Another letter to Weekly Worker

Well, the debate in the CPGB's Weekly Worker continues. Here is my follow up letter, covering the basics. If anyone is interested in the subject, my article critiquing the SWP's analysis of the rise of Stalinism should be consulted:

How the Revolution was Lost?

This is being printed (over three issues) in Black Flag just now.

Anyway, here is the letter.

Dear Weekly Worker

I think it is significant that Andrew Northall confuses the anarchist critique of Leninist with that of “the bourgeoisie.” It shows that ignorance is no handicap for the dedicated ideologue. As for “pathological”, our critique is based on evidence which Northall simply ignores in favour of platitudes about “new forms of democracy” – the very soviets which the Bolsheviks gerrymandered and disbanded when they lost popular support!

Ironically, if Northall were better aware of anarchism, he would know that “workers’ councils . . . sovereign general assemblies and committees of delegates elected and accountable at any time” had all been raised by Bakunin in the 1860s. Our critique of Leninism is precisely that in 1917 it was the party, not the working class, which “establish[ed] its own rule, its own power”!

Dan Read claims that he has “stressed the need to trace the degeneration of the revolution in the actual material and social environment present at the time.” In reality, he has not as the Bolshevik onslaught on soviet democracy began before the start of civil war in May, 1918. In terms of the “social environment,” Russia experienced the same economic dislocations which every revolution has faced and, as such, anarchism’s predictions were proved correct. If Leninism cannot handle the inevitable then it is best avoided.

He dismisses Alan Johnstone’s summary, well supported by numerous experts, as “not a fully worked out argument. It is an accusation.” Obviously, Alan is limited to a letter, but the reference is provided. Read asks: “Which is more believable? That soviet democracy based on the industrial working class began to break down due to the disintegration of that class, or that nasty old Lenin was looking for an excuse to infringe on said democracy just because he thought it was a good idea? The answer should be obvious.” It is, if you are aware of the facts.

To quote an expert: “As discontent amongst workers became more and more difficult to ignore, Lenin . . . began to argue that the consciousness of the working class had deteriorated . . . workers had become ‘declassed.’” In fact, Lenin first formulated it “to justify a political clamp-down” in response to rising working class protest rather than its lack. (Jonathan Aves, Workers Against Lenin, p. 90, p. 18). Another notes that while the “working class had decreased in size and changed in composition” in Moscow “the protest movement from late 1920 made clear that it was not a negligible force and that in an inchoate way it retained a vision of socialism which was not identified entirely with Bolshevik power . . . Lenin's arguments on the declassing of the proletariat was more a way of avoiding this unpleasant truth than a real reflection of what remained . . . a substantial physical and ideological force.” (Richard Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power, p. 261)

As in 1918, the Bolsheviks responded to working class protest by state violence – although they had no need to disband soviets these had long been gerrymandered and marginalised. A “haemorrhaging” class does not need martial law to keep it in line.

Read states that “just as the head cannot live without the rest of the body, the upper tiers . . . could not live without the class.” Which reminds me of Serge’s comments that the masses “will be warped by the old regime, relatively uncultivated, often aware, torn by feelings and instincts inherited from the past.” And so “revolutionaries will have to take on the dictatorship without delay” while the masses are “sympathising instinctively with the party and carrying out the menial tasks required by the revolution.” The party leaders think, the masses obey…with the Cheka at hand if they go on strike or vote the wrong way.

The notion that the (libertarian) socialist critique is that “the Bolsheviks were very bad people and did very bad things” says it all. Rather than look at the evidence we present, it is dismissed. I would say that “what should be a given for any Marxist” is to see whether the working class was capable of talking collective action under Bolshevik rule and when Bolshevik authoritarianism actually began. However, this is being rejected out of hand – probably for the good reason that the answers are inconvenient for Leninism.

Iain McKay


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