Book Review from the March 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
New Interventions, Vol 8 , No 2, Winter 1997-98, PO Box 485 Coventry, CV5 6ZP. £2.
This issue of a Trotskyoid journal is devoted to a reappraisal of Bolshevism on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. But, instead of the expected praise of the Bolsheviks and a call for the 1917 experience to be repeated in this country, most of the contributors expressed doubts about whether the Bolsheviks did the right thing in 1917 and the years that followed.
Veteran Trotskyist Harry Ratner writes that Russia remained a genuine soviet regime (a workers' democracy) for only "a few weeks" after November 1917 (he says October 1917--Trotskyists still use the old Julian calendar). After that, the Bolsheviks established their own dictatorship. He wonders if it might not have been better if some sort of broad front democratic government had been allowed to emerge from the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and asks:
"So were Kautsky and the Mensheviks right to oppose the October Revolution from the start, as an attempt prematurely to go beyond the 'bourgeois' stage of the Russian revolution? Were they right to declare a socialist working-class revolution in a backward Russia premature and doomed to failure because the conditions for socialism were not ripe-both as regards the economic base and the social and cultural level of the working class? On the face of it, subsequent history would seem to justify them".
His reply is even more surprising:
"All one can say is that the 'workers' state' that was born in October 1917 was premature and infected from infancy. Unfortunately, as it degenerated, it infected the working-class movement internationally, and proved an obstacle on the road to socialism. My old comrade, the late Alex Acheson, who joined the movement in the 1930s and remained a committed Trotskyist till his death last year, once told me: 'It might have been better if the October Revolution had never occurred'".
Another contributor, Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique, tackles the question "What if the Left Opposition had Taken Power?". After beginning with the preposterous statement that "the Russian Revolution is possibly the most important event so far in human history", his conclusion is that they too would have established a dictatorship that would have "had nothing to do with socialism" but would not have been as bad as Stalin's. He asks himself the same questions as Harry Ratner: "Do we wait until we have a revolution that is totally democratic?", "Are those who argue that in 1917 the means of production were not yet sufficiently developed then correct?". His answer is not very clear, especially not to the first one.
Al Richardson, editor of Revolutionary History, says that even "workers' state" is "a term that does not appear in Marx at all, to my knowledge". Only Ian Birchall of the SWP claims the mantle of true Bolshevism. It is his party that seems to him to "come nearest to being a legitimate successor to the essential spirit of Bolshevism". He's right. That's why they should be opposed.
Two other articles, one by a Socialist Party member on "Why the Russian Revolution Wasn't a Proletarian Revolution", the other by Alastair Mitchell on "1917 and All That", have no time at all for Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks.
The same issue also contains a lengthy reply by another Socialist Party member to an ignorant criticism of the Socialist Party in the previous issue by Ted Crawford who supplies an equally ignorant (in all senses of the word) reply.
Of course it wasn't just Kautsky, Martov and the Mensheviks who warned that conditions in Russia in 1917 weren't ripe for a socialist revolution there. We did too. In fact anyone who had read and understood Marx knew this. We know people don't like being told "we told you so". So we shall resist the temptation.