance of Lenin in the way he does, Trotsky is, in fact, depreciating the value of the Party. And Lenin, far from being the infallible revolutionary Trotsky makes him out to be, between February and October 1917, went back on a good many positions he had earlier defended. Thus while he had stressed the importance of soviets in 1905, in January 1917, when he gave a lecture to Swiss workers, he merely mentioned the soviets in passing. This did not prevent him, a few months later, to the dismay of the majority of the Party, from once again adopting the anarchist slogan: All power to the soviets! The Party, faithful and disciplined though it was, could not perform these gyrations with the same speed. The break between Lenin and the Party may prove Lenin's genius when it comes to changing the political line, but it also proves how ill-fitted a Party of the Bolshevik type is to deal with a revolutionary situation. Hence Trotsky's claim that 'the March leadership of Kamenev and Stalin lagged behind the gigantic historic tasks.' (op. cit. Volume I, 403.)
However, Trotsky was quick to refute this line of reasoning when it was dished up to explain the failure of the White Guards. Thus he had this to say about the abortive Kornilov putsch: 'The sums of money set aside for organisation were, according to Vinberg, appropriated by the principal participants and squandered on dinner parties ... One of the secret contributors, who was to deliver to some officers a considerable sum of money, upon arrival at the designated place found the conspirators in such a state of inebriation that he could not deliver the goods. Vinberg himself thinks that if it had not been for these truly vexatious "accidents", the plan might have been crowned with complete success. But the question remains: Why was a patriotic enterprise entered into and surrounded, for the most part, by drunkards, spendthrifts and traitors? Is it not because every historic task mobilises the cadres that are adequate to it?' (op. cit. Volume II, 219 f.)
Now if every historical task indeed mobilizes the necessary cadres, it will do this for the revolution no less than for the counter-revolution. Hence Trotsky should not really blame the Bolshevik leaders for the failure of the Party to rise to its 'historic task'. The reason Stalin and Kamenev found themselves at the head of the Party was because they were elected by the whole of that Party, and it is therefore the Party as such that is to blame and not X or Y. Again, if the presence or absence of Lenin explains the success or failure of the Party, the Party reduces to Lenin and becomes superfluous.
As for the gap between the Party and the masses, it can have two causes: either the masses are too apathetic for revolution or else, as happened in 1917, the masses are only too anxious to carry the revolution a step further, and the Party itself is apathetic. In the second case it is not the masses who cannot 'rise' to its historic task but the Party. This rupture between the Party and the masses is due to the Party's very nature: a small, closed group of professional revolutionaries, sure of being the repository of truth and incapable of adapting themselves to any independent initiative of the masses. A case in point was their attitude to the soviets, or workers' councils, which gave the atomised masses their own centres for action and collective decisions. The soviets sprang up quite spontaneously in 1905 and did not figure in any party programme. It was only in retrospect that they were analysed by various writers of the Left. Some of these - particularly the anarchists, the extreme left Social Revolutionaries and minority groups within the Social Democratic Party, were frankly in favour of the soviets - and so, in 1905 - was Leon Trotsky. Anton Pannekoek was another and his movement for workers' control was attacked by Lenin in 'Left-wing' Communism: An Infantile Disorder. All the Bolsheviks were frankly hostile. Those in St Petersburg were convinced that 'only a party based on class conceptions can direct the political movement of the proletariat and preserve the purity of its intentions, whereas the workers' councils are so many heterogeneous and indecisive bodies'. (Quoted by Oscar Auweiler in The Workers' Councils in Russia 1905-1929.) At the same time, P Mendeleev declared in the name of the Bolsheviks: 'The council of workers' deputies is a political organisation and Social Democrats (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) must leave it because its very existence impedes the development of the social democratic movement. The workers' council may exist as a trade union or not at all.' Whence Mendeleev concluded that the Bolsheviks should use the following strategy: 'First of all we must try to get the workers' council to limit itself to its trade union tasks, and secondly, in case this attempt fails, the workers' council must be made to acknowledge the leadership of the Social Democratic Party, and thirdly, this having been done, it must be dissolved as quickly as possible, seeing that its parallel existence with other social democratic organisations serves no purpose.' And this at a time when workers were beginning to form workers' councils in all the factories, and workers' 'parliaments' in all the major towns! The Social Democrats did not even think fit to invite the workers to participate in their Party's August deliberations, but expected them to carry out blindly what the proletarian vanguard ordered from on high, and then to declare themselves redundant. That the workers' councils 'impeded' this sort of development is a truism - they challenged the wisdom of the Party leaders in practice and not simply in theory. This was more than our professional revolutionaries were prepared to swallow. In 1907, Lenin got the Fifth Congress of the Social Democratic Workers' Party to pass a resolution whose subject was highly revealing: 'On the independent workers' organisation and the anarcho-syndicalist currents within the proletariat.' He condemned all these 'currents', and declared: 'The participation of Social Democratic organisations in councils composed of delegates and workers' deputies without distinction of Party ... or the creation of such councils, cannot be countenanced unless we can be sure that the party can benefit and that its interests are fully protected.' (Quoted by Oscar Auweiler, page 103.)
In dealing with workers' organisations, the Bolsheviks had but one major concern: to strengthen their own organisation. Since the Party was the sole guardian of the proletariat and the revolution, any attempt by the workers to make a revolution without the Party must clearly be wrong or indeed impossible, as Trotsky argues in his History of the Russian Revolution. When the workers disavow the Party in practice, the Party simply disavows the practice of the workers.
This disdain for the working class and its capacity for self-emancipation can be heard most clearly in Lenin's What is to be done?, a theoretical justification of the leadership principle. In it, Lenin simply repeats the words of Karl Kautsky, whom he still admired at the time: 'The workers, we have said, still lacked a Social-Democratic consciousness; it could only come to them from the outside. History in all countries attests that, on its own, the working class cannot go beyond the level of trade union consciousness, the realisation that they must combine into trade unions, fight against the employers, force the government to pass such laws as benefit the condition of the workers ... As for the Socialist doctrine, it was constructed out of philosophical, historical and economic theories elaborated by educated members of the ruling class, by intellectuals. Thus Marx and Engels, the founders of modern scientific socialism, were bourgeois intellectuals. Similarly in Russia, the social democratic doctrine sprang up almost independently of the spontaneous development of the working class movement ...'
Lenin summed it all up by saying: 'The workers can acquire class political consciousness only from without, that is, only outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of the relation between workers and employers.'
Now this claim that class political consciousness can only reach the working class from the outside, has been refuted in practice, and ought to cease being part of any socialist's stock of ideas. The history of French trade unionism before 1914 in itself is sufficient proof that the workers can transcend what Lenin calls their 'trade union consciousness'. The Charter of Amiens adopted in 1906 makes this quite explicit: 'The CGT is affiliated to no political party, but is a union of class-conscious workers fighting for the abolition of wage-slaves and employers. The Congress pledges itself to support the workers in their class struggle against all forms of capitalist exploitation and oppression, both material and moral. Accordingly the Congress sets itself the following tasks: in the short term, trade unionists will try to improve the workers' lot by calling for such immediate reforms as increases in wages, a shorter working week, etc. But this is only one aspect of our work. The trade unions also pave the way for the complete emancipation of the working class, which cannot be achieved except by expropriation of the capitalists. To that end, they will call general strikes, so that those resisting capitalism on the wages front today may tomorrow take charge of production and distribution and so usher in a completely new era ...'
This text shows clearly that the working class can rise a great deal beyond the 'trade union consciousness', and precisely in a country where the influence of the Social Democrats was extremely tenuous. Conversely it was when Social Democrats started to gain influence in France that the trade unions reverted to their role of economic intermediaries, and changed into the bureaucratic machines of today, machines that form an integral part of capitalist society. The Leninist ideology, in postulating the 'incapacity' of the working class to make a revolution, or, as we shall see, to manage production in postrevolutionary society, is in direct conflict with the inaugural declaration of the First International: 'The emancipation of the workers must he brought about by the workers themselves'. The fact that 'scientific socialism' was the creation of bourgeois intellectuals is undeniable, and, indeed, it bears the unmistakable marks of this: it is alien to the proletariat and perhaps it ought not to be quite so proud of this alienation as it obviously is. Moreover, Bolshevik organisations were born in an industrially backward country (which explains rather than justifies their own backward nature). This type of organisation, and the ideology that went hand in hand with it, would, after 1917, seize upon the backwardness of Russia and also on the lack of revolutionary spirit among the workers outside, as a pretext for bringing to fruit the counter-revolutionary germs it contained from the very beginning.
The Leninist belief that the workers cannot spontaneously go beyond the level of trade union consciousness is tantamount to beheading the proletariat, and then insinuating the Party as the head. The original aims of French trade unionism, and the creation of soviets show that Lenin was wrong, and, in fact, in Russia the Party was forced to decapitate the workers' movement with the help of the political police and the Red Army under the brilliant leadership of Trotsky and Lenin. Moreover, the decapitation was not enough, the body, too, had to be destroyed, and since this task required less finesse and revolutionary education, the honour of finishing the work so brilliantly begun by Lenin and Trotsky, fell to the uncultured Stalin.
However, in fairness to Trotsky, it must be said that, in 1902, when Lenin wrote What is to be done? Trotsky not only opposed it violently but had the wit to foresee its worst dangers: that the Party would substitute itself for the working class, the Central Committee for the Party, the Politburo for the Central Committee, and finally the General Secretary for the Politburo. It is to be hoped that Trotsky's critique may one day be published in full, for it, better than anything else, would provide us with a critique of modern Trotskyism. Lenin's views were also challenged by Rosa Luxemburg, representing the far-left wing of- the German Social Democratic Movement. While she shared Lenin's disgust with the reformist and parliamentary German Social Democratic Party she also attacked his own centralism and his ideas of discipline.
In his 'One step forward and two steps back', Lenin glorified the educational effect of factory life which 'accustoms the proletariat to discipline and organisation'. To this Rosa Luxemburg replied: "The discipline which Lenin has in mind is driven home to the proletariat not only in the factory but also in the barracks and by all sorts of bureaucrats, in short by the whole power machine of the centralised bourgeois state ... It is an abuse of words to apply the same term "discipline" to two such unrelated concepts as the mindless reflex motions of a body with a thousand hands and a thousand legs, and the spontaneous coordination of the conscious political acts of a group of men. What can the well-ordered docility of the former have in common with the aspirations of a class struggling for its total emancipation?' (The Organization of the Social Democratic Party in Russia.)
In fact, it was Lenin's own consciousness which failed to transcend the organisational level of the bourgeoisie. Speaking of the revolutionary movement that, at the turn of the century, shook the autocratic Russian Empire and later culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1905, Rosa Luxemburg wrote (in 1904): 'Our cause (i.e. Socialism) has made immense progress. However, in this, the initiative and conscious direction of the Social Democratic organisation played no more than an insignificant part. This fact cannot be explained away by arguing that our organisation was not prepared for such great events (although this was true), and even less by the absence of the all powerful central apparatus Lenin has recommended. On the contrary, it is more than likely that such an apparatus would simply have increased the confusion of the local committees, stressing the gulf between the impetuous masses and the cautious attitude of the Social Democratic Party.' (The Organization of the Social Democratic Party in Russia)
'The ultra-centralisation advocated by Lenin,' Rosa Luxemburg continued, 'is filled, not with a positive and creative spirit, but with the sterile spirit of the night watchman.' Prophetic words these, for within a few months the Party became incapable of understanding, and even fought, the establishment of workers' councils. Prophetic also for what happened in 1917 when the Party proved quite incapable of playing the leading part for which it had been prepared so long, and left the entire job to a Lenin (quod Jovi licet non bovi licet - "Gods may do what cattle may not"). Rosa Luxemburg had clearly foreseen all this, and had accordingly advocated the 'tearing down of that barbed wire fence which prevents the Party from accomplishing the formidable task of the hour'. In fact, far from dismantling the fence, the Party eventually put the entire Russian proletariat behind it.
Rosa Luxemburg's conclusions are no less relevant today than they were at the time they were written: 'Finally we saw the birth of a far more legitimate offspring of the historical process: the Russian workers' movement, which, for the first time, gave expression to the real will of the popular masses. Then the leadership of the Russian revolution leapt up to balance on their shoulders, and once more appointed itself the all-powerful director of history, this time in the person of His Highness the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Workers' Party. This skilful acrobat did not even realise that the only one capable of playing the part of director is the "collective" ego of the working class, which has a sovereign right to make mistakes and to learn the dialectics of history by itself. Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers' movement are historically far more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of even the best Central Committee.' (Organization of Social Democratic Party in Russia.)
The value of these remarks is in no way diminished by the fact that, today, we have dozens of Central Committees each insisting on its own infallibility, and all alike unable to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution on which they base most of their self-justifications.
In February 1917, we have said, the Party line and dynamic was opposed to that of the masses organised in soviets. Lenin had to labour hard, not to convince the masses of the need to seize power in the factories and towns, but to convince his own party that the masses were ready for this step. It was the Party that had to rise to the level of the masses, not the other way round. Lenin had to turn 'anarchist', and to carry an incredulous party with him. October thus represents the point where the action and aspiration of the masses coincided with those of the temporarily de-Bolshevised Bolshevik Party, and this happy state persisted until the spring of 1918. The Bolshevik Party could not, moreover, behave otherwise, because it was still trying to win the support of the workers. The previous eight months (i.e. February to October 1917) had brought on an extraordinary proliferation of factory and workshop committees. In April 1917 a conference of factory committees at Petrograd had declared: 'All decisions affecting the internal management of factories, such as the length of the working day, wages, hiring and dismissing of workers, etc. must come from the factory committee.' Another conference of factory committees held in June 1917 demanded 'the organisation of complete control by the workers of production and distribution' and 'a proletarian majority in all institutions wielding executive power'. Still another congress, after the seizure of power, declared: 'The workers' control commissions must not merely be used to check production ... but must prepare for the transfer of production into the hands of the workers.'
The January 1918 issue of Vestnik Metalista (Metalworkers' News) contained an article by the worker N. Filipov which said, inter alia: 'The working class, by its very nature, must hold a central place in the productive process. In the future, all production must reflect the spirit and the will of the proletariat.'
In this truly revolutionary period, Lenin told the Third Congress of Soviets held at the beginning of 1918: 'Anarchist ideas have assumed virulent forms.'
A. Pantakrava, wrote: 'On the morrow of the October Revolution, these anarchist tendencies have become prevalent, precisely because the capitalists have increased their resistance to the application of the Decree on Workers' Control and continue to oppose the workers' management of production.'
We shall see that from the spring of 1918 it was the Bolshevist-Leninists themselves who opposed workers' management. Before that happened, the anarchosyndicalist Maximov could still write: 'The Bolsheviks have abandoned not only their theory of the withering away of the state, but Marxist ideology as a whole. They have become anarchists of a sort.'
However, the anarchist Voline, writing in Golos Truda (The Voice of Labour) at the end of 1917, had this to say: 'Once their power has been consolidated and legalised, the Bolsheviks, as state socialists, that is as men who believe in centralised and authoritarian leadership - will start running the life of the country and of the people from the top. Your soviets ... will gradually become simple tools of the central government ... You will soon see the inauguration of an authoritarian political and state apparatus that will crush all opposition with an iron fist... "All power to the soviets" will become "all power to the leaders of the Party".'
And this is precisely what happened in 1918. To achieve their ends, the Bolsheviks had to smash all opposition and the anarchists in particular. This political repression went hand in hand with the repression of the workers in the factory.
Thus Captain Jacques Sadaul wrote: 'The anarchist party is the most active and militant and probably the most popular opposition group of all ... The Bolsheviks are greatly disturbed.'
Voline confirmed this account: 'To tolerate anarchist propaganda would have been suicide for Lenin. It (the Bolshevik authority) did everything possible to impede and then forbid and repress by brute force, all manifestations of libertarian ideas.'
This repression began with a change of attitude on the question of workers' management. From 1918 onwards, opposition was kept within the Bolshevik Party - outside all criticism was suppressed. Hence it is by looking at developments inside the Bolshevik Party that we can best follow the process of repression, which culminated in the silencing, even within the party, of anyone who spoke up for the crushed proletariat. The Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in March 1921 dissolved all Party fractions, while outside, the Party was busy firing on the workers and sailors at Kronstadt, and on what pockets of resistance there still were in the rest of the country. In particular, the Ukrainian Makhno Movement was a force the Bolsheviks had to destroy at all costs.