"Incapacity of the masses." What a tool for all exploiters and dominators, past, present, and future, and especially for the modern aspiring enslavers, whatever their insignia -- Nazism, Bolshevism, Fascism, or Communism. "Incapacity of the masses." The is a point on which the reactionaries of all colors are in perfect agreement with the "communists." And this agreement is exceedingly significant. 1
It is necessary to abolish completely in principle and in practice everything that may be called political power, for as long as political power exists, there will always be rulers and ruled, masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited. 2
Even 'successful' revolution is problematic. It is necessary to think twice not only about how one goes about winning but also about what exactly winning is.:
The crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871 -- or of the Budapest up-rising in 1956 -- showed that proletarian revolts face immensely difficult problems of organization and politics. They showed that an insurrection can be isolated and that the ruling classes will not hesitate to employ any violence or savagery when their power is at stake. But what happened in the Russian Revolution compels us to consider not only the conditions for working class victory, but also the content and the possible fate of such a victory, its consolidation, its development, and the seeds that it might contain of a defeat, infinitely more far reaching than the ones inflicted by the troops of the Versailles or by Kruschev's tanks. 3We see the Soviet Union in 1972 as an exploitative society with a ruling bureaucracy that furthers its own vested interests at the expense of the people's welfare. If it has some advantages over western society it also leaves much to be desired. Where did the revolution go wrong? Was it Stalin? Was it the contingencies of backwardness and Civil War? Was it isolation? Or was it perhaps the weakness of Lenin, Trotsky, the whole Bolshevik strategy, and even the Classical Marxist theory underneath it all?
But the essential question is not whether there has been progress, as progress itsmrelf is not too difficult to achieve, but whether there has been the maximum possible degree of progress in existing conditions. In other words one must consider the point of departure, all the alternatives and their results, (real and potential), then combine all this into a whole, compare the various alternatives, and only then evaluate the results. 4From an historical perspective the important question is whether or not an alternative and superior form of development was possible. From our perspective the most important questions are what does the Bolshevik experience say about Marxism Leninism, and what are the implications for our own political options in the advanced west? In this chapter we examine the revolution's practice with an eye toward critiquing its strategy and then its theory.
The revolution was sparked by government inability to meet any demands of the masses. The Bolsheviks didn't organize it, they appropriated it. As Trotsky says in his version of the history:
The soldiers lagged behind the shop committees... the committees lagged behind the masses .... The Party also lagged behind the revolutionary dynamic -- an organization which had the least right to lag, especially in a time of revolution... The most revolutionary party which human history until this time had ever known was nevertheless caught unawares by events of history. It reconstructed itself in the fires, and staightened out its ranks under the onslaught of events. The masses at the turning point were a hundred times to the left of the Party. 5Trotsky goes on and says firmly that "the Central Committee was unable to give directions for the coming day." 6 According to his history the Bolsheviks usually tried to slow things up but the masses paid little or no attention and spontaneously pushed ahead. "The movement had begun from below irrespective of the Bolsheviks -- to a certain extent against their will." 7
Further, according to Trotsky, Lenin was the only one who knew what was going on, and what to do, and he pushed everybody else along. Trotsky even says that things were so chaotic that Lenin had to bypass the central committee and break discipline over and over in order to get things into line and that "Lenin did not decide easily on such steps, but it was a question of the fate of the revolution and other considerations fell away." 8
At the uprising's crucial point the Petrograd garrison transferred their allegiance to Lenin and Trotsky and the revolution was carried out successfully and easily. But even with victory in sight certain Party members pressed for a coalition government with the Mensheviks and others. They could conceive only of a middle-class revolution led by a coalition, but Lenin stuck to his anti-imperialist position and fought successfully for his conception of a Bolshevik Democratic Dictatorship.
The Soviets brought the masses liberty, the Bolsheviks pursued peace, the peasants were authorized to dispossess the landowners, and the workers to run the factories. But the workers went further and dispossessed the capitalists as Trotsky had predicted they would. In the early stages of his victory Lenin had no choice but to reconcile himself to this fact. The Bolsheviks had to recognize the workers' spontaneous 'extreme' actions and plan within the constraints they imposed, but they didn't have to admire or try to further those actions. They could and did view them as adventurist, and struggled,eventually successfully, to undo them.
...once in control of the government the Communists saw that the Soviets threatened the supremacy of the State. At the same time they could not destroy them arbitrarily without undermining their own prestige at home and abroad as the sponsors of the Soviet system. They began to shear them gradually of their powers and finally to subordinate them to their own needs. 9In the revolution's early years it was true only that the "equality of man was achieved through communism in starvation." 10 But because of the new equality and a land redistribution and hopes for a continually improving future, the working class and the Red Army had relatively good morale: they supported the revolution enough for it to achieve victory in the Civil War.
So right from its commencement the revolutionary project was viewed in two almost opposite ways. On the one hand, Trotsky felt that the upheaval caught the Bolsheviks somewhat unprepared, but he also felt that it was then successfully led by the Bolsheviks lest it become misdirected and revert under counter-revolutionary pressures. On the other hand in the view of Rosa Luxemburg and seemingly of at least some elements of the 'Russian Masses', too, the upheaval was a spontaneous revolutionary upsurge of the masses pregnant with immense possibilities, but steadily undermined by the Bolsheviks' bureaucratic, coercive authoritarianism:
Finally we saw the birth of a far more legitimate offspring of the historical process: the Russian workers' movement, which for the first time, gave expression to the real will of the popular masses. Then the leadership of the Russian revolution leapt up to balance on their shoulders, and once more appointed itself the all powerful director of history, this time in the person of his highness the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Workers' Party. This skillful acrobat did not even realize that the only one capable of playing the part of director is the collective ego of the working class, which has sovereign right to make mistakes and to learn the dialectics of history by itself. Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers' movement are historically far more fruitful than the correct decisions of the finest Central Committee. 11Lenin said in late 1918,"...we passed from worker's control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy..." 12, the function of which, according to E.H. Carr, was to "replace, absorb, and supersede the machinery of worker's control." 13 And as Carr went on to say:
Those who paid most lip service to worker's control and purported to expand it were in fact engaged in a skillful attempt to make it orderly and innocuous by turning it into a large scale, organized, public institution. 14It is clearly true that in 1917 the main desires of the workers and the Bolsheviks converged. The government was overthrown. The Bolsheviks were installed. The workers expropriated the capitalists without directives but then the Bolsheviks expropriated the revolution -- with Lenin directing the whole way. Despite the fact that rhetoric pointed to the new state as "worker-led," the convergence of worker and Bolshevik interest was only fleeting and essentially opportunist. Luxemburg's description (see above} was far closer to truth than Trotsky's, and Maurice Brinton's even fuller still:
During the middle of 1917 Bolshevik support for the factory committees was such that the Mensheviks were to accuse them of abandoning Marxism in favor of Anarchism. "Actually Lenin and his followers remained firm upholders of the Marxist conception of the centralized state. Their immediate objective, however, was not yet to set up the centralized proletarian dictatorship, but to decentralize as much as possible the bourgeois state, and the bourgeois economy. This was a necessary condition for the success of the revolution. In the economic field therefore, the factory committee, the organ on the spot, rather than the trade union was the most potent and deadly instrument of upheaval. Thus the trade unions were (temporarily) relegated to the background"...Emma Goldman, who was in Russia at the time, and who first compassionately and then critically evaluated revolutionary events, had this to say about the same early dynamics:
This [continues Brinton] is perhaps the most explicit statement [by a favorable Marxist commentator] of why the Bolsheviks at this earliest stage supported workers' control and its organizational vehicle the Factory Committees. Today only the ignorant -- or those willing to be deceived -- can still kid themselves into believing that proletarian power, 'at the point of production' was ever a fundamental tenet or objective of Bolshevism. 15
...[a] spirit of mutual purpose and solidarity swept Russia with a mighty wave in the first days of the October-November revolution. Inherent in that enthusiasm were forces that could have moved mountains if intelligently guided by exclusive consideration for the well-being of the whole people. The medium of such effective guidance was on hand: the labor organizations and the cooperatives with which Russia was covered as with a network of bridges combining the city with the country; the soviets which sprang into being responsive to the needs of the Russian people; and, finally, the intelligentsia whose traditions for a century expressed heroic devotion to the cause of Russia's emancipation.Right from the beginning the Bolsheviks were concerned to eventually establish centralized iron rule. To the extent they initially supported certain aspects of decentralization it was because conditions made all other courses less desirable. There is no other rational way to interpret the history of their intervention, very briefly on behalf of, and from then on in strict opposition to, all forms of worker's self management.
But such a development was by no means within the program of the Bolsheviki. For several months following October they suffered the popular forces to manifest themselves, the people carrying the revolution into ever widening channels. But as soon as the communist party felt itself sufficiently strong in the government saddle, it began to limit the scope of popular activity. All the succeeding acts of the Bolsheviki, all their following policies, changes of policies, their compromises and retreats, their methods of suppression and persecution, their terrorism and extermination of all other political views -- all were but the means to an end: the retaining of the state power in the hands of the communist party. 16
Lenin's first major policy act against considerable opposition from all sides, was to push through the Brest Litvosk treaty. He was convinced it was impossible to fight the imperialist war and experiences at the front eventually proved him quite correct. However when Germany was finally defeated, pressures, instead of easing up, actually got much worse. The allies doubled their efforts to overthrow Lenin by way of supplying the White Armies. As a result the Civil War was almost historically unparalleled for its violence and brutality, but the masses loved the party that gave them freedom from the Czar and the hope of a soviet state, and the Red Army fought to eventual victory.
During the war the Bolshevik ideology polarized Russia into pro- and counter-revolutionary factions. All opposition was considered seditious. The army and economy were centralized, and the soviets were weakened until they had no power and the Central Committee had all.
During the Civil War all Russians suffered immeasurably but they continued to support the revolution, because, despite the absence of democracy and despite other hardships, there was still a new equality and an abiding fear of returning to the past. Everyone looked forward to the fruits of the soviet communism they were fighting for.
But socialist freedom was not to be what many anticipated, and some Anarchists even had the foresight to see the coming 'reaction' relatively accurately. Voline, for example, in 1917 made a dire prediction:
Once their power has been consolidated the Bolsheviks as state socialists, that is as men who believe in centralized and authoritarian leadership -- will start running the life of the country and of the people from the top. Your soviets... will gradually become simple tools of the central government. You will soon see the inauguration of an authoritarian political state apparatus.... "All power to the Soviets" will become "all power to the leaders of the party." 17Repression did in fact begin in 1918 and it centered around the issue of workers' management and the nature of the army. The party worked methodically through both administrative and directly coercive channels.
"...Within a year of the capture of state power by the Bolsheviks, the relations of production (shaken for awhile at the height of the mass movement) had reverted to the classical authoritarian pattern seen in all class societies. The workers as workers had been divested of any meaningful authority in the matters that concerned them most." 18
And it was no wonder that it took such a short time for transition, for as E.H. Carr reports,
It was indisputable that the soviet bureaucrat of these early years was as a rule a former member of the bourgeois intelligentsia or official class, and brought with him many of the traditions of the old Russian bureaucracy. 19And these facts were not accidental but instead fit quite nicely with Bolshevik strategy. Brinton's pamphlet explains the effects of the reversion in social relations:
The capitalist world is one of fetishism, where interpersonal relationships tend to disappear behind relationships between things. But the very moment when the masses revolt against this state of affairs, they break through the smoke screeen. They see through the taboo of 'things' and come to grips with people, whom they had 'respected' until then in the name of the all holy fetish known as private property. From that moment on the specialist, manager, or capitalist, whatever his technical or personal relationship to the enterprise, appears to the workers as the incarnation of exploitation, as the enemy, as the one with whom the- only thing they want to do is to get him out of their lives. To ask the workers at this stage, to have a more balanced attitude, to reorganize in the old boss the new 'technical director', the indispensable 'specialist', is tantamount to asking the workers at the very moment when at last they are confident in themselves, they are asserting their autonomy -- to confess their incompetence, their weakness, their insufficiency -- and this in an area where they are most sensitive, the field encompassing their daily lives from childhood on -- the field of production. 20The implication is clear -- the practices of the Bolsheviks and most especially the return to old authoritarian modes of local leadership depoliticized the workers by stifling them -- it led to regimented hierarchy where there was the potential for self-management. In early revolutionary Russia, the use of old institutions, old capitalist forms, old 'personnel', and 'new' centralized bureaucracy/discipline forms, and especially, as we shall see, one-man management forms, the militarization of labor, and the creation of party dictatorship were all critical in the process of recreating, perpetuating, and newly creating, oppressive modes. Worker opposition was plentiful but ultimately, as we'll see, quite futile.
Repression began in earnest in 1918 around worker's management issues, and by March of 1921 all opposition party factions were wiped out and efforts were underway to repress the Kronstadt sailors, the Makhnovites, and the Petrograd workers.
To take it a step at a time: in 1919 Trotsky published his thesis on the militarization of labor. In his own history of the period he points out that "militarization of the trade unions and the militarization of transport required an internal ideological militarization too." 21 But he draws no conclusions about whether this was a cost of the process or a valuable side effect. His mentality of the moment, and the Bolshevik mentality of the moment, is revealed somewhat in a number of his statements about one man rule in factories and about the militarization of the railroad economy:
It is a general rule that man will try to get out of work. Man is a lazy animal. 22Trotsky sounds much like a modern capitalist. Perhaps he was referring to the railway workers; perhaps they weren't enthusiastic enough concerning his decisions about their unions and their lives. Perhaps their work grew tedious and fell off -- unjustifiably of course. But perhaps they just didn't like oppression ... no matter what package it came in.
Those workers who contribute more than the rest to the general good have every right to receive a larger share of the socialist product than layabouts, idlers, and the undisciplined. 23
Lenin also had some interesting, pertinent thoughts on similar topics at the same time:
Unquestionably submission to the single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labor processes based on large scale machine industry.... Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labor process. 24Not by education, not by solidarity, not by a community of interests and experiences, but by enforced external discipline -- this was, and remains, the practical Leninist approach.
Large scale machine industry which is the central productive source and foundation of socialism calls for absolute and strict unity of will... How can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one. 25
This was not an approach held defensively, for Lenin continually pointed out that only the petit bourgeois and the counter-revolutionary could be so backward as to not understand immediately the true thrust of what he was saying. Anyone who suggested that discipline and organization could spring from political consciousness and collectivity was simply naive -- and objectively counter-revolutionary. Clearly there is indication of a narrow strategy and perhaps even theory, creating sectarianism and laying the seeds for self-justifying repression.
Corroborating our implication that militarization of political and economic life was no hated necessity, but a well thought-out, believed-in universal policy Trotsky said:
I consider that 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 much sooner and much less painfully. 26Perhaps Trotsky is exact and the Bolsheviks would have got the same results without the war's divergences and perhaps he is not and the peasants and workers would have clung more effectively to their soviets. From our point of view it doesn't matter insofar as we admit what the Bolsheviks would have tried to do, not because they were 'evil', but because they were consistent, competent Classical Marxist Leninists. The 'proof is that the whole process of transfer of power began and was well under way before the Civil War broke out and that, as we'll soon see, it was in no way rectified when that war ended.
The implication is that we should examine Classical Marxist Leninist theory and strategy and see how they affected views, programs, and even perceptions, and we should look with a special eye toward trying to describe the kind of dynamic that Louis Cardan describes:
Trotsky for example, described the anonymous workers of Petrograd in glowing terms when they flocked into the Bolshevik Party or when they mobilized themselves during the Civil War. But he was later to call the Kronstadt mutineers "stool pigeons" and "hirelings of the high command" when they were moved by the same motivations in directions that opposed his will. 27In almost all his declarations Lenin called for unquestioning obedience to the will of a single representative of the Party. He said over and over again that this was crucial to the development of socialism and that those who couldn't understand why, were laggards or worse. In 1918 the 'Left Communist' paper Kommunist said, "laggingly":
The introduction of labor discipline in connection with the restoration of capitalist management in industry cannot really increase the productivity of labor, but it will diminish the class activity, initiative, and organization of the proletariat. It threatens to enslave the working class. It will rouse discontent among the backward elements as well as among the vanguard of the proletariat. In order to introduce the system in the face of the hatred prevailing at presentamongtheproletariatforthe "capitalist saboteurs," the Communist Party would have to rely on the petit bourgeoisie, as against the workers, and in this way it would ruin itself as the party of the proletariat. 28This is fine tactical analysis. It is obviously generated by an understanding of the dynamics of oppression and an understanding of the likelihoods for more to come. It does not seem similar to the work of the abstract Leninists, but to a group with populist insight. Lenin didn't share the Left Communists' experiences or their views. He was in power, he was incorruptible his path was the only one he knew, and from the evidence it was the only one he was capable of believing in. It seems reasonable to say that his consciousness simply didn't allow him to fully understand the Left Communist position.For he responded to it violently, calling it a "denunciation of communism," a "disgrace," and a "desertion to the camp of the petit bourgeoisie." 29 This seems to have been the only way that he knew to argue these issues, precisely because they lay outside his own awareness. He verbally linked the leaders of the Left faction to other people who were openly admitted enemies of the revolution. He didn't address their critique.
The Left Communists broke under the assault, but Kommunist kept up its attacks and during 1918 pointed out that the end result of Bolshevik practice would only be bureaucratic centralization and the loss of all soviet power, worker freedom, and worker initiative. The new articles were written by members of the Democratic Centralist faction of the Party;
We stand for the construction of a proletariat society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by the ukases from the "captains of industry"... We proceed from the trust in the class instinct, and in the active class initiative of the proletariat. It cannot be otherwise. If the workers themselves do not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organization of labor -- no one can do this for them, nor can the workers be forced to do it. The stick if raised against the workers, will find itself either in the hands of another social force ... or in the hands of the soviet power. But then the soviet power will be forced to seek support against the proletariat from another class, and by this it will destroy itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism and socialist organization must be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all; something else will be set up; state capitalism. 30These were impressive ideas -- Lenin militarized labor and dissolved the Democratic Socialist faction.
The last Party battle around the militarization of labor was fought in 1920-1921 between the 'party regulars and the 'Worker's Opposition'. Lenin called them "a menace to the revolution" and Trotsky took up the club in deliberated earnestness:
They turn democratic principles into a fetish. They put the right of the workers to elect their own representatives above the Party, thus challenging the Party's right to affirm its own dictatorship, even when this dictatorship comes into conflict with the evanescent mood of the worker's democracy. We must bear in mind the historical mission of our Party. The Party is forced to maintain its dictatorship, without stopping for these vacillations, nor even the momentary falterings of the working class. This realization is the mortar which cements our unity. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not always have to conform to formal principles of democracy. 31This must simply be called astounding. Now there was a Party dictatorship and, though it couldn't hurt the workers and did things only in their interest, it could be hurt by them and, of course, it had to defend itself. It sounds almost like destroying cities to save them -- and it is quite important to think later if the roots of this position lie only in Trotsky's brain, or also in the sets of theoretic and strategic beliefs to which he cleaved.
The facts: the Party bent the revolution and not vice versa, and as the dynamic unfolds, the leaders become more and more enamored of their own virtuosity. Trotsky said that others took democracy as a fetish -- but his words indicate that he lost sight of the nature and purposes of real democracy. The realization of the Party's right to repress became the mortar of the revolution -- not solidarity, shared experience, shared consciousness, and freedom. It seems that Trotsky believed, and at a very minimum Marxism Leninism did nothing to stop him from coming to believe, that in the workers' best interests they should be organized around their own impotence and undeservingness.
And Lenin was certainly no better:
the militarization of labor...is the indispensable basic method for the organization of our labor forces... is it true that compulsory labor is always unproductive? ...This is the most wretched liberal prejudice, chattel slavery too was productive...compulsory slave labor...was in its time a progressive phenomenon. Labor, obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker, is the basis of socialism. 32
In another context he says:
A producers' congress! What precisely does that mean? It is difficult to find words to describe this folly. I keep asking myself can they be joking? Can one really take these people seriously? While production is always necessary, democracy is not. Democracy of production engenders a series of radically false ideas. 33Perhaps there is an obvious reason why it was difficult to find words to whitewash libertarian impulses -- certainly rational arguments wouldn't work. Lenin ridiculed his left opponents' arguments. The evidence suggests that he didn't respond to them directly precisely because he didn't fully understand them. He was unable to; if he had still had the breadth of insight to understand the workers' opposition he would have joined it, but no, it was not in his interests, it didn't relate to what he saw through his own slightly shaded eyes, it didn 't correspond to the flow of history he had internalized. He reiterated Trotsky's position in one of his later declarations on the topic:
The decisions on the militarization of labor etc. were incontrovertible and there is no need to withdraw my words of ridicule concerning references to democracy made by those who challenged these decisions... we shall defend democracy in the workers' organizations but not make a fetish of it. 34But the history of the revolution shows graphically that it was never democracy that was in danger of being fetishized, quite the contrary, it was democracy that was from the first opposed at all levels, lest the workers' own initiatives and desires rise to supremacy above even the desires of the Bolshevik Party itself.
The Worker's Opposition had a weak perspective about many issues but about one key one they did ask the right question and give the right answer: In a worker's state who should manage the factories? The workers! Such a position does not represent a fetishization of democracy, but rather a wise realization of democracy's central place in any real socialist process. Further the position was not attacked for being impractical, but for being irrelevant, incorrect, and destructive. It is at least doubtful it was any of these things audit's enlightenmg that Marxist Leninists thought that it was. Malatesta, in 1919, made the following relevant succinct analysis:
General Bonaparte defended the French Revolution against the European reaction, and in defending it he strangled it. Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades are surely sincere revolutionaries and they will not be traitors; but they are preparing the government cadres who will come later to profit from the revolution and assassinate it. They themselves will be the first victims of their methods, and I fear that the revolution will crumble with them. 36Not all Russian opposition was situated inside the Party itself. In 1918 to 1921 the Makhnovites fought against the White Guard Armies and then against the Red Army with little respite. The mainMakhnovite programmatic leaflet is especially informative:
1- Who are the Makhnovites and what are they fighting for?The Makhnovites wanted to transfer ownership and control of the factories to democratically elected soviets. They believed in the slogan 'all power to the soviets' and in the dissolution of all state power. They were an immense threat to Lenin and Trotsky because no matter what Lenin and Trotsky sometimes said about power in the soviets, they no longer believed in it as a first principle and they had no intention of ever allowing it to come about. Trotsky fought the Makhnovites personally by first denying them any rights of assembly and then waging war on them. Neither he nor Lenin thought it might be worth while to let them proceed on their own in the Ukraine, that they might either succeed and then be emulated throughout Russia, or fail, and then be convinced of the Bolsheviks' pragmatism and follow their leadership peacefully. Indeed it seems that unconsciously or otherwise the Bolsheviks disliked and destroyed the, Makhnovites not because they thought of them as naive, but because they thought of them as a direct threat; not to the whole revolution but to themselves, and to their own particular view of the revolution.
The Makhnovites are workers and peasants who in 1918 rose up against the brutality of the German, Hungarian, and Austrian interventionists and against the Hetman of the Ukraine.
The Makhnovites are the workers who have carried the battle standard against Denikin and against every form of oppression and violence, who have rejected lies from whatever source.
The Makhnovites are the workers who by their life's labor have enriched and fattened the bourgeoisie in the past, and are today enriching new masters.
2- Why are they called the Makhnovites?
Because during the greatest and most painful days of reactionary intervention in the Ukraine they had within their ranks the staunch friend, comrade Makhno, whose voice was heard across the entire Ukraine, challenging every act of violence against the workers, calling for struggle against the oppressors, the thieves, the usurpers and those charlatans who were deceiving the workers. That voice still rings among us today, and unwaveringly calls for the liberation and emancipation of workers from all oppression.
3- How do you think you will obtain this liberation?
By overthrowing the coalition of monarchists, republicans, social democrats, communists, and bolsheviks. In place we call for the free election of worker's councils which will not rule by arbitrary laws because no true soviet system can be authoritarian. Ours is the purest form of socialism, anti-authoritarian and anti-government, it calls for the free organization of the social life of the workers, independent of authority, a life in which each worker in a free association with his brothers, can build his own happiness and well-being in accordance with the principles of solidarity, amity, and equality.
4- What do the Makhnovites think of the soviet regime?
The workers themselves must choose their own councils to express the will and carry out the orders of those self-same workers.
The soviets will be the executive organs of, and not authorities over the workers. The land, the factories, the businesses, the mines, transport etc. must belong to those who work in them. All that the people inherit must be socialized.
5- What are the paths that will lead to the final goals of the Makhnovites?
A consistent and implacable revolutionary battle against all the false theories, against all arbitrary violence and power, no matter from what quarter, a struggle to the death. Free speech, justice, honest battle with guns in our hands.
Only by overthrowing all governments, every representative of authority, by destroying all political, economic, and authoritarian lies, wherever they are found, by destroying the state, by a social revolution, can we introduce a true system of workers' and peasants' soviets, and advance towards socialism. 37
For Cohn-Bendit, "Makhno's defeat spelled the defeat of the revolution, Trotsky's victory the victory of the bureaucratic counter revolution." 38 In the course of the last battle of the war the Maknovites issued the following leaflet to the Red Army men who had come to destroy them:
STOP, READ, AND THINK:Is it too much to say that in these incidents we have the forerunner of the Hungarian and Czech invasions? Who were the real hypocrites? Who was blind to the real truth? Who evidenced loyalty to leftist values and who evidenced compromise in the name of personal ambition and power or in the face of potential repression?
Comrades of the Red Army!
You have been sent by your commissars to fight the revoutionary Maknovites.
On the orders of your commander you ruin peaceful villages, you will raid, arrest, and kill men and women whom you do not know but who have been presented to you as enemies of the people, bandits and counter-revolutionary. You will be told to kill us, you will not be asked. You will be made to march like slaves. You will arrest and you will murder. Why? For what cause?
Think comrades of the Red Army; think workers, peasants, suffering under the task of new masters who bear the high sounding name of 'worker peasant authorities'! We are revolutionary Makhnovites. The same peasants and workers as you our brethren in the Red Army. We have risen up against oppression and slavery, we fight for a better life and a more enlightened one. Our ideal is to build a community of workers without authorities, without parasites, and without commissars. Our immediate aim is to establish a free soviet regime not controlled by the Bolsheviks, without the pressure of any Party.
The government of the Bolsheviks and the communists have sent you out on a punitive expedition. It hastens to make peace with Denikin and with the rich Poles and other rabble of the White Army, the better to suppress the popular movement of the revolutionary insurgents, of the oppressed, of the rebels against the yoke of all authority. But the threats of the White and Red commanders do not frighten us. We shall reply to violence with violence. If necessary we, a small bandful of people shall put to flight the divisions of the Red Army because we are free and love our liberty. We are revolutionaries who have risen up in a just cause.
Comrades think of whom you are fighting and against whom! Throw off your shackles you are free men!
The Revolutionary Makhnovites 39
The Makhnovite appeal went unheard, the Red soldiers felt too indebted to their Bolshevik leaders to understand, they had too many personal beliefs at stake, too many rationalizations for their past behaviors and for their hardships. The Bolsheviks won; they wrote the accepted histories of the battles, causes, and results much as they wrote the accepted histories of the entire revolution. One wonders whether they had the objectivity to do the job well -- indeed one even wonders if they had the breadth of insight and awareness to do it well at all?
But the Makhnovista was not the only nor even the last rebellious episode. With conclusion of the Civil War, rationales for wartime stringencies had passed. If the strict repressiveness of war had been only a contingency, certainly it should have rapidly been undone. The policies of forcibly taking the peasants' surplus produce and even their food necessities and of strict discipline in industry no longer had the obvious (though actually only mystifying) justification of being necessary for the anti-White effort.
Peasant and other rebellions were by no means confined to the Ukraine. According to Cheka reports, in 1921 alone there were 118 uprisings throughout Russia, and other reliable sources cited up to 60,000 guerillas in only one of many rebellions in the Siberian districts. 40 The main peasant demands were aimed at ending the hated forced food requisitions and forced creation of State farms.
Further, post Civil War feelings in the cities were described as follows:
For the rank-and-file workmen, the restoration of the class enemy to a dominant place in the factory meant a betrayal of the ideals of the revolution. As they saw it, their dream of a proletarian democracy, momentarily realized in 1917, had been snatched away and replaced by the coercive and bureaucratic methods of capitalism. The Bolsheviks had imposed "iron discipline" in the factories, established armed squads to enforce the will of management, and contemplated using such odious efficiency methods as the "Taylor system." That this should be done by a government which they had trusted and which professed to rule in their name was a bitter pill for the workers to swallow. 41With the Civil War's conclusion the last possible justification for centralized coercive excesses was gone and the workers grew more and more restive.
Most massively in February of 1921 the famed Petrograd workers went on strike demanding economic revival, free soviets, and an end to repressions in and out of the factories. The Russian Bolshevik government declared a state of seige and sent in troops. They broke the strike but not before the stage was set for a climax to libertarian opposition.
For before the strike fell, the neighboring Kronstadt sailors sent representatives who saw the repression and then returned to their ship where mass meetings passed a 15-point resolution demanding: free elections to new free soviets with secret ballot and free electioneering; freedom of speech and press for workers, peasants, anarchists and all other left socialist parties; right of assembly for trade unions and peasant organizations; organization of a conference of non-Party workers, soldiers, and sailors in Kronstadt, Petrograd, and the entire Petrograd district no later than March 10, 1921; liberation of all left political prisoners; election of a commissar to review cases of those held in prison camps; abolition of all Party detachments in military units, factories and other institutions, because no party should have special privileges; elimination of country-side roadblock detachments; equalization of rations except in unusual circumstances requiring dispensations; abolition of Communist guards in fighting units, factories and mills, but if such guards were really necessary, appointment of them by the local units affected; freedom of action on their own soil for peasants not employing others; support for the resolution from all military units; wide press coverage of the resolution; institution of a mobile workers' control group and authorization of free handicraft production by individuals. 42
The demands were clearly doubly-directed, on the one hand toward relieving economic problems especially among the peasantry, and on the other toward returning the revolution to its original mass-based free soviet ideals. The very fact that workers and sailors had to demand freedom to assemble, free press, and so on is a clear indication of the gravity of the situation Bolshevik repression had created. The eventual government response was, as we'll see, the final indication necessary for our overall argument.
Bolshevik reaction grew swiftly. The economic demands were no real problem as Lenin and other central authority figures had already seen the necessity for alleviating peasant tensions by embarking on just such proposals. 43 The political thrust of Kronstadt was, however, a whole different matter. For the Bolsheviks couldn't possibly admit that the soviets weren't representing peasant and worker interests, couldn't admit to having arrested people wrongfully and couldn't recognize the advisability of popular initiatives and general worker-managerial influence, without renouncing their entire ideological orientation and also the bulk of their power. This tack was never in the offing; compromise with the rebels was never really considered. This is the key point in understanding the Kronstadt affair. For no matter how much Lenin, Trotsky et. al. were afraid Kronstadt could aid White enemies, surely the fastest way to alleviate the tension was to compromise. For the sailors were adamantly anti-bourgeois and pro-revolution. That the Bolsheviks eventually, indeed, as quickly as possible resorted to force instead of dialogue was clear indication that their real worry was the persuasive power of the Kronstadt program's inherently anti-dictatorial thrust and some White Guard or other counterrevolutionary plot.
Further the Kronstadt sailors had a long history of devotion to revolutionary principles. They'd lent decisive support during the 1917 uprising and fought valiantly during the Civil War, at the same time, however, they'd never really adopted Bolshevik methodology, always preferring decentralization to centralization, always fearing dictatorship rather than pursuing "iron discipline," and always praising the "free initiatives of the masses" rather than the efficiency of bureaucracy. Their demands and rebellion were thus a natural culmination to their entire revolutionary experience.
Under the slogan 'All Power to the Soviets', they sought to democratize their society. "They had no use for representative government, but wanted direct mass democracy of and by the common people through free soviets." 44 They wished to continue guarding against White Guard plots and ruling over landlords, ex-capitalists and so on, but they also wanted real freedom for the peasant and worker toiling masses.
Their strategy was simple even if somewhat naive: What then was to be done? How could the revolution be returned to its original path? Until March 8, when the Bolsheviks launched their initial assualt, the insurgents continued to hope for peaceful reform. Convinced of the rightness of their cause, they were confident of gaining the support of the whole country -- and Petrograd in particular -- in forcing the government to grant political and economic concessions. 45In response to the courageous efforts of the sailors the Moscow Bolsheviks and many of those in Petrograd went into a period of great activity. The threat of spread of the revolt (which is to say the threat of spread of the demands) in a time of grave peasant and worker dissatisfaction was very real. The Kronstadters, contrary to their expectations, had to be rhetorically undermined and also physically combated.
Although it was true that White émigrés and other counter-revolutionaries rejoiced in all Russian uprisings, and especially in the Kronstadt one, and were even seeking to find ways to exploit it to their own benefit, it was completely false that they'd had anything to do with planning it or that they'd actually succeeded in in any way supporting it. Nonetheless the Bolsheviks always labeled opposition "White counter-revolutionary" and the Kronstadt case could be no exception. For the revolutionary legitimacy of the sailors had to be severely undermined by any conceivable means lest their programs gain a real and sympathetic hearing in Petrograd and elsewhere. Thus the Bolshevik calumny that the uprising was led and planned by White Generals. 46
Lenin and Trotsky seemed simply to not understand the true roots of the uprising. On the one hand they primarily cursed it as a White Guard conspiracy and on the other as a work of petit bourgeois deviance. Although all the evidence pointed clearly, the Bolshevik leaders simply couldn't fathom that the revolt was profoundly socialist. To see and admit such a thing would have been too alien and too detrimental to their own ways of thinking.
Under Trotsky's direct and Lenin's indirect leadership Red forces were gathered for an assault. But even this was no simple task for the 'revolution's leaders'. For no matter how much propaganda they released the Kronstadt position was still quite available for all to evaluate: they wanted to restore power to the soviets and undermine the power of party officials. In the army and in the party itself many were affected by the Kronstadt plea. Despite the personal and political difficulties many party regulars and troops sided with the sailors and deserted the Bolsheviks. To stem this dangerous tide and ensure a reliable striking force it was necessary to call upon highly seasoned Red Army troops, on armed party cadres and even on foreign troops, and to also continually expand the attacks upon the Kronstadter's motivations:
Struggle against the White Guard plot... Just like other White Guard insurrections the mutiny of ex-General Kozlovsky (who in reality had literally nothing significant to do with the insurrection) and the crew of the Battleship Petropavlovosk has been organized by entente spies... 47As shelling of Kronstadt began and persisted, naive non-violent strategic hopes faded and political lines hardened.
Our cause is just. We stand for the power of the soviets not for that of the party. We stand for freely elected representatives of the toiling masses. Deformed soviets, dominated by the party, have remained deaf to our pleas. Our appeals have been answered with bullets. 48The conflict grew and the following threat appeared in the Kronstadt lzvestia:
Be careful Trotsky! You may escape the judgement of the people, you may shoot down innocent men and women by the score, but even you cannot kill the truth. 49Nonetheless Trotsky's troops successfully quashed the rebellion; Lenin's socialist state prevailed. Not a single rebel political demand was met. The NEP was initiated, true, but only to consolidate Bolshevik monopoly power: while dealing with many peasant dissatisfactions it did so in bourgeois bureaucratic ways that boded badly for the future.
Indeed the whole post-Civil War and Kronstadt experience puts the lie to present Marxist Leninist assertions that repressive excesses were only a hated wartime necessity. For with the war's close there was an immense popular outcry for freedoms to the people and power to the soviets even including concrete programmatic demands, but it was all met with fierce hostility rather than a spirit of reform. Moreover even after all rebellious elements were smashed there was no let up but rather a further tightening of dictatorial controls. Thus "all pretense at a legal opposition was abandoned in May 1921, when Lenin declared that the place for rival socialists was behind bars or in exile, side by side with the White Guards.'' 50 Anarchists, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and all other opposition groups were bounded, jailed, exiled, and finally wiped out. And even within the party too, the screws had to be tightened anew; for the Kronstadt affair certainly had its effects even if not those desired. As Lenin put it, "The time has come to put an end to opposition, put a lid on it; we have had enough opposition." 51 He ordered a top to bottom party purge that soon eliminated nearly one fourth of the party's total membership.
At Kronstadt the rebels had aimed at a new type of socialism -- "At Kronstadt the foundation stone has been laid for the third revolution. This will break the final chains that still bind the working masses and will open up new paths to socialist creation." 52 -- but had found only further authoritarianism. Alexander Berkman, the American Anarchist, who was in fact on the scene in Petrograd, summarized the lessons he took from the events:
Kronstadt destroyed the myth of the worker's state; it provided the proof of an incompatibility between the dictatorship of the Communist Party and the revolution. 53Trotsky of course managed to preserve a different perception of the same realities:
It has been said more than once that we have substituted the dictatorship of the Party for the dictatorship of the Soviets. However we can claim without fear of contradiction that the dictatorship of the soviets was only made possible by the dictatorship of the Party... In fact there has been no substitution at all, since the Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class... the Communists become the true representatives of the working class as a whole. 54Trotsky's kind of rationalizing is about as transparently self-serving as Adam Smith's assertions that Capitalist pursuit of profit motivated by naught but greed serves all human needs equally and in the best possible ways. Further Trotsky's and Lenin's ideological machinations are quite comparable to Smith's in form and motive: each develops rationales for their interests and activities and then bends their perceptions of reality to fit those rationales rather than vice versa. They believe what they say and often struggle valiantly to pursue its implications, but of course that has never been the surest sign that something is either true or particularly worthwhile. Rudolf Rocker describes the type of dynamics that lead to such perverse justifications of inequities as those of Smith and Trotsky:
Dictatorship is the negation of organic development, of material building from below upward; it is the proclamation of hardship over the toiling people, a generalship forced upon the masses by a tiny minority. Even if its supporters are animated by the very best intentions, the ironic logic of the facts will always drive them into the camp of extremist despotism.... Such a thing as the dictatorship of a class is utterly unthinkable, since it will always involve merely the dictatorship of a particular party which takes it upon itself to speak in the name of a class, just as the bourgeoisie justified any despotic proceeding in the name of the people. 55We've seen thus far that Bolshevik tactical analysis was narrow to the point of being lies, that their authoritarianism ran rampant, that they used force even against the very groups they were supposedly representing, that they avoided real debate, ignored real worker sentiment, employed ridicule, text book plans, and force. In 1920 Kropotkin wrote to Lenin:
One thing is indisputable. Even if the dictatorship of the party was an appropriate means to bring about a blow to the capitalist system (which I strongly doubt), it is nevertheless harmful for the creation of a new socialist system. What are necessary and needed are local institutions, local forces; but there are none, anywhere. Instead of this, wherever one turns there are people who have never known anything of real life committing the gravest errors which have been paid for with thousands of lives and the ravaging of entire districts. 56
Despite Classical Marxist Leninist protestations to the contrary, the Russian workers actually did have their own revolutionary consciousnesses. They developed them in the course of struggle during their society's revolutionary ruptures. In 1917 they moved earlier and further than the Bolsheviks. In 1918, 1919, and 1921 they formed opposition factions within the party. Every time they were defeated by the iron discipline of the Bolsheviks, and by the heritage of revolution that belonged solely to the Bolsheviks due to their expropriation of the revolutionary uprising. In 1921 Errico Malatesta wrote:
However much we detest the democratic lie, which in the name of the 'people' oppresses the people in the interests of a class, we detest even more, if that is possible, the dictatorship, which, in the name of the 'proletariat' places all of the strength and the very lives of the workers in the hands of the creatures of a so-called communist party, who perpetuate their power and in the end reconstruct the capitalist system for their own advantage. 57In 1968 Daniel Cohn-Bendit wrote:
The defeat of all the opposition groups inside the party -- the Left Wing Communists in 1920, the Centralist Communists in 1919, and finally the Worker's Opposition in 1921, -- are so many nails in the coffin of the Russian Proletariat ... As far as we are concerned there is no break between the ideology of the Old Bolshevik Party and that of the new bureaucracy. 58
Paul Cardan draws his conclusions from similar views:
We may therefore conclude that, contrary to established mythology, it was not in 1927, nor in 1923, nor even in 1921, that the game was played and lost, but much earlier, during the period between 1918 and 1920. 59As did Emma Goldman:
It is now clear why the Russian Revolution, as conducted by the Communist Party was a failure. The political power of the party, organized and centralized in the State, sought to maintain itself by all means at hand. The central authorities attempted to force the activities of the people into forms corresponding with the purposes of the Party. The sole aim of the latter was to strengthen the state and monopolize all economical, political, and social activities -- even all cultural manifestations. The revolution had an entirely different object, and in its very character was the negation of authority and centralization. It strove to open ever-larger fields for proletarian expression and to multiply the phases of individual and collective effort. The aims and tendencies of the Revolution were diametrically opposed to those of the ruling political party. 60One might agree with Cardan and Goldman's assessment; or think * that if the Bolsheviks had taken any other course, even more chaotic events would have resulted. But in any case, even given the fact that the revolution's degeneration in one form or another might have been inevitable, the actual form the degeneration took, bureaucratic and repressive, was a result of Bolshevik policy. If there was ever a coincidence between Bolshevik programs and the needs of the Russian people it was due to chance and the influence of the people themselves, and not to the scientific methods of the leadership. They didn't choose tactics in response to the pressures of grotesque conditions;they got away with using the tactics they inevitably picked because of the grotesqueness of conditions. Their tactics were the distillation of their theoretic, strategic analysis. Alternatives weren't carefully analyzed -- alternatives were completely beyond Bolshevik thought, they called for more subtle awarenesses than Bolshevik ideology allowed. The Leninists didn't warn anyone that their tactics had weaknesses, they themselves didn't understand the weaknesses, they forced their tactics upon everyone as the one right road to socialism.
In 1899 Malatesta wrote the following prophetic words:
If some people will have assumed the right to violate anybody's freedom on the pretext of preparing the triumph of freedom, they will always find the people are not sufficiently mature, that the dangers of reaction are ever present, that the education of the people has not yet been completed. And with these excuses they will seek to perpetuate their own power -- which could begin as the strength of a people up in arms, but which if not controlled by a profound feeling for the freedom of all, would soon become a real government no different from the governments of today. 61Emma Goldman later described the reality in retrospect:
It is at once the great failure and the great tragedy of the Russian Revolution that it attempted (in the leadership of the ruling political party) to change only institutions and conditions, while ignoring entirely the human and social values involved in the Revolution. Worse yet, in its mad passion for power, the Communist State even sought to strengthen and deepen the very ideas and conceptions which the Revolution had come to destroy. It supported and encouraged all the worst anti-social qualities and systematically destroyed the already awakened conception of the new revolutionary values. The sense of justice and equality, the love of liberty and human brotherhood -- those fundamentals of the real regeneration of society -- the Communist State suppressed to the point of extermination. Man's instinctive sense of equity was branded as weak sentimentality; human dignity and liberty became a bourgeois superstition; the sanctity of life, which is the very essence of social reconstruction, was condemned as unrevolutionary, almost counter-revolutionary. This fearful perversion of fundamental values bore within itself the seed of destruction. With the conception that revolution was only a means of securing political power, it was inevitable that all revolutionary values should be subordinated to the needs of the Socialist State; indeed, exploited to further the security of the newly acquired governmental power. "Reasons of State," masked as the interests of the Revolution and of the People, became the sole criterion of action, even of feeling. 62The Bolsheviks created a transfer of power but not an all-sided revolution. They did not comprehend their own policies' dynamics and they gave birth to a state that they themselves would undoubtedly now rebel against were they to come back again as workers and not as commissars. The Bolsheviks, and especially Lenin and Trotsky, bent the realities to suit their conception; they bent the revolution to fit their needs, rather than those of the masses.The important example is basically a lesson in what is not to be done. Further, we can certainly say that though Bolshevik practice might not be the only approach consistent with Classical Marxist Leninist ideology, it is one of the approaches consistent with it and therefore Classical Marxist Leninist ideology must at least have very little within it to offset the kinds of errors the Bolsheviks made or the 'parallel' kinds of errors we might make in our more modern circumstances. It's thus important to find the roots of Bolshevik weaknesses in Leninist strategy and in Classical Marxism, first to shatter the myths of the invincibility of the old ideology and second because good criticisms of it can help in efforts to revise or even to build a significantly new ideology.
1. Voline, The Unknown Revolution, Free Life Editions, New York. 190.
2. Bakunin Bakunin, edited by Maxirnov, Collier MacMillan Limited, London.
3. Cardan in the Solidarity pamphlet, "From Bolshevism to the Bureaucracy" -- see also his other Solidarity pamphlets.
4. Gajo Petrovic, Marx in the Mid Twentieth Century, Doubleday Anchor Book, Garden City, New York.
5. Trotsky quoted in Obsolete Communism: A Left Wing Alternative, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York. 202.
6. ibid. 203.
7. ibid. 205.
8. ibid. 206.
9. Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, Vintage Books, New York. 344.
10. Rosenberg, A History of Bolshevism, Doubleday and Company, New York. 126.
11. Luxemburg, "The Organization of the Social Democratic Party in Russia."
12. Lenin as quoted in Maurice Brinton's The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, Solidarity. 22.
13. E.H. Carr as quoted in Brinton, op. cit. 22.
14. ibid. 18.
15. Maurice Brinton, OD. cit. 14.
16. Emma Goldman, op. cit. 338-339.
17. Voline in Cohn-Bendit, op. cit. 218-219
18. Brinton, op. cit. 48.
19. E.H. Carr quoted in Brinton, op. cit. 49.
20. Brinton, op. cit. 54-55.
21. Trotsky in Cohn-Bendit, op. cit. 230.
22. ibid. 231.
23. ibid. 231.
24. Lenin in Brinton, op. cit. 41.
25. ibid. 41.
26. Trotsky in Brinton, op. cit. 66.
27. Cardan, op. cit.
28. In Brinton, op. cit. 38.
29. Lenin in Cohn-Bendit, op. cit.
30. Quoted in Brinton, op. cit. 39.
31. Trotsky quoted in Brinton, op. cit. 232.
32. Trotsky in Maurice Brinton, OD. cit. 64.
33. Lenin in Cohn-Bendit, op. cit. 232-233.
34. Lenin in Maurice Brinton, op. cit. 71.
35. See Brinton and Emma Goldman, op. cit.
36. Malatesta quoted in Quotations From Anarchists, edited by Paul Berman, Praeger Paperbacks.
37. From Obsolete Communism, op. cit. 220-222.
38. Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, op. cit. 224.
39. ibid. 223-224.
40. Paul Avrich, Kronstadt 1921, Princeton University Press. 14.
41. ibid. 29.
42. ibid. 73-74.
43. ibid. 75.
44. ibid. 162.
45. ibid. 166.
46. ibid. 126.
47. Cohn-Bendit, op. cit. 236.
48. ibid. 238.
49. ibid. 239.
50. Avrich, op. cit. 226.
51. Lenin in Avrich, op. cit. 227.
52. Cohn-Bendit, op. cit.
53. Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?, Dover, New York, N.Y.
54. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, Ann Arbor Paperbacks.
55. Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, London.
56. Kropotkin in Quotations From The Anarchists, op. cit.
57. Malatesta in Malatesta: His Life and Ideas by Vernon Richards, London.
58. Cohn-Bendit, op. cit. 243.
59. Cardan, op. cit.
60. Emma Goldman, op. cit. 344.
61. Malatesta, op. cit.
62. Emma Goldman, op. cit. 354.