Monday, January 12, 2015

Bolshevism and the Third International

From the February 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

By no means unanimous will be the interpretations placed on the programmes formed at the recent seventh World Congress of the Communist International. The official Communist Parties, of course, hail these programmes as the highest expression of revolutionary political wisdom, calculated to promote the best interests of the world proletariat, at the same time aiding the "Socialist Fatherland" in its unparalleled task of building up Socialism within its borders. The Communist opposition parties, with Trotsky as their moving spirit, see in these programmes full justification for their claim that as a force making for world world revolution the Communist International is utterly dead. Groups like the Proletarian Party of America will no doubt continue in their role of reluctant apologists for the rank opportunism of the Communist International. Socialists, however, will content themselves with pointing out the non-Socialist character of these programmes. To Socialists it would indeed be strange of the Third International, whose fountain head is in Moscow, would devote its energies in the struggle to achieve Socialism. Russia is now busily engaged in administering capitalism, to which end it naturally uses its influence over the Third International. This fact is no secret to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. For years the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in face of bitter attacks from those who read Socialism into the Russian conditions, have consistently and uncompromisingly exposed the capitalist nature of Bolshevist economy.

Socialism means the common ownership of the instruments of production by the whole society. It is inconceivable without the fullest democracy. Bolshevism means the State ownership of the instruments of production administered by a dictatorial minority. Lenin regarded as chimerical the notion that the working class could democratically effect a Socialist revolution. From the very first he held the view that the working class was so politically immature that it had to be led by a small, resolute group of professional revolutionists. This party of professional revolutionists was in no way to be democratically responsible to the working class, but was to demand the utmost obedience from this class. As Rosenberg points out in his "History of Bolshevism," the split in the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903 was caused by Lenin's insistence that the Party must be exclusive and guide with an iron discipline the infantile working class. Contrary to the belief of so many Communists, the Soviets played no part in Lenin's theories for many years. It was not until the March Revolution in 1917, when the Soviets arose spontaneously, that he accepted them as an accomplished fact and proceeded to make use of them. Even as he worked with them he had every reason to believe that his party could gain control over them, which is precisely what happened.

The creation of the Red Army marked the end of the Soviets as democratic organs of administration. The Soviets were then reduced to the position of a shadow government, a position that they occupy to this day. A dictatorship of the Communist Party arose, governing Russia from one end of the land to the other. Centralised governmental organisations took over the function of managing production. One branch of State machinery after another was created, until a bureaucratic State apparatus arose more powerful than the Tzar's. The passage in Lenin's "State and Revolution" which demands that every workers' revolution must begin by smashing the bureaucratic State machine was conveniently forgotten. A huge bureaucracy developed. The leading positions became increasingly filled by men adept at the game of what in America is called "boss-politics." Freedom of expression within the party becomes ever more curtailed. So far did these developments proceed in Russia that already in 1921 an Opposition raised its head, sounding the warning that one form of tyranny was being supplanted by another.

In an industrially backward country like Russia, Socialism was unthinkable. When the Bolsheviks made so much to-do about building up Socialism they are simply cloaking material conditions with fine-sounding phraseology. State capitalism formed an integral part of Lenin's theoretical system. It was not Socialism he contemplated for Russia, nor for that matter for Europe when he thought he saw a revolution impending there. What he called Socialism was nothing more or less than nationalisation. He could only envisage what we call Socialism as a later development still. Rosenberg quotes Lenin's definition of Socialism: "Socialism is nothing else than the next step from the stage of monopoly State Capitalism. Or—alternatively: Socialism is nothing else than a capitalistic State monopoly worked in the interests of the whole nation and therefore no longer a capitalist monopoly." ("History of Bolshevism," p. 103.) This is not Socialism; it is purely nationalisation. It is capitalism. It is what exists in Russia to-day. There the fundamental relations of capitalism exist. The workers in Russia, like those of any other capitalist country, are divorced from the means of production. To live, they must sell their labour power for a wage, which on the average is merely sufficient for their maintenance. Production of commodities for exchange on the market, money, with its multiple functions in a commodity-producing society, interest payments on bond flotations, income tax laws—most of the usual social processes of a capitalist economy are in operation in Russia.

Neither are class distinctions wanting. On this point we may quote Rosenberg:
Official Soviet statistics published in 1930 show that deposits amounting to 722 millions of roubles were credited in the books of the Russian Savings Bank. Of this only 91 millions belongs to workmen, 205 millions to employees and Government officials, 134 millions to "special" workers, i.e., members of professions, manual workers, etc., and only 46 millions to peasants as individuals. To these figures must be added 246 millions belonging to "legal" persons, behind which designation were concealed chiefly Collectives and other co-operative societies. This statistical panorama serves admirably to reveal the multiplicity of classes in modern Russia no less than the fact that in standard of living and opportunity for saving, the workers are by no means favoured above the rest. (p. 237.)
As industrialisation proceeds and the social wealth increases, these class divisions will become sharper. Capitalism may differ in form as between different countries, but its basic relations and consequences are the same everywhere. By erecting a string central government, keeping Russia unified, and establishing an embracive State capitalism which hastens industrial development, the Bolsheviks may have helped on social development in Russia. But this is quite another thing from saying that Russia is building up Socialism.

The American millionaire, Hearts, and others of his class who see their privileged position menaced by the Communist International, ought to be reassured upon reading the reports coming from the Seventh Congress in Moscow. For America, the Congress has in view such startlingly revolutionary measures as the creation of a Farmer-Labor Party, which is to ". . . win a majority of elective posts in the local, state and Federal Governments, levy a special tax on capital to obtain funds for social insurance and relief, cancel the Supreme Court's right to make laws, and democratise the Senate." Apparently some delegates to the Congress have the sagacity to see in these measures little difference from the reforms advocated by the Democratic Party. In a speech at the Congress on August 15th, Dmitroff called upon the American Communists to support Roosevelt in order to "prevent reactionary, anti-new deal finance capital from setting up a Fascist Government." (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, August 17th, 1935.)

The Communist International has always been used to serve the needs of Russia's domestic policy. The sudden somersaults that mark the history of the Communist International reflect changes that occurred in the economic policies inside Russia. From 1918 to 1921, when Lenin felt that the Russian Revolution would fail unless the revolution occurred in Europe, the tactics of the Communist International were shaped accordingly. The European Communist parties were ordered to preserve their independence and to expel all irresolute members. Proclamations were couched in flaming revolutionary language. By 1921 War Communism, so-called, brought things to such a pass that Lenin was forced to retreat by way of the New Economic Policy. Moreover, it became clear that the European Revolution was not imminent after all. With compromise at home went compromise abroad. The Third International ordered a United Front with the Social Democratic Parties of Western Europe. Finally, in 1928, when Stalin entered upon his course of so-called "building up Socialism in one country," all attempts seriously to influence the European Labour Movement were abandoned.

The Communist International to-day serves chiefly to keep alive the fiction that the Soviet Union is ruled by the working class, who are engaged in building up Socialism. It is largely by means of this fiction that the ruling power in Russia secures the support of the working masses. These masses are told that they are building up Socialism and that on some fine day not too far in the future theirs will be a paradise on earth. This fable must be maintained if the Government's standing with the workers is not to be damaged. The Third International aids in perpetuating this fable by propagating it among sections of workers in other countries. Because they believe Russia is leading the way to Socialism for the international working class, these sections lend their sympathy and support to the Soviet Union. In France the workers are even told that in the event of a war with Fascist Germany the French workers should fight in the trenches and abstain from subversive propaganda behind the lines.

Socialist refuse to be carried away by the Bolshevist myth. They will continue to point out the capitalist nature of Russian conditions. They well explain to the workers everywhere that they have nothing but death and untold suffering to gain by engaging in the next capitalist shambles—even of one of the belligerents happens to be Russia.
F. M.,
Workers' Socialist Party, U.S.A.

Backwaters of History - 5 (1954)

From the February 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peasant Rebellion 1381

" . . . that the offender be dragged to the gallows; that he be hanged by the neck and then cut down alive; that his entrails be taken out and burned while he is yet alive; that his head be cut off; that his body be divided into four parts and that his head and quarters be at the King's disposal."
That, with additional provisions, was the punishment known as being hanged, drawn and quartered which Mr. E. S. Turner informs us was supposed to have originated in the reign of King Edward I of England. (Roads to Ruin, by E. S. Turner. Pages 83-84.)

That was the punishment meted out to John Ball by Lord Chief Justice, Robert Tressilian on July 15th, 1381, at St. Albans. Others who were prominent in the peasant rising of 1381 met similar fates. William Grindcobbe of St. Albans with fifteen others was subjected to the lesser penalty of being hanged and drawn without quartering. Jack Straw, John Kerby and Alan Threder were killed without trial in London; John Shirle at Cambridge and John Wright with George Dunsby at Norwich were hanged; Geoffrey Litster of East Anglia was hanged drawn and quartered  and his quarters sent to Norwich, Harwich, Lynn and Yarmouth to strike terror into other prospective rebels. John Wrawe of Sudbury turned king's evidence and escaped punishment for twelve months, being hanged in June 1382. The man who gave his name to the rebellion, Wat Tyler of Colchester, after being severely wounded at Smithfield, was dragged from a hospital bed in St. Bartholomew's by William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, beheaded and his head paraded around London on the end of Walworth's lance. So, the Feudal nobility of the 14th century took its revenge for the fright the rebellion had given them. The gibbets all over the eastern and southern counties of England were loaded.

By the beginning of the 14th century in England, feudalism was pregnant with the embryo capitalism. Commerce was developing, a merchant class was arising, the use of money was expanding, peasants were commuting feudal services for money payments and the nobility, as anxious as the peasantry to escape its feudal obligations, was squeezing more and more wealth from the merchants and peasants to maintain the feudal state and to indulge in parasitic luxury.

Into this state of affairs, in the middle of the century, came the great pestilence known as The Black Death which, it is estimated, mortally affected between one-third and one-half of the entire population of this country. The peasants and wage workers who survived the plague were in an advantageous position. Wages rose whilst more poor peasants became wage workers. Other peasants, striving to produce for a regional market instead of for a feudal lord, became more wealthy. Although the wealthier peasants did not object to accumulating their wealth at the expense of their poorer brethren, they did object to contributing considerable sums to the nobility.

In an attempt to control the situation the ruling class introduced the Ordinance and Statues of Labourers by which they tried to fix wages at a low level, bind the worker and peasant closer to his lord and master, and to keep prices at a "reasonable level." The efforts to enforce these things gave rise to many local acts of resistance.

Throughout the country there wandered a number of poor priests who preached as much against the corruption of the feudal nobility as they did in favour of the Christian heaven. One such was John Ball. Jean Froissart, the contemporary historian, tells us in his "Chronicles," that John Ball,
" . . . was accustomed to assemble a crowd round him in the market place and preach to them. On such occasions he would say, 'My good friends, matters cannot go well in England until all things be held in common; when there shall be neither vassals nor lords; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill they behave to us? For what reason do they thus hold us in bondage? Are we not all descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve? And what can they show, or what reason can they give, why they should be more masters than ourselves? They are clothed in velvet and rich stuffs, ornamented with ermine and other furs, while we are forced to wear poor clothing. They have wine, spices and fine bread, while we have only rye, and the refuse of the straw, and when we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, while we must brave the wind and rain in our labours in the field; and it is by our labours that they wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves and if we do not perform our service we are beaten, and we have no sovereign to whom we can complain or would be willing to hear us. Let us go to the King and remonstrate with him, he is young and from him we may obtain a favourable answer, and if not we must ourselves seek to amend our conditions."—(Quoted by Fagan and Hilton in 'The English Rising of 1381," page 99.)
A Parliament met in Northampton in 1380 and decided to levy a very heavy Poll Tax on the peasantry to help pay for the expensive war with France. The tax was made progressive by providing some relief for the very poor at the expense of the wealthier peasant. This united the whole of the peasantry in opposition, the wealthier members frequently giving the lead in evading the tax and resisting the collectors.

On May 20th, 1381, there rode into Brentwood, one Thomas Bampton, a tax Commissioner. He summoned the inhabitants of Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford-le-Hope to appear before him. They came, armed and led by Thomas Baker of Fobbing. When Bampton tried to arrest Baker the villagers attacked Bampton and his party and drove them out of the town. This was the beginning.

A similar event took place at Gravesend. Abel Ker of Erith led a party against a monastery, then crossed the Thames, joined up with another group ay Barking, recrossed the river and marched to Dartford where Ker handed over his command to Robert Cave, a master baker who was leading the Dartford rebels. After marching around nearby villages recruiting his forces, Cave marched them to Maidstone to release John Ball from jail. It was here, in Maidstone, that Wat Tyler, a man comparatively unknown until the last few days of his life, was placed at the head of the rising.

Tyler took his army to Canterbury where they searched the Palace of the Archbishop and destroyed all papers and rolls that recorded the peasants' bondage to their masters. At Canterbury Cathedral Tyler made a pronouncement from the pulpit stating that Archbishop Sudbury was condemned and would be put to death and it was intimated that John Ball should be appointed to the office.

Tyler's army returned to Maidstone, joined up with the main force, attacked and captured Rochester Castle and marched on London. On Wednesday, June 12th, the peasant army pitched camp on Blackheath. From this camp parties were dispatched to release the prisoners from the King's Bench and Marshalsea prisons most of whom were offenders against the Statute of Labourers.

Inside the walls of the City of London the ruling class was in a panic. The king with some of his nobles went by barge to Rotherhithe where the Kent and Essex rebels were camped on opposite banks of the Thames. The royal party took fright and scampered back to London. The rebels then marched to London Bridge and to Aldgate, burning the Lord Mayor's brothels and destroying all the feudal documents that they could lay hands on. 

Alderman Walter Sybyle, a fishmonger, was in charge of London Bridge, and threw it open to Tyler and his men, whilst Thomas Farrington opened the Ald Gate to the Essex men. The rebels had many such sympathisers amongst the merchants and workpeople of London who were themselves victims of the rapacious nobles. Many of them joined Tyler's forces when they entered the city and were punished for their part in the rising when it was suppressed.

The main body of rebels marched past the Gothic edifice of St. Paul's church, down the hill to Lud Gate and along the Strand to the Savoy Palace,  the residence of the most hated man in England—John of Gaunt, the leader of the corrupt gang of noble speculators who were bleeding the people. The rebels maintained a strict discipline, executing selected enemies, destroying documents and property of their especial enemies, but stealing, taking or looting nothing. They encamped by the Tower of London which they eventually occupied.

The rebel army had a childish faith in the king, Richard II, a boy of 14 years of age. John Ball encouraged this faith, according to the quotation from Froissart that we have given. The king was regarded as a person of power who stood above all class antagonisms and emnities and who could be relied upon to be fair in his judgement of peoples wrongs and powerful enough to put them right. His nobles who surrounded him were an evil influence. If he could be spoken to and told of the rebels troubles, they were sure that he would remedy them. This faith proved the undoing of the rebellion.

The Earl of Salisbury, a mature statesman, concocted a plan to destroy the rebel army. Leaving Archbishop Sudbury of Canterbury, who was also Chancellor, Robert Halles, known as Hob the Robber, who was Treasurer, John Legge and the king's confessor, Appledore, to be tried and beheaded by the rebels in the Tower, the king and his other nobles rode out through Ald Gate to the fields at Mile End. Here he made promises to the assembled rebel forces.

In the house of John Farringdon in London the rebel leaders had drawn up their demands which they now placed before the king. To the men of Hertford he promised:
"Know that of our special grace we have manumitted all our liege and singular subjects and others of the county of Hertford, freed each and all of their bondage, and made them quit by these presents; pardoned them of all felonies, treasons, transgressions, and extortions committed by any and all of them, and assure them of our 'summa pax'."—("English Rising of 1381." Fagan and Hilton. Page 130.)
Similar charters were granted to other sections of the rebels. This satisfied many of them and, as Salisbury had anticipated, large numbers drew off and returned. delighted, to their native villages.

A reduced army under Tyler remained and continued to dig out and execute the particular enemies that they had listed. Those peasants who returned home spread the news of their great success and hosts of other risings occurred all over the country. John Farringdon with Alderman John Horn and other members of various London Guilds did a bit of cleaning up in the city on their own account, executing some of their class enemies and straightening out a number of social injustices.

It was necessary to disperse the remainder of the rebel forces. The king again met the peasants at Smithfield and the nobles managed to separate Tyler from his men, surround him and, under cover of dusk, to strike him almost to death, without his followers realising what was happening. The rebels were told to go to St. John's Fields where a beknighted Wat Tyler would be returned to them. At the rendezvous the rebels were met by a strong military force that Mayor Walworth had raised and they were easily beaten and dispersed. Farringdon and Horn tried to raise support for the peasants within the city but most of the erstwhile supporters, having squared their own accounts were only too pleased to see the end of the rebel forces.

Needless to say, the king's promises were never kept, but a hunt for rebels was conducted throughout the main areas of disaffection and cruel punishments inflicted. The rising was probably a contributory factor in the improved conditions of the peasantry during the following century but the main factor was the change in the economic forces within feudalism.

Many workers today have the same faith in the capitalist state as the 1381 rebels had in their king. They regard the state as an independent organ, detached from class interests, acting as a mediating force in the struggles between employers and employed. Just as the feudal king was a member of the exploiting class of his day with the same interests to uphold, so the capitalist state of today is representative of capitalist class interests and uses its forces  to maintain the capitalist system and protect the property of capitalists.  Like the feudal state machinery, the capitalist counterpart will always be used to subdue rebellious workers.

Books to read:
"An Economic History of England", by Charlotte M. Waters.
"Six Centuries of Work and Wages", by James E. Thorold Rogers, M.P.
"The English Rising of 1381", by H. Fagan and R. H. Hilton.
"The Black Death", by G. G. Coulton
"The Revolutionary Tradition in England", by F. A. Ridley.
"A Peoples History of England", by A. L. Morton.
"Chronicles of France, England and Spain", by Froissart (English version in Everyman Library).
"Survey of London", by John Stow (also in Everyman Library).
"Dream of John Ball", by William Morris
W. Waters.