The forgotten criticism of Bolshevism

13 01 2013

Barry Biddulph contributes to the debate in the ACI on the Forgotten Legacies of Bolshevism by Simon Hardy

738259_10151201909186769_908068371_oIn Left Wing” Communism an Infantile Disorder, Lenin could not have made his core organisational values more explicit: centralism and iron discipline. From putting the lid on the opposition in 1921, with a ban on factions, all the way back to bureaucratic centralism in One Step Forward Two Steps Back, and Letter to a Comrade, in 1904, there was a consistent approach in which democratic methods were not considered to be essential, but regarded as dispensable in circumstances the leader considered to be appropriate for top down authority to be loyally followed.

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Lenin and the origins of the Bolshevik party.

19 06 2012


Leninportrait

Lars T Lih argues that “Lenin’s rejection of the actual parties of the Second International does not mean he is rejecting its party ideal“.(1) But in emphasising the social democratic political influence on Lenin does Lars misinterpret Lenin’s presentation of the History of the Bolshevik party ? His interpretation of Lenin’s comment in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, that “As a current of political thought and as a political party, Bolshevism has existed since 1903,”(2) is that “the reader gets no idea when and how the Bolsheviks moved from a ‘trend of political thought’ to a ‘political party’”. For Lars,Lenin is “simply not interested in this aspect of Bolshevik History“.(3) But the question is, why did Lenin not address the crucial point about the origins of the Bolshevik party? Read the rest of this entry »





The party as a faction: the origins of Bolshevism

20 05 2012

In a recent debate between, Lars T Lih, Paul Le Blanc, and Pham Binh(1) there is confirmation of existing knowledge, that the Bolshevik party was not formally proclaimed, in Prague, at the conference of the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1912; nor was it the formal aim of Lenin to create a separate Bolshevik party. Again the debate clarified, that in 1912 there was not a birth of a party of a new type, free of opportunism, but the birth of a myth of such a party. The main point is: for all intents and practical purposes, the RSDLP that emerged from Prague, in 1912, was a Bolshevik party, in all but name.

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The red jacobins : no substitute for workers’ freedom

1 09 2010

Mark Hoskisson departs from the conventional Trotskyist interpretation of the Russian Revolution, in his analysis of Thermidor and the Russian Revolution. (Permanent Revolution issue 17). His conclusion is that the political counter-revolution took place inside the Bolshevik party in 1921 and was led by Lenin and supported by Trotsky.

Yet Mark still dismisses  the possibility of Bolshevik values, and methods of organisation, prior to 1921, contributing to the betrayal of the political aspirations of 1917. He still clings to the orthodox view that the Bolshevik Party could somehow be a custodian of workers’ power, despite substituting itself for the working class  following 1917, as long as the right to form factions were preserved. Hence, the banning of party factions in 1921 is seen as the historic turning point. Mark asserts that Bolshevism’s descent into counter-revolution marked a distinct break with, not a continuation of its fundamental character and politics in the period 1912 to 1920. Read the rest of this entry »





a revolution in retreat

28 06 2010

Adam Ford reviews The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24. Soviet workers and the new communist elite, by Simon Pirani, Routledge, 2008.

“I cannot be that sort of idealist communist who believes in the new God That They Call The State, bows before the bureaucracy that is so far from the working people, and waits for communism from the hands of pen-pushers and officials as though it was the kingdom of heaven.” - excerpt from the resignation letter of a Bolshevik Party member

Within what is usually labelled ‘the left’, your answer to the question ‘When did the Russian revolution go wrong?’ is a kind of touchstone. Each organisation seems to have its own One True Answer, and giving the wrong response at the wrong meeting can earn you the kind of scorn that the very religious reserve for those whose beliefs differ ever so slightly from theirs. Cue many weary Life of Brian jokes. Read the rest of this entry »





another look at the organisation question – communist bulletin group

28 02 2010

The following text was published in 1982, over the name “Cormack”.  It is an attempt to draw lessons from the Bolshevik experience, not only for the abstract “theory of the party”, but also for the concrete problems of communist organisation we face in the here and now, when any  emergence of anything you might call a revolutionary party is far, far over the horizon.

The article was written by a member of the Communist Bulletin Group, a group which had split with the British section of the International Communist Current.  The article is therefore framed in part as a critique of the ICC and, tangentially, the Communist Workers Organisation, another group in the “left communist” milieu.  We are not republishing this article, however, for what it says about intra-left debate (the criticisms may or may not have been valid for all we know).  However, the criticisms raised will be familiar to many who have adopted dissident positions within any of the major revolutionary left organisations. Read the rest of this entry »





the unknown revolution: ukraine 1917-21

23 02 2010

Much has been written on the revolution in Ukrainian, on the nationalists, the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks. Yet there were others with a massive following whose role has faded from history. One such party was the Borotbisty, the majority of the million strong Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries, they formed an independent communist party seeking an independent Soviet Ukraine.

Though widely known amongst revolutionary Europe in their day, the Borotbisty were decimated during the Stalinist holocaust. Out of print for over half a century Borotbism by Ivan Maistrenko has now been republished. Maistrenko (1899-1984) was a veteran of the revolutionary movement. A red partisan in 1918-20 he was a journalist and opponent of Stalin in the 1920’s becoming deputy director of the All-Ukrainian Communist Institute of Journalism in 1931. A survivor of the gulag he lived as a post-war refugee in Germany becoming editor of the anti-Stalinist workers paper Vpered. His Borotbism is a thought provoking study which challenges previous approaches to the fate of the Russian Revolution and European revolutions. With the permission of the author we publish below part of the introduction to Borotbism, by Chris Ford. Read the rest of this entry »





thou shalt vote labour: an eleventh commandment?

8 02 2010

As many on the far left plan to call for a Labour vote in the general election, Clifford Biddulph looks at the historic roots of this slogan and the dogmas on which it is based.

An eleventh commandment for many on the left is to vote for New Labour as a lesser evil without illusions. But why? “The Labour Party is a  thoroughly bourgeois party, which although made up of workers, is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie which exists to systematically dupe the workers”. These words seem an obvious description of New Labour. Read the rest of this entry »





reading for 16th november london trade union discussion group

11 11 2009

The next of The Commune’s London reading groups takes place from 7pm on Monday 16th November at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street.

2009tuc

The meeting is on the question of trade union democracy. The questions around which the discussion is based, and recommended reading material, are posted below. All welcome. Email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for more details. Read the rest of this entry »





two rare texts on the national question

31 08 2009

by Chris Kane

At The Commune’s successful day-school on the Russian Revolution some debate arose on the national question during the discussion on Ukraine and Hungary. A key point of reference on the national question for communists to this day is the debates which took place amongst Marxists within the Second International and the period of the First World War (1914-1918).

Russian Social Democrats

The national question took on a new importance after the outbreak of the war and the collapse of the Second International. Currents which had taken shape prior to 1914 were forced to reconsider their views and re-articulate positions in light of the crisis of international socialism.

A diverse trend of Social-Democrats, (as Marxists called themselves in this period) argued against the concept of the right of nations to self-determination, including the Polish Marxists Luxemburg and Radek. Today Lenin is seen as the principle defender of the right of national-self determination, and he was supported by the majority of the RSDRP(Bolsheviks) Central Committee. However he was challenged by a strong body of opinion in his own party, its foremost representative being Yuri Pyatakov, and Yevgenia Bosh, both leading Bolsheviks in Ukraine, who in exile in 1915 joined with Nikolai Bukharin to publish the Stockholm-based journal Kommunist. Read the rest of this entry »





saturday’s russian revolution day school in london

27 08 2009

12-5pm, Saturday 29th August, at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street, London

aug29th

In 1917 the Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, soviets, took power proclaiming a workers’ and peasants’ republic in Russia. In the aftermath of the First World War revolutions established Soviet republics in Ukraine, Hungary, Bavaria and Slovakia in 1919. A new Communist International was founded to unite the international struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a communist society. By 1921 the revolution was in retreat, a process which culminated in the triumph of counter-revolution and Stalinist totalitarianism.

The legacy of the revolutions remain with us to this day, but what does it mean for communists seeking to create a new society in the 21st century? Is it our tradition; were these revolutions a dead end never to be repeated; or does it assist us with a perspective for today? The Commune is holding a summer school to discuss these questions and others. Read the rest of this entry »





Stick bending and the infallible Lenin

28 06 2009

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The phrase often used to describe Lenin‘s organisational method is ‘bending the stick.’ Lenin bent the stick or polemically exaggerated in order to grab attention and focus on what really mattered to move forward. For many Leninist   activists trapped in the cult of Lenin, he might have bent the stick too far in some circumstances, but he always bent it back or corrected his mistake in the long run. This was the ‘infallible Lenin’ who embodied the revolutionary dynamic or  the actuality of the Revolution. But a bent stick can be permanently twisted, distorting reality. The bent stick analogy is also used to suggest continuity where inconsistency exists. Read the rest of this entry »





le rétif: the secret life of victor serge

10 06 2009

by Ernie Haberkern

In the early 1960s when I joined the socialist movement I was attracted to the “Third Camp” anti-Stalinist tendency in the American movement. One of the first books I read was Memoirs of a Revolutionary which had recently been translated into English by Peter Sedgwick. The author was Victor Serge a widely respected victim of Stalin’s purges, one of the few who survived to tell the tale. He also had a reputation as a “libertarian” among those on the American left who saw in the American IWW and the French Syndicalists the representatives of the “anti-authoritarian” tendency in the movement.

In describing the political situation in the early twenties in Russia Serge in Memoirs makes the following remarkable statement.

“… as long as the economic system remained intolerable for nine-tenths or so of the population, there could be no question of recognizing freedom of speech for any Tom, Dick, or Harry, whether in the Soviets or elsewhere. … we knew that the Party had been invaded by careerist, adventurist and mercenary elements who came over in swarms to the side that had the power. Within the Party the sole remedy to this evil had to be, and in fact was, the discreet dictatorship of the old, honest, and incorruptible members, in other words the Old Guard.” (Serge, Memoirs 188-119) Read the rest of this entry »





philosophy and revolution

22 02 2009

intro by Chris Kane

One of the most common forms of sectarian socialism today is the myriad of Trotskyist organisations based on the model of undemocratic centralism.   They claim the origin of their ideas not so much in Marx but Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution.  Trotsky came to be identified as one of the foremost opponents of Stalinism, but as opposed to bringing about a recomposition of the communist movement, Trotskyism compounded the crisis of Marxism. The legacy of Trotsky today is one of constant fragmentation and sectarian vanguardism, whose adherents often cut themselves off from practical service to the labour movement by their antics. How did this come about?  The following critical analysis of Trotsky is by Raya Dunayevskaya, the American Marxist who originated in Ukraine.   In 1937 she moved to Mexico to work with Trotsky, serving as his Russian language secretary.  Her closeness to Trotsky did not prevent her questioning his ideas – she later wrote: “Out of the Spanish Civil War there emerged a new kind of revolutionary who posed questions, not against Stalinism, but against Trotskyism, indeed against all established Marxists”.   After the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact she broke from Trotsky over his continued belief Stalin’s USSR was a ‘workers state’ and developed a theory of state-capitalism.  Later she developed a Marxist Humanist current in the USA, supported by Harry McShane in Scotland.  One of her most important books was Philosophy and Revolution, published in 1973 which contains a powerful critique of Leon Trotsky as a theoretician – this is republished below. Read the rest of this entry »








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