Lenin & Trotsky: Did they support workers democracy before they took power?

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Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 10 2018 20:15
Lenin & Trotsky: Did they support workers democracy before they took power?

Leninists and Trotskyists make excuses for the tyranny of Bolshevik Party leaders by blaming it on the pressures of civil war, the failure of revolutions in industrial countries, and just general all around bad historical circumstances.

Wayne Price, an anarchist author, disagrees. He writes that:

Quote:
Citing objective pressures, however real, does not disprove that Lenin and Trotsky had an authoritarian conception of socialism from the start. Did they, before the revolution, (in State and Revolution or elsewhere) advocate a multiparty/multitendency workers’ democracy? No.

Is this true?

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jondwhite
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Apr 10 2018 22:19

What's important is not whether they advocated it but rather that at every opportunity where it potentially benefited them, they adopted dictatorial rather than democratic measures. Before they took power, this dictatorial tendency was particularly evident in how Lenin seperate himself from the RSDLP and how he instead ran his Bolshevik cult.

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comrade_emma
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Apr 10 2018 22:43

I don't deny that they were "authoritarian" before, after or during. It does not mean that they didn't support soviet democracy. But why would they support a "multiparty/multitendency workers’ democracy"? There was nothing to gain from allowing narodniks and reformists to continue to wield power. Lenin and Trotsky opposed to making democracy into a fetish that is to be upheld as a principle.

ajjohnstone
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Apr 11 2018 02:14

I think others on the website in other discussions have made the important point that Lenin and Trotsky were fairly orthodox European social-democrats, tweaking Kautsky and others to fit the Russian situation.

So really, i think the transformation of Marx state-free vision into the statism of socialism associated with the SPD is where your investigation should begin

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R Totale
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Apr 11 2018 06:23
comrade_emma wrote:
I don't deny that they were "authoritarian" before, after or during. It does not mean that they didn't support soviet democracy. But why would they support a "multiparty/multitendency workers’ democracy"? There was nothing to gain from allowing narodniks and reformists to continue to wield power. Lenin and Trotsky opposed to making democracy into a fetish that is to be upheld as a principle.

If you're talking about the left SRs, I think there were quite a few revolutionary workers who would've disagreed with you on that score. More generally, I get the critique of democracy in broad theoretical terms, whatever, but when you connect the critique of democracy with the actual historical practice of Lenin & pals, the result was... not great???

Mike Harman
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Apr 11 2018 11:52
comrade_emma wrote:
I don't deny that they were "authoritarian" before, after or during. It does not mean that they didn't support soviet democracy. But why would they support a "multiparty/multitendency workers’ democracy"? There was nothing to gain from allowing narodniks and reformists to continue to wield power. Lenin and Trotsky opposed to making democracy into a fetish that is to be upheld as a principle.

Assimilating the factory committees into the unions and the unions into the party/state has nothing to do with 'multiparty democracy with narodniks and reformists', this process started immediately after October 1917.

Ending the practice of elected officers in the Red Army and putting ex-Tsarist generals in charge instead has nothing to with Narodniks either.

This isn't about representative democracy of different 'left' ideological parties but the actual suppression of workers organisations - even though both of those things happened.

Compare Lenin in April 1917: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/20b.htm

To Trotsky in March 1918: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/03/work.htm

Then the persecution of someone like Miasnikov, who was not a 'narodnik' but and old Bolshevik was attacked and deported by Lenin, just for making arguments that different tendencies should be allowed to speak.

Then Lenin's final 1923 works where he points out the Bolsheviks had essentially captured the existing Tsarist state and made some cosmetic changes rather than destroying it (regardless of whether you're a fan of 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' this is an admission that the Bolshevik state was not, albeit an extremely tame admission six years too late): https://libcom.org/library/better-fewer-better / https://libcom.org/library/how-we-should-reorganise-workers-peasants-inspection

Dyjbas
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Apr 11 2018 17:19

Between 1917 and 1918 you did have what was essentially a multiparty workers’ democracy. The Second Congress of Soviets, which ratified the October Revolution, was made up of 649 elected delegates (390 Bolsheviks, 100 Left SRs, 60 Right SRs, 72 Mensheviks, 14 Menshevik Internationalists, and 13 of various groups). The VtsIK, or the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, was also a multiparty body (at the time of the Second Congress: 62 Bolsheviks, 29 Left SRs, 10 Mensheviks and Right SRs) and from December 1917 until March 1918 the Sovnarkom was a dual-party coalition cabinet composed of both Bolsheviks and Left SRs. You can read more on how that worked HERE.

So how did Soviet Russia become a one-party state? By 1919 the Bolsheviks were in control of most soviets and the only party to be represented in the Sovnarkom. You can blame the meddling of the Bolsheviks (which certainly played a part), but there is another side to it. Many Mensheviks and Right SRs walked out of the soviets already during the Second Congress in protest over the storming of the Winter Palace. While the Left SRs walked out in March 1918 over the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Mensheviks and Right SRs wanted the return of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly and hence opposed soviet power in principle, whereas the Left SRs organised an armed uprising in July 1918 to force Soviet Russia back into war with Germany. So by that point, even if the Bolsheviks wanted it to exist, a functioning multiparty democracy was out of the question as there were no other major parties willing to work alongside them. Local soviets remained a multiparty workers’ democracy at least until July 1918, but meddling in elections became more common after that. The pressures of the civil war and the failure of revolutions in other countries only made the situation worse, and so grassroots activity in the soviets diminished. Finally, by March 1921 all main opposition parties were essentially banned.

So to turn your question around, Lenin and Trotsky supported workers’ democracy even after they “took power” (at least until 1918). That’s not to say there was no tendency towards a one-party state, but there were other tendencies too, and the one-party state only became a reality when all potential allies turned against the Bolsheviks. They all had their reasons – be it the Constituent Assembly or Brest-Litovsk – but how valid these reasons were is another discussion.

Mike Harman wrote:
Then Lenin's final 1923 works where he points out the Bolsheviks had essentially captured the existing Tsarist state and made some cosmetic changes rather than destroying it (regardless of whether you're a fan of 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' this is an admission that the Bolshevik state was not, albeit an extremely tame admission six years too late)

Lenin always made it clear that the disappearance of the bourgeois (in this case Tsarist) state cannot happen overnight.

In 1917: "[Even] under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie! This may sound like a paradox [...] but in fact, remnants of the old, surviving in the new, confront us in life at every step, both in nature and in society. And Marx did not arbitrarily insert a scrap of “bourgeois” law into communism, but indicated what is economically and politically inevitable in a society emerging out of the womb of capitalism." (of course Soviet Russia wasn't communist, so it follows that the remnants of the bourgeois state there were even more entrenched)

And again in 1922: "We inherited it, in effect, from the old regime, for it was absolutely impossible to reorganise it in such a short time, especially in conditions of war, famine, etc.[...] It is altogether impossible in five years to reorganise the machinery adequately, especially in the conditions in which our revolution took place. It is enough that in five years we have created a new type of state in which the workers are leading the peasants against the bourgeoisie; and in a hostile international environment this in itself is a gigantic achievement. But knowledge of this must on no account blind us to the fact that, in effect we took over the old machinery of state from the tsar and the bourgeoisie and that now, with the onset of peace and the satisfaction of the minimum requirements against famine, all our work must be directed towards improving the administrative machinery."

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Apr 11 2018 21:15

Lenin was opposed to democracy. As early as 1903, Martov commented to Lenin on Lenin's proposal on membership criteria, 'but that's dictatorship you're proposing' to which Lenin replied 'yes, there's no other way.'
One of Lenin's first actions in power was to fire the neutral election commissioners.
He was even dictatorial on the sealed train back to Russia.

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Steven.
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Apr 12 2018 02:28

Some good posts so far. I just had a small point to add.

Before the 1905 revolution, Trotsky wrote a critique of Lenin's What Is to Be Done, where he criticises Lenin's tendency towards dictatorship:

Quote:
In the internal politics of the Party these methods lead, as we shall see below, to the Party organisation “substituting” itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee

Unfortunately later on Trotsky disowned his previous views and happily partook in the above creation of a dictatorship.

Mike Harman
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Apr 12 2018 10:29
Dyjbas wrote:
You can blame the meddling of the Bolsheviks (which certainly played a part), but there is another side to it. Many Mensheviks and Right SRs walked out of the soviets already during the Second Congress in protest over the storming of the Winter Palace. While the Left SRs walked out in March 1918 over the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Mensheviks and Right SRs wanted the return of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly and hence opposed soviet power in principle, whereas the Left SRs organised an armed uprising in July 1918 to force Soviet Russia back into war with Germany. So by that point, even if the Bolsheviks wanted it to exist, a functioning multiparty democracy was out of the question as there were no other major parties willing to work alongside them. Local soviets remained a multiparty workers’ democracy at least until July 1918, but meddling in elections became more common after that.

This is a bit of a potted history. The Left SRs assassinated a German ambassador in July 1918 and the uprising went straight on from that, but this was after the Bolsheviks had expelled them from the congress for trying to get Brest-Livosk revoked - they quit some posts in March, but not everything. They had about a third of delegates to that congress in July.

Dyjbas
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Apr 12 2018 12:14
Mike Harman wrote:
This is a bit of a potted history. The Left SRs assassinated a German ambassador in July 1918 and the uprising went straight on from that, but this was after the Bolsheviks had expelled them from the congress for trying to get Brest-Livosk revoked - they quit some posts in March, but not everything. They had about a third of delegates to that congress in July.

As far as I know this is the timeline:

March 1918 – Fourth Congress of Soviets takes place, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is ratified. Left SRs leave the Sovnarkom in protest.

June 1918 – the Left SR party congress takes place, during which the central committee decides it would be both “possible and opportune to organize a series of terrorist acts against the most eminent representatives of German imperialism”.

July 1918 – Fifth Congress of Soviets takes place, the Left SRs again fail to overturn the Treaty. In response, they assassinate Mirbach and launch an uprising on 6 July.

In other words, the Left SR uprising did not take place after the Bolsheviks “expelled them from the congress”. There are allegations that the Bolsheviks gerrymandered the vote at the Fifth Congress, yes, but even if that was the case, the assassination of Mirbach was already planned in advance. Unable to get their way, the Left SRs resorted to terrorist acts instead to force Soviet Russia back into war.

jondwhite wrote:
Before they took power, this dictatorial tendency was particularly evident in how Lenin seperate himself from the RSDLP and how he instead ran his Bolshevik cult.
jondwhite wrote:
Lenin was opposed to democracy.

These claims need some backing. It's no secret that at times Lenin was in the minority in his own party, as was the case for example when he published the April Theses (the majority of the leadership at that time was made up of moderates who wanted a compromise with the Provisional Government and reconciliation with the Mensheviks). Not to mention that for a "cult", the Bolsheviks party was, until 1921, home to a surprising amount of political tendencies which often disagreed with each other. In general the image of the Bolsheviks as an authoritarian body united under the single will of Lenin comes straight out of Stalinist propaganda (it was, after all, how Stalin ran the party, he had to justify it somehow!).

And yes, Lenin didn’t make a fetish of democracy and opposed bourgeois democracy, like most communists did. His approach was nuanced. In years 1893-1914, he saw the most immediate political task of the Social-Democrats to be the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy and its replacement by a democratic republic. Post-1914, he realised that the war opened a new stage in history, where socialist revolution was now on the agenda. The following quotes demonstrate his approach to democracy at the time:

Democracy is of enormous importance to the working class in its struggle against the capitalists for its emancipation. But democracy is by no means a boundary not to be overstepped; it is only one of the stages on the road from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to communism. [...] Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then "the state... ceases to exist", and "it becomes possible to speak of freedom". Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever.(1917)

Creative activity at the grass roots is the basic factor of the new public life. Let the workers set up workers’ control at their factories. Let them supply the villages with manufactures in exchange for grain. [...] Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Its spirit rejects the mechanical bureaucratic approach; living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves." (1917)

"Marxism [has] has taught the workers: you must take advantage of bourgeois democracy which, compared with feudalism, represents a great historical advance, but not for one minute must you forget the bourgeois character of this "democracy", it's historical conditional and limited character. Never share the "superstitious belief" in the "state" and never forget that the state even in the most democratic republic, and not only in a monarchy, is simply a machine for the suppression of one class by another." (1918)

Unfortunately he abandoned this view in the 1920s, and towards the end of his life increasingly saw technocratic reforms of the state apparatus (rather than proletarian self-activity) as the only way forward in the absence of revolutions in other countries.

Battlescarred
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Apr 12 2018 12:57

OK, he was opposed to bourgeois democracy AND proletarian democracy

Dyjbas
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Apr 12 2018 14:09

Here's what Lenin had to say about proletarian democracy:

"Proletarian democracy, of which Soviet government is one of the forms, has brought a development and expansion of democracy unprecedented in the world, for the vast majority of the population, for the exploited and working people. To write a whole pamphlet about democracy, as Kautsky did, in which two pages are devoted to dictatorship and dozens to “pure democracy,” and fail to notice this fact, means completely distorting the subject in liberal fashion. [...] Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy; Soviet power is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic." (1918)

"The abolition of State power is the goal of all socialists, including and above all Marx. Unless this goal is reached true democracy, that is, equality and freedom, is not attainable. But only Soviet and proletarian democracy leads in fact to that goal, for it begins at once to prepare for the complete withering away of any kind of State by drawing the mass organisations of the working people into constant and unrestricted participation in State administration." (1919)

Miasnikov was mentioned above as a critic of Lenin. But what else did he have to say about Lenin? Well...

"Lenin, when he was a Marxist revolutionary, did not conceive of a proletarian State without Workers Councils, without that “association” by means of which the proletariat administers production instead of the bourgeoisie, after the latter is defeated. Following Marx and Engels, Lenin saw in these Councils “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour”. And “except on this last condition, the Communal Constitution would have been an impossibility and a delusion”. Stalin, Bukharin & Co., however, are devoted to hauling off to the dungeons of the GPU, under the accusation of being counterrevolutionaries, all workers who have the audacity to talk about organizing these Councils. And yet they still dare to call themselves Marxist-Leninists! And the bureaucracy that administers production and the State, as well as the whole bureaucratic apparatus—they call that a workers State! Woe to anyone who would dare to deny it. [...] In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels stated that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy”, and Lenin added that the starting point, after the victory of the proletarian revolution, is the transformation of the Councils into the administrative organs of production and the foundation of the State." (1930)

The fact that during the 1920s Lenin abandoned proletarian democracy in favour of technocratic reformism, does not change the fact that, for a period of time, he was the most prominent advocate of proletarian democracy out there.

And according to the historian Rabinowitch, who’s been studying the Russian Revolution since the 1960s, here’s what made the Bolsheviks so successful in 1917:

far from being the small band of “conspiratorial followers by the numbers” of Lenin in seizing power, from February on the Bolsheviks tried to develop a mass party. They grew enormously among workers and soldiers. They made a great effort to build connections with factory committees in factories and in trade unions getting strength and among garrison troops. More than any other party they were concerned with building roots among the masses and they helped shape mass views but they also were shaped by mass views. The party and in 1917 —far from being a centralized troop movement […] — became a mass party and a decentralized party with relatively democratic decision-making and this was terribly important in their success.(2018)

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Apr 12 2018 21:24
Dyjbas wrote:
the Left SRs organised an armed uprising in July 1918 to force Soviet Russia back into war with Germany.

This makes them sound like nationalistic warmongers, yet Left SR positions of the time were quite different. The Left SRs were as anti-WWI and pro-international workers revolution as the bolsheviks, they initially supported the bolshevik seizure of power and held posts in that government. But they were against the bolsheviks’ curbing of trade union power, their curbing of press freedom, against the terror (though a few served in the Cheka as insignificant bureaucrats), against the dictatorial control of the bolshevik government, against replacement of workers control/factory councils by state control in 1918 and suppression of other parties.

So, whatever criticisms may be made of them, they were already against many of the seeds of repression that drowned the revolution in blood and Party dictatorship. They also strongly opposed the Brest-Litovsk treaty with German imperialism (they were staunch internationalists and their critique of the Treaty was close to that of left Bolsheviks – ie, ‘no accommodation with German imperialism’) as it bargained away Ukraine and other territories to the German state. The Left SRs were a party mainly of young workers & soldiers but the SRs traditionally had a strong peasant base and saw the Treaty as an abandonment of the peasantry in affected areas; according to EH Carr they specifically resented Trotsky’s insistence on rejection of any taking up of arms against the German military invasion in Ukraine. The Left SRs had a rather mechanistic belief that German invasion would spark a renewed wave of revolutionary struggle. As it played out, the peasant & worker resistance – notably the revolutionary Makhnovists - to German and other armies did defeat the occupation of Ukraine. Only for it to be reclaimed by the bolshevik dictatorship. One could as easily say that those in the occupied territories were ‘forced by the bolsheviks back into war with Germany’.

The Left SRs as described by a journalist in 1919;

Quote:
They are for a partisan army, not a regular army. They are against the employment of officers who served under the old regime. They are against the employment of responsible technicians and commercial experts in the factories. They believe that officers and experts alike, being ex-bourgeois, must be enemies of the people, insidiously engineering reaction. They are opposed to any agreement with the Allies, exactly as they were opposed to any agreement with the Germans. I heard them describe the Communists as "the bourgeois gendarmes of the Entente," on the ground that having offered concessions they would be keeping order in Russia for the benefit of Allied capital. [By early 1920 the bolsheviks were negotiating trade agreements with various European states.] They blew up Mirbach, and would no doubt try to blow up any successors he might have. Not wanting a regular army (a low bourgeois weapon) they would welcome occupation in order that they, with bees in their bonnets and bombs in their hands, might go about revolting against it. - Arthur Ransome - Russia in 1919

An interesting article on the Left SRs; http://libcom.org/history/ettore-cinnella-tragedy-russian-revolution-promise-default-left-socialist-revolutionarie wonders why the role of Left SRs has remained so neglected by historians. It describes how the absence of Bolshevik roots in rural areas meant a temporary governing alliance with the peasant-oriented Left SRs was necessary for the new state to establish its power nationwide. The peasant commune (mir) became the local administrative power of village life. With the massive 1918 land redistribution programme initiated by the Left SRs when in government and applied by local rural soviets there was ‘a social & economic levelling within the peasantry’ which ‘makes it hard to understand why the Party persecuted the kulaks from 1918 up to Stalin’s 30s collectivisations’. It seems likely the bolsheviks’ oft-cited ‘kulak’ was massively exaggerated and used as a propaganda strawman/bogeyman to justify their more general repression and terror (as noted in this thread; http://libcom.org/library/lenin-orders-massacre-prostitutes-1918 )

Dyjbas wrote:
according to the historian Rabinowitch, who’s been studying the Russian Revolution since the 1960s..
Quote:
The party and in 1917 —far from being a centralized troop movement […] — became a mass party and a decentralized party with relatively democratic decision-making and this was terribly important in their success.“

Yes, the use of democracy was important in their success, but not necessarily in the way you’d like us to think; in footnote 79 of Cinella’s article on the Left SRs (linked to above) the author comments on the Bolsheviks achieving a majority at the 5th All-Russian Congress of Soviets on July 4th 1918, Moscow;

Cinella wrote:
“It is significant that the very Alexander Rabinowitch, who in the past has never concealed his pro-Bolshevik sympathies, should write today: “An exact breakdown of properly elected delegates may be impossible to ascertain; however, based on substantial but incomplete archival evidence, it is quite clear that the Bolshevik congress majority was artificially inflated and highly suspect.
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Steven.
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Apr 12 2018 22:07

Excellent post as always by Red. Yeah, while informative, Dyjbas, your comment about the Left SRs did look like you were trying to paint them as pro-war nationalists, which is not the case at all. My understanding is more in the line of Red's post, that their main reason for opposing Brest-Litovsk was it meant essentially abandoning areas like Ukraine to German imperialism. And war there was going to happen anyway, as the mostly revolutionary peasant population wasn't going to put up with being returned to feudalism.

Dyjbas
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Apr 13 2018 00:24
Steven. wrote:
Dyjbas, your comment about the Left SRs did look like you were trying to paint them as pro-war nationalists

Sorry, that wasn't my intention! The Left Communists and Left SRs both had very valid reasons to oppose Brest-Litovsk. Only the latter however resorted to terrorist action - and it backfired on them big time, destroying their relations with the Bolsheviks (which it wasn't meant to, the uprising was only supposed to force the Bolshevik government's hand, it wasn't an anti-Bolshevik uprising in principle as it's sometimes presented).

There's an argument to be had both ways, but with the benefit of hindsight, I do think the reaction to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was excessive. The treaty gave Soviet Russia a bit of breathing space, and did not actually stop the German Revolution from breaking out in just a few months time (so by November 1918 the treaty was a thing of the past anyway!).

Red Marriott wrote:
it is quite clear that the Bolshevik congress majority was artificially inflated and highly suspect.

Yes, there are allegations that the Bolsheviks gerrymandered the vote at the Fifth Congress, but I've already mentioned this above. The point I was making with that quote is that before 1921 the Bolsheviks were in no way a "cult" as jondwhite would have it. Here's more Rabinowitch on the subject, a bit long but very relevant:

"the phenomenal Bolshevik success can be attributed in no small measure to the nature of the party in 1917. Here I have in mind neither Lenin’s bold and determined leadership, the immense historical significance of which cannot be denied, nor the Bolsheviks’ proverbial, though vastly exaggerated, organizational unity and discipline. Rather, I would emphasize the party’s internally relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation, as well as its essentially open and mass character — in striking contrast to the traditional Leninist model. As we have seen, within the Bolshevik Petrograd organization at all levels in 1917 there was continuing free and lively discussion and debate over the most basic theoretical and tactical issues. Leaders who differed with the majority were at liberty to fight for their views, and not infrequently Lenin was the loser in these struggles. [...] In 1917 subordinate party bodies like the Petersburg Committee and the Military Organization were permitted considerable independence and initiative, and their views and criticism were taken into account in the formation of policy at the highest levels. Most important, these lower bodies were able to tailor their tactics and appeals to suit their own particular constituencies amid rapidly changing conditions. Vast numbers of new members were recruited into the party, and they too played a significant role in shaping the Bolsheviks’ behavior. [...] The newcomers included tens of thousands of workers and soldiers from among the most impatient and dissatisfied elements in the factories and garrison who knew little, if anything, about Marxism and cared nothing about party discipline. This caused extreme difficulties in July when leaders of the Military Organization and the Petersburg Committee, responsive to their militant constituencies, encouraged an insurrection, against the wishes of the Central Committee. But during the period of reaction that followed the July uprising, in the course of the fight against Kornilov, and again during the October revolution, the Bolsheviks’ extensive, carefully cultivated connections in factories, local workers’ organizations, and units of the Petrograd garrison and the Baltic Fleet were to be a significant source of the party’s durability and strength."

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Apr 13 2018 10:53

Dyjbas; If you want to use quotes you should cite the source & date, that's pretty basic in understanding & using history. Eg, the quote about Rabinowitch (from 1996) in my last post suggests he reassessed his view on the Bolsheviks' relation to democracy; so it's useful to know when he made the statement you quote above.

But I think that quote - from a longterm pro-Bolshevik - is propaganda more than anything and could be contradicted by many other sources; eg, if you read about Lenin in exile you see he always remained the ultimate Party authority, even from afar. Nor did the Party for most of its necessarily clandestine history have an "essentially open and mass character" - quite the opposite. And this mode of operation defined the Party character after 1917 in such ways as absolute loyalty to the Party (to the point of critics failing to make any substantial challenge to Stalin's terror and its annihilation of veteran bolsheviks) and submission to the rule of the Central & Executive Committees. Yes, in a revolution, with influx of many new members, there will be more discussion, voting/decision-making at local levels (Corbynistas can make similar claims but we know who's in control of the Labour Party) - but the pre-existing leadership retained control over essential decisions and were always acting to extend their centralised state control. The speedy replacement of factory council & Soviet power with Bolshveik state rule was a major grievance of the Left LRs. Similarly, the banning of factions in the Party, persecution of dissidents like Miasnikov etc shows how thin the democratic, mass veneer was; so Rabinowitch seems an attempt to put a democratic gloss on what remained a hierarchical structure whose goal and achievement was to extend that hierarchical control over the whole society.

Dave B
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Apr 13 2018 17:25

Irrespective of what people may think now about the constituent assembly.

The public Bolshevik position throughout 1917 was one of support for the convocation of the constituent assembly.

And no doubt the obtained considerable support from the workers and ‘peasantry’ on that basis.

They actually seized power on the basis or with the excuse that that was necessary to guarantee the convocation of the constituent assembly as was made clear by Trotsky on the eve of the coup.

On the eve of the first sitting of the constituent assembly, merely weeks later the Bolsheviks opened fire with machine guns on a demonstration of approximately 200,000 in support of the constituent assembly.

Killing 21 by their own official statements.

And shut it down.

REPORT AT A MEETING OF BOLSHEVIK DELEGATES TO THE ALL-RUSSIA CONFERENCE OF SOVIETS OF WORKERS’ AND SOLDIERS’ DEPUTIES APRIL 4 (17), 1917

I should be glad to have the Constituent Assembly convened tomorrow,

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/04d.htm

Political Parties in Russia and the Tasks of the Proletariat

Published in pamphlet form in July 1917 by Zhizn i Znaniye Publishers. Published May 6, 9 and 10 (April 23, 26 and 27), 1917 in the newspaper Volna Nos. 20, 22 and 23.

9) SHOULD A CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY BE CONVENED?

D. (“Bolsheviks”). Yes, and as soon as possible. But there is only one way to assure its convocation and success, and that is by increasing the number and strength of the Soviets and organising and arming the working-class masses. That is the only guarantee.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/x02.htm

Speech Delivered at a Meeting of Soldiers of the Izmailovsky Regiment April 10 (23), 1917

The central state power uniting these local Soviets must be the Constituent Assembly, National Assembly, or Council of Soviets—no matter by what name you call it.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/10.htm

An Open Letter to the Delegates to the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies

Published May 24 (11), 1917

We by no means deny the right of the Constituent Assembly finally to institute public ownership of the land and to regulate its disposal.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/07b.htm

On the “Unauthorised Seizure” of Land
FLIMSY ARGUMENTS OF THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARIES
Published: Pravda No. 61, June 2 (May 20), 1917

The local peasants are to have the immediate use of these lands, which are to become the property of the people as a whole. Ownership will be finally decided by the Constituent Assembly (or the All-Russia Council of Soviets, should the people choose to make it the Constituent Assembly).

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/20b.htm

Constitutional Illusions

Published in Rabochy i Soldat Nos. 11 and 12, August 4 (August 5), 1917

The Constituent Assembly in Russia today will yield a majority to peasants who are more to the left than the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The bourgeoisie know this and therefore are bound to put up a tremendous resistance to an early convocation. With a Constituent Assembly convened, it will be impossible, or exceedingly difficult, to carry on the imperialist war in the spirit of the secret treaties concluded by Nicholas II, or to defend the landed estates or the payment of compensation for them. The war will not wait. The class struggle will not wait. This was evident enough even in the brief span from February 28 to April 21.

From the very beginning of the revolution there have been two views on the Constituent Assembly. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, completely swayed by constitutional illusions, viewed the matter with the credulity of the petty bourgeoisie who will not hear of the class struggle: the Constituent Assembly has been proclaimed, there will be a Constituent Assembly and that’s all there is to it!

Everything else is of the devil’s making. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks said: only the growing strength and authority of the Soviets can guarantee the convocation and success of the Constituent Assembly.

The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries laid emphasis on the act of law: the proclamation, the promise, the declaration to call a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks laid emphasis on the class struggle: if the Soviets were to win, the Constituent Assembly would be certain to meet; if not, there would be no such certainty.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/jul/26.htm

Rumours of a Conspiracy

Written on August 18–19 (August 31–September 1), 1917

Our task now would be to take power and to proclaim ourselves the government in the name of peace, land for the peasants, and the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the appointed time by agreement with the peasants in the various localities, etc

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/aug/19.htm

They Do Not See the Wood for the Trees
First published in Proletary No. 6, September 1 (August 19), 1917

instead of giving the people a plain statement of the facts showing how brazenly, how shamelessly the Cadets had been delaying and blocking the convocation of the Constituent Assembly since March, and instead of exposing the false evasions and the assertion that it was impossible to convoke the Constituent Assembly at the appointed time, the Bureau of the Central Executive Committee promptly brushed aside all “doubts” expressed even by Dan (even by Dan!) and sent Bramson and Bronzov, two lackeys of that bureau of lackeys, to the Provisional Government with a report “on the need to postpone elections to the Constituent Assembly until October 28-29”.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/sep/01.htm

The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power[1]
A Letter to the Central Committee and the Petrograd And Moscow Committees Of The R.S.D.L.P.(B.

Nor can we "wait" for the Constituent Assembly, for by surrendering Petrograd Kerensky and Co. can always frustrate its convocation. Our Party alone, on taking power, can secure the Constituent Assembly’s convocation; it will then accuse the other parties of procrastination and will be able to substantiate its accusations.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/sep/14.htm

Lessons of the Revolution

The convocation of the Assembly, however, is being steadily postponed by the capitalists. Now that owing to Bolshevik pressure it has been set for September 30, the capitalists are openly clamouring about this being “impossibly” short notice, and are demanding the Constituent Assembly’s postponement. The most influential members of the capitalist and landowner party, the “Cadet”, or "people’s freedom", Party, such as Panina, are openly urging that the convocation of the Constituent Assembly be delayed until after the war.

ending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly there should have been no other power in the state but the Soviets. Only then would our revolution have become a truly popular and truly democratic revolution. Only then could the working people, who are really striving for peace, and who really have no interest in a war of conquest, have begun firmly and resolutely to carry out a policy which would have ended the war of conquest and led to peace. Only then could the workers and peasants have curbed the capitalists, who are making fabulous profits “from the war" and who have reduced the country to a state of ruin and starvation. But in the Soviets only a minority of the deputies were on the side of the revolutionary workers’ party, the Bolshevik Social Democrats, who demanded that all state power should be transferred to the Soviets. The majority of the deputies to the Soviets were on the side of the parties of the Menshevik Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries,

Not a single step of any importance to further the revolution was taken by the capitalist government during this period. It did absolutely nothing even to further its direct and immediate task, the convocation of the Constituent Assembly;

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/sep/06.htm

The Tasks of the Revolution

First Published: 1917 in Rabochy Put Nos. 20 and 21, October 9 and 10 (September 26 and 27)

4. The Soviet Government must immediately declare the abolition of private landed estates without compensation and place all these estates under the management of the peasant committees pending the solution of the problem by the Constituent Assembly

7. A possibility very seldom to be met with in the history of revolutions now faces the democracy of Russia, the Soviets and the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties—the possibility of convening the Constituent Assembly at the appointed date without further delays, of making the country secure against a military and economic catastrophe, and of ensuring the peaceful development of the revolution.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/09.htm

To Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants!
[October 25]

it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the time appointed;

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/25-26/25b.htm

Letter to Comrades

Published in Rabochy Put Nos. 40, 41 and 42, November 1, 2 and 3 (October 19, 20 and 2

Is it so difficult to understand that once power is in the hands of the Soviets, the Constituent Assembly and its success are guaranteed? The Bolsheviks have said so thousands of times and no one has ever attempted to refute it. Everybody has recognised this "combined type",

Both the convocation and the success of the Constituent Assembly depend upon the transfer of power to the Soviets. This old Bolshevik truth is being proved by reality ever more strikingly and ever more cruelly.

will the famine agree to wait, because we Bolsheviks proclaim faith in the convocation of the Constituent Assembly?

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/17.htm

Report on the Right of Recall at a Meeting
of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee
November 21 (December 4), 1917

Failure to grant the right of recall from the Constituent Assembly is failure to elicit the revolutionary will of the people, it is usurpation of the people’s rights. We do have proportional representation, which is indeed the most democratic. Under this system it may be somewhat difficult to introduce the right of recall but the difficulties entailed are purely technical and are fairly easy to overcome. In any case there is no contradiction between proportional representation and the right of recall.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/nov/21.htm

Speech Delivered At The
Second All-Russia Congress Of Soviets Of Peasants’ Deputies
December 2 (15), 1917

Comrades, you know how the Constituent Assembly was elected. It was elected by one of the most progressive election methods, for it is not individuals who were elected, but representatives of parties. This is a step forward, for revolutions are made by parties and not by individuals.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/dec/02.htm

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jondwhite
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Apr 13 2018 20:20

One from Trotsky as yet unmentioned;

Quote:
We can only be right with and by the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right... And if the Party adopts a decision which one or other of us thinks unjust, he will say, just or unjust, it is my party, and I shall support the consequences of the decision to the end.

From 1924. No wonder anarchists hate political parties, if they're anything like this.

ajjohnstone
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Apr 14 2018 10:50

I think it is called collective responsibility and most organisations, as well as governments, have an element of it.

Dyjbas
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Apr 14 2018 12:13

A lot to unpack here....

Red Marriott wrote:
Dyjbas; If you want to use quotes you should cite the source & date, that's pretty basic in understanding & using history. Eg, the quote about Rabinowitch (from 1996) in my last post suggests he reassessed his view on the Bolsheviks' relation to democracy; so it's useful to know when he made the statement you quote above.

That quote comes from his book Bolsheviks Come to Power (1976). He hasn't "reassessed his view" on this because 1) he repeats this very same point in an interview from 2018 (the Bolsheviks "became a mass party and a decentralized party with relatively democratic decision-making"), and 2) the fact that the Bolsheviks may have gerrymandered the vote at the Fifth Congress of Soviets in July 1918 doesn't in any way negate the fact that the party had an "internally relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation".

Red Marriott wrote:
that quote - from a longterm pro-Bolshevik - is propaganda more than anything

What makes you think that Rabinowitch is a pro-Bolshevik historian? He points out facts which anarchists find difficult to accept, yes, but he's not even a Marxist and he doesn't shy away from criticising Lenin. Indeed he's written a whole book which attempts to explain, and I quote here, how the Bolsheviks "quickly transformed into one of the most highly centralised authoritarian political organisations in modern history" (The Bolsheviks in Power). Also relevant:

"I grew up in a Russian immigrant community surrounded by people who had fled the revolution. There people like Alexander Kerensky who I knew, who was the Prime Minister of Russia for much of the Provisional Government period. Vladimir Nabokov, the writer, several leading Mensheviks etc. [...] people like Boris Nikolaevsky, who was sort of the archivist of the Social Democrats, was a kind of grandfather to me. He lived in our barn in our summer home in Vermont for years and wrote many of his works there. Irakli Tsereteli, the leading Georgian Menshevik, I remember well. I interviewed Kerensky a couple of times after I got serious about the Revolution. But anyway, I grew up hostile to everything about the revolution. But what sort of transformed me — didn't make me a Marxist, but changed my views on the revolution — was work with Leopold Haimson at the University of Chicago. He was a wonderful teacher and I became seriously interested in the Russian Revolution and as soon as I started working in the sources — and in the newspaper — I very, very quickly changed my views. [...] To many Marxists the 1917 revolution, which was the most important event of the 20th century, in the largest country in the world, is an important case study for understanding revolution and making revolution. [...] It's very different for me. The Russian Revolution is a terribly important example of why it's important to solve political social and economic problem before they reached a point where a significant percent of the population sees revolution as the only solution to their problems. But then also, I should add, one needs to have an accurate, sensible view of the revolution. [...] My job is to present the most accurate picture I can. I think I have support on the left and in the middle precisely because I am NOT ideological and I don't have a cause except one cause, and that's to try to come as close as I can to delivering a sense of what happened and leave it to people like you and friends of mine who are moderates to decide how best to confront it and deal with it." (2018)

Dave B wrote:
On the eve of the first sitting of the constituent assembly, merely weeks later the Bolsheviks opened fire with machine guns on a demonstration of approximately 200,000 in support of the constituent assembly. Killing 21 by their own official statements. And shut it down.

Blaming the Bolsheviks for everything is boring and ahistorical. In order:

1. The Bolsheviks didn’t shut down the Constituent Assembly. The decision was made by the Sovnarkom and approved by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets. The Bolsheviks had a majority in both bodies, but they made the decision together with the Left SRs, who also supported the idea of a soviet government rather than a bourgeois parliament. If you’re blaming the Bolsheviks for this, you also have to blame the Left SRs and soviet democracy in general.

2. The demonstration that you mention wasn’t 200,000 strong, but at most 50,000. And around 10 people were killed. But more importantly, what was the character of that demonstration? I’ll quote Orlando Figes this time (no one can accuse him of pro-Bolshevik sympathies!):

“The Union [for the Defence of the Constituent Assembly] had at one stage planned to start an uprising, but since they had no real military forces at their disposal, had abandoned the idea at the final moment in favour of a mass demonstration under the slogan of All Power to the Constituent Assembly. During the morning a sizeable crowd gathered on the Mars Field and, towards noon, began to march in various columns towards the Tauride Palace. Some sources counted 50,000 marchers, but the actual number was probably less. It was certainly not as large as the organizers had hoped: far fewer workers and soldiers turned up than expected, so the crowd was largely made up of the same small active citizenry — students, Civil Servants and middleclass professionals — who had taken part in the earlier march on 28 November. As the demonstrators approached the Liteiny Prospekt they were fired upon by Bolshevik troops, hiding on the rooftops with their machineguns. Several other columns of marchers, one including workers from the Obukhovsky munitions plant, were also fired on. At least ten people were killed and several dozen wounded. [...] There was no mass reaction to the closure of the Constituent Assembly. The demonstration of 5 January was much smaller and more middle-class than the Right SRs had hoped.” (Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution)

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Red Marriott
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Apr 14 2018 13:19
Dyjbas wrote:
That quote comes from his book Bolsheviks Come to Power (1976). He hasn't "reassessed his view" on this because 1) he repeats this very same point in an interview from 2018 (the Bolsheviks "became a mass party and a decentralized party with relatively democratic decision-making"), and 2) the fact that the Bolsheviks may have gerrymandered the vote at the Fifth Congress of Soviets in July 1918 doesn't in any way negate the fact that the party had an "internally relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation".
... What makes you think that Rabinowitch is a pro-Bolshevik historian?

I haven’t read Rabinowitch’s books and based my comments on the paragraph I quoted from Cinella above;

Quote:
“It is significant that the very Alexander Rabinowitch, who in the past has never concealed his pro-Bolshevik sympathies, should write today: “An exact breakdown of properly elected delegates may be impossible to ascertain; however, based on substantial but incomplete archival evidence, it is quite clear that the Bolshevik congress majority was artificially inflated and highly suspect.”

Having looked at some online interviews he’s done I see he’s lectured to Trot and other left groups so assumed he’s that way inclined. But maybe he’s just a liberal historian. Regardless, I don’t see any contradiction between a more ‘democratic, open, mass’ period for the Party during the 1917 revolution and the parallel continuation of the hierarchical command structure and function of the Party. (I’m not even sure that Rabinowitch is arguing that one negates the other, though pro-Bolsheviks use him to do so.) The Party adapted to force of circumstance, ie, limits on communication channels, repression, necessity for on the spot decisions etc with a certain fluidity and influx of new members over a wide area; under such difficulties even the most authoritarian group must adapt to survive – but that can occur without the basic internal hierarchical structure being challenged or displaced.

The chain of command remained & the leaders retained their command – yes, they had internal policy disputes within the Executive Committee and in layers below that ruling body – as even the most authoritarian orgs do. And sometimes orders weren’t carried out to the order givers’ satisfaction - though the order giving and order taking hierarchy was unchallenged. But what happened to those who didn’t toe the line? Miasnikov merely published criticisms and spoke of the growing repression and authoritarianism used against the working class and, after refusing to bow to Lenin’s orders to shut up, he was hounded and banished into exile by the Cheka. Critical factions such as the Workers Opposition were also silenced and Party factions banned. Some pretty harsh & narrow limits to the Party’s claimed "internally relatively democratic, tolerant, and decentralized structure and method of operation". If that authoritarianism had disappeared in the Party and democracy had bloomed – how was it that by 1918 they were rigging votes and banning all dissent and criticism? If it really did disappear in 1917 but was so quickly reinstated that suggests that it would be due to force of circumstance rather than deliberate intention. How ‘democratic and open’ were the Cheka’s methods from 1918 as they were sent out across the country to ruthlessly suppress all dissent and crush workers strikes etc?? How did the mechanism, structure and potential for all that magically disappear in 1917 and then suddenly reappear more powerful than ever? How democratic and open was the slaughter of the Kronstadt rebels?

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Noa Rodman
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Apr 14 2018 13:23
Figes wrote:
The Union [for the Defence of the Constituent Assembly] had at one stage planned to start an uprising, but since they had no real military forces at their disposal, had abandoned the idea at the final moment in favour of a mass demonstration under the slogan of All Power to the Constituent Assembly.

Just to add that in Moscow there was a terrorist explosion aimed at the meeting of a district soviet, killing 5:

On January 5, 1918, late in the evening, in Moscow, after the dispersal of the local demonstration of the defenders of the Constituent Assembly, the building of the Dorogomilovskiy district council was blown up. The chief of staff of the Red Guard of the Dorogomilovsky district PG Tyapkin, the head of the arsenal of the district Red Guards AI Vantorin and three Red Guard workers (including I. S. Erov) perished. [99] It was a purposeful terrorist act, designed for numerous victims among those assembled at 9 pm in the building of members of the Council. In total, the explosion killed five people: a relatively small number of victims was due to an earlier end of the meeting. The Presidium of the Moscow Soviet on January 8, 1918, adopted a decree on the burial of the victims of the explosion at the Kremlin wall, where they replenished the "red churchyard", as the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky put it, [100].

also:

On January 6, 1918, in Petrograd there was committed an attempt on the commandant of the Constituent Assembly, member of the Extraordinary Military Staff Moisei Uritsky (future first chairman of the Petrograd GubChK). In the newspaper "Pravda" the following day, a short message appeared:
"Attempt on the life of comrade Uritsky"

(Uritsky was eventually killed by the left SR, though btw he was an opponent of the death penalty)

from Chronicle of the White Terror. I posted an e-translation of the first months of White Terror here:
https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/redmarx/chronicle-of-first-months-of-white-terror-beginini-t1535.html
--

On a lighter note, does anyone know when the term "Leninism" was invented?

I found its use one year prior to Lenin's death (i.e. in early 1923) in an anecdote of Mikhail Lifshitz (btw new translation out: https://brill.com/abstract/title/36543):

In 1923, the year before Lenin's death, at Vkhutemas there was already taught a course on Marxist philosophy; it was given by the former anarchist, Lunacharsky's friend I. Grossman-Roshchin, a man very funny, a member of the literary controversies of those years. His lectures, however, few students could understand, they were full of all scientific terminology, foreign words, which he oddly shouted. Nevertheless, to this man I owe the discovery of my, if I may say, philosophical talent. During the winter break he gave students topics of independent written work. I chose the topic of pragmatism, read James and wrote a criticism of his philosophy. When the courses began again, Grossman-Roshchin publicly praised me. To me he said the prophetic words, which, I hope, are not so far from the truth: 'Your forte is Leninism.' The word "Leninism" then sounded for the first time for me.

-

Stalin's Foundations of Leninism appeared only in April 1924. Perhaps the word already existed as an insult by the Mensheviks, but I don't find any results searching on Googlebooks (except perhaps one French bourgeois writing) and I doubt it.

So was Grossman-Roshchin (ironically a former anarchist) the inventor of Leninism?

(btw, his 1928 book on Artists and the Epoch is online here:
http://tehne.com/library/grossman-roshchin-i-hudozhnik-i-epoha-moskva-leningrad-1928)

Battlescarred
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Apr 14 2018 21:13

Really don't understand your obsession with Grossman-Roshchin who ended up as a Bolshevik yes-man

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Apr 14 2018 23:09

His 1927 article 'Thoughts on Lenin' begins by addressing the dogmatism charge FYI: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Journal_of_the_Communist_Academy_1927_No19.pdf&page=86

-

jondwhite wrote:
One of Lenin's first actions in power was to fire the neutral election commissioners.

What are you referring to? Information about soviet election procedures is sparse, so something more specific is welcome. Btw, elections to CA were held thanks to the Bolsheviks, no? And, as I asked on a previous thread, who made the rules/mandate/tasks for the CA? Why couldn't it be "recalled" as a whole, when it turned out that the majority of delegates refused to sign the proclamation of land (until the last minute)?

Dave B
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Apr 15 2018 00:28

Leon Trotsky

Lenin

Breaking Up the Constituent Assembly

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/lenin/05.htm

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Apr 16 2018 19:12

A good book on this came up last year, it's called Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen.