1917 - threatened railroad strike against Bolsheviks

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OliverTwister
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Apr 26 2009 20:26
1917 - threatened railroad strike against Bolsheviks

From the wikipedia article on Alexei Rykov:

Quote:
On 29 October 1917 (Old Style), immediately after the Bolshevik seizure of power, the executive committee of the national railroad labor union, Vikzhel, threatened a national strike unless the Bolsheviks shared power with other socialist parties and dropped Lenin and Leon Trotsky from the government.

Has anyone ever heard anything about this? Does anyone know more about Vikzhel or what happened to their leaders?

Dave B
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Apr 26 2009 22:01

Yes, I think so

Brovkin covered it in his book ‘The Mensheviks After October’ cornell university press 1987 pg 21;

Barring transcription errors;

Quote:
Meanwhile the central executive committee of the railway workers union …Vikzhel declared its political neutrality and offered to mediate between the warring parties and to sponsor an inter party negotiations to form a new government. Vikzhel’s most powerful weapon was the threat, in the event that hostilitieas should continue to declare a general strike on all the railroads of russia. …………For the time being then, Vikzhel’s offewr was accepted by all sides. The strategic wish to gain time on the one hand and the political hope of saving what could still be saved on the other pulled the heterogeneous forces towards negotiations.

The neggoitations opened on October 29th in the building of the ministry of transportation. As a basis for discussion the Vikzhel sponsored formula was accepted; Resolved; to form a coalition government of all socialist parties from the bolsheviks to the Peoples Socialists.

The conciliatory Bolsheviks led by Kamenev favoured the formation of such a government in principle. Kamenev had scored a major victory at a meeting of the Bolshevik CC earlier that day. With only three members absent- Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev- the CC had unanimously adopted a resolution in favour of negotiations to broaden the soviet government to include those socialist parties that had walked out of the second congress of soviets………..

It probably needs to be borne in mind that the railway union was a Menshevik stronghold.

Also that around December 1917 Lenin was still suggesting the possibility of re electing a new constituent assembly and his objection to the present one was based on, according to him, that due to changed circumstances etc it was not truly representative or whatever.

APPENDIX I THESES ON THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

Quote:
18. The only chance of securing a painless solution of the crisis which has arisen owing to the divergence between the elections to the Constituent Assembly, on the one hand, and the will of the people and the interests of the toiling and exploited classes, on the other, is for the people to exercise as broadly and as rapidly as possible the right to elect the members of the Constituent Assembly anew, and for the Constituent Assembly to accept the law of the Central Executive Committee on these new elections, to proclaim that it unreservedly recognizes the Soviet power, the Soviet revolution, and its policy on the questions of peace, the land and workers' control, and resolutely to join the camp of the enemies of the Cadet-Kaledin counter-revolution.

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/RK18.html#A1

Anarcho
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Apr 27 2009 11:18

Actually, 1918 onwards saw a real increase in strikes and working class protest -- and, of course, Bolshevik repression of it:

section H.6.3 Were the Russian workers "declassed" and "atomised"?

All of which makes it hard for Leninists to justify Bolshevik authoritarianism in terms of necessity because the working class disintegrated -- such a working class does not need martial law to break its strikes!

Cleishbotham
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Apr 27 2009 14:57

Anarcho is master of muddled chronology. The Vikzhel threatened strike was November 1917 and was not dealt with by martial law so why is talking about 1918 onwards herre? The key thing in Dave B's point is that Vikzhel was Menshevik (and SR) dominated and was one of the last places the Mensheviks had a real working class presence after their disastrous cooperation with the Prov Govt throughout 1917. The Vikzhel threat led to a coalition government of Bolsheviks and Left SRs but also to the formation of a rank and file union against Vikzhel (Vikzhel was stange union in Rusisan terms in that clerks and technicians besides track workers were included). This new rank and file union (Vikzhedor) was Bolshevik and Left SR dominated and simply built on the rank and file of the union.It replaced Vikzhel and until March 1918 largely ran the railways (very badly according to most accounts). Many of the railway workers interpreted "workers' control" as meaning that they personally owned the railways and sometimes even turned the rolling stock into personal homes! In March 1918 the Council of Peoples' Commissars (Sovnarkom) effectively renationalised the railways and set up a new management but Lenin only achieved this against Left Communist i.e. Bolshevik opposition because the economic situation was so dire.

There should be no surpise that there were strikes after 1918 began since the fall of the Prov Govt did not mean the fall of capitalism. These strikes had many different motives (some economic some political) and many were settled. The Bolsehviks could not deliver bread (and not even peace after April 1918) so there were bound to be problems. The problem Anarcho has he starts from a prejudgement about Bolshevism (and that it was a monolithic tool of Lenin) - the opposite side of the coin from his "Leninist" demons and so cannot see that what really took place was a workers' tragedy and that most of the active workers by the end of 1917 were Bolshevik. But then this is to bring in a dose of looking at history as it really happened rather than defending an ideology.

Cleishbotham
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Apr 27 2009 14:57

Double post - sorry

Anarcho
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Apr 27 2009 15:36
Cleishbotham wrote:
Anarcho is master of muddled chronology. The Vikzhel threatened strike was November 1917 and was not dealt with by martial law so why is talking about 1918 onwards herre?

Obviously someone cannot read -- I noted that 1918 saw a significant increase in strikes and provided a link because, well, it may be of interest for people interested in labour protest under Lenin. Silly me...

Cleishbotham wrote:
The problem Anarcho has he starts from a prejudgement about Bolshevism (and that it was a monolithic tool of Lenin)

Actually, no -- if you read section H.5.12 of An Anarchist FAQ you will discover that the pre-1918 was hardly monolithic and was, in fact, very far from democratic centralist. Hell, even Lenin had to ignore the party machine at key moments...

Cleishbotham wrote:
the opposite side of the coin from his "Leninist" demons and so cannot see that what really took place was a workers' tragedy

Does that mean the breaking of strikes and workers' protests is okay -- as long the Bolshevik party does it?

Cleishbotham wrote:
and that most of the active workers by the end of 1917 were Bolshevik.

And early 1918 saw a massive slump in Bolshevik party membership...

Cleishbotham wrote:
But then this is to bring in a dose of looking at history as it really happened rather than defending an ideology.

Looking at history as it really happened? So, these strike waves from 1918 onwards, the ones regularly broken by Bolshevik armed might, did these not "really" happen? As for "defending an ideology", well, a certain Mr. Pot is looking for Mr. Kettle...

Looking at history as it really happened shows us a state capitalist political party seizing power, alienating itself from its popular support and destroying soviet democracy and smashing strikes to remain in power.

Dave B
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Apr 27 2009 18:05

I think I can agree with most of what Anarcho said, it was bound to happen eventually I suppose. Most of Brovkin’s book is dedicated to the repression of socialist opposition to the Leninists

There is a problem also with the suggested idea that the Bolshevik party was ever in the first place an 'open mass party'.

The following is just cut and pasted material that I have used before on this, so apologies if appears a bit disjointed as I am short on time;

On the membership of the Bolshevik Party, a paper below put it at less than 1% in 1920

Page 3 of 17

http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Economics/Papers/1999/1999-25.pdf

Lenin put it at 300,000 to 400,000 in 1922;

THE CONDITIONS FOR ADMITTING NEW MEMBERS, TO THE PARTY LETTERS TO V. M. MOLOTOV 1922

Quote:
If we have 300,000 to 400,000 members in the Party, even that number is excessive, for literally everything goes to show that the level of training of the present Party membership is inadequate. That is why I strongly insist on longer probation periods, and on instructing the Organising Bureau to draw up and strictly apply rules that will really make the period of probation a serious test and not an empty formality.

I think that this question should be discussed at the Congress with special care.

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/CNM22.html

The Party was not open to everyone however;

V. I. Lenin PURGING THE PARTY

Quote:
“As one of the specific objects of the Party purge, I would point to the combing out of ex-Mensheviks. In my opinion, of the Mensheviks who joined the Party after the beginning of 1918, not more than a hundredth part should be allowed to remain; and even then, every one of those who are allowed to remain must be tested over and over again. Why? Because, as a trend, the Mensheviks have displayed in 1918-21 the two qualities that characterise them: first, the ability skilfully to adapt, to "attach" themselves to the prevailing trend among the workers; and second, the ability even more skilfully to serve the whiteguards heart and soul, to serve them in action, while dissociating themselves from them in words.

Both these qualities are the logical outcome of the whole history of Menshevism. It is sufficient to recall Axelrod's proposal for a "labour congress",[16] the attitude of the Mensheviks towards the Cadets[17] (and to the monarchy) in words and action, etc., etc. The Mensheviks "attach" themselves to the Russian Communist Party not only and even not so much because they are Machiavellian (although ever since 1903 they have shown that they are past masters in the art of bourgeois diplomacy), but because they are so "adaptable". Every opportunist is distinguished for his adaptability (but not all adaptability is opportunism); and the Mensheviks, as opportunists, adapt themselves "on principle"

so to speak, to the prevailing trend among the workers and assume a protective colouring, just as a hare's coat turns white in winter. This characteristic of the Mensheviks must be kept in mind and taken into account. And taking it into account means purging the Party of approximately ninety-nine out of every hundred Mensheviks who joined the Russian Communist Party after 1918, i.e., when the victory of the Bolsheviks first became probable and then certain.

The Party must be purged of rascals, of bureaucratic, dishonest or wavering Communists, and of Mensheviks who have repainted their "facade" but who have remained Mensheviks at heart. “

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/PTP21.html#en15

I suppose you could say that restricting party membership is legitimate but it takes on a different context when other parties are banned or proscribed from participation in government and when it is a dictatorship of one party;

V. I. Lenin, SPEECH AT THE FIRST ALL-RUSSIA CONGRESS OF WORKERS IN EDUCATION AND SOCIALIST CULTURE JULY 31, 1919

Quote:
“When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, "Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won,”

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/SWSC19.html

And some more;

Quote:
{3}The Ninth Congress was held in Moscow from March 29 to April 5, 1920. It was attended by 715 delegates, the greatest number ever, who represented 611,978 Party members. Of them 553 had voice and vote, and 162, voice only. The delegates came from Central Russia, the Ukraine, the Urals, Siberia and other areas

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/10thcong/ch01.htm

Alan Woods and Ted Grant Lenin and Trotsky—what they really stood for Chapter 7
Lenin's Struggle Against Bureaucracy

Quote:
In February, 1917, the Bolshevik Party had no more than 23,000 members in the whole of Russia. At the height of the Civil War, when party membership involved personal risk, the ranks were thrown open to the workers, who pushed the membership to 200,000. But as the war grew to a close, the party membership actually trebled reflecting an influx of careerists and elements from hostile classes and parties.

Lenin at this time repeatedly emphasised the danger of the Party succumbing to the pressures and moods of the petty-bourgeois masses; that the main enemy of the revolution was:

"everyday economics in a small-peasant country with a ruined large industry. He is the petty-bourgeois element which surrounds us like the air, and penetrates deep into the ranks of the proletariat. And the proletariat is de-classed, i.e. dislodged from its class groove. The factories and mills are idle - the proletariat is weak, scattered, enfeebled. On the other hand the petty-bourgeois element within the country is backed by the whole international bourgeoisie, which retains its power throughout the world." (Works, vol. 33, page 23)

The "purge" initiated by Lenin in 1921 had nothing in common with the monstrous frame-up trials of Stalin; there was no police, no trials, no prison-camps; merely the ruthless weeding out of petty-bourgeois and Menshevik elements from the ranks of the Party, in order to preserve the ideas and traditions of October from the poisonous effects of petty-bourgeois reaction. By early 1922, some 200,000 members (one-third of the membership) had been expelled.

http://www.tedgrant.org/archive/grant/1969/lat/7.htm

Blackhawk
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Apr 27 2009 18:38

Vikzhel, went on strike in 1917 because they demanded a newly elected constituent assembly? A new Duma? This was hardly standing up to "Bolshevik" tyranny. More likely they were simply wanting to save their own national-chauvinist hides because their party, the Mensheviks, took the side of the Czars and the Kaisers in support of imperialist war by invoking the hallowed excuse for slaughter inherited from the bourgeois revolutions of 1776-1779, right of nations to "self-determination".

It was the SR's that assassinated the German ambassador to get Russia back into the imperialist war. It was the Menshevik leaders that set Semionov's cossacks on the Russian peasantry. That was truly libertarian indeed, I'm sure Kerensky's pen was dripping with human rights and democracy when he signed that order.

My question I ask to anyone sympathetic to Mensheviks and SR's is if they have paid attention to anything those other "socialists" had been saying and doing at the time? As much attention as they've paid to the utterances of Lenin? Strange to support "soviet democracy" but be so opposed to the only party that effectively called for it.

What were anarchists doing to oppose all this tyranny? Not a whole lot, what with their opposition to organizing their own "vanguard" party, and the fact that Anarchism had been largely pushed aside by the increasing role that social democracy played in working class politics at the time.

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OliverTwister
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Apr 28 2009 05:34

...
That basically goes for the whole thread. All of the responses except for the first haven't said anything new - yes, everyone knows the bolsheviks repressed strikes; nobody is defending the Mensheviks or SRs.

Although there have been some extremely idealist notions about the railroad workers, as though these were simple pawns of the Mensheviks who would strike merely in support of Menshevik political goals without knowing the stakes.

Dave B
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Apr 28 2009 19:28

Hi Oliver as the first poster, am I off the hook then?

Blackhawk is talking bollocks I suspect, but as he isn’t giving references that we can challenge so we are no where.

The railway workers union were not a tool of the Mensheviks nor did they consist of ticket collectors and clerks. The Bolsheviks shit themselves when they threatened to strike because they were engine drivers etc and had the power to shut everything down.

In fact as a base of opposition they were a first target and example of the ‘The more resolutely we now have to stand for a ruthlessly firm government, for the dictatorship of individuals’.

V. I. Lenin, THE IMMEDIATE TASKS, OF THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT

Quote:

The struggle that has been developing around the recent decree on the management of the railways, the decree which grants individual executives dictatorial powers (or "unlimited" powers),[108] is characteristic. The conscious (and to a large extent, probably, unconscious) representatives of petty bourgeois laxity would like to see in this granting of "unlimited" (i.e., dictatorial) powers to individuals a departure from the collegiate principle, from democracy and from the principles of Soviet government.

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/IT18.html

I don’t have any real idea who Blackhawk means by ‘Semionov’ but I suspect he means the mad cossack bastard Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov, or Semenov who fought for the whites. E H Carr mentions him in passing but I have never heard linked to the Mensheviks.

There was a ‘Semionov’ however; it is weird the stuff you remember, this libcom transcription ls different to my book but it is close enough to save the effort of tipping away.

Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Victor Serge; similar to my chapter 4; Danger from within 1920-21

Quote:
The Political Bureau finally made up its mind to enter into negoiations with Kronstadt, lay down an ultimatum, and, as a last resort, attack the fortress and the ice-bound battleships. As it turned out, no negotiations ever took place. But an ultimatum, couched in revolting language, appeared on the billboards over the signature of Lenin and Trotsky: 'Surrender or be shot like rabbits!'. Trotsky, limiting his activities to the Political Bureau, kept away from Petrograd.

Meanwhile the Cheka had declared war on the Menshevik Social-Democrats by publishing an ourageous official document accusing them of 'conspiring with the enemy, planning to sabotage the railways,' etc. The Bolshevik leaders themselves were embarrassed; they shrugged the charges aside: 'More of the Cheka's ravings!'. But they let the charges stand all the same and promised only that there would be no arrests and that everthing would come out alright.

Even so, the Menshevik leaders Dan and Abramovich were arrested (in Petrgrad): and the Cheka (led at this time, as I remember, by a red-headed worker named Semionov, a hard, ignorant little man) wanted to have them shot - on the grounds that they had organized the strike, which was now almost general (and at least 75% spontaneous). I had just had a run-in with Semionov over two students the Cheka had arbitraily seized. I got word to Lenin through Gorky (who was also at that moment intervening to save the Menshevik leaders). Once Lenin had been informed, we knew our friends were out of danger.

http://libcom.org/library/kronstadt-21-serge

Anarcho
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Apr 28 2009 19:39
Blackhawk wrote:
It was the SR's that assassinated the German ambassador to get Russia back into the imperialist war.

Actually, the Left-SRs assassinated the German ambassador because of they considered the Bolsheviks as having compromised with imperialism by conducting a separate peace, so violating the principles of internationalism. They also took that action because the Bolsheviks had packed the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, so denying the Left-SRs their rightful majority.

See my Review: The Bolsheviks in Power

Blackhawk wrote:
IMy question I ask to anyone sympathetic to Mensheviks and SR's is if they have paid attention to anything those other "socialists" had been saying and doing at the time?

Sympathic? Nope, although I've yet to see any reason why Martov's left-Mensheviks should have been repressed by the Bolsheviks -- other than the awkward fact that workers voted for them... As for the SRs, do you mean the Left-SRs?

Blackhawk wrote:
As much attention as they've paid to the utterances of Lenin?

Ah, yes, what Lenin said in 1917 is much more important than what he did when in power! Or, for that matter, what he said in power!

Blackhawk wrote:
Strange to support "soviet democracy" but be so opposed to the only party that effectively called for it.

Even stranger to think that the Bolsheviks supported soviet democracy when they systematically destroyed it once in power... Unless gerrymandering soviets, packing congresses and disbanding soviets equates to supporting soviet democracy, of course...

ernie
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Apr 28 2009 23:26
Quote:
Actually, the Left-SRs assassinated the German ambassador because of they considered the Bolsheviks as having compromised with imperialism by conducting a separate peace, so violating the principles of internationalism
Quote:
So the left SR disagreed with the Bolsheviks and decided to try and stimulate German military intervention by this assassination in the name of defending internationalism. I am sure those slaughtered in the German offensive were very pleased that the Left SR had decided their fate for them. The reason for Lenin arguing for the peace treaty was because the Soviet's military forces were not up to facing the German war machine (which provide to be the case with much useless loss of life), nothing to do with abandoning internationalism. In fact underpinning his defense of the agreement was the desperate hope that the German revolution was about to break out. Also the decision to sign the peace was discussed in the Soviets and in the party, and not decided upon by a group.. If my memory serves me well a very well informed comrade told me that the Ural's Soviet still had not agreed to the peace treaty in 1924.
The Left SR's action, despite their intentions, served no ones interests apart from German imperialism's.
The Left Communist group around Bukharin disagreed with the treaty but rather than providing justification for German imperialism's ambitions they struggles in the party and the Soviets in order to oppose the decision, because they saw the Soviets as the means of workers power, why didn't the Left SRs do the same, seeing they claimed to defend the workers interests? Why did they give themselves the right to carry out such dangerous actions without the backing of the workers' assemblies?
The Bolsheviks argued for and defend their actions before the soviets because they saw them as the bases of workers power, the Left SR ignored them and sort to impose their own ends upon them.
Anarcho wants his cake and to eat it
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Leutha
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May 4 2009 18:58

The Semyonov reference no doubt refers to the Cossack who was appointed by the Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia. This organisation joined the Komuch in setting up the Provisional All-Russian Government PA-RG, with SR involvement. However Viktor Chernov, one of the key SRs critcisied the PA-RG for compromising with the far right such as Semyonov, and called for an independent People's Army.

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May 7 2009 17:06
Dave B wrote:
I don’t have any real idea who Blackhawk means by ‘Semionov’ but I suspect he means the mad cossack bastard Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov, or Semenov

I lol'd. Sorry. I'll get my coat.