Dear Socialist Review

Chuck0's picture

I must admit to being bemused by Howard Miles reply to my letter (Socialist Review no. 249). He states that the "nub of the issue in this debate seems to consist of disagreement over two fundamental notions," namely that "democratic centralist revolutionary party is necessary for a successful socialist revolution" and, secondly, "the necessity of a workers' state arising from a socialist revolution." Nothing could be further from the truth. While these are two fundamental disagreements between anarchism and Marxism, they had absolutely nothing to do with my letter, which indicated how Pat Stack had misrepresented anarchist thought in his article. That Mr. Miles fails to acknowledge this is sad, if not unsurprising. It seems that Stack is not the only SWP member who considers accuracy as an irrelevance when discussing other points of view.

I am happy to discuss Miles arguments, in spite of their irrelevance to the content of my letter. He asks "do anarchists imagine that the capitalist class internationally will just give up and go away" after a revolution? The "threat of counter-revolution," he argues, necessitates "both local and national structures, under the control of the mass of the working class." Anarchists are well aware of this. To quote Bakunin:

"the federative alliance of all working men's associations . . . constitute the Commune . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation. . ."

As can be seen, we are clear on this issue (and the others he wonders about). Not that Miles did not know this already, as this quote is contained in the same article as the "fighting fire with fire" analogy he uses ( Perhaps his use of this analogy is pure co-incidence, but I doubt it.

Now I turn to his argument that the "political unevenness that exists within the working class" makes federalism impractical. Miles talks about "enabling the class to seize power." Is this the actual aim of Leninism? Let us quote Trotsky: "the proletariat can take power only through its vanguard." Thus, rather than the working class as a whole seizing power, it is the "vanguard" which takes power -- "a revolutionary party, even after seizing power . . . is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society." Which is, of course, true -- they are still organs of working class self-management (such as factory committees, workers councils, trade unions, soldier committees) through which working people can still exercise their sovereignty. Such working class organs do conflict with the sovereign rule of the party and so have to be undermined. Little wonder the Bolsheviks disbanded soviets with elected non-Bolshevik majorities, decreed the end of soldier democracy in the Red Army and urged "dictatorial" one-man management instead of workers' self-management.

Why does the "revolutionary party" have to be the "sovereign ruler of society" rather than the working class as a whole? Simply because of the latter's "political unevenness." As Trotsky argued:

"The dictatorship of a party belongs to the barbarian prehistory as does the state itself, but we can not jump over this chapter. . . Abstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions. The reason for the revolution comes from the circumstance that capitalism does not permit the material and the moral development of the masses."

In this he was just repeating the Platform of the Left Opposition and its "Leninist principle" ("inviolable for every Bolshevik") that "the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be realised only through the dictatorship of the party."

Such a position necessitates centralism, of course, but it is a denial of workers' power and any claim that the working class seizes power in the so-called "workers' state." Centralism was designed for minority rule and to "exclude the mass of people from taking part in decision-making processes in society" in class society (again Miles is paraphrasing my article), so it comes as no surprise that Bolshevism argues for it.

Miles states that "failure to use the only form of revolutionary organisation that has worked in the past" will "inevitably condemn future revolutions to failure." Strange. Did the Russian Revolution actually result in soviet democracy? Far from it. The Kronstadt revolt was repressed because it demanded soviet power. Nor was this an isolated example. The Bolsheviks had been disbanding soviets with elected non-Bolshevik majorities since early 1918 (i.e. before the start of the Civil War).

It will, of course, be argued that the Civil War caused the degeneration of the revolution. Let us ignore that this had begun before it started (as well as Trotsky's arguments) and instead assume that the Civil War was the cause of party dictatorship. Lenin argued in 1917 that "not a single great revolution in history has escaped civil war." If Civil War is inevitable and Bolshevism cannot survive it without degenerating then, clearly, Bolshevism failed in the Russian Revolution. Bolshevism, with its centralism, party power and statism did not work in the past, as Russia proved.

The real "nub" of the issue is whether you confuse workers' power with party power. Leninism clearly does. Anarchism does not. We do not deny that there is political unevenness within the working class. Indeed, that is why we support federalism (and the need for specific anarchist organisations to influence the class struggle). Only by encouraging the active participation of working class people in their own organisations, struggles and revolution can the political development of the working classes be ensured. By discussing and debating the needs of the class struggle and revolution, by organising from the bottom up and using federated workers' councils to co-ordinate struggle, the political awareness of the majority will be increased. By centralising power in a state, this process is aborted as the working class is divested of its power to manage its own revolution and its organisations just become fig leafs for party power.

That is why anarchists follow Bakunin when he argued for "the free organisation of the working masses from below upwards" as the basis of a real working class revolution. If you are interested in real "socialism from below" discover anarchism ("the principle, 'only from below' is an anarchist principle" -- Lenin). I would again suggest you visit for details and a further discussion of these issues.

yours sincerely

Iain McKay


Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Iain McKay