Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Bolshevik Coup

Contrary to some of my comrades I am not doubting the Bolsheviks sincerity, only their judgement when it came to choices.

(1) To share power with bourgeois parties
(2) to entrench themselves in intransigent opposition and decline the responsibilities of power
(3) to try to seize power by force.

The last option was the Bolshevik solution. It failed to produce socialism and necessarily failed to do so because even in power and ruling by dictat, the Commissars of the people, still found themselves face-to-face with hard economic reality.
But nevertheless these alternative options has been presented by some Trotskyists:
“ …What factors or actions by the participants might have resulted in the non-occurrence of October and a different outcome? Assuming that nothing is inevitable until it has happened, and that "men make their own history", there are three possibilities.
Firstly, that Lenin’s April Theses that set the Bolshevik party on the road to the October insurrection had been rejected by the party. Let us recall that up till Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd, the Bolshevik leadership was pursuing a policy of critical support for the Provisional government. They felt this was consistent with the view that since the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of bringing about a bourgeois revolution, this task would have to be carried out by the proletariat supported by the peasantry, but that the revolution could not go immediately beyond the stage of establishing a bourgeois republic. In February, the Petrograd proletariat had carried out this "bourgeois revolution" with the support of the peasant soldiers. Now that the bourgeois republic was in place, the next stage was not the immediate struggle for working-class power, but a relatively prolonged period of bourgeois democracy. Lenin now abandoned this view which he had himself defended under the slogan of "the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", and argued for no support for the Provisional Government, and for agitation for power to the Soviets. He swung the Bolshevik party to this policy. But it was not inevitable that he should have done. The Bolshevik party might have continued its policy of critical support for and pressure on the February regime.

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

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

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

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

The point of a revolutionary movement in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class. The Bolsheviks failed to do so, emasculating what workers organisations and democratic processes that existed. We need no hypothetical other universe scenarios to understand that reality. Our case is that the revolution was inevitably capitalist, and so the issue then as framed by Martov was to make it democratic, something that was not possible in a scheme of a minority party in the name of the proletariat seizing power. Lenin opportunistically temporarily favoured the soviets rather than the parliamentary system because he knew that he could get a majority under the former but not the latter. I certainly concede it was precisely because they were the best-organised and disciplined group that the Bolsheviks finally emerged as the government of revolutionary Russia following the collapse of the Tsarist regime - and they came to power by successfully manipulating the soviets.

The SPGB view expressed repeatedly is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital. The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism.
But to sound very Marxian “…new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society".

The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. But what would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes? In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. In running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its wage-slave position. The SPGB argument is that the material conditions in Russia meant the development of capitalism, which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents.

There appears to be differing opinions on some issues within the SPGB. Some think Lenin and his party were genuine socialists who were inevitably bound to fail to introduce socialism because the conditions weren't there for this and that their method of minority dictatorship was wrong. While other members believe they were elitists (Jacobinists or Blanquists) from the start who were always going to establish the rule of a new elite even though they labelled themselves socialists. Rather than Bolshevik elitism was an inevitable product of the decision to build state capitalism in Russia in the aftermath of the October revolution, it was the other way round, the decision to build state capitalism was an inevitable product of the Bolsheviks' elitism. Take your pick. Both analyses are an advance on the degenerate party and deformed workers’ state thesis.

The SPGB argue that Lenin despite his claims that he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions , he was far from changing the course of history , it was, in fact , the course of history which changed him. Lenin made a great miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call. Russia could not escape its destiny.


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