user preferences

New Events

Russia / Ukraine / Belarus

no event posted in the last week

The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution;

category russia / ukraine / belarus | the left | opinion / analysis author Wednesday June 11, 2008 05:01author by Wayne Price - (NEFAC) personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

The Date Question

How did the Russian revolution go from an extreme popular democracy to the horrors of Stalin’s totalitarian state capitalism? How did this happen and when did this happen? What does this tell us about the nature of socialism?

The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution

The Date Question

How did the Russian revolution go from an extreme popular democracy to the horrors of Stalin’s totalitarian state capitalism? The Russian revolution of 1917 involved vast numbers of people. It included almost all the working class of the cities, most of the peasants, and the mostly-peasant ranks of the military (swollen by the needs of World War I). The working people created delegated representational councils (soviets), along with factory committees, unions, regimental councils, peasant village councils, and cooperatives. There was an enormous growth of left-wing parties and organizations with their newspapers, leaflets, and public speakers, who competed with each other, and allied with each other, in a great popular democracy. These parties themselves had a lively internal life, with competing internal caucuses and semi-autonomous locals; this was true of the Bolshevik Party, whose internal life was far from later “centralism,” whatever Lenin wanted. The overthrow of the semi-feudal monarchy was done by the people in February, without organization by the parties. The overthrow of the bourgeois Provisional Government was done in October by an alliance of the Bolsheviks, the Left Social Revolutionaries (peasant populists), and anarchists. The two parties created a coalition government, which was generally supported by the anarchists.

Yet by the time of World War II, the Soviet Union was ruled by a meglomanical dictator, using a single legal party, with a prison gulag of slave labor camps. The state was structurally similar to Nazi Germany and had killed around twenty million people. HOW did the society get from one condition to the other? And WHEN did it change from one to the other?

These question have been debated by various Trotskyists. This is especially true of the dissident Trotskyists who rejected Trotsky’s belief that Stalin’s regime was some sort of “workers’ state;” instead they believed (correctly, I think) that the ruling bureaucracy became an exploiting class. Anarchists and anti-statist Marxists have shown less interest in these topics. However, I believe that there is value for us libertarian socialists to discuss the topic, as I will try to show. It raises the question of the relationship between Leninism and Stalinism. It involves the historical issue of the way the Russian anarchists related to the Bolsheviks.

For Trotskyists these topics are an issue because they want to show that Leninism was pro-workers’s democracy. Therefore it is a problem for them how this good Leninism ended up in the evils of Stalin’s rule. Anarchists and anti-statist Marxists do not have this problem, because we analyze Lenin’s program as authoritarian from the start. This leads some to conclude, along with conservatives, that the October revolution was nothing more than a minority coup by the Bolsheviks, and that, therefore, Stalin was an inevitable outcome.

I do not wish to deny the authoritarian aspects of Lenin’s politics. We need only to read his most libertarian works, such as State and Revolution or The Impending Catastrophe and How to Fight It, to see how his vision of socialism was based on the state monopoly capitalism of wartime Prussia, for example. Also, Lenin held an assumption that his party alone (or just he himself) knew the “scientific” Truth and alone embodied “proletarian consciousness,” ideas which could justify its one-party rule.
(For Lenin’s authoritarianism, see, e.g., Brinton, 2004; Draper, 1987; Mattick, 2007; Taber, 1988; and especially, Farber, 1990.)

However, Lenin was different from, say, Mao Tse-Tung. Mao had the model of Stalin’s Soviet Union as something to aim for. Lenin had to make things up as he went along. Had he known that his actions would result in something like Stalinist totalitarianism, he would have been horrified. At the end of his life he was appalled by the bureaucratization of the Russian state. He tried to change it, although his proposed methods would have been inadequate (demote Stalin, reorganize the bureaucracy, bring rank-and-file workers into the government). Possibly if the early Stalin had known what his actions would create, even he would have been horrified.

Early stages of repression

The October (or “Bolshevik”) revolution broke out in 1917. It would be a fallacy to regard it as a minority coup. It had the support of the big majority of workers and peasants, who had had seized the factories and the landed estates. It was carried out by a united front of far-left groupings. At first it had a lively popular democracy of varying political trends. By the end of 1918, this had changed. Political repression, justified or not, had vastly increased. The Bolsheviks (now the Communists) ruled alone. The Cheka had been created as a political police force which could arrest, imprison, and kill without supervision. The factory councils were abolished. And the Civil War had broken out, which was also a war of foreign invasion. With that, the regime turned toward War Communism: extreme centralization of the economy and forced requisitioning of foodstuffs from the peasants.

This repression did not mean that the Soviet Union was totalitarian yet. Opposition parties and groups existed and were able to inconsistently organize and publish their press. There was a range of groups which supported the Communist side in the Civil War, regarding them as a step forward from Czarism, or at least a lesser evil to the counterrevolutionary, proto-fascist, White armies. This was true of almost all the anarchists. It was also true of the Left Mensheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries. The anarchist Makhno’s peasant army in the Ukraine made alliances with the Red Army to fight against the Whites.

Within the ruling Communist Party, opposition groups developed, from 1918 to 1921: the Left Communists, the Workers’ Opposition, the Democratic Centralists, the Workers’ Truth, and the Workers’ Group. These fought for the revolutionary democratic-libertarian ideals under which the revolution had been made.

It could be argued that the anarchists, say, were mistaken to be part of the October revolution and then to support the Red side of the Civil War, instead of condemning both sides. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the Communists ended up producing Stalinism, which was as bad, or even worse, than anything a White victory would have produced. Perhaps. But this assumes that the undemocratic, totalitarian, outcome was inevitable, and that, even if the anarchists had been better organized, it could not have been avoided. We do not know this.

I tend to regard 1921 as the fundamental turning point, when it can be definitively said that the working class had lost political power and was not going to get it back without a new revolution. At that time the Civil War was essentially over. Revolutions had broken out elsewhere in Europe (in Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe), as the Leninists had predicted, but these were all defeated. The European Social Democrats had played a key role in defeating the workers’ revolutions and thereby isolating the Russian revolution in an impoverished, war-destroyed, country; the rise of authoritarianism in the Soviet Union is at least partially the fault of these self-described “democratic socialists”!

The Communists found themselves in a situation which they had not expected. The European revolution was defeated, yet they still held power in Russia. They had predicted that the defeat of the European revolutions would lead to their defeat in Russia. This did not seem to be happening. Actually it was happening, but in the form of an internal counterrevolution, rather than a counterrevolution from outside.

At the time, the economy was in shambles and there was widespread starvation. The Mensheviks, grew in size and influence. There was a wave of strikes in the big cities and peasant uprisings (not White forces) in the countryside. A rebellion at the Kronstadt naval base, influenced by anarchists, demanded a return to soviet democracy and greater freedom for the peasants and workers.

Under these conditions, decisions had to be made. Leading Communists proposed legalizing opposition socialist parties and groups which would abide by soviet procedures (Mensheviks, Left SRs, anarchists). They suggested even forming a coalition government with them. However, this was the road not taken.

Instead, the Communists definitively outlawed all other parties and the anarchists, and any opposition newspapers. They banned all factions (caucuses) within the one legal party. They crushed the Kronstadt rebels and massacred the prisoners they took. They wiped out the Ukrainian anarchists. They ended War Communism and replaced it with a revival of the market for the peasants in particular, the New Economic Policy; but there was no attempt to encourage worker-run cooperatives (another part of the road not taken).

Whereas earlier repressions might have been justifiable as temporary expedients due to war or economic collapse, the validity of one-party rule was now official doctrine. Farber reviews the stages of Lenin’s thinking on soviet democracy, concluding that we can “distinguish between Lenin’s flawed conception of democracy, which he by and large upheld until at least the Spring of 1918, and the clearly anti-democratic perspective that, with his associates, he began to adopt shortly before and especially during the course of the Civil War. As we have seen, these anti-democratic views and practices fully crystallized in the period 1921—1923….” (Farber, 1990; p. 211)

Lenin died in 1923, leaving Stalin as the central figure in the state and party. While Lenin lived, Leon Trotsky had been one of the strongest supporters of the one-party police state, as can be seen in his response to Kautsky, Terrorism and Communism (see Draper, 1987). But Trotsky now recoiled from the bureaucratic monstrosity he had helped to create. He began a career of opposition to the Stalinist state, which only ended with his murder by an agent of Stalin’s. However, it is striking how easily Trotsky and his co-thinkers were routed by Stalin, who already had state power.

Programatically,Trotsky’s opposition was limited, in that he still supported one-party rule until the mid 1930s. And until he died, he continued to argue that Stalin’s regime was somehow the rule of the working class, a “degenerated workers’ state,” because industry was still nationalized. Orthodox Trotskyists continue to hold this opinion about the Soviet Union to this day, as well as similar views about China, Cuba, etc.

The unorthodox Trotskyist view of the “date”

Dissident Trotskyists reject this orthodox view. They brush over the fact that Lenin and Trotsky had instituted a one-party police state by the early 1920s. Instead they pick some later turning point in the history of the Soviet Union.

For example, there is Tony Cliff’s analysis of the Soviet Union as “bureaucratic state capitalist” (Cliff, 1970). Cliff is the theorist of the British Socialist Workers’ Party and its International Socialist Tendency, of which the U.S. International Socialist Organization has the essentially same politics. He declared that the 1929 inauguration of the first Five Year Plan meant the transformation of the Russian bureaucracy into a collective ruling class. Up to this point, there was still the widespread internal market of the N.E.P. period. But Stalin had defeated all possible oppositions within the party, including the “rightists” who supported the N.E.P. Now he began a vast program of nationalization of industry, of expanding the slave-labor penal colonies, and of forcibly collectivizing agriculture. The result was a terrific level of mass misery as the standard of living for workers and peasants was cut down, a big expansion of industrial production occurred, and agriculture was almost destroyed. This was, I agree, a turning point in the development of the Soviet Union, when state capitalism was definitely inaugurated—that is, when the bureaucratic state became the direct agent of capital accumulation.

A later turning point is focused on by Max Shachtman, who held that the Soviet Union did not become state capitalist but “bureaucratic collectivist,” a new type of society, neither capitalist nor proletarian. (The U.S. ISO and Solidarity were also influenced by Shachtman’s tradition.) He referred to “the counterrevolution of the Stalinist bureaucracy—roughly in the period between 1933 and 1936…” (1962; p. 62). This was the beginning period of the Great Purge Trials, which were to kill millions of people. However, what is significant to Shachtman was the transformation of the bureaucracy. At the beginning of this period, Russian officials were a mixture of promoted workers and left-over bourgeois (and Czarist) specialists. At the end of the purges, these officials had been killed or imprisoned, and a wholly new layer had been created, which owed its existence to Stalin’s rule. This included the purging of the Communist Party. Not only were old oppositionists purged, even if they had capitulated years ago, but almost all of Stalin’s supporters were purged! Just about anyone who had any connection or knowledge of the 1917 revolution, no matter how corrupt they had become, was purged. A whole new party was created, representing a whole new layer of society, a new ruling class.

The same period (but a little later) is seen as the final, counterrevolutionary, turning point by Walter Daum of the U.S. League for the Revolutionary Party (Daum, 1990). He prefers to call the system, “statified capitalism.” However, he points to the end of the period of the purges, 1939, as the culmination of the bureaucratic counterrevolution. Shachtman and he are probably right that the purges resulted in the solidification of the new ruling class.

Daum argues that revolutionaries should not give up on a workers’ institution until the last possible moment--and therefore the Soviet Union should be regarded as a “degenerated workers’ state” up to 1939. The argument has a logical fallacy: the point when one should decide that the Soviet Union is not proletarian but capitalist is not necessarily the point when it actually turned from being proletarian to capitalist. The first is a subjective decision, the second is an objective fact.

Workers’ rule is democratic or does not exist

I am discussing the date of an event, which by any account is well in the past. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Yet a key issue remains. The working class is different from any other would-be ruling class. The traditional capitalist class does not need to directly manage the state; it only needs to maintain its stocks and bonds, its forms of private ownership, regardless of whether the state is democratic or totalitarian. But the workers do not have stocks or bonds; they must rule collectively over an interconnected industrial economy. The capitalists do not need to plan their overall economy, because it follows the self-organization of the marketplace, the “invisible hand” which balances supply and demand through the booms and busts of the business cycle. But the collectivist economy of the workers must be planned, and planned democratically, to deliberately serve the needs of the great mass of people. A state minority can substitute for the capitalists, but not for the working class. The working class must rule directly, democratically, and consciously, or it does not rule at all.

The Bolsheviks thought that they could stand in for the working class (which is not at all the same as a political minority thinking that it has good ideas of which it hopes to persuade the workers). Trotsky thought that the totalitarian bureaucracy could stand in for the party. The dissident Trotskyists criticize Trotsky and his orthodox followers for not seeing that this cannot be, a bureaucracy cannot “represent” the class it oppresses and exploits. But then they claim that the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky was able to “represent” the workers in power, and even that Stalin’s bureaucracy was able to “represent” the workers (maintain a “workers’ state,” the “dictatorship of the proletariat”) until 1929, or 1936, or 1939—years, decades, after the workers had lost all power. It is only by the complete rejection of all such elitism and substitutionalism that a revolutionary movement can succeed.

Brinton, Maurice (2004). For workers’ power; The selected writings of Maurice Brinton (David Goodway, ed.). Oakland: AK Press.
Cliff, Tony (1970). Russia; A Marxist analysis. London: International Socialists.
Daum, Walter (1990). The life and death of Stalinism; A resurrection of Marxist theory. NY: Socialist Voice.
Draper, Hal (1987). The “dictatorship of the proletariat” from Marx to Lenin. NY: Monthly Review Press.
Farber, Samuel (1990). Before Stalinism; The rise and fall of soviet democracy. London/NY: Verso.
Mattick, Paul (2007). Anti-Bolshevik communism. Monmouth Wales: Merlin Press.
Shachtman, Max (1962). The bureaucratic revolution; The rise of the Stalinist state. NY: The Donald Press.
Taber, Ron (1988). A look at Leninism. NY: Aspect Foundation.

author by Anarchopublication date Thu Jun 12, 2008 18:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I would have to disagree that 1921 was the fundamental year. The notion of party dictatorship was firmly in place by 1919, reflecting the reality since the spring of 1918. After all, this was when the Bolsheviks started to loose soviet elections and started to disband them.

Yes, October 1917 was popular, maybe the term "popular coup" should be used. The idea that the Bolsheviks had no support is just false, as Wayne is right to point out. However, the Bolsheviks quickly lost popular support -- in this sense, the civil war was the best thing which could have happened to them precisely because it allowed them to present the options as "us or the whites".

In this, 1921 is important as this alternative was no more. Which was why Goldman and Berkman, in part, finally broke with the Bolsheviks. However, we should remember that in 1918 the Bolsheviks were already packing and disbanding soviets to secure their position.

Here are some notes from the new book by Alexander Rabinowitch, _The Bolsheviks in Power_, which covers the first year of "soviet power". They make it clear how the regime was developing in those early days....

The Bolsheviks in Petrograd, for example, faced "demands from below for the immediate reelection" of the Soviet. However, before the election, the Bolshevik Soviet confirmed new regulations "to help offset possible weaknesses" in their "electoral strength in factories." The "most significant change in the makeup of the new
soviet was that numerically decisive representation was given to agencies in which the Bolsheviks had overwhelming strength, among
them the Petrograd Trade Union Council, individual trade unions, factory committees in closed enterprises, district soviets, and district nonparty workers' conferences." This ensured that "[o]nly 260 of roughly 700 deputies in the new soviet were to be elected in factories, which guaranteed a large Bolshevik majority in
advance." The Bolsheviks "contrived a majority" in the new Soviet while gaining 127 of the 260 factory delegates. Then there is "the nagging question of how many Bolshevik deputies from factories were elected instead of the opposition because of press restrictions, voter intimidation, vote fraud, or the short duration of the campaign." The SR and Menshevik press, for example, were reopned "only a couple of days before the start of voting." pp. 248-9 and p. 251

By mid-March, 1918, the Left-SRs objected to the "on-going pursuit of authoritarian domestic policies." p. 283

At the Fifth All-Russian Congress of soviets, in July 1918, there is "sunstantial circumstantial evidence that the huge Bolshevik majority in the congress was fabricated, and that the number of legitimately
elected Left SR delegates was roughly equal to that of the Bolsheviks." p. 288

The Left SR expected a majority but did not include "roughly 399 Bolsheviks delegates whose right to be seated was challenged by the Left SR minority
in the congress's credentials commission." Without these dubious delegates, the Left SRs and SR Maximalists would have outnumbered the Bolsheviks by around 30 delegates. p. 288 and p. 442

The congress was postponed by the Bolsheviks, who made "urgent calls . . . to the party's leaders in soviets around the country to immediately send additional Bolshevik delegates to Moscow." p. 288

The Mogilev province Soviet, for example, initially sent one Bolshevik and one Left SR to the congress (in spite of objections by a Bolshevik
that the Left SRs were "obviously opponents of Soviet power"). After the Bolshevik fraction in the soviet Executive Committe received a request from Moscow, an additional five delegates where sent without informing the Left SRs. p. 442

The new constitution "perpetuated the fiction that the elective All-Russian Congress of Soviets was the highest organ of state authority, and that
between its convocations, except in dire emergencies, the Sovnarkom was subordinate to the CEC which was the supreme legislative, administrative, and conrtrolling organ of government; in practice, however, the opposite
prevailed." p. 295

"the Left SRs, in alliance with SR Maximalists, had a majority in the Kronstadt soviet" and when they refused to obey the Revolutionary Committee the Bolsheviks formed after the Left SR revolt, they
"responded by dissolving the Kronstadt Soviet and establishing a puppet committee in its place." p. 302

"the Bolshevik's successful fabrication of a large majority in the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets" p. 308

The Left SR's assassination of th German Ambasader "however understandable
framed against the fraudulent composition of the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets and the ominous developments at the congresses's start, offered Lenin a better excuse than he could posibly have hoped for to eliminate the Left SRs as a significant political rival." p. 308

All in all, I fail to see why 1921 should be considered the key year, particularly as it seems to be following a pattern which started in 1918.

Related Link:
author by randy - ctc supporter (personal capacity)publication date Thu Jun 12, 2008 20:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The article says:

"It would be a fallacy to regard (1917) as a minority coup...It had the support of the big majority of workers and peasants...By the end of 1918, this had changed. Political repression...had vastly increased. The Bolsheviks (now the Communists) ruled alone. The Cheka had been created...I tend to regard 1921 as the fundamental turning point, when it can be definitively said that the working class had lost political power and was not going to get it back without a new revolution."

Unless I misread anarco (or rat for that matter), he/she is agrees on all these points, and simply disputes whether 1918 or 1921 should be awarded the moniker "fundamental".

What I find interesting is that none seem to dispute the overarching narrative, that the Russian Revolution was born a popular rebellion, then degenerated into an authoritarian regime over time. (This is contrary to the notion of a "Bolshevik Revolution" that both sides of the Cold War once advanced.)

author by Waynepublication date Fri Jun 13, 2008 02:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As Randy says, I do not have any principled disagreement with Anarcho, in my opinion (I am not sure what professor rat is arguing). Certainly the Bolsheviks acting in an undemocratic way in several instances, such as stacking the soviets. But I cite 1921 because it was when it became clear that there was not going to be a reversal of the pattern, that organized opposition, inside and outside the party, was not going to be allowed any longer (although some advocated this) and that a one-party police state was to be the official doctrine and practice.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Fri Jun 13, 2008 07:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I realize this issue is for the most part already clarified and, in my view, accurately resolved in the above essay and elsewhere, it is still worth a brief comment or two specifically addressing the oft-repeated depiction of October as the "Bolshevik coup d'etat," as opposed to the depiction of it as a proletarian socialist revolution, etc.

One problem is an unfortunate tendency of many people when reviewing history to describe in terms of chronological phases and periods, clearly marked out events and simple formulas. In that sense the Wayne's emphasis of "the date question" is mistaken, in my opinion, because it misses the more fundamental point: the contradictory character of the October Revolution due in large part to the leadership of the Bolsheviks, complicity and half-heartedly revolutionary program of Left SRs and others, and the disorganization and confusion among the main part of the anarchists who, as a result, were unequipped to carry on the revolutionary struggle without either submitting to or simply being "liquidated" by the "soviet government." Such contradictory character of what, at its outset and in its roots was essentially a proletarian social revolution, cannot be grasped or explained through chronological overviews but rather but examining the diverse tendencies, patterns and aspects of the revolution, and for that matter of history in general.

The way I see it, the insurrection itself, i.e. the "seizure of power," was (naturally and fittingly enough, as with any revolution) the decisive action and critical juncture of the revolution -- it brought the proletarian undercurrents and revolutionary movement which had been boiling under the surface, eroding the foundations of the state, to a head. In revolutions, a general insurrection of this kind leading to the seizure of power, represents both climax of revolutionary struggle again the established regime as well as the beginning of a generalized construction of the "new order" (or whatever else you wish to call it) whose basis is largely rooted in the revolutionary organization occuring before that point. That is why an organization like the soviet or commune is central to the revolution both as an instrument of struggle and a social administrative organ dealing with the necessary creative economic and political work of the revolution.

The case in point here is that October was just such an event. But, as had occurred one way or another in previous revolutions (especially in France), it was of a mixed character: its most important work was carried out at the base by proletarians organized in the worker soviets and revolutionary committees, but its program was unclear, even ambiguous, and its political leadership was primarily statist (Bolshevik and Left SR). Some of these leaders' first acts were designed to uunderscore the idea of a "soviet government," and they immediately set about creating a bureacratic state apparatus that arrogated itself the authority to issue decrees orders as the "highest organ of soviet power."

That mixed character is also at the root, though not the impetus, for the actual "Bolshevik coup d'etat" which does not occur right off the bat but rather as step-by-step process occuring over the course of a few months, and only taking firm root after several years of civil war. The "coup," in my interpretation anyway, consists of the Bolsheviks steadily seizing control of the new-born state apparatus which they themselves led the way in creating -- a process that required many devious methods and a series of carefully crafted and executed actions. I am not personally convinced, as some people are, that the Bolshevik leaders (Lenin in particular) were insincere, or even that what came about was intended (that is to say, I do see some grain of truth in Leninist or Trotskyist claims that they had hoped for a more democratic government), but at any rate that is beside point -- it is a fact that resorted to one Machiavellian manuever after another in the course of seizing power and ruthlessly suppressed their former proletarian base when necessary, regardless of their intentions.

Essentially the process involves two initial lines of development: the first consists of building a "provisional" executive apparatus led mostly from the start, and increasingly so over time, by Lenin and the Bolsheviks; the second consists of attacking and destroying one-by-one non-Bolshevik revolutionary organizations that did not submit to the "soviet power." Examples of the first would be the creation of the Central Executive Committe and the Soviet of People's Commissars, led by Lenin, which issued one decree after another citing for authority that it had been formed and was technically responsible to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The final capstone, so to speak, and the best example especially of the contradictory character of the whole revolution, is the disbandment of Constituent Assembly -- an action that was led by an anarchist, anarchists having opposed from the start the Constituent Assembly. Examples of the second are well known and documented, including those cited above by Anarcho, and also include the disbanding of the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks had at first supported but then turned against when it clearly would not subordinate to them and their program (SRs being the majority party). Later a third a line of development occurs reifnorcing and sealing the process, that being obviously the war (both the Austro-German offensive ending at Best-Litovsk, and the civil war) which led to militarization and added powerful, seemingly irresistable weight to the party's dictatorshp.

Thus, in my view, October represents (but by no means encompasses entirely) the real social revolution, especially that of the workers (the peasants had their own story, sadly neglected by so many historians). There is no "October coup d'etat," whether you wish to call it Bolshevik or "popular" or anything else, unless we are to treat every successful uprising and insurrection in history as a coup d'etat. However, there was definitely a "Bolshevik coup" in a sense, a more long-term phenomenon involving many stages and particular steps and actions spread over an extended period of time, which was rooted in and grew out of the contradictions of the October Revolution and definitely took shape, perhaps irreversibly except by another insurrection (or at least a "counter-coup"), by early 1918. That "coup" of sorts was in turn the basis for the Bolshevik counter-revolution whose immediate (internal) work, I suppose, was completed by about 1921 (really it is ongoing after that for some years while the war was still being wrapped up, not to mention the later history of the USSR encompassing so many "Thermidors" and "counter-revolutions").

author by Waynepublication date Fri Jun 13, 2008 10:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A further thought, and a question for Anarcho and Prof. Rat. If you put "the [final] date" at 1918, then do you think that the anarchists were mistaken to give support to the Bolshevik side against the White counterrevolutionary armies? For that matter, do you think the anarchists were wrong to be a part of the organization of the overthrow of the Provisional Government, in alliance with the Bolsheviks? I think that they were correct both times. Of course it did not work out very well, since the Bolsheviks won and developed into the Stalinists. But did it have to happen that way? What if the anarchists were better organized and were able to build alliances with the Left Social Revolutionaries and dissident Communists? Who knows then?

author by Anarchopublication date Fri Jun 13, 2008 17:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne asks:

'If you put "the [final] date" at 1918, then do you think that the anarchists were mistaken to give support to the Bolshevik side against the White counterrevolutionary armies?'

It is a bit of difficult situation to be in, but I would say that the Whites were far worse than the Bolsheviks. In that sense, there was little option but to work with them. The real tragedy was that the anarchists were in that position to begin with (due to their own disorganised nature).

Ultimately, even the right-SRs came to the conclusion that the Whites were worse. As I said, the civil war was the best thing which could have happened to the Bolsheviks.

'For that matter, do you think the anarchists were wrong to be a part of the organization of the overthrow of the Provisional Government, in alliance with the Bolsheviks?'

Of course not, as the anarchists had no idea that the Bolsheviks would consolidate their power so quickly. They knew that the Bolshevik regime would not be socialist, but they seemed to have under-estimated how centralised it would become.

'I think that they were correct both times. Of course it did not work out very well, since the Bolsheviks won and developed into the Stalinists.'

quite, I would agree.

'But did it have to happen that way? What if the anarchists were better organized and were able to build alliances with the Left Social Revolutionaries and dissident Communists? Who knows then?'

Well, most of the "dissident Communists" did not question the party dictatorship, so there was little hope there. The Workers' Opposition, for example, just wanted more say for trade unions (and their delegates would be specified by the party). The Left-Communists in 1918 considered the party as the ultimate source of what is and what was not in the interests of the workers. Only the 1921 Workers Group were actually in favour of democratic soviets -- and they were quickly expelled and repressed.

As for the Left-SRs, yes, they were the only popular party which had sensible policies. Some sort of popular alliance between the Left-SRs, Left-Mensheviks and the anarchists would have made a difference, but I'm not sure now much of one.

After all, what would have happened at the 5th All-Russian Congress of Soviets in 1918 if the Left-SRs had got their rightful majority? The Bolsheviks would have probably disbanded it, as they had to other ones across the country.

All that happened in 1921 had already happened in 1918 -- soviets disbanded, strikes repressed, opposition groups attacked. If a revolution was needed in 1921, one was also required in 1918 -- which was why the right-SRs joined the Czech legion's revolt and proclaimed the democratic counter-revolution. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the Bolsheviks, the White Generals quickly took over.

Finally, I should note that within a year of Trotsky's conversion to soviet democracy in "The Revolution Betrayed" he was defending party dictatorship, not to mention the need for the party to wield state power to overcome the wavering of the masses. The Bolshevik tradition, even in its dissident form, was not remotely democratic. The Workers Group was the only real exception.

Related Link:
author by Anarchopublication date Fri Jun 13, 2008 17:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Karl Blythe writes:

"I am not personally convinced, as some people are, that the Bolshevik leaders (Lenin in particular) were insincere, or even that what came about was intended (that is to say, I do see some grain of truth in Leninist or Trotskyist claims that they had hoped for a more democratic government),"

I have to admit of not being convinced 100% either way. On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that Lenin and Trotsky were insincere in their desire of social democracy given the repression they suffered under Tzarism. Yet, on the other, they very quickly become comfortable with imposing party dictatorship, and justifying it theoretically.

Yes, the realities of state power change people yet there must have been ideological reasons that made this conversion so apparently easy. Hell, Trotsky held this position until his death (bar a short lived change of heart in "The Revolution Betrayed"). I would suggest this flows from vanguardist principles, the notion that the party alone holds socialist consciousness. That, combined with the centralised nature of the Bolshevik Party and state power, makes the move from party power to party dictatorship easy.

So, I would say that they did not aim for party dictatorship but once in power, they found it easy to justify and apply. In this, Bakunin was proven right , power corrupts-- and people say that anarchists have a perspective that human beings are fundamentally nice!

Related Link:
author by Tom - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Sat Jun 14, 2008 04:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

my main disagreement with Trotskyist authors would be their claim that the working class was actually in power in Russia at some point. I think this is not the case.

The main local soviets were set up on the initiative of Menshevik party leaders who were mainly from the intelligentsia. Petrograd soviet was set up by three members of the Duma, including Alexander Kerensky, who was a lawyer. They then sent out a call for election of delegates. But the delegates never really controlled the Petrograd Soviet. It had a highly centralized constitution with power concentrated into the executive committee, and later in the Presidium. They tended to treat the main assemblies as rubber stamps. The Russian anarchists did criticize these characteristics of most of the soviets.

However, the entire radical left from Left-Mensheviks and Left SRs to anarchists supported the October transfer of power from the Kerensky government to the Congress of Soviets. That's why it is not accurate to describe it as a "Bolshevik coup". However, the non-Bolshevik radical left hoped that the pluralistic democracy of the movement would be respected by the Bolsheviks, and the libertarian left such as the maximalists and syndicalists, hoped they could become more influential within the soviets and other mass worker organizations over time.

The Bolsheviks moved immediately to set up a system of centralized economic planning in Nov 1917 (creation of Vesenkha) and set up the Cheka at that time as well. Here we have the beginnings of the institutional structure that would be the basis for a class other than the working class being in control. There was no real "worker power" in Oct 1917, tho there were certainly inklings in that direction such as hundreds of worker seizures of enterprises, the shop committee movement of 1917, some more horizontal local soviets, and so on. This is why I think the word "degeneration" isn't the right word to use. It sort of accepts at face value the Trotskyist claim that worker power was actually consolidated in Oct 1917 whereas in fact this was not the case.

author by javierpublication date Sun Jun 15, 2008 21:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Comrades, let me interrupt you a bit, can you reccommend texts (especially if they are online or in spanish) about the russian revolution?

I mean, general history texts, specifics on workers control and workers power, anarchism in the russian revolution, the debate in the exile afterwards (specially that of the anarchosyndicalists as the platform and the synthesis aremore known to me)

By the way, excellent work Wayne,

author by Karl Blythepublication date Mon Jun 16, 2008 14:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Briefly, Javier, I have not yet read it but the recent book "Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory," by Kevin Murphy, looks to be a highly worthwhile study of at least a very specific aspect of workers' power in the Revolution. I believe the Anarchist FAQ also does quite a good and thorough job overviewing the Russian Revolution, at least from an anarchist perspective at any rate. Beyond that it looks to me like others can give you better references than I could, as there a lot of details being mentioned which I am not especially familiar with. Skirda also skims over the Revolution as a whole in "Anarchy's Cossack."

That aside, I am very intrigued by Tom's remarks about the internal political dynamics in the soviets, and I think it raises a very important issue when it comes to workers' power and/or popular power, especially in revolutions where such issues can mean all the difference between victory and defeat of one kind or another. To be honest, I have always looked more closely at that aspect (the internal structural dynamics) in other historical examples which are considered more "formative" (particularly France in 1793 and 1871, and others as well, including China more recently), whereas it suddenly strikes me that my grasp of that issue when it comes to Russia is rather deficient. Even so, it is worth a few words informed by these different examples.

Despite certain functional differences between the French communes and the Russian soviets, it is usually acknowledged that fundamentally these play the same role in their respective revolutions, a role that has played itself out to varying degrees in most other social revolutions as well, sometimes being referred to as the "council system" or something similar. In Revolutionary France of 1792-3, the internal structural dynamic of the Paris Commune played itself out in a most distinct and also a most telling way for students of revolution. The error of some commentators when looking at such organizations as the commune or the soviet is in viewing them merely in administrative or even "constitutional" terms -- i.e., as strictly political (commune) or economic (soviet, depending on the writer), and as models of government or the lack thereof (again depending on the writer), not recognizing firstly that part of their importance is in defying such bourgeois qualifications of administrative function, and also not recognizing that really their role is not always clear-cut anyway and is somethign being disputed and fought over within their own ranks.

In the case of the Paris Commune (1871 more famously, but I myself am more familiar with 1792-3) -- which may be viewed as a kind of "rough draft" of this revolutionary expereminent of sorts -- this is made very clear, and it seems that it is pretty much the same story in reality with the rather more numerous and structurally varied Russian soviets. Basically, as a factor in the revolution, the revolutionary commune or soviet arises as an organ of insurrection, and here already we have the mark of distinction, for in France the Commune existed almost from the start of the Revolution (1789) and for most of that time was really nothing more than a bourgeois instrument of municipal government (comparable to the city council, and even including a mayor). The Revolutionary Commune only first appears, and rather briefly at that, in 1792 as a creation of the revolutionary "sections" of Paris (territorial units, but similar to the soviet's formation by numerous local factories, etc.) to organize to the insurrection against the bourgeois-royalist government that stood in the way of the revolution. (Thus in fact the Revolutionary Commune was also the basis of the French Republic.) After that, after only a matter of months, the structure of the Commune was reverted back to a more bourgeois-constitutional format, although for some time it continued to affiliate more with Paris lower classes and "sans-culottes" than with the "revolutionary govenment."

That raises the second point here, after the question of formal structure, which is the *informal* substance (i.e. who it essentially takes its orders from, its basis of power, etc., regardless of organizational form), a question that is highly important for the question of workers' power in Russia in 1917. It is in the latter sense that I believe that, if only ever so briefly, the Russian workers (in Petrograd at any rate, and everywhere else the uprising occurred successfully) did indeed hold power after the October Revolution, not chiefly through their formal representative organs such as the All-Russian Congress, but through their organized control *at the base* which appeared as both a reason and result of the insurrection. The mistake of the workers was in abdicating their power by deferring to the "higher" leadership and indeed of looking to the Congress of Soviets as a source of authority, rather than in pursuing the concrete work of the revolution and remaining permanently in a state of insurrection. Ironically, it is partly for the latter reason that I consider the Marxist/Trotskyist slogan of "permanent revolution" to a be rather useful and, in fact, when taken to its logical conclusion and not the half-hearted meaning ascribed to it by its conventional exponents, to capture quite well the essence of anarchism's revolutionary idea. It is also why I continue to believe that, despite a great many weaknesses in insurrectionist methods and ideas, there is some real value in the emphasis on insurrection as fundamental to that revolutionary idea.

To sum up, I believe the real importance of an organization like the commune or the soviet is not as end, but as an instrument of popular and proletarian power that is only useful or important insofar as it meets that standard. But workers' power is not a matter of formality, for again, formal structure is nothing but a tool and not an ideal. The essential point is the real power, and that is a a matter of both economic and political control and, when it comes to revolutions, takes its main expressive form in acts of insurrection or, if speaking of state power, a coup d'etat. The format is really not the substance or the structure per se, it just an attempt to define that structure, and therefore it is mistaken to overly obsess on formalities, but at the same time it is important to recognize where the leadership is and what is needed to expand revolutionary workers' power against any sort of ruling class, be it old or new.

author by Tompublication date Tue Jun 17, 2008 02:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Where/what was this "base" that workers allegedly held power through? I think it is true that the Bolsheviks had initially a tenuous hold on power and had to try to maintain a base of support within the working class and soldiers. Depending on the city, often the soldiers were more important to the Bolsheviks than the workers. But this doesn't show that workers had any power base. For that they would have had to have organizations that they controlled.

By the spring of 1918 workers were complaining that even the shop committees were not having new elections and the shop delegates were out of touch.

Certainly workers did feel that the revolution was to give them control and this motivated many of the takeovers of enterprises that occurred -- about 300 to 400.

Also, some soviets were more horizontal. The Kornstadt soviet was organized very differently from the Petrograd soviet. There was no split between the shop committees and the soviet in Kronstadt because the soviet there was basically a soviet of the shop committees. Each ship or factory or military unit had weekly assemblies in Kronstadt. These elected the shop committee and also a delegate to the soviet. In Kronstadt, it was the assemblies of delegates that was in charge, unlike in Petrograd. The delegates seriously debated all the issues and made the real decisions. The executive committee was responsible for seeing that these things were carried out but it didn't usurp the assembly of delgates.

But the thing about the Kronstadt soviet is that neither the Mensheviks nor Bolsheviks were ever in control of that soviet before July of 1918. Rather, the libertaian Left was in control, with the support of the Left SRs. the largest political organization in the Kronstadt soviet was the maximalists, who were a libertarian socialist organization who advocated a "Toiler's Republic" based on direct control by workers and peasants through horizontal soviets.

The Kronstadt soviet is described very thoroughly and concretely in Israel Getzler's "Kronstadt 1917-1921".

The structure and functioning of the Petrograd soviet is described in Pete Rachleff's article "Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution" (available online).

I also recommend Sam Farber's "Before Stalinism" and a book about the Left-menshviks, entitled "The Mensheviks After October." This talks about the systematic dismantling of the soviets in the spring of 1918 when the Bolsheviks lost the soviet elections in 19 cities in European Russia.
In these situations the Bolsheviks had recourse to armed power, of soldiers and cheka, to sustain power of their "Revolutionary Committees" after doing away with the elected soviets.

The Bolsheviks were graudally sliding toward the stance they would take during the "Red Terror" in the summer of 1918 when they began to systematically ban other left organizations, tho this didn't really become a fully consistent poiicy til 1921. The Civil War, which began in June 1918, was used as the excuse for this policy, but they didn't ease up or end the party dictatorship when the civil war ended at the end of 1920. Just the opposite.

In any event, the system of central planning, concentration of political decision-making in small executive bodies, moves to "one-man management" between 1918 and 1920, all were moves towards the consolidation of a new bureaucratic ruling class. This creation of the new class regime was a process that occurred over some time, but at no time was the working class actually in power, and then later bumped out of power. Not in society in general. Of course there were individual workplaces where the workers were in control for awhile, and places like Kronstadt where the revolution advanced further, and where I'd say the workers and saliors were in the driver's seat for awhile (til mid-1918 and the big assault by the Bolsheviks on other organizations of the left).

author by Karl Blythepublication date Wed Jun 18, 2008 06:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors


First, there is a confusion that must be clarified. When I mention workers' power at the base, I do mean they had a "power base" through which they held power, but that *workers themselves* were the base of power, not only in the sense that their bodies were the force of the state or something along those lines (that has always been the case), but in the sense that they consciously excercised power in an organized way, in the course of attacking the established regime and supporting and identifying with the new organizations which they had erected, albeit in many cases with initative and even elected leadership focused around the bourgeois and social-democratic parties.

Now I will admit, you seem more familiar than me with the details of the soviet organizations in Petrograd and elsewhere, although the point I made before was that in revolutions such organizations usually have a very fluid, constantly changing character and an internal political dynamic that defies any simplistic formulas. The essential point, in my view, is that the rebellious workers, including the mutinous soldiers and sailors, were arming and organizing themselves in revolt against the authorities of the old regime and, eventually, the provisional government. Their crucial error was in trusting the Bolshevik party leaders with organized direction over the insurrectional movement that culminated in October, as a result of which those leaders easily concentrated authority in their hands and them proceeded systematically to dismantle or attack those organizations that did not defer to their orders. That is why I say there was indeed a "coup" of sorts, but it was carried out not against the provisional governments or even against "soviets power" per se (we might call it a struggle between rival "soviet powers"), but consisted of subordinating the rebellious workers and peasants, while disarming or outright attacking and destroying their free and independent organizations and imposing dictatorial control over the soviets (or simply creating new soviets with themselves in control).

One point to keep in mind is the difference formal authority and actual power. Many times authority as such amounts to little or nothing, and power is wielded in other ways, in which case it is usually recognized as a "de facto" authority. But in revolutions, or more precisely in armed insurrections such as in both February and October 1917, that dynamic plays out somewhat differently than in government circles where de facto is a matter of pulling strings and enforcing or disregarding official legal procedures according to convenience. In a revolution, power is excercised at the base or rank-and-file level by, as is sometimes said, "voting with your feet." The masses of hungry workers of mutinous soldiers who more or less spontaneously forced the Tsar out of power had hesitated to attack the provisional authorities, for one or another (a basic one being that most of them were ideologically revolutionaries, hence the importance of spontaneity), and in fact accepted had by and large the leadership of the bourgeois democratic and socialist parties in the soviets. October was thus important in that regard, because it signified that a large, and ultimately determinant portion of these same rebellious workers and soldiers had rejected the authority of the provisional government and recognized their own de facto power. They voted with their feet to overthrow the government and install a new provisional authority, but they did not understand all of the political forces at work and failed to make permanent that power which they had momentarily excercised. In short, it was the same phenomenon which had occurred already in France more than once, and in many cases with all kinds of very particular variations in specific details, but fundamentally involving the same process.

I believe that anyone does not recognize this process and the essential factor of power as it excersiced at the base, is missing one of the most crucial points and clearly does not understand the kind of forces that are work in a revolution. Organizations of any kind exist as mechanisms to direct and concentrate power, but they are a power in and of themselves merely by their formal institution. That is demonstrated clearly by the very fact of a popular uprising such as October which successfully overthrows the state, despite the subsequent abdication of authority.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Wed Jun 18, 2008 08:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I meant to say, "most of them were NOT ideologically revolutionaries, hence the importance of spontaneity." That being one of the basic reasons why the masses hesitated to overthrow the provisional government.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Wed Jun 18, 2008 08:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Also, organizations are NOT a power in and of themselves, etc.

I should have reviewed more my writing more carefully before submission!

author by Tompublication date Sat Jun 21, 2008 07:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

certainly it is true that the overthrow of the Provisional government wouldn't have happened without mass support for the left organizations pushing in that direction, and the Bolsheviks had gained the preeminent position among them. and it is also true that the Bolsheviks initially had to move carefully because of this.

but there is no power really without organization. and without mass organizations the "masses in motion" have no way to ensure they will get what they want or consolidate their power.

the Bolsheviks moved very early after October 1917 to curtail the shop committee movement, which was a very important part of that base movement, voting at the national trade union congress in Jan 1918 to subordinate the shop committees to the trade union hierarchy, which was very centralized in Russia.

certainly the Bolsheviks did depend initially on the support of the mass of workers and rebellious soldiers to defend the revoluition through the Red Guard, a worker militia built initially in the factories and in which many anarchists participated. but in the spring of 1918 the Bolsheviks replaced the worker militia with a top down conventional army and hired 30,000 czarist officers to run it.

when we say that "the working class is in power", this can't mean merely that there is a mass movement that is having a great deal of impact. It must refer also to institutions through which workers are able to exercise a collective power. and there were no such organizations with general control in Russia after October 1917. the organizations most under rank and file control were the shop committees and factory militias, but those were replaced by mid-1918 with something else.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Sun Jun 22, 2008 02:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think you have just made the key point, although without understanding its implications, when you say: "without mass organizations the "masses in motion" have no way to ensure they will get what they want or consolidate their power."

That is exactly the point I making -- that the workers never *consolidated* their power, and lacked a sufficient revolutionary program to "get what they want" outside of the statist parties. I think what you are not understanding is the difference between formal organization and actual power, which can be excercised with or without formal structure, although organization can be of great assistance in this regard. That is clearly shown, in my opinion, when you speak of the Bolsheviks initially depending on mass support, until the early part of 1918 when they were replaced with a conventional army. I would consider that to be a crucial element in the Bolshevik counterrevolution, in that it was that restructuring of the armed forces into a regular statist army, which meant restoring the military power of the state at the expense of the workers' power.

Besides that, you yourself have been naming examples of how workers' power was to some extent formalized, albeit in a limited way that was, as you say, subordinated and suppressed with relative ease by the "soviet power." All of this is why I prefer to speak of the October Revolution as contradictory in character, in the sense that it was a mass proletarian revolution and recognized itself as such, but in which the mass of revolutionary workers was by and large content with a change of party and fundamentally neglected to solidify their power.

You wrote: "when we say that "the working class is in power", this can't mean merely that there is a mass movement that is having a great deal of impact. It must refer also to institutions through which workers are able to exercise a collective power."

I agree in the sense that working-class power should not be treated as an abstract force to be interpreted and represented by political parties as a basis for their own authority. However, neither should we make workers' power an abstract force by referring to it merely as a formal institution and not as an actual force that exists with or without formal recognition. Again, the formal structure is a mere mechanism, and in that sense it is extremely important, but it is not in itself one way or the other an actual power. It is even possible for workers to be formally in charge of factories and to be responsible for decision making, without really holding power, as actual power to subjugate or leave alone the workers may rest with some other force. My argument when is that the workers did briefly hold actual power and excercised it openly as such in October, but did not consolidate it in an organized way and instead allowed the Bolshevik leaders to substitute their own power first by formal measures of bureaucratization, and then by military measures to subordinate the rank-and-file workers and punish those who disobeyed. I believe that all the examples you have listed stand in favor of this argument.

author by Tompublication date Sun Jun 22, 2008 04:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

you say: "My argument when is that the workers did briefly hold actual power and excercised it openly as such in October, "

but you've not provided any cogent argument for this claim. to have power workers have to be organized. isolated individuals have no power. this means worker power develops through organization. what were the organizations through which workers had power? Not unions. most of the unions were highly centralized and controlled by the Menshevik and Bolshevik parties.

Not the shop committee meovement. Shop commitees were too atomized, not organized together enough. and after Jan 1918 their power even at the enterprise level dissipated. also they became progressively less democratic after Oct 1917, with fewer elections, fewer assemblies, etc.

workers did have considerable control over some local organizations as of early 1918, such as the Kronstadt soviet, dozens of enterprises run through worker committees, etc. But this is a very atomized and local phenonemon, not power over the society in general.

worker organization isn't suffficient for power but it is necessary. but you've not pointed to any organization through which workers "held power." Just the fact that the Bolsheviks had to take account of mass sentiment at first doesn't show that workers "held power."

the Bolshevik power was at first tenuous and their legitimacy was based on winning soviet elections. that limited how far they could simply evade or counter working class sentiment. but that is not the same thing as workers "holding power." To hold power means that working people were in a position to make the decisions. This just wasn't what was going on.

i think you're simply making a rather desperate attempt to defend the myths of the October revolution.

author by Dave Bpublication date Sun Jun 22, 2008 04:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I would like to thank Wayne for an interesting article. Just to make I plain for those that don’t know me I am not a Leninist and I am implacably opposed to Leninism. I think when looking at what the Bolsheviks and Lenin intended we could do worse than look at what they were saying at the time. That is not to say of course that they necessarily were gong to do exactly what they said they were going to do. Either because it was a load of lies to start off with or that they were to be driven off course by events beyond their control or that they had not foreseen.

That would be a separate question.

What Lenin said he was going to do was fairly clearly laid out in his;

“The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It; Can We Go Forward If We Fear To Advance Towards Socialism?”

That Wayne refers to, Published at the end of October 1917, but actually written according to Lenin in September.

To quote from it;

“That capitalism in Russia has also become monopoly capitalism is sufficiently attested by the examples of the Produgol, the Prodamet, the Sugar Syndicate, etc. This Sugar Syndicate is an object-lesson in the way monopoly capitalism develops into state-monopoly capitalism.

And what is the state? It is an organisation of the ruling class — in Germany, for instance, of the Junkers and capitalists. And therefore what the German Plekhanovs (Scheidemann, Lensch, and others) call "war-time socialism" is in fact war-time state-monopoly capitalism, or, to put it more simply and clearly, war-time penal servitude for the workers and war-time protection for capitalist profits.

Now try to substitute for the Junker-capitalist state, for the landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state, i.e., a state which in a revolutionary way abolishes all privileges and does not fear to introduce the fullest democracy in a revolutionary way. You will find that, given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state- monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards socialism!

For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly. “

That is pretty straightforward I think. They were going to go for democratic state capitalism. Capitalism without capitalists and under the democratic control of the working class.

Six months later after ‘the Bolsheviks seized power’, the language of the ‘fullest democracy’ had changed to one of dictatorial methods. eg;

Part IV, Lenin, “Left-Wing” Childishness, April 1918

“While the revolution in Germany is still slow in “coming forth”, our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it. Our task is to hasten this copying even more than Peter hastened the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, and we must not hesitate to use barbarous methods in fighting barbarism.

If there are anarchists and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (I recall off-hand the speeches of Karelin and Ghe at the meeting of the Central Executive Committee) who indulge in Narcissus-like reflections and say that it is unbecoming for us revolutionaries to “take lessons” from German imperialism, there is only one thing we can say in reply: the revolution that took these people seriously would perish irrevocably (and deservedly). “

This is I believe an important document and the latter section is an essential read.

And From

“Harmonious Organisation”; And Dictatorship, V. I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, March-April 1918

“In regard to the second question, concerning the significance of individual dictatorial powers from the point of view of the specific tasks of the present moment, it must be said that large-scale machine industry—which is precisely the material source, the productive source, the foundation of socialism—calls for absolute and strict unity of will, which directs the joint labours of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people.

The technical, economic and historical necessity of this is obvious, and all those who have thought about socialism have always regarded it as one of the conditions of socialism. But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.

Given ideal class-consciousness and discipline on the part of those participating in the common work, this subordination would be something like the mild leadership of a conductor of an orchestra. It may assume the sharp forms of a dictatorship if ideal discipline and class-consciousness are lacking.

But be that as it may, unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry. On the railways it is twice and three times as necessary. In this transition from one political task to another, which on the surface is totally dissimilar to the first, lies the whole originality of the present situation.

The revolution has only just smashed the oldest, strongest and heaviest of fetters, to which the people submitted under duress. That was yesterday. Today, however, the same revolution demands—precisely in the interests of its development and consolidation, precisely in the interests of socialism—that the people unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour. Of course, such a transition cannot be made at one step.

Clearly, it can be achieved only as a result of tremendous jolts, shocks, reversions to old ways, the enormous exertion of effort on the part of the proletarian vanguard, which is leading the people to the new ways. Those who drop into the philistine hysterics of Novaya Zhizn or Vperyod, Dyelo Naroda or do not stop to think about this.”

Vperyod itself was to get an object lesson in these sharp forms of a dictatorship if ideal discipline were lacking.

Vperyod (Forward )—a Menshevik daily newspaper, which began to appear in March 1917 in Moscow as the organ of the Moscow organisation of Mensheviks, and subsequently as the organ of the committees of the R.S.D.L.P. (Mensheviks) of the Moscow organisation and the Central Region On April 2, 1918 the newspaper became the organ of the Mensheviks’ Central Committee as well, and L. Martov, F. I. Dan and A. S. Martynov joined its editorial board, It was banned for its counter-revolutionary activities in February 1919 by decision of the All-Russia C.E.C.

This discipline was to be meted out by ‘the section of advanced and politically conscious workers’ , code for the Bolsheviks. Despite the fact that as Lenin admitted in May 22, 1918 that;

“We know how small is the section of advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia.”

And so by 1922 we have mission accomplished as far as ‘the section of advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia’ also known as the Bolsheviks or advanced proletariat.

V. I. Lenin, Eleventh Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.), March 27-April 2, 1922

“The state in this society is not ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the (Bolshevik) proletariat. We refuse to understand that when we say “state” we mean ourselves, the (Bolshevik) proletariat, the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the (Bolshevik) workers, the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We (the Bolsheviks) are the state.”

The Bolsheviks are the State Capitalist Class. In the physical absence of a bourgeoisie the Bolsheviks stepped forward and unwittingly perhaps, volunteered to fill that historic role. .

A progression of events as simple to follow as ABC from;

“We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without.”

And according to Engels;

“From Blanqui's assumption, that any revolution may be made by the outbreak of a small revolutionary minority, follows of itself the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture. This is, of course, a dictatorship, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but of the small minority that has made the revolution, and who are themselves previously organized under the dictatorship of one or several individuals.”

The problem with the way the discussion is going for me is the way it is being formulated. It is concentrating too much on the ‘what if’ this group or even individual did ‘that instead of this’ rather than looking at the ‘why’ and thus learning from it. Although we all do it to some extent and looking at ‘what if’s’ can contribute to an understanding of why.

There is a supposition here that somehow or other in the Russian revolution things could have turned out substantially differently.

There is an alternative view that what happened in Russia was inevitable, a re run of the French revolution of circa 1790 complete with Jacobins, Maximilien Robespierre’s, reigns of terror and Bonapartist’s thermidors and the establishment of capitalism, with a peculiar minor variation perhaps.

The thesis that what did happen was predictable was given by all people by the Menshevik Leon Trotsky himself in 1904

And of course by Engels in 1885, when one presumes Vera Zasulich asks what tactics to adopt in Russia;

Like what advice could you give to someone stood in the path of an oncoming avalanche.

The SPGB believed at the time that whatever was going to happen in Russia circa 1918, it was not going to be socialism/communism.

The conditions both economic and the potential for a majority ‘socialist, consciousness were not there.

Having a good understanding of what is possible and what is not can pre arm you against getting sucked into, however attractive, romantic delusions and help to salvage whatever you can, even if it is as little as your anarchist credentials and reputation.

Related Link:
author by Karl Blythepublication date Sun Jun 22, 2008 07:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Tom, in the first place I never claimed that workers' held power because the Bolsheviks needed their support, or likewise because they supported the Bolsheviks. Power is excercised in action, not in formalities -- something I had thought that any anarchist would understand. The Bolsheviks did not enter power on the basis of some vaporous "mass sentiment," but on the basis of real action, which in part consisted of a real popular uprising which was, in point of fact, quite localized from the very beginning (the October rising itself did not encompass "society in general," as evidenced by the miltiary events in the following months), and in part consisted also various political and military maneuvers to consolidate the party's power and force the soviets and other organizations into submission.

One point of contention is your idea that power only exists in organized form. But power is not a matter of formalities, it is a matter of deeds and capacity. As I see it, the workers already held a measure of power even before October, and for the matter the insurrection would not have been possible if that were not the case. But that power was never absolute, nor it did ever mature beyond a momentary insurrectional capacity, which was never consolidated in an organized form. On that last part we agree, I think, but it seems to me that you are trying to over-simplify matters by thinking of all power in terms of institutions and of the revolution as a clear-cut phenomenon. Perhaps the disagreement is over what we mean by "power"? Otherwise, I would say that your reading of history is very simplistic and, by your reasoning, no revolution would ever be possible as the workers will never have the power necessary to carry it out.

Again I should spell out my thinking very clearly. I do not believe at all that the October revolution was a simple matter of the workers seizing power -- on the contrary, most of them *surrendered* power very quickly afterwards. But the workers did have of a measure of power which they recognized to a limited extent, and more importantly which they excercised openly during the revolution. On their own, with or without the support of "mass sentiment," the Bolsheviks would not have been able to carry out the revolution successfully. However, they were very capable of seizing upon certain fundamental contradictions of the revolution, which enabled them to fortify their loosely held state power while attacking and suppressing the "atomized" pockets of workers' organization that had not submitted to their authority.

The main point here that is important, in my opinion, is to recognize that the failures or shortcomings of the October revolution were as much due to the workers' own error as they were to Leninist statecraft. Whereas the February revolution was an incomplete revolution, so to speak, in that it left the state apparatus largely intact and in reality was only a spontaneous event with little direction of any kind, October was in form a complete revolution, but it ended by simply reconstructing the state, and what direction it had was to a large extent contradictory.

To tell the truth, I think you are really missing the point in this regard, as I am really agreeing with you on some key points such as the lack of organization, and that revolution did not "degenerate" but rather from the start was a very mixed bag, and all the needed equipment for a Bolshevik "coup" or counterrevolution are to be traced right back to October. The disagreement is only over the question of whether October was, for all its failures, a proletarian revolution (in which case it is admitting that the workers held power to soem degree) or simply a coup d'etat of some sort. Of course, one could also argue that it was neither, and instead was just another bourgeois revolution or something of that sort, but I would disagree with that contention in the same way that I disagree with some depictions of the February revolution as a bourgeois revolution. And again, the examples you yourself have named in showing that the workers did not have power (most importantly, the subordination of the workers' militias), in my view, are a vindication of this argument in that they recognize that initially the workers were not subordinate, and in fact even point to a limited (and clearly insufficient) degree of workers' organization.

author by alan johnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Sun Jun 22, 2008 20:20author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotland , ukauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

One of the basic questions being missed here is , Was the October Revolution by the Bolsheviks actually inevitable or necessary regardless of whether it is described as a coup or popular uprising , and that there was no alternative .

It was an article by a long time Trotskyist re-accessing October that got me thinking . " Premature and Diseased from Infancy" The whole article is worth a read .

To paraphrase this articles argments it is suggested that there were three possibilities .

1. 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 and argued for no support for the Provisional Government, and for agitation for power to the Soviets.
The Bolshevik party might have continued its policy of critical support for and pressure on the February regime.

2. 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.

3. 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 is arguable that with the SRs in the coalition, the excesses of War Communism might have been avoided and a policy similar to the NEP adopted earlier.
Take the question of peace or war. True, the Bolshevik government signed the Brest-Litovsk treaty which ended the war with Germany in March 1918. But any other government would have been obliged sooner or later to sue for peace – even if only because of the disintegration of the Russian armies. After all, the World War itself ended in November 1918 for all belligerents.

The assumption that the only alternative to Bolshevik rule was military dictatorship was based on the overall assumption that capitalism, internationally, was in terminal crisis. Therefore the development in Russia of a capitalist economy under a parliamentary democracy was impossible. Was the assumption of the impossibility of a post-1917 parliamentary democracy in Russia mistaken?

Could anything have been worse than that which actually occurred following October 1917; the Civil War, the Cheka terror, the concentration camps, the forced collectivisations, the deportations, the famines, cannibalism, the Stalinist purges – all ending in the collapse back into mafia-capitalism, and the discrediting of the very idea of socialism?

Related Link:
author by Karl Blythepublication date Sat Jun 28, 2008 09:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

First, a short reply to David B. and to Alan Johnstone, then a follow up to my last comment.

David, I agree with most of what you are saying about Lenin/Bolshevik intentions, etc., however I disagree somewhat with your assertion about historical inevitability. History is does not only occur objectively as a series of "scientifically" determined events -- it is to a large degree subjectively created by its social and individual actors, and then interpreted and reinterpreted again after the fact. In other words history may be viewed almost as an art, which like other arts is based upon but not solely determined by objective scientific factors. That is, in fact, precisely what Marxism-Leninism failed to grasp, hence their (including Trotsky and Lenin's) assumptions about "historical necessity" or "inevitability" as though they were not the conscious agents behind their own actions. That said, I do agree with you in avoiding pointless long discussions over hypothetical "what if's" and the importance of analyzing the actual structures and processes of history -- and I believe that is exacly what we, with the except of Alan Johnstone's last comment, have been doing anyway, as opposed to a "what if" discussion.

Alan, there are two things to be said. The first is that, obviousuly, both you and the author of the article you quoted, are coming at this topic from a soemwhat different angle, being a Socialist and not an anarchist, so some of the hypothetical alternatives raised do not really resolve the issue as it has been discussed in this thread. Not to say it is not a valuable or worthwhile historical discussion or analysis, simply that its concerns are not entirely the same as those raised by the Wayne or in the other comments. The second thing is that I think this historical hypothesis is missing a couple elementary points that must be considered. First, the Bolsheviks, whatever the intentions or, some would say, pretenses with regard to establishign a multi-party democracy, it is very clear to anyone who reads Lenin's or Trotsky's or some other leading Bolshevik's words at the time, and comparing with their actual policies, that they always looked to the party itself as the proletariat's representative and, when faced with contradictions in state policy, referred back time and again to the party program and leadership as their chief authority. Thus, it is no surprise (especially in hindsight) that whenever and wherever they held state power, they wielded it dictatorially and regardless of supposed desires for a multi-party democracy. (This goes in well with David's remark about "what if" vs. "why.") Secondly, it ignores the real conditions and dilemmas of the time, in which it made no sense for supposed champions of proletarian revolution to set aside that purpose in defense of the discredited and utterly bourgeois Provisional Government, or even for the matter to pass on state power to the Constituent Assembly if it was thought to be at the service of the bourgeois or counterrevolutionary parties. Now, in fact the Bolsheviks stance on the Constituent Assembly was extremely incosistent and hypocritical, but they were quite effective at playing to the different sides of the argument as it was convenient, first appealing to the democratic aspirations of part of the populace as the basis for convening the assembly, and then referring back to revolutionary ideas as the basis for dismissing the it. Both Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists had been much more consistent on this issue, either defending it consistently or opposing it consistently, but neither was able to oppose the Bolsheviks in an effective and timely manner.

Lastly, Tom, I want to follow up briefly on my last reply. I believe that our chief disagreement here is not over the facts of what occured, but our interpretation of the significance of those facts, specifically relating to the question of whether and how the workers held power. First, let me stress that I do not the workers "achieved or "conquered" power as a result of October, but rather that they directly wielded power in preparing and carrying out the revolution which they supported not only in opinion but in action. The tragedy of October is that it was a real proletarian revolution, but it was misdirected and the workers failed to consolidate their momentary insurrectional power, instead placing their trust in a new and "different" state power.

Now, If I correctly understand your argument, then I must say I disagree with your idea of what workers' power consists of, that is to say I disagree with your framing of the argument. You say that "isolated individuals have no power" and you ask, "what were the organizations through which the workers held power?" Then you point out that the unions were not controlled by the workers, which is fine and beside the point because the unions were not behind the revolution. Then you name the shop committees, and other "local organizations" which the "workers did have considerable control over" at various points following the October revolution, but you say that these were a "very atomized and local phenomenon, not power over the society in general." But that is really missing the poitn entirely, because first of all I am arguing that the nsurrection itself was an act of workers' power, not that the workers' ever consolidated that power, and secondly because it was exactly at the local level and in the immediate aftermath of October that whatever power they did consolidate would have been held, since not even the Bolsheviks at that point could really claim to have power over "society in general" and instead depended on local organization and action to consolidate their otherwise flimsy state power, lest they end up like the Provisional Government or the Constituent Assembly. Finally, you say: "To hold power means that working people were in a position to make decisions" which "just wasn't going on." But you are only talking about formal authority, not even of organization per se let alone unorganized power such as that of a mob or a crowd. Real power is a matter of action and of practical structures, not of mere decision-making formalities. If that were not the case then a revolution would be impossible, since a revolution by its nature defies and overturns established formal or procedural structures on the basis of both disorganized spontaneous action and of illegal and often informal organizational structures.

author by Tompublication date Mon Jun 30, 2008 09:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the insurrection in October was organized through the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, which was a large committee, at least 80 or maybe more, and included soldiers who were Left SRs, and anarchists and syndicalists. In that sense the insurrection was an action of the Petrograd Soviet's organization. There was actually very little "action" that took place, much less so than in February. The official transfer of power occurred as an action of the Soviet Congress on Oct 25th. That was an "action" of representatives of various Left political parties who had gotten themselves elected to that soviet. They represented workers and soldiers. So it's hard to see in what way this was an "action of the working class" unless you accept the idea that workers somehow "act" through election of representatives to a government body.

In any event holding power is something that only happen through an organization or insitution through which decisions are made.

Your talk about action as "power" is very vague in part because you don't specify the actions. Actions can certainly be an *exercise* of power in the sense that when someone does something this presupposes they have the power to do it. But in this case it seems the actions were actions of the Left parties in the Congress of Soviets and of the Petrograd Soviet with the support of other soviets such as the Kronstadt soviet and the Moscow soviet. I've already explained why i think it is a mistake to regard the Moscow and Petrograd soviets as simply working class organizations. If they weren't controlled by the working class, their actions can't be actions of the working class, tho it is certainly true that the actions they undertook in October in dismissing the Provisional Government had overwhelming working class *support*.

But it would also be true that the New Deal came to power in the USA with overwhelming working class support and votes, but that doesn't make it an expression of working class power. Many of its actions were influenced by the working class activity then going on. And that activity enabled the working class to have that influence and thus was an exertion of working class power. But the government wasn't. And those activities were organized activities, organized through things like unions and unemployed councils and so on.

The working class can't organize action without having organizations. There were certainly organizations in the Russian revolution set up by workers and controlled by them in 1917, such as factory comittees and some soviets. And the degeneration of the organizations of Russian workers after Oct 1917 did make it difficult for them to continue having influence, such as the degeneration of the factory committees, one-man management taking over in factories, replacing the worker mililtia with the Red Army etc.

but, again, your talk about "actions" being power is very vague, especially when you give no concrete examples.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Tue Jul 01, 2008 13:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Tom, first of all, I have finally got around to reading the artice by Rachleff and I have carefully thought over our discussion again, and I would like to reassess this question. You are quite right to say my argument has been vague, and also I believe there is still some confusion over different terms being used. Specifically, the question of "support" which you seemed, as I read it, to present in terms of "mass sentiment" as opposed to real action (the "masses in motion," etc.). In that sense, I think it is incorrect to reduce the role of the masses to a sentimental or supportive one, as it was the *action* of the workers that made October possible. However, if we mean by "support" that the masses did act forcefully in support of the Soviet, then obviously that is correct. In other words, the workers were the support base of the soviet government. That, however, is to say that it was the actions of the workers that made the revolution, although the insurrection itself was directed by the military committee of the Soviet.

You keep asking for specifics athough I have said again and again that the specifics are the very one's you have mentioned, and that is even more the case now having read Rachleff's article. Basically, the workers' role includes: first, the various workers' activities prior to the insurrection itself, which in many cases until shortly before the uprising were made in opposition to the Soviet's instructions and even landed some militants in prison; the uprising itself, whose various concrete actions (most of which involved very little fighting, but were nonetheless concrete actions contrary to your claim of "very little action" -- namely, seizure of state offices, communication posts and the famed Winter Palace, which were still controlled by or loyal the authorities) were carried out by the armed militias and soldiers who had long ago deposed the old commanders; and finally, the scattered seizures and activities of the factory and shop committees which you have repeatedly referred to. So then, let us, as I have said, briefly reassess these, which you have done partially and I have mostly only vaguely alluded to. (I do apologize if I have wasted anyone's time in that way, but I had hoped to avoid excessive length in that way.) I will also look at a couple selections from Rachleff's article on "Soviets and Factory Committees" which you mentioned in your second comment. Apologies in advance for the length, but I am not very good at summarizing and condensing historical analyses without glossing over points, as you can see from the "vagueness" of my previous comments.


First, actions prior to October -- these can really be traced back to February, which was in essence a spontaneous uprising starting with mostly-women workers demanding bread, in the pivotal turning point was the mutiny by the soldiers who themselves were mostly peasants and/or workers. Rachleff, by the way, does not share your belief that power is only a matter of organized decision-making, as shown in his account of February:

"By the end of the month, after three days of spontaneous demonstrations and a general strike, Petrograd was in the hands of its working class. Victor Serge, a participant in the events, writes:

The revolution sprang up in the street, descended from the factories with thousands of striking workers, to cries of "Bread! Bread!" The authorities saw it coming, powerless; it was not in their power to overcome the crisis. The fraternisation of the troops with workers' demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd consummated the fall of the aristocracy. The suddenness of the events surprised the revolutionary organisations . . .[7]

Even Trotsky goes so far as to admit that the revolutionary organisations acted in February as obstacles to the working-class:

Thus, the fact is that the February Revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat--the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers' wives.[8]

The revolution spread throughout Russia. Peasants seized land; discipline in the army collapsed; sailors seized their ships in the Kronstadt Harbour on the Baltic Coast and took over that city; the Soviet form of organisation reappeared, first in industrial areas, then among soldiers, sailors, and peasants." ["Soviets and Factory Comittees" etc., see ]

The Petrograd Soviet, of course, was initiated and for all intents and purposes controlled by bourgeois elements via the Executive Committee, with the main leaders like Kerensky having come from the Duma, and for most of the months before October it stuck loyally beside the Provisional Government and supported the plan for a Connstituent Assembly. On the other hand, growing pockets of workers took actions such as factory, land and other property seizures, formed factory committees and carried out more or less spontaneous actions against the bourgeoisie and in opposition to both the Provisional Government and the Soviet, most famously the "July days" which in the end was unsuccessful, but nonetheless was important like other such actions in weakening and discrediting the authorities and building up the revolution's steam, so to speak. At the same time, the July uprising demonstrated that the insurrectional movement had not matured enough to overthrow the government and put the workers in power.

The failed coup by Kornilov was a key turning point for the insurrectional movement in that it showed the growing weakness of the Provisional Government and that effective power had already passed to the soviets which commanded the loyalty of many if not most of the rank and file soldiers and workers, and was thus capable of mobilizing their support into enthusiastic action. At the same time, the election of the Bolsheviks along with anarchists and others calling for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and subsequent formation by the Soviet of the Military Revolutionary Committee, while it should not be considered in itself workers' power, seems to me evidence of the workers increasingly active position in the Soviet reflecting their increased strength as against the bourgeoisie which was on the retreat. Anyway, the workers were quite right in my opinion to seek to use the soviets and more specifically the Petrograd Soviet as a revolutionary organ, and their mistake was not in supporting the Soviet but rather in entrusting the Bolshevik party with the leading role in the organizing and direction of the revolution. Had the insurrection been directed against the state apparatus as much as against the bourgeoisie and the Provisional Government specifically, I am convinced the subsequent events would have played out a lot differently and the workers would have been able to consolidate their power more completely.

The Congress of Soviets was a rather different matter in my view, and the placing of authority in the Congress's hands was an act of government plain and simple. As I see it, at that precise moment the workers should have smashed the state apparatus and at the same time precluded the construction of any new government seperate from their own directly controlled organizations, which despite its shortcomings the Soviet could easily have been made of. The workers were mistaken in allowing the Soviet to submit to the authority of the Congress, and in turn accepting its abdication of decision-making power to the Sovnarkom and the Central Executive Committee. In other words, despite their having all the necessary power to do so, the workers of Petrograd did not hold their elected representative accountable and thus let slip out of their hands the first bits power. Most importantly, they failed to consolidate their power by carrying out on their authority the expropriation of the factories and reorganizing the Soviet accordingly.

Even for awhile after October, the fragments of workers' power could still be seen in the continued activities of the factory committees and especially in the autonomy of the worker militias and the first detachments of Red Guards. But they did not take care to defend their independence and deferred instead to the "revolutionary" government. Even the disbanding of the Constituent Assembly, which on the Bolsheviks' part was a devious act aimed at entrenching their power, was nonetheless enthusiastically supported by numerous workers and the actual dismissal was carried by militia led by the anarchist Anatoli Zhelezniakov! Their error, again, was to leave authority in the hands of the soviet government which by then was more or less completely controlled by the Bolsheviks, but by that point the contradictions of October had become very clear and during that same month came the split with the Left SRs, while in the months following the government successfully subordinated and reorganized the armed forces into a regular state army. You have already talked about the fate of the shop committees so I don't need to repeat it again.

In summary, the insurrection of October (actually November, the dates here are always confused due to there being two different calendars) both in preparation during the previous months and in the actual operation of the uprising, was carried out directly and enthusiastically by the working class, which had already equipped itself starting in February and especially after the Kornilov incident, with the necessary wherewhithal to carry out the insurrection, but most of the workers did not fully grasp the forces at work and deferring happily to the Soviet authorities right at the very moment when it was best placed to secure its power on an organized basis at the political and economic levels. The workers who were a power to be reckoned with, particularly in the militia, abdicated leadership and responsibility to the new provisional authorities who quickly secured their own power and only to turn it against the workers. To put it shortly, the workers failed to make permanent the power they had wielded during the insurrection, instead trusting to the parties in the Soviet the political tasks of the revolution when they could have easily forced the hand of the Soviet if they chose and even organize new elections to the Soviet immediately. Perhaps you don't consider that a form of workers' power, but I do not see how it could be viewed otherwise, despite its flaws and limitations, unless you are only willing to consider workers' power as existing in the workplace and not in armed force, even it is the latter that ultimately determined the outcome of the uprising. In many ways I consider it comparable to the French revolutions of 1792 (against the monarchy) and, to a lesser extent, of 1793 (against the bourgeois Girondins), in which the Paris sans-culottes organized themselves and overthrew the authorities, but failed each time to complete the revolution and instead left the central government intact under control of the bourgeois parties. The specific failures are slightly different, but in essence I think they are comparable examples sharing similar contradictions and limitations.

author by Tompublication date Thu Jul 03, 2008 01:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

i didn't say the workers had no power in the Russian revolution. the revolution wouldn't have occurred without them. what i said is that they didn't hold power in the country. I also said that what power they had presupposed various forms of organization. the women textile workers had a textile workers union. the key thing in the February revolution was the mutiny of the Petrograd army garrison. this was organized by the soldiers, who quickly created their own organization and got rid of and replaced their officers. in Kronstadt the sailors and workers set up a soviet which they controlled and was the organization of their revolutionary power there, and this included electing their own officers and ship committees.

as Rachleff points out, a big mistake of the workers was to separate the "economic power" they tried to achieve via the shop committees from political power which they left to the soviets and the Left political leaderships (mainly drawn from the intelligentsia) who controlled the main soviets.

in the case of the October insurrection, half the military forces for that came from the Kronstadt soviet which was directly controlled by workers and sailors, unlike the Petrograd soviet. so there is a relationship between the ability of the working class to have an effect on things and its organizing because collective actions other than spontaneous events require organization. there was in fact quite a bit of organization among "the masses in motion" and the emergence of all sorts of organization was part of that "motion".

you say now that the workers shouldn't have allowed a new state power to be built up via the Congress and the new Council of People's Commissars. Okay, but that is to agree with me that the working class didn't come to "rule" thru the October revolution. Leninists of all stripes continue to put forward the myth of the revolution of October as leading to a period of working class rule which allegedly degenerated later. I maintain that no structure of power over the country was ever controlled by the working class, that is, the working class never got to the point of running the country. the revolution was not a "successful workers revolution". It was a defeated workers revolution.

author by Karl Blythepublication date Thu Jul 03, 2008 15:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Okay, now we are finally getting somewhere. First of all, you are quite right that "there is a relationship between the ability of the working class to have an effect on things and its organizing." That is still not the same as saying that power only exists in terms of formal organization, but rather it rightly acknowledging that power, even in spontaneous form, can not be wielded effectively for long without an organized structure. But that is a secondary point here, the main point is in the other remarks on worker power.

I agree that it was a mistake to seperate "political" and "economic" power, but then remember that the Bolsheviks also held a similar perspective that the soviet government, as a socialist worker state, should be an institution of both political and economic power. In part it seems to me that the support given to Bolsheviks was an indication that the workers were beginning to understand this problem, but they made the profound mistake of trying to capture state power and put it to their service. Regardless of limited familiarity with the details of Marxist theory among most of the masses, it seems to me they nonetheless accepted the basic idea and tried to apply it directly with the October Revolution.

Regarding your last paragraph, I agree with you entirely. October did not put the workers in power in any substantial way, certainly not the way that Leninists interpret it. It was the culmination of a revolutionary movement in which the workers were the driving force, which had even clashed with the Soviet at times. In that sense it was a workers' movement and a proletarian revolution, and the insurrection itself was successful as well, so it is very easy at first glance to paint it as a successful workers' revolution. I would say it was a self-defeated revolution, since for all its rhetoric and for its proletarian character it adopted statist methods that very quickly destroyed the workers' power. The so-called "degeneration" in my view has more to do with the move from a multi-party democratic regime to a party-controlled military-bureacratic dictatorship. That is a somewhat different question from that of worker power, in my opinion, from an anarchist perspective, although quite naturally a Marxist would most likely view it differently and see the two questions as basically the same.

author by Tompublication date Fri Jul 04, 2008 04:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the immediate producers in Russia would have had to create a government structure they controlled to be able to rule the country. Because the soviets had been formed in their name and got their legitimacy from the election of worker delegates (ahd their real power from soldier delegates), it gave the appearance of "worker government." but it wasn't because the workers didn't even control the main local soviets, and certainly not the national government (Council of People's Comissars). the national government was not even accountable to the Congress of Soviets. this is shown by the tendency of Sovnarkom (Council of People's Commissars) to start ruling by decree without even getting a rubber stamp okay from the executive committee of the Congress (the exec comm had 300+ delegates and was the nominal parliament).

The Bolsheviks packed the exec comm in ways that made opposition impossible. For example they got 100 delegates added to represent the union bureaucracy and leadership of soldier organizations. this was double-billing because workers and soldiers were already represented and it violated the soviet principle of direct representation of the rank and file, not representation of bureaucracies. the Bolsheviks did this sort of "packing" in local soviets also.

the creation of the Red Army moved further in the direction of a conventional state.

Number of comments per page
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
George Floyd: one death too many in the “land of the free”
© 2005-2020 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]