Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Throw Away the Stick (2017)

From the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month's headlines were dominated, to the surprise of many, by the revelation that a Hollywood producer was in the habit of using his position of power and influence to get aspiring young hopefuls to have sex with him.

This can't have been news to anyone but the naive. Theatre like everything else in capitalism has been reduced to a squalid money business where the rich exploit the efforts, and sometimes the bodies, of young people desperate for advancement and not rich enough to say no. Actors are workers and workers have to sell themselves as commodities on the labour market. That labour market is nearly always a buyer's market, and when the buyer is a man who has sex instead of scruples on the brain, it's not hard to grasp what is likely to happen.

Some of the online comments from readers of these news stories accused the women who had spoken up of being prostitutes, who had been willing to sleep their way to riches and were now hypocritically whingeing about it. Many of these comments were from women. The anger and bitterness behind such trolling is all too obvious. To poor people, there's no such thing as a rich victim. The fact that male actors can get ahead without supposedly resorting to prostitution didn't enter the debate.

What became plain, as the story grew, was how widespread the problem is. Women often experience harassment in some form, whether it's being whistled at, groped, or inappropriately chatted up. They generally keep silent because they feel powerless. Society generally keeps silent because it doesn't care. And this is just the everyday stuff. Underneath this culture of silence lies a nightmarish landscape which includes rape, domestic abuse and murder. Any woman living in this terrifying landscape is almost bound to think that the world is primarily defined by male power and dominance.

Historically there's no question that this has been true, and still is in many parts of the world where the hangover of the pre-capitalist past still hangs heaviest. In advanced capitalist countries the trend has been more towards political, legal and economic parity, partly so that employers can cherry-pick exploitable workers from the largest possible bowl. But these limited freedoms have been offset by an intensifying commodification of women through advertising, the media, and the film and music industry, a commodification now also turning its attention to men. We are not even human beings anymore, just products with a package and a price and a sell-by date.

If society is primarily patriarchal, as some think, then most men are doing astonishingly badly out of it. This is really because they, along with women, are ultimately in thrall to a higher power, a tiny fraction of people who own and control all of society and most of the world. What is decisively important about this power elite is not actually their gender at all but their property portfolio.

To socialists, it doesn't matter what colour or gender you are. What matters is that you are a worker. The politicisation of gender, like ethnicity, helps keep the working class divided and thus too weak to break out of its own misery. Capitalism is a master at instilling its oppressive and divisive structures at an early age. The task of revolutionaries is to identify and break those structures. And we can do it, so long as workers are willing to try to understand each other. Women have been speaking out, and must continue to do so in order to lift the veil of silence. For their part, men need to understand that ignoring women's subjective experience of patriarchy is the same as perpetuating it. Either you are fighting oppression or you are complicit in it. When a man suffers rage, helplessness and frustration, he is experiencing what it means to be a worker. But when he takes his rage out on a woman he is doing the bosses' dirty work for them and he is a class traitor. A class that wants to be free also has to know how to take responsibility. Socialism is not possible otherwise.

There is, incidentally, nothing in the rules of capitalism that forbids it from being gender-neutral. In a gender-neutral capitalism, workers would still be poor, overworked, exploited, powerless and bitter.  And capitalism would still be hell-bent on self-destruction through war and environmental damage. The identity of the oppressor can and has changed among and between cultures and over time. What hasn't changed, and what will never change in capitalism, is the ability of some to oppress others. This is one reason why socialists call for the abolition of the property-owning principle. Private ownership is a big stick, whoever wields it. If you don't want to be beaten, you need to throw away the stick.
Paddy Shannon

Russian Revolution: 1. The Road to October (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the other articles in the series, click on the following links: TWO, THREE, FOUR.
There was not one revolution in Russia in 1917, but two. Yet because history is written chiefly about the victors, historians usually know more of the second revolution than the first. 'This series of articles will analyse the events which gave rise to and followed from the October revolution, but we would be in error to regard the second revolution as the first's inevitable consequence.
There are numerous interpretations of the causes of the February revolution, ranging from Trotsky’s false claim that it was the act of workers who had swallowed the propaganda of the Bolsheviks to Miliukov’s absurd suggestion that the workers revolted because they wanted the Duma (the consultative parliament set up by Nicholas II in 1906) to pursue a more vigorous war policy. In fact, ideological preoccupations aside, the revolution can be viewed as a spontaneous act of resistance against the feudal autocracy of Tsarism by war- weary soldiers, starving workers and landless peasants. A secret police report written at the time clearly explains the situation:
. . .  the proletariat in the capital is on the verge of despair. It is believed that the slightest disturbance, on the smallest pretext, will lead to uncontrollable riots with thousands of victims. In fact, the conditions for such an explosion already exist. The economic condition of the masses, despite large rises in wages, is near the point of distress. .  . . Even if wages are doubled, the cost of living has trebled. The impossibility of obtaining goods, the loss of time spent queuing up in front of stores, the increasing mortality rate because of poor housing conditions, the cold and the dampness resulting from the lack of coal . . .  all these conditions have created such a situation that the mass of industrial workers is ready to break out in the most savage of hunger riots. (The Red Archive, Vol. 26, Chap. XXV, p. 14.)
The February revolution was an expression of different class aspirations: the capitalists longed for the liberty of the West, the workers wanted better conditions, the peasants wanted the land which they believed was rightly theirs; apart from these, the soldiers wanted the end of the war. The three Provisional governments set up between February and October were however unable to fulfil the needs of the Russian population. This was because their leaders waited in vain for the problems to be solved by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly. While the Cadets (the bourgeois constitutional democrats) and the social democrats waited for the masses to decide on the matters affecting them, the Bolsheviks stepped in and decided for everyone. How were they able to do this?

Three factors
Three factors primarily contributed to the Bolshevik success. The first was the Provisional government’s abysmal attempt to win the war, which lost it the support of those who had risen in February to bring about peace. The Bolsheviks, who were the only party to unequivocally expose the war as an imperialist exercise, had a powerful stick with which to beat the government of Kerensky and Miliukov. The disastrous failure of the June 18 offensive and the dangers presented by the attempted military coup by General Kornilov in August did much to accelerate this popular swing towards the Bolsheviks.

Secondly, the Bolsheviks were the most capable political organisers in the chaotic conditions then prevailing. The Leninist concept of the professional revolutionaries guiding the masses in a direction which the latter were too ignorant to perceive, while a travesty of the Marxist theory of revolutionary activity, was successful. The Bolsheviks were able to mobilise vast masses of people behind a disciplined vanguard, while their rivals—the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries—argued amongst themselves about the ‘best tactics’. In the face of war and chaos the workers sought new leadership; the Bolsheviks volunteered themselves as leaders.

The third reason for the Bolshevik success was that they offered everything to everybody. By demanding immediate peace, land for the peasants, workers’ control and soviet rule the Bolsheviks could play the role of the Father Christmas of Russian politics. These objectives were inconsistent and sometimes secretly rejected by their advocates; what mattered before October 1917 was political power: and for the Bolsheviks the end justified the means.

Party manipulation
The Bolsheviks aimed to convert the soviets from workers’ councils which put political pressure on the bourgeois government to revolutionary bodies through which the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ could be achieved. What made easier their conquest of the soviets was the increasing burcaucratisation of he soviet machinery: more and more, as the year went on, were the soviets dominated by their executive organs. The creation of hierarchies allowed Leninist ‘professional revolutionaries’ to occupy positions of authority without direct responsibility. As spontaneous self-expression declined, party manipulation grew. Large urban soviets began to control surrounding soviets. By the time of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in June the process of centralisation became national and a controlling executive was set up (two thirds of the members of which were provided by the Petrograd soviet). At first the disproportionate influence of the Petrograd Executive benefitted the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries but, as the year went on and discontent grew, the Bolsheviks gained a majority in Petrograd and so had control of the entire soviet network.

Their task was made easier by the fact that workers were outnumbered in the soviets by soldiers who were essentially peasants in uniform. These were the people who went over to the Bolsheviks in the second half of 1917; most experienced urban workers were more attracted by the programme of the Mensheviks, which was essentially a policy of trade unionism.

After Lenin’s return to Russia in April the Bolsheviks adopted his political thesis that ‘the bourgeois revolution should be turned into a revolution for the dictatorship of the workers and poor peasants’. After April they waged war on the other Left parties in the soviets, accusing them of being supporters of the Russian bourgeoisie. Many political theorists were attracted to the Bolsheviks by this prospect of creating socialism out of the backward Russian economy. But what did they mean by ‘the next stage of the revolution’? What did Lenin mean by socialism? Would Bukharin and the Moscow Bolsheviks agree with Lenin’s definition? Could the Bolsheviks control history or would historical conditions control them? These questions were provoked by the excitement of 1917.

Reformist aims
As the Bolsheviks used the soviets to realise their political ambitions, so they used the factory committees on the industrial level. After the February revolution the Russian workers did not set out to fundamentally restructure the economy. Their aims were mainly reformist, as can be seen from Marc Ferro’s analysis of 100 petitions from industrial workers to the central authorities in March 1917: 51 per cent demanded a reduction in working hours, 18 per cent called for higher wages, 15 per cent complained of insanitary conditions and 12 per cent demanded rights for the newly established factory committees. Ferro concludes that
. . . the workers sought to ameliorate their condition, not to transform it. (The Russian Revolution of February 1917.)
The factory committees were formed by workers after the strikes in February, their purpose being to put forward demands to management. At the end of May the Putilov workers called a Petrograd conference of factory committees which was used by the Bolsheviks to gain control of the new movement so as to counter the force of the trades unions. Lenin addressed the conference and a resolution ‘On Economic Measures to Combat the Chaos’ was moved by Zinoviev and overwhelmingly carried (297 votes to 21). The resolution was essentially a syndicalist demand for workers’ control—not the policy of the Bolshevik party, which was committed to state control. The contradiction between these two policies was to be discovered after October. The conference set up a central committee, dominated by Bolsheviks and under the chairmanship of the Bolshevik Derbyshev. So in the soviets the Bolsheviks had a machine to rival the power of the Provisional government and in the factory committees they were able to rival the more democratic trades unions.

The winning of the peasantry was completed by controlling the peasant soviets from their urban centres, by sending Bolshevik propagandists into the countryside with promises of land and bread, and by discrediting the Social Revolutionary leader Chernov who, after May, was Minister of Agriculture in the Provisional government. They were aided in their work by the split within the Social Revolutionaries and the failure of the government to redistribute the land.

Did the majority of Russian people support the Bolsheviks in October 1917? Without doubt, they did not. The majority of peasants still supported the Social Revolutionaries. Did the majority of peasants understand Lenin’s policies in October 1917? Certainly not. Many of them were deceived by lies, others were concerned with just one policy, but were ignorant of the others. Did the Bolsheviks have a coherent programme for establishing socialism in October 1917? No they did not. They were, as disagreements after October were to show, quite vague about what was to be done. The October revolution was from the very start a conspiracy led by an undemocratic party following in the tradition of Machiavelli.
Steve Coleman
(To be continued)

Russian Revolution: II. Dictatorship over the Proletariat (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the other articles in the series, click on the following links: ONE, THREE, FOUR.

In October 1917 the Bolsheviks staged an insurrection using the Military Revolutionary Committee which had been set up by the soviets after the attempted Kornilov coup. The result was a transfer of power from the hands of the soviets to the small party which followed Lenin. Two of the Bolshevik leaders, Kamenev and Zinoviev, opposed the insurrection on the following grounds:
A majority of workers and a significant part of the army in Russia are for us. But all the rest are in question. We are convinced, for example, that if it now comes to elections for the Constituent Assembly, then the majority of peasants will vote for the SRs.
Their dissent was ignored and, in years to come, used by Stalin to discredit them as counter-revolutionaries. Let there be no confusion about the nature of the Bolshevik seizure of power: it was a conspiratorial coup designed to subjugate what was left of spontaneous mass action to Leninist control. Those who look to the October coup with admiration, as do most of the current Left groups, show an anti-socialist contempt for democracy. 

In January 1918 the Constituent Assembly was elected by universal suffrage. The voting figures were as follows:

Votes cast for each party
Social Revolutionaries                                                                                                          15,848,004
Ukranian SRs                                                                                                                          1,286,157
Mensheviks                                                                                                                             1,364,826
Cadets                                                                                                                                     1,986,601
Bolsheviks                                                                                                                              9,844,637
Others                                                                                                                                   11,356,651

Seats in the Constituent Assembly
Social Revolutionaries                                                                                                                      370
Left SRs                                                                                                                                              40
Bolsheviks                                                                                                                                         175
Mensheviks                                                                                                                                         16
Popular Socialists                                                                                                                                 2
Cadets                                                                                                                                                 17
National groups                                                                                                                                  86
Unknown                                                                                                                                              1

(Data taken from O.H. Radkey, The Elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917, pp.16-17.)

The Bolsheviks crushed the democratically elected assembly, and Lenin’s argument for doing so was an inevitable consequence of the elitist line taken in What Is To Be Done?:
The petty-bourgeois democrats . . . are suffering from illusions when they imagine that the working people are capable, under capitalism, of acquiring the high degree of class consciousness, firmness of character, perception and wide political outlook that will enable them to decide, merely by voting, or at all events, to decide in advance, without long experience of struggle, that they will follow a particular party . . . Capitalism would not be capitalism if it did not, on the one hand, condemn the masses to a downtrodden, crushed and terrified state of existence, to disunity and ignorance, and if it did not, on the other hand, place in the hands of the bourgeoisie a gigantic apparatus of falsehood and deception to hoodwink the masses of workers and peasants, to stultify their minds and so forth.
(Lenin. Collected Works, Vol. 30, pp.266-67.)
Not only was Lenin’s contention — that socialist consciousness by the majority is an impossible dream — an arrogant slander, but it led directly to a system of brutal dictatorship. The fact is that a socialist revolution can only be enacted by a majority of socialists.

The Bolshevik dictatorship over the proletariat was maintained in three ways: rival political organisations were either suppressed or sterilised; widespread political terror was employed; the party and the state became one. The suppression of rival political organisations was probably not the premeditated intention of most Bolsheviks. At the Second Congress of Soviets which was meeting at the time of the Bolshevik seizure of power, the Mensheviks and Right SRs stormed out, leaving only the Bolsheviks and Left SRs. The Mensheviks and Right SRs left because they recognised the coup for the undemocratic conspiracy that it was. The Left SRs stayed, but it is instructive to consider their fate.

In December 1917 they formed a coalition with the Bolsheviks and joined the new government. Then the Bolsheviks stole the SR land policy and the Left SRs were satisfied. By February 1917 Lenin probably made up his mind to break with the Left SRs because of their opposition to some of the activities of the Cheka — the Bolshevik political police. The split between the two parties came in March 1918 over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which the Left SRs considered to be defeatist. The Left SRs were a party based upon anti-German patriotism, and in July 1918 some of their members conspired to murder the German ambassador, Von Mirbach. Their punishment for this was the suppression of their press and expulsion from the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. So here was a group which had supported the rule of one party in the hope that they would gain some of the political spoils. Within a year they, like the Mensheviks and Right SRs, had no free press, no free voice in the soviets and even restricted freedom of association. The trade unions and factory committees were similarly sterilised.

The use of terror was the second means of defending Bolshevik hegemony. The Cheka’s use of brutal police methods was legalised by a decree of Sovnarkom (the Council of People’s Commissars) on 5 September 1918:
Sovnarkom, having heard the report of the chairman of the Cheka, finds that under present circumstances it is necessary to safeguard the rear by means of terror. In order to strengthen the work of the Cheka its forces must be increased by reliable party comrades. The Soviet Republic must be safeguarded from its class enemies by isolating them in concentration camps, by shooting all persons associated with White Guard associations, plots and conspiracies, and by publishing the names of all those shot and the reason for the shooting.
The All-Ukranian Trade Union Council tried in vain to protest against the Bolshevik methods of control:
When a government pretending to act in defence of workers makes use of the same methods of political struggle as those employed by reactionaries in their fight . . . against the insurgent masses, then the proletariat must raise its voice and declare openly: ‘The responsibility for terror falls on those who use it’. The working class never has and never will have anything in common with these methods of struggle. We appeal to the organised proletariat to support our protest. (Posledniia Novosti, No.5, 213, 28 September 1918, evening edition.)
The third method of maintaining the dictatorship was by bureaucratisation and centralisation of the party and the state until both were controlled by a small caucus of leaders. The civil war provided a useful justification for this process. By the time of Lenin’s death the state machine was no less powerful and anti-working class than that presided over by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.

The Bolshevik dictatorship has provided one of the most compelling arguments used by the enemies of socialism. The only lesson to be learnt from the Russian Revolution is that a society based upon human freedom cannot be created by a faction which sees the mass of humanity as incapable of self-emancipation.
Steve Coleman
(To be continued.)

Russian Revolution: IV The Fate of the Peasantry (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the other articles in the series, click on the following links: ONE, TWO, THREE.

As early as August 1918, the Socialist Standard, armed with only a minimum of precise information on events in Russia during the previous ten months, and the insight of Marxist analysis, published a prophetic article entitled ‘The Revolution in Russia - Where It Fails'. There it was pointed out that
Leaving aside the subsidiary differences in the economic position of the different provinces, the one great fact common to most of the peasantry is their desire to be rid of the burden of the tax they have to pay for their land, whether to the local Lord or to the Government, so that they may gain a livelihood from their holdings. This applies to both the individual and the group holders. Hence the peasants' movements and demands are not for social ownership, but merely for the abolition of the tax burden and their right to take up new land as the population increases. In other words, they only wish to free the old system of individual or group cultivation and management from governmental taxes and control.
In other words, the Russian peasantry possessed the political ideology of peasants everywhere: they wanted more land. This ideal embraced the original Narodnik demand for the Black Repartition: an economic system in which the land is returned from the feudal aristocracy to the toiling peasant. It was this, and not socialism, that the vast mass of the Russian population aspired to.

After the February Revolution the Provisional Government set up a Main Land Committee and Local Land Committees to ‘prepare for'a major land reform after the election of the Constituent Assembly. Liberal reformers were optimistic: the peasantry were typically cynical about the prospect of legislative justice and the poorer peasants began immediately to seize land. The Bolsheviks were the only party to encourage this form of illegal appropriation, thus adding to their reputation as.a party which would advocate any policy in the quest for power. In May 1917, at the All-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies, Lenin advocated that the poor peasants should form separate factions in all peasant organisations — this was an attempt to unite the poor peasants with the Bolshevik workers whose interests Lenin believed to be the same. But the peasantry as a whole still supported their own party, the Social Revolutionaries, rather than the Bolsheviks. In August 1917 the journal of the All-Russian Peasants’ Congress, which was controlled by the SRs, published a model land decree compiled from 242 demands submitted by delegates to the first Congress in May. The model decree proposed expropriation of the land by the peasantry, the prohibition of hired labour, the prohibition of the buying and selling of land, and the fair distribution of land to all peasants. This demand for agrarian justice was straight out of the Narodnik fantasies of the nineteenth century and was welcomed by the mass of the politically ignorant peasantry. Realising its popularity, the policy was adopted by the Bolsheviks as their official agrarian programme. The Bolsheviks stole the SR land policy; the peasants supported them in October in return for the promise that they would at last become unrestricted landlords; on 26 October 1917 the Land Decree was declared law.

Did the enactment of the Black Repartition bring contentment to the peasants? An investigation carried out by Russian statisticians in 1919 showed that as far as the distribution of land and livestock after 1917 was concerned there was “a withering away of the two extremes and an inflation of the centre”. (A.V. Peshekonov)

Peasants with more than 8 dessyatine (or 21.6 acres) of land had fallen from 7.9 per cent to 3.1 per cent of the total peasant population: the proportion of landless peasants had fallen from 11.4 per cent to 6.5 per cent. Most peasants did not receive substantial benefits from the redistribution of land after the Bolshevik revolution and. in the light of the political consequences of the new regime, the benefits gained were nullified by the intensified pressures which were put upon the peasantry. In the words of one historian,
. . . the long-awaited ‘black repartition' did not bring the average peasant householder much additional wealth. If anything, it may be said to have simply spread the prevailing misery more widely than before. (John Keep. The Russian Revolution, chap. 30)
The peasants backed the Bolsheviks in 1917, but their loyalty was soon disappointed. The food shortages in the city led the Bolsheviks to form detachments of workers and poor peasants to confiscate grain from the peasant farmers. Many of the so-called kulaks destroyed the grain or ate it themselves rather than hand it over to the state; many of them died in order to.defend what a few months earlier the Land Decree had declared to be theirs.

The Bolshevik leaders, faced with starvation in the city and resistance in the countryside, began to learn what is meant by a revolution which is dependent upon politically unconscious masses. They set up committees of poor peasants (kombedy) in which they relied upon the support of those peasants with the least stake in the land to wage a battle for the grain produced by the slightly wealthier peasants. The Bolshevik government began to set up large-scale farms on many of the confiscated estates and established a central authority (Narkomzen) to administer them. How distant was this from the peasant ideal of unrestricted, individual land ownership. Rather than abolish taxation of the peasants, the new regime introduced a tax in kind in October 1918 which was to be supplementary to the grain requisition policy already in operation.

Having supported Lenin on the basis of his promises the peasants, like the wage workers in the cities, ended up as the tools of state capitalism. In order to retain control the new regime had to dragoon and exploit them. Engels, writing of The Peasant War in Germany, explained what must happen if a party standing for the interest of one class takes power and is forced to depend upon another class:
The worst that can befall the leader of an extremist party is to be compelled to take over the government at a time when the moment is not yet ripe for the rule of the class he represents . . .  He finds himself necessarily in an insoluble political dilemma: what he can do is in conflict with his entire previous attitudes, his principles, and the immediate interest of his parts: what he is supposed to do cannot be done . . .  he is compelled to represent not his party, his class, but the class for the rule of which the movement happens to be right. For the sake of that movement he must act for the interests of an alien class, and must feed his own class with phrases and promises along with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are really their own. He who gets himself in that false position is irredeemably lost.
This was the fate of Bolshevism. Without the conscious support of the majority of the world's working class socialism was impossible: only state capitalism could be established, the heritage of which was the brutality of Stalinism.

Some readers may ask, why does the Socialist Standard devote a series of four articles to the consideration of a revolution which happened sixty two years ago? We answer that our lessons must be drawn from history. Thirty years after the Bolshevik seizure of power Mao led his party to dictatorship in China on the basis of Lenin's political principles. Today, hundreds of political organisations — some mass parties, others minute factions — repeat the Bolshevik formula. In Britain, the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party, the International Marxist Group, the Worker's Revolutionary Party and the International Communist Current (to name but a few) invite workers to respect the ideas of Leninism. As a party hostile to all parties which stand for capitalism, ‘whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist', we will scrutinise and publicly expose the anti-socialist ideas of those who led the Russian Revolution and those who follow in their footsteps. In order to do this we have to know exactly what took place in Russia in 1917.

An enormous amount of literature on the Russian Revolution has been published. The first three volumes of E.H. Carr’s History of Soviet Russia are recommended, as is John Keep’s The Russian Revolution. David Shub's biography of Lenin, Stephen Cohen’s biography of Bukharin and especially Israel Gctzler's biography of Martov, are worth reading. Martin McCauley’s The Russian Revolution and the Soviet State provides a useful collection of documents. Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution gives the orthodox Bolshevik account in a manner which is very readable, but often mistaken. Tony Cliffs four volume biography of Lenin is the product of mental sterility, incomprehension of historical fact and approval of undemocratic tactics. Two pamphlets on Russia have been published by the SPGB, and there are numerous articles dealing with Russian capitalism in past issues of the Socialist Standard.
Steve Coleman

Correction. The Russian Revolution
In the November Socialist Standard, the article, The Russian Revolution III - State Capitalism implies that our member Harry Young was in Russia and saw the effects of currency inflation, at the time of the Revolution. In fact, Harry arrived in Russia in November 1922 and it was then that he experienced the worthlessness of the rouble, which was revalued in 1923.

We apologise to our readers, and to Harry, for the inference in this article.
Editorial Committee

Russian Revolution: III State Capitalism (1979)

From the November 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the other articles in the series, click on the following links: ONE, TWO, FOUR.

Although modern Leninists expound the myth of ‘Russian Socialism' as if there was a transformation from capitalism to socialism in the post-October days, it is doubtful whether Lenin seriously had any such illusion. He recognised, and stated on many occasions, that only state capitalism could be established in Russia. Within months of receiving information about the October revolution, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, despite acknowledging the Bolsheviks’ anti-war policy, foresaw the inevitable state capitalist outcome of the coup. The Trotskyists, it should be added, maintain the most absurd position of all: they accept the Leftist myth that Russia became socialist in 1917 and then claim that it reverted to capitalism when Stalin fell out with Trotsky!

The establishment of state capitalism presented a problem for the Bolsheviks. How could a revolution designed to overthrow capitalism be considered successful when it merely initiated a new form of capitalism? The myth of the transition period between state capitalism (referred to as socialism) and socialism (referred to as communism) was created by Lenin in order to disguise the reality. Broken promises, persecution, murder and tyranny were justified because Russia was still in the first, socialist, stage of revolution. Much has been written about the theory of the transition period which need not be repeated here, except to say that the idea that there must be a transition between consciousness and unconsciousness, between oppression and freedom, between property society and common ownership, is both illogical and historical nonsense. Bolsheviks like Bukharin and Preobrazhensky appear to have swallowed the theory:
Communist society will know nothing of money. Every worker will produce goods for the general welfare. He will not receive any certificate to the effect that he has delivered a product to society; in other words, he will receive no money. Likewise, he will pay no money to society when he receives from the common store what he requires . . .
Socialism, however, is communism in the process of construction . . . and in the proportion that the work of construction is successfully carried on the need for money will disappear.
Like the English Fabians, they thought that the system would wither away. Before the Bolshevik seizure of power in September 1917, Lenin predicted the nature of the state capitalist economy: “All citizens become employees and workers of one all national State syndicate.” (State and Revolution)

On 14 November 1917 Lenin presented a draft decree on workers’ control to the Congress of Soviets. This decree, far from meeting the aspirations of the factory committees which wanted direct control of each productive unit by the workers employed in that unit, established a centralised hierarchy of state control. Significantly, the leading Bolshevik trade unionist, Lozovsky, only agreed to vote for the decree on the condition that “. . . the workers in each enterprise should not get the impression that the enterprise belongs to them.” Shortly after the decree was passed a Supreme Council of National Economy (Vesenkha) was set up “. . . to organise the economic activity of the nation and the financial resources of the government.”

For the first five months of the Bolshevik regime, despite the erection of the machinery of State control, the economy was anything but regulated. Anarchy prevailed, born of the frustration and poverty of the masses: before they had been denied the fulfilment of their needs, now they were going to take according to their needs. Money became worthless, production all but ceased, peasant producers resorted to barter. Harry Young, an SPGB member who was in Russia at the time, describes how he had to pay millions of roubles in exchange for the most basic commodities. Economic anarchy resulted in chaos and the short taste of freedom was a prelude to rigid state coercion. In March 1918 the government signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, bringing Russia out of the war. The Congress of Soviets which approved the treaty resolved to put an end to the anarchy in the economy. Larin and Milyutin, two dedicated state capitalists, replaced Bukharin, Obolensky and Lomov (with their idealistic thoughts of the future communist society) as leaders of Vesenkha. On 28 June 1918 Sovnarkom (the Council of People’s Commissars) issued a decree nationalising every important category of industry.

Nationalisation is not socialism. The soviet state was increasingly becoming the monopoly of the party leadership. As the control of the economy by the state continued, the pious ideals of fairness and equality dwindled. The party bureaucracy prospered at the expense of the exploitation of the working class. State capitalism is the accumulation of capital by the state officials. Where there is capital there must be wage labour and where there is wage labour there must be capitalism.

In the post Brest-Litovsk period, from 1918 to 1921, often referred to by historians as ‘War Communism’, two main industrial probems prevailed: excessive bureaucratisation and the erosion of the workers’ democracy which had developed in the post-revolutionary days.

A highly centralised economy required a bureaucracy which was removed from the centres of production and was primarily concerned with reaching planning norms. A division between state control and local needs developed. The former predominated.

Immediately after the revolution the workers did have a degree of control over their working lives. Committees were set up at the point of production to allow workers to have a say in the way things were run. Lenin, seeing the need for rapid industrialisation if Russia was to move on from its semi-feudal form of economic organisation, had no time for such democratic niceties as collegial management. In Current Tasks of the Soviet Power he argued that 
Unqualified submission to a single will is unconditionally necessary for the success of the process of labour organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry.
Some Bolsheviks, such as Tomsky, vigorously opposed the transition to one-man management, but their cries of protest were wasted. State capitalism meant the total subordination of the worker to the State. It is estimated that by 1920 one-man management existed in 88 per cent of nationalised enterprises. By then the trade unions had become sterile appendages of the state.

Leninists blame the failure of Bolshevism to make capitalism run in the interest of the working class on to external circumstances, such as the civil war. Certainly, the war did account for falling production levels and the absolute reduction in the size of the working class. But to portray the Bolsheviks as genuine socialists, overcome by unforeseeable events, is a gross distortion. Read what Lenin said before October 1917. It is clear that he advocated state capitalism, not world socialism.
Steve Coleman
(To be continued.)

Russians and their "Rights" (1977)

From the June 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the Helsinki Conference (1975), the question of “civil rights” in Russia has become a football to be knocked about in the arena of international politics. Jimmy Carter pontificates on human rights, eternal verities and God-given etceteras. Brezhnev’s reply is that he should go count peanuts as the Helsinki Final Act emphatically says domestic matters are private. Which is true.

It is the only treaty dealing with human “rights” which actually begins with a “get-out” clause, before it gets to poetic phrases. Its very first principle says: “The participating States will respect each other’s sovereign equality and individuality as well as all the rights inherent in and encompassed by its sovereignty . . . They will also respect each other’s right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems as well as its right to determine its laws and regulations”.

Other Covenants do at least give you the fine phrases and sweet nothings first; for example, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 1-3) guarantees that “under no circumstances may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”.

But along with these sweet nothings there are the “get-out” clauses. Article 12 says “the above- mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others”.

For many years Soviet dissidents have, in the face of very real difficulties, been actively organizing, cooperating together, publishing news and views, communicating with the West and developing their analyses of the Soviet political and economic system. They have to contend with social and financial problems. Most lose their jobs as soon as they become actively dissident: many scrape by in casual labouring jobs or rely on their wives’ pay. In any capitalist country, the monopoly employer has a powerful weapon in the blacklist. Russia is no exception. Hardly surprising that so few in each generation have the courage to be actively critical of the Partocracy.

Governments do not operate on any principle save expediency. The Helsinki agreement came about because the Russian, American and European bosses found a common cause for concern in their heavy expenditures on defence systems, their self-interest in markets, and their growing need for international understanding on pollution, energy, space etc.

To achieve agreement on the issues involved meant horse trading. Western governments wanted more information to go into and come out of Russia, more journalists to work there. As a quid pro quo, the Russians are now sitting in on a lot of scientific seminars, including those dealing with genetic engineering — a sensitive subject, since it has terrifying “defence” possibilities. The West proposed a liberalization of Russia’s attitude to travel, emigration etc., and presumably the Russians agreed because the Helsinki Final Act so strongly emphasized the “sovereignty” of States and the principle of “non-intervention in internal affairs”.

The Helsinki document gave the Russian workers no “rights” they did not already have. Their constitution “guarantees” freedom of assembly and political opinion, also the freedom of the Press. But constitutions, like covenants, treaties and “final acts”, are merely scraps of paper. What is required is that working people should struggle, not for more paper rights, but for ownership and democratic control.
“It implies that the people are to have complete control of all social institutions, the ordering of all social activities, the domination of the whole social life. Such a condition of affairs presupposes at the very outset the ownership by the people of all the means of life . . . There can be no other foundation for democracy than this common ownership of all the means of life, for where these fall into private possession social distinctions at once spring up, the owners become dominators, and it becomes impossible for the people to control the social activities — because . . . they have not control of the means and instruments through which most important of those activities — those directed to the production of social wealth — are applied”, (Socialist Standard, Oct. 1913.)
The history of Russia since 1917 has emphatically proved our point. Abolition of Tsarism, the nationalization of land, factories, mines, railways, control by a small group of despots — all this has left the people, the working, wealth-producing people, as they were before. In Dostoyevsky’s words, “the insulted and injured”.

Government in Russia is a closed shop. The ruling party recruits almost exclusively among top management, among the nomenclatura, the apparatchiks. A party card is an essential qualification for many jobs. In terms of ideology it means nothing. In social terms, it means the possessor is a lackey, a hireling of the state. In economic terms, it provides him with money prizes, country estates, and privileges denied to mere workers. Only a tiny fraction of Russians are admitted to this exclusive club. The rest of the population keep their noses bravely to the grindstone. Only a few criticize and attack aspects of the system.

The dissidents today are not united. There are the religious, racial and ethnic groups — Christians, Jews, Ukrainians, Georgians, Crimean Tartars, often excluding members of other groups. There are writers and artists who want to do their own thing without bureaucratic hindrance or control. Among those who want a more liberal political system there is a tendency to analyze and criticize the social and economic systems as well as the political superstructure.

Sakharov has described Russia as “a society based on state capitalism” (My Country and the World). A writer in Seyatel declared in 1971 that “our country is the purest and most developed example of state capitalism”. In an article about the similarity between the western and soviet economic systems, Agursky wrote that this resemblance was due to the fact that “the economic and social system of the ‘socialist’ bloc is not in any sense socialist, but is merely a variation of State monopoly-capitalism” (Cahiers du Samizdat, June-July 1974). However an opposing view is put by Roy Medvedev, an ex-member of the CPSU, who still believes that Russia enjoys that mythical state of bliss, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”.

The Socialist does not argue for “rights”. The concept of “rights” in a property-based society is a fraud and a sham!
“What becomes of the ‘right’ to live if the means by which alone it is possible to live are in the hands of others?” (Socialist Standard, February 1911).
Some at least of the Russian dissidents are aware that Socialism has not yet happened and that the Russian political dictatorship is a reflection of the economic tyranny which is capitalism. We hope that they will advance beyond demands for political “rights” to the revolutionary position of outright opposition to exploitation, to the wages system, and to the class division which is characteristic of capitalism in all its forms. In doing this they will be expressing their awareness of their common interest with the working, wealth-producing people of all lands in ending this enslaving system.

That struggle is the only one which offers a worthwhile goal — the end of poverty, conflict, war. Those who dream of the “Rights of Man” are the Utopians of whom Plekhanov wrote: “The Utopian is one who, starting from an abstract principle, seeks for a perfect social organisation” (Anarchism and Socialism). The fine words of the Helsinki Final Act — “human rights and fundamental freedoms” — are mere sham-words, good for those who still believe in the crock of gold at the other end of the rainbow. The real fight is the opposition of the exploited class to the system which enslaves it.
Charmian Skelton

History's Loss? (1977)

From the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is easy for those people who cherish the idea that great men are the makers of history to accept that what is lacking in the present crisis is the quality of great leadership. Such people will no doubt stamp their feet and gnash their teeth in rage and frustration to discover that a whole period of history missed its chance simply because greatness was brushed aside. The late Winston Churchill’s fan-club will be furious, after all those years of revering him as “the greatest living Englishman”, that he is posthumously to be eclipsed by a man he detained in prison during World War II under Order 18B. You will have guessed that we are referring to none other than Sir Oswald Mosley.

The New Statesman for 27th May 1977 carried a large advertisement for Mosley’s new book My Life. A whole host of household names are listed paying tribute to their fellow mediocrity. Here are some examples.
By general assent he could have become the leader of either the Conservative or the Labour Party . . . political genius.  
Michael Foot.
With or without his black shirt, Mr. Foot? It really says a lot for the alleged differences between the Labour and Conservative Parties that the man who founded the British Union of Fascists could have been leader of either. Without going into pure conjecture, it is obvious that Mosley himself would have changed as all leaders do to ride the tempest and survive in the turmoil of capitalism. The system would still have produced war. It is no consolation to offer the millions slaughtered that they are dying under the leadership of a “political genius”. That is what was said about Churchill, what the Russians said about Stalin and the Germans about Hitler. In any event capitalism had its war; the Conservatives and Labourites managed to muddle through without Mosley, and the millions still died for nothing.
Easy to show that Mosley must have become Prime Minister.
How he “must have” but did not, we can leave to Lord Hailsham’s knowledge of English. Whom did he plump for — Churchill or Mosley? While the majority of the working class remain politically ignorant, one demagogue is as bad as another. What is needed is an attitude of self-reliance based on Socialist understanding. We shall then have no use for Prime Ministers because society will be changed and the political power of one class over another will have ceased.
A superb political thinker, the best of our age.
Well, what would you expect? Politically, Mosley has been nothing more than a reformist and a nationalist. His “thinking” has never penetrated beyond the system of wage-slavery known as capitalism. Neither has that of A. J. P. Taylor or any of the others who now pay tribute to the Jew-baiter whose "superb” thinking crystallized in the slogans "Britain First” and "Britain for the British”.
In eloquence, will power, courage and organizing ability he had in his entire person more to offer than recent entire Cabinets.
Which is not really saying very much. But it might explain the anti-strike policy pursued by the Daily Mirror particularly while King was in control.
Mosley was spurned by . . . every party leader, simply and solely because he was right.
Strange how this “political genius” has only lately been discovered by people who no doubt thought it best to imprison him during the war because of his Nazi sympathies, and who did not have a kind word to say about him during the days of the Black-shirt rallies, when his talent for being “right” in both senses of the word was most in evidence. Similar sickly comments to those quoted are made by Malcolm Muggeridge and Lord Boothby, then from the New York Herald Tribune comes:
Dominated the TV screen . . . a spellbinder.
Just like Fred Flintstone and David Frost, no doubt. When the workers waken from the spell of the spellbinders they are still suffering from poverty, unemployment and war. The final comment comes from Harold MacMillan:
Great talents and great strength of character.
MacMillan did become Prime Minister. Although like all leaders before and since, he was unable to control the chaotic workings of capitalism, he did earn himself the nickname “unflappable Mac” for managing to remain outwardly calm while the hell of capitalism raged about him. He also managed to delude some workers that they had “never been had so good" (or words to that effect). If those are the qualities he believes to constitute “great talents”, the standard by which he admires Mosley is not a very commendable one. The working class would do well to ignore all purveyors of such nonsense, and organize consciously for Socialism.
Harry Baldwin