An Anarchist FAQ -- Appendix -- How did Bolshevik ideology contribute to the failure of the Revolution?

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LINKPDF version of Appendix 4.4.

How did Bolshevik ideology contribute to the failure of the Revolution?

It is a truism of Leninism that Stalinism has nothing to do with the ideas of Bolshevism. Moreover, most are at pains to stress that these ideas have no relation to the actual practice of the Bolshevik Party after the October Revolution. To re-quote one Leninist:

 

"it was overwhelmingly the force of circumstance which obliged the Bolsheviks to retreat so far from their own goals. They travelled this route in opposition to their own theory, not because of it -- no matter what rhetorical justifications were given at the time." [John Rees, "In Defence of October," pp. 3-82, International Socialism, no. 52, p. 70]

His fellow party member Duncan Hallas argued that it was "these desperate conditions" (namely terrible economic situation combined with civil war) which resulted in "the Bolshevik Party [coming] to substitute its own rule for that of a decimated, exhausted working class" anarchists disagree. [Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Party, p. 43]

We have discussed in the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?" why the various "objective factors" explanations favoured by Leninists to explain the defeat of the Russian Revolution are unconvincing. Ultimately, they rest on the spurious argument that if only what most revolutionaries (including, ironically, Leninists!) consider as inevitable side effects of a revolution did not occur, then Bolshevism would have been fine. It is hard to take seriously the argument that if only the ruling class disappeared without a fight, if the imperialists had not intervened and if the economy was not disrupted then Bolshevism would have resulted in socialism. This is particularly the case as Leninists argue that only their version of socialism recognises that the ruling class will not disappear after a revolution, that we will face counter-revolution and so we need a state to defend the revolution! As we argued in section H.2.1, this is not the case. Anarchists have long recognised that a revolution will require defending and that it will provoke a serious disruption in the economic life of a country.

Given the somewhat unrealistic tone of these kinds of assertions, it is necessary to look at the ideological underpinnings of Bolshevism and how they played their part in the defeat of the Russian Revolution. This section, therefore, will discuss why such Leninist claims are not true. Simply put, Bolshevik ideology did play a role in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. This is obvious once we look at most aspects of Bolshevik ideology as well as the means advocated by the Bolsheviks to achieve their goals. Rather than being in opposition to the declared aims of the Bolsheviks, the policies implemented by them during the revolution and civil war had clear relations with their pre-revolution ideas and visions. To quote Maurice Brinton's conclusions after looking at this period:

 

"there is a clear-cut and incontrovertible link between what happened under Lenin and Trotsky and the later practices of Stalinism. We know that many on the revolutionary left will find this statement hard to swallow. We are convinced however that any honest reading of the facts cannot but lead to this conclusion. The more one unearths about this period the more difficult it becomes to define - or even to see - the 'gulf' allegedly separating what happened in Lenin's time from what happened later. Real knowledge of the facts also makes it impossible to accept . . . that the whole course of events was 'historically inevitable' and 'objectively determined'. Bolshevik ideology and practice were themselves important and sometimes decisive factors in the equation, at every critical stage of this critical period. Now that more facts are available self-mystification on these issues should no longer be possible. Should any who have read these pages remain 'confused' it will be because they want to remain in that state -- or because (as the future beneficiaries of a society similar to the Russian one) it is their interest to remain so." [The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. 84]

This is unsurprising. The Leninist idea that politics of the Bolsheviks had no influence on the outcome of the revolution, that their policies during the revolution were a product purely of objective forces, is unconvincing. The facts of the matter is that people are faced with choices, choices that arise from the objective conditions that they face. What decisions they make will be influenced by the ideas they hold -- they will not occur automatically, as if people were on auto-pilot -- and their ideas are shaped by the social relationships they experience. Thus, someone who favours centralisation and sees nationalisation as the defining characteristic of socialism will make different decisions than someone who favours decentralising power and sees self-management as the key issue. The former will also create different forms of social organisation based on their perceptions of what "socialism" is and what is "efficient." Similarly, the different forms of social organisation favoured will also impact on how a revolution develops and the political decisions they make. For example, if you have a vision which favours centralised, hierarchical organisation then those placed into a position of power over others within such structures will act in certain ways, have a certain world view, which would be alien to someone subject to egalitarian social relations.

In summary, the ideas in people's heads matter, including during a revolution. Someone in favour of centralisation, centralised power and who equates party rule with class rule (like Lenin and Trotsky), will act in ways (and create structures) totally different from someone who believes in decentralisation and federalism. The organisation they create will create specific forms of social relationships which, in turn, will shape the ideas of those subject to them. This means that a centralised, hierarchical system will create authoritarian social relationships and these will shape those within them and the ideas they have in totally different ways than a decentralised, egalitarian system.

Similarly, if Bolshevik policies hastened the alienation of working class people and peasants from the regime which, in turn, resulted in resistance to them then some of the "objective factors" facing Lenin's regime were themselves the products of earlier political decisions. Unwelcome and unforeseen (at least to the Bolshevik leadership) consequences of specific Bolshevik practices and actions, but still flowing from Bolshevik ideology all the same. So, for example, when leading Bolsheviks had preconceived biases against decentralisation, federalism, "petty-bourgeois" peasants, "declassed" workers or "anarcho-syndicalist" tendencies, this would automatically become an ideological determinant to the policies decided upon by the ruling party. While social circumstances may have limited Bolshevik options, these social circumstances were also shaped by the results of Bolshevik ideology and practice and, moreover, possible solutions to social problems were also limited by Bolshevik ideology and practice.

So, political ideas do matter. And, ironically, the very Leninists who argue that Bolshevik politics played no role in the degeneration of the revolution accept this. Modern day Leninists, while denying Bolshevik ideology had a negative on the development of the revolution also subscribe to the contradictory idea that Bolshevik politics were essential for its "success"! Indeed, the fact that they are Leninists shows this is the case. They obviously think that Leninist ideas on centralisation, the role of the party, the "workers' state" and a host of other issues are correct and, moreover, essential for the success of a revolution. They just dislike the results when these ideas were applied in practice within the institutional context these ideas promote, subject to the pressures of the objective circumstances they argue every revolution will face!

Little wonder anarchists are not convinced by Leninist arguments that their ideology played no role in the rise of Stalinism in Russia. Simply put, if you use certain methods then these will be rooted in the specific vision you are aiming for. If you think socialism is state ownership and centralised planning then you will favour institutions and organisations which facilitate that end. If you want a highly centralised state and consider a state as simply being an "instrument of class rule" then you will see little to worry about in the concentration of power into the hands of a few party leaders. However, if you see socialism in terms of working class managing their own affairs then you will view such developments as being fundamentally in opposition to your goals and definitely not a means to that end.

So part of the reason why Marxist revolutions yield such anti-working class outcomes is to do with its ideology, methods and goals. It has little to do with the will to power of a few individuals (important a role as that can play, sometimes, in events). In a nutshell, the ideology and vision guiding Leninist parties incorporate hierarchical values and pursue hierarchical aims. Furthermore, the methods and organisations favoured to achieve (their vision of) "socialism" are fundamentally hierarchical, aiming to ensure that power is centralised at the top of pyramidal structures in the hands of the party leaders.

It would be wrong, as Leninists will do, to dismiss this as simply a case of "idealism." After all, we are talking about the ideology of a ruling party. As such, these ideas are more than just ideas: after the seizure of power, they became a part of the real social situation within Russia. Individually, party members assumed leadership posts in all spheres of social life and started to apply their ideology. Then, overtime, the results of this application ensured that the party could not be done otherwise as the framework of exercising power had been shaped by its successful application (e.g. Bolshevik centralism ensured that all its policies were marked by centralist tendencies, simply because Bolshevik power had become centralised). Soon, the only real instance of power is the Party, and very soon, only the summits of the Party. This cannot help but shape its policies and actions. As Castoriadis argues:

 

"If it is true that people's real social existence determines their consciousness, it is from that moment illusory to expect the Bolshevik party to act in any other fashion than according to its real social position. The real social situation of the Party is that of a directorial organ, and its point of view toward this society henceforth is not necessarily the same as the one this society has toward itself." [The role of Bolshevik Ideology in the birth of the Bureaucracy, p. 97]

As such, means and ends are related and cannot be separated. As Emma Goldman argued, there is "no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another. This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical. . . The great and inspiring aims of the Revolution became so clouded with and obscured by the methods used by the ruling political power that it was hard to distinguish what was temporary means and what final purpose. Psychologically and socially the means necessarily influence and alter the aims. The whole history of man is continuous proof of the maxim that to divest one's methods of ethical concepts means to Sink into the depths of utter demoralisation. In that lies the real tragedy of the Bolshevik philosophy as applied to the Russian Revolution. May this lesson not be in vain." In summary, "[n]o revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved." [My Disillusionment in Russia, pp. 260-1]

If this analysis of the anarchists against Bolshevism is true then it follows that the Bolsheviks were not just wrong on one or two issues but their political outlook right down to the core was wrong. Its vision of socialism was flawed, which produced a flawed perspective on the potentially valid means available to achieve it. Leninism, we must never forget, does not aim for the same kind of society anarchism does. As we discussed in section H.3.1, the short, medium and long term goals of both movements are radically different. While both claim to aim for "communism," what is mean by that word is radically different in details if somewhat similar in outline. The anarchist ideal of a classless, stateless and free society is based on a decentralised, participatory and bottom-up premise. The Leninist ideal is the product of a centralised, party ruled and top-down paradigm.

This explains why Leninists advocate a democratic-centralist "Revolutionary Party." It arises from the fact that their programme is the capture of state power in order to abolish the "anarchy of the market." Not the abolition of wage labour, but its universalisation under the state as one big boss. Not the destruction of alienated forces (political, social and economic) but rather their capture by the party on behalf of the masses. In other words, this section of the FAQ is based on the fact that Leninists are not (libertarian) communists; they have not broken sufficiently with Second International orthodoxy, with the assumption that socialism is basically state capitalism ("The idea of the State as Capitalist, to which the Social-Democratic fraction of the great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism." [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 31]). Just as one cannot abolish alienation with alienated means, so we cannot attack Leninist "means" also without distinguishing our libertarian "ends" from theirs.

This means that both Leninist means and ends are flawed. Both will fail to produce a socialist society. As Kropotkin said at the time, the Bolsheviks "have shown how the Revolution is not to be made." [quoted by Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, p. 75] If applied today, Leninist ideas will undoubtedly fail from an anarchist point of view while, as under Lenin, "succeeding" from the limited perspective of Bolshevism. Yes, the party may be in power and, yes, capitalist property may be abolished by nationalisation but, no, a socialist society would be no nearer. Rather we would have a new hierarchical and class system rather than the classless and free society which non-anarchist socialists claim to be aiming for.

Let us be perfectly clear. Anarchists are not saying that Stalinism will be the inevitable result of any Bolshevik revolution. What we are saying is that some form of class society will result from any such a revolution. The exact form this class system will take will vary depending on the objective circumstances it faces, but no matter the specific form of such a post-revolutionary society it will not be a socialist one. This is because of the ideology of the party in power will shape the revolution in specific ways which, by necessity, form new forms of hierarchical and class exploitation and oppression. The preferred means of Bolshevism (vanguardism, statism, centralisation, nationalisation, and so on) will determine the ends, the ends being not communist anarchism but some kind of bureaucratic state capitalist society labelled "socialism" by those in charge. Stalinism, in this perspective, was the result of an interaction of certain ideological goals and positions as well as organisational principles and preferences with structural and circumstantial pressures resulting from the specific conditions prevalent at the time. For example, a Leninist revolution in an advanced western country would not require the barbaric means used by Stalinism to industrialise Russia.

This section of the FAQ will, therefore, indicate the key areas of Bolshevik ideology which, when applied, will undermine any revolution as they did the Russian. As such, it is all fine and well for Trotskyist Max Shachtman (like so many others) to argue that the Bolsheviks had "convert[ed] the expediencies and necessities of the civil war period into virtues and principles which had never been part of their original program." Looking at this "original program" we can see elements of what was latter to be applied. Rather than express a divergence it could be argued that it was this that undermined the more democratic aspects of their original program. In other words, perhaps the use of state power and economic nationalisation came into conflict with, and finally destroyed, the original proclaimed socialist principles? And, perhaps, the "socialist" vision of Bolshevism was so deeply flawed that even attempting to apply it destroyed the aspirations for liberty, equality and solidarity that inspired it? For, after all, as we indicated in section H.3.1, the anarchist and mainstream Marxist visions of socialism and how to get there are different. Can we be surprised if Marxist means cannot achieve anarchist (i.e. authentic socialist) ends? To his credit, Shachtman acknowledges that post-civil war salvation "required full democratic rights" for all workers, and that this was "precisely what the Bolsheviks . . . were determined not to permit." Sadly he failed to wonder why the democratic principles of the "original program" were only "honoured in the breach" and why "Lenin and Trotsky did not observe them." The possibility that Bakunin was right and that statism and socialism cannot go together was not raised. ["Introduction" to Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism, p. xv]

Equally, there is a tendency of pro-Leninists to concentrate on the period between the two revolutions of 1917 when specifying what Bolshevism "really" stood for, particularly Lenin's book State and Revolution. To use an analogy, when Leninists do this they are like politicians who, when faced with people questioning the results of their policies, ask them to look at their election manifesto rather than what they have done when in power. As we discuss in section 4 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" Lenin's book was never applied in practice. From the very first day, the Bolsheviks ignored it. After 6 months none of its keys ideas had been applied. Indeed, in all cases the exact opposite had been imposed. As such, to blame (say) the civil war for the reality of "Bolshevik in power" (as Leninists do) seems without substance. Simply put, State and Revolution is no guide to what Bolshevism "really" stood for. Neither is their position before seizing power if the realities of their chosen methods (i.e. seizing state power) quickly changed their perspective, practice and ideology (i.e. shaped the desired ends). Assuming of course that most of their post-October policies were radically different from their pre-October ones, which (as we indicate here) they were not.

With that said, what do anarchists consider the key aspects of Bolshevik ideology which helped to ensure the defeat of the Russian Revolution and had, long before the civil war started, had started its degeneration into tyranny? These factors are many and so we will, by necessity, concrete on the key ones. These are believe in centralisation, the confusion of party power with popular power, the Marxist theory of the state, the negative influence of Engels' infamous essay "On Authority", the equation of nationalisation and state capitalism with socialism, the lack of awareness that working class economic power was a key factor in socialism, the notion that "big" was automatically "more efficient," the identification of class consciousness with supporting the party, how the vanguard party organises itself and, lastly, the underlying assumptions that vanguardism is based on.

Each one of these factors had a negative impact on the development of the revolution, combined they were devastating. Nor can it be a case of keeping Bolshevism while getting rid of some of these positions. Most go to the heart of Bolshevism and could only be eliminated by eliminating what makes Leninism Leninist. Thus some Leninists now pay lip service to workers' control of production and recognise that the Bolsheviks saw the form of property (i.e., whether private or state owned) as being far more important that workers' management of production. Yet revising Bolshevism to take into account this flaw means little unless the others are also revised. Simply put, workers' management of production would have little impact in a highly centralised state ruled over by a equally centralised vanguard party. Self-management in production or society could not co-exist with a state and party power nor with "centralised" economic decision making based on nationalised property. In a nutshell, the only way Bolshevism could result in a genuine socialist society is if it stopped being Bolshevik!

 

1 How did the Marxist historical materialism affect Bolshevism?

As is well known, Marx argued that history progressed through distinct stages. After his death, this "materialist conception of history" became known as "historical materialism." The basic idea of this is that the "totality of [the] relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness . . . At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution." [A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, pp. 20-1]

Thus slavery was replaced by feudalism, feudalism with capitalism. For Marx, the "bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production" and "the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism." [Op. Cit., p. 21] In other words, after capitalism there would be socialism:

 

"The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished alongside and under it. The centralisation of the means of production and the socialisation of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. The integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated." [Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 929]

Socialism replaces capitalism once the "proletariat seized political power and turns the means of production into state property." By so doing, "it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state." [Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 713]

Most Marxists subscribe to this schema of historical progress. For example, Tony Cliff noted that, "[f]or Lenin, whose Marxism was never mechanical or fatalistic, the definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition period meant that there could be two outcomes of this phase: going forward to socialism, or backsliding to capitalism. The policy of the party would tip the balance." [Revolution Besieged, p. 364]

Marxists, like Marx, argue that socialism was the society which would come after capitalism. Thus the Bolsheviks had the mindset that whatever they did there was only two possibilities: (their version of) socialism or the restoration of capitalism. However, this is based on a false premise. Is it valid to assume that there is only one possible post-capitalist future, one that, by definition, is classless? If so, then any action or structure could be utilised to fight reaction as after victory there can be only one outcome. However, if there is more that one post-capitalist future then the question of means becomes decisive. If we assume just two possible post-capitalist futures, one based on self-management and without classes and another with economic, social and political power centralised in a few hands, then the means used in a revolution become decisive in determining which possibility will become reality.

If we accept the Marxist theory and assume only one possible post-capitalist system, then all that is required of revolutionary anti-capitalist movements is that they only need to overthrow capitalism and they will wind up where they wish to arrive as there is no other possible outcome. But if the answer no, then in order to wind up where we wish to arrive, we have to not only overthrow capitalism, we have use means that will push us toward the desired future society. As such, means become the key and they cannot be ignored or downplayed in favour of the ends -- particularly as these ends will never be reached if the appropriate means are not used.

This is no abstract metaphysical or ideological/theoretical point. The impact of this issue can be seen from the practice of Bolshevism in power. For Lenin and Trotsky, any and all means could and were used in pursuit of their ends. They simply could not see how the means used shaped the ends reached. Ultimately, there was only two possibilities -- socialism (by definition classless) or a return to capitalism.

Once we see that because of their flawed perspective on what comes after capitalism we understand why, for the Bolsheviks, the means used and institutions created were meaningless. We can see one of the roots for Bolshevik indifference to working class self-management. As Samuel Farber notes that "there is no evidence indicating that Lenin or any of the mainstream Bolshevik leaders lamented the loss of workers' control or of democracy in the soviets, or at least referred to these losses as a retreat, as Lenin declared with the replacement of War Communism by NEP in 1921." [Before Stalinism, p. 44] There was no need, for such means had no impact on achieving the ends Bolshevik power had set itself. As we discuss in section 6, such questions of meaningful working class participation in the workplace or the soviets were considered by the likes of Trotsky as fundamentally irrelevant to whether Bolshevik Russia was socialist or whether the working class was the ruling class or not, incredible as it may seem.

So if we accept Marx's basic schema, then we simply have to conclude that what means we use are, ultimately, irrelevant as there is only one outcome. As long as property is nationalised and a non-capitalist party holds state power, then the basic socialist nature of the regime automatically flows. This was, of course, Trotsky's argument with regard to Stalinist Russia and why he defended it against those who recognised that it was a new form of class society. Yet it is precisely the rise of Stalinism out of the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks which exposes the limitations in the Marxist schema of historical development.

Simply put, there is no guarantee that getting rid of capitalism will result in a decent society. As anarchists like Bakunin argued against Marx, it is possible to get rid of capitalism while not creating socialism, if we understand by that term a free, classless society of equals. Rather, a Marxist revolution would "concentrate all the powers of government in strong hands, because the very fact that the people are ignorant necessitates strong, solicitous care by the government. [It] will create a single State bank, concentrating in its hands all the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and even scientific production; and they will divide the mass of people into two armies -- industrial and agricultural armies under the direct command of the State engineers who will constitute the new privileged scientific-political class." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 289] As Bolshevism proved, there was always an alternative to socialism or a reversion to capitalism, in this case state capitalism.

So libertarians have long been aware that actually existing capitalism could be replaced by another form of class society. As the experience of Bolshevik tyranny proves beyond doubt, this perspective is the correct one. And that perspective ensured that during the Russian Revolution the Makhnovists had to encourage free soviets and workers' self-management, freedom of speech and organisation in order for the revolution to remain socialist (see the appendix on "Why does the Makhnovist movement show there is an alternative to Bolshevism?"). In contrast, the Bolsheviks implemented party dictatorship, nationalisation and one-man management while proclaiming this had something to do with socialism. Little wonder Trotsky had such difficulties understanding the obvious truth that Stalinism has nothing to do with socialism.

 

2 Why did the Marxist theory of the state undermine working class power?

As discussed in section H.3.7, anarchists and Marxists have fundamentally different definitions of what constitutes a state. These different definitions resulted, in practice, to the Bolsheviks undermining real working class power during the Russian Revolution in favour of an abstract "power" which served as little more than a fig-leaf for Bolshevik power.

For anarchists, the state is marked by centralised power in the hands of a few. The state, we argue, is designed to ensure minority rule and, consequently, cannot be used by the majority to manage their own affairs. Every bourgeois revolution, moreover, has been marked by a conflict between centralised power and popular power and, unsurprisingly, the bourgeois favoured the former over the latter. As such, we would expect centralised power (i.e. a state) to be the means by which a minority class seized power over the masses and never the means by which the majority managed society themselves. It was for this reason that anarchists refuse to confuse a federation of self-managed organisations with a state:

 

"The reader knows by now that the anarchists refused to use the term 'State' even for a transitional situation. The gap between authoritarians and libertarians has not always been very wide on this score. In the First International the collectivists, whose spokesman was Bakunin, allowed the terms 'regenerate State,' 'new and revolutionary State,' or even 'socialist State' to be accepted as synonyms for 'social collective.' The anarchists soon saw, however, that it was rather dangerous for them to use the same word as the authoritarians while giving it a quite different meaning. They felt that a new concept called for a new word and that the use of the old term could be dangerously ambiguous; so they ceased to give the name 'State' to the social collective of the future." [Daniel Guerin, Anarchism, pp. 60-1]

This is no mere semantics. The essence of statism is the removal of powers that should belong to the community as whole (though they may for reasons of efficiency delegate their actual implementation to elected, mandated and recallable committees) into the hands of a tiny minority who claim to act on our behalf and in our interests but who are not under our direct control. In other words it continues the division into rulers and ruled. Any confusion between two such radically different forms of organisation can only have a seriously negative effect on the development of any revolution. At its most basic, it allows those in power to develop structures and practices which disempower the many while, at the same time, taking about extending working class "power."

The roots of this confusion can be found at the root of Marxism. As discussed in section H.3.7, Marx and Engels had left a somewhat contradictory inheritance on the nature and role of the state. Unlike anarchists, who clearly argued that only confusion would arise by calling the organs of popular self-management required by a revolution a "state," the founders of Marxism confused two radically different ideas. On the one hand, there is the idea of a radical and participatory democracy (as per the model of the Paris Commune). On the other, there is a centralised body with a government in charge (as per the model of the democratic state). By using the term "state" to cover these two radically different concepts, it allowed the Bolsheviks to confuse party power with popular power and, moreover, replace the latter by the former without affecting the so-called "proletarian" nature of the state. The confusion of popular organs of self-management with a state ensured that these organs were submerged by state structures and top-down rule.

By confusing the state (delegated power, necessarily concentrated in the hands of a few) with the organs of popular self-management Marxism opened up the possibility of a "workers' state" which is simply the rule of a few party leaders over the masses. The "truth of the matter," wrote Emma Goldman, "is that the Russian people have been locked out and that the Bolshevik State -- even as the bourgeois industrial master -- uses the sword and the gun to keep the people out. In the case of the Bolsheviki this tyranny is masked by a world-stirring slogan . . . Just because I am a revolutionist I refuse to side with the master class, which in Russia is called the Communist Party." [My Disillusionment in Russia, p. xlix] In this, she simply saw in practice that which Bakunin had predicted would happen. For Bakunin, like all anarchists, "every state power, every government, by its nature and by its position stands outside the people and above them, and must invariably try to subject them to rules and objectives which are alien to them." It was for this reason "we declare ourselves the enemies of every government and state every state power . . . the people can only be happy and free when they create their own life, organising themselves from below upwards." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 136]

The "workers' state" proved no exception to that generalisation. The roots of the problem, which expressed itself from the start during the Russian revolution, was the fatal confusion of the state with organs of popular self-management. Lenin argued in "State and Revolution" that, on the one hand, "the armed proletariat itself shall become the government" while, on the other, that "[w]e cannot imagine democracy, not even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions." If, as Lenin asserts, democracy "means equality" he has reintroduced inequality into the "proletarian" state as the representatives have, by definition, more power than those who elected them. [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 363, p. 306 and p. 346] Yet, as noted in section H.1.2, representative bodies necessarily place policy-making in the hands of deputies and do not (and cannot) mean that the working class as a class can manage society. Moreover, such bodies ensure that popular power can be usurped without difficulty by a minority. After all, a minority already does hold power.

True equality implies the abolition of the state and its replacement by a federation of self-managed communes. The state, as anarchists have long stressed, signifies a power above society, a concentration of power into a few hands. Lenin, ironically, quotes Engels on the state being marked by "the establishment of a public power, which is no longer directly identical with the population organising itself as an armed power." [quoted by Lenin, Op. Cit., p. 275] As Lenin supported representative structures rather than one based on elected, mandated and recallable delegates then he has created a "public power" no longer identical with the population.

Combine this with an awareness that bureaucracy must continue to exist in the "proletarian" state then we have the ideological preconditions for dictatorship over the proletariat. "There can be no thought," asserted Lenin, "of destroying officialdom immediately everywhere, completely. That is utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will enable all officialdom to be gradually abolished is not utopia." In other words, Lenin expected "the gradual 'withering away' of all bureaucracy." [Op. Cit., p. 306 and p. 307]

Yet why expect a "new" bureaucracy to be as easy to control as the old one? Regular election to posts does not undermine the institutional links, pressures and powers a centralised "officialdom" will generate around itself, even a so-called "proletarian" one. Significantly, Lenin justified this defence of temporary state bureaucracy by the kind of straw man argument against anarchism "State and Revolution" is riddled with. "We are not utopians," asserted Lenin, "we do not indulge in 'dreams' of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination: these anarchist dreams . . . are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until human nature has changed. No, we want the socialist revolution with human nature as it is now, with human nature that cannot dispense with subordination, control and 'managers.'" [Op. Cit., p. 307] Yet anarchists do not wish to "dispense" with "all administration," rather we wish to replace government by administration, hierarchical positions ("subordination") with co-operative organisation. Equally, we see the revolution as a process in which "human nature" is changed by the struggle itself so that working class people become capable of organising itself and society without bosses, bureaucrats and politicians. If Lenin says that socialism "cannot dispense" with the hierarchical structures required by class society why should we expect the same kinds of structures and social relationships to have different ends just because "red" managers are in power?

Thus Lenin's work is deeply ambiguous. He is confusing popular self-management with a state structure. Anarchists argue that states, by their very nature, are based on concentrated, centralised, alienated power in the hands of a few. Thus Lenin's "workers' state" is just the same as any other state, namely rule by a few over the many. This is confirmed when Lenin argues that "[u]nder socialism, all will take part in the work of government in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing." In fact, once the "overwhelming majority" have "learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this business into their own hands . . . the need for government begins to disappear. The more complete democracy becomes, the nearer the moment approaches when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the 'state' of the armed workers -- which is 'no longer a state in the proper sense of the word' -- becomes, the more rapidly does the state begin to wither away." Moreover, "[u]ntil the 'higher' phase of communism arrives, the Socialists demand the strictest control, by society and by the state, of the amount of labour and of consumption." [Op. Cit., p. 361, p. 349 and p. 345]

Clearly, the "proletarian" state is not based on direct, mass, participation by the population but, in fact, on giving power to a few representatives. It is not identical with "society," i.e. the armed, self-organised people. Rather than look to the popular assemblies of the French revolution, Lenin, like the bourgeoisie, looked to representative structures -- structures designed to combat working class power and influence. (at one point Lenin states that "for a certain time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state remains under communism, without the bourgeoisie!" This was because "bourgeois right in regard to the distribution of articles of consumption inevitably presupposes the existence of the bourgeois state, for right is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance of the standards of right." [Op. Cit., p. 346]).

Can we expect the same types of organs and social relationships to produce different results simply because Lenin is at the head of the state? Of course not.

As the Marxist theory of the state confused party/vanguard power with working class power, we should not be surprised that Lenin's "State and Revolution" failed to discuss the practicalities of this essential question in anything but a passing and ambiguous manner. For example, Lenin notes that "[b]y educating the workers' party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat which is capable of assuming power and of leading the whole people to socialism, of directing and organising the new order." [Op. Cit., p. 288] It is not clear whether it is the vanguard or the proletariat as a whole which assumes power. Later, he states that "the dictatorship of the proletariat" was "the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of crushing the oppressors." [Op. Cit., p. 337] Given that this fits in with subsequent Bolshevik practice, it seems clear that it is the vanguard which assumes power rather than the whole class. The negative effects of this are discussed in section 8.

However, the assumption of power by the party highlights the key problem with the Marxist theory of the state and how it could be used to justify the destruction of popular power. It does not matter in the Marxist schema whether the class or the party is in power, it does not impact on whether the working class is the "ruling class" or not. As Lenin put it. "democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state which recognises the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e. an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against the other, by one section of the population against another." [Op. Cit., p. 332] Thus the majority need not actually "rule" (i.e. make the fundamental decisions) for a regime to be considered a "democracy" or an instrument of class rule. That power can be delegated to a party leadership (even dictatorship) without harming the "class nature" of the state. This results of such a theory can be seen from Bolshevik arguments in favour of party dictatorship during the civil war period (and beyond).

The problem with the centralised, representative structures Lenin favours for the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is that they are rooted in the inequality of power. They constitute in fact, if not initially in theory, a power above society. As Lenin put it, "the essence of bureaucracy" is "privileged persons divorced from the masses and superior to the masses." [Op. Cit., p. 360] In the words of Malatesta, a "government, that is a group of people entrusted with making laws and empowered to use the collective power to oblige each individual to obey them, is already a privileged class and cut off from the people. As any constituted body would do, it will instinctively seek to extend its powers, to be beyond public control, to impose its own policies and to give priority to its special interests. Having been put in a privileged position, the government is already at odds with the people whose strength it disposes of." [Anarchy, p. 34] As we discussed in appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", Lenin's regime provides more than enough evidence to support such an analysis.

This is the fatal flaw in the Marxist theory of the state. As Bakunin put it, "the theory of the state" is "based on this fiction of pseudo-popular representation -- which in actual fact means the government of the masses by an insignificant handful of privileged individuals, elected (or even not elected) by mobs of people rounded up for voting and never knowing what or whom they are voting for -- on this imaginary and abstract expression of the imaginary thought and will of the all the people, of which the real, living people do not have the faintest idea." Thus the state represents "government of the majority by a minority in the name of the presumed stupidity of the one and the presumed intelligence of the other." [Op. Cit., pp. 136-7]

By confusing popular participation with a state, by ignoring the real inequalities of power in any state structure, Marxism allowed Lenin and the Bolsheviks to usurp state power, implement party dictatorship and continue to talk about the working class being in power. Because of Marxism's metaphysical definition of the state (see section H.3.7), actual working class people's power over their lives is downplayed, if not ignored, in favour party power.

As parties represent classes in this schema, if the party is in power then, by definition, so is the class. This raises the possibility of Lenin asserting the "working class" held power even when his party was exercising a dictatorship over the working class and violently repressing any protests by it. As one socialist historian puts it, "while it is true that Lenin recognised the different functions and democratic raison d'etre for both the soviets and his party, in the last analysis it was the party that was more important than the soviets. In other words, the party was the final repository of working-class sovereignty. Thus, Lenin did not seem to have been reflected on or have been particularly perturbed by the decline of the soviets after 1918." [Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism, p. 212] This can be seen from how the Marxist theory of the state was changed after the Bolsheviks seized power to bring into line with its new role as the means by which the vanguard ruled society (see section H.3.8).

This confusion between two radically different concepts and their submersion into the term "state" had its negative impact from the start. Firstly, the Bolsheviks constantly equated rule by the Bolshevik party (in practice, its central committee) with the working class as a whole. Rather than rule by all the masses, the Bolsheviks substituted rule by a handful of leaders. Thus we find Lenin talking about "the power of the Bolsheviks -- that is, the power of the proletariat" as if these things were the same. Thus it was a case of "the Bolsheviks" having "to take the whole governmental power into their own hands," of "the complete assumption of power by the Bolsheviks alone," rather than the masses. Indeed, Russia had been "ruled by 130,000 landowners" and "yet they tell us that Russia will not be able to be governed by the 240,000 members of the Bolshevik Party -- governing in the interests of the poor and against the rich." [Will the Bolsheviks Maintain Power?, p. 102, p. 7 and pp. 61-2]

However, governing in the "interests" of the poor is not the same as the poor governing themselves. Thus we have the first key substitution that leads to authoritarian rule, namely the substitution of the power of the masses by the power of a few members who make up the government. Such a small body will require a centralised state system and, consequently, we have the creation of a hierarchical body around the new government which, as we discuss in section 7, will become the real master in society.

The preconditions for a new form of class society have been created and, moreover, they are rooted in the basic ideas of Marxism. Society has been split into two bodies, the masses and those who claim to rule in their name. Given this basic inequality in power we would, according to anarchist theory, expect the interests of the masses and the rulers to separate and come into conflict. While the Bolsheviks had the support of the working class (as they did in the first few months of their rule), this does not equal mass participation in running society. Quite the reverse. So while Lenin raised the vision of mass participation in the "final" stage of communism, he unfortunately blocked the means to get there.

Simply put, a self-managed society can only be created by self-managed means. To think we can have a "public power" separate from the masses which will, slowly, dissolve itself into it is the height of naivety. Unsurprisingly, once in power the Bolsheviks held onto power by all means available, including gerrymandering and disbanding soviets, suppressing peaceful opposition parties and violently repressing the very workers it claimed ruled in "soviet" Russia (see section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?"). Significantly, this conflict developed before the start of the civil war (see section 3 of the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?" for details). So when popular support was lost, the basic contradictions in the Bolshevik position and theory became clear. Rather than be a "soviet" power, the Bolshevik regime was simply rule over the workers in their name, nothing more. And equally unsurprising, the Leninists revised their theory of the state to take into account the realities of state power and the need to justify minority power over the masses (see section H.3.8).

Needless to say, even electoral support for the Bolsheviks should not and cannot be equated to working class management of society. Echoing Marx and Engels at their most reductionist (see section H.3.9), Lenin stressed that the state was "an organ or machine for the subjection of one class by another . . . when the State has become proletarian, when it has become a machine for the domination of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, then we shall fully and unreservedly for a strong government and centralism." [Op. Cit., p. 75] The notions that the state could have interests of its own, that it is not simply an instrument of class rule but rather minority class rule are nowhere to be found. The implications of this simplistic analysis had severe ramifications for the Russian Revolution and Trotskyist explanations of both Stalinism and its rise.

Which brings us to the second issue. It is clear that by considering the state simply as an instrument of class rule Lenin could downplay, even ignore, such important questions of how the working class can "rule" society, how it can be a "ruling" class. Blinded by the notion that a state could not be anything but an instrument of class rule, the Bolsheviks simply were able to justify any limitation of working class democracy and freedom and argue that it had no impact on whether the Bolshevik regime was really a "dictatorship of the proletariat" or not. This can be seen from Lenin's polemic with German Social-Democrat Karl Kautsky, where he glibly stated that "[t]he form of government, has absolutely nothing to so with it." [Collected Works, vol. 28, p. 238]

Yet the idea that there is a difference between who rules in a revolutionary situation and how they rule is a key one, and one raised by the anarchists against Marxism. After all, if the working class is politically expropriated how can you maintain that a regime is remotely "proletarian"? Ultimately, the working class can only "rule" society through its collective participation in decision making (social, economic and "political"). If working class people are not managing their own affairs, if they have delegated that power to a few party leaders then they are not a ruling class and could never be. While the bourgeoisie can, and has, ruled economically under an actual dictatorship, the same cannot be said to be the case with the working class. Every class society is marked by a clear division between order takers and order givers. To think that such a division can be implemented in a socialist revolution and for it to remain socialist is pure naivety. As the Bolshevik revolution showed, representative government is the first step in the political expropriation of the working class from control over their fate.

This can best be seen by Trotsky's confused analyses of Stalinism. He simply could not understand the nature of Stalinism with the simplistic analytical tools he inherited from mainstream Marxism and Bolshevism. Thus we find him arguing in 1933 that:

 

"The dictatorship of a class does not mean by a long shot that its entire mass always participates in the management of the state. This we have seen, first of all, in the case of the propertied classes. The nobility ruled through the monarchy before which the noble stood on his knees. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie took on comparatively developed democratic forms only under the conditions of capitalist upswing when the ruling class had nothing to fear. Before our own eyes, democracy has been supplanted in Germany by Hitler's autocracy, with all the traditional bourgeois parties smashed to smithereens. Today, the German bourgeoisie does not rule directly; politically it is placed under complete subjection to Hitler and his bands. Nevertheless, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie remains inviolate in Germany, because all the conditions of its social hegemony have been preserved and strengthened. By expropriating the bourgeoisie politically, Hitler saved it, even if temporarily, from economic expropriation. The fact that the bourgeoisie was compelled to resort to the fascist regime testifies to the fact that its hegemony was endangered but not at all that it had fallen." [Trotsky, The Class Nature Of The Soviet State]

Yet Trotsky is confusing the matter. He is comparing the actions of class society with those a socialist revolution. While a minority class need not "participate" en mass the question arises does this apply to the transition from class society to a classless one? Can the working class really can be "expropriated" politically and still remain "the ruling class"? Moreover, Trotsky fails to note that the working class was economically and politically expropriated under Stalinism as well. This is unsurprising, as both forms of expropriation had occurred when he and Lenin held the reins of state power. Yet Trotsky's confused ramblings do serve a purpose in showing how the Marxist theory of the state can be used to rationalise the replacement of popular power by party power. With such ideological baggage, can it be a surprise that the Bolshevik replacement of workers' power by party power could be a revolutionary goal? Ironically, the Marxist theory of the state as an instrument of class rule helped ensure that the Russian working class did not become the ruling class post-October. Rather, it ensured that the Bolshevik party did.

To conclude, by its redunctionist logic, the Marxist theory of the state ensured that the substitution of popular power by party power could go ahead and, moreover, be justified ideologically. The first steps towards party dictatorship can be found in such apparently "libertarian" works as Lenin's "State and Revolution" with its emphasis on "representation" and "centralisation." The net effect of this was to centralise power into fewer and fewer hands, replacing the essential constructive working class participation and self-activity required by a social revolution with top-down rule by a few party leaders. Such rule could not avoid becoming bureaucratised and coming into conflict with the real aspirations and interests of those it claimed to represent. In such circumstances, in a conflict between the "workers' state" and the actual workers the Marxist theory of the state, combined with the assumptions of vanguardism, made the shift to party dictatorship inevitable. As we discussed in section 3 of the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?", authoritarian tendencies had surfaced before the civil war began.

The strange paradox of Leninism, namely that the theoretical dictatorship of the proletariat was, in practice, a dictatorship over the proletariat comes as no surprise. In spite of Lenin announcing "all power to the soviets" he remained committed to a disciplined party wielding centralised power. This regime soon expropriated the soviets while calling the subsequent regime "Soviet." Rather that create the authoritarian tendencies of the Bolshevik state the "objective factors" facing Lenin's regime simply increased their impact. The preconditions for the minority rule which the civil war intensified to extreme levels already existed within Marxist theory. Consequently, a Leninist revolution which avoided the (inevitable) problems facing a revolution would still create some kind of class society simply because it reproduces minority rule by creating a "workers' state" as its first step. Sadly, Marxist theory confuses popular self-government with a state so ensuring the substitution of rule by a few party leaders for the popular participation required to ensure a successful revolution.

 

3 How did Engels' essay "On Authority" affect the revolution?

We have discussed Engels' infamous diatribe against anarchism already (see section H.4 and subsequent sections). Here we discuss how its caricature of anarchism helped disarm the Bolsheviks theoretically to the dangers of their own actions, so helping to undermine the socialist potential of the Russian revolution. While the Marxist theory of the state, with its ahistoric and ambiguous use of the word "state" undermined popular autonomy and power in favour of party power, Engels' essay "On Authority" helped undermine popular self-management.

Simply put, Engels essay contained the germs from which Lenin and Trotsky's support for one-man management flowed. He provided the Marxist orthodoxy required to undermine real working class power by confusing all forms of organisation with "authority" and equating the necessity of self-discipline with "subordination" to one will. Engels' infamous essay helped Lenin to destroy self-management in the workplace and replace it with appointed "one-man management" armed with "dictatorial powers."

For Lenin and Trotsky, familiar with Engels' "On Authority," it was a truism that any form of organisation was based on "authoritarianism" and, consequently, it did not really matter how that "authority" was constituted. Thus Marxism's agnostic attitude to the patterns of domination and subordination within society was used to justify one-man management and party dictatorship. Indeed, "Soviet socialist democracy and individual management and dictatorship are in no way contradictory . . . the will of a class may sometimes be carried by a dictator, who sometimes does more alone and is frequently more necessary." [Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 476]

Like Engels, Lenin defended the principle of authority. The dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat found its apology in this principle, thoroughly grounded in the practice of bureaucracy and modern factory production. Authority, hierarchy, and the need for submission and domination is inevitable given the current mode of production, they argued. And no foreseeable change in social relations could ever overcome this blunt necessity. As such, it was (fundamentally) irrelevant how a workplace is organised as, no matter what, it would be "authoritarian." Thus "one-man management" would be, basically, the same as worker's self-management via an elected factory committee.

For Engels, any form of joint activity required as its "first condition" a "dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persons interested. In either case there is very pronounced authority." Thus the "necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that." Collective life, he stressed, required "a certain authority, no matter how delegated" and "a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us." [The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 732]

Lenin was aware of these arguments, even quoting from this essay in his State and Revolution. Thus he was aware that for Engels, collective decisions meant "the will of the single individual will always have to subordinate itself, which means that questions are settled in an authoritarian way." Thus there was no difference if "they are settled by decision of a delegate placed at the head of each branch of labour or, if possible, by a majority vote." The more advanced the technology, the greater the "despotism": "The automatic machinery of a big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalist who employ workers ever have been." [Op. Cit., p. 731] Thus Engels had used the modern factory system of mass production as a direct analogy to argue against the anarchist call for workers' councils and self-management in production, for workers' autonomy and participation. Like Engels, Lenin stressed the necessity of central authority in industry.

It can be argued that it was this moment that ensured the creation of state capitalism under the Bolsheviks. This is the moment in Marxist theory when the turn from economics to technics, from proletarian control to technocracy, from workers' self-management to appointed state management was ensured. Henceforth the end of any critique of alienation in mainstream Marxism was assured. Submission to technique under hierarchical authority effectively prevents active participation in the social production of values. And there was no alternative.

As noted in section 8 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?"). and section H.3.14, during 1917 Lenin did not favour workers' self-management of production. He raised the idea of "workers' control" after the workers spontaneously raised the idea and practice themselves during the revolution. Moreover, he interpreted that slogan in his own way, placing it within a statist context and within institutions inherited from capitalism (see section H.3.12). Once in power, it was (unsurprisingly) his vision of socialism and workers' control that was implemented, not the workers' factory committees. The core of that vision he repeatedly stressed had been raised before the October revolution.

This vision can be best seen in The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, written by Lenin and published on the 25th of April 1918. This occurred before the start of the civil war and, indeed, he starts by arguing that "[t]hanks to the peace which has been achieved" the Bolsheviks had "gained an opportunity to concentrate its efforts for a while on the most important and most difficult aspect of the socialist revolution, namely the task of organisation." The Bolsheviks, who had "managed to complete the conquest of power," now faced "the principal task of convincing people" and doing "practical organisational work." Only when this was done "will it be possible to say that Russia has become not only a Soviet, but also a socialist, republic." [The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, p. 2 and p. 8]

Sadly, this "organisation" was riddled with authoritarianism and was fundamentally top-down in nature. His "socialist" vision was simply state capitalism (see section 10 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?"). However, what interests us here is that his arguments to justify the "socialist" policies he presented are similar to those put forward by Engels in "On Authority." As such, we can only reach the following conclusions. Firstly, that the "state capitalist" vision of socialism imposed upon Russia by the Bolsheviks was what they had always intended to introduce. It was their limited support for workers' control in 1917 that was atypical and not part of their tradition, not their policies once in power (as modern day Leninists assert). Secondly, that this vision had its roots in classical Marxism, specifically Engels' "On Authority" and the identification of socialism with nationalised property (see section H.3.13 for more on this).

That Engels diatribe had a negative impact on the development of the Russian revolution can easily be seen from Lenin's arguments. For example, Lenin argues that the "tightening of discipline" and "harmonious organisation" calls "for coercion -- coercion precisely in the form of dictatorship." He did not object to granting "individual executives dictatorial power (or 'unlimited' powers)" and did not think "the appointment of individual, dictators with unlimited power" was incompatible with "the fundamental principles of the Soviet government." After all, "the history of revolutionary movements" had "shown" that "the dictatorship of individuals was very often the expression, the vehicle, the channel of the dictatorship of revolutionary classes." He notes that "[u]ndoubtably, the dictatorship of individuals was compatible with bourgeois democracy." [Op. Cit., p. 28 and p. 32] It would be churlish to note that previous revolutionary movements had not been socialist in nature and did not aim to abolish classes. In such cases, the government appointing people with dictatorial powers would not have harmed the nature of the revolution, which was transferring power from one minority class to another.

Lenin mocked the "exceedingly poor arguments" of those who objected, saying that they "demand of us a higher democracy than bourgeois democracy and say: personal dictatorship is absolutely incompatible with your, Bolshevik (i.e. not bourgeois, but socialist) Soviet democracy." As the Bolsheviks were "not anarchists," he admitted the need "coercion" in the "transition from capitalism to socialism," its form being determined "by the degree of development of the given revolutionary class, and also by special circumstances." In general, he stressed, there was "absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is, socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals." [Op. Cit., pp. 32-3 and p. 33] Which is, of course, sophistry as dictatorship by a few people in some aspects of live will erode democracy in others. For example, being subject to the economic power of the capitalist during work harms the individual and reduces their ability to participate in other aspects of social life. Why should being subject to "red" bosses be any different?

In particular, Lenin argued that "individual dictatorial power" was required because "large-scale machine industry" (which is the "foundation of socialism") calls for "absolute and strict unity of will, which directs the joint labours of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people. . . But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one." He reiterated that the "unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry." The people must "unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour." And so it was a case (for the workers, at least) of "[o]bedience, and unquestioning obedience at that, during work to the one-man decisions of Soviet directors, of the dictators elected or appointed by Soviet institutions, vested with dictatorial powers." [Op. Cit., p. 33, p. 34 and p. 44]

The parallels with Engels' "On Authority" could not be clearer, as are the fallacies of Lenin's assertions (see, for example, section H.4.4). Lenin, like Engels, uses the example of modern industry to bolster his arguments. Yet the net effect of Lenin's argument was to eliminate working class economic power at the point of production. Instead of socialist social relationships, Lenin imposed capitalist ones. Indeed, no capitalist would disagree with Lenin's workplace regime -- they try to create such a regime by breaking unions and introducing technologies and techniques which allow them to control the workers. Unsurprisingly, Lenin also urged the introduction of two such techniques, namely "piece-work" and "applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system." [Op. Cit., pp. 23-4] As Trotskyist Tony Cliff reminds us, "the employers have at their disposal a number of effective methods of disrupting th[e] unity [of workers as a class]. Once of the most important of these is the fostering of competition between workers by means of piece-work systems." He notes that these were used by the Nazis and the Stalinists "for the same purpose." [State Capitalism in Russia, pp. 18-9] Obviously piece-work is different when Lenin introduces it! Similarly, when Trotsky notes that "[b]lind obedience is not a thing to be proud of in a revolutionary," it is somewhat different when Lenin calls upon workers to do so (or, for that matter, Trotsky himself when in power -- see section 6 for Trotsky's radically different perspective on blind obedience of the worker to "his" state in 1920!). [Terrorism and Communism, p. xlvii]

The economic dominance of the bourgeoisie ensures the political dispossession of the working class. Why expect the introduction of capitalist social relations in production to have different outcomes just because Lenin was the head of the government? In the words of libertarian socialist Maurice Brinton:

 

"We hold that the 'relations of production' -- the relations which individuals or groups enter into with one another in the process of producing wealth - are the essential foundations of any society. A certain pattern of relations of production is the common denominator of all class societies. This pattern is one in which the producer does not dominate the means of production but on the contrary both is 'separated from them' and from the products of his own labour. In all class societies the producer is in a position of subordination to those who manage the productive process. Workers' management of production -- implying as it does the total domination of the producer over the productive process -- is not for us a marginal matter. It is the core of our politics. It is the only means whereby authoritarian (order-giving, order-taking) relations in production can be transcended and a free, communist or anarchist, society introduced.

"We also hold that the means of production may change hands (passing for instance from private hands into those of a bureaucracy, collectively owning them) with out this revolutionising the relations of production. Under such circumstances -- and whatever the formal status of property -- the society is still a class society for production is still managed by an agency other than the producers themselves. Property relations, in other words, do not necessarily reflect the: relations of production. They may serve to mask them -- and in fact they often have." [The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. vii-viii]

The net effect of Lenin's arguments, as anarchist Peter Arshinov noted a few years later, was that the "fundamental fact" of the Bolshevik revolution was "that the workers and the peasant labourers remained within the earlier situation of 'working classes' -- producers managed by authority from above." He stressed that Bolshevik political and economic ideas may have "remov[ed] the workers from the hands of individual capitalists" but they "delivered them to the yet more rapacious hands of a single ever-present capitalist boss, the State. The relations between the workers and this new boss are the same as earlier relations between labour and capital . . . Wage labour has remained what it was before, expect that it has taken on the character of an obligation to the State. . . . It is clear that in all this we are dealing with a simple substitution of State capitalism for private capitalism." [The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 35 and p. 71] Moreover, Lenin's position failed to understand that unless workers have power at the point of production, they will soon loose it in society as a whole. Which, of course, they soon did in Bolshevik Russia, even in the limited form of electing a "revolutionary" government.

So while the causes of the failure of the Russian Revolution were many fold, the obvious influence of Engels' "On Authority" on the fate of the workers' control movement should be noted. After all, Engels' argument confuses the issues that Bakunin and other anarchists were trying to raise (namely on the nature of the organisations we create and our relationships with others). If, as Engels' argues, all organisation is "authoritarian," then does this mean that there no real difference between organisational structures? Is a dictatorship just the same as a self-managed group, as they are both organisations and so both "authoritarian"? If so, surely that means the kinds of organisation we create are irrelevant and what really matters is state ownership? Such logic can only lead to the perspective that working class self-management of production is irrelevant to socialism and, unfortunately, the experience of the Russian Revolution tends to suggest that for mainstream Marxism this is the case. The Bolsheviks imposed distinctly authoritarian social structures while arguing that they were creating socialism.

Like Engels, the Bolsheviks defended the principle of authority. The dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat in the workplace (and, indeed, elsewhere) ultimately found its apology in this principle, thoroughly grounded in the practice of bureaucracy and modern factory production. Authority, hierarchy, and the need for submission and domination is inevitable, given the current mode of production, they argued. And, as Engels had stressed, no foreseeable change in social relations could ever overcome this blunt necessity. As such, it was (fundamentally) irrelevant for the leading Bolsheviks how a workplace is organised as, no matter what, it would be "authoritarian." Thus "one-man management" would be, basically, the same as worker's self-management via an elected factory committee. As Trotsky made clear in 1920, for the Bolsheviks the "dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy over the whole Soviet mechanism of the collective will of the workers [i.e. the party, which Trotsky cheerfully admits is exercising a party dictatorship], and not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered." Thus, it "would be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of the factories." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 162]

By equating "organisation" with "authority" (i.e. hierarchy) and dismissing the importance of revolutionising the social relationships people create between themselves, Engels opened the way for the Bolsheviks' advocacy of "one-man management." His essay is at the root of mainstream Marxism's agnostic attitude to the patterns of domination and subordination within society and was used to justify one-man management. After all, if Engels was right, then it did not matter how the workplace was organised. It would, inherently, be "authoritarian" and so what mattered, therefore, was who owned property, not how the workplace was run. Perhaps, then, "On Authority" was a self-fulfilling prophecy -- by seeing any form of organisation and any form of advanced technology as needing hierarchy, discipline and obedience, as being "authoritarian," it ensured that mainstream Marxism became blinded to the key question of how society was organised. After all, if "despotism" was a fact of life within industry regardless of how the wider society was organised, then it does not matter if "one-man management" replaces workers' self-management. Little wonder then that the continued alienation of the worker was widespread long before Stalin took power and, more importantly, before the civil war started.

As such, the dubious inheritance of classical Marxism had started to push the Bolshevik revolution down an authoritarian path and create economic structures and social relationships which were in no way socialist and, moreover, laid the foundations for Stalinism. Even if the civil war had not occurred, capitalist social relationships would have been dominant within "socialist" Russia -- with the only difference being that rather than private capitalism it would have been state capitalism. As Lenin admitted, incidentally. It is doubtful that this state capitalism would have been made to serve "the whole people" as Lenin naively believed.

In another way Engels identification of organisation with authority affected the outcome of the revolution. As any form of organisation involved, for Engels, the domination of individuals and, as such, "authoritarian" then the nature of the socialist state was as irrelevant as the way workplaces were run. As both party dictatorship and soviet democracy meant that the individual was "dominated" by collective decisions, so both were "authoritarian." As such, the transformation of the soviet state into a party dictatorship did not fundamentally mean a change for the individuals subject to it. Little wonder that no leading Bolshevik called the end of soviet democracy and its replacement by party dictatorship as a "retreat" or even as something to be worried about (indeed, they all argued the opposite, namely that party dictatorship was essential and not an issue to be worried about).

Perhaps this analogy by the SWP's Tony Cliff of the relationship between the party and the working class provides an insight:

 

"In essence the dictatorship of the proletariat does not represent a combination of abstract, immutable elements like democracy and centralism, independent of time and space. The actual level of democracy, as well as centralism, depends on three basic factors: 1. the strength of the proletariat; 2. the material and cultural legacy left to it by the old regime; and 3. the strength of capitalist resistance. The level of democracy feasible must be indirect proportion to the first two factors, and in inverse proportion to the third. The captain of an ocean liner can allow football to be played on his vessel; on a tiny raft in a stormy sea the level of tolerance is far lower." [Lenin, vol. 3, p. 179]

Ignoring the obvious points (such as comparing working class freedom and democracy to a game!), we can see shades of Engels in Cliff's words. Let us not forget that Engels argued that "a ship on the high seas" at a "time of danger" required "the necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that." [Op. Cit., p. 732] Here Cliff is placing the party into the Captain's role and the workers as the crew. The Captain, in Engels argument, exercised "imperious authority." In Cliff's, the party decides the freedoms which working class people are allowed to have -- and so subjects them to its "imperious authority."

Little wonder Bolshevism failed. By this simple analogy Cliff shows the authoritarian essence of Bolshevism and who really has "all power" under that system. Like the crew and passengers dominated by the will of the captain, the working class under Leninism will be dominated by the party. It does not bode well that Cliff thinks that democracy can be "feasible" in some circumstances, but not others and it is up to those in power (i.e. the party leaders) to determine when it was. In his rush to justify Bolshevik party dictatorship in terms of "objective conditions" he clearly forgot his earlier comments that the "liberation of the working class can only be achieved through the action of the working class. Hence one can have a revolution with more or less violence, with more or less suppression of civil rights of the bourgeoisie and its hangers-on [a general catch-all category which, if Bolshevik practice is anything to go by, can include rebel workers, indeed the whole working class!], with more or less political freedom, but one cannot gave a revolution, as the history of Russia conclusively demonstratives, without workers' democracy -- even if restricted and distorted. Socialist advance must be gauged by workers' freedom, by their power to shape their own destiny . . . Without workers' democracy the immediate means leads to a very different end, to an end that is prefigured in these same means." [Op. Cit., p. 110] Obviously if Lenin and Trotsky are the captains of the ship of state, such considerations are less important. When it is Lenin wielding "imperious authority" then workers' democracy can be forgotten and the regime remain a "workers' state"!

By ignoring the key issue Bakunin and other anarchists drew attention to by attacking "authority" (and let us not forget that by that they meant hierarchical organisations in which power is concentrated at the top in a few hands -- see section H.4), Engels opened up the way of seeing democratic decision as being less than important. This is not to suggest that Engels favoured dictatorship. Rather we are suggesting that by confusing two radically different forms of organisation as self-management and hierarchy he blunted latter Marxists to the importance of participation and collective decision making from below. After all, if all organisation is "authoritarian" then it matters little, in the end, how it is structured. Dictatorship, representative democracy and self-management were all equally "authoritarian" and so the issues raised by anarchism can safely be ignored (namely that electing bosses does not equate to freedom). Thus the Bolshevik willingness to equate their dictatorship with rule by the working class is not such a surprise after all.

To conclude, rather than the anti-authoritarians not knowing "what they are talking about," "creating nothing but confusion," "betraying the movement of the proletariat" and "serv[ing] the reaction," it was Engels' essay that aided the Bolshevik counter-revolution and helped, in its own small way, to lay the foundations for Leninist tyranny and state capitalism. [Engels, Op. Cit., p. 733] Ultimately, Engels "On Authority" helped give Lenin the ideological premises by which to undermine workers' economic power during the revolution and recreate capitalist social relations and call it "socialism." His ill thought out diatribe had ramifications even he would never have guessed (but were obvious at the time to libertarians). His use of the modern factory system to argue against the anarchist call for workers' councils, federalism and workers' autonomy, for participation, for self-management, became the basis for re-imposing capitalist relations of production in revolutionary Russia.

 

4 How did the Bolshevik vision of "democracy" affect the revolution?

As discussed in section H.3.2, Marx and Engels had left their followers which a contradictory legacy as regards "socialism from below." On the one hand, their praise for the Paris Commune and its libertarian ideas pointed to a participatory democracy run from below. On the other, Marx's comments during the German Revolution in 1850 that the workers must "strive for . . . the most determined centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority" because "the path of revolutionary activity" can "proceed only from the centre" suggests a top-down approach. He stressed that centralisation of power was essential to overcome local autonomy, which would allow "every village, every town and every province" to put "a new obstacle in the path" the revolution due to "local and provincial obstinacy." [Marx-Engels Reader, p. 509]

Building upon this contradictory legacy, Lenin unambiguously stressed the "from above" aspect of it (see section H.3.3 for details). The only real exception to this perspective occurred in 1917, when Lenin was trying to win mass support for his party. However, even this support for democracy from below was always tempered by reminding the reader that the Bolsheviks stood for centralisation and strong government once they were in power (see section 7).

Once in power, the promises of 1917 were quickly forgotten. Unsurprisingly, modern day Leninists argue that this was due to the difficult circumstances facing the Bolsheviks at the time. They argue that the words of 1917 represent the true democratic vision of Bolshevism. Anarchists are not impressed. After all, for an idea to be useful it must be practical -- even in "exceptional circumstances." If the Bolshevik vision is not robust enough to handle the problems that have affected every revolution then we have to question the validity of that vision or the strength of commitment its supporters hold it.

Given this, the question becomes which of these two aspects of Marxism was considered its "essence" by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Obviously, it is hard to isolate the real Bolshevik vision of democracy from the influence of "objective factors." However, we can get a taste by looking at how the Bolsheviks acted and argued during the first six months in power. During this period, the problems facing the revolution were hard but not as bad as those facing it after the Czech revolt at the end of May, 1918. Particularly after March, 1918, the Bolsheviks were in a position to start constructive work as in the middle of that month Lenin claimed that the "Soviet Government has triumphed in the Civil War." [quoted by Maximoff, The Guillotine at Work, p. 53]

So the question as to whether the Bolsheviks were forced into authoritarian and hierarchical methods by the practical necessities of the civil war or whether all this was inherent in Leninism all along, and the natural product of Leninist ideology, can be answered by looking at the record of the Bolsheviks prior to the civil war. >From this we can ascertain the effect of the civil war. And the obvious conclusion is that the record of the initial months of Bolshevik rule point to a less than democratic approach which suggests that authoritarian policies were inherent in Leninism and, as such, pointed the revolution into a path were further authoritarian policies were not only easy to implement, but had to be as alternative options had been eliminated by previous policies. Moreover, Bolshevik ideology itself made such policies easy to accept and to justify.

As discussed in section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?",it was during this period that the Bolsheviks started to gerrymander soviets and disband any they lost elections to. As we indicate in section 9 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", they undermined the factory committees, stopping them federating and basically handed the factories to the state bureaucracy. Lenin argued for and implemented one-man management, piecework, Taylorism and other things Stalinism is condemned for (see section 3, for example). In the army, Trotsky disbanded the soldier committees and elected officers by decree.

How Trotsky defended this policy of appointing officers is significant. It mirrors Lenin's argument in favour of appointed one-man management and, as such, reflects the basic Bolshevik vision of democracy. By looking at his argument we can see how the Bolshevik vision of democracy fatality undermined the Russian Revolution and its socialist content. The problems of the civil war simply deepened the abscess in democracy created by Lenin and Trotsky in the spring of 1918.

Trotsky acknowledged that that "the soldier-workers and soldier-peasants" needed "to elect commanders for themselves" in the Tzarist army "not [as] military chiefs, but simply [as] representatives who could guard them against attacks of counter-revolutionary classes." However, in the new Red Army this was not needed as it was the "workers' and peasants' Soviets, i.e. the same classes which compose the army" which is building it. He blandly asserted that "[h]ere no internal struggle is possible." To illustrate his point he pointed to the trade unions. "The metal workers," he noted, "elect their committee, and the committee finds a secretary, a clerk, and a number of other persons who are necessary. Does it ever happen that the workers should say: 'Why are our clerks and treasurers appointed, and not elected?' No, no intelligent workers will say so." [Leon Trotsky Speaks, p. 112-3]

Thus in less than six months, Lenin's call in "State and Revolution" that "[a]ll officials, without exception, [would be] elected and subject to recall at any time" was dismissed as the demand that "no intelligent workers" would raise! [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 302] But, then again, Trotsky was in the process of destroying another apparent "principle" of Leninism, namely (to quote, like Lenin, Marx) "the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people." [quoted by Lenin, Op. Cit., p. 300]

Trotsky continues his argument. The Trade union committee, he asserts, would say "You yourselves have chosen the committee. If you don't like us, dismiss us, but once you have entrusted us with the direction of the union, then give us the possibility of choosing the clerk or the cashier, since we are better able to judge in the matter than you, and if our way of conducting business is bad, then throw us out and elect another committee." After this defence of elected dictatorship, he states that the "Soviet government is the same as the committee of a trade union. It is elected by the workers and peasants, and you can at the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, at any moment you like, dismiss that government and appoint another." Until that happens, he was happy to urge blind obedience by the sovereign people to their servants: "But once you have appointed it, you must give it the right to choose the technical specialists, the clerks, the secretaries in the broad sense of the word, and in military affairs, in particular." He tried to calm the nerves of those who could see the obvious problems with this argument by asking whether it was "possible for the Soviet government to appoint military specialists against the interests of the labouring and peasant masses?" [Op. Cit., p. 113]

And the answer to that question is, of course, an empathic yes. Even looking at his own analogy, namely that of a trade union committee, it is obvious that an elected body can have interests separate from and in opposition to those who elected it. The history of trade unionism is full of examples of committees betraying the membership of the unions. And, of course, the history of the Soviet government under Lenin and Trotsky (never mind Stalin!) shows that just because it was once elected by a majority of the working people does not mean it will act in their best interests.

Trotsky even went one better. "The army is now only in the process of formation," he noted. "How could the soldiers who have just entered the army choose the chiefs! Have they have any vote to go by? They have none. And therefore elections are impossible." [Op. Cit., p. 113] If only the Tsar had thought of that one! If he had, he would still be in power. And, needless to say, Trotsky did not apply that particular logic to himself. After all, he had no experience of holding governmental office or building an army (or even being in combat). Nor did any of the other Bolshevik leaders. By the logic of his argument, not only should the workers not been allowed to vote for a soviet government, he and his fellow Bolsheviks should not have assumed power in 1917. But, clearly, sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander.

For all his talk that the masses could replace the Bolsheviks at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, Trotsky failed to realise that these proposals (and other ones like it) ensured that this was unlikely to happen. Even assuming that the Bolsheviks had not gerrymandered and disbanded soviets, the fact is that the Bolshevik vision of "democracy" effectively hollowed out the grassroots participation required to make democracy at the top anything more than a fig-leaf for party power. He honestly seemed to believe that eliminating mass participation in other areas of society would have no effect on the levels of participation in soviet elections. Would people subjected to one-man management in the workplace and in the army really be truly free and able to vote for parties which had not appointed their bosses? Could workers who were disenfranchised economically and socially remain in political power (assuming you equate voting a handful of leaders into power with "political power")? And does being able to elect a representative every quarter to the All-Russian congress really mean that the working class was really in charge of society? Of course not.

This vision of top-down "democracy" can, of course, be traced back to Marx's arguments of 1850 and Lenin's comments that the "organisational principle of revolutionary Social-Democracy" was "to proceed from the top downward." (see sections H.3.2 and H.3.3). By equating centralised, top-down decision making by an elected government with "democracy," the Bolsheviks had the ideological justification to eliminate the functional democracy associated with the factory committees and soldiers committees. In place of workers' and soldiers' direct democracy and self-management, the Bolsheviks appointed managers and officers and justified because a workers' party was in power. After all, had not the masses elected the Bolsheviks into power? This became the means by which real democracy was eliminated in area after area of Russian working class life. Needless to say, a state which eliminates functional democracy in the grassroots will not stay democratic in any meaningful sense for long. At best, it will be like a bourgeois republic with purely elections where people elect a party to misrepresent them every four or so years while real economic, political and social power rests in the hands of a few. At worse, it would be a dictatorship with "elections" whose results are known before hand.

The Leninist vision of "democracy" is seen purely as a means of placing the party into power. Thus power in society shifts to the top, to the leaders of the centralised party in charge of the centralised state. The workers' become mere electors rather than actual controllers of the revolution and are expected to carry out the orders of the party without comment. In other words, a decidedly bourgeois vision of "democracy." Anarchists, in contrast, seek to dissolve power back into the hands of society and empower the individual by giving them a direct say in the revolution through their workplace and community assemblies and their councils and conferences.

This vision was not a new development. Far from it. While, ironically enough, Lenin's and Trotsky's support for the appointment of officers/managers can be refuted by looking at Lenin's State and Revolution, the fact is that the undemocratic perspectives they are based on can be found in Lenin's What is to be Done?. This suggests that his 1917 arguments were the aberration and against the true essence of Leninism, not his and Trotsky's policies once they were in power (as Leninists like to argue).

Forgetting that he had argued against "primitive democracy" in What is to Be Done?, Lenin had lambasted the opportunists and "present Kautskyists" for "repeat[ing] the vulgar bourgeois jeers at 'primitive' democracy." Now, in 1917, it was a case that "the transition from capitalism to socialism is impossible without some 'reversion' to 'primitive' democracy (how else can the majority, even the whole population, proceed to discharge state functions?)" [Op. Cit., p. 302] Very true. As Leninism in power showed, the conscious elimination of "primitive democracy" in the army and workplace ensured that socialism was "impossible." And this elimination was not justified in terms of "difficult" circumstances but rather in terms of principle and the inability of working people to manage their own affairs directly.

Particularly ironic, given Trotsky's trade union committee analogy was Lenin's comment that "Bernstein [the arch revisionist and reformist] combats 'primitive democracy' . . . To prove that 'primitive democracy' is worthless, Bernstein refers to the experience of the British trade unions, as interpreted by the Webbs. Seventy years of development . . . convinced the trade unions that primitive democracy was useless, and they substituted ordinary democracy, i.e. parliamentarism, combined with bureaucracy, for it." Lenin replied that because the trade unions operated "in absolute capitalist slavery" a "number of concessions to the prevailing evil, violence, falsehood, exclusion of the poor from the affairs of the 'higher' administration 'cannot be avoided.' Under socialism much of the 'primitive' democracy will inevitably be revived, since, for the first time in history of civilised society, the mass of the population will rise to independent participation, not only in voting and elections, but also in the everyday administration of affairs" [Op. Cit., p. 361] Obviously things looked a bit different once he and his fellow Bolshevik leaders were in power. Then the exclusion of the poor from the affairs of the "higher" administration was seen as normal practice, as proven by the practice of the trade unions! And as we note in section H.3.8, this "exclusion" was taken as a key lesson of the revolution and built into the Leninist theory of the state.

This development was not unexpected. After all, as we noted in section H.5.5, over a decade before Lenin had been less than enthralled by "primitive democracy" and more in agreement with Bernstein than he lets on in State and Revolution. In What is to Be Done?, he based his argument for centralised, top-down party organisation on the experiences of the labour movement in democratic capitalist regimes. He quotes the same book by the Webb's to defend his position. He notes that "in the first period of existence in their unions, the British workers thought it was an indispensable sign of democracy for all members to do all the work of managing the unions." This involved "all questions [being] decided by the votes of all the members" and all "official duties" being "fulfilled by all the members in turn." He dismisses "such a conception of democracy" as "absurd" and "historical experience" made them "understand the necessity for representative institutions" and "full-time professional officials." Ironically, Lenin records that in Russia the "'primitive' conception of democracy" existed in two groups, the "masses of the students and workers" and the "Economists of the Bernstein persuasion." [Op. Cit., pp. 162-3]

Thus Trotsky's autocratic and top-down vision of democracy has its roots within Leninism. Rather than being forced upon the Bolsheviks by difficult circumstances, the eroding of grassroots, functional ("primitive") democracy was at the core of Bolshevism. Lenin's arguments in 1917 were the exception, not his practice after he seized power.

This fundamentally undemocratic perspective can be found today in modern Leninism. As well as defending the Bolshevik dictatorship during the civil war, modern Leninists support the continuation of party dictatorship after its end. In particular, they support the Bolshevik repression of the Kronstadt rebellion (see appendix "What was the Kronstadt Rebellion?" for more details). As Trotsky put it in 1937, if the Kronstadt demand for soviet elections had been implemented then "to free the soviets from the leadership [sic!] of the Bolsheviks would have meant within a short time to demolish the soviets themselves . . . Social-Revolutionary-anarchist soviets would serve only as a bridge from the proletarian dictatorship [sic!] to capitalist restoration." He generalised this example, by pointing to the "experience of the Russian soviets during the period of Menshevik and SR domination and, even more clearly, the experience of the German and Austrian soviets under the domination of the Social Democrats." [Lenin and Trotsky, Kronstadt, p. 90] Modern day Leninists repeat this argument, failing to note that they sound like leftist Henry Kissingers (Kissinger, let us not forget, ensured US aid for Pinochet's coup in Chile and argued that "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people").

Today we have Leninists combining rhetoric about democratic socialism, with elections and recall, with a mentality which justifies the suppression of working class revolt because they are not prepared to stand by and watch a country go capitalist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, previously in 1937 Trotsky expressed his support for the "objective necessity" of the "revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party" and, two years later, that the "vanguard of the proletariat" must be "armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself." (see section H.3.8). If only modern day Leninists were as honest!

So the Bolshevik contempt for working class self-government still exists. While few, however, explicitly proclaim the logic of this position (namely party dictatorship) most defend the Bolsheviks implementing this conclusion in practice. Can we not conclude that, faced with the same problems the Bolsheviks faced, these modern day Leninists will implement the same policies? That they will go from party power to party dictatorship, simply because they know better than those who elected them on such matters? That answer seems all too obvious.

As such, the Bolshevik preference for centralised state power and of representative forms of democracy involved the substitution of the party for the class and, consequently, will facilitate the dictatorship over the proletariat when faced with the inevitable problems facing any revolution. As Bakunin put it, a "people's administration, according to [the Marxists], must mean a people's administration by virtue of a small number of representatives chosen by the people . . . [I]t is a deception which would conceal the despotism of a governing minority, all the more dangerous because it appears as a sham expression of the people's will . . . [T]he vast majority, the great mass of people, would be governed by a privileged minority . . . [of] former workers, who would stop being workers the moment they became rulers or representatives, and would then come to regard the whole blue-collared world from governmental heights, and would not represent the people but themselves and their pretensions." So the Marxist state would be "the reign of the scientific mind, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant and contemptuous of all regimes. There will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real of bogus learning, and the world will be divided into a dominant, science-based minority and a vast, ignorant majority. And then let the ignorant masses beware!" [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 268, pp. 268-9 and p. 266]

In summary, Trotsky's deeply undemocratic justification for appointing officers, like Lenin's similar arguments for appointing managers, express the logic and reality of Bolshevism far better than statements made before the Bolsheviks seized power and never implemented. Sadly, modern Leninists concentrate on the promises of the election manifesto rather than the grim reality of Bolshevik power and its long standing top-down vision of "democracy." A vision which helped undermine the revolution and ensure its degeneration into a party dictatorship presiding over a state capitalist economy.

 

5 What was the effect of the Bolshevik vision of "socialism"?

As we discussed in section H.3.1, anarchists and most Marxists are divided not only by means but also by ends. Simply put, libertarians and Leninist do not have the same vision of socialism. Given this, anarchists are not surprised at the negative results of the Bolshevik revolution -- the use of anti-socialist means to attain anti-socialist ends would obviously have less than desirable results.

The content of the Bolshevik vision of "socialism" is criticised by anarchists on two main counts. Firstly, it is a top-down, centralised vision of "socialism." This can only result in the destruction of working class economic power at the point of production in favour of centralised bureaucratic power. Secondly, for Bolshevism nationalisation, not workers' self-management, was the key issue. We will discuss the first issue here and the second in the following section.

The Bolshevik vision of "socialism" was inherently centralised and top-down. This can be seen from the organisational schemas and arguments made by leading Bolsheviks before and immediately after the Revolution. For example, we discover Trotsky arguing in March 1918 that workplaces "will be subject to policies laid down by the local council of workmen's deputies" who, in turn, had "their range of discretion . . . limited in turn by regulations made for each class of industry by the boards or bureaux of the central government." He dismissed Kropotkin's communalist ideas by saying local autonomy was not "suited to the state of things in modern industrial society" and "would result in endless frictions and difficulties." As the "coal from the Donets basin goes all over Russia, and is indispensable in all sorts of industries" you could not allow "the organised people of that district [to] do what they pleased with the coal mines" as they "could hold up all the rest of Russia." [contained in Al Richardson (ed.), In Defence of the Russian Revolution, p. 186]

Lenin repeated this centralised vision in June of that year, arguing that "Communism requires and presupposes the greatest possible centralisation of large-scale production throughout the country. The all-Russian centre, therefore, should definitely be given the right of direct control over all the enterprises of the given branch of industry. The regional centres define their functions depending on local conditions of life, etc., in accordance with the general production directions and decisions of the centre." He continued by explicitly arguing that "[t]o deprive the all-Russia centre of the right to direct control over all the enterprises of the given industry . . . would be regional anarcho-syndicalism, and not communism." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 292]

Thus the Bolshevik economic ideal was centralised and top-down. This is not unsurprising, as Lenin had promised precisely this when the Bolsheviks got into power. As in the Bolshevik party itself, the lower organs were controlled by the higher ones (and as we will discuss, these higher ones were not directly elected by the lower ones). The problems with this vision are many fold.

Firstly, to impose an "ideal" solution would destroy a revolution -- the actions and decisions (including what others may consider mistakes) of a free people are infinitely more productive and useful than the decisions and decrees of the best central committee. Moreover, a centralised system by necessity is an imposed system (as it excludes by its very nature the participation of the mass of the people in determining their own fate). Thus real socialisation must proceed from below, reflecting the real development and desires of those involved. Centralisation can only result in replacing socialisation with nationalisation and the elimination of workers' self-management with hierarchical management. Workers' again would be reduced to the level of order-takers, with control over their workplaces resting not in their hands but in those of the state.

Secondly, Trotsky seems to think that workers at the base of society would be so unchanged by a revolution that they would hold their fellow workers ransom. And, moreover, that other workers would let them. That, to say the least, seems a strange perspective. But not as strange as thinking that giving extensive powers to a central body will not produce equally selfish behaviour (but on a wider and more dangerous scale). The basic fallacy of Trotsky's argument is that the centre will not start to view the whole economy as its property (and being centralised, such a body would be difficult to effectively control). Indeed, Stalin's power was derived from the state bureaucracy which ran the economy in its own interests. Not that did not suddenly arise with Stalin. It was a feature of the Soviet system from the start. Samuel Farber, for example, notes that, "in practice, [the] hypercentralisation [pursued by the Bolsheviks from early 1918 onwards] turned into infighting and scrambles for control among competing bureaucracies" and he points to the "not untypical example of a small condensed milk plant with few than 15 workers that became the object of a drawn-out competition among six organisations including the Supreme Council of National Economy, the Council of People's Commissars of the Northern Region, the Vologda Council of People's Commissars, and the Petrograd Food Commissariat." [Before Stalinism, p. 73]

In other words, centralised bodies are not immune to viewing resources as their own property and doing as they please with it. Compared to an individual workplace, the state's power to enforce its viewpoint against the rest of society is considerably stronger and the centralised system would be harder to control. The requirements of gathering and processing the information required for the centre to make intelligent decisions would be immense, thus provoking a large bureaucracy which would be hard to control and soon become the real power in the state. A centralised body, therefore, effectively excludes the mass participation of the mass of workers -- power rests in the hands of a few people which, by its nature, generates bureaucratic rule. If that sounds familiar, it should. It is precisely what did happen in Lenin's Russia and laid the basis for Stalinism.

Thirdly, to eliminate the dangers of workers' self-management generating "propertarian" notions, the workers' have to have their control over their workplace reduced, if not eliminated. This, by necessity, generates bourgeois social relationships and, equally, appointment of managers from above (which the Bolsheviks did embrace). Indeed, by 1920 Lenin was boasting that in 1918 he had "pointed out the necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the pursue of carrying out the Soviet idea" and even claimed that at that stage "there were no disputes in connection with the question" of one-man management. [quoted by Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 65] While the first claim is true (Lenin argued for one-man management appointed from above before the start of the Civil War in May 1918) the latter one is not true (excluding anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and Maximalists, there were also the dissent "Left Communists" in the Bolshevik party itself).

Fourthly, centralism was not that efficient. The central bodies the Bolsheviks created had little knowledge of the local situation and often gave orders that contradicted each other or had little bearing to reality, so encouraging factories to ignore the centre: "it seems apparent that many workers themselves . . . had now come to believe . . . that confusion and anarchy [sic!] at the top were the major causes of their difficulties, and with some justification. The fact was that Bolshevik administration was chaotic . . . Scores of competitive and conflicting Bolshevik and Soviet authorities issued contradictory orders, often brought to factories by armed Chekists. The Supreme Economic Council. . . issu[ed] dozens of orders and pass[ed] countless directives with virtually no real knowledge of affairs." [William G. Rosenberg, Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power, p. 116] The Bolsheviks, as Lenin had promised, built from the top-down their system of "unified administration" based on the Tsarist system of central bodies which governed and regulated certain industries during the war. [Brinton, Op. Cit., p. 36] This was very centralised and very inefficient (see section 7 for more discussion).

Moreover, having little real understanding of the circumstances on the ground they could not compare their ideological assumptions and preferences to reality. As an example, the Bolshevik idea that "big" was automatically "more efficient" and "better" had a negative impact on the revolution. In practice, as Thomas F. Remington notes, this simply resulted generated waste:

 

"The waste of scare materials at [the giant] Putilov [plant] was indeed serious, but not only political unrest had caused it. The general shortage of fuel and materials in the city took its greatest toll on the largest enterprises, whose overhead expenditures for heating the plant and firing the furnaces were proportionally greater than those for smaller enterprises. This point -- explained by the relative constant proportions among needed inputs to producers at any given point in time -- only was recognised latter. Not until 1919 were the regime's leaders prepared to acknowledge that small enterprises, under the conditions of the time, might be more efficient in using resources: and not until 1921 did a few Bolsheviks theorists grasp the economic reasons for this apparent violation of their standing assumption that larger units were inherently more productive. Thus not only were the workers accused of politically motivated resistance, but the regime blamed them for the effects of circumstances which the workers had no control." [Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia, p. 106]

All in all, the Bolshevik vision of socialism was a disaster. Centralism was a source of massive economic mismanagement and, moreover, bureaucratisation from the start. As anarchists had long predicted. As we discuss in section 12 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", there was an alternative in the form of the factory committees and the federation. Sadly this was not part of the Bolshevik vision. At best they were tacked onto this vision as a (very) junior partner (as in 1917) or they were quickly marginalised and then dumped when they had outlived their usefulness in securing Bolshevik power (as in 1918).

While some Leninists like to paint the economic policies of the Bolsheviks in power as being different from what they called for in 1917, the truth is radically different. For example, Tony Cliff of the UK's "Socialist Workers Party" asserts, correctly, that in April 1918 the "defence of state capitalism constituted the essence of his economic policy for this period." However, he also states that this was "an entirely new formulation," which was not the case in the slightest. [Cliff, Op. Cit., p. 69] As Lenin himself acknowledged.

Lenin had always confused state capitalism with socialism. "State capitalism," he wrote, "is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no gaps." He argued that socialism "is nothing but the next step forward from state capitalist monopoly. In other words, Socialism is merely state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people; by this token it ceases to be capitalist monopoly." [The Threatening Catastrophe and how to avoid it, p. 38 and p. 37] This was in May, 1917. A few months latter, he was talking about how the institutions of state capitalism could be taken over and used to create socialism (see section H.3.12). Unsurprisingly, when defending Cliff's "new formulation" against the "Left Communists" in the spring of 1918 he noted that he gave his "'high' appreciation of state capitalism" "before the Bolsheviks seized power." [Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 636]

And, indeed, his praise for state capitalism and its forms of social organisation can be found in his State and Revolution:

 

"the post-office [is] an example of the socialist system . . . At present . . . [it] is organised on the lines of a state capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organisations of a similar type . . . the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Overthrow the capitalists . . . Our immediate object is to organise the whole of national economy on the lines of the postal system . . . It is such a state, standing on such an economic basis, that we need." [Essential Works of Lenin, pp. 307-8]

Given this, Lenin's rejection of the factory committee's model of socialism comes as no surprise (see section 10 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for more details). As we noted in section H.3.14, rather than promote workers' control, Lenin effectively undermined it. Murray Bookchin points out the obvious:

 

"In accepting the concept of worker's control, Lenin's famous decree of November 14, 1917, merely acknowledged an accomplished fact; the Bolsheviks dared not oppose the workers at this early date. But they began to whittle down the power of the factory committees. In January 1918, a scant two months after 'decreeing' workers' control, Lenin began to advocate that the administration of the factories be placed under trade union control. The story that the Bolsheviks 'patiently' experimented with workers' control, only to find it 'inefficient' and 'chaotic,' is a myth. Their 'patience' did not last more than a few weeks. Not only did Lenin oppose direct workers' control within a matter of weeks . . . even union control came to an end shortly after it had been established. By the summer of 1918, almost all of Russian industry had been placed under bourgeois forms of management." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 200-1]

Significantly, even his initial vision of workers' control was hierarchical, centralised and top-down. In the workplace it was to be exercised by factory committees. The "higher workers' control bodies" were to be "composed of representatives of trade unions, factory and office workers' committees, and workers' co-operatives." The decisions of the lower bodies "may be revoked only by higher workers' control bodies." [quoted by Cliff, Op. Cit., p. 10] As Maurice Brinton notes:

 

"there [was] . . . a firm hierarchy of control organs . . . each Committee was to be responsible to a 'Regional Council of Workers' Control', subordinated in turn to an 'All-Russian Council of Workers' Control'. The composition of these higher organs was decided by the Party.

"The trade unions were massively represented in the middle and higher strata of this new pyramid of 'institutionalised workers' control.' For instance the All-Russian Council of Workers' Control was to consist of 21 'representatives': 5 from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, 5 from the Executive of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, 5 from the Association of Engineers and Technicians, 2 from the Association of Agronomists, 2 from the Petrograd Trade Union Council, 1 from each All-Russian Trade Union Federation numbering fewer than 100,000 members (2 for Federations of over this number)... and 5 from the All-Russian Council of Factory Committees! The Factory Committees often under anarcho-syndicalist influence had been well and truly 'cut down to size'." [Op. Cit., p. 18]

As we note in section 10 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", this was a conscious preference on Lenin's part. The factory committees had started to federate, creating their own institutional framework of socialism based on the workers own class organisation. Lenin, as he had explained in 1917, favoured using the institutions created by "state capitalism" and simply tacked on a form of "workers' control" distinctly at odds with the popular usage of the expression. He rejected the suggestions of factory committees themselves. The Supreme Economic Council, established by the Soviet government, soon demonstrated how to really mismanage the economy.

As such, the economic developments proposed by Lenin in early 1918 and onwards were not the result of the specific problems facing the Russian revolution. The fact is while the dire problems facing the Russian revolution undoubtedly made many aspects of the Bolshevik system worse, they did not create them. Rather, the centralised, bureaucratic and top-down abuses Leninists like to distance themselves from where, in fact, built into Lenin's socialism from the start. A form of socialism Lenin and his government explicitly favoured and created in opposition to other, authentically proletarian, versions.

The path to state capitalism was the one Lenin wanted to trend. It was not forced upon him or the Bolsheviks. And, by re-introducing wage slavery (this time, to the state) the Bolshevik vision of socialism helped undermine the revolution, workers' power and, sadly, build the foundations of Stalinism.

 

6 How did Bolshevik preference for nationalisation affect the revolution?

As noted in the last section, unlike anarchism, for Bolshevism nationalisation, not workers' self-management, was the key issue in socialism. As noted in section 3, Lenin had proclaimed the necessity for appointed one-man managers and implementing "state capitalism" in April 1918. Neither policy was thought to harm the socialist character of the regime. As Trotsky stressed in 1920, the decision to place a manager at the head of a factory instead of a workers' collective had no political significance:

 

"It would be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy of the collective will of the workers and not at all in the form in which individual economic organisations are administered." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 162]

Nor was this considered a bad thing or forced upon the Bolsheviks as a result of terrible circumstances. Quite the reverse: "I consider if the civil war had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully." [Op. Cit., pp. 162-3] As discussed in the previous section, this evaluation fits perfectly into Bolshevik ideology and practice before and after they seized power. One can easily find dozens of quotations from Lenin expressing the same idea.

Needless to say, Trotsky's "collective will of the workers" was simply a euphemism for the Party, whose dictatorship over the workers Trotsky glibly justified:

 

"We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of the party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the . . . party . . . [that] the Soviets . . . [became] transformed from shapeless parliaments of labour into the apparatus of the supremacy of labour. In this 'substitution' of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class." [Op. Cit., p. 109]

While Trotsky's honesty on this matter is refreshing (unlike his followers today who hypocritically talk about the "leadership" of the Bolshevik party) we can say that this was a fatal position to take. Indeed, for Trotsky any system (including the militarisation of labour) was acceptable as the key "differences . . . is defined by a fundamental test: who is in power?" -- the capitalist class or the proletariat (i.e. the party) [Op. Cit., pp. 171-2] Thus working class control over their own affairs was of little importance: "The worker does not merely bargain with the Soviet State; no, he is subordinated to the Soviet State, under its orders in every direction -- for it is his State." [Op. Cit., p. 168] This, of course, echoed his own arguments in favour of appointment (see section 4) and Lenin's demands for the "exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals" in the workplace (see section 3) in early 1918. Cornelius Castoriadis points out the obvious:

 

"The role of the proletariat in the new State was thus quite clear. It was that of enthusiastic and passive citizens. And the role of the proletariat in work and in production was no less clear. On the whole, it was the same as before -- under capitalism -- except that workers of 'character and capacity' [to quote Trotsky] were to be chosen to replace factory managers who had fled." [The Role of the Bureaucracy in the birth of the Bureaucracy, p. 99]

Trotsky's position, it should be noted, remained consistent. In the early 1930s he argued (in respect to Stalin's regime) that "anatomy of society is determined by its economic relations. So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class." [The Class Nature of The Soviet State] Obviously, if the prime issue is property and not who manages the means of production (or even "the state") then having functioning factory-committees becomes as irrelevant as having democratic soviets when determining whether the working class is in power or not.

(As an aside, we should not by that surprised that Trotsky could think the workers were the "ruling class" in the vast prison-camp which was Stalin's USSR, given that he thought the workers were the "ruling class" when he and Lenin headed the Bolshevik party dictatorship! Thus we have the strange division Leninists make between Lenin's dictatorship and Stalin's (and those of Stalin's followers). When Lenin presides over a one-party dictatorship, breaks up strikes, bans political parties, bans Bolshevik factions, and imprisons and shoots political dissidents these are all regrettable but necessary steps in the protection of the "proletarian state." When Stalin does the exact same thing, a few years later, they are all terrible examples of the deformation of this same "proletarian state"!)

For anarchists (and other libertarian socialists) this was and is nonsense. Without workers' self-management in production, socialism cannot exist. To focus attention of whether individuals own property or whether the state does is fundamentally a red-herring. Without workers' self-management of production, private capitalism will simply have been replaced by state capitalism. As one anarchist active in the factory committee movement argued in January, 1918, it is "not the liberation of the proletariat when many individual plunders are changed for one very powerful plunder -- the state. The position of the proletariat remains the same." Therefore, "[w]e must not forget that the factory committees are the nuclei of the future socialist order" nor must we forget "that the state . . . will try to maintain its own interests at the expense of the interests of the workers. There is no doubt that we will be witnesses of a great conflict between the state power in the centre and the organisations composed exclusively of workers which are found in the localities." He was proved right. Instead of centralised the Bolshevik vision of state capitalism, the anarchists argued that factory committees "be united on the basic of federalism, into industrial federations . . . [and] poly-industrial soviets of national economy." Only in that way could real socialism be created. [quoted by Frederick I. Kaplan, Bolshevik Ideology and the Ethics of Soviet Labour, p. 163 and p. 166] (see section 7 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for more on the factory committee movement).

The reason is obvious. It is worth quoting Cornelius Castoriadis at length on why the Bolshevik system was doomed to failure:

 

"So we end up with the uncontested power of managers in the factories, and the Party's exclusive 'control' (in reality, what kind of control was it, anyway?). And there was the uncontested power of the Party over society, without any control. From that point on, nobody could prevent these two powers from merging, could anyone stop the two strata embodying them from merging, nor could the consolidation of an irremovable bureaucracy ruling over all sectors of social life be halted. The process may have been accelerated or magnified by the entry of non-proletarian elements into the Party, as they rushed to jump on the bandwagon. But this was a consequence, and not a cause, of the Party's orientation . . .

"Who is to manage production . . .? . . . the correct answer [is] the collective organs of labouring people. What the party leadership wanted, what it had already imposed -- and on this point there was no difference between Lenin and Trotsky -- was a hierarchy directed from above. We know that this was the conception that triumphed. We know, too, where this 'victory' led . . .

"In all Lenin's speeches and writings of this period, what recurs again and again like an obsession is the idea that Russia ought to learn from the advanced capitalist countries; that there are not a hundred and one different ways of developing production and labour productivity if one wants to emerge from backwardness and chaos; that one must adopt capitalist methods of 'rationalisation' and management as well as capitalist forms of work 'incentives.' All these, for Lenin, are just 'means' that apparently could freely be placed in the service of a radically different historical end, the building of socialism.

"Thus Trotsky, when discussing the merits of militarism, came to separate the army itself, its structure and its methods, from the social system it serves. What is criticisable in bourgeois militarism and in the bourgeois army, Trotsky says in substance, is that they are in the service of the bourgeoisie. Except for that, there is nothing in them to be criticised. The sole difference, he says, lies in this: 'Who is in power?' Likewise, the dictatorship of the proletariat is not expressed by the 'form in which individual economic enterprises are administered.'

"The idea that like means cannot be placed indifferently into the service of different ends; that there is an intrinsic relationship between the instruments used and the result obtained; that, especially, neither the army nor the factory are simple 'means' or 'instruments,' but social structures in which are organised two fundamental aspects of human relations (production and violence); that in them can be seen in condensed form the essential expression of the type of social relations that characterise an era -- this idea, though perfectly obvious and banal for Marxists, was totally 'forgotten.' It was just a matter of developing production, using proven methods and structures. That among these 'proofs' the principal one was the development of capitalism as a social system and that a factory produces not so much cloth or steel but proletariat and capital were facts that were utterly ignored.

"Obviously, behind this 'forgetfulness' is hidden something else. At the time, of course, there was the desperate concern to revive production as soon as possible and to put a collapsing economy back on its feet. This preoccupation, however, does not fatally dictate the choice of 'means.' If it seemed obvious to Bolshevik leaders that the sole effective means were capitalist ones, it was because they were imbued with the conviction that capitalism was the only effective and rational system of production. Faithful in this respect to Marx, they wanted to abolish private property and market anarchy, but not the type of organisation capitalism had achieved at the point of production. They wanted to modify the economy, not the relations between people at work or the nature of labour itself.

"At a deeper level still, their philosophy was to develop the forces of production. Here too they were the faithful inheritors of Marx -- or at least one side of Marx, which became the predominant one in his mature writings. The development of the forces of production was, if not the ultimate goal, at any rate the essential means, in the sense that everything else would follow as a by-product and that everything else had to be subordinated to it. . .

"To manage the work of others -- this is the beginning and the end of the whole cycle of exploitation. The 'need' for a specific social category to manage the work of others in production (and the activity of others in politics and in society), the 'need' for a separate business management and for a Party to rule the State -- this is what Bolshevism proclaimed as soon as it seized power, and this is what it zealously laboured to impose. We know that it achieved its ends. Insofar as ideas play a role in the development of history -- and, in the final analysis, they play an enormous role -- the Bolshevik ideology (and with it, the Marxist ideology lying behind it) was a decisive factor in the birth of the Russian bureaucracy." [Op. Cit., pp. 100-4]

Therefore, we "may therefore conclude that, contrary to the prevailing mythology, it was not in 1927, or in 1923, or even in 1921 that the game was played and lost, but much earlier, during the period from 1918 to 1920. . . . [1921 saw] the beginning of the reconstruction of the productive apparatus. This reconstruction effort, however, was already firmly set in the groove of bureaucratic capitalism." [Op. Cit., p. 99] In this, they simply followed the economic ideas Lenin had expounded in 1917 and 1918, but in an even more undemocratic way. Modern-day Leninism basically takes the revolutionised Russia of the Bolsheviks and, essentially, imposes upon it a more democratic form of government rather than Lenin's (and then Stalin's). Anarchists, however, still oppose the economy.

Ironically, proof that libertarians are right on this issue can be found in Trotsky's own work. In 1936, he argued that the "demobilisation of the Red Army of five million played no small role in the formation of the bureaucracy. The victorious commanders assumed leading posts in the local Soviets, in economy, in education, and they persistently introduced everywhere that regime which had ensured success in the civil war. Thus on all sides the masses were pushed away gradually from actual participation in the leadership of the country." [The Revolution Betrayed] Needless to say, he failed to note who had abolished the election of commanders in the Red Army in March 1918, namely himself (see section 4). Similarly, he failed to note that the "masses" had been "pushed . . . from actual participation in the leadership of the country" well before the end of the civil war and that, at the time, he was not concerned about it. Equally, it would be churlish to note that back in 1920 he thought that "'Military' qualities . . . are valued in every sphere. It was in this sense that I said that every class prefers to have in its service those of its members who, other things being equal, have passed through the military school . . . This experience is a great and valuable experience. And when a former regimental commissary returns to his trade union, he becomes not a bad organiser." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 173]

In 1937 Trotsky asserted that "liberal-anarchist thought closes its eyes to the fact that the Bolshevik revolution, with all its repressions, meant an upheaval of social relations in the interests of the masses, whereas Stalin's Thermidorian upheaval accompanies the reconstruction of Soviet society in the interest of a privileged minority." [Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism] Yet Stalin's "upheaval" was built upon the social relations created when Lenin and Trotsky held power. State ownership, one-man management, and so on where originally advocated and implemented by Lenin and Trotsky. The bureaucracy did not have to expropriate the working class economically -- "real" Bolshevism had already did so. Nor can it be said that the social relations associated with the political sphere had fundamentally changed under Stalin. He had, after all, inherited the one-party state from Lenin and Trotsky. In a nutshell, Trotsky is talking nonsense.

Simply put, as Trotsky himself indicates, Bolshevik preference for nationalisation helped ensure the creation and subsequent rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Rather than be the product of terrible objective circumstances as his followers suggest, the Bolshevik state capitalist economic system was at the heart of their vision of what socialism was. The civil war simply brought the underlying logic of vision into the fore.

 

7 How did Bolshevik preference for centralism affect the revolution?

The next issue we will discuss is centralisation. Before starting, it is essential that it be stressed that anarchists are not against co-ordinated activity and organisation on a large scale. Anarchists stress the need for federalism to meet the need for such work (see section A.2.9, for example). As such, our critique of Bolshevik centralism is not a call for "localism" or isolation (as many Leninists assert). Rather, it is a critique of how the social co-operation essential for society will be conducted. Will it be in a federal (and so bottom-up) way or will it be in a centralised (and so top-down) way?

It goes almost without saying that Bolshevik ideology was centralist in nature. Lenin repeatedly stressed the importance of centralisation, arguing constantly that Marxism was, by its very nature, centralist (and top-down -- section H.3.3). Long before the revolution, Lenin had argued that within the party it was a case of "the transformation of the power of ideas into the power of authority, the subordination of lower Party bodies to higher ones." [Collected Works, vol. 7, p. 367] Such visions of centralised organisation were the model for the revolutionary state. In 1917, he repeatedly stressed that after it the Bolsheviks would be totally in favour of "centralism" and "strong state power." [Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 374] Once in power, they did not disappoint.

Anarchists argue that this prejudice in favour of centralisation and centralism is at odds with Leninist claims to be in favour of mass participation. It is all fine and well for Trotskyist Tony Cliff to quote Lenin arguing that under capitalism the "talent among the people" is "merely suppressed" and that it "must be given an opportunity to display itself" and that this can "save the cause of socialism," it is something else for Lenin (and the Leninist tradition) to favour organisational structures that allow that to happen. Similarly, it is fine to record Lenin asserting that "living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves" but it is something else to justify the barriers Leninist ideology placed in the way of it by its advocacy of centralism. [quoted by Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol. 3, p. 20 and p. 21]

The central contradiction of Leninism is that while it (sometimes) talks about mass participation, it has always prefers an organisational form (centralism) which hinders, and ultimately destroys, the participation that real socialism needs.

That centralism works in this way should come as no surprise. After all, it based on centralising power at the top of an organisation and, consequently, into a few hands. It was for this precise reason that every ruling class in history has utilised centralisation against the masses. As we indicated in section B.2.5, centralisation has always been the tool of minority classes to disempower the masses. In the American and French revolutions, centralisation of state power was the means used to destroy the revolution, to take it out off the hands of the masses and concentrate it into the hands of a minority. In France:

 

"From the moment the bourgeoisie set themselves against the popular stream they were in need of a weapon that could enable them to resist pressure from the bras nus [working people]; they forced one by strengthening the central power . . . [This was] the formation of the state machinery through which the bourgeoisie was going to enslave the proletariat. Here is the centralised state, with its bureaucracy and police . . . [it was] a conscious attempt to reduce . . . the power of the people." [Daniel Guerin, Class Struggle in the First French Republic, p. 176]

The reason is not hard to understand -- mass participation and class society do not go together. Thus, "the move towards bourgeois dictatorship" saw "the strengthening of the central power against the masses." [Guerin, Op. Cit., pp. 177-8] "To attack the central power," argued Kropotkin, "to strip it of its prerogatives, to decentralise, to dissolve authority, would have been to abandon to the people the control of its affairs, to run the risk of a truly popular revolution. That is why the bourgeoisie sought to reinforce the central government even more." [Words of a Rebel, p. 143]

Can we expect a similar concentration of the central power under the Bolsheviks to have a different impact? And, as discussed in appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" we find a similar marginalisation of the working class from its own revolution. Rather than being actively participating in the transformation of society, they were transformed into spectators who simply were expected to implement the decisions made by the Bolsheviks on their behalf. Bolshevik centralisation quickly ensured the disempowerment of working class people. Unsurprisingly enough, given its role in class society and in bourgeois revolutions.

In this section of the FAQ, we will indicate why this process happened, why Bolshevik centralisation undermined the socialist content of the revolution in favour of new forms of oppression and exploitation.

Therefore, anarchists argue, centralism cannot help but generate minority rule, not a classless society. Representative, and so centralised, democracy, argued Malatesta, "substitutes the will of a few for that of all . . . and in the name of a fictitious collective interest, rides roughshod over every real interests, and by means of elections and the vote, disregards the wishes of each and everyone." [Life and Ideas, p. 147]

This is rooted in the nature of the system, for democracy does not mean, in practice, "rule by all the people." Rather, as Malatesta pointed out, it "would be closer to the truth to say 'government of the majority of the people." And even this is false, as "it is never the case that the representatives of the majority of the people are in the same mind on all questions; it is therefore necessary to have recourse again to the majority system and thus we will get closer still to the truth with 'government of the majority of the elected by the majority of the electors.'" This, obviously, "is already beginning to bear a strong resemblance to minority government." And so, "it is easy to understand what has already been proven by universal historical experience: even in the most democratic of democracies it is always a small minority that rules and imposes its will and interests by force." And so centralism turns democracy into little more than picking masters. Therefore, anarchists argue, "those who really want 'government of the people' . . . must abolish government." [The Anarchist Revolution, p. 78]

The Russian Revolution is a striking confirmation of this libertarian analysis. By applying centralism, the Bolsheviks disempowered the masses and concentrated power into the hands of the party leadership. This places power in a distinct social class and subject to the pervasive effects of their concrete social circumstances within their institutional position. As Bakunin predicted with amazing accuracy:

 

"The falsehood of the representative system rests upon the fiction that the executive power and the legislative chamber issuing from popular elections must, or even can for that matter, represent the will of the people . . . the instinctive aims of those who govern . . . are, because of their exceptional position diametrically opposed to the instinctive popular aspirations. Whatever their democratic sentiments and intentions may be, viewing society from the high position in which they find themselves, they cannot consider this society in any other way but that in which a schoolmaster views the pupils. And there can be no equality between the schoolmaster and the pupils. . . Whoever says political power says domination. And where domination exists, a more or less considerable section of the population is bound to be dominated by others. . . those who do the dominating necessarily must repress and consequently oppress those who are subject to the domination . . . [This] explains why and how men who were democrats and rebels of the reddest variety when they were a part of the mass of governed people, became exceedingly moderate when they rose to power. Usually these backslidings are attributed to treason. That, however, is an erroneous idea; they have for their main cause the change of position and perspective . . . if there should be established tomorrow a government . . . made up exclusively of workers, those . . . staunch democrats and Socialists, will become determined aristocrats, bold or timid worshippers of the principle of authority, and will also become oppressors and exploiters." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunun, p. 218]

However, due to the inefficiencies of centralised bodies, this is not the end of the process. Around the new ruling bodies inevitably springs up officialdom. This is because a centralised body does not know what is happening in the grassroots. Therefore it needs a bureaucracy to gather and process that information and to implement its decisions. In the words of Bakunin:

 

"where is the head, however brilliant it may be, or if one wishes to speak of a collective dictatorship, were it formed of many hundreds of individuals endowed with superior faculties, where are those brains powerful enough and wide-ranging enough to embrace the infinite multiplicity and diversity of the real interests, aspirations, wishes and needs whose sum total constitutes the collective will of a people, and to invent a social organisation can which can satisfy everybody? This organisation will never be anything but a Procrustean bed which the more or less obvious violence of the State will be able to force unhappy society to lie down on. . . Such a system . . . would lead inevitably to the creation of a new State, and consequently to the formation of a governmental aristocracy, that is, an entire class of people, having nothing in common with the mass of people . . . [and would] exploit the people and subject them." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 204-6]

As the bureaucracy is permanent and controls information and resources, it soon becomes the main source of power in the state. The transformation of the bureaucracy from servant to the master soon results. The "official" government is soon controlled by it, shaping its activities in line with its interests. Being highly centralised, popular control is even more limited than government control -- people would simply not know where real power lay, which officials to replace or even what was going on within the distant bureaucracy. Moreover, if the people did manage to replace the correct people, the newcomers would be subject to the same institutional pressures that corrupted the previous members and so the process would start again (assuming their did not come under the immediate influence of those who remained in the bureaucracy). Consequently, a new bureaucratic class develops around the centralised bodies created by the governing party. This body would soon become riddled with personal influences and favours, so ensuring that members could be sheltered from popular control. As Malatesta argued, they "would use every means available to those in power to have their friends elected as the successors who would then in turn support and protect them. And thus government would be passes to and fro in the same hands, and democracy, which is the alleged government of all, would end up, as usual, in an oligarchy, which is the government of a few, the government of a class." [Anarchy, p. 34]

This state bureaucracy, of course, need not be dictatorial nor the regime it rules/administers be totalitarian (for example, bourgeois states combine bureaucracy with many real and important liberties). However, such a regime is still a class one and socialism would still not exist -- as proven by the state bureaucracies and nationalised property within bourgeois society.

So the danger to liberty of combining political and economic power into one set of hands (the state's) is obvious. As Kropotkin argued:

 

"the state was, and continues to be, the chief instrument for permitting the few to monopolise the land, and the capitalists to appropriate for themselves a quite disproportionate share of the yearly accumulated surplus of production. Consequently, while combating the present monopolisation of land, and capitalism altogether, the anarchists combat with the same energy the state, as the main support of that system. Not this or that special form, but the state altogether . . . The state organisation, having always been, both in ancient and modern history . . . the instrument for establishing monopolies in favour of the ruling minorities, cannot be made to work for the destruction of these monopolies. The anarchists consider, therefore, that to hand over to the state all the main sources of economical life -- the land, the mines, the railways, banking, insurance, and so on - as also the management of all the main branches of industry, in addition to all the functions already accumulated in its hands (education, state-supported religions, defence of the territory, etc.), would mean to create a new instrument of tyranny. State capitalism would only increase the powers of bureaucracy and capitalism. True progress lies in the direction of decentralisation, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 286]

Thus we have the basic argument why centralism will result in the continuation of class society. Does the Bolshevik experience contradict this analysis? Essentially, it confirms to Kropotkin's predictions on the uselessness of "revolutionary" government:

 

"Instead of acting for themselves, instead of marching forward, instead of advancing in the direction of the new order of things, the people confiding in their governors, entrusted to them the charge of taking initiative. This was the first consequence of the inevitable result of elections. . . Shut up in the city hall, charged to proceed after the forms established by the preceding governments, these ardent revolutionists, these reformers found themselves smitten with incapacity and sterility. . . but it was not the men who were the cause for this failure -- it was the system.. .

"The will of the bulk of the nation once expressed, the rest would submit to it with a good grace, but this is not how things are done. The revolution bursts out long before a general understanding has come, and those who have a clear idea of what should be done the next day are only a very small minority. The great mass of the people have as yet only a general idea of the end which they wish realised, without knowing much how to advance towards that end, and without having much confidence in the direction to follow. The practical solution will not be found, will not be made clear until the change will have already begun. It will be the product of the revolution itself, of the people in action, -- or else it will be nothing, incapable of finding solutions which can only spring from the life of the people. . . The government becomes a parliament with all the vices of a middle-class parliament. Far from being a 'revolutionary' government it becomes the greatest obstacle to the revolution and at last the people find themselves compelled to put it out of the way, to dismiss those that but yesterday they acclaimed as their children.

"But it is not so easy to do so. The new government which has hastened to organise a new administration in order to extend it's domination and make itself obeyed does not understand giving up so easily. Jealous of maintaining it's power, it clings to it with all the energy of an institution which has yet had time to fall into senile decay. It decides to oppose force with force, and there is only one means then to dislodge it, namely, to take up arms, to make another revolution in order to dismiss those in whom the people had placed all their hopes." [Op. Cit., pp. 240-2]

By the spring and summer of 1918, the Bolshevik party had consolidated its power. It had created a new state, marked as all states are by the concentration of power in a few hands and bureaucracy. Effective power became concentrated into the hands of the executive committees of the soviets from top to bottom. Faced with rejection at soviet election after soviet election, the Bolsheviks simply disbanded them and gerrymandered the rest. At the summit of the new state, a similar process was at work. The soviets had little real power, which was centralised in Lenin's new government. This is discussed in more detail in section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?". Thus centralisation quickly displaced popular power and participation. As predicted by Russia anarchists in November 1917:

 

"Once their power is consolidated and 'legalised', the Bolsheviks -- who are Social Democrats, that is, men of centralist and authoritarian action -- will begin to rearrange the life of the country and of the people by governmental and dictatorial methods, imposed by the centre. The[y] . . . will dictate the will of the party to all Russia, and command the whole nation. Your Soviets and your other local organisations will become little by little, simply executive organs of the will of the central government. In the place of healthy, constructive work by the labouring masses, in place of free unification from the bottom, we will see the installation of an authoritarian and statist apparatus which would act from above and set about wiping out everything that stood in its way with an iron hand. The Soviets and other organisations will have to obey and do its will. That will be called 'discipline.'" [quoted by Voline, The Unknown Revolution, p. 235]

>From top to bottom, the new party in power systematically undermined the influence and power of the soviets they claimed to be ensuring the power of. This process had begun, it should be stressed before the start of the civil war in May, 1918. Thus Leninist Tony Cliff is wrong to state that it was "under the iron pressure of the civil war" which forced the Bolshevik leaders "to move, as the price of survival, to a one-party system." [Revolution Besieged, p. 163] From the summer of 1918 (i.e. before the civil war even started), the Bolsheviks had turned from the first of Kropotkin's "revolutionary" governments (representative government) to the other, dictatorship, with sadly predictable results.

So far, the anarchist predictions on the nature of centralised revolutionary governments had been confirmed. Being placed in a new social position and, therefore, different social relationships, produced a dramatic revision on the perspectives of the Bolsheviks. They went from being in favour of party power to being in favour of party dictatorship. They acted to ensure their power by making accountability and recall difficult, if not impossible, and simply ignored any election results which did not favour them.

What of the second prediction of anarchism, namely that centralisation will recreate bureaucracy? That, too, was confirmed. After all, some means were required to gather, collate and provide information by which the central bodies made their decisions. Thus a necessary side-effect of Bolshevik centralism was bureaucracy, which, as is well known, ultimately fused with the party and replaced Leninism with Stalinism. The rise of a state bureaucracy started immediately with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. Instead of the state starting to "wither away" from the start it grew:

 

"The old state's political apparatus was 'smashed,' but in its place a new bureaucratic and centralised system emerged with extraordinary rapidity. After the transfer of government to Moscow in March 1918 it continued to expand . . . As the functions of the state expanded so did the bureaucracy, and by August 1918 nearly a third of Moscow's working population were employed in offices [147,134 employed in state institutions and 83,886 in local ones. This was 13.7% of the total adult population and 29.6% of the independent population of 846,095]. The great increase in the number of employees . . . took place in early to mid-1918 and, thereafter, despite many campaigns to reduce their number, they remained a steady proportion of the falling population . . . At first the problem was dismissed by arguments that the impressive participation of the working class in state structures was evidence that there was no 'bureaucratism' in the bureaucracy. According to the industrial census of 31 August 1918, out of 123,578 workers in Moscow, only 4,191 (3.4 percent) were involved in some sort of public organisation . . . Class composition is a dubious criterion of the level of bureaucratism. Working class participation in state structures did not ensure an organisation against bureaucratism, and this was nowhere more true than in the new organisations that regulated the economic life of the country." [Richard Sakwa, "The Commune State in Moscow in 1918," pp. 429-449, Slavic Review, vol. 46, no. 3/4, pp. 437-8]

The "bureaucracy grew by leaps and bounds. Control over the new bureaucracy constantly diminished, partly because no genuine opposition existed. The alienation between 'people' and 'officials,' which the soviet system was supposed to remove, was back again. Beginning in 1918, complaints about 'bureaucratic excesses,' lack of contact with voters, and new proletarian bureaucrats grew louder and louder." [Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 242]

Overtime, this permanent collection of bodies would become the real power in the state, with the party members nominally in charge really under the control of an unelected and uncontrolled officialdom. This was recognised by Lenin in the last years of his life. As he noted in 1922:

 

"Let us look at Moscow . . . Who is leading whom? The 4,700 responsible Communists the mass of bureaucrats, or the other way round? I do not believe that you can say that the Communists are leading this mass. To put it honestly, they are not the leaders, but the led." [quoted by Chris Harman, Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe, p. 13]

By the end of 1920, there were five times more state officials than industrial workers. 5, 880,000 were members of the state bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy had existed since the start. As noted above, the 231,000 people employed in offices in in Moscow in August 1918 represented 30 per cent of the workforce there. "By 1920 the general number of office workers . . . still represented about a third of those employed in the city." In November, 1920, they were 200 000 office workers in Moscow, compared to 231 000 in August, 1918. By July, 1921 (in spite of a plan to transfer 10,000 away) their numbers had increased to 228,000 and by October 1922, to 243,000. [Richard Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power, p. 192, p. 191 and p. 193]

This makes perfect sense as "on coming to power the Bolsheviks smashed the old state but rapidly created their own apparatus to wage the political and economic offensive against the bourgeois and capitalism. As the functions of the state expanded, so did the bureaucracy . . . following the revolution the process of institutional proliferation reached unprecedented heights." [Op. Cit., p. 191] And with bureaucracy came the abuse of it simply because it held real power:

 

"The prevalence of bureaucracy, of committees and commissions . . . permitted, and indeed encouraged, endless permutations of corrupt practices. These raged from the style of living of communist functionaries to bribe-taking by officials. With the power of allocation of scare resources, such as housing, there was an inordinate potential for corruption." [Op. Cit., p. 193]

The growth in power of the bureaucracy should not, therefore, come as a major surprise given that had existed from the start in sizeable numbers. However, for the Bolsheviks "the development of a bureaucracy" was a puzzle, "whose emergence and properties mystified them." However, it should be noted that, "[f]or the Bolsheviks, bureaucratism signified the escape of this bureaucracy from the will of the party as it took on a life of its own." [Sakwa, Op. Cit., p. 182 and p. 190] This was the key. They did not object the usurpation of power by the party (indeed they placed party dictatorship at the core of their politics and universalised it to a general principle for all "socialist" revolutions). Nor did they object to the centralisation of power and activity (and so the bureaucratisation of life). They only objected to it when the bureaucracy was not doing what the party wanted it to. Indeed, this was the basic argument of Trotsky against Stalinism (see section 3 of the appendix on "Were any of the Bolshevik oppositions a real alternative?").

Faced with this bureaucracy, the Bolsheviks tried to combat it (unsuccessfully) and explain it. As the failed to achieve the latter, they failed in the former. Given the Bolshevik fixation for all things centralised, they simply added to the problem rather than solve it. Thus we find that "[o]n the eve of the VIII Party Congress Lenin had argued that centralisation was the only way to combat bureaucratism." [Sakwa, Op. Cit., p. 196]

Unsurprisingly, Lenin's "anti-bureaucratic" policies in the last years of his live were "organisational ones. He purposes the formation of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection to correct bureaucratic deformations in the party and state -- and this body falls under Stalin's control and becomes highly bureaucratic in its own right. Lenin then suggests that the size of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection be reduced and that it be merged with the Control Commission. He advocates enlarging the Central Committee. Thus it rolls along; this body to be enlarged, this one to be merged with another, still a third to be modified or abolished. The strange ballet of organisational forms continues up to his very death, as though the problem could be resolved by organisational means." [Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 205]

Failing to understand the links between centralism and bureaucracy, Lenin had to find another source for the bureaucracy. He found one. He "argued that the low cultural level of the working class prevented mass involvement in management and this led to bureaucratism . . . the new state could only reply on a minuscule layer of workers while the rest were backward because of the low cultural level of the country." However, such an explanation is by no means convincing: "Such culturalist assertions, which could neither be proved or disproved but which were politically highly effective in explaining the gulf, served to blur the political and structural causes of the problem. The working class was thus held responsible for the failings of the bureaucracy. At the end of the civil war the theme of the backwardness of the proletariat was given greater elaboration in Lenin's theory of the declassing of the proletariat." [Sakwa, Op. Cit., p. 195] Given that the bureaucracy had existed from the start, it is hard to say that a more "cultured" working class would have been in a better position to control the officials of a highly centralised state bureaucracy. Given the problems workers in "developed" nations have in controlling their (centralised) union bureaucracies, Lenin's explanation seems simply inadequate and, ultimately, self-serving.

Nor was this centralism particularly efficient. You need only read Goldman's or Berkman's accounts of their time in Bolshevik Russia to see how inefficient and wasteful centralisation and its resultant bureaucracy was in practice (see My Disillusionment in Russia and The Bolshevik Myth, respectively). This can be traced, in part, to the centralised economic structures favoured by the Bolsheviks. Rejecting the alternative vision of socialism advocated and, in part created, by the factory committees (and supported wholeheartedly by the Russian Anarchists at the time), the Bolsheviks basically took over and used the "state capitalist" organs created under Tsarism as the basis of their "socialism" (see section 5). As Lenin promised before seizing power:

 

"Forced syndicatisation -- that is, forced fusion into unions [i.e. trusts] under the control of the State -- this is what capitalism has prepared for us -- this is what the Banker State has realised in Germany -- this is what will be completely realisable in Russia by the Soviets, by the dictatorship of the proletariat." [Will the Bolsheviks Maintain Power?, p. 53]

In practice, Lenin's centralised vision soon proved to be a disaster (see section 11 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for details). It was highly inefficient and simply spawned a vast bureaucracy. There was an alternative, as we discuss in section 12 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", the only reason that industry did not totally collapse in Russia during the early months of the revolution was the activity of the factory committees. However, such activity was not part of the Bolshevik vision of centralised socialism and so the factory committees were not encouraged. At the very moment when mass participation and initiative is required (i.e. during a revolution) the Bolsheviks favoured a system which killed it. As Kropotkin argued a few years later:

 

"production and exchange represented an undertaking so complicated that the plans of the state socialists, which lead to a party directorship, would prove to be absolutely ineffective as soon as they were applied to life. No government would be able to organise production if the workers themselves through their unions did not do it in each branch of industry; for in all production there arise daily thousands of difficulties which no government can solve or foresee . . . Only the efforts of thousands of intelligences working on the problems can co-operate in the development of a new social system and find the best solutions for the thousands of local needs." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, pp. 76-7]

No system is perfect. Any system will take time to develop fully. Of course the factory committees made mistakes and, sometimes, things were pretty chaotic with different factories competing for scarce resources. But that does not prove that factory committees and their federations were not the most efficient way of running things under the circumstances. Unless, of course, you share the Bolsheviks a dogmatic belief that central planning is always more efficient. Moreover, attacks on the factory committees for lack of co-ordination by pro-Leninists seem less than sincere, given the utter lack of encouragement (and, often, actual barriers) the Bolsheviks placed in the way of the creation of federations of factory committees (see section 9 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for further details).

Lastly, Bolshevik centralism (as well as being extremely inefficient) also ensured that the control of production and the subsequent surplus would be in the hands of the state and, so, class society would continue. In Russia, capitalism became state capitalism under Lenin and Trotsky (see sections 5 and 6 for more discussion of this).

So Bolshevik support for centralised power ensured that minority power replaced popular power, which, in turn, necessitated bureaucracy to maintain it. Bolshevism retained statist and capitalist social relations and, as such, could not develop socialist ones which, by their very nature, imply egalitarianism in terms of social influence and power (i.e. the abolition of concentrated power, both economic and political). Ironically, by being centralists, the Bolsheviks systematically eliminated mass participation and ensured the replacement of popular power with party power. This saw the rebirth of non-socialist social relationships within society, so ensuring the defeat of the socialist tendencies and institutions which had started to grow during 1917.

It cannot be said that this centralism was a product of the civil war. As best it could be argued that the civil war extenuated an existing centralist spirit into ultra-centralism, but it did not create it. After all, Lenin was stressing that the Bolsheviks were "convinced centralists . . . by their programme and the tactics of the whole of their party" in 1917. Ironically, he never realised (nor much cared, after the seizure of power) that this position precluded his call for "the deepening and extension of democracy in the administration of a State of the of the proletarian type." [Can the Bolsheviks Maintain Power?, p. 74 and p. 55] Given that centralism exists to ensure minority rule, we should not be to surprised that party power replaced popular participation and self-government quickly after the October Revolution. Which it did. Writing in September 1918, a Russian anarchist portrays the results of Bolshevik ideology in practice:

 

"Within the framework of this dictatorship [of the proletariat] . . . we can see that the centralisation of power has begun to crystallise and grow firm, that the apparatus of the state is being consolidated by the ownership of property and even by an anti-socialist morality. Instead of hundreds of thousands of property owners there is now a single owner served by a whole bureaucratic system and a new 'statised' morality.

"The proletariat is gradually being enserfed by the state. The people are being transformed into servants over whom there has risen a new class of administrators -- a new class . . . Isn't this merely a new class system looming on the revolutionary horizon . . .

"The resemblance is all too striking . . . And if the elements of class inequality are as yet indistinct, it is only a matter of time before privileges will pass to the administrators. We do not mean to say . . . that the Bolshevik party set out to create a new class system. But we do say that even the best intentions and aspirations must inevitably be smashed against the evils inherent in any system of centralised power. The separation of management from labour, the division between administrators and workers flows logically from, centralisation. It cannot be otherwise . . . we are presently moving not towards socialism but towards state capitalism.

"Will state capitalism lead us to the gates of socialism? Of this we see not the slightest evidence . . . Arrayed against socialism are . . . thousands of administrators. And if the workers . . . should become a powerful revolutionary force, then it is hardly necessary to point out that the class of administrators, wielding the state apparatus, will be a far from weak opponent. The single owner and state capitalism form a new dam before the waves of our social revolution. . .

"Is it at all possible to conduct the social revolution through a centralised authority? Not even a Solomon could direct the revolutionary struggle or the economy from one centre . . ." [M. Sergven, cited by Paul Avrich, Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, pp. 123-5]

Subsequent developments proved this argument correct. Working class revolts were crushed by the state and a new class society developed. little wonder, then, Alexander Berkman's summary of what he saw first hand in Bolshevik Russia a few years later:

 

"Mechanical centralisation, run mad, is paralysing the industrial and economic activities of the country. Initiative is frowned upon, free effort systematically discouraged. The great masses are deprived of the opportunity to shape the policies of the Revolution, or take part in the administration of the affairs of the country. The government is monopolising every avenue of life; the Revolution is divorced from the people. A bureaucratic machine is created that is appalling in its parasitism, inefficiency and corruption. In Moscow alone this new class of sovburs (Soviet bureaucrats) exceeds, in 1920, the total of office holders throughout the whole of Russia under the Tsar in 1914 . . . The Bolshevik economic policies, effectively aided by this bureaucracy, completely disorganise the already crippled industrial life of the country. Lenin, Zinoviev, and other Communist leaders thunder philippics against the new Soviet bourgeoisie, - and issue ever new decrees that strengthen and augment its numbers and influence." [The Russian Tragedy, p. 26]

Bakunin would not have been remotely surprised. As such, the Bolshevik revolution provided a good example to support Malatesta's argument that "if . . . one means government action when one talks of social action, then this is still the resultant of individual forces, but only of those individuals who form the government . . . it follows. . . that far from resulting in an increase in the productive, organising and protective forces in society, it would greatly reduce them, limiting initiative to a few, and giving them the right to do everything without, of course, being able to provide them with the gift of being all-knowing." [Anarchy, pp. 36-7]

By confusing "state action" with collective working class action, the Bolsheviks effectively eliminated the latter in favour of the former. The usurpation of all aspects of life by the centralised bodies created by the Bolsheviks left workers with no choice but to act as isolated individuals. Can it be surprising, then, that Bolshevik policies aided the atomisation of the working class by replacing collective organisation and action by state bureaucracy? The potential for collective action was there. You need only look at the strikes and protests directed against the Bolsheviks to see that was the case (see section 5 of the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?" for details). Ironically, Bolshevik policies and ideology ensured that the collective effort and action of workers was directed not at solving the revolution's problems but resisting Bolshevik tyranny.

That centralism concentrates power in a few hands can be seen even in Leninist accounts of the Russian revolution. To take one example, Tony Cliff may assert that the "mistakes of the masses were themselves creative" but when push comes to shove, he (like Lenin) simply does not allow the masses to make such mistakes and, consequently, learn from them. Thus he defends Lenin's economic policies of "state capitalism" and "one-man management" (and in the process misleadingly suggests that these were new ideas on Lenin's part, imposed by objective factors, rather than, as Lenin acknowledged, what he had advocated all along -- see section 5). Thus we discover that the collapse of industry (which had started in the start of 1917) meant that "[d]rastic measures had to be taken." But never fear, "Lenin was not one to shirk responsibility, however unpleasant the task." He called for "state capitalism," and there "were more difficult decisions to be accepted. To save industry from complete collapse, Lenin argued for the need to impose one-man management." So much for the creative self-activity of the masses, which was quickly dumped -- precisely at the time when it was most desperately needed. And it is nice to know that in a workers' state it is not the workers who decide things. Rather it is Lenin (or his modern equivalent, like Cliff) who would have the task of not shirking from the responsibility of deciding which drastic measures are required. [Op. Cit., p. 21, p. 71 and p. 73] So much for "workers' power"!

Ultimately, centralism is designed to exclude the mass participation anarchists have long argued is required by a social revolution. It helped to undermine what Kropotkin considered the key to the success of a social revolution -- "the people becom[ing] masters of their destiny." [Op. Cit., p. 133] In his words:

 

"We understand the revolution as a widespread popular movement, during which in every town and village within the region of revolt, the masses will have to take it upon themselves the work of construction upon communistic bases, without awaiting any orders and directions from above . . . As to representative government, whether self-appointed or elected . . . , we place in it no hopes whatever. We know beforehand that it will be able to do nothing to accomplish the revolution as long as the people themselves do not accomplish the change by working out on the spot the necessary new institutions . . . nowhere and never in history do we find that people carried into government by a revolutionary wave, have proved equal to the occasion.

"In the task of reconstructing society on new principles, separate men . . . are sure to fail. The collective spirit of the masses is necessary for this purpose . . . a socialist government . . . would be absolutely powerless without the activity of the people themselves, and that, necessarily, they would soon begin to act fatally as a bridle upon the revolution." [Op. Cit., pp. 188-190]

The Bolshevik revolution and its mania for centralism proved him right. The use of centralisation helped ensure that workers' lost any meaningful say in their revolution and helped alienate them from it. Instead of the mass participation of all, the Bolsheviks ensured the top-down rule of a few. Unsurprisingly, as mass participation is what centralism was designed to exclude. Wishful thinking on behalf of the Bolshevik leaders (and their later-day followers) could not (and can not) overcome the structural imperatives of centralisation and its role in society. Nor could it stop the creation of a bureaucracy around these new centralised institutions.

 

8 How did the aim for party power undermine the revolution?

As well as a passion for centralisation and state capitalism, Bolshevism had another aim which helped undermine the revolution. This was the goal of party power (see see section 5 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for details). Given this, namely that the Bolsheviks had, from the start, aimed for party power it should not come as too surprising that Bolshevik dictatorship quickly replaced soviet democracy.

Given this obvious fact, it seems strange for modern day Leninists to blame the civil war for the Bolsheviks substituting their rule for the masses. After all, when strange for modern day Leninists to blame the civil war for the Bolsheviks substituting their rule for the masses. After all, when the Bolshevik Party took power in October 1917, it did "substitute" itself for the working class and did so deliberately and knowingly. As we note in section 2, this usurpation of power by a minority was perfectly acceptable within the Marxist theory of the state, a theory which aided this process no end.

Thus the Bolshevik party would be in power, with the "conscious workers" ruling over the rest. The question instantly arises of what happens if the masses turn against the party. If the Bolsheviks embody "the power of the proletariat," what happens if the proletariat reject the party? The undermining of soviet power by party power and the destruction of soviet democracy in the spring and summer of 1918 answers that specific question (see section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?"). This should have come as no surprise, given the stated aim (and implementation) of party power plus the Bolshevik identification of party power with workers' power. It is not a great step to party dictatorship over the proletariat from these premises (particularly if we include the underlying assumptions of vanguardism -- see section H.5.3). A step, we must stress, that the Bolsheviks quickly took when faced with working class rejection in the soviet elections of spring and summer of 1918.

Nor was this destruction of soviet democracy by party power just the result of specific conditions in 1917-8. This perspective had been in Russian Marxist circles well before the revolution. As we discuss in section H.5, vanguardism implies party power (see, as noted, section H.5.3 in particular). The ideas of Lenin's What is to be Done? give the ideological justification for party dictatorship over the masses. Once in power, the logic of vanguardism came into its own, allowing the most disgraceful repression of working class freedoms to be justified in terms of "Soviet Power" and other euphemisms for the party.

The identification of workers' power with party power has deeply undemocratic results, as the experience of the Bolshevik proves. However, these results were actually articulated in Russian socialist circles before hand. At the divisive 1903 congress of the Russian Social Democrats, which saw the split into two factions (Bolshevik and Menshevism) Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, argued as follows:

 

"Every particular democratic principle must be considered not in itself, abstractly, . . . the success of the revolution is the highest law. And if, for the success of the revolution's success, we need temporarily to restrict the functioning of a particular democratic principle, then it would be criminal to refrain from imposing that restriction. . . And we must take the same attitude where the question of the length of parliaments is concerned. If, in an outburst of revolutionary enthusiasm, the people elect a very good parliament . . . it would suit us to try and make that a long Parliament; but if the elections turned out badly for us, we should have to try and disperse the resulting parliament not after two years but, if possible, after two weeks." [RSDLP, Minutes of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, p. 220]

Another delegate argued that "[t]here is not a single one among the principles of democracy which we ought not to subordinate to the interests of our Party . . . we must consider democratic principles exclusively from the standpoint of the most rapid achievement of that aim [i.e. revolution], from the standpoint of the interests of our Party. If any particular demand is against our interests, we must not include it." To which, Plekhanov replied, "I fully associate myself with what Comrade Posadovksy has said." [Op. Cit., p. 219 and p. 220] Lenin "agreed unreservedly with this subordination of democratic principles to party interests." [Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 211]

Plekhanov at this time was linked with Lenin, although this association lasted less than a year. After that, he became associated with the Mensheviks (before his support for Russia in World War I saw him form his own faction). Needless to say, he was mightily annoyed when Lenin threw his words back in his face in 1918 when the Bolsheviks disbanded the Constituent Assembly. Yet while Plekhanov came to reject this position (perhaps because the elections had not "turned out badly for" his liking) it is obvious that the Bolsheviks embraced it and keenly applied it to elections to soviets and unions as well as Parliaments once in power (see section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for example). But, at the time, he sided with Lenin against the Mensheviks and it can be argued that the latter applied these teachings of that most respected pre-1914 Russian Marxist thinker.

This undemocratic perspective can also be seen when, in 1905, the St. Petersburg Bolsheviks, like most of the party, opposed the soviets. They argued that "only a strong party along class lines can guide the proletarian political movement and preserve the integrity of its program, rather than a political mixture of this kind, an indeterminate and vacillating political organisation such as the workers council represents and cannot help but represent." [quoted by Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 77] Thus the soviets could not reflect workers' interests because they were elected by the workers!

The Bolsheviks saw the soviets as a rival to their party and demanded it either accept their political program or simply become a trade-union like organisation. They feared that it pushed aside the party committee and thus led to the "subordination of consciousness to spontaneity" and under the label "non-party" allow "the rotten goods of bourgeois ideology" to be introduced among the workers. [quoted by Anweilier, Op. Cit., p. 78 and p. 79] In this, the St. Petersburg Bolsheviks were simply following Lenin's What is to be Done?, in which Lenin had argued that the "spontaneous development of the labour movement leads to it being subordinated to bourgeois ideology." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 82] Lenin in 1905, to his credit, rejected these clear conclusions of his own theory and was more supportive of the soviets than his followers (although "he sided in principle with those who saw in the soviet the danger of amorphous nonpartisan organisation." [Anweilier, Op. Cit., p. 81]).

This perspective, however, is at the root of all Bolshevik justifications for party power after the October revolution. The logical result of this position can be found in the actions of the Bolsheviks in 1918 and onwards. For the Bolsheviks in power, the soviets were less than important. The key for them was to maintain Bolshevik party power and if soviet democracy was the price to pay, then they were more than willing to pay it. As such, Bolshevik attitudes in 1905 are significant:

 

"Despite the failure of the Bolshevik assault on the non-partisanship of the [St.] Petersburg Soviet, which may be dismissed as a passing episode . . . the attempt . . . is of particular significance in understanding the Bolshevik's mentality, political ambitions and modus operandi. First, starting in [St.] Petersburg, the Bolshevik campaign was repeated in a number of provincial soviets such as Kostroma and Tver, and, possibly, Sormovo. Second, the assault reveals that from the outset the Bolsheviks were distrustful of, if not hostile towards the Soviets, to which they had at best an instrumental and always party-minded attitude. Finally, the attempt to bring the [St.] Petersburg Soviet to heel is an early and major example of Bolshevik take-over techniques hitherto practised within the narrow confines of the underground party and now extended to the larger arena of open mass organisations such as soviets, with the ultimate aim of controlling them and turning them into one-party organisations, or, failing that, of destroying them." [Israel Getzler, "The Bolshevik Onslaught on the Non-Party 'Political Profile' of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies October-November 1905", Revolutionary History, pp. 123-146, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 124-5]

The instrumentalist approach of the Bolsheviks post-1917 can be seen from their arguments and attitudes in 1905. On the day the Moscow soviet opened, a congress of the northern committees of the Social Democratic Party passed a resolution stating that a "council of workers deputies should be established only in places where the party organisation has no other means of directing the proletariat's revolutionary action . . . The soviet of workers deputies must be a technical instrument of the party for the purpose of giving political leadership to the masses through the RSDWP [the Social-Democratic Party]. It is therefore imperative to gain control of the soviet and prevail upon it to recognise the program and political leadership of the RSDWP." [quoted by Anweilier, Op. Cit., p. 79]

This perspective that the party should be given precedence can be seen in Lenin's comment that while the Bolsheviks should "go along with the unpoliticalised proletarians, but on no account and at no time should we forget that animosity among the proletariat toward the Social Democrats is a remnant of bourgeois attitudes . . . Participation in unaffiliated organisations can be permitted to socialists only as an exception . . . only if the independence of the workers party is guaranteed and if within unaffiliated organisations or soviets individual delegates or party groups are subject to unconditional control and guidance by the party executive." [quoted by Anweilier, Op. Cit., p. 81] These comments have clear links to Lenin's argument in 1920 that working class protest against the Bolsheviks showed that they had become "declassed" (see section 5 of the appendix on "What caused the degeneration of the Russian Revolution?"). It similarly allows soviets to be disbanded if Bolsheviks are not elected (which they were, see section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?"). It also ensures that Bolshevik representatives to the soviets are not delegates from the workplace, but rather a "transmission belt" (to use a phrase from the 1920s) for the decisions of the party leadership. In a nutshell, Bolshevik soviets would represent the party's central committee, not those who elected them. As Oskar Anweiler summarised:

 

"The 'revolutionary genius' of the people, which Lenin had mentioned and which was present in the soviets, constantly harboured the danger of 'anarcho-syndicalist tendencies' that Lenin fought against all his life. He detected this danger early in the development of the soviets and hoped to subdue it by subordinating the soviets to the party. The drawback of the new 'soviet democracy' hailed by Lenin in 1906 is that he could envisage the soviets only as controlled organisations; for him they were the instruments by which the party controlled the working masses, rather than true forms of a workers democracy." [Op. Cit., p. 85]

As we noted in section H.3.11, Lenin had concluded in 1907 that while the party could "utilise" the soviets "for the purpose of developing the Social-Democratic movement," the party "must bear in mind that if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous." [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 210] Thus the means by which working class can manage their own affairs would become "superfluous" once the party was in power. As Samuel Farber argues, Lenin's position before 1917 was "clearly implying that the party could normally fulfil its revolutionary role without the existence of broad class organisations . . . Consequently, Lenin's and the party's eventual endorsement of the soviets in 1905 seems to have been tactical in character. That is, the Bolshevik support for the soviets did not at the time signify a theoretical and/or principled commitment to these institutions as revolutionary organs to overthrow the old society, let alone as key structural ingredients of the post-revolutionary order. Furthermore, it is again revealing that from 1905 to 1917 the concept of soviets did not play an important role in the thinking of Lenin or of the Bolshevik Party . . . [T]hese strategies and tactics vis-a-vis the soviets . . . can be fairly seen as expressing a predisposition favouring the party and downgrading the soviets and other non-party class organisations, at least in relative terms." [Before Stalinism, p. 37] Such a perspective on the soviets can be seen once the party was in power when they quickly turned them, without concern, into mere fig-leafs for party power (see section 6 of the appendix "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" for more details).

It cannot be mere coincidence that the ideas and rhetoric against the soviets in 1905 should resurface again once the Bolsheviks were in power. For example, in 1905, in St. Petersburg "the Bolsheviks pressed on" with their campaign and, "according to the testimony of Vladimir Voitinskii, then a young Bolshevik agitator, the initial thrust of the Bolshevik 'plan' was to push the SRs [who were in a minority] out of the Soviet, while 'the final blow' would be directed against the Mensheviks. Voitinskii also recalled the heated argument advanced by the popular agitator Nikolai Krylenko ('Abram') for the 'dispersal of the Soviet' should it reject the 'ultimatum' to declare its affiliation with the RSDP." [Getzler, Op., Cit., pp. 127-8] This mirrored events in 1918. Then "at the local political level" Bolshevik majorities were attained ("by means fair, foul and terrorist") "in the plenary assemblies of the soviets, and with the barring of all those not 'completely dedicated to Soviet power' [i.e. Mensheviks and SRs] from the newly established network of soviet administrative departments and from the soviet militias. Soviets where Bolshevik majorities could not be achieved were simply disbanded." A similar process occurred at the summit (see section 7). Thus "the October revolution marked [the soviets] transformation from agents of democratisation into regional and local administrative organs of the centralised, one-party Soviet state." [Israel Getzler, Soviets as Agents of Democratisation, p. 27 and pp. 26-7]

Can such an outcome really have no link at all with the Bolshevik position and practice in period before 1917 and, in particular, during the 1905 revolution? Obviously not. As such, we should not be too surprised or shocked when Lenin replied to a critic who assailed the "dictatorship of one party" in 1919 by clearly and unashamedly stating: "Yes, the dictatorship of one party! We stand upon it and cannot depart from this ground, since this is the party which in the course of decades has won for itself the position of vanguard of the whole factory and industrial proletariat." [quoted by E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, p. 236] Or when he replied to a critic in 1920 that "[h]e says we understand by the words dictatorship of proletariat what is actually the dictatorship of its determined and conscious minority. And that is the fact." This "minority . . . may be called a party," Lenin stressed. [quoted by Arthur Ransome, The Crisis in Russia 1920, p. 35]

This perspective can be traced back to the underlying ideology expounded by the Bolsheviks before and during 1917. For example, mere days after seizing power in the October Revolution Lenin was stressing that the Bolsheviks' "present slogan is: No compromise, i.e. for a homogeneous Boshevik government." He did not hesitate to use the threat to "appeal to the sailors" against the other socialist parties, stating "[i]f you get the majority, take power in the Central Executive Committee and carry one. But we will go to the sailors." [quoted by Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol. 3, p. 26] Clearly soviet power was far from Lenin's mind, rejecting soviet democracy if need be in favour of party power. Strangely, Cliff (a supporter of Lenin) states that Lenin "did not visualise one-party rule" and that the "first decrees and laws issued after the October revolution were full of repetitions of the word 'democracy.'" [Op. Cit., p. 161 and p. 146] He goes on to quote Lenin stating that "[a]s a democratic government we cannot ignore the decision of the masses of the people, even though we disagree with it." Cliff strangely fails to mention that Lenin also applied this not only to the land decree (as Cliff notes) but also to the Constituent Assembly. "And even if," Lenin continued, "the peasants continue to follow the Socialist Revolutionaries, even if they give this party a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we shall still say -- what of it?" [Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 26, pp. 260-1] But the Bolsheviks disbanded the Constituent Assembly after one session. The peasants had voted for the SRs and the Assembly went the same way as Lenin's promises. And if Lenin's promises of 1917 on the Assembly proved to be of little value, then why should his various comments to soviet democracy be considered any different? In a clash between soviet democracy and party power, the Bolsheviks consistently favoured the latter.

Thus Bolshevik ideology had consistently favoured party power and had a long term ideological preference for it. Combine this aim of party power with a vanguardism position (see section H.5) and party dictatorship will soon result. Neil Harding summarises the issue well:

 

"There were a number of very basic axioms that lay at the very heart of the theory and practice of Leninism with regard to the party . . . It was the party that disposed of scientific or objective knowledge. Its analysis of the strivings of the proletariat was, therefore, privileged over the proletariat's own class goals and a single discernible class will was, similarly, axiomatic to both Marxism and Leninism. Both maintained that it was the communists who alone articulated these goals and this will -- that was the party's principal historical role.

"At this point, Leninism (again faithful to the Marxist original) resorted to a little-noticed definitional conjuring trick -- one that proved to be of crucial importance for the mesmeric effect of the ideology. The trick was spectacularly simple and audacious -- the class was defined as class only to the extent that it conformed to the party's account of its objectives, and mobilised itself to fulfil them. . . . The messy, real proletarians -- the aggregation of wage workers with all their diverse projects and aspirations -- were to be judged by their progress towards a properly class existence by the party that had itself devised the criteria for the class existence." [Leninism, pp. 173-4]

This authoritarian position, which allows "socialism" to be imposed by force upon the working class, lies at the core of Leninism. Ironically, while Bolshevism claims to be the party of the working class, representing it essentially or exclusively, they do so in the name of possessing a theory that, qua theory, can be the possession of intellectuals and, therefore, has to be "introduced" to the working class from outside (see section H.5.1 for details).

This means that Bolshevism is rooted in the identification of "class consciousness" with supporting the party. Given the underlying premises of vanguardism, unsurprisingly the Bolsheviks took "class consciousness" to mean this. If the workers protested against the policies of the party, this represented a fall in class consciousness and, therefore, working class resistance placed "class" power in danger. If, on the other hand, the workers remained quiet and followed the party's decision then, obviously, they showed high levels of class consciousness. The net effect of this position was, of course, to justify party dictatorship. Which, of course, the Bolsheviks did create and justified ideologically.

Thus the Bolshevik aim for party power results in disempowering the working class in practice. Moreover, the assumptions of vanguardism ensure that only the party leadership is able to judge what is and is not in the interests of the working class. Any disagreement by elements of that class or the whole class itself can be dismissed as "wavering" and "vacillation." While this is perfectly acceptable within the Leninist "from above" perspective, from an anarchist "from below" perspective it means little more than pseudo-theoretical justification for party dictatorship over the proletariat and the ensuring that a socialist society will never be created. Ultimately, socialism without freedom is meaningless -- as the Bolshevik regime proved time and time again.

As such, to claim that the Bolsheviks did not aim to "substitute" party power for working class power seems inconsistent with both Bolshevik theory and practice. Lenin had been aiming for party power from the start, identifying it with working class power. As the party was the vanguard of the proletariat, it was duty bound to seize power and govern on behalf of the masses and, moreover, take any actions necessary to maintain the revolution -- even if these actions violated the basic principles required to have any form of meaningful workers' democracy and freedom. Thus the "dictatorship of the proletariat" had long become equated with party power and, once in power, it was only a matter of time before it became the "dictatorship of the party." And once this did occur, none of the leading Bolsheviks questioned it. The implications of these Bolshevik perspectives came clear after 1917, when the Bolsheviks raised the need for party dictatorship to an ideological truism.

Thus it seems strange to hear some Leninists complain that the rise of Stalinism can be explained by the rising "independence" of the state machine from the class (i.e. party) it claimed to in service of. Needless to say, few Leninists ponder the links between the rising "independence" of the state machine from the proletariat (by which most, in fact, mean the "vanguard" of the proletariat, the party) and Bolshevik ideology. As noted in section H.3.8, a key development in Bolshevik theory on the state was the perceived need for the vanguard to ignore the wishes of the class it claimed to represent and lead. For example, Victor Serge (writing in the 1920s) considered it a truism that the "party of the proletariat must know, at hours of decision, how to break the resistance of the backward elements among the masses; it must know how to stand firm sometimes against the masses . . . it must know how to go against the current, and cause proletarian consciousness to prevail against lack of consciousness and against alien class influences." [Year One of the Russian Revolution, p. 218]

The problem with this is that, by definition, everyone is backward in comparison to the vanguard party. Moreover, in Bolshevik ideology it is the party which determines what is and is not "proletarian consciousness." Thus we have the party ideologue presenting self-justifications for party power over the working class. Now, is the vanguard is to be able to ignore the masses then it must have power over them. Moreover, to be independent of the masses the machine it relies on to implement its power must also, by definition, be independent of the masses. Can we be surprised, therefore, with the rise of the "independent" state bureaucracy in such circumstances? If the state machine is to be independent of the masses then why should we expect it not to become independent of the vanguard? Surely it must be the case that we would be far more surprised if the state machine did not become "independent" of the ruling party?

Nor can it be said that the Bolsheviks learned from the experience of the Russian Revolution. This can be seen from Trotsky's 1937 comments that the "proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from the insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity." Thus "state power" is required not to defend the revolution against reaction but from the working class itself, who do not have a high enough "cultural level" to govern themselves. At best, their role is that of a passive supporter, for "[w]ithout the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power." While soviets "are the only organised form of the tie between the vanguard and the class" it does not mean that they are organs of self-management. No, a "revolutionary content can be given . . . only by the party. This is proved by the positive experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of other countries (Germany, Austria, finally, Spain)." [Stalinism and Bolshevism]

Sadly, Trotsky failed to explicitly address the question of what happens when the "masses" stop having "confidence in the vanguard" and decides to support some other group. After all, if a "revolutionary content" can only be given by "the party" then if the masses reject the party then the soviets can no only be revolutionary. To save the revolution, it would be necessary to destroy the democracy and power of the soviets. Which is exactly what the Bolsheviks did do in 1918. By equating popular power with party power Bolshevism not only opens the door to party dictatorship, it invites it in, gives it some coffee and asks it to make itself a home! Nor can it be said that Trotsky ever appreciated Kropotkin's "general observation" that "those who preach dictatorship do not in general perceive that in sustaining their prejudice they only prepare the way for those who later on will cut their throats." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 244]

In summary, it cannot be a coincidence that once in power the Bolsheviks acted in ways which had clear links to the political ideology it had been advocating before hand. As such, the Bolshevik aim for party power helped undermine the real power of working class people during the Russian revolution. Rooted in a deeply anti-democratic political tradition, it was ideologically predisposed to substitute party power for soviet power and, finally, to create -- and justify -- the dictatorship over the proletariat. The civil war may have shaped certain aspects of these authoritarian tendencies but it did not create them.