Letters to the Editors from the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary”
‘Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary’. This was quoted in the July issue of the Socialist Standard as The Socialist Party of Great Britain's viewpoint on the overthrow of the capitalist system (Debate with IS Group). In the same issue the Standard also makes its readers aware of the logical thought that Socialism could not be introduced, nor indeed function properly, unless the majority understood it to be the obvious method of organising society in absolute equality and freedom (About Ourselves). It is to this end—opening the eyes of the majority—that the SPGB surely works? How then could the SPGB actively ever work forward into a situation that would give rise to violence? It obviously knows that men who are forced to comply with an imposed system, not understanding that system, are of no value to that society, and are not helped or liberated themselves.
May we then see a published affirmation that the SPGB docs not agitate for that brand of struggle that requires violence? Or otherwise an explanation of that phrase which must grate on so many: ‘violently if necessary'.
“Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary” only applies when once the vast majority of society are already in favour of the establishment of Socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always said that Socialism cannot be established unless and until it has majority support and has always emphatically rejected minority violence. We are actively working to avoid violence by seeking to persuade in an open, democratic and peaceful manner a majority of the merits of Socialism.
The socialist revolution will be essentially peaceful precisely because it will be the act of a conscious majority. Unfortunately, whether isolated incidents involving violence may occur does not depend on the majority, but on the anti-socialist minority.
Whether a minority of anti-socialists, faced with an overwhelming democratic decision in favour of the establishment of Socialism, would dare to take up arms in a futile gesture against the Socialist majority is very much open to question. But if they do, the Socialist majority must have a policy for dealing with them. We think it reasonable that steps should be taken to restrain them, even to the extent of using actual physical violence if need be. After all it will be they who began the violence and acted in an anti-democratic way. Not to act against them would be to allow a few fanatics to hold up the establishment of Socialism.
" . . . false and sterile position."
The April issue of the Socialist Standard throws an interesting light on the theory of state capitalism as supported by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and also as supported by the leadership and majority of the International Socialism group.
The concept of slate capitalism as put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain is based on essentially contradictory premises. The article, “Just a Russian Revolutionary”, shows this. You, in contrast to Menshevism, admit that the Russian capitalist class was incapable of carrying out its bourgeois democratic tasks. This would lead one to conclude, in accordance with the theory of Permanent Revolution, that the working class would have to carry out the tasks of the bourgeoisie as well as creating a socialist state. Instead you are forced to say that the intelligentsia is a class, which could take state power and institute a bourgeois revolution! The intelligentsia is not a class per se, having no specific relationship with the means of production. It generally forms part of the petit-bourgeoisie, a class which, due to its peculiar economic position, tends to vacillate between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. As an intermediate class, it cannot exist independently in capitalist society and thus cannot take state power.
To add to this confusion, the intelligentsia also became a bourgeois class when it assumed power and ruled over a “capitalist state” in Russia. They managed to do this, despite the fact that the Russian capitalists “were dependent both on Tsarism and on foreign investors”, both of which would have liked to crush Lenin's “state capitalism”!
In the article on IS's position on the Soviet Union, you correctly state that IS failed to see all the implications of the state capitalist theory. Yet for all its faults (and I accept many of your criticisms but draw different conclusions) IS’s concept comes a hundred times closer to the correct interpretation of the Russian Revolution than the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s false and sterile position.
We did not say that “the intelligentsia” were a class; we said they were “a social group peculiar to the Russia of that time”. Intelligentsia is in fact a Russian word and “the intelligentsia of diverse ranks,” composed of professional people of non-noble origin working mainly for the government, was one of the legal orders into which Tsarist society was divided, the others being nobility, clergy, merchants and peasants. This social group — or feudal order, if you like — is not at all the same as those who in modern capitalist society are loosely called “intellectuals”. Those employed for a wage or salary to do mainly intellectual work today are members of the working class as much as those employed in factories or down coal mines.
The Russian revolutionary intelligentsia were inspired by the ideals of the French bourgeois revolution. They wished to free the Russian “nation” from the yoke of Tsarism and to establish a democratic, and even a “socialist”, republic. These revolutionists knew that they could not overthrow Tsarism on their own; they knew their revolution needed a mass basis. At first they looked to the peasants. Then, as the development of capitalism in Russia produced a class of wage earners, they turned to the working class. Most of the Russian Social Democrats, and especially the Bolsheviks, shared the assumption of the peasant-oriented Narodniks that they, the revolutionary intelligentsia, were to be the general staff of the coming Russian revolution with the workers and/or the peasants as the rank and file.
Bolshevism — with its theory of the vanguard party and of the inability of the working class to evolve beyond reformist ideas — was an adapting of the Russian revolutionary tradition to the conditions created by early capitalist development in Russia.
Everywhere in the early stages of capitalism the workers incline towards blind violent revolt. It is a sign of their immaturity. It was Lenin’s genius as a Russian revolutionary, helped by some understanding of social forces he had gained from Marxism, to realise that this revolt could be harnessed to overthrow the Tsar, and to establish a democratic republic (the Bolsheviks' aim till 1917). In contrast to Menshevism and correctly, Lenin realised that Russia's bourgeois revolution would have to be carried through without the bourgeoisie.
The Bolshevik military coup of November 1917 was not a working class or socialist revolution (as IS, whose views on this Bruce Robinson commends, claim). It was essentially a stage in the revolution that cleared away feudal obstacles to the development of an economic system in Russia based on production for profit, money, the wages system and the accumulation of capital — Russia's capitalist revolution.
Once in power the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop capitalism since (given that the rest of the world was staying capitalist) this was the only way forward for Russia. Over time the top members of the Bolshevik party and their hangers-on (including those recruited from the working class and the peasantry) gained a solid privileged position on the basis of exploiting wage-labour through their State-run industries and became a definite Russian capitalist class.
It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is Crypto-Leninistic when it claims that capitalism was necessary to build up the organization of production until it could be replaced by democratic control of society. If people are inadequate to develop their economy communally and co-operatively, then by what means does competence magically descend on them after elitist-controlled growth. It takes blindness to ignore the achievements in voluntary collectivization (free sharing of talents and resources) of the Spanish anarchists in the 1930’s and to disregard the potential of the Mahknovites in the Russian Revolution. Again on what grounds does the SPGB condemn the Bolshevik usurpations when it alleges that capitalism is necessary in primitive countries (see p.45 Russia 1917-1967). I am very disappointed in the Companion Parties (WSP. SPGB. et al). This lack of faith in the ability of the people to control their own destiny was certainly not shared by Rosa Luxemburg who is otherwise favourably regarded by the WSP. 1 regret having to be so critical and I hope this disagreement is based on a misunderstanding.
Yours for Socialism.
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Roger Lee will be pleased to know that he has misunderstood us. When we say that the development of capitalism was necessary before Socialism could be established, we are thinking in world terms. By the end of the last century capitalism had performed this task of building up the material basis for Socialism. From then on it has been a reactionary system everywhere. We reject the view that the coming of capitalism to the backward countries now (or to backward Russia after 1917) is necessary before Socialism can be established.
When we wrote on page 45 of our pamphlet Russia 1917-1967: “That Russia had to follow the capitalist road and employ capitalist methods was inevitable”, we meant this to be understood in the context of the conditions then existing, i.e., that Russia was economically backward and that a majority of the workers both there and in other countries of the world did not want or understand Socialism. In fact we specially spelt this out on the previous page of the same pamphlet:
. . . in the conditions that existed in Russia and the absence of a strong world socialist movement no other development was possible. Russia had to go through the stage of capitalism (emphasis added).
The land area of Russia and its people could have formed part of a world socialist community after 1917 had there been a majority of Socialists in the industrialised parts of the world. The brutal Bolshevik industrialisation of Russia was not historically necessary, whatever “crypto-Leninists" might say (if that is what they do say).
We are aware that throughout the history of capitalism there have been examples of workers (and peasants) organising themselves democratically to produce wealth. These however were not examples of Socialism but they do confirm that ordinary people can run society's affairs without a boss class — an argument we have always put forward.