Leninists and Workers Councils

Well, after discussing how Lenin distorted the marxist theory of the state and how Marxists belatedly embraced the notion of workers' councils a mere five decades after anarchists had, I got to thinking that since then they have tended to make a fetish out of them (just as they had previously made a fetish of the democratic republic).

So I've decided to revise my comments about the left and the revolt against neo-liberalism in Argentina. Basically, I've critiqued Chris Harman of the SWP and his complaint that the Argentine masses organised themselves in the wrong way. I kid you not. Unsurprisingly, he gives a whole 1 page of a 45 page article on the organisations created by the revolt -- and then to simply moan about them! Clearly, working class autonomy and self-organisation is not high on the agenda for Leninism.

It may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but the SWP are the biggest left group in the UK -- which says it all about the state of the left! So I guess it is worthwhile, particularly as they do not come across as insane as some Trotskyist sects. I thought it would be good to include it in section H.1.4 as this discusses how Lenin lied about anarchists not having an idea on what to replace the state with. Anyways, here is the next exclusive extract:

Clearly, Lenin's assertions are little more than straw men. Anarchists are not only well aware of the need for a federation of working class asociations (workers' councils or soviets) to replace the state, they were advocating it long before Lenin took up this perspective in 1917 (as we discuss in section H.3.10). The key difference being, of course, anarchists meant it will Lenin saw it as a means of securing Bolshevik party power.

Lastly, it should also be noted that Marxists, having taken so long to draw the same conclusions as anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin, have tended to make a fetish of workers councils. As an example, we find Chris Harman of the British SWP complaining that the Argentinean masses organised themselves in the wrong way as part of their revolt against neo-liberalism which started in December 2001. He states that the "neighbourhood committees and popular assemblies" created by the revolt "express the need of those who have overthrown presidents to organise themselves" and notes "they have certain similarities with the characteristic forms of mass self organisation that arose in the great working class struggles of the 20th century -- the workers' councils or soviets." But, he stressed, "they also have very important differences from these." Yet Harman's complaints show his own confusions, seriously arguing that "the popular assemblies are not yet bodies of delegates. The people at them represent themselves, but do not have an organic connection with some group of people who they represent -- and who can recall them if they do not carry out their will." ["Argentina: rebellion at the sharp end of the world crisis", pp. 3-48, International Socialism, vol. 94, p. 25] That, of course, is the whole point -- they are popular assemblies! A popular assembly does not "represent" anyone because its members govern themselves, i.e. are directly democratic. They are the elemental bodies which recall any delegates who do not implement their mandate! But given that Leninism aims at party power, this concern for representation is perfectly understandable, if lamentable.

So rather than celebrate this rise in mass self-management and self-organisation, Harman complains that these "popular assemblies are not anchored in the workplaces where millions of Argentinians are still drawn together on a daily basis to toil." Need it be said that such an SWP approved organisation will automatically exclude the unemployed, housewives, the elderly, children and other working class people who were taking part in the struggle? In addition, any capitalist crisis is marked by rising unemployment, firms closing and so on. While workplaces must and have been seized by their workers, it is a law of revolutions that the economic disruption they cause results in increased unemployment (in this Kropotkin's arguments in The Conquest of Bread have been confirmed time and time again). Significantly, Harman admits that they include "organisations of unemployed workers" as well as "that in some of the assemblies an important leading role is played by unemployed activists shaped by their role in past industrial struggles." He does not, however, note that creating workers' councils would end their active participation in the revolt. As such, to complain that these assemblies "an organic expression of Argentinia's working class with its long and militant history" means limiting "working class" just to those employed at the time, a somewhat limited and impoverished definition of our class.[Op. Cit., p. 25]

That the Argentine working class formed organs of power which were not totally dependent on the workplace was, therefore, a good sign. Factory assemblies and federations must be formed but as a complement to, rather than as a replacement of, the community assemblies. Harman states that the assemblies were "closer to the sections -- the nightly district mass meetings -- of the French Revolution than to the workers' councils of 1905 and 1917 in Russia" and complains that a "21st century uprising was taking the form of the archetypical 18th century revolution!" [Op. Cit. p. 25 and p. 22] Did the Argentineans not realise that a 21st century uprising should mimic "the great working class struggles of the 20th century", particularly that which took place in a mostly pre-capitalist Tsarist regime which was barely out of the 18th century itself? Did they not realise that the leaders of the vanguard party know better than themselves how they should organise and conduct their struggles? That the people of the 21st century knew best how to organise their own revolts is lost of Harman, who prefers to squeeze the realities of modern struggles into the forms which Marxists took so long to recognise in the first place. Given that anarchists have been discussing the possibilities of community assemblies for some time, perhaps we can expect Leninists to recognise their importance in a few decades? After all, the Bolsheviks in Russia were slow to realise the significance of the soviets in 1905 so Harman's position is hardly surprising.

So, it is easy to see what anarchists think of Lenin's assertion that
"Anarchism had failed to give anything even approaching a true solution of the concrete political problems, viz., must the old state machine be smashed? and what should supersede it?" [Op. Cit., p. 350] We simply point out that Lenin was utterly distorting the anarchist position on social revolution. Revolutionary anarchists had, since the 1860s, argued that workers' councils (soviets) could be both a weapon of class struggle against capitalism and the state as well as the framework of the future (libertarian) socialist society. Lenin only came to superficially similar conclusions in 1917. Which means that when he talked of workers' councils, Lenin was only repeating Bakunin -- the difference being, as the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks show, we anarchists mean it!

  


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