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Response to a Trotskyist (ISO) Criticism of Anarchism

category north america / mexico | the left | opinion / analysis author Thursday March 26, 2009 12:15author by Wayne Price - personal communicationauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

Anarchism vs. Trotskyism

An ISOer describes why he went from being an anarchist to being a Trotskyist. He expands on his experiences to make general criticisms of anarchism. I explain why his views are mistaken.

Recently a prominent member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) of the US published a criticism of anarchism in the ISO’s newpaper, the Socialist Worker (D’Amato, 2009). It was particularly interesting because it was based on his own life experience.

(The ISO is in the wing of Trotskyism which rejects Trotsky’s theory that the Soviet Union under Stalin remained a “degenerated workers’ state.” Instead the ISO regarded the USSR, more-or-less correctly, as “state capitalist.” It was affiliated with the International Socialist Tendency, which was controlled by Britain’s Socialist Workers Party [no relation to the US group of the same name] until they split.)

Paul D’Amato reminisces, “…As a teenager…I found my way to anarchism first. Anarchism—hatred of all authority—flowed naturally from my reaction to the way I saw the world around me…” He and his friends went to an anarchist bookstore and bought pamphlets. He was impressed by the writings of Errico Malatesta, the great Italian anarchist, and quotes a passage from him because of “the way that it explained how capitalism reinforces its rule.”

However, “A few things made me drift away from anarchism: my own experience, and meeting socialists who did not identify socialism with state tyranny, as the Stalinists had done.” Today he is managing editor of the ISO’s journal, the International Socialist Review, and has written a book, The Meaning of Marxism.

The arc of my own political history has some similarities to, and differences from, that of D’Amato. (See Price 2008b.) As a teenager I became an anarchist, of the anarchist-pacifist trend. However, I became persuaded that a revolution was needed and that anarchist-pacifism could not make a revolution. I became a Trotskyist of the same trend that D’Amato is in now; I participated in founding the International Socialists, the predecessor organization of the ISO. Eventually my friends and I decided that the IS was too mushy and reformist, and we split to form the Revolutionary Socialist League. We sought a revolutionary, and eventually, libertarian, interpretation of Trotskyism. Finally we rejected Trotskyism altogether and became revolutionary, pro-organization, anarchists. We dissolved into the Love and Rage Anarchist Federation. Today I am a member of the US Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists.

With this background, I think I can understand the reasons why someone would come to reject anarchism for Trotskyism, but I have come to disagree with this conclusion.

D’Amato’s Experiences

D’Amato tells of the experiences which turned him off to anarchism. While he was living in Britain, he writes, a socialist group was organizing demonstrations by unemployed workers to demand jobs. His anarchist friends refused to support this because they believed that “fighting for ‘the right to work’…was to fight for the right to be exploited.” Instead they advocated dropping out of the system by squatting, taking over abandoned buildings, and by living alternate, bohemian, lifestyles. He concluded, “No one…should begrudge anyone the lifestyle they chose, but all too often…personal revolt becomes a substitute for social and collective struggle for a better world.”

Later he was part of the Clamshell Alliance’s efforts to shut down the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts. He came to dislike the anarchists’ use of consensus, instead of majority rule, to run planning meetings. He felt that consensus led to endless long meetings, acrimony, and de facto minority rule.

To be fair, he admits “I later learned that by no means did all anarchists abstain from struggle for purist reasons, but ‘lifestyle’ anarchism is a strong strain in the movement, even among activists.” So if many anarchists are not “lifestylists,” and if even many “lifestylists” are also, he says, “activists,” then it is hard to see the value of this objection to anarchism.

My revolutionary class struggle anarchism is not opposed to people living nonconformist lives, being vegetarians, riding bicycles, or organizing alternate institutions, including squats or coops. But I do not regard this approach as a strategy for getting rid of capitalism and the state. My comrades and I advocate mass struggles by workers and oppressed people, leading ultimately to a workers’ revolution. Nor do we insist on consensus in our meetings; we use majority rule and democratic procedures. So D’Amato’s bad experiences with anarchists in his youth, while real, do not apply to the trend of anarchist-communism which many of us believe in.

Prefiguring a Stateless Society

Generalizing from his experiences, D’Amato concludes, “Anarchism makes the error of believing that the means to achieving a classless, stateless society must prefigure the end result….One does not expect the plow to prefigure the wheat; nor should we expect our methods of organizing to fight for a better world to prefigure or look exactly like the world we plan to achieve.”

This implies that means and ends have little relation to each other, and that revolutionary socialists should build institutions which do not embody the classless, stateless, goal. They should build revolutionary institutions—e.g., the “democratic-centralist” “vanguard party,” the “workers’ state”/”dictatorship of the proletariat”—which presumably are hard and sharp, like a steel plow.

While revolutionary anarchists do not focus on building coops and squats, we do indeed seek to “prefigure” the future. Our goal is a self-managed, radically democratic, society, and our method is to build self-managing, radically democratic, mass movements today. Our ends and our means are the same. We do not build centralized parties which seek to take power, but build revolutionary federations of anarchists which encourage workrs to take power for themselves.

Of course, there will have to be compromises. It is a straw man for D’Amato to say that anarchists “expect our methods of organizing to look exactly like the world we plan to achieve.” Not exactly, no. But as close to it as possible, with as much direct democracy as possible and as little centralization as is minimally necessary at any one time.

As is common among Trotskyists, D’Amato cites against us the Friends of Durruti Group from the Spanish Revolution of 1936-7. The Friends of Durruti disagreed with the main anarchist organizations, which had allied with pro-capitalist parties in the Popular Front, joining the bourgeois-democratic government of the Republic when it was fighting a civil war against the fascists. Instead they called for a strategy aimed at replacing both the Republican and fascist states with a federation of workers’ and peasants’ organizations, coordinating armed workers’ militias. He claims that they advocated “tak[ing] state power,” creating a non-prefigurative workers’ state/proletarian dictatorship, as do the Trotskyists.

As the heirs of the Friends of Durruti Group, we know that is not true. They advocated the workers taking power, but not taking STATE power, that is, not creating a new state (Price 2006). What is the state? In a statement which should be authoritative for Marxists, Engels (1972) described it as “an armed power…[a] special public force….It consists not merely of armed men but also of material appendages, prisons and coercive institutions of all kinds…organs of society standing above society…representatives of a power which estranges them from society…” (p.230). Does this sound like an institution through which the workers and oppressed could rule? But it certainly does not prefigure a classless, stateless, society!

After all previous revolutions, a minority continued to rule and exploit the majority. Therefore the ruling class needed a state, to hold down the majority. But after a socialist (anarchist) revolution, the ruling class will be the workers, in alliance with all the oppressed, that is the big majority holding down the minority of capitalists and their hangers on, for a period. This does not require a socially-alienated bureaucratic-police machine such as the state. It does require the self-organized, self-managed, working class, with its (prefigurative) democratic mass institutions and armed population.

Implications

To some it may seem as if I am quibbling. After all, the ISO says that it is for democratic movements, advocates a “workers’ state” which is controlled by the workers, seeks to build a revolutionary party which is “democratic centralist” (centralist but democratic), and opposes the belief of the orthodox Trotskyists that the Soviet Union was really some kind of “workers’ state”. It is these apparently libertarian-democratic aspects of this variety of Trotskyism which makes it possible for some activists, antagonized by various weaknesses in contemporary anarchism, to become Trotskyists of the ISO type (I am speaking from experience).

In fact, it does not take much experiece with the ISO to find out how undemocratic its internal life is or how manipulative it is in its organizing. The ISO broke from its international organization, when its British co-thinkers started giving the ISO arbitrary and bossy orders, without democratic discussion.

For several presidential elections the ISO opportunistically campaigned for Ralph Nader, despite his support for capitalism and the state. Apparently they thought that supporting a bourgeois politician who wants to run the bourgeois state and bourgeois economy was consistent with revolutionary socialism (after all, they did not have to prefigure the future society here and now). When asked how they justify this, one ISOer told me, “It builds the organization.”

Similarly they have supported voting for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, although Chavez is running a bourgeois state and a bourgeois economy, despite his talk of “socialism.” With Nader and Chavez, the ISO made exactly the same mistake, the same crime against the working class, as did the leading Spanish anarchists of the 30s. The ISO denounces them (correctly) for joining the Spanish Popular Front with pro-capitalist parties and being willing to support a capitalist government. But how are the ISO’s politics any different?

While ISOers claim to be for a radically-democratic “workers’ state,” they believe that Lenin and Trotsky ran a “workers’ state” when they established a one-party police state after the Russian civil war. In fact, they believe that the Soviet Union continued to be a “workers’ state” under Stalin up until 1929 when he began a major industrialization drive (Cliff 1970; Price 2008a). Therefore they believe that there can be a so-called workers’ state, a rule of the working class, even after the workers have lost all political power for years. Someone else, such as the party, can stand-in for the working class. This is not qualitatively better than the views of the orthodox (“Soviet defensist”) Trotskyists. (Most members of the ISO may not know about this aspect of its theory of the state, or have not thought through the implications, but the leaders, such as D’Amato, have.)

Since the ISO believes that the “workers’ state” does not have to be prefigurative (it can be like a sharp metal plow), and since a “workers’ state” can exist without any control by the workers (as under Lenin and the early reign of Stalin), then it would seem dangerous to ever let the ISO get near state power. Although their practice in such areas as the Nader campaign makes them more likely to be like wishy-washy, defeated, social democrats than state-power-seizing state-capitalists!

It is a pity that D’Amato never found his way back to anarchism, in a revolutionary version.

References

Cliff, Tony (1970). Russia; A Marxist Analysis (3rd. ed.). London: International Socialism.

D’Amato, Paul (2009). Refusing to be ruled over. http://socialistworker.org/2009/02/27/refusing-to-be-ru...-over

Engels, Frederick (1972). The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. (Intro. and Notes by Eleanor Burke Leacock.) NY: International Publishers.

Price, Wayne (2006). Confronting the question of power. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/2496

Price, Wayne (2008a). The degeneration of the Russian revolution; The date question. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/9104

Price, Wayne (2008b). What I believe and how I came to believe it. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/8897

Written for www.Anarkismo.net

author by Waynepublication date Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:32Report this post to the editors

I received the following post about this essay:

*Please tell me where the ISO has an analysis that Russia was a workers' state democratically controlled by workers in 1928? The analysis is that workers' control was impossible in the context of the civil war and workers from factories into the countryside, the best workers dying in the civil war, etc., but that the Bolsheviks substituted a bureaucracy for functioning soviets out of necessity. Now you can argue about whether this was a correct decision or not, but it is a distortion to claim that the ISO's tradition sees Russia was a democratic workers' state until 1928, as you say. In fact, as Marxists we say that is impossible to build socialism on scarcity, so there was NO possibility that the Bolsheviks would have created socialism given the context of extreme immiseration caused by WWI, the blockade and the civil war. The Bolsheviks were trying to prevent a basically fascist counter-revolution and hold off until revolution succeeded elsewhere. Had they not developed centralized organization, the revolution would have been defeated and the pogroms, racism and reaction of the white armies would have won. Anyway, that's the argument, not that Russia was some sort of socialist paradise until Stalin consolidated power.

In fact Lenin and Trotsky talked extensively about the increasingly dangerous role of the bureaucracy, especially after the NEP, and battled with ways to combat this. But there was no way except through the re-emergence of genuine working-class rule, which was not on the agenda within Russia given the destruction of the working class as a class. Nonetheless, there were traditions of workers' democracy and democratic discussion that permeated major policy debates until Stalin had to forcefully put a stop to this through counter-revolution: see Brest-Litovsk, the Workers' Opposition, etc. He had to murder even Stalinists who had some memory of the real democratic history of the Bolshevik party and the early years of the revolution.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I appreciate the dialogue.*

I responded as follows:

You misread me, or perhaps I did not make myself clear. My point is the opposite of what you think I said. It is that the ISO knows that Lenin and Trotsky had a one-party police-state dictatorship and that Stalin had a bureaucratic proto-totalitarian state up to 1929, and yet the ISO regards these as some sort of workers' state--even though the workers had no power at all and someone else ruled for them.

Meanwhile I do not buy your excuses for Bolshevik tyranny. Granted that eventually workers' rule would not be able to last due to isolation and backwardness, still Lenin and Trotsky did NOT have to outlaw all other parties after the civil wfar or outlaw all opposition caucuses within the one legal party. Nor declare that such a single party system was a principled part of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as they now did. Nor did Trotsky, even under Stalin, have to support the one-party system up until the mid 1930s.

I

author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:18Report this post to the editors

I also wrote a response to the same two articles by Paul D'Amato of the ISO. These are posted at ZNet at:

Part 1 (social anarchism versus individualist anarchism)

http://www.zcommunications.org/blog/view/2831

Part 2 (on the state and Leninism)

http://www.zcommunications.org/blog/view/2850

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Sat Mar 28, 2009 11:49author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

Wayne said , "Granted that eventually workers' rule would not be able to last due to isolation and backwardness"

I think what should be emphasised is that the rapid time-table of the Bolsheviks reveal they had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and such apologies as presented by Leninists and Trotskyists cuts no ice .

"... just four days after seizing power, 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] ...the Bolsheviks immediately created a power above the soviets in the form of the CPC. Lenin's argument in The State and Revolution that, like the Paris Commune, the workers' state would be based on a fusion of executive and administrative functions in the hands of the workers' delegates did not last one night. In reality, the Bolshevik party was the real power in "soviet" Russia. ...."

http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/1931/append41.html...#app5

author by Wayne - personal opinionpublication date Mon Mar 30, 2009 09:21Report this post to the editors

Thanks to Tom for sharing his interesting articles on the same topic as my article.

I do not doubt the authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks from the git-go. It was rooted in the authoritarianism of the Social Democratic 2nd International, and ultimately in the authoritarian aspects of Marxism (which is not, I believe, all of Marxism, but is a real part). I do believe that the nature of the system was not settled really until the period after the Civil War, and have argued this here, but I agree with your essential premise.

However, there is no point in denying the point of the Trotskyist theory, that eventually an isolated and/or backward economy would not have been able to hold out indefinately as a form of workers' power. This is true, but it is not the whole story, because it leaves out the centralism and ruthless statism of Leninism. Which is my point.

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Sat Apr 04, 2009 15:05author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

Wayne said "...do not doubt the authoritarianism of the Bolsheviks from the git-go. It was rooted in the authoritarianism of the Social Democratic 2nd International..."

And did the "authoritarianism" of Martov and the Left Mensheviks also arise from their roots in the 2nd International .
Was Rosa's critique of Lenin and his Blanquism not from her roots in the 2nd International ?
Was Kautsky's defence of the democractic social revolution not rooted in the 2nd International?

I think we can understand Leninism more by accepting that they made choices that other Marxists were not prepared to make .

The Bolsheviks thought it possible for an active minority, representing the vague aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. What would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes? Marx himself answers this question in clear-cut terms in his article, “Moralising Criticism”. Briefly stated, his answer is the following: In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. Hence, let it be remembered, in running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its slave position.

"...Says Marx ' its victory will only be a point in the process of the bourgeois (capitalist) 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'....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'" Martov
http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Theory/Martov.html

We see the real content and meaning of the Russian Revolution. It was “only a point in the process of the capitalist revolution itself”. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been done previously, i.e. develop capitalism.The Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie.The Marxist theory adopted by them was nothing more than an ideological garb .

Tkachev , sometimes known as "the First Bolshevik" , said “Neither now nor in the future is the people left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution and as soon as possible . . . The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its own needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution . . . . This role and mission belong unquestionably to the revolutionary minority.”

The tradition of the Bolsheviks is not based on the 2nd International [ which indeed possessed many failings ] but rather on the Narodnik principle of a professional revolutionary organisation. The Bolsheviks created their particular, typically Russian type of political organism.

“No less than mystic is the concept of a political form that, by virtue of its particular character, can surmount all economic social and national conditions” - Martov

Related Link: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/education/socialnatu....html
author by Waynepublication date Fri Apr 10, 2009 04:54Report this post to the editors

So what A. Johnstone objects to in the Bolshevik revolution is NOT that it was (or became) a capitalist (state capitalist) revolution, because (he believes) only a capitalist revolution was possible. No, what he objects to is that the Leninists aimed at a socialist revolution! I assume that Johnstone and his party are presently against socialist revolutions in the poorer countries of the world. He cites the views of the Menshevik Martov as well as Kautsky. He could have cited the views of Lenin, who also advocated a capitalist revolution for years, up until WWI. Johnstone disagrees with the anarchists as well as with Luxemburg (who he seems to admire) as well as Trotsky (even during the period when he opposed Lenin's concept of the party). They were aware of the backwardness of the Russian empire, but noted that the world as a whole was ripe for socialist revolution, and saw a Russian revolution as sparking a Euroepan workers' revolution. This would then help Russia develop into socialism without going through a capitalist stage. Near the end of his life, Marx had raised this as a possiblility also.

Since he cites these views--opposition to socialist revolution in most of the world--as those of the second international, what more has to be said about its authoritarianism?

author by Kevin S.publication date Sat Apr 11, 2009 14:46Report this post to the editors

Comrades, a few thoughts....

I generally agree with Wayne's sentiments on this, but there are some points lacking in this debate. According to the poster quoted by Wayne:
'... as Marxists we say that is impossible to build socialism on scarcity, so there was NO possibility that the Bolsheviks would have created socialism given the context of extreme immiseration caused by WWI, the blockade and the civil war. The Bolsheviks were trying to prevent a basically fascist counter-revolution and hold off until revolution succeeded elsewhere. Had they not developed centralized organization, the revolution would have been defeated and the pogroms, racism and reaction of the white armies would have won.'

This point has value only to understand the logic of Bolshevik bureaucratism, but as for the possibility of creating socialism, Lenin, Trotsky, even Stalin, all definitely thought (according to them, at least) that it was possible, and indeed that more than any other reason was put forward boldly as the significance of the October Revolution. That fact alone made possible, as well, the support and participation of non-Bolshevik revolutionary socialists and anarchists in 1917 and early 1918. Even after the war, the Bolsheviks continued pushing (again, according to them) toward a socialist economy, despite turning to the NEP which Lenin hoped would be "one step back, to make two steps forward" (i.e. reverting to a limited capitalist economy, in preparation for a leap to socialism, which was implemented in theory by Stalin's first five-year plan). Stalin only differed from Trotsky and some accounts Lenin, in respect to the economy, in being more consistently bureaucratic, which is to say, less hypocritical (although there are a couple points in the early 1920s when Stalin actually argued against proposals by Trotsky that were military-bureaucratic to the extreme).

'... Lenin and Trotsky talked extensively about the increasingly dangerous role of the bureaucracy, especially after the NEP, and battled with ways to combat this. But there was no way except through the re-emergence of genuine working-class rule, which was not on the agenda within Russia given the destruction of the working class as a class. Nonetheless, there were traditions of workers' democracy and democratic discussion that permeated major policy debates until Stalin had to forcefully put a stop to this through counter-revolution: see Brest-Litovsk, the Workers' Opposition, etc. He had to murder even Stalinists who had some memory of the real democratic history of the Bolshevik party and the early years of the revolution.'

This is true to a large extent. Even some anarchist works ("The Anarchist FAQ" for example) have shown how the Bolsheviks in 1917 up until the party suppressed internal factions, had sometimes quite lively internal debates, although that does not equate to rank-and-file decision-making power except at localized levels, operating under strict bureaucratic supervision. As for Stalinism, that is nothing more than a power struggle inside the ruling class, long after the counterrevolution had already been completed.

Regarding A. Johnstone's comment ... I do believe he was arguing that the revolution was inevitably capitalist, and so the issue then as framed by Kautsky, Martov etc. was to make it democratic, something that was not possible in the Bolshevik scheme of a "proletarian" minority seizing power. So the Mensheviks opposed what they saw as a dictatorship ending in capitalism, instead demanding bourgeois democracy. Before the revolution, Trotsky had shared in denouncing the Bolsheviks as "Jacobins" (which, in the context of the above line of argument, has then a double meaning as both "dictatorial" and "bourgeois") and initially sided with the Mensheviks regarding internal discipline of the RSDLP, however, he also argued that a socialist revolution led by proletariat was possible, granted that the the revolution would have to expand to industrial Europe or else be doomed through isolation.

For my part, I think it suffices both to grasp the authoritarianism of the Mensheviks' preferred "bourgeois democracy" and to understand the importance of October, although that reason was deformed and betrayed by Bolshevism, to study the social struggles at work not only by workers in Petrograd, Moscow and other cities, but of the landless peasants most notably in the Ukraine, as known through Makhno's and other similar accounts that tell quite clearly of a proletarian revolution already in the making months before October that was, however, to be overturned by Bolsheviks' bureaucratic coup d'etat -- a reading that does comply one bit to the bourgeois-democratic argument proposed by some Marxists then or now.

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Sun Apr 12, 2009 05:00author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotland ukauthor phone naReport this post to the editors


"...Regarding A. Johnstone's comment ... I do believe he was arguing that the revolution was inevitably capitalist, and so the issue then as framed by Kautsky, Martov etc. was to make it democratic, something that was not possible in the Bolshevik scheme of a "proletarian" minority seizing power..."

Thank you Kevin for concisely explaining what i so obviously failed to demonstrate to Wayne's satisfacvtion . The point of a revolutionary movement in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class . The Bolsheviks failed to do so , emasculating what workers organisations existed , sacrificing their independence and strength to the altar of their One Party Rule .

Yes , Lenin was once an adherent of "stageism" if i recollect the term correctly , Wayne , and yes Trotsky did also critiqued Lenin as a Blanquist .
I may have mentioned this article before on Anarkismo . I certainly find it a very honest article by a Trotskyist . In my comment i stated that a choice was made by Bolshevism , nothing was inevitable . This article also emphasises that important point

"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.....
FULL ARTICLE at :-
http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/Pubs.html

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Apr 12, 2009 07:45Report this post to the editors

First, a correction -- in my previous comment I wrote: "I think it suffices both to grasp the authoritarianism of the Mensheviks' preferred "bourgeois democracy" and to understand the importance of October ... to study the social struggles ... most notably in the Ukraine, as known through Makhno's and other similar accounts that tell quite clearly of a proletarian revolution already in the making months before October that was, however, to be overturned by Bolsheviks' bureaucratic coup d'etat -- a reading that does comply one bit to the bourgeois-democratic argument proposed by some Marxists then or now."

The last part is supposed to say a reading that does not comply one bit to the bourgeois-democratic argument proposed by some Marxists then or now."

Regarding the article quoted above ... yes, I have seen it posted before on Anarkismo. It is definitely an interesting piece, but again I do not share this "premature" reasoning about October. Certainly, you yourself argued in your comment on "party rule" that the Bolsheviks "had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and such apologies as presented by Leninists and Trotskyists cuts no ice ." The argument, presented again and again, that the Bolsheviks intended a party dictatorship from the start (still up for debate, but plenty of evidence to show it is true) does not line up too well with the Menshevist reasoning that the October Revolution was simply "premature." That it was "diseased from infancy" is, of course, obvious even to Leninist apologists with the extremely rare exception of some open Stalinists, but the question is why it was so "diseased" ... ?

The simple fact that October happened, that it was so successful the main cities, and that even in 1918 there was an open struggle between the Bolshevik regime and sections of the urban working class -- not to mention the peasant rebellions throughout the country as late as 1921, written off as "petit bourgeois" counterrevolution by Lenin, Trotsky and so on -- stand as powerful evidence against the notion that the revolution was "premature." So it was "diseased" by prematurity or improper conditions, but rather by the bureaucratic authoritarianism of the Bolshevik party, set in a extreme context of political violence and precarity, and determined to control and "discipline" the same unruly elements on whose backs they had entered power in the first place.

author by Dave B - WorldSocialistMovement/SPGBpublication date Tue Apr 21, 2009 03:36Report this post to the editors



For those interested in the constituent assembly and Lenins conditional support and then non support for it etc etc the following document may be of interest

V. I. LENIN, THE, PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION, AND THE RENEGADE KAUTSKY November 10, 1918

It is probably worth a read just to see Lenin foaming at the mouth and spitting feathers as it seems like Kautsky has touched on a raw nerve and Lenin protests too much.

"It is a pity that this conclusion was arrived at only after the Bolsheviks found themselves in the minority in the Constituent Assembly. Before that no one had demanded it more clamorously than Lenin."

This is literally what Kautsky says on page 31 of his book!

It is positively a gem! Only a sycophant of the bourgeoisie was capable of presenting the question in such a false way as to give the reader the impression that all the Bolsheviks' talk about a higher type of state was an invention which saw the light of day after they found themselves in the minority in the Constituent Assembly!! Such an infamous lie could only have been uttered by a scoundrel who has sold himself to the bourgeoisie, or, what is absolutely the same thing, who has placed his trust in P. Axelrod and is concealing the source of his information.

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/RK18.html#A1

APPENDIX I THESES ON THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, from something he wrote earlier is of some interest.

"18. The only chance of securing a painless solution of the crisis which has arisen owing to the divergence between the elections to the Constituent Assembly, on the one hand, and the will of the people and the interests of the toiling and exploited classes, on the other, is for the people to exercise as broadly and as rapidly as possible the right to elect the members of the Constituent Assembly anew, and for the Constituent Assembly to accept the law of the Central Executive Committee on these new elections, to proclaim that it unreservedly recognizes the Soviet power, the Soviet revolution, and its policy on the questions of peace, the land and workers' control, and resolutely to join the camp of the enemies of the Cadet-Kaledin counter-revolution."

So I suppose you could compare all that to the following;

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution

6. From what Direction is the Proletariat Threatened with the Danger of Having its Hands Tied in the Struggle Against the Inconsistent Bourgeoisie? 1905.

"A bourgeois revolution expresses the need for the development of capitalism, and far from destroying the foundations of capitalism, it does the opposite, it broadens and deepens them. This revolution therefore expresses the interests not only of the working class, but of the entire bourgeoisie as well. Since the rule of the bourgeoisie over the working class is inevitable under capitalism, it is quite correct to say that a bourgeois revolution expresses the interests not so much of the proletariat as of the bourgeoisie.

But it is entirely absurd to think that a bourgeois revolution does not express the interests of the proletariat at all. This absurd idea boils down either to the hoary Narodnik theory that a bourgeois revolution runs counter to the interests of the proletariat, and that therefore we do not need bourgeois political liberty; or to anarchism, which rejects all participation of the proletariat in bourgeois politics, in a bourgeois revolution and in bourgeois parliamentarism.

From the standpoint of theory, this idea disregards the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development where commodity production exists. Marxism teaches that a society which is based on commodity production, and which has commercial intercourse with civilised capitalist nations, at a certain stage of its development, itself, inevitably takes the road of capitalism. Marxism has irrevocably broken with the ravings of the Narodniks and the anarchists to the effect that Russia, for instance, can avoid capitalist development, jump out of capitalism, or skip over it and proceed along some path other than the path of the class struggle on the basis and within the framework of this same capitalism.

All these principles of Marxism have been proved and explained over and over again in minute detail in general and with regard to Russia in particular. And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism.

The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class. The bourgeois revolution is precisely a revolution that most resolutely sweeps away the survivals of the past, the remnants of serfdom (which include not only autocracy but monarchy as well) and most fully guarantees the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism.

That is why a bourgeois revolution is in the highest degree advantageous to the proletariat. A bourgeois revolution is absolutely necessary in the interests of the proletariat."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/tactic...6.htm

author by Adam W.publication date Thu May 06, 2010 04:50Report this post to the editors

“I later learned that by no means did all anarchists abstain from struggle for purist reasons, but ‘lifestyle’ anarchism is a strong strain in the movement, even among activists" says Tom D. as quoted by Wayne.

The problem I have with painting anarchism as having a strong strain of lifestylism (which is to some degree true now in the US) is first I think there's plenty of argument for saying this was much less the case or not at all when anarchism was far stronger in the late 19th and early 20th century and second there's a much stronger case I think that Marxism has a "strong strain" of both electoral reformism or outright brutal authoritarianism once in power.

Why Tom can't hold up the same critical lens he does to anarchism to his own political ideas, we're only left to guess.

author by mitchpublication date Thu May 06, 2010 13:01Report this post to the editors

Actually, there has always been a strong and lively "lifestyle" element to anarchism, even decades ago. There will always be "fruitists and nudists" in the anarchism movement. The question is, shall they be the dominant trend?

I think the key difference is that organized class struggle anarchism (anarcho-syndicalism ) had a larger footing and mass appeal. To a lesser degree the same can also be said of the anarchist-communists. Both lements of late 19th century and 20th century anarchism were class based.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Thu May 06, 2010 18:48Report this post to the editors

Spot on Adam when you say that there are "unpleasant" strains in Marxism as much as in anarchism, and that no one is in a position to criticize others from a spotless and immaculate ground. Marxists tend to "forget" that they share ideological background with the likes of Pol Pot as well. Now, that said, it is important to recognize that it is true that there is a strong trend of lifestylist anarchism and that there has been for a long time, almost from its origins. Now, I am not referring as people that involved in certain practices like vegetarianism and nudism (as Mitch rightly states) but who were still part of trade unions and who still believed that revolutionary change of society was the goal, etc. I am referring to people that detached from society and who took a typically individualistic approach in assuming whether that society could not be changed, therefore you had to go up to the hills like a monk and form your own colony, or those who believed that social change had nothing to do with class struggle and all depended on changing each individual -therefore, you had to start by living in an "anarchist" way in the middle of oppression. Both types were widespread in the late XIXth Century.

To a certain degree, one could convincingly argue that being an anarchist, or a revolutionary, has implications to your lifestyle. But as Mitch rightly puts it, it all depends on what dominates. Personally, I am inclined to think according to what I've read and know that these tendencies dominated whenever struggles were at a low point, repression was at a high and anarchists had lost a mass base among the working class (Adam agrees also with this last point according to his own argument). But not all of the XIXth Century was a time of anarchist mass movements. In many parts of Europe anarchism ws extremely marginal and hopelessly isolated by the 1880s. And there was fed a vicious cycle: isolation made these tendencies thrive and then the development of these tendencies further isolated anarchists, who then turned to rationalise their isolationism in anti-workers, anti-social, anti-organisation rants (the Italian and French individualists being extremely unpleasant types of this type of irrationality developed within an anarchist framework). It took a lot of effort to overcome this dismal state of affairs and when the anarchist syndicalist started turning the tide in favour of anarchism as a mass movement in Europe in the late 1890s, this required a clean cut break from the old elements who could not be gained back again to the revolutionary class struggle.

Inasmuch as Stalin did not fall from the moon, it is important for us anarchists to acknowledged that Zerzan did not fall from the moon either (actually, in my article on insurrectionalism a good while ago http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=4542 my main point is that insurrectionsim only reflects the worst tendencies of anarchism in general). There are many problems of origin of anarchism that need to be tackled at its roots by serious and revolutionary anarchists: the fact that anarchism was born as an "opposition tendency" within the International has marked our distinctive political development not always positively and may be responsible to a large extent of some of anarchism's worst tendencies such as tactical dogmatism, the tendency to ideological extremism, sectarianism, isolationism, lifestylism, the absusive interpretations of "free initiative", "autonomy", "spontaneity", some mystifiction of the "individual", etc... all that, although exacerbated in some crazed versions of anarchism, they are to be found from quite early in the history of the anarchist movement (unfortunately). At the moment I'm reading the History of the Italian Anarchist Movement (1864-1892) of Nunzio Pernicone, and believe me, it is rather deppressing, let me tell you that...

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