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Archive for the ‘Marxian Theory’ Category

New Eugene Debs Film Does the Socialist Proud-Michael Hirsch

Posted by admin On May - 10 - 2018 Comments Off on New Eugene Debs Film Does the Socialist Proud-Michael Hirsch


A charismatic and militant labor leader, five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate, class-war prisoner jailed by the ostensibly liberal Woodrow Wilson administration for opposing U.S entry into World War I and a fiery, moral force in a corrupted era — Eugene Victor Debs was among the greatest orators this nation ever produced, yet no recording of his voice survives. And what a speaker he was! John Swinton, the late 19th century New York labor writer who as a young man heard Lincoln speak, likened Debs to Lincoln not just in intellect but in character. And unlike Lincoln, Debs could speak cogently to crowds for hours without notes.

Even foreign-language speakers were won over, with many testifying that Debs’ mannerisms alone were magnetic, his fist smacking his palm as he offered such injunctions as “Progress is born out of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”

To know Debs and his impact on American working-class politics as it emerged to confront the mammon of industrial and finance capital, we are ably served by his voluminous writings and by a series of fine, highly readable biographies by such writers as Ray Ginger, Nick Salvatore and Ernest Freeberg, the latter author focusing on Debs’ later years as “democracy’s prisoner.” Add to those a plethora of histories of the old Socialist Party. Ira Kipnis’s The American Socialist Movement: 1897-1912 is likely the best, though it ends prematurely with a massive vote for Debs in the presidential race and party membership peaking at 118,000 — all before the government’s full-bore assault on the left and Debs’ jailing.

Fortunately two strong movies are also available that help underscore  Debs’ impact, including a 1979 documentary by Bernie Sanders and a new feature: American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, by filmmaker Yale Strom, currently artist-in-residence and professor in the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University, and narrated by actor Amy Madigan. Debs’ legacy is especially well served by the new production, which takes advantage not only of scholarly accounts of Debs’ life and American socialist movement he rose out of but judiciously utilized the extensive Debs archives at Michigan State University-Lansing, the Debs Foundation collection in Terra Haute, Indiana and others.

So Who was Debs?

Born in 1855 and named by his immigrant parents after the French novelists Eugene Sue and Victor Hugo, Debs was slow to embrace radical politics in his hometown of Terra Haute, where the capitalists were still of the small, local variety and social mobility was not impossible for working people. The metastasizing of monopoly capital in the area through the intrusion and consolidation of finance and industry would come soon enough. The future socialist even married a rich man’s daughter and was a Democratic state office holder, if briefly.

The film makes clear that Debs, a strong railroad worker-unionist, didn’t start out as a socialist; that transposition came after the Democratic administration of Grover Cleveland broke the American Railway Union strike under the mendacious claim that strikers were sabotaging mail delivery. Debs, it’s president, went into prison a militant trade unionist and, courtesy of the federal evisceration of his union and a prison reading of Marx’s Capital, came out six months later a committed revolutionary, though of a discernible American type. He would, for example, define socialism as “Christianity in action.” For Debs’ religiously inclined listeners, greed and the pursuit of personal wealth were presented as sin, the riches of capitalists balefully gained.

That appeal to traditional religion as a bulwark of cooperation — the essence of socialism — sparked interest in Debs’ “Red Special” whistle-stop electoral campaign in areas such as Oklahoma, where, the film argues, small-farmer militancy combined with ingrained Evangelical Christianity. The strategy was less successful in the South, where we can intuit that racial division was a prime factor mitigating unified class action.

But whether addressing farmers, workers or urban intellectuals at such venues as New York’s Cooper Union, Debs was in his element.

It was the Socialist Party’s opposition to World War I that led to its undoing and to a five-year prison sentence for Debs. His crime: violating a Sedition Act provision against urging young men to dodge the draft.

On July 16, 1918, a year after the act’s passage, Debs was in Canton, Ohio to address the Ohio Socialist Party’s state convention and visit comrades jailed for speaking out against the war. He knew he was at risk of arrest himself. “I must be exceedingly careful,” he told the convention delegates, “prudent as to what I say. I may not be able to say all I think, but I am not going to say anything that I do not think. I would rather a thousand times be a free soul in prison than to be a sycophant and coward in the streets. They may put those boys in jail — and some of the rest of us in jail — but they cannot put the Socialist movement in jail.”

True to form, government stenographers in the crowd noted his comments selectively. Prison followed, based on the alleged danger that his remarks, those of a known “agitator,” posed to troop recruitment — this just months before the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

A red scare followed the war. Foreign radicals were rounded up and deported. Native-born leftists of any stripe were imprisoned.

Running for president on the Socialist ticket in 1920 while incarcerated, Debs garnered just under 1 million votes. Even as late as 1921, on the eve of his leaving office, Wilson still refused to pardon Debs. It was the GOP’s Harding who granted Debs and 23 others a Christmas commutation.

The Irony of a Humble Man Lionized

It seems odd that a movement valorizing collective action and the social context of everyday life over invidious egotism and careerist grasping would also need to anoint leaders and elevate heroes. As Debs himself put it 1906 to an audience of workers in Detroit: “I would not be a Moses to lead you into the Promised Land, because if I could lead you into it, someone else could lead you out of it. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.”

Even allowing for the early glint of its religious trappings, his was an American variant of Marx’s insistence on working-class self-activity, that the emancipation of working people was not the provenance of elites no matter how well-intentioned but a task largely of the workers alone. Debs’ often quoted statement to his trial judge at his conviction for violating the Sedition Act makes much the same point.

“Years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal class I am of it; while there is a soul in prison I am not free.”

Debs’ heroes were not great men and women but ordinary people who showed uncommon bravery and solidarity with one another.

A story Debs told, though not included in the film, concerns a black-balled former railroad worker in desperate straits who proudly tells Debs that he never scabbed, knowing the principled stance meant exorcism from a decent-paying job. “If I’d have been like some of them, I’d had a passenger train years ago and been saved lots of grief,” he tells Debs. “But I’d rather be a broken-down old umbrella fixer without a friend than to be a scab and worth a million…. And when I cross the big divide, I can walk up to the bar of judgment and look God in the face without a flicker.”

Debs’ cited the man as the epitome of working-class solidarity.

“There was something peculiarly grand about the scarred old veteran of the industrial battlefield,” Debs wrote in 1913. “His shabbiness was all on the outside, and he seemed transfigured to me and clad in garments of glory. He loomed before me like a forest monarch the tempests had riven and denuded of its foliage but could not lay low. He had kept the faith and had never scabbed.”

Neither did Debs. See the film.

American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs is scheduled to be shown in Hudson, NY (April 26-May 13); Los Angeles and Pasadena, (May 4-10); San Diego (May 11-16), Washington, D.C., (May 22), and the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 12-15.)

Originally posted at The Indypendent.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Marx’s essential contribution to ecosocialism-

Posted by admin On April - 25 - 2018 Comments Off on Marx’s essential contribution to ecosocialism-


(Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism:
Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy
By Kohei Saito
Monthly Review Press, 2017 · 268 pages · $29.00)

“Ecosocialism needs Marx,” Kohei Saito once wrote. In Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy, Saito shows why. Saito is associate professor of political economy at Osaka City University in Japan. In 2015, he earned a PhD in philosophy from Humboldt University in Berlin and spent time as a guest researcher at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities where he contributes to the editing of Marx’s natural science notebooks. This work and Saito’s familiarity with a range of international debates regarding Marxist theory and practice make possible his beautiful analysis of Marx’s ecosocialism, an analysis that should inform our struggle for revolutionary socioecological change.

In Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, Saito traces the development (through published works, draft manuscripts, correspondence, and natural science notebooks) of Marx’s ecological critique of capitalism and of his vision of a new society emancipated from capital and therefore capable of establishing a wholly different

relationship to the rest of nature. Building on the work of Marxist scholars such as John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Paul Burkett among others, Saito re-embeds Marx’s ecological critique within a broader political and intellectual project that deepened over decades.

Against readings that downplay or deny Marx’s contributions to ecological thinking, Saito shows that powerful ecological insight and analysis gained through intensive study of the natural sciences became central not only to Marx’s political economy and sociology, but also to his political project—what we now call ecosocialism.

One of the many exciting aspects of Saito’s book is that he takes what we learn from previous work on Marx’s ecology and adds a completely new chapter, literally and figuratively. In the chapter “Marx’s Ecology after 1868,” Saito reveals the extensive nature of Marx’s natural science studies after the publication of the first volume of Capital. Saito constructs his analysis based on previously unpublished notebooks made available by the important and ongoing work to compile a completed version of Marx and Engels’s collected works, called the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). The 1868 notebooks reveal Marx’s extensive engagement with scientific debates and developments in his time, especially the critical reception of Justus von Liebig’s provocative thesis that “the law of replenishment” was violated by modern transformation of how people lived and farmed. Liebig predicted that the consequent soil exhaustion would “threaten all of European civilization.” Marx integrated Liebig’s insight into his own analysis of capitalist agriculture as a system of robbery and spoliation.

This chapter is useful for many reasons. It provides new material on Marx’s broad engagement with intellectual and scientific developments across continents and demonstrates his extraordinary ability to put these in conversation with one another in order to arrive at his own critical understanding of what exists, as well as what is possible. In this we see Marx’s methodology for studying the world in order to change it. As Saito writes, rather than develop a philosophical program based on abstract conceptions of what is and what ought to be, Marx “emphasizes the significance of a social and historical investigation with regard to how and why the objectively inverted world beyond human control emerges out of social practice, so that the material conditions for its transcendence can be understood.”

Saito documents Marx’s systematic study of scientists such as James F. W. Johnston, Liebig, and Carl Fraas, historians such as Georg Ludwig von Maurer, and political economists such as Henry Carey and Julius Au. He also draws on Marx’s correspondence with his contemporaries to show how his thinking changed over time with respect to Liebig’s theory of soil exhaustion and expanded to include a sophisticated historical understanding of an array of ecological issues—from desertification to climate change—that now dot the syllabi of environmental studies courses around the world.

Marx linked these issues to a broader social analysis in a fashion far more advanced than anyone in his time. He produced one of the first explorations of ecological imperialism, ecological injustice, and what we now call “sustainability,” or how society may, as Saito summarizes, “consciously regulate the metabolic interaction between humans and [the rest of] nature.”

In other chapters, Saito brilliantly presents several key themes and innovations at the heart of Marx’s ecology. He begins the book with a discussion of Marx’s earlier understanding of the alienation of nature as marking the emergence of the modern, and how his thinking came to diverge from more romantic notions as well as from other popular philosophical and political currents of his day. He moves on to explain and contextualize Marx’s theory of the metabolism of political economy, as well as his own perspective on Marx’s Capital as a theory of metabolism.

Other chapters fill out our understanding of Marx’s study of Liebig and his broader concern with the ahistorical conceptions of soil fertility and ground rent in nineteenth-century bourgeois political economy. All of this is important reading, even for those familiar with earlier work on the same subjects. The way the book is written, from beginning to end, helps lay out the lines of analysis from seed to fruit, offering a way to think about how we might structure our own study and engage with current scientific and political developments in a deeper way in the service of advancing our social change efforts.

Altogether, Saito offers something fresh for readers for whom these topics are familiar, as well as a clear, accessible analysis for readers unfamiliar with Marx or Marx’s ecological insights, but serious about socioecological change. The book also explains and intervenes in central debates in Marxian theory. All of this is truly wonderful to read.

But the reason I decided to write this review is not only for the book’s intellectual and scholarly merit. This work also helps address urgent questions confronting our movements at a time when we have no time to waste. In 2016 an international group of scientists published a paper in Nature Climate Change entitled “Consequences of Twenty-First Century Policy for Multi-Millennial Climate and Sea-Level Change.” The article’s most breathtaking statement was that “policy decisions made in the next few years to decades will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems, and human societies—not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.”

New reports emerge every day documenting the advance of climate change, the mass extinction of species, the death of millions of human beings each year due to ecological degradation—234 times more deaths than those occurring in all violent conflicts around the world annually. In spite of international environmental agreements, the unprecedented sophistication of science and technology, the emergence of the so-called green economy, and the miserable, well-documented consequences for life on the planet, the rate of degradation is not slowing, it is increasing. Every earth system is in decline and many of us can agree that capitalism is the problem—so why can’t we agree to get rid of it?

The critique of capitalism from the standpoint of ecology and social justice is mainstream enough. Influential scientists long ago, even before Marx, warned of the dangers posed to life on earth by this economic system geared toward infinite accumulation. Contemporary scholars and scientists continue to build on the vast body of research documenting the social and ecological harms of prioritizing profit over people and the planet.

More recently, large environmental NGOs and environmental movement organizations published statements recognizing capitalism as the source of our ecological crises. Naomi Klein’s 2014 This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was an international bestseller translated into about twenty-five languages. The New York Times even ran an opinion piece entitled, “The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid,” in which the author calls for a democratic socialist alternative.

Internalizing the widespread critique of capitalism, activists are offered many ways to think about change. First and foremost, elite reformers propose changing capitalism. From the World Bank to the UN, “inclusive green growth” and the “green economy” now supplement the “sustainable development” lexicon. While many activists and political groups condemn projects under these banners as maintaining the status quo, they adopt their own version of “green capitalism” as a result of their ideological commitments or calculations about political pragmatism.

As sociologist and activist Herbert Docena writes, many organizations (like 350.org, for example) have “gone on to amplify the reformist discourse by echoing their lines that the climate crisis is primarily caused by the lack of global regulation of capitalism; that it can be solved by enhancing such regulation; and that the ‘enemies’ are primarily, if not only, the fossil fuel companies or the ‘bad capitalists’ and the ‘bad elites opposing global regulation.”1

Law professor and social scientist Paddy Ireland notes, “It used to be the left who emphasized the limits to capitalism and the right who told us of its adaptability. Now, however, it is the right, believing themselves liberated from the credible threat of class struggle worldwide, who candidly stress the incompatibility of workers’ rights, [environmental regulations,] and welfare states with the elementary laws of capital (presented, of course, as “natural”), while the (erstwhile) left is reduced to insisting on the malleability and improvability of both capitalism and its corporations.”2

What becomes so clear in Saito’s rendition of nineteenth century debates and Marx’s own writing is that we have had all of these debates before. We have known about these problems for a very long time. Movements have tried making deals with the “good capitalists.” And where are we now?

Separating issues like climate change from the broader system that creates them, that immiserates lives and cannot stand still to take stock of the depletion of the earth’s life support systems, leads to a naive and Pollyannaish politics that can never confront the drivers of ecological harm or lead to a world that is more socially and ecologically sustainable and just. All of our historical experience affirms the truth of this statement.

Even if we were not confronting such an emergency with respect to life on earth, there are so many reasons to fight for a radically democratic, ecologically sane alternative to a racist, patriarchal, imperialist, winner-take-all system that concentrates wealth at the top, at the expense of the vast majority of the global population’s basic humanity. Saito provides a way of seeing the broader picture Marx offers, which will help activists in this critical moment make the case that “there must be a radical change, with reified social relations replaced by conscious production realized through the association of free producers. Only this emancipation from the reified power of capital will allow humans to construct a different relationship to nature.”

Herbert Docena, “The Politics of Climate Change,” Global Dialogue 6, no. 1 (February  2016), http://isa-global-dialogue.net/the-politics-of-climate-change/.
Paddy Ireland, “Corporations and Citizenship,” Monthly Review 49, no.1 (May1997), https://archive.monthlyreview.org/index.php/mr/article/view/MR-049-01-1997-05_2/0.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Menshevism: The Girondins of 1917-Doug Enaa Greene

Posted by admin On April - 25 - 2018 Comments Off on Menshevism: The Girondins of 1917-Doug Enaa Greene


April 25, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice with the author’s permission — Whatever their differences, Lenin, Plekhanov, Martov, and Trotsky all saw the Russian Revolution as following in the experience of the French Revolution of 1789. The Russian revolutionaries also modeled themselves on the different parties of the French Revolution, whether consciously or unconsciously, as guides for action. Lenin and the Bolsheviks believed they were modern-day Jacobins – stalwart revolutionaries who would organize the working class and take power. By contrast, the Mensheviks were moderate Girondins. Menshevism was committed to gradualism and opposed to the “historical impatience” of a socialist revolution. Like the Girondins, the Mensheviks were honorable, but like their predecessors, they lacked faith in the revolutionary abilities of the people. That was the root of their failure in 1917.

I. Split
Marxism had existed in Tsarist Russia since the 1880s, but it was confined to the margins of emigres and to scattered circles of students and workers. By the 1890s, there was an upsurge of strikes in the industrial centers to which the nascent Marxist movement provided leadership and organization. While the police arrested the organizers, both the labor movement and Russian Marxism continued to grow.

After its failed 1898 First Congress, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) held its Second Congress – its true founding convention – in 1903 in both Brussels and London. The main organizers were Julius Martov, Georgi Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich, Alexander Potresov, and Vladimir Lenin who were editors of Iskra, the party paper. The goal of the Iskra Group was to create a centralized all-Russian socialist party that would assume political leadership of the working class struggle against Tsarism.

During the initial proceedings at the Congress, the Iskra Group possessed a clear majority of 33 votes (out of a total of 51) and were able to swiftly pass their agenda. During the 22nd session of the Congress, which was devoted to the definition of membership, the Iskra Group split after Lenin and Martov put forward separate drafts. In somewhat simple terms, Lenin wanted a tightly-organized party of professional revolutionaries, while Martov was in favor of a broader and looser party. Martov’s draft won in the final vote.

Later the Congress approved Lenin’s motion that Iskra should be the sole representative of the party abroad and serve as the main vehicle of ideological leadership. Instead of keeping the current editorial board, Lenin proposed creating a smaller editorial board of three people (Martov, Plekhanov and himself), who had written most of the paper’s articles. After a contentious debate, Lenin’s proposal passed. Martov, however, refused to participate, splitting Iskra. The vote on the editorial group was the initial split of the RSDLP into factions of Bolsheviks (majority) and Mensheviks (minority).[1]

Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism, initially supported Lenin on the Iskra question. However, Plekhanov later lamented his choice, since he was now arrayed against longtime friends and comrades: “I cannot fire against my own comrades. Better a bullet in the brain than a split… There are times when even the autocracy has to give in.”[2] Plekhanov had changed his mind and invited the removed editors to rejoin Iskra. Lenin resigned in anger.

To many RSDLP members active in Russia, the split was a shocking blow. One worker wrote: “Now, what I cannot understand at all is the fight that’s going on now between the majority and the minority, and to a great many of us it seems wrong.”[3] In fact, many party branches within the Empire refused to split and they continued to operate as a unified organization.

Neither Bolshevism nor Menshevism emerged fully formed at the Second Congress. The two factions still clung to the same revolutionary program and hoped to heal the split. For many, the lines of demarcation were still confused. For instance, Trotsky found himself in the Menshevik camp until 1904. Part of the reason for the political confusion is that even moderate socialists in Tsarist Russia could not appear as open reformists since there did not exist even the illusion of a parliamentary democracy. This helped to obscure the true nature of the split.[4]

II. 1905
In 1905, Russia was humiliated after a short war with the Japanese, leading to greater calls for reform from liberals and workers. On January 22, 1905, a peaceful demonstration of workers petitioned the Tsar to improve their conditions. Soldiers fired on them, killing hundreds. The event sparked general strikes and peasant land seizures across the Empire. The whole autocracy appeared unstable and on the verge of collapse. The question for Marxists was: What would take its place?

As faithful Marxists, both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks believed that Russia was on the verge of its own 1789. According to this orthodox outlook, Western Europe was ripe for socialism, but Russia still had to accomplish a bourgeois revolution by overthrowing Tsarism and clearing away its feudal backwardness to create a modern capitalist society. After a protracted period, the expansion of both capitalist productive forces and the working class would make Russia ripe for socialism.

However, the surface agreement between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks on the tasks of the forthcoming bourgeois revolution concealed deeper disagreements over which class would lead it. Lenin argued that the working class allied with the peasantry would lead the revolution since the bourgeoisie was too weak and non-radical:

Only the proletariat can be a consistent fighter for democracy. It can become a victorious fighter for democracy only if the peasant masses join its revolutionary struggle. If the proletariat is not strong enough for this the bourgeoisie will be at the head of the democratic revolution and will impart an inconsistent and self-seeking nature to it. Nothing but a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry can prevent this.[5]

The Mensheviks believed the Russian bourgeoisie, like the French, had to be the revolution’s leading force. In 1905, Martov wrote: “We have the right to expect that sober political calculation will prompt our bourgeois democracy to act in the same way in which, in the past century, bourgeois democracy acted in Western Europe, under the inspiration of revolutionary romanticism.”[6] In line with this conception, the Mensheviks said that the RSDLP should not fight for power but remain in opposition. Since the workers were not the leading class in this revolution, they needed to moderate their demands lest they frighten the bourgeois and overstep what was historically possible. Menshevik A.S. Martynov said:

That being the case, the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, by simply frightening the majority of the bourgeois elements, can have but one result—the restoration of absolutism in its original form. . . .The struggle to influence the course and outcome of the bourgeois revolution can find expression only in the exertion of revolutionary pressure by the proletariat on the will of the liberal and radical bourgeoisie, and in the compulsion on the part of the more democratic ‘lower strata’ of society to bring the ‘upper strata’ into agreement to carry through the bourgeois revolution to its logical conclusion.[7]

Furthermore, the Mensheviks viewed the struggle of the peasantry with indifference. For the Mensheviks, the liberal bourgeoisie was the natural ally and leader of the working class in Russia while the peasantry remained mired in backwardness, prone to violent excesses and “irrationalism” that needed to be overcome through the “civilizing school of capitalism.” Plekhanov stated: “The main bulwark of absolutism is precisely the political indifference and intellectual backwardness of the peasantry.”[8]

Still, the bourgeoisie was not willing to play the role allotted to it by Menshevism. Instead, the workers were leading the revolutionary struggle against Tsarism alongside both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. In May, the Mensheviks contemplated and accepted the opportunity of the RSDLP taking power: “If we should finally be swept into power against our will by the inner dialectics of the revolution at a time when the national conditions for the establishment of socialism are not yet mature, we would not hold back.”[9]

Trotsky, an independent socialist, was on the left edge of Menshevism and called for a similar line to Bolshevism. Trotsky said the workers must “assume the role of a leading class – if Russia is to be truly re-born as a democratic state…It goes without saving that the proletariat must fulfill its mission, just as the bourgeoisie did in its own time, with the help of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.”[10] Many Menshevik workers began to be infected with “Trotskyism” and lost faith in the bourgeois revolution, and, like the Bolsheviks, prepared for an armed insurrection. The leading lights of Menshevism — Martov, Axelrod and Plekhanov — were aghast at this turn and preached moderation.[11]

The Mensheviks took the initiative to create the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Delegates in October 1905. Trotsky himself served as its president. The Soviet was formed to coordinate strike action by the workers, but it also served as a democratic organ representing the interests of the working class. The St. Petersburg Bolsheviks were hostile to the Soviet, believing it should be under party control. Lenin objected to Bolshevik sectarianism towards the Soviet and believed the party should participate in it. For Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet should be the embryo of a future revolutionary state.

After the October strike of 1905, the Tsar granted a series of limited reforms including a representative body known as the Duma, and the revolution began to run out of energy. The Soviet was disbanded in December, and the Bolsheviks launched a failed uprising in Moscow. While there would be sporadic outbreaks of struggle until 1907, the high tide of the revolution had passed.

III. Retrenchment
During the revolution, the Mensheviks recruited a layer of dedicated activists. Their membership jumped to 18,000 in April 1906 and to 43,000 in October 1906. Even in 1907, of all 150,000 members of a Russian political party, the Mensheviks numbered 38,000 compared to the 46,000 Bolsheviks.[12] The revolution had drawn both factions together. At the 1906 party congress in Stockholm, a unified social democratic party was — seemingly — created.

However, the defeat of the 1905 caused most Mensheviks to return to their earlier positions. They believed that ultra-leftism and adventurism during the revolution had gone too far. Plekhanov condemned the Moscow Uprising: “they should not have taken to arms.” For the Mensheviks, these radicals acted contrary to the laws of history and terrified the bourgeoisie. The new Menshevik leadership of Theodor Dan, Martov, and Postresov turned away from militancy and focused on legal work and electing representatives to the Duma. To Lenin’s rage, the Mensheviks also tolerated those who wanted to liquidate the underground party apparatus. Despite sharing the common name of “social democrat,” the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks had different and irreconcilable ideas on its meaning in both theory and practice. In 1912, the RSDLP formally split into the separate Bolshevik and Menshevik parties, representing the Jacobin and Girodon wings of social democracy.

When World War I broke out in 1914, in contrast to most socialist parties, both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks remained antiwar. Plekhanov supported the war effort, but he alienated himself from most other socialists. The Mensheviks objected when the Bolsheviks broadened their antiwar platform to demand splits with pro-war socialists, the creation of a new revolutionary international, and turning the World War into a civil war. Martov’s group believed it was necessary to work for peace but would not split the international or advocate civil war.

IV. 1917
After three years of war and misery, Russian workers had enough. In February 1917, a simple demonstration for bread in Petrograd took on a life of its own and toppled the Tsar. A new bourgeois-led Provisional Government was established to determine Russia’s future. On February 27, Mensheviks organized a new workers’ soviet in the capital. An untenable situation of dual power soon emerged across Russia. The Menshevik Soviet leaders, true to their Marxist orthodoxy, said that workers should support the bourgeois-led provisional government, believing that Russia was going through the same type of revolution as France in 1789: “We destroy the bastions of political authority, but the bases of capitalism remain in place. A battle on two fronts—against the Tsar and against capital is beyond the forces of the proletariat.”[13]

However, Russia in 1917 was not France in 1789. France was a society emerging from feudalism where the modern bourgeois society had matured; the revolution was needed to cast aside the dead weight of the ancien régime and facilitate the growth of capitalism. By contrast, Russia was not only feudal, but also capitalist with a combative working class that would not stop at a bourgeois revolution. Furthermore, the two revolutions showed the need for resolute parties and leadership to carry out their goals: the Jacobins and Bolsheviks. The Jacobins were the party of the radical bourgeoisie supported by the urban masses, who were determined and willing to defend the gains of the French Revolution with all the means at their disposal. The Bolsheviks showed similar determination to their revolutionary forebearers, but were the party of the working class and peasantry fighting for an international socialist revolution.The socialist revolution was now on the historical agenda.

Menshevik thinking remained confused and divided with no clear program to address the vast social and political crisis that gripped Russia. They believed a socialist revolution was destined to fail and be drowned in blood. The peasantry should wait for a Constituent Assembly and not take the land. While the Mensheviks called for peace, many members believed that with the Tsar gone they should support the war effort. The logic of the Menshevik position caused them to enter into a series of coalition governments with the liberals and take responsibility for the war. As in 1905, the bourgeoisie had no intention of playing a revolutionary role. Despite numbering 200,000 members by August 1917, the Mensheviks remained a loose collection of groups with no real structure, discipline or unity.[14] They ranged from defenders of the Provisional Government, such as Irakli Tsereteli and Nikolay Chkheidze, to anti-war internationalists opponents such as Martov. Martov passionately agitated for the Mensheviks to break with the liberals, but his efforts came to naught.

The Menshevik historian Nikolai Sukhanov explained the failure of the most principled of his comrades during the revolutionary moment of 1917 as follows:

We did not fuse with [the revolutionary masses] because a number of features of the positive creative strength of Bolshevism, as well as its methods of agitation, revealed to us its future hateful countenance. It was based on an unbridled, anarchistic, petty-bourgeois elemental explosion, which was only smothered by Bolshevism when once again it was not followed by the masses. We were afraid of this elemental explosion.[15]

In the honeymoon phase of the revolution, the differences between Bolshevism and Menshevism were blurred once again. In some parts of Russia, there was no split in the RSDLP until after the October Revolution. Bolshevism contained its own Girondins too. In March, the Bolshevik leaders of the Petrograd party, Joseph Stalin and Lev Kamenev, called for supporting the Provisional Government and were open to reuniting with the Mensheviks.

After Lenin returned to Russia in April, these attempts at unity ended. He called for a socialist revolution and the transfer of power to the soviets. Sukhanov described the reaction of the orthodox Mensheviks to Lenin’s ideas:

Of how . . . his whole conception was to be reconciled with the elementary conceptions of Marxism (the only thing Lenin did not dissociate himself from in his speech)—not a syllable was said. Everything touching on what had hitherto been called scientific socialism Lenin ignored just as completely as he destroyed the foundations of the current Social-Democratic programme and tactics.[16]

The Mensheviks saw Lenin’s April Theses not as Marxism, but Blanquism or anarchism. They expected him to fall into irrelevance with these “lunatic ideas.” Lenin managed to convince the Bolsheviks of his position and put them back on the revolutionary road. Within a short time, the people identified the Bolsheviks as champions for soviet power, “peace, land, and bread.” Sukhanov describes the result: “Yes, the Bolsheviks were working stubbornly and without let-up. They were among the masses, at the factory benches, every day without pause. Tens of speakers, big and little, were speaking in Petersburg, at the factories and in the barracks, every blessed day. For the masses they had become their own people, because they were always there, taking the lead in details as well as in the most important affairs of the factory or barracks…The mass lived and breathed together with the Bolsheviks. It was in the hands of the party of Lenin and Trotsky.”[17] In contrast, the Mensheviks struggled to save the unpopular Provisional Government while their support melted away.

In October, after the Bolsheviks seized power, Martov condemned the revolution as a coup d’etat and against the will of the people. Trotsky, now a leading Bolshevik, answered Martov’s charge:

A rising of the masses of the people needs no justification…The masses of the people followed our banner and our insurrection was victorious. And now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with whom ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups who have left us or who are making this proposal?…No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out: go where you ought to be: into the dustbin of history![18]

Martov’s group walked away from the revolution. As they did so, a young Bolshevik said: “And we had thought that Martov at least would remain with us.”[19] Martov believed that it was better for the Mensheviks to “wash their hands” of the whole revolution and oppose both the Bolsheviks and the bourgeoisie. It was a choice that confirmed that Martov had truly earned his nickname as “the Hamlet of democratic socialism.”

V. Defeat
After 1917, the Mensheviks remained out of step with the mood of the people, fairing poorly in elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1918. However, when the Civil War began, the Mensheviks were forced to pick sides. The right-wing Mensheviks opposed the Bolsheviks, mostly through bureaucratic maneuvering, but some joined the White Armies led by Kaledin or other anti-Bolshevik movements such as the Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia. Martov’s Internationalists offered critical support to the Red Army during the Civil War, but denounced the persecution of opponents of the Soviet government. In July 1918, the Mensheviks were excluded from the Soviets, but reinstated again, only to be banned after the end of the Civil War. The one place where Menshevism faired well was in Georgia where they administered a capitalist state with support from imperialism from 1918-1921 when they were overthrown by the Red Army. The surviving Mensheviks passed their days in exile, most of them decrying the revolution they had abandoned. Their intransigent fidelity to orthodoxy meant they had betrayed the revolutionary spirit of Marxism and were, in the end, fit only for the role of second-rate Girondins in 1917.


[1] Bertram Wolfe, Three Who Made a Revolution: A Biographical History (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1964), 240-8.

[2] Samuel H. Baron, Plekhanov: The Father of Russian Marxism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1963), 246.

[3] Lenin Collected Works, vol. 7, “Postscript: Letter to a Comrade,” (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 138. (henceforth LCW)

[4] Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921 (New York: Verso, 2003), 82.

[5] LCW, vol. 9, “The Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,” 60.

[6] Deutscher 2003, 119.

[7] Quoted in LCW, vol. 8, “Social Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government,” 283-4.

[8] Georgi Plekhanov, “Second Draft Programme of the Russian Social-Democrats,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/plekhanov/1887/xx/sdelg2.htm.

[9] Quoted in Esther Kingston-Mann, Lenin and the Problem of Russian Peasant Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 83.

[10] Leon Trotsky, “1905,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1907/1905/ch25.htm

[11] Israel Getzler, Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 110.

[12] Tony Cliff, “Lenin: Building the Party (1893-1914),” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1975/lenin1/chap20.htm

[13] Quoted in David Mandel, The Petrograd Workers and the Fall of the Old Regime (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 86.

[14] Leopold Haimson, ed., The Mensheviks: From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 389.

[15] N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 530.

[16] Ibid. 284-5.

[17] Quoted in ibid. 529.

[18] Quoted in ibid. 639-640.

[19] Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 491.
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

1.Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings 2.Clara Zetkin: Letters and Writings

Posted by admin On April - 13 - 2018 Comments Off on 1.Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings 2.Clara Zetkin: Letters and Writings


Philip Sheldon Foner
Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings
Mike Jones (ed)
Clara Zetkin: Letters and Writings


Reviewed by Ken Cheng
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(Ken Cheng recently completed a PhD at the Centre for European Studies, UCL, which examined pre-1914…)

Clara Zetkin is more renowned as the loyal ally of her brilliant contemporary Rosa Luxemburg than as a significant Marxist thinker in her own right. Amongst the Marxist intellectuals of the pre-1914 German Social-Democratic Party (SPD), she is generally regarded as a writer of the second rank – a committed revolutionary whose articles filled the pages of socialist journals, rather than an active participant in epochal debates over ‘revisionism’ or the ‘mass strike.’ In August 1914, when a majority of Social Democrats acquiesced to Germany’s mobilization for the First World War, Zetkin aligned with Luxemburg’s anti-war ‘Spartacus League.’ By her own estimation, Zetkin was no more than a foot-soldier for ‘Rosa … the leading voice in Socialism’ (SW, 144).

Two recently-published selections of Zetkin’s writings offer different reasons for giving her work a higher billing. Selected Writings highlights Zetkin’s importance as a ‘pioneering theorist of women’s status in capitalist society,’ who laid the foundations for a ‘Marxist analysis of women’s oppression’ (SW, 9). It focuses on Zetkin before and during the war, when her political activity revolved around the editorship of Gleichheit, the official SPD journal for socialist women. Letters and Writings shifts attention to the post-war period, once the SPD’s capitulation in 1914, the 1917 Revolution, and the assassination of Luxemburg in 1919 had utterly alienated Zetkin from German Social Democracy. As the most prominent surviving Spartacist, Zetkin became something of an elder stateswoman within international Communism, as epitomized by the final text in the collection – her ceremonial 1932 address to the Reichstag as its oldest member, which expressed hopes for a future ‘Soviet Germany’ (LW, 173).

The pre-war texts gathered in Selected Writings outline Zetkin’s theory of the ‘proletarian women’s movement’ (97). The basic co-ordinates of her argument were clear. Since ‘female industrial labour’ had become an integral part of ‘modern industry,’ women who were formerly ‘slave[s] of the husband’ were now ‘subjugated by the capitalists’ (47). The ‘bourgeois women’s movement’ sought equality without challenging the capitalist system at the root of their oppression, dooming it to ‘clumsy and groping steps’ (68). Consequently, ‘the liberation struggle of the proletarian woman … must be a joint struggle with the male of her class against the entire class of capitalists’ (77).

Zetkin’s views took shape within the framework of German orthodox Marxism – a ‘scientific’ interpretation of Marxism associated with Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky, which the SPD officially adopted in its 1891 ‘Erfurt Programme.’ Believing that the political ascent of the industrial working class was written into the course of modern social development, German orthodoxy was resistant to any dilution of the SPD’s ‘proletarian’ politics. Was Zetkin’s theory therefore an attempt, in effect, to subordinate women’s liberation to the prioritized workers’ struggle? Some of her statements might support such a claim. In an address to the SPD’s 1896 Gotha Congress, she avowed that: ‘The petty, momentary interests of the female world must not be allowed to take up the stage. Our task must be to incorporate the modern proletarian woman in our class battle!’ (79). (At this point, the transcript records appreciative cries of ‘Very true!’ emanating from the primarily-male congress audience.)

Behind such slogans, however, lay a more nuanced perspective. Zetkin did not flatly assert that women were being oppressed more by capitalism than by men, but sought to capture the dialectical significance of women’s work as a social development. Female industrial labour was dependent upon machinery, which mitigated the need for ‘muscle power’ (53). Over a broader timespan, the rise of machinery had also gradually ‘undermined domestic production’ in a way that increasingly forced women ‘to find their livelihood and their meaningful lives outside of their families and within society’ (73). Whilst being drawn into the capitalist workforce obviously subjected women to exploitation, women’s work also represented a potentially revolutionary opening. The restrictions of traditional family life had been torn down, and an unprecedented number of women now had the chance to ‘found a meaningful life’ in the arena of society, and thus to participate in ‘the awakening of modern individuality’ (72).

Of course, for proletarian women, the realization of this ‘individuality’ was indissociable from the development of class-consciousness and participation in the socialist struggle. Zetkin’s theory was ‘Marxist’ above all in its desire to link the progress of the women’s movement to the dialectical vision of the Communist Manifesto, according to which capitalism revolutionizes society by demolishing the traditions that obstruct its productive forces, paving the way for its ultimate liberation by an enlightened proletariat. This intellectual inheritance was acknowledged in the 1903 article ‘What the Women Owe to Karl Marx’: ‘the materialist concept of history … enabled us to understand the women’s question within the flux of universal historical development’ (93).

The second half of Selected Writings is dominated by the dramatic events that unfolded between 1914 and 1919. Zetkin’s response to the war echoed the main motifs of the ‘Spartacist’ opposition: disdain for the rising tide of chauvinistic nationalism, and hope that the proletariat could rise against this insanity. Theoretical precision was overtaken by impassioned rhetoric in these writings, undoubtedly in compensation for the objective powerlessness of the anti-war minority. This, however, was a conscious and perhaps even strategic recourse to language, as made clear by Zetkin’s 1914 appeal ‘To the Socialist Women of All Countries’:

It is true that we women have only limited political rights in practically all countries, but we are not without social power. Let us make use of every tiny bit of this power. Let us use our words and actions in order to influence the narrow circle of our family and friends as well as the broad public. Let us use every means of oratory and writing. (115-16).


Here, movingly, the resilience of the women’s movement against its lack of political freedoms in peacetime provided the analogical basis for Zetkin’s ethos of steadfast minoritarian opposition to the war. It is also notable that, in this context, women could return to acting within the ‘narrow circle of … family’ without thereby relinquishing their ‘social power.’ No matter how the voice of women was coercively domesticated, it could now always maintain a clandestine path to the ‘public … by means of … writing.’

Selected Writings offers only a handful of texts after 1919; for a comprehensive view of Zetkin’s post-war activity, one must instead turn to Letters and Writings. Arguably, this also means turning from writings of broad theoretical interest to those of primarily historical interest, particularly for scholars of international Communism. (Here it may be noted that this collection doubles as a volume of the journal Revolutionary History, and includes a set of unrelated articles and reviews.) This certainly applies to many of the letters included, such as a sequence written to Lenin between 1918 and 1921. In these, Zetkin deals with organizational and propagandistic matters, and offers her reactions to the political fortunes of German Communism. Although arcane references are adequately glossed through footnotes and the biographical articles that intersperse the whole collection, these letters perhaps still suffer from a lack of contextual framing – not least due to the absence of Lenin and others’ replies to Zetkin, which might have given a better indication of her position within the Communist universe of the time.

Two important theoretical works stand out from this material. Zetkin’s 1920 ‘Guidelines for the Communist Women’s Movement’ translated her pre-war theory into Comintern discourse. The basic co-ordinates of the ‘proletarian women’s movement’ remained, but they were now expressed in a more categorical fashion – aided by the fact that the pre-war distinction between movement (Social Democracy) and ultimate ideal (socialism) had now collapsed into one: ‘Communism, the great saviour of the female sex’ (45). Equally notable was the extent to which Zetkin’s standpoint was still affected by the SPD’s capitulation of 1914, and the ‘gap between theory and practice’ that this had revealed (50). Zetkin now diagnosed a parallel failing in the attitude of the Second International towards women’s equality and liberation. Although it had ‘br[ought] these demands to the broadest circles of society in a propagandistic fashion,’ it had not fully translated them into action, such as when it ‘tolerated its affiliated organisations … advocating a restricted suffrage for ladies’ (50). Zetkin was thus an advocate of Communist centralism, requiring that national ‘parties recognise the fundamental, tactical and organisational guidelines of the Communist International’ (52). ‘To draw women comprehensively into all struggles’ and make efforts towards the ‘enlightenment of proletarian women’ became matters of party discipline (52-53).

Most compelling, however, is Zetkin’s 1923 report to the Comintern on ‘The Struggle against Fascism.’ Alongside a careful description of the social composition and political formation of Italian fascism, Zetkin also posited that its ideological appeal to the ‘masses,’ and even to some ‘revolutionary-minded proletarians,’ reflected ‘disillusionment’ with ‘the slow motion of the world revolution’ (92-93). This mass-ideological dimension, mildly reminiscent of later Frankfurt School thought, gave Zetkin’s analysis here a suppleness that was occasionally stymied by orthodoxy in her other writings. A concept that had always inhabited Zetkin’s work in an almost mechanical fashion – namely, the ‘masses’ – was suddenly activated into a powerful, critical tool.

Between the two collections, the only duplicated text is the aforementioned Reichstag address. Each volume therefore serves a distinct purpose, with Selected Writings providing a rounder summary of Zetkin’s theoretical contribution, whilst Letters and Writings is of more specialist interest. Overall, these collections portray Zetkin as a distinctive socialist thinker in her own right, whose efforts to insert the experience of proletarian women into the dialectical panorama of historical materialism should inform our understanding of pre- and post-1914 revolutionary Marxism.

25 January 2018

URL: https://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviews/14665_clara-zetkin-clara-zetkin-review-by-ken-cheng/

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Hegel’s India: A Reinterpretation with Texts-Aakash Singh Rathore and Rimina Mohapatra

Posted by admin On April - 13 - 2018 Comments Off on Hegel’s India: A Reinterpretation with Texts-Aakash Singh Rathore and Rimina Mohapatra


Reviewed by Karthick Ram Manoharan

Of all those philosophers accused of being Eurocentrist, none has been so vehemently criticized by the postcolonialist school as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In academic circles that valorize the Third World, the German philosopher’s very name conjures the image of a domineering White racist male whose mammoth system sought to trivialize and crush the knowledge systems of non-European societies. A set of lectures by Ranajit Guha, the key intellectual of the Subaltern Studies group, aptly named History at the Limit of World History (Columbia University Press, 2002), passionately denounced Hegel’s dismissal of Indian history.

Yet, despite this ‘dismissal’, Hegel dedicated considerable space to studying India, its philosophical systems and religions. The editors of Hegel’s India note that Hegel’s writings on India come close to 80000 words – and as far as sheer number of words go, this is as much as his attention to the study of the Greek world. Not only have Rathore and Mohapatra carefully collated Hegel’s writings on India, including translations of hitherto unfamiliar texts, in their brilliant reinterpretation of these writings, provide a justification, which is both sympathetic and critical, of Hegel’s engagement with India.

Rathore and Mohapatra’s Introduction to this volume note Hegel’s cultural biases and inconsistencies when dealing with Indian works of art, religion and philosophy. Not falling for postcolonial verdicts on Hegel though, they also pay due attention to the context in which Hegel was operating, without allowing context to become an excuse for lapses on the part of Hegel. The editors appreciatively note Hegel’s personal ambition to collect knowledge from across the globe to synthesize it all into one resource, one system. (24) And in that effort, even if Hegel’s approach towards the thoughts of the ancient Indians appears caustic in some instances, he was definitely not dismissive.

The study and curation of ancient Indian texts accompanied the European colonial enterprise. Indeed, one aspect of Orientalist knowledge production saw in the Indians an assortment of incompetent rulers, effeminate peoples and criminal tribes, barbaric traditions and demonic pagan rituals. But another romanticized India’s culture, its mythologies and religions, its social structures as features of an ancient and noble civilization. Many of the German Romantics, who were Hegel’s contemporaries, were influenced by this latter image of India. And thus, as Rathore and Mohapatra note, Hegel, who decisively broke from the Romantic tradition, was compelled to challenge these notions.

Hegel’s opposition to Hinduism becomes clear from his perspective on religion and its relation to the individual and society as such. Hegel defends a subjective religion, not from an individualist standpoint, but rather from the view of the state, i.e. how a subjective religion can make better citizens. To Hegel, the idea of personal salvation was an undermining of Republican virtue. As much as Hegel, a declared Lutheran, admired Christianity, he was also critical of its escapism and its ethic for the individual which he believed was more suitable for a cult than for a society. In contrast, Hegel saw in the ancient Greek and Roman Republics the value of realizing the highest good in the service of the public good and the state. Further, he valued the sacrifice of the individual for a secular authority more than the sacrifice for heavenly rewards.

Hegel wanted faith to be grounded in Reason. He also saw God as a rational being who acted from necessity. His materialist critique is evident from his assertion in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion that “Without the world God is not God.” Differing from the theologians who looked at God as a transcendent entity, Hegel saw God as immanent, embodied in the finite world. In Hegel’s understanding, the Indian religion promoted a pantheism that placed God as a concrete universal, with little or no respect for the particular. Hegel saw problems in pantheism as it was not an abstract universal.

As he argues in his discussions on the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita “as it is the most specific characteristic of pantheism that the individual beings and all finite qualities must be taken as not being independent of but rather as those which are only dissolved, negated in pure Being, this only proves actually the incapability of the people entertaining these false conceptions to free themselves from the belief in the independency, the absoluteness of the finite, being unable to comprehend what really is.” (130) To add, even the figure of Krishna as godhead was not an embodiment of Reason or freedom shaped by necessity, but was representative of a self-consuming fatalism. Indeed, Krishna the deity is himself killed by a hunter’s arrow owing to an earlier curse. Further, Krishna as a moral instructor preaches particular duties, and not universal rights. In this, Hegel sees a defense of divinely ordained rigid social hierarchies. Two prominent individuals in the previous century were reported to have always carried a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in their possession. One was Mahatma Gandhi, the great apostle of non-violence, who was nevertheless accused by anti-caste thinkers of not adequately addressing the question of caste in Indian society and its relation to Hinduism. The other was Heinrich Himmler.

To Hegel, the finite does not disappear in the absolute, but rather the absolute comes into being only through the finite. Also, the universal does not precede the particular in time, but rather, the universal is the raison d’être of the particular which comes first in existence. It is this core aspect of the Hegelian schema which enables us to understand his critique of religion. Hegel’s qualified and cautious support for Christianity was based on the premise that it would contribute to the building of a new civic religion based on Reason, which would not strangulate the particular needs of the human. In the Indian religions he saw, despite the high aesthetic value of Indian art and literature, nothing more than the suppression or even erasure of the particular, an almost nihilist doctrine.

It is likely that some would accuse Hegel of overkill when he states “The Hindus will not tread upon ants, but they are perfectly indifferent when poor wanderers pine away with hunger. The Brahmins are especially immoral. […] When they take any part in public life they show themselves avaricious, deceitful, voluptuous.” (158) The iconoclastic rationalist leader of the Dravidian movement, Periyar E V Ramasamy, echoed strikingly similar views when he denounced the stranglehold of Brahmins and other upper-castes over the Indian anti-colonial movement. When one reads Hegel noting that “As the Brahmins enjoy advantages over the other Castes, the latter in their turn have privileges according to precedence, over their inferiors,” (153) one finds echoes of this observation in the works of the brilliant pro-Enlightenment thinker and Dalit leader B R Ambedkar who theorized caste as a system of graded inequalities.

At a lay reading, it might appear that Hegel is conflating Indian religions with several, sometimes contradictory, systems of Indian philosophy and dismissing both, and it might be quite tempting to discover in him a racist who had a profound contempt for all things non-European. A deeper understanding of the gargantuan Hegelian corpus would throw light on a man who wanted to engage with Indian writings, despite all the prejudices of his time, and give them a due place in the philosophical system that he was constructing. If Hegel is still accused of being unkind to Hindu philosophy, hear what Ambedkar said in his Annihilation of Caste: “you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality.” Though both Ambedkar and Periyar were very familiar with the works of Karl Marx, there is little to prove that they engaged with Hegel in their writings. Yet if, as Slavoj Zizek says in his blurb for Hegel’s India, we have to “discern the traces of what would have been India’s Hegel,” careful comparative readings of these thinkers and Hegel can throw new light on understanding social and economic inequalities in India. More than anyone else, intellectuals and activists challenging entrenched casteism and the upsurge of Hindu fundamentalism in India will be eternally grateful for Hegel’s India.

15 December 2017

URL: https://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviews/14709_hegels-india-review-by-karthick-ram-manoharan/
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Marx’s concept of class-Richard D. Wolff

Posted by admin On April - 3 - 2018 Comments Off on Marx’s concept of class-Richard D. Wolff


Originally published: Logos Journal by Richard D. Wolff (Winter 2018 Vol. 17 No. 1)   |
Concepts of Class
The concept of class poses profound problems for theory and practice. This is true across the academic disciplines and in the confused incoherence around “class issues” when concepts of class surface in economic, political and cultural discourses.

Since 1945, the Cold War and its lingering effects prevented many discussions of social trends, events, and crises from considering their class causes, components or consequences. For many, loyalty to capitalism and/or hostility toward its critics took the form of refusing to use concepts like class. The very idea of class when applied to the U.S. or advanced capitalism anywhere was rejected with claims that it was outdated (since modern capitalism homogenized nearly everyone into a vast “middle class”).1 Many dismissed class analysis because it was “tainted by a lack of objectivity” (a quality that they located in the concepts they used instead of class). Only quite recently, following the 2008 global capitalist crash, have concepts of class resurfaced in many minds and therefore in much public discussion.

What might be called the return of the repressed discourse of class is problematic because there is no one concept of class. The word, like the concept, entails multiple, significantly different meanings among those who think and communicate using it. Only a small minority of users explicitly identifies and justifies which meaning it prefers. Most users think, speak, and write as if the particular concept of class they use is the universally agreed concept. Because that is not the case, discourses using class categories are often confused and misunderstood. When the relation between class and social change arises as a practical matter, the problematic nature of class as a concept becomes historically urgent.

At least as far back as Ancient Greece people analyzed their own and others’ societies by dividing populations into social sub-groups according to their wealth and/or incomes. Much as they classified populations for some purposes according to gender, height, weight, and age, for other purposes, such as understanding social conflicts, they could and did classify by wealth or income. Classes were the nouns applied to the subgroups derived from applying the verb to classify. Economic classifications generated the rich and the poor, the two polar classes. It was then a small step to subdivide populations into further subgroups located in the middle between the rich and the poor. Such subgroups – middle classes – held more wealth and/or received more income than those designated poor but less than those designated rich. Classifications into rich and poor presupposed some notion of private property to provide a boundary between one person’s wealth and/or income and another’s (much as age classifications presupposed some accepted way to measure and thereby differentiate each individual’s age).

Ever since ancient Greece, many people analyzing societies have used that concept of class defined in terms of owned wealth and/or income to think, speak or write about social problems and to undertake actions for their solutions. Thus, for example, citizens, leaders, observers, and so on might say that a society suffers from tension and conflict because of its particular divisions among rich, poor, and middle classes. They might offer solutions entailing changed modes of distributing wealth and/or income or perhaps redistributing them after an initial distribution. Their class analyses and class-focused solutions – defined in terms of class qua property – represented what they believed to be useful, effective contributions to social betterment.

Another, equally ancient but quite different concept of class also still in wide usage defines it in terms of power wielded over others. People using this concept classify populations they scrutinize into those who give orders to others and those who take and follow orders from others. One is the powerful class while the other is the powerless class: the ruling class and the ruled. As with the property-based concepts of class, those who used power definitions of class also interspersed middle classes, members of society who both took orders from some while giving orders to others. Now as for thousands of years many people make sense of the structures, changes, problems and solutions for societies by examining what they take to be their class structures: their organization into subgroups with more or less power over one another.

With two different concepts of class, class analyses could and did yield different understandings when applied to actual societies. Classifying populations according to who has and does not have property, including middle classes, yields different subgroupings from those resulting from classifications according to the power wielded (or not) over others. The social distribution of property is not identical to the social distribution of power. In any society, the individuals and subgroups who own the most property may or may not wield the most power, and so on. When thinkers and writers used the same term, “class analysis,” while defining it differently, confusion could set in. When they were unaware of definitional differences and so did not acknowledge, identify or justify which definition they used, confusion was certain.

Periodically in human history, social revolutions took “class” seriously. Revolutionaries then undertook to change a society’s class structure as a key, necessary component of the social transformation they sought. These transformations can be summarized as establishing equality and democracy. Revolutionaries committed to class-qua-property concepts focused on redistributing wealth and income or reorganizing how they were distributed initially. Their goal was a much more egalitarian distribution of wealth and income. In contrast, revolutionaries who conceived of class in terms of power rather than property focused on redistributing power and/or reorganizing how power was distributed initially. Their goal was a much more democratic distribution of power.

Not infrequently, class analyses worked with both property and power concepts although rarely with much self-consciousness about the problems raised by two different definitions. So, for example, property theorists of class made the simplifying presumption that altering the social distribution of wealth and income would necessarily and correspondingly alter the social distribution of power. Similarly, power theorists of class could run the same determinist argument in the reverse direction: changing power distributions would necessarily alter the social distribution of property. Sometimes, analyses and activists made another, related and simplifying assumption, namely that those with wealth would acquire power too and those lacking either would likely lack the other too.

Across thousands of years of European history, class analyses rose and fell in their popularity and use for understanding social structures, changes, problems and solutions. Likewise the two basic definitions of class alternated in terms of which prevailed or, sometimes, how they were combined into composite definitions. Yet a certain insufficiency and failure dogged the class revolutions that punctuated European history even when they “succeeded” in the sense that revolutionary forces defeated those who wished to avoid revolutionary change.

Despite the progress they achieved, their goals of egalitarian distributions of wealth and income and/or democratic distributions of power were never reached. For many, those failures provoked a fatalism that held the goals themselves as beyond human reach. Others turned to question the thinking that had guided the revolutions. They asked whether something had been missed or misunderstood about social structures, changes, problems and solutions by successive revolutionary movements. If rectified, might that something enable revolutionaries finally to achieve their twin goals of equality and democracy?

Marx’s New Concept of Class
Marx was one who asked such questions. In producing his answer Marx generated another new and different concept of class even as he also made frequent use of the ancient property and power concepts of class inherited from previous generations of revolutionaries. Marx believed that those generations had not achieved their basic goals of equality and democracy because they had not understood a basic process in all societies that had worked to undermine their revolutionary projects. Because they did not understand and transform that process, their revolutionary projects failed. Even when their revolutions did achieve significant and socially progressive changes in property and power distributions, those did not progress to the levels of equality and democracy they had hoped and worked for. Often, the progressive changes they achieved could not be sustained beyond a few years. For Marx, the personally transformative example of such limitedly successful revolutions was the French Revolution. It overthrew feudalism but its goals of liberte, egalite, fraternite were not achieved.

Marx’s Capital presented his analysis of the missed social process – basically the production and distribution of the surplus as we shall show below. Capital explained how this class-qua-surplus process helped to shape the social distributions of property and power. The failures of previous revolutions (such as the French) to achieve genuine, sustainable equality and democracy (liberte, egalite, fraternite) emerge as consequences of their not recognizing, understanding, and transforming this class-qua-surplus process.

Even though Marx devoted much of his life to the research and exposition of his new surplus conception of class, many readers and followers since have missed the originality of his new and different concept. They read his work instead as if it were an important new application of the old property and power concepts of class to analyzing capitalism. That is indeed one of Marx’s contributions. However, to see only that misses the crucial importance of his new class-qua-surplus concept both to understanding and getting beyond capitalism. Marx’s focus on the surplus thus carries over into our time too as a key component of critical social analysis demanding recognition and application.

In Capital, volume 1, Marx identifies his new notion of class early. He defines it as a distinct social process that occurs together with the physical labor process within the activity known as production. In production, workers labor – men and women use brains and muscle – to transform naturally occurring objects into useful products. They labor with raw material inputs, tools, equipment, buildings, etc. that constitute their means of production. But the labor process is not the same thing as the class process. The class process refers to a different connection among the people engaged in production than the labor connection where they collaborate to produce a specific product.

Class, for Marx, refers to how, in production, a surplus gets produced. All human societies produce such surpluses. However, societies differ in how they organize the production and distribution of this surplus. In Marx’s view, there have always been subsets of populations in communities (from families through villages to whole nations) that have performed labor in the production of goods and services. Those subsets have always produced more output than they themselves consumed: the “surplus” output or simply the surplus. That surplus has then been distributed to other persons inside or outside the community.

The class structure of a community or society is then its distinct organization of the production and distribution of surplus. Specific individuals are designated, consciously or unconsciously, by custom or deliberation, to produce the surplus. Those same or other individuals receive the surplus and distribute some or all of it to still others whom we can call recipients of distributed shares of the surplus. Each community or society designates which individuals can receive distributed shares of the surplus, consume them, and thereby live without themselves doing any work to produce the surplus. Likewise, other people are designated to do work that does not itself produce a surplus but rather provides conditions for the labor of the workers who do produce the surplus. Such enablers of surplus production by others need to receive a distribution of the surplus produced by those others: that distribution provides the enablers with their own consumption and with the means for performing their enabling functions. For example, a person who keeps the necessary records of what surplus-producing laborers do is such an enabler; so too are the persons who clean up residues of production, who make sure the surplus-producers keep to their tasks, etc. Marx differentiated between “productive” workers (those who directly produced surpluses) and “unproductive” workers (the enablers who provided needed conditions for surplus production). Both productive and unproductive workers were needed for any class structure to exist and persist, but their relationship to surplus production was crucially different. One kind of worker produced the surplus while the other, the enabler, lived off distributions of that surplus.

The earlier pre-Marxian concepts of class (qua property or power distributions) had no place for such a surplus concept of class. When those pre-Marxian concepts were applied to understand and/or transform societies, the results were class analyses that did not recognize, know, or use the surplus concept. Their social analyses and prescriptions did not take into account how the societies they scrutinized organized the production and distribution of surpluses. They were, in effect, blind to the existence and social effects of society’s class (qua surplus) structure.

Marx’s Capital introduced the class-qua-surplus analysis and advocated using it to transform society. He did so in the belief that past revolutionary projects for social equality, democracy, and liberty, limited to pre-Marxian concepts of class, could have done better and gone further had they also understood and applied the class qua surplus concept. Marx saw his own contribution to theory and revolutionary practice as precisely enabling that application.

Such application meant that revolutionary projects had henceforth to address and change how society organized the production and distribution of its surpluses. If the society’s class-qua-surplus structure were not transformed, then even the egalitarian, democratic and other reforms won by revolutionary struggles would be insecure, would eventually be undone by the unchanged class-qua-surplus structure. To cite a modern example, the transformations of property and power distributions achieved by the 1917 revolution in Russia were eventually undone by the unchanged organization of the surplus across the production sites of the Soviet Union.2

In Capital, Marx spelled out the change he sought in societies’ class-qua-surplus structures, the change required to surpass the limitations of past revolutions. That change was from the past’s exploitative class-qua-surplus class structures to the non-exploitative class structure Marx advocated. By exploitative, Marx explicitly explained a class structure in which the people who produced the surplus were different from the people who appropriated and distributed that surplus. In slave economic systems, slaves produced while masters appropriated and distributed surpluses. In feudal economic systems, serfs produced the surpluses appropriated and distributed by lords.

Marx’s Capital explained that in capitalism, laborers in production – those whose brains and muscles directly converted raw materials and means of production into finished products – thereby added value to the values embodied in the raw materials and means of production used up in production. The “value added” by the direct laborers plus the value of used-up means of production equal the value of the output. “Value” is the metric because, in the capitalist economy Marx was analyzing, products took the form of commodities, products that passed from their producers to their consumers by means of exchanges in markets. Exchange is what attaches value to the products of human labor if and when they pass from their producers to their consumers by way of market exchange.

For Marx and his value theory, the value of the capitalist product is simply the addition of two components. The first is the value carried over to – embodied in – the finished product in so far as production used up a portion of the raw materials, tools and equipment, and relocated them in the product. The second component is the value added by living labor as it worked on and transformed those raw materials by means of those tools and equipment. Exploitation exists in capitalism, Marx showed, because the value added by direct laborers in their labor activity during production generally exceeds the value paid to the direct laborers for performing their labor activity.

In other words, a portion of the value added by labor in production is a surplus: the excess of the value added by their labor over the value of the wage they receive. The capitalist who appropriates that surplus is the employer in the capitalist system: a person or persons other than the direct laborers who produce the surplus. The capitalist employer also distributes that surplus after having appropriated it. Thus the capitalist exploits the direct laborer (proletarian) much as the master exploited the slave and the lord the serf.

Capitalism did NOT liberate slaves and serfs from exploitation. Rather, it merely changed the form, the particular social organization of continuing exploitation.

Equality and Democracy
Capitalist exploitation negates social movements toward egalitarianism. The exploitation makes production a conflict-ridden tension between the worker and the employer. The former’s self-interest leads to demands for higher wages – to enhance and secure his/her standard of living – in exchange for the labor performed. The employer’s self-interest seeks to extract more surplus from the direct laborers and pay the least possible to enablers. Usually, the disparity in resources brought to their conflicts favors the employers over the employees. Surpluses appropriated by employers tend to rise faster than real wages. This growing inequality ramifies throughout capitalist societies undermining whatever egalitarian tendencies might characterize their political and cultural aspects.

Of course, capitalism’s inequality tendencies can interact with its other dimensions (e.g. capitalist cycles) to provoke political and cultural backlashes that reverse capitalism’s inequalities. The reversals prove temporary because they are undone (reversal of the reversal) by capitalism’s underlying inequality tendencies. Thus, for example, the U.S. left in the 1930s (CIO unionization drives, large socialist and communist parties) forced a reversal of the extreme inequality built up in U.S. capitalism before 1929. Although that reversal lasted to the 1970s, it was then undone by the reassertion of capitalism’s usual underlying inequality tendencies. They reasserted themselves precisely because the underlying, exploitative class-qua-surplus structure of U.S. capitalism had not been transformed by the left’s social struggles and reforms of the 1930s or thereafter.

Similarly, capitalism’s organization of the surplus directly contradicts democracy and undermines it too when, temporarily, democratic moments occur. The direct contradiction lies in the organization of typical capitalist enterprises, large, medium and small. A tiny subset of the persons engaged in and by the enterprise usually owns and directs the enterprise: in corporations, for example, this subset comprises major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. The tiny subset can and virtually always does exclude the mass of employees from any participation in ownership or direction of the enterprise. The democratic logic – that persons affected by decisions have the right to participate in making them – is denied entry into the capitalist enterprise. In the market, one-person, one vote is displaced in favor of the altogether different one dollar, one vote. In the U.S., the democracy celebrated in the political sphere is banished from the economic sphere of social life.

This absence of democracy from the workplace – where adults spend most of their waking lives – undermines the capacity as well as the desire of individuals for democracy in politics. At the same time, the inequalities generated by capitalism provide employers with the disproportionate financial resources to shape politics and culture to their liking as opposed to that of the largely excluded masses. The results in the U.S. are democratic political forms but little real democratic content of politics. Periodic upsurges of democratic demands and even the occasional achievement of democratic reforms fail to last because the unchanged class-qua-surplus structure of capitalism works systemically against them.

Across Capital, Marx elaborates his class analysis of capitalism. In the first volume, his goal is to show where capitalism’s production and appropriation of surplus occur. In Capital’s second and third volumes, Marx explores how capitalists distribute the surpluses they appropriate from direct laborers. The surplus distributions are aimed primarily to secure certain conditions for the continuation of class exploitation, to provide means of production and consumption to the range of enablers of capitalist exploitation, its unproductive workers. These include supervisors who make sure direct laborers do their work, security guards who protect the enterprise, and an army of other enablers such as the secretaries, clerks, various managers, sales and purchasing personnel. This argument is spelled out in detail for the capitalist class process elsewhere.3

Capitalist production of the surplus positions and sustains the producing worker and the appropriating capitalist as its two poles. Capitalists’ surplus distributions to unproductive enablers thereby secure their capitalist positions as the surplus appropriators and distributors. The production of the surplus enables its distribution and vice-versa. For Marx, the class structure of the capitalist system refers to its unique organization of the production and distribution of the surplus.

Of course, the class structure’s reproduction is not assured or self-contained; it depends on all the myriad dimensions of its environment. The appropriators’ surplus distributions merely try to secure the class structure’s conditions of existence and reproduction by shaping as many of those dimensions as it can identify with the surplus available for those distributions. The surplus distributions may or may not succeed. Capitalists may not appropriate enough surplus to distributed the requisite quantities. There may be enough surplus, but the appropriators may divert too much to their own consumption or too little to secure one or another particular condition of existence of the class structure. How the surplus is distributed will shape the evolution of the class structure and thus the amount of surplus it generates. A class structure’s continual changes can and eventually do include its transformation into another, different class structure.

The Class Structure of Communism
Aspects of the capitalist class structure and of class-qua-surplus as a concept become clearer when applied to a non-capitalist class structure and, in particular, to the communist class structure as envisioned by Marx. The difference between the two class structures is simple and straightforward. Communist class structures are defined by the absence of exploitation. The producers and appropriators of the surplus in a communist class structure are the exact same people, whereas in the capitalist class structure, they are different people. In an enterprise whose class structure is communist, the productive laborers collectively are also the appropriators of the surpluses they produce. It then follows that they are also the surplus distributors. The productive laborers displace the capitalists who literally disappear from the communist class structure.

Of course, such communist producers/appropriators/distributors of the surplus need to sustain the enablers of the production of the communist surplus, the “unproductive” workers in communist enterprises. The distribution of communist surpluses defines two positions at its poles: the “productive workers” who are also the appropriators and distributors of the surplus, at one pole, and the recipients of distributed shares of the surplus, the “unproductive” workers at the other pole. As in all class structures, the process of distributing the surplus is the object of struggle between distributors and recipients. However, the key difference separating the communist from all exploitative class structures is this: in the latter, the exploiting class interposes itself between the productive and unproductive laborers. In the communist class structured enterprise, the productive and unproductive laborers negotiate directly with one another to determine together both the size and the distribution of the surplus.

The significance of this difference is huge. First, capitalists are in the position of distributing portions of the surplus to themselves (as owners, share holders and/or as top managerial executives). These portions are often and for obvious reasons large. The deep tendency toward inequality exhibited in and by capitalism is closely linked to who distributes its surpluses. The small minority that decides the distribution in capitalism serves itself and thereby worsens inequalities over time. The distribution of the surplus decided by productive and unproductive workers democratically acting together and without any capitalist would be much less unequal.

Second, consider the example of a technical change in the methods of production available to an enterprise, a change that both enhances profitability but is also ecologically dangerous or toxic. The capitalist enterprise will likely choose to implement the change because the extra profit means more to distribute. The capitalists making the decision are few and can finance escapes from the toxic consequences in terms of their living locations etc. The communist enterprise will likely choose otherwise, since its collective decision-makers (productive and unproductive workers deciding democratically) will weigh the health risks and costs that they, their families and neighbors will have to bear if the toxic technology is used. One cause of ecological damage would be reduced by a class change from capitalist to communist class structures in enterprises.

Third, consider the example of moving production from a relatively high-wage to a relatively low-wage location. Capitalists have been doing that in large numbers for nearly half a century, leaving north America, western Europe and Japan for China, India, Brazil and so on. Capitalists made those choices for their enterprises because relocation enabled them to extract more surpluses. They used those additional surpluses to better secure their conditions of existence but also to pay themselves higher salaries, dividends, etc. Had their enterprises been instead organized as communist class structured enterprises, their decision-makers (their productive and unproductive workers together democratically) would have evaluated relocation differently in terms of its impacts on them and their communities. The alternative class structures with their different sets of decision-makers would have identified, counted, and weighed costs and benefits differently and so reached different conclusions and decisions. The massive relocation of capitalist enterprises since the 1960s would have been far, far less of a social phenomenon had communist class structures of enterprise played larger roles in our economies.

On a more general level, inside a capitalist enterprise, its governance – the process of defining and choosing among alternative courses of action in and by the enterprise – is undemocratic. In the corporate form of capitalist enterprise – the major form in our time – the board of directors makes the basic decisions of what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues and the profits. Boards of directors typically include 12-20 individuals elected by shareholders, or more accurately, by the few major shareholders (since elections assign one vote per share and share ownership is highly concentrated). The hundreds or thousands of corporate employees – the vast majority of persons working in those enterprises – are excluded from participating in the decisions made by the board of directors. Those employees depend on and live with the consequences of board decisions but have no role in making them.

The opposite is the case in a communist enterprise. There, the combined productive and unproductive workers collectively and democratically make the decisions assigned to boards of directors in capitalist enterprises. The democracy of enterprise governance intrinsic to the communist class structure supports and reinforces democracy in the governance of residence communities. Democratizing the enterprise – in class terms, converting it from a capitalist into a communist class structure – is a way of converting formal into real political democracy.

The Varieties of Class Analyses
The basic logic of class-qua-surplus analysis entails asking the same basic question wherever and whenever production occurs in any society. If, at any site in a society, human beings are using their brains and muscles to transform objects given in nature into what they or other human beings deem useful objects, then production is happening there. The following question then applies: is a surplus being produced at that site? If the answer is yes, class analysis follows. That is, the specifics of the production and distribution of the surplus are investigated to determine how they participate in shaping the economic, political and cultural aspects of the society in which the production occurs.

We can answer the class analytical question with a simple “no.” Production can occur without the production of a surplus being involved. When someone walks through the woods and carves a piece of wood into a figurine the carver gives to a nearby child, no surplus – and hence no class process – is involved. If, however, the carving in the woods is by a wage-receiving carver with a knife and raw wood provided by an employer who receives and sells the resulting figurines, a surplus is involved. Class analysis does then apply.

So far – and in the tradition of most economic analyses – we have limited discussion to the enterprise as the social site of production. Now we can relax that limit. Production occurs at other social sites such as the household and the state, among others.

In households over the last two centuries, as capitalist class structures have spread across enterprises, capitalist class structures have NOT similarly prevailed among households. Households certainly are sites of production. Raw foods are transformed by labor, tools and equipment into finished meals; unclean rooms and clothing are transformed into neat and clean residences and outfits, and so on. Moreover, the direct performers of the labors of cooking, cleaning, etc. produce more output than they themselves consume, a household surplus. It is possible to identify the appropriator and distributor of that surplus and hence to pinpoint the class structure of the household.

Across most U.S. history, the traditional household displayed an internal class structure quite different from the capitalist class structure of most enterprises. Inside households, no wages or market exchanges or profits existed. Rather, elaborate customs and traditions, often sanctified by religious doctrines and rituals, specified who produced the surplus, when, where and how, and likewise who appropriated it. Traditional rules of home and family life likewise governed to whom (to which enablers) the appropriator distributed what portions of the household surplus to secure the conditions of existence of the household’s class structure.

In traditional U.S. households, the adult wife produced the household surplus, often helped by children once they were old enough to work. The husband appropriated the surplus and distributed it to others inside and outside the household in ways likewise sanctioned by traditions and religions. In these households, the surplus-performing wives were not the slaves of their husbands, nor their wage-earning employees. The wives were not equals in a communist class structured household sharing the surplus producing but also surplus appropriating positions inside households. Rather, the typical household class structure in the US most resembles the feudal class structure of medieval Europe.4

It follows that modern “capitalist societies” have a much more complex and variegated class structure than economic analyses and the adjective “capitalist” have recognized. Their households have often been the sites of very different, non-capitalist class structures. That means that individuals in those societies were engaged with, participated in and were shaped in part by multiple, different class structures. Class-qua-surplus analysis generates a much more complex, nuanced analysis of individuals and groups than merely locating them in relation to property and power distributions or merely locating them in relation to the particular surplus organization of enterprises.

The state may also be a social site of production and class. This occurs, for example, if and when officials of the state establish – as their state function – productive organizations in which surplus are produced, appropriated and distributed. Popular language has often depicted these organizations as “state enterprises” precisely because they do what enterprises outside the state do. Thus state enterprises have become differentiated from “private” enterprises in recognitions of what we here describe as production and class occurring in the state. In the U.S., for example, state governments own and operate state institutions of higher learning that produce and sell college and university credits to students; the federal government sells postal services and train services to the public; local governments sell transport services; and so on. In such state institutions, surpluses get produced, appropriated, and distributed. Such institutions include productive and unproductive workers. Unlike households, the class structures at the site of the state – in state enterprises – do largely replicate the capitalist structure found in private enterprises.

Class-qua-surplus analyses of the state have some provocative implications. For example, increasing the size and productive role of state enterprises – say at the expense of private enterprises – has nothing to do with any change in the society’s class structure from capitalist to something non-capitalist, say “socialist.” Such an argument misunderstands what class means or defines it in terms other than the organization of the surplus. Government enterprises can, and in modern times often have been, capitalist in their class structures just as private enterprises have been. More government and less private production merely changes the site of capitalist class structures; it has not been a displacement of capitalism for an alternative system – at least so far as class–qua-surplus is concerned.

Only if the state enterprises were organized to produce and distribute surpluses in a different, non-capitalist way would the shift from private to state production also entail a shift from capitalist to non-capitalist class structures of production. If state enterprises were required to operate as communist class structures, for example, such that their productive workers would also function, collectively and democratically, as appropriators and distributors of the surpluses they produced, then the shift from private to state would coincide with a shift from capitalist to communist class structures of production.

Class & Income
The class-qua-surplus analysis of income is simple and straightforward. An individual obtains income by being a performer of surplus labor (and therefore paid a wage or salary for that performance) and/or by being a recipient of distributions of the surplus. The capitalist is merely a middle-person, someone who appropriates the surplus and then distributes it. Little income accrues to the capitalist per se (indeed, corporate boards of directors typically receive little pay for their services on such boards).

Productive workers who produce surpluses get wages – the non-surplus portion of the value added by their labor. Unproductive laborers also get wages, but those are portions of the surplus appropriated by capitalists from productive laborers. Capitalists then distribute such portions to unproductive laborers for securing certain conditions of existence of capitalist production. Class-qua-surplus analysis thus differentiates productive from unproductive wages. These are different payments for very different things: either producing surplus or else enabling others to produce surplus. Productive and unproductive laborers may or may not recognize, be conscious of their differences. They may think of themselves as nearly identical, say by focusing on their shared experience of being paid wages. Or they may differentiate themselves by the specific tasks they do such as white collar versus blue collar.

Class-qua-surplus analysis differentiates them otherwise, according to their very different relationship to the organization of the surplus. One produces it while the other enables that production in exchange for a distributed portion of the surplus. From the standpoint of class-qua-surplus analysis, concepts such as “the wage-earning class” or “the working class” are problematic. All wage-earners or workers are not occupants of the same class position. They divide into two different class positions likely to generate different perspectives on how the economy and society function, different notions of what is to be done to improve and change the economy, and different social change strategies.

Of course, if the goal is to unify productive and unproductive workers into a combined social force, then class-qua-surplus analysis would entail the need to recognize and accommodate their class differences to construct and sustain that unity. Assuming the unity because they are all wage-earners, working class, etc. would not be strategically appropriate or likely very effective. Indeed, to head off such unity, capitalists and their ideological supporters have long stressed other differences among wage-earners (age, gender, race, skills, education, ethnicity, white versus blue collar, etc.). Just as constructing unity among them has required learning to recognize and accommodate the reality of those differences, it also requires doing likewise for their class-qua-surplus differences. Otherwise, efforts to build unity risk failure.

Relatively few individuals become rich from the wage or salary payments they earn as producers of surplus. Wealth accrues chiefly to those in a position to secure large portions of distributed surpluses from the surplus appropriators. Major shareholders thus secure wealth by receiving dividend payments. Top managers secure huge salaries and pay packages that are surplus distributions. Lenders and landlords obtain interest and rentals from appropriators of the surplus who secure access to money and land – conditions of their surplus appropriation – by distributing such portions of the surpluses they appropriate. Here lies another importance of private property since that is what allows the owners of means of production (land, money, etc.) to withhold it from production. Those owners enable access to their means of production – so production can occur – only if they get interest and rental payments from the surpluses appropriated and distributed in capitalist enterprises.

Because a communist class-qua-surplus structure effectively democratizes the enterprise, the productive laborers appropriate and distribute the surplus they produce. The specific recipients of the surplus and how much of it is distributed to each of them is decided by the collective of both productive and unproductive workers. Theirs will be a far less unequal distribution than what results from the undemocratic surplus distribution decisions of major shareholders and boards of directors (who tend to give themselves the largest distributions).

Class Struggles
Marx’s class-qua-surplus analysis crucially differentiates class struggles. First of all, the major focus is upon class as the object of struggle, not its subject. Given the complexities of class analysis discussed above, the notion of a “class” as a social actor is very problematical. Class-qua-surplus as the object of social struggles has a quantitative and a qualitative dimension. The quantitative dimension concerns (1) the size of the surplus produced and appropriated, and (2) the sizes of the portions of the surplus distributed to its various recipients. Social groups struggle over those quantitative dimensions. For example, productive workers struggle with capitalists over the size of the wages paid to them, the length of the working day, and other aspects of the production and appropriation of the capitalist surplus. To take another example, capitalists struggle with governments over the size of the portion of the capitalist surplus delivered to governments as taxes on profits. Class struggles over the quantitative dimensions of surplus production and distribution are a more or less constant feature of class structures, slave and feudal as well as capitalist.

Sometimes, accumulated political and cultural conflicts coalesce with economic conflicts to provoke struggles over the qualitative dimensions of class-qua-surplus. Then the object of struggle is, for example, a capitalist class structure for enterprises versus a non-capitalist class structure. In the United States today, a social movement embraces worker cooperatives as a preferred alternative to capitalist corporations. Much of that movement does not yet grasp the relationship between such a movement and Marx’s definition of the class differences between these two alternative organizations of enterprises’ production and distribution of surpluses. Nonetheless, it represents an early stage in a class struggle over the qualitative dimensions of class.

↩ Revealingly, at the same time in the USSR applications of class analysis to the USSR were likewise banished on the parallel grounds of their irrelevance to the post-class structure of Soviet society.
↩ See this argument made in detail for the entirety of Soviet history: Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism, Communism and the USSR. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.
↩ See Resnick and Wolff, Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987, chapter 3; and Wolff and Resnick, Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012, chapter 4.
↩ See the detailed class analyses of households gathered in Graham Cassano, Ed., Class Struggle on the Home Front: Work, Conflict, and Exploitation in the Household. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Note that if households were reduced to sites where no production was undertaken, where only consumption occurred, class-qua-surplus analysis would not apply.
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80 Years Since the Russian Revolution-Ahmed Shawki

Posted by admin On March - 27 - 2018 Comments Off on 80 Years Since the Russian Revolution-Ahmed Shawki

80 Years Since the Russian Revolution

by Ahmed Shawki

THE RUSSIAN Revolution of October 1917 remains to this day the most decisive event of the international workers’ movement. The Russian events took place in the midst of the barbaric carnage known as World War I. The swift overthrow of the Tsar in February of that year and the almost bloodless Bolshevik-led insurrection in October held out the hope for millions across Europe.

The Bolshevik revolution was by no means a specifically “Russian” phenomenon. As Lenin was later to put it, Bolshevism had become “world Bolshevism” by virtue of its revolutionary tactics, theory and program. By indicating the “right road of escape from the horrors of war and imperialism…Bolshevism can serve as a model of tactics for all.”1

The significance of the revolution was not lost on ruling classes and politicians around the world, especially in Europe. Fear that the revolution would spread gripped the bourgeoisie. Not a friend of revolutionary socialism, British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote,

The whole of Europe is filled with the spirit of revolution. There is a deep sense not only of discontent but of anger and revolt amongst the workmen against the pre-war conditions. The whole existing order in its political, social and economic aspects is questioned by the masses of the population from one end of Europe to the other.2

The prospects of revolution which produced paroxysms of fear in the rich were eagerly welcomed by socialists. Victor Serge wrote:

The newspapers of the period are astonishing…riots in Paris, riots in Lyon, revolution in Belgium, revolution in Constantinople, victory of the soviets in Bulgaria, rioting in Copenhagen. In fact the whole of Europe is in movement, clandestine or open soviets are appearing everywhere, even in the Allied armies; everything is possible, everything.3

Anti-war socialist and journalist John Reed cabled the New York Call with news of the Bolshevik victory. Under the headline, “John Reed Cables the Call News of the Bolshevik Revolt He Witnessed.” The subhead read: “First Proletarian Republic Greets American Workers.” Reed began his article with characteristic bluntness:

This is the revolution, the class struggle, with the proletariat, the soldiers and peasants lined up against the bourgeoisie. Last February was only the preliminary revolution…The extraordinary and immense power of the Bolsheviki lies in the fact that the Kerensky government absolutely ignored the desires of the masses as expressed in the Bolsheviki program of peace, land and workers’ control of industry.4

The “proletariat, the soldiers and peasants lined up against the bourgeoisie.” This was the essence of the Russian Revolution. October was not a coup conducted by a secretive and elitist band. Above all, the revolution was about the mobilization of the mass of ordinary Russians—workers, soldiers and peasants—in a struggle to change their world. That is to this day the most important legacy of the Russian revolution. And this is why such considerable effort is still devoted to distort, slander and misrepresent the events of 1917. This article does not pretend to take up all questions of the revolution—let alone what went wrong—but aims to outline its main themes.5

In the autumn of 1932, a Danish Social Democratic student group invited exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky to speak in Copenhagen on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This speech stands out as one of the most forceful and concise accounts of the October Revolution.6

Trotsky outlined a series of historical prerequisites that was necessary for the October Revolution:

1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes—the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.

2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.

3. The revolutionary character of the peasant question.

4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nations.

5. The significant weight of the proletariat.

To these organic preconditions we must add certain conjunctural conditions of the highest importance.

6. The revolution of 1905 was a great school, or in Lenin’s words, the ‘dress rehearsal’ of the revolution of 1917. The soviets, as the irreplaceable organizational form of the proletarian united front in the revolution, were created or the first time in the year 1905.

7. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility and thereby prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.

But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the revolution. For this victory one condition more was needed:

8. The Bolshevik Party.

This article will try to elucidate these basic features outlined by Trotsky.

The Coming of the Revolution

IMPERIAL RUSSIA lumbered into the 20th century a much weakened power than it had been 100 or even 50 years earlier. Russia had lost considerable ground both militarily and economically relative to its main rivals. The government of Alexander II, in the wake of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, took steps to implement reforms—to modernize the economy, to modernize the ancient legal system, to “de-feudalize” the army by making service compulsory, to allow a certain degree of local autonomy. In short, it tried to drag Russia out of its medieval past. But the measures adopted were often half-hearted and designed to prolong the status quo rather than change it. Thus, explaining the decision to abolish serfdom in 1861, Alexander II said he decided to end serfdom because “it is better to get rid of serfdom from on high than wait for its abolition from below.”7 Of course this was true, but it overlooked the fact that the key institution that needed overhauling was the autocracy itself. The strength of the autocracy, the servility of the nobility and the relative weakness of the bourgeoisie, was a key factor in explaining Russia’s growing economic gap with the other European powers. And while there was a spurt of industrial growth in the last two decades of the 19th century, this was in the main organized and carried out by the Tsarist state.

The state was also the main beneficiary of the program of reforms and grew even more powerful in relation to the nobility and bourgeoisie. As Marcel Liebman put it: “The nobility was politically sterile, the bourgeoisie utterly impotent. The entire history of Russia was molded by this negative factor, by the absence of vigorous or even viable social classes and so counterbalancing the weight of the autocracy.”8 The defects of such an antiquated set up were exposed even more clearly given the mediocrity and incompetence of those who were born to run it—the Tsars themselves.

Throughout the 19th century they were men without vision, courage or imagination. Their hatred of the intelligentsia was but a reflection of their own intellectual incapacity. “Brute force had become a vigor, and the most hidebound conservatism served them all for a political creed and a program.”9

The reforms that were designed to restore Russia’s might, would instead contribute to Tsarism’s downfall. The effect, for example, of the attempt to maintain Russia as a “Great Power” would be profound domestically and internationally. As one historian put it: “[O]ne result of this was the effort to sustain the armed forces and defense industries of a modern great power strained both the Russian economy and domestic political stability. In addition, relative backwardness called into question the empire’s ability to survive in a war against the other powers.”10

To focus only on Russia’s economic backwardness in understanding the course of events would be mistaken. The key to understanding Russia, as Leon Trotsky argued so well, is the combination of the backward and the advanced, the old and the new. In Trotsky’s words:

Russia’s development is first of all notable for its backwardness. But historical backwardness does not mean a mere retracing of the course of the advanced countries a hundred or two hundred years later. Rather it gives rise to an utterly different “combined” social formation, in which the most highly developed achievements of capitalist technique and structure are integrated into the social relations of feudal and pre-feudal barbarism, transforming and dominating them, fashioning a unique relationship of classes.11

The consequences of such uneven and combined development are made clear by looking at Russia’s economy. Trotsky points out that while “peasant cultivation as a whole remained, right up to the revolution, at the level of the seventeenth century, Russian industry in its technique and capitalist structure stood at the level of the advanced countries, and in certain respects even outstripped them.”12 This “combined development” in Russia produced a bourgeoisie that was weak and heavily dependent on the Tsarist state and foreign capital for investment. It also produced a working class, though small in size, that was highly concentrated in the most modern enterprises. In 1914, 54 percent of workers in Russia were employed in factories of over 500, whereas in the U.S. the figure was 32.5 percent. The Putilov metal works, which employed 30,000 workers in 1917, was the largest factory in the world at the time. In Petrograd, 60 percent of the workforce was metal workers.13

Trotsky summarized the importance of the character of Russia’s development in understanding the October revolution in these words:

The first and most general explanation is: Russia a backward country, but only a part of the world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system. In this sense Lenin exhausted the riddle of the Russian Revolution with the lapidary formula, “The chain broke at its weakest link.”

Trotsky goes on:

But the young, fresh, determined proletariat of Russia still constituted only a tiny minority of the nation. The reserves of its revolutionary power lay outside of the proletariat itself—-in the peasantry, living in half-serfdom, and in the oppressed nationalities.

The subsoil of the revolution was the agrarian question. The old feudal-monarchic system became doubly intolerable under the conditions of the new capitalist exploitation. The peasant communal areas amounted to some 140 dessiatines.14 But thirty thousand large landowners, whose average holdings were over two thousands dessiatines, owned altogether 70 million dessiatines, that is, as much as some 10 million peasant families or 50 million of the peasant population. These statistics of land tenure constituted a ready-made program of agrarian revolt.

In order for the Soviet state to come into existence, therefore, it was necessary for two factors of different historical nature to collaborate: the peasant war, that is, a movement which is characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian insurrection, that is, a movement which announces the decline of the bourgeois movement. Precisely therein consists the combined character of the Russian Revolution.…15

Russia’s Revolutionary Movement

THE COMBINED character of Russia’s economic development also affected the development of politics and culture in Russia. Again, Trotsky explains:

Precisely because of its historical tardiness, Russia proved to be the only European country in which Marxism, as a doctrine, and the Social-Democracy, as a party, enjoyed a powerful development even prior to the bourgeois revolution—and naturally so, because the problem of the relation between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism were subjected to the most profound theoretical examination in Russia.16

The works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels became available in Russia because the censor opined that they were “an abstract speculation” and therefore of little relevance for Russia. Their works would help shape Russia’s revolutionary movement, but not quite in the way they had expected. The main current among Russian revolutionaries, the Narodniks (or populists), took Marx’s denunciation of capitalism as showing that Russia would be better off if it could bypass capitalism altogether. The populists argued that the peasant Mir or traditional commune could become the basis of moving straight to a socialist society.

The later generations of populists, perhaps best represented by an organization called Zemlya I Volya (land and freedom), vacillated between two strategies—both of which started with the assumption that the populists would act on behalf of the people. On the one hand they went “to the people” and tried to foment peasant rebellion, and when that failed they took matters into their own hands and launched a campaign of terror against the Tsar and his government.

The development of Marxism in Russia was very much influenced by, and developed against, the ideas of the populist movement. While Lenin accurately described populism as reactionary (in its historic philosophical sense) he also acknowledged the important role it played in the development of a revolutionary movement in Russia.

The break with populism and the turn to the working class came in 1883, when G.V. Plekhanov founded the Emancipation of Labor Group. Plekhanov had enthusiastically endorsed militant populism which tried to rouse the peasantry. But by the 1880s several factors led him towards Marxism. First, despite considerable heroism on the part of idealistic revolutionaries, the great hopes of Zemlya I Volya failed to ignite a social revolution, or even to produce any revolutionary activity among the peasants.

Second, after the failure of Zemlya I Volya, populism took a turn to individual terror, which Plekhanov rejected. Third, Plekhanov began to doubt the economic viability of the peasant commune as the basis of a new society. And, fourth, a newly emerging industrial working class began to make itself felt, leading Plekhanov to see workers as the key force in Russia’s revolution.

Plekhanov developed what became the basic ideas of Russian Social Democracy (synonymous with revolutionary Marxism today). Two propositions of Plekhanov’s deserve mention.

Plekhanov argued that because the productive forces were too low, the immediate political objective of the proletariat had to be the victory of the democratic or bourgeois revolution. But Russia’s bourgeoisie, a diminutive late-comer, was not going to lead such a struggle or even give the struggle consistent support. Echoing Marx, Plekhanov argued “that whenever the ‘red specter’ took at all a threatening form, the ‘liberals’ were ready to seek protection in the embraces of the most unceremonious military dictatorship.” This led Plekhanov to the central operational question. “In conclusion,” he wrote, “I repeat—and I insist upon this important point: the revolutionary movement in Russia will triumph only as a working class movement or it will never triumph!”17

For 10 years after its founding in 1883, the Emancipation of Labor Group remained largely an exile organization. But it nevertheless played a tremendous role in spreading the ideas of Marxism within émigré circles and in Russia itself. By the early 1890s, Marxist study circles, composed primarily of students and intellectuals, existed in many Russian cities and towns. Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov—Lenin—the future leader of the Bolshevik Party, joined such a group when he moved to St. Petersburg in 1893.

Lenin was typical in many respects of the second generation of Russian Marxists. Initially attracted to populism, he was profoundly influenced by Plekhanov’s critique and by the growing ferment among Russian workers. In this period, Lenin’s efforts were directed in the main to fusing Marxism with the working class movement. Lenin believed that “by directing socialism towards a fusion with the working-class movement, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did their greatest service,” because the previous “separation of the working-class movement and socialism gave rise to weakness and underdevelopment in each: the theories of the socialist, unfused with the workers’ struggle, remained nothing more than utopias, good wishes that had no effect on real life; the working-class movement remained petty, fragmented, and did not acquire political significance, was not enlightened by the advanced science of its time.”18

Therefore, Lenin concluded, “the task of Social-Democracy is to bring definite socialist ideals to the spontaneous working-class movement, to connect this movement with socialist convictions that should attain the level of contemporary science, to connect it with the regular political struggle for democracy as a means of achieving socialism—in a word, to fuse this spontaneous movement into one indestructible whole with the activity of the revolutionary party.”19

Marxism, for Lenin, was therefore, not simply a set of economic laws or doctrines, nor simply a world view, but a guide to action which had definite practical implications.

Marxism makes clear “the real task of a revolutionary socialist party: not to draw up plans for refashioning society, not to preach to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, not to hatch conspiracies, but to organize the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the organization of a socialist society.”20

Lenin’s conclusions were not shared by all Marxists at the time. Indeed, the very success of the Marxist study circles’ turn to agitation in the latter 1890s produced a distinctly “anti-political” current, Economism, which glorified the economic struggles of the proletariat. This current, echoing the “revisionism” of the German Socialist leader Eduard Bernstein, who argued “the movement is everything, the final goal nothing,” aimed to limit workers to purely economic struggles, leaving the political struggle to the liberals. In these views, the Economists were the political forerunners of the Mensheviks, who formed the moderate wing of Russian socialism after a split in 1903.

Lenin responded to the Economist challenge by arguing against the arbitrary separation of economics and politics. It would be counterproductive for a revolutionary to “adapt himself to the lowest level of understanding” in a manner that would “put the ‘demands and interests of the given moment’ in the foreground and…push back the broad ideas of socialism and the political struggle.” Revolutionaries should rather “connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.”21

Lenin’s words have tremendous relevance and meaning for socialists today. Revolutionary socialists, he argued, should not simply talk to workers about factory conditions and workplace struggles, but also about the “Brutal treatment of the people by the police, the persecution of religious sects, the flogging of peasants, the outrageous censorship, the torture of soldiers, the persecution of the most innocent cultural undertakings, etc.” The reasons for making sure that political agitation of this kind is carried out are not based on some abstract “Marxist” principles, but flow directly from what is needed in the struggle. Working class consciousness “cannot be genuine political consciousness,” Lenin further argued, “unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected—unless they are trained, moreover, to respond from a Social Democratic point of view and no other.”22

These ideas would become the cornerstone of the revolutionary wing of the Russian socialist movement—the Bolsheviks.

Three Views of the Russian Revolution

IT WAS widely accepted among Russia’s Marxist revolutionaries that the coming Russian revolution would be a bourgeois revolution. The founding congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, stated:

The further east one goes in Europe, the meaner, more cowardly and politically weak the bourgeoisie becomes, and the greater are the cultural and political tasks that fall to the proletariat. On its own sturdy shoulders the Russian working class must, and will, carry the cause of the achievement of political liberty. This is an essential step, but only an initial step, to the realization of the great historic mission of the proletariat, the creation of a social order in which there will be no place for the exploitation of man by man.23

Russia was an economically backward country, with a weak bourgeoisie, a weak industrial base and a small working class. The country was overwhelmingly agricultural with only 4-5 million industrial workers out of a total population of 160 million.

The Mensheviks argued that because the revolution was a bourgeois one, its leadership belonged to the bourgeoisie. The working class would have to consciously subordinate its demands and interests to those of the bourgeoisie. The Mensheviks drew direct parallels between the Russian bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie of France at the time of the French Revolution of 1789. It was a vital imperative for the Mensheviks that all be done to safeguard the interests of the bourgeoisie and to make sure that they were not frightened by the prospects of a movement from below.

The role of social democracy was to “exert revolutionary pressure on the will of the liberal and radical bourgeoisie,” and “to force the upper strata of society to lead the bourgeois revolution to its logical conclusions.” 24

Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not challenge the idea that the Russian revolution would be bourgeois. “The democratic revolution will not extend beyond the scope of the bourgeois social-economic relationships,” wrote Lenin.25 He maintained this position until mid-1917.

But unlike the Mensheviks, Lenin refused to subordinate the demands of the working class to those of the bourgeoisie or to compromise the independence of the labor movement politically and organizationally. Though Russia’s economic level permitted only a bourgeois revolution, the development of a combative working class meant that the bourgeoisie would be incapable of taking the lead:

The bourgeoisie as a whole is incapable of waging a determined struggle against the autocracy; it fears to lose in this struggle its property which binds it to the existing order; it fears an all-too-revolutionary action of the workers, who will not stop at the democratic revolution but will aspire to the socialist revolution; it fears a complete break with officialdom, with the bureaucracy, whose interests are bound up by a thousand ties with the interests of the propertied classes. For this reason the bourgeois struggle for liberty is notoriously timorous, inconsistent and half-hearted.26

Because of this, Lenin argued, the working-class would take the lead in the democratic revolution. He went on to argue that since the peasantry had a real interest in ending Tsarism and destroying the remnants of feudalism, the “only force capable of gaining ‘a decisive victory over Tsarism’ is the people, i.e., the proletariat and the peasantry.… The revolution’s ‘decisive victory over Tsarism’ means the establishment of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry…

But of course it will be democratic, not a socialist dictatorship…At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favor of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic…and—last but not least—carry ‘the revolutionary conflagration’ into Europe. Such a victory will not yet by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution.27

Leon Trotsky rejected the Mensheviks’ reliance on the Russian bourgeoisie as strongly as the Bolsheviks. But this led him to conclusions quite different from those of Lenin.

Following Marx (and largely in agreement with the Menshevik theoreticians) he argued that the peasantry would not play an independent political role in the revolution.

The peasantry cannot play a leading revolutionary role…Because of its dispersion, political backwardness, and especially of its deep inner contradictions which cannot be resolved within the framework of a capitalist system, the peasantry can only deal the old order some powerful blows from the rear, by spontaneous risings in the countryside, on the one hand, and by creating discontent within the army on the other.28

Because “the town leads in modern society,” only an urban class can play the leading role and because the bourgeoisie was not revolutionary, this role fell to the working class:

The conclusion remains that only the proletariat in its class struggle, placing the peasant masses under its revolutionary leadership, can “carry the revolution to the end.”29

But if the working class must lead the revolution, then the working class cannot be expected to stop its struggle after the overthrow of the autocracy. Lenin’s “democratic dictatorship” is an impossibility.

The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest utopianism to think that the proletariat, having been raised to political domination by the internal mechanism of a bourgeois revolution can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination of the bourgeoisie.30

But this proposition clearly leads to a difficulty—one that all Russian Marxists understood: Russia was economically and culturally too backward for socialism. How did Trotsky propose to overcome this problem? Given that Russia in isolation did not have the economic prerequisites to build socialism, the Russian revolution would have to be a prelude to revolutions in Europe and elsewhere.

The Russian revolution will become the first stage of the socialist world revolution.

The present productive forces have long outgrown their national limits. A socialist society is not feasible within national boundaries. Significant as the economic successes of an isolated workers’ state may be, the program of socialism in one country is a petty bourgeois utopia. Only a European and then a world federation of socialist republics can be the real arena for a harmonious socialist society. 31

Trotsky called his analysis the theory of “permanent revolution.”

The Revolution of 1905

THE REVOLUTION of 1905 was the first mass rising against the imperial regime. It was, in Lenin’s words, the “great dress rehearsal” for 1917. All of the elements of 1917 were there in less developed form. Russia was embroiled in a losing war with Japan, and troop discontent mingled with peasants’ desire for land and the mass strikes of workers in the main cities for economic and political rights. Also of critical importance was the emergence of the soviets—or workers’ council—which first made their appearance in St. Petersburg at the height of the revolution.

The revolution began in January 1905 with Bloody Sunday —when the Tsar’s troops massacred more than 800 workers in a mass procession to humbly ask the Tsar for reforms. This led to an explosion of mass strikes, mutinies in the army and scattered peasant revolts. It ended in December of that year with a failed uprising in Moscow under the slogan “the eight hour day and a gun,” inspired and led by the Bolsheviks. Though it ended in defeat, 1905 was also significant because it cemented the political differences between the Mensheviks, who concluded that the revolution had “gone too far” and had therefore frightened the bourgeoisie into the arms of reaction, and the Bolsheviks, who were confirmed in their view that only the independent mass struggle of workers could carry the revolution to success.

The soviet was a kind of workers’ government, made up of elected delegates from Petrograd’s factories and workplaces, concentrating all the forces of the revolution. Wrote Trotsky, its president:

It was an organization which was authoritative and yet had no traditions; which would immediately involve a scattered mass of hundreds of thousands of people while having virtually no organizational machinery; which united the revolutionary currents within the proletariat; which was capable of initiative and spontaneous self-control—and, most of all, which could be brought out from underground within twenty-four hours.32

The soviet’s premises, wrote Trotsky,

were always crowded with petitioners and plaintiffs of all kinds—mostly workers domestic servants, shop assistants, peasants, soldiers and sailors. Some had an absolutely phantasmagorical idea of the Soviet’s power and its methods. There was one blind veteran of the Russo-Turkish war, covered with crosses and decorations, who complained of dire poverty and begged the Soviet to “put a little pressure on Number One” [that is, the Tsar]…

Trotsky recounts another case where an old Cossack sent the soviet a letter asking for some help with a problem. He addressed the letter “simply to The Workers’ Government, Petersburg, yet it was promptly delivered by the revolutionary postal service.”33

The experience of the revolution’s high point—the Soviets, the workers’ councils—would not be lost. Nor would the violence unleashed by the state. After the suppression of the Soviet by force, many workers drew a critically important lesson: “In the clashing and creaking of twisting metal one heard the gnashing teeth of a proletariat who for the first time fully realized that a more formidable and more ruthless effort was necessary to overthrow and crush the enemy.”34

The 1905 revolution did not only exposed clearly the character of the revolution in Russia, but also showed in practice what the arguments between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks meant in practice. It also exposed the different currents in the movement internationally. For example, it sparked a heated debate inside the largest social democratic party—the SPD—in Germany. Rosa Luxemburg brilliantly summed up the revolutionary implications of 1905:

But for international social democracy, the uprising of the Russian proletariat constitutes something profoundly new which we must feel with every fiber of our being. All of us, whatever pretensions we have to a mastery of dialectics, remain incorrigible metaphysicians, obsessed by the immanence of everything within our everyday experience…It is only in the volcanic explosion of the revolution that we perceive what swift and earth-shattering results the young mole has achieved and just how happily it is undermining the very ground under the feet of European bourgeois society. Gauging the political maturity and revolutionary energy of the working class through electoral statistics and the membership of local branches is like trying to measure Mont Blanc with a ruler!35

Finally, 1905 had a massive impact around the world as Julius Braunthal, one of the historians of the Internationals, writes:

It was an unforgettable experience, this first revolutionary uprising of the workers since the Paris Commune of 1871, and, for many contemporaries, the first experience of revolution. To some it seemed that they were living through a turning-point in world history and witnessing the start of a new epoch of European revolutions.36

Years of Reaction

The years after 1905 saw repression on an unprecedented scale. As the repression intensified, it was harder and harder to keep any organization going. One historian writes:

The movement inside Russia had exhausted itself and its remnants were being methodically cut down by Stolypins’ [Chairman of the Council of Ministers ] draconian policies. To all intents and purposes the Party as an organized structure had ceased to exist.… All the major centers of Social Democratic activity were repeatedly hit by mass arrests followed by an inevitable decline in the number of party members. In Moscow, for instance, where the Bolsheviks had had 2,000 members in 1905, their numbers shrank to 500 by the end of 1908 and by mid-1909 there remained only 260 members of the Party.37

Many of the problems facing the party were made worse by the fact that the intellectuals took fright and fled the movement—and were never to return. One worker-Bolshevik, Martsionovsky, a carpenter, wrote:

In a whole series of cities where I took part in illegal work, almost everywhere the party committee consisted exclusively of workers. The intelligentsia was absent, with the exception of those on tour who came for two or three days. In the most difficult years of the reaction, the workers remained almost without leaders from the intelligentsia. They said that they were tired…We, the underground workers, had to work without the intelligentsia, with the exception of individuals. But on the other hand, after the February Revolution, they showed up, they beat their breasts and shouted “we are revolutionaries,” etc., but in fact, none of them had conducted revolutionary work, and we had not seen them in the underground.38

The period between 1911 and the outbreak of World War I saw a revival in militancy and a corresponding growth in the Bolshevik Party. In April 1912, the police fired on a demonstration of striking miners in Lena, Siberia—killing 170 and provoking huge sympathy strikes in Moscow and Petersburg. The revival of the workers’ movement is reflected most clearly in the strike statistics for the years leading up to World War I. One study gives the following figures:

Strikes in Russia 1910-1914 39

Number of Strikes Working Days Lost (in thousands)

Total Economic Political

1910 222 214 8 256

1911 466 442 24 791

1912 2032 732 1300 2376

1913 2404 1370 1034 3863

1914 3534 969 2565 5755


World War I and the Collapse of Tsarism

FOR MANY years, the Second International had proclaimed its opposition to militarism and war. The 1907 Resolution of the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart reads:

If a war threatens to break out it is the duty of the working class and its parliamentary representatives in the countries involved, supported by the consolidating activity of the International [Socialist] Bureau, to exert every effort to prevent the outbreak of war by means they consider most effective, which naturally vary according to the accentuation of the class struggle and of the general political situation.

Should war break out none the less, it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination and to do all in their power to utilize the economic and political crisis caused by the war to rouse the peoples and thereby to hasten the abolition of capitalist class rule.40

These resolutions proved hollow. World War I saw the main parties of the Second International abandon the slogans of peacetime and throw their support behind their ruling classes’ own war effort. In every belligerent country, the socialist movement split between “social patriots” and “internationalists.” The anti-war camp was, in turn, sharply divided between advocates of “peace” and those, like Lenin, who called for revolutionaries to turn the world war into a civil war against their own ruling classes.

For Lenin, the betrayal of principles and the about face of the German SPD was quite unexpected. When he first heard of the reports that German socialists in the Reichstag had voted for war credits, he did not at first believe them. And the anti-war forces were small. Rosa Luxemburg sent out an anti-war circular to 20 of the most left-wing members of SPD Reichstag group and received only two responses. In 1915, the anti-war socialists met at Zimmerwald in Switzerland and reaffirmed the principles of international socialism. Trotsky wrote of the meeting:

The delegates, filling four stage-coaches, set off for the mountains. The passers-by looked on curiously at the strange procession. The delegates themselves joked about the fact that half a century after the founding of the First International, it was still possible to seat all the internationalists in four coaches.41

But this nucleus also formed the basis of a new, revolutionary international—the Third International. The coming revolutionary storm was to swell the ranks of the revolutionaries into the hundreds of thousands across Russia and Europe.

The war exacerbated the crisis of Tsarism in several respects. The scale of the carnage and the human toll it exacted was massive. Trotsky writes in his History of the Russian Revolution: “The Russian army lost in the whole war more men than any army which ever participated in a national war—approximately two and a half million killed, or 40 percent of all the losses of the Entente.”42

The war and its cost domestically began to split the ruling order in Russia. Some, with the Tsar at their head, believed the war would cement Russian society through a patriotic outpouring and would stave off social revolution. To make matters worse, the Tsar decided to take personal command of the army and war effort in the late summer of 1915. Even members of the Tsar’s cabinet could no longer ignore the decay and stench. The Acting Minister of Agriculture, A.V. Krivoshein:

Historians will not believe it, that Russia conducted the war blindly and hence came to the edge of ruin—that millions of men were unconsciously sacrificed for the arrogance of some and the criminality of others. What is going on at headquarters is a universal outrage and horror.43

As the war dragged on, it became more and more unpopular—both at home and at the front. In the towns, food shortages became frequent. Inflation and fuel shortages became permanent features of the lives of workers in the cities. Dissent began to grow in the factories and in the army. The Bolshevik leader, Shlyapnikov, records in his memoirs:

By the end of 1916 the idea of “war to the end,” to the “final victory,” was largely undermined. Anti-war feelings were rampant…Despair and hatred gripped the laboring masses…The government…stepped up their repressive methods of fighting isolated manifestations of protest. Intensive agitation was conducted against us in the press and through the various organizations working for the “organization of defense.” Every resource was set in motion: accusations of provocation, or German intrigues and bribes. But slander could not halt the workers’ movement either: just like the bourgeoisie’s other ploys it proved incapable of rousing the proletariat to.…[fight].44

A sign of the decline and decay of the autocracy was the growing influence of a drunk mystic, Gregori Rasputin. The Tsarina called on Nicholas to act as strongman, but it was too late—even if he’d focused his attention long enough to act decisively. Instead, despondency accompanied decline.

Even the Tsar’s police could see that a revolution was imminent. At the end of 1916, the police department compared the situation in the main cities to ten years earlier and concluded that “now the mood of opposition has reached such extraordinary proportions as it did by a long way among the broad masses in that troubled time.”45 Trotsky’s remark about the 1905 revolution, “Every Paris concierge knew…in advance that there was going to a be revolution in Petersburg on Sunday, January 9,”46 applied equally to 1917. Revolution was in the air, not only because those at the bottom of society wanted a change, but so too did those at the top. In Lenin’s words,

For a revolution to take place, it is not usually sufficient for the ‘lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that the ‘upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way.47

The February Revolution

THE PRELUDE to the February revolution consisted of a series of strikes and demonstrations in Petrograd commemorating Bloody Sunday. The strike movement spread and deepened after workers at the giant Putilov Works were locked out for demanding a wage increase. Even the most militant section of the Bolshevik Party, the Vyborg district, urged that the strikes end for fear that conditions weren’t yet ripe for mass, militant action. Then on February 23—International Women’s Day—women textile workers poured into the streets of Petrograd demanding bread. As Trotsky explained:

The 23rd of February was International Women’s Day. The social-democratic circles had intended…meetings, speeches, leaflets. It had not occurred to anyone that it might become the first day of the revolution. Not a single organization called for strikes that day.48

The women textile workers of Petrograd came out on strike and dragged behind them the Bolshevik-led metal workers of the Vyborg district. As one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee, Kayurov, put it, “with reluctance, the Bolsheviks agreed to this.”49 Indeed, Kayurov later remarked that he had tried to talk the women workers out of taking any action at all.50

Trotsky remarks, “Thus the fact is that the February revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organizations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat—the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers’ wives.”51

By the end of the day, 90,000 workers were on strike—without the shootings the Bolsheviks had feared. The next day, the 24th, about half of Petrograd’s workers were on strike and large numbers of them were demonstrating in the streets. The slogan “Bread!” writes Trotsky, “is crowded out or obscured by louder slogans: ‘Down with the autocracy,’ ‘Down with the war!’” Fearful that the infantry would not obey orders to shoot on unarmed workers, the government brought out its most reliable troops, the Cossack cavalry. The Cossacks did not mutiny, but neither did they act as they were expected to:

…the Cossacks constantly, though without ferocity, kept charging the crowd…The mass of the demonstrators would part to let them through, and close up again. There was no fear in the crowd. “The Cossacks promise not to shoot,” passed from mouth to mouth.52

The disintegration of the Tsar’s armed forces was evident to the demonstrators. In the streets of the Nevsky Prospekt in Petrograd a Bolshevik worker and demonstrator saw the front ranks of the crowd, pressed forward by those behind, come closer and closer to a cordon of soldiers:

[T]he tips of the bayonets were touching the breasts of the first row of demonstrators. Behind could be heard the singing of revolutionary songs, in front there was confusion. Women, with tears in their eyes, were crying out to the soldiers, “Comrades, take away your bayonets, join us!” The soldiers were moved. They threw swift glances at their own comrades. The next moment one bayonet is slowly raised, is slowly lifted above the shoulders of the approaching demonstrators. There is thunderous applause. The triumphant crowd greeted their brothers clothed in the gray cloaks of the soldiery. The soldiers mixed freely with the demonstrators.53

Another three days of this and it was all over for the Tsar. On the night of the 26th the reserve battalions of the Volynsky Regiment mutinied. The following morning they killed their commanding officer and joined the workers’ demonstrations. General Khabalov, commander of the Petrograd military garrison, conceded on the evening of the 27th, saying, “…I cannot fulfill the command to re-establish order in the capital. Most of the units one by one have betrayed their duty, refusing to fight the rioters.”54 The speed of the army’s mutiny was striking. On February 26 there were six hundred mutineers; three days later the whole Petrograd garrison of 170,000 had rebelled.

On February 26, Michael V. Rodzyanko, president of the lame Duma, wired the Tsar:

Anarchy in the capital, government paralyzed…shooting in the streets…supplies of food and fuel completely disrupted…universal dissatisfaction growing…there must be no delay in forming a new government enjoying the confidence of the country. Any hesitation would mean death. I pray to God that in this hour no responsibility falls on the monarch.55

The Tsar’s reply was to delay the opening of the Duma. Its members were at a loss. “I do not want to revolt,” exclaimed Rodzyanko.

I am no rebel. I have made no revolution and do not intend to make one…I am no revolutionary. I will not rise up against the supreme power. I do not want to. But there is no government any longer. Everything falls to me…All the phones are ringing. Everybody asks me what to do. What shall I say? Shall I step aside? Wash my hands in innocence? Leave Russia without a government? After all, it is Russia! Have we not a duty to our country? What shall I do? Tell me, what?56

In the end, Rodzyanko sent another telegram pleading with the Tsar to intervene. “Situation worsening. Immediate steps are necessary, for tomorrow it will be too late. The last hour has come in which the fate of the country and the dynasty is being decided.” Forever vigilant and astute, the Tsar was unmoved. “That fat Rodzyanko has again sent me some nonsense to which I will not even reply,” he commented to Count Fredericks, minister of the court.57

The Tsar’s imbecility achieved a truly remarkable feat: it forced a majority of the Duma’s members to go against his wishes. Not wanting to offend, they refused to disperse, but met only in an unofficial capacity. Rodzyanko, who contemplated the possibility of the Tsar’s abdication with “unspeakable sadness,” had just advised Tsarist authorities to use their firehoses to disperse demonstrators. But the situation needed resolution. At midnight on February 27, the Duma’s leaders proclaimed the formation of a provisional government. Their intent was clear. As the leader of the bourgeois Cadet Party, Miliukov, put it: “to direct into a peaceful channel the transfer of power which it had preferred to receive, not from below, but from above.” The Duma had no choice but “to take power into its own hands and try to curb the growing anarchy,” wrote Rodzyanko.58 As the Duma leaders proclaimed a new government, the last of the Romanovs recorded the proud achievements of his last night in power: “read a great deal about Julius Caesar” and slept “long and deeply.”59 Three centuries of Romanovs finally came to an ignominious end—the Tsar abdicated on March 2.

The February revolution brought a bourgeois government headed by Prince Lvov to office—but it also created another center of power: the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Indeed, in the first days after the fall of the Tsar, effective power was in the hands of the Soviets. The old state had collapsed and the bourgeoisie was reluctant to take power. But so too was the leadership of the Soviets—then in the hands of the Mensheviks and the peasant party, the Social Revolutionaries (SRs). In their view, the aim of the revolution was the achievement of a bourgeois democratic republic. They were ready and eager to support the new government to see that the tasks of the “bourgeois revolution” were carried out. As the Menshevik Potresov expressed it: “at the moment of the bourgeois revolution, the [class] best prepared, socially and psychologically, to solve national problem is [the] bourgeoisie.”60

The new government was above all concerned with a return to order: restoring the authority of the officers in the army and of management over workers in industrial enterprises over the workers. Before declaring a provisional government they aptly called themselves ‘The Committee for the Re-establishment of Order and Relations with Public Institutions and Personages.” Their sole preoccupation was stabilizing Russian society—and of course to carrying on the war. Until that time, the other issues raised by the revolution—land reform, the demands of the non-Russian nationalities, the election of a Constituent Assembly, and so on, could all wait. One historian summarizes the approach of the new Provisional Government to the crisis it inherited:

How did the government deal with the problems it had inherited? It prolonged the war and trod in the Tsar’s footsteps. To continue Tsarist foreign policy and combine it with an adventurous military offensive would, it was hoped, divert attention from the problems of the home front. In Chernov’s words—”The propertied classes regarded a military victory and its concomitant chauvinism as the only way to avoid aggravation of the social revolution.”61

Right up to its overthrow in October, the Provisional Government would doggedly stick to prosecuting the war—effectively laying the basis for its undoing. “If the revolution did not finish the war,” wrote the Menshevik Sukhanov, “then the war would strangle the revolution.”62

But the provisional government also had a big problem. It didn’t have the power to rule on its own. As the Minister of War and the Navy, Guchkov, wrote to the Commander in Chief, General Alekseev, on March 9:

The Provisional Government has no real authority at its disposal and its decrees are carried out only to the extent this is permitted by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies which has in its hands the most important elements of real power, such as the army, the railways, the post and telegraph.… In particular, it is now possible to give only these orders which do not radically conflict with the orders of the above-named Soviet.63

Reorienting the Bolshevik Party

BOLSHEVIK PARTY leaders in Russia during the February revolution largely accommodated to the Menshevik-SR political line. They clung to the notion that the Russian revolution had to limit itself to a bourgeois aims. They tried to take a verbally critical stance, but effectively served as the left face of the soviet majority, which itself covered for the Provisional Government. The new editors of Pravda, Kamenev and Stalin, who returned from exile in Siberia, “Pronounced that the Bolsheviks would decisively support the Provisional Government ‘insofar as it struggles against reaction or counter-revolution’ forgetting that the only important agent of counter revolution at the time was this same Provisional Government,” writes Tony Cliff caustically.64 Although there was considerable opposition within the party to the political line adopted towards the Provisional Government, it would take Lenin’s return from exile, on April 3, 1917, to decisively shift the party—indeed, the whole course of the revolution.

At a meeting in March of the Provisional Government, when ministers were discussing Bolshevik agitation, Kerensky blurted out: “Just wait, Lenin himself is coming. Then the real thing will start.”65 The “real thing” did indeed start—but in a way noone anticipated.

Lenin arrived at the Finland railway station—which was located in the Bolshevik stronghold of the Vyborg district. Like Plekhanov, who had returned a few days earlier, Lenin was welcomed by a group of dignitaries including Chkheidze, the Menshevik chair of the Petrograd Soviet. The description of the official meeting deserves to be quoted in full, despite its length:

Behind Shlyapnikov, at the head of a small cluster of people behind whom the door slammed again at once, Lenin came, or rather ran, into the room. He wore a round cap, his face looked frozen, and there was a magnificent bouquet in his hands. Running to the middle of the room, he stopped in front of Chkheidze as though colliding with a completely unexpected obstacle. And Chkheidze, still glum, pronounced the following “speech of welcome” with not only the spirit and wording but also the tone of a sermon. “Comrade Lenin, in the name of the Petersburg Soviet and of the whole revolution we welcome you to Russia…But—we think that the principal task of the revolutionary democracy is now the defense of the revolution from any encroachments either from within or from without. We consider that what this goal requires is not disunity, but the closing of the democratic ranks. We hope you will pursue these goals together with us.”

Chkheidze stopped speaking. I was dumbfounded with surprise: really, what attitude could be taken to this “welcome” and to that delicious “But-”

But Lenin knew exactly how to behave. He stood there as though nothing taking place had the slightest connection with him—looking about him, examining the persons round him and even the ceiling of the imperial waiting-room, adjusting his bouquet (rather out of tune with his whole appearance), and then, turning away from the Ex.Com. delegation altogether, he made this reply:

“Dear comrades, soldiers, sailors, and workers! I am happy to greet in your persons the victorious Russian revolution, and greet you as the vanguard off the worldwide proletarian army…The piratical imperialist war is the beginning of civil war throughout Europe…The hour is not far distant when at the call of our [German] comrade, Karl Liebknecht, the people will turn their arms against their own capitalist exploiters…The worldwide socialist revolution has already dawned…Germany is seething…Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash. The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!”

Appealing from Chkheidze to the workers and soldiers, from the provisional government to Liebknecht, from the defense of the fatherland to international revolution —this is how Lenin indicated the tasks of the proletariat.66

Sukhanov summed up Lenin’s speech to a Bolshevik party meeting that day:

I shall never forget that thunder-like speech, which startled and amazed not only me, a heretic who had accidentally dropped in, but all the true believers. I am certain that no one had expected anything of the sort.67

The response to Lenin’s speech was that of stunned silence. He was denounced from all sides. “A man who talks that kind of stupidity is not dangerous,” exclaimed Stakevich, a moderate socialist. Bogdanov, a Menshevik: “That is raving, the ravings of a lunatic! It is indecent to applaud this claptrap!” A member of the Bolsheviks, Zalezhki, noted: “On that day (April 4) Comrade Lenin could not find open sympathizers even in our own ranks.” Lenin’s speech, she remembers “produced on everyone a stupefying impression. No one expected this. On the contrary, they expected Vladimir Ilych to arrive and call to order the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee and especially Comrade Molotov, who occupied a particularly irreconcilable position with respect to the Provisional Government.68

On April 9, Pravda, the Bolshevik party newspaper, ran an editorial attacking Lenin written by Central Committee member, L.B. Kamenev:

As for the general schema of Lenin, its seems to us unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is ended and counts upon an immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.69

But Lenin refused to be cowed. He launched an attack of his own. As he had done in 1905, he attacked those “old Bolsheviks” who continued to apply policies and methods which were appropriate for one period, but now acted as a hindrance to the aims of the revolution. For example, he attacked Kamenev’s “old Bolshevik” formula that “the bourgeois revolution is not completed” as “obsolete.” “It is no good at all. It is dead. And it is no use trying to revive it.” He criticized the old Bolsheviks for refusing to abandon the formula of the “revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”—which was his slogan at the start of the 1905 revolution. Those who wanted to hang on to that idea, said Lenin, “should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik” pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘Old Bolsheviks’).70

Lenin answered his critics by hammering home the central point: the workers can only rely on themselves.

Ours is a bourgeois revolution, therefore, the workers must support the bourgeoisie, say the Potresovs, Gvozdyovs and Chkheidzes, as Plekhanov said yesterday.

Our is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practiced by the bourgeois politicians and teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organization, their own unity, and their own weapons.71

In effect, Lenin was adopting Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ position. The first stage of the revolution had created a situation of “dual power,” in which the working class and rebellious soldiers were not yet conscious of the need to sweep away the bourgeois Provisional Government. The task now was to win over a majority of the proletariat to the side of Bolshevism.

No support for the Provisional Government.… Exposure (of) the impermissible, illusion-breeding “demand” that this government, a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government… The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the needs of the masses. As long as we are in a minority we carry on the work of criticizing and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience. Not a parliamentary republic.…but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Laborers and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.72

Lenin’s isolation among the leaders of the Bolsheviks can be gauged by the outcome of a debate and vote on Lenin’s views at a Petrograd Committee meeting on April 8. Those opposing Lenin handily won the vote thirteen to two, with one abstention. Similar results were recorded in Moscow and other local Bolshevik committees.73

But several factors worked in Lenin’s favor. First, many of the rank and file members of the party were already unhappy with the line of accommodation to the Provisional Government being pushed by Kamenev, Stalin and the former Duma deputy M.K. Muranov. Indeed some members in Petrograd had called for their expulsion from the party.

Moreover, even if the Bolsheviks’ Petrograd leadership tailed behind the Mensheviks and SRs, the Bolshevik members did not have the same instincts as those of the Mensheviks. As Trotsky notes, the whole history and training of the Bolsheviks led them in the direction of identifying with the masses rather than the new bourgeois government. Trotsky writes:

The worker-Bolsheviks immediately after the revolution took the initiative in the struggle for the eight-hour day; the Mensheviks declared this demand untimely. The Bolsheviks took the lead in arresting the Tsarist officials; the Mensheviks opposed “excesses.” The Bolsheviks energetically undertook the creation of a workers’ militia; the Mensheviks delayed the arming of the workers, not wishing to quarrel with the bourgeoisie. Although not yet overstepping the bounds of bourgeois democracy, the Bolsheviks acted, or strove to act—however confused by their leadership—like uncompromising revolutionists. The Mensheviks sacrificed their democratic program at every step in the interests of a coalition with the liberals.74

Second, the very course of the revolution, and in particular the government’s continued escalation to the war effort, was a confirmation of the validity of Lenin’s views. Third, the numbers of workers, soldiers and peasants drawn into the revolution continued to grow—as did their hostility to the government and their gravitation to the Bolsheviks; fourth, the Bolshevik party itself entered a period of explosive growth. In the two months since February, party membership swelled from 24,000 to 80,000. Finally, Lenin carried enormous political weight among the cadres of the Bolshevik party. Indeed, Trotsky is undoubtedly right in saying that only Lenin could have reoriented the party so quickly and with so little damage. By mid-April, Lenin’s attempts to win over the party reached an important turning point: He succeeded in winning a majority at a conference of Bolsheviks held in Petrograd on April 14. By the end of April, Lenin had decidedly won the party over to his views.

No sooner had Lenin won the party over did the opposite danger come to the fore. The same militants who supported Lenin’s “no support for the Provisional Government” slogan tended to be involved in head-on clashes with the government. The slogan of “no support” was soon transformed into one of “Down with the Provisional Government.” Lenin now swung from the party’s left to its right, calling such slogans “premature” and “adventurist.” Petrograd’s workers were well ahead of the rest of the country, and the danger existed of a premature confrontation with the government which would leave the most militant sections of the movement isolated. The Bolshevik strategy was to rely on peaceful agitation and propaganda to win over a majority in the Soviets. This was the strategy that the Bolsheviks intended to follow, but the actual course of the struggle forced them to adopt a different course.

On May 1, Guchkov, Minister of War and the Navy, resigned his post from the Provisional Government. He announced that he was no longer able to fulfill his duties because of the continued disintegration and open rebellion in the army: “conditions which I am powerless to alter and which threaten the defense and, freedom and even the existence of Russia with fatal consequences.”75 One graphic symptom of the collapse of the Russian army was the ever rising number of deserters. The total number of registered deserters (as opposed to a much larger but unknown total number of deserters) from the outbreak of war to February 1917, was 195,130, or 3,423 per fortnight. From the beginning of the revolution to May 15, the number rose to 85,921 or 17,185 per fortnight.76

The collapse of the army was one reflection of the growing rebellion among peasants throughout the country. Writes Lionel Kochan: “The storm in the countryside burst in April. Statistics, necessary incomplete, show an unmistakable and sudden upsurge. In March the number of districts affected by peasant disorders had been 34; in April it was 174; in May 236; in June 280; and in July 325.”77

The government’s response to this crisis was to try to expand its base of support—especially among the Mensheviks and the SRs who still held a majority in the Soviets. In late April, these parties entered the Provisional Government. The right-wing SR Alexander Kerensky became minister of war. From May onwards, the revolution’s advance required fighting not only the bourgeoisie, but the leaders of the Mensheviks and SRs. From May to the October seizure of power, there is a visible and steady decline in the levels of support to both Mensheviks and SRs and a sharp swing to the left.

The swing left is best illustrated by the events of the “July Days.” Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership had attempted to temper the most militant sections of the party. But this proved no easy task. Already in April, there had been clashes between pro- and anti-government forces, as demonstrations of some 30,000 workers and sailors were organized by the Bolsheviks. On June 9, the Bolsheviks found themselves having to call off a peaceful demonstration in Petrograd where their supporters were going to demand the government resign. The majority in the Soviets, citing the fear of anarchy, had banned the demonstration. The party protested, but submitted. This only infuriated thousands of workers—mainly against the Provisional Government, but many also questioned the party’s decision to avoid confrontation. An alternative, official Soviet demonstration held some days later paraded overwhelmingly pro-Bolshevik slogans.

The unavoidable confrontation came in July. Nearly a million demonstrators took to the streets of Petrograd on July 4, demanding an end to the war and the overthrow of the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks, having failed to restrain the demonstrators, decided to join them. In the confrontations that followed, there were hundreds of casualties. There is little doubt that had the Bolshevik Party called for the overthrow of the government, it could have achieved that aim. But Lenin and others were clear that the rest of Russia wasn’t yet ready to overthrow the Provisional Government. Aware of the Bolsheviks’ growing strength—and now terrified—the Provisional Government banned the Bolshevik Party. Warrants were issued for the arrest of key leaders of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Trotsky. The Bolshevik press was banned and the printing presses smashed to bits. Sukhanov writes in his memoirs that the Bolshevik Party was finished.

But instead, it was the Provisional Government whose days were numbered. With every passing day, it grew more unpopular, its position more tenuous. Bolshevik Party membership increased dramatically—transforming the party completely. In a report to the Sixth Party Congress, held in August, Sverdlov reported that party membership stood at 240,000. The report showed that in Petrograd there were now 41,000 members, as against 15,000 in April. In Moscow 50,900 as against 13,000. By October, the party numbered 350,000.78

The growth of the party is all the more remarkable given that the party was virtually driven underground after July. Alongside the repression and intimidation came a well orchestrated propaganda campaign to discredit and smear the Bolsheviks. Lenin, in particular, was “exposed” as an agent of the Kaiser and anything else they could invent—a slander campaign which is still alive in many history books today! The repression was not strong enough to crush the Bolsheviks. They continued to win members and wider layers of support. The government campaign against the left had one unintended effect—to virtually finish any base the Mensheviks had among workers. As an historian of the Mensheviks writes:

A few statistics tell the tale. In June the Mensheviks elected 248 delegates to the first Congress of the Soviets, whereas the Bolsheviks managed to elect only 105. But at the second Congress of the Soviets, which met in October, there were only 70 to 80 Menshevik delegates as against 300 Bolsheviks. During the early stages of the revolution the largest Menshevik organization in Petrograd consisted of 10,000 members; but by October it had virtually ceased to exist. “Membership dues,” so wrote a Menshevik at the time, “were not being paid, the circulation of the Workers’ Gazette declined catastrophically, the last all-city conference did not take place for lack of a quorum…The withdrawal from the party of groups and individuals is an everyday occurrence.”79

The government’s hard line also helped push large sections of the SRs towards the Bolsheviks. But if the Mensheviks and the SRs no longer had a mass base, they were of no use to the reactionaries that made up the officer caste in the army, to the bourgeoisie or to the middle classes. The call for a military coup from the right began to be raised openly. In mid-August, the Provisional Government tried to muster public support by organizing a State Conference. To protest the conference, the Bolsheviks called a general strike in Moscow that shut much of the city down—yet another sign of the Bolshevik’s resurgence from the July repression. During the proceedings General Kornilov, Commander in Chief, talked about the need to restore order in the army and at “the rear.”

The army is conducting a ruthless struggle against anarchy, and anarchy will be crushed…By a whole series of legislative measures passed after the revolution by people whose understanding and spirit were alien to the army, this army was converted into the most reckless mob, which values nothing but its own life…there can be no army without discipline.… The prestige of the officers must be enhanced…There is no army without a rear…The measures that are adopted at the front must also be adopted in the rear.80

General Kornilov launched a coup attempt in late August. On August 26, he sent a representative to demand the surrender of the Provisional Government. He had the backing of all the top generals, big business and the British and French governments. But Kornilov’s coup failed largely because of the organized resistance led by the Bolsheviks.

Lenin’s response to the Kornilov revolt was clear and immediate: “The Kornilov revolt is a most unexpected and downright unbelievably sharp turn in events. Like every sharp turn, it calls for a revision and change of tactics.”81 The Bolshevik Party must lead the resistance to Kornilov, Lenin argued, because a successful coup from the right would be a tremendous setback to the revolution. Thus, Bolsheviks and their supporters were organized to fight Kornilov. This did not mean, however, extending support to the government. “Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled.… We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness.82

“We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him.”83

After four days, the coup collapsed. “The insurrection,” Trotsky noted, “had rolled back, crumbled to pieces, been sucked up by the earth.”84 The forces of reaction were completely demoralized, and the Kornilov’s defeat only accelerated the decomposition of the Provisional Government.

The Masses On the Stage of History

THE GREATEST historian of the revolution, and one of its most important participants, Leon Trotsky, described the significance of revolution:

The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business—kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime. Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgment of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.85

Passivity gave way to self activity. As historian Marc Ferro put it, “the citizens of the new Russia, having overthrown Tsardom, were in a state of permanent mobilization.” “All Russia,” wrote Sukhanov, “was constantly demonstrating in those days.”86

The revolution awakened a sense of power in ordinary people.

From the very depths of Russia came a great cry of hope in which were mingled the voices of the poor and downtrodden, expressing their sufferings, hopes and dreams. Dream-like, they experienced unique events: in Moscow, workmen would compel their employer to learn the bases of the workers’ rights in the future; in Odessa, students would dictate a new way of teaching universal history to their professor; in Petrograd, actors would take over from the theater manager and select the next play; in the army, soldiers would summon the chaplain to attend their meetings so that he could “get some real meaning in his life.” Even “children under the age of fourteen” demanded the right to learn boxing “to make the older children have some respect.”87

No longer were discussions of the main issues facing ordinary workers limited to the privileged and powerful. All questions of politics and economics, of war and peace, of how to organize society, were now the property of the masses. Krupskaya, Lenin’s partner, describes the mood:

The streets in those days presented a curious spectacle: everywhere people stood about in knots, arguing heatedly and discussing the latest events.… These street meetings were so interesting, that it once took me three hours to walk from Shirokaya Street to the Krzesinska Mansion. The house in which we lived overlooked a courtyard, and even here, if you opened the window at night, you could hear a heated dispute. A soldier would be sitting there, and he always had an audience—usually some of the cooks, or housemaids from next door, or some young people. An hour after midnight you could catch snatches of talk—”Bolsheviks, Mensheviks.…” At three in the morning “Miliukov, Bolsheviks.…” At five—still the same street-corner-meeting talk, politics, etc. Petrograd’s white nights are always associated in my mind with those all-night political disputes.88

John Reed described how the thirst for knowledge and culture was insatiable:

All Russia was learning to read, and reading—politics, economics, history—because the people wanted to know…The thirst for education, so long thwarted, burst with the Revolution into a frenzy of expression. From Smolny Institute [headquarters of the Soviet] alone, the first six months, went out every day tons, car-loads, train-loads of literature, saturating the land. Russia absorbed reading matter like hot sand drinks water, insatiable. And it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts—but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol, and Gorky…

Then the talk…Lectures, debates, speeches—in theaters, circuses, school-houses, clubs, Soviet meeting-rooms, union headquarters, barracks.… Meetings in the trenches at the Front, in village squares, factories.… What a marvelous sight to see Putilovsky Zavod (the Putilov factory) pour out its forty thousand to listen to Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Anarchists, anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk! For months in Petrograd, and all over Russia, every street-corner was a public tribune. In railway trains, street-cars, always the spurting up of impromptu debate, everywhere.…

…We came down to the front of the Twelfth Army, back of Riga, where gaunt and bootless men sickened in the mud of desperate trenches; and when they saw us they started up, with their pinched faces and the flesh showing blue through their torn clothing, demanding eagerly, “Did you bring anything to read?”89

The Road to October

ON SEPTEMBER 1, the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. On September 5, the Moscow Soviet followed suit. On September 9, Trotsky was elected president of the Petrograd Soviet. A clear majority of the working class was behind the Bolsheviks. Lenin launched an offensive within the party to prepare for an armed uprising and seizure of power. He met stiff resistance from the Bolshevik Central Committee. For almost a month, Lenin insistently argued for the party to prepare for an insurrection. Bukharin describes the response of the Central Committee to one of Lenin’s letters.

The letter [of Lenin] was written with extraordinary force and threatened us with all sorts of punishments. We all gasped. Nobody had yet posed the question so abruptly…At first all were bewildered. Afterwards, having talked it over, we made a decision. Perhaps that was the sole case in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter from Lenin…90

Finally, on October 10, after bitter debate, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party voted in favor of a rising.

Like every other ruling class, the Russian bourgeoisie and aristocracy thought that nothing and no one could do without it. The conservative daily Novoe Vromia, wrote on the morning after the insurrection (October 26, 1917):

Let us suppose for a moment that the Bolsheviks do gain the upper hand. Who will govern us then: the cooks perhaps, those connoisseurs of cutlets and beefsteaks? Or maybe the firemen? The stable boys, the chauffeurs? Or perhaps the nursemaids will rush off to a meeting of the Council of State between the diaper washing sessions? Who then? Where are the statesmen? Perhaps the mechanics will run the theaters, the plumbers foreign affairs, the carpenters, the post office. Who will it be? History alone will give a definitive answer to this mad ambition of the Bolsheviks.91

The principal responsibility for organizing the insurrection fell to Trotsky, who, as president of the Soviet and head of the Military-Revolutionary Committee (formed originally during the Kornilov revolt), organized the insurrection. The actual seizure of power involved relatively small numbers of people and had the trappings of a military operation. As Sukhanov wrote, the broad masses

had nothing to do on the streets. They did not have an enemy which demanded their mass action, their armed forces, battles and barricades…This was an especially happy circumstance of our October Revolution, for which it is still being slandered as a military rising and almost a palace coup. It would be better if they asked: Did the Petrograd proletariat sympathize or did it not with the organizers of the October insurrection?… There are no two answers here. Yes, the Bolsheviks acted on the mandate of the Petrograd workers and soldiers.92

The months of advance and retreat, of revolutionary struggle, ended on October 25. Trotsky describes the situation the morning after the insurrection:

Next morning I pounced upon the bourgeois and Menshevik-Populist papers. They had not even a word about the uprising. The newspapers had been making such a to-do about the coming action by armed soldiers, about the sacking, the inevitable rivers of blood, about an insurrection, that now they simply had failed to notice an uprising that was actually taking place. In the meantime, without confusion, without street-fights, almost without firing or bloodshed, one institution after another was being occupied by detachments of soldiers, sailors, and the Red Guards…

…A delegation from the municipal Duma called to see me and asked me a few inimitable questions. “Do you propose military action? If so, what, and when?” The Duma would have to know of this “not less than twenty-four hours in advance.” What measures had the Soviet taken to ensure safety and order? And so on, and so forth.

“Will you dissolve us for being opposed to the transfer of power to the Soviets?”

I replied: “The present Duma reflects yesterday: if a conflict arises, we will propose to the people that they elect a new Duma on the issue of power.” The delegation left as it had come, but it had left behind it the feeling of an assured victory. Something had changed during the night. Three weeks ago we had gained a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. We were hardly more than a banner—with no printing-works, no funds, no branches. No longer ago than last night, the government ordered the arrest of the Military-Revolutionary Committee, and was engaged in tracing our address. Today a delegation from the city Duma comes to the ‘arrested’ Military-Revolutionary Committee to inquire about the fate of the Duma.93

Trotsky then describes a conversation he has with Lenin:

The power is taken over, at least in Petrograd.… Lenin …looks softly at me, with that sort of awkward shyness that with him indicates intimacy. “You know,” he says hesitatingly, “from persecution and life underground, to come so suddenly into power.…” He pauses for the right word. “Es schwindet [it makes one giddy],” he concludes, changing suddenly into German, and circling his hand around his head. We look at each other and laugh a little. All this takes only a minute or two; then a simple “passing to next business.”94

The promise of human emancipation was paramount in the minds of those who led the revolution. In one of his most moving passages, Lenin wrote:

Hitherto the whole creative genius of the human intellect has labored only to give the advantages of technique and civilization to the few, and to deprive the rest of the most elementary necessities—education and free development. But now all the marvels of technique, all the conquests of civilization, are the property of the whole people, and henceforth human intellect and genius will never be twisted into a means of oppression, a means of exploitation. We know this: surely it is worth striving with all our might to fulfill this stupendous historic task? The workers will carry out this titanic historic labor, for there are vast revolutionary powers slumbering in them, vast powers of renovation and regeneration.95

In a similar vein, Trotsky writes in his autobiography, My Life:

Marxism considers itself the conscious expression of the unconscious historical process. But the “unconscious process” in the historical-philosophical sense of the term—not in the psychological—coincides with its conscious expression only at its highest point when the masses, by sheer elemental pressure break through the social routine and give victorious expression to the deepest needs of historical development. And at such moments the highest theoretical consciousness of the epoch merges with the immediate action of those oppressed masses who are furthest away from theory. The creative union of the conscious with the unconscious is what one usually calls ‘inspiration.’ Revolution is the inspired frenzy of history…96

Rosa Luxemburg, who leveled some strong criticisms of the Bolsheviks, summed up the Russian Revolution’s historical significance:

The Russian Revolution is the mightiest event of the World War.…

Whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness and consistency in an historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which western social democracy lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honor of international socialism.…

Everything that happens in Russia is comprehensible and represents an inevitable chain of causes and effects, the starting point and end term of which are: the failure of the German proletariat and the occupation of Russia by German imperialism. It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy…

The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity forced upon them by these fatal circumstances…and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.…

What is in order is to distinguish the essential from the non-essential, the kernel from the accidental excrescences in the policies of the Bolsheviks.…

It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: ‘I have dared!’

This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. In this sense theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and the practical placing of the problem of the realization of socialism, and having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labor in the entire world. In Russia the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to ‘bolshevism.’97

Today, we still need to fight for the “great awakening of the personality,” as Trotsky put it. The day will come, not easily, not automatically, but it will come, when we can talk once more of “a great awakening of the personality” in the U.S. and internationally.


1 V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 28 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977), pp. 292-293.

2 Quoted in John Rees, “In Defense of October,” in International Socialism 52, Autumn 1991, London, p. 9.

3 Ibid.

4 Philip Foner, editor, The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Impact on American Radicals, Liberals and Labor (International Publishers, New York, 1967), p. 20.

5 For those interested in pursuing any particular aspect of the Russian Revolution see the suggested reading list for a good start.

6 Isaac Deutscher writes in The Prophet Outcast: “For two hours, speaking in German, he addressed an audience of about 2,000 people. His theme was the Russian Revolution. As the authorities had allowed the lecture on the condition that he would avoid controversy, he spoke in a somewhat professorial manner, giving the audience the quintessence of the three volumes of his just concluded History. His restraint did not conceal the depth and force of this conviction; the address was a vindication of the October Revolution, all the more effective because free of apologetics and frankly acknowledging partial failures and mistakes. Nearly twenty-five years later members of the audience still recalled the lecture with vivid appreciation as an oratorical feat.” Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Trotsky: 1929-1940 (Oxford University Press, London, 1970), pp.184-185.

7 Marcel Liebman, The Russian Revolution (Jonathan Cape, London, 1970), p. 17 (see foot 50).

8 Ibid., p. 24.

9 Ibid., p. 19.

10 Dominic Lieven, “Russia, Europe and World War I,” in Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, William Rosenberg, eds., Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, Ind., 1997), p. 37.

11 Leon Trotsky, Stalin (Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1941), p. 422.

12 Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (Pluto Press, London, 1997), p. 31. Hereafter referred to as HRR.

13 S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories 1917-1918 (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1983), pp. 9-10.

14 One dessiatine equals 2.7 acres.

15 Leon Trotsky Speaks, pp. 252-255.

16 HRR, p. 19.

17 Neil Harding, ed., Marxism in Russia: Key Documents 1879-1906 (Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 16.

18 Paul Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Humanities Press International Inc.: Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1990), pp. 17-18.

19 Ibid., p. 18.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., pp. 45-46.

22 Ibid., pp. 66-67.

23 Neil Harding, op. cit., p. 224.

24 Paul Frölich, Rosa Luxemburg (Pluto Press, London, 1970), p. 89.

25 V.I. Lenin, “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,” in Collected Works, Volume 9 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977), p. 57.

26 Quoted in Cliff, Lenin, Volume 1, p. 143.

27 V.I. Lenin, Volume 9, op. cit., pp. 56-57.

28 Duncan Hallas, Trotsky’s Marxism (Pluto Press, London, 1978), p. 15.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Leon Trotsky Speaks, Ed. by Sarah Novell (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1972) p. 256.

32 Leon Trotsky, 1905 (Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1973), p. 122.

33 Ibid., pp. 238-239.

34 Leon Trotsky, My Life (Penguin Books, Ltd., Middlesex, England, 1974), p. 180.

35 Ernest Mandel, “Rosa Luxemburg and German Social Democracy,” in Revolutionary Marxism and Social Reality in the 20th Century (Humanities Press International Inc.: Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1994), pp. 37-38.

36 Julius Braunthal, History of the International, 1864-1914 (Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. Publishers, New York, 1967), p. 298.

37 Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought (Humanities Press International Inc.: Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1983), p. 249.

38 David Mandel, “Intelligentsia and the Working Class in 1917,” Critique 14, 1981, London, pp. 69-70.

39 Lewis H. Siegelbaum, The Politics of Industrial Mobilization in Russia, 1914-1917 (The Macmillan Press, Ltd., London, 1983), p. 18.

40 Quoted in Olga Hess Gankin and H.H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War: The Origin of the Third International (Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif., 1976), p. 59.

41 Leon Trotsky, My Life, p. 257.

42 Trotsky, HRR, p. 42.

43 Tony Cliff, Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, Volume 2 (Pluto Press, London, 1976), p.64.

44 Alexander Shlyapnikov, On the Eve of 1917: Reminiscences from the Revolutionary Underground (Allison & Busby, London, 1982), p. 224.

45 Paul Dukes, October and the World: Perspectives on the Russian Revolution (Macmillan Press, London, 1979), p. 85.

46 Leon Trotsky, 1905, op. cit., p. 91.

47 Quoted in Tony Cliff, Lenin, Volume 2, op. cit., p. 62.

48 HRR, p. 121.

49 Ibid.

50 Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin (Jonathan Cape, Ltd., London, 1975), pp. 117-118. The Bolshevik Party did not issue its first leaflet until February 27. Sukhanov notes that the Bolshevik Party leaders present at the start of the February Revolution were unsure of themselves. He describes a meeting on February 25th at which their “flatfootedness or, more properly, their incapacity to think their way into the political problem and formulate it, had a depressing effect on us.” Quoted in Liebman, op. cit.,p. 117.

51 HRR, p. 102.

52 Ibid., p. 123.

53 Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1966) p. 186.

54 Ibid., p. 187.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid., p. 188.

59 Ibid., p. 189.

60 Liebman, Leninism, op. cit., p. 121.

61 Kochan, op. cit., p. 212.

62 Ibid.

63 Cliff, Lenin, Volume 2, p. 94.

64 Lenin, op. cit., 1p. 104.

65 Kochan, op. cit., p. 207.

66 Quoted in Cliff, Volume 2, pp. 119-120.

67 Quoted in Cliff, Volume 2, p. 121.

68 Liebman, Leninism, op. cit., p. 129.

69 Ibid., p. 131.

70 Ibid., p. 130.

71 Quoted in LeBlanc, op. cit., p. 252

72 Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 24 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977), pp. 22-23.

73 Liebman, Leninism, op. cit., p. 132.

74 HRR, p. 337.

75 Kochan, op. cit., p. 223.

76 Ibid., pp. 229-230. The total number of deserters reached more than 2 million by October 1917.

77 Ibid., p. 235.

78 Liebman, Leninism, op. cit., p. 158.

79 Duncan Hallas, “All Power to the Soviets,” in International Socialism 90, July/August, 1976, London, p. 19.

80 Quoted in Tony Cliff, Lenin, Volume 2, pp. 290-291.

81 Ibid., p. 298.

82 Ibid., p. 299.

83 Ibid.

84 Ibid., p. 304.

85 HRR, p. 17.

86 Liebman, op. cit., p. 201.

87 Marc Ferro, October 1917 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980), p. 2.

88 N.K. Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin (International Publishers, New York 1979), pp. 351-352.

89 John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, p. 14-15.

90 Cliff, Lenin, Volume 2, p. 339.

91 Tony Cliff, Lenin: Revolution Besieged, Volume 3 (Pluto Press, London, 1978), pp.1-2.

92 Quoted in LeBlanc, op. cit., p. 282.

93 Trotsky, My Life, op.cit., pp. 338-339.

94 Ibid., pp. 351-352.

95 Liebman, op. cit., p. 197.

96 Trotsky, My Life, op. cit., pp. 348-349.

97 Rosa Luxemburg, “The Russian Revolution,” Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1980), pp. 394-395.
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The Russian Revolution: a brief reading guide – Phil Gasper

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The Russian Revolution: a brief reading guide

By Phil Gasper


The Russian Revolution in October 1917,1 led by the Bolshevik Party of Vladimir Lenin, is the most important event in history for revolutionary socialists. For the first time, a revolution led by the working class won power in an entire country and began attempting to construct a socialist society based on the ideas of workers’ control and real democracy. For a brief period there was a glimpse of what such a society might look like, before the experiment was destroyed by civil war, foreign intervention, economic devastation, and—above all—the failure of revolutions to spread successfully to more economically advanced countries. This led by the late 1920s to the entrenchment of a bureaucratic dictatorship in the infant Soviet Union. A decade after the revolution’s initial amazing success, the dreams on which it had been based had been destroyed.


But despite its eventual defeat—indeed, partly because of it—the Russian Revolution remains a key event for all socialists to study. There are rich lessons to be learned concerning how it came about, its considerable early successes, and why it eventually failed—and one hundred years after the revolution took place there is a daunting literature on all of these topics. The aim of this very brief review is to make a few suggestions about what to read, mainly for those new to the topic.2


For those who have never read anything about the Russian Revolution, an excellent starting point is the article that Ahmed Shawki wrote for this journal twenty years ago, “80 Years Since the Russian Revolution,”3 which traces the path from the revolution’s roots in nineteenth-century Russia, through the failed revolution of 1905, World War I, and the February Revolution which overthrew the tsar, to the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power.4 For those who want a longer discussion of the same history that can still be read relatively quickly, the first two parts of Neil Faulkner’s recently published A People’s History of the Russian Revolution is highly recommended.5


Another recently published book, October 1917: Workers in Power6 with writings by Paul Le Blanc, Ernest Mandel, and David Mandel, is not a narrative history of the entire revolution, but includes a chronology and brief overview, as well as a useful glossary of people, places, events, and organizations, together with essays taking up some key issues, including whether the seizure of power was nothing more than a coup d’état, and the role of factory committees in the revolution. It also includes writings by the Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (often misrepresented as an opponent of the revolution, but who was in fact a critical supporter), Lenin, and Trotsky.


A useful collection of primary documents, with statements from many participants in and observers of the events in Russia in 1917, is Michael C. Hickey’s Competing Voices from the Russian Revolution.7 The sources included range from “government officials and political party leaders” to “ordinary men and women who tilled fields, toiled in factories, worked in offices, or served in the military.” To get a visual feel for the revolution, take a look at some of the photographic collections put together by the late David King, which include Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin8 and Trotsky: A Photographic Biography.9


But undoubtedly the most important book on the revolution is Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution,10 written in 1930 and first translated into English in 1932. Indeed, Trotsky’s account of the revolution has a strong claim to being the single greatest work of Marxist history. The book was originally published in three volumes and runs over 900 pages, so it requires a serious commitment to read it, but every socialist should at some point make time to do so. Trotsky was a magnificent stylist, and the book is a page-turner, even though we already know the outcome. As a history book, there is little to compare it with. Trotsky, along with Lenin, was the leading figure in the events leading up to and following the October Revolution, so he brings the knowledge and insight of a participant to his narrative (although Trotsky makes clear at the outset that “this work will not rely in any degree upon personal recollections,” and it is based on “historically verified documents”).11 But beyond that, Trotsky combines deep theoretical understanding with the ability to weave together events ranging from long-term historical changes to the microdynamics of a specific street protest. Consider, for instance, his description of a demonstration that took place on February 24 (March 9), the second day of the uprising that brought down the tsar:


The workers at the Erikson, one of the foremost mills in the Vyborg district, after a morning meeting came out on the Sampsonievsky Prospect, a whole mass, 2,500 of them, and in a narrow place ran into the Cossacks. Cutting their way with the breasts of their horses, the officers first charged through the crowd. Behind them, filling the whole width of the Prospect galloped the Cossacks. Decisive moment! But the horsemen, cautiously, in a long ribbon, rode through the corridor just made by the officers. “Some of them smiled,” Kayurov [a Bolshevik leader in the Vyborg district] recalls, “and one of them gave the workers a good wink.” This wink was not without meaning. The workers were emboldened with a friendly, not hostile, kind of assurance, and slightly infected the Cossacks with it. The one who winked found imitators. In spite of renewed efforts from the officers, the Cossacks, without openly breaking discipline, failed to force the crowd to disperse, but flowed through it in streams. This was repeated three or four times and brought the two sides even closer together. Individual Cossacks began to reply to the workers’ questions and even to enter into momentary conversations with them. Of discipline, there remained but a thin transparent shell that threatened to break through any second.


More than this, Trotsky’s book offers a continuing reflection on the nature of historical change—how individuals are shaped by the historical circumstances in which they live, how the slow accumulation of small changes can give rise to sudden and enormous historical ruptures, and how at crucial points both collective agency and individual choices can play a decisive role. Trotsky’s book covers Russia’s economic backwardness, its combined and uneven development as it imported technology and capital from the West, the impact of World War I, the February Revolution and the overthrow of tsarism, the contest for power between the provisional government and workers’ soviets (councils), and the eventual triumph of the soviets in October. He does not devote much space to the failed revolution of 1905, but for that there is his earlier book 1905,12 which he published soon after what Lenin called the “dress rehearsal” for 1917 had been defeated.


Eyewitness accounts


There are numerous eyewitness accounts of the revolution, but pride of place must go to Ten Days That Shook the World,13 originally published in 1919, by the radical American journalist and socialist activist John Reed. Reed was present in Petrograd during the October Revolution and gives a vivid blow-by-blow account of what took place in the days preceding and following the seizure of power. Stalin hated the book because it barely mentions him and correctly portrays Lenin and Trotsky as the revolution’s key leaders, but Lenin wrote a short introduction in which he unreservedly recommended the book “to the workers of the world” and praised it for providing “a truthful and most vivid exposition” of key events.


Another American journalist, Louise Bryant (a collaborator with Reed, who was her husband at the time), was also in Petrograd and wrote her own account of the revolution, Six Red Months in Russia,14 published in October 1918 (a few months before Reed’s book because his notes were temporarily confiscated when the two of them returned to the United States), which is well worth reading. It includes interviews with leading women revolutionaries, including Maria Spiridonova, who was a member of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries,15 and the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, the only woman to serve in Lenin’s cabinet.


The Left Socialist-Revolutionary Sergei Mstislavskii played an active role in both the February and October Revolutions, and wrote his own account in 1918, published in English as Five Days Which Transformed Russia.16 The five “days” he focuses on (the first of which actually spans three) are the February Rising (February 27–March 1); the founding of the Provisional Government (March 3); the arrest of Nicholas II (March 9), an event in which Mstislavskii personally took part; the October Revolution (October 25); and the day of the Constituent Assembly (January 5, 1918).


Morgan Philips Price came from an upper-class background in Britain, but started moving to the left as a result of his opposition to World War I. He became a war correspondent and was in Russia before, during, and immediately after the revolution. His sympathies were soon with the Bolsheviks, and as a result his reports for the Manchester Guardian were often heavily edited or suppressed at the time. Price later became a left-wing Labor MP. Long after his death in 1973, a collection of his first-hand reports from Russia was finally published as Dispatches from the Revolution: Russia 1916–1918.17 Price traveled widely in the country during his time there, and is an invaluable guide to what was going on outside Petrograd and Moscow. His short pamphlet, Capitalist Europe and Socialist Russia, published in May 1919 by the British Socialist Party, is also available online at the Marxist Internet Archive.18


A first-hand account of the revolution, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record,19 written by a Menshevik Internationalist and one of the founding members of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, N. N. Sukhanov, is a source mined by many historians covering this period (including Trotsky). It is very much worth reading in its own right.


Lenin and the Bolsheviks


The key role played by the Bolshevik Party over the course of 1917 deserves close examination by socialists. The second volume of Tony Cliff’s biography of Lenin, All Power to the Soviets: Lenin 1914-191720 provides an excellent overview. The February Revolution took all the established parties by surprise, although Bolshevik militants at the local level played important roles once it had begun. Bolshevik leaders like Kamenev and Stalin returned to Petrograd shortly afterwards but lacked a clear strategy and offered critical support to the Provisional Government. It was only after Lenin’s return in April that the slogan of “All power to the soviets!” became the Bolsheviks’ rallying cry.


But while Lenin’s leadership of the Bolsheviks was never in question, it was far from the case that he dictated their policies by fiat. There were fierce arguments inside the party about the way forward, both before and after the revolution, and Lenin did not always win them. Alexander Rabinowitch provides an excellent account of the months leading up to the October Revolution in The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd,21 which demonstrates beyond any doubt that the Bolsheviks were not monolithic, and that disagreement and debate were central to the way the party operated. The book provides perhaps the most detailed presentation of the role the Bolsheviks played, top to bottom, in the months leading up to the October Revolution.


Trotsky’s short book The Lessons of October,22 written in 1924 soon after Lenin’s death as part of a political debate against the triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, who by that time were leading the Communist Party (as the Bolsheviks had renamed themselves in 1918), is also essential reading. Against the triumvirate’s efforts to portray themselves as the guardians of an infallible “Leninist” tradition, Trotsky analyzed the actual course of the revolution to show the mistakes that leading Bolsheviks (and especially the triumvirate) had made along the way. He argues that “events have proved that without a party capable of directing the proletarian revolution, the revolution itself is rendered impossible,” but he also claims that in a revolutionary situation, it is “almost an unalterable law that a party crisis is inevitable in the transition from the preparatory revolutionary activity to the immediate struggle for power.”


Lenin’s own writings from his return to Russia until July 1918 can be found in volumes 24–27 of his Collected Works.23 There is a lot to read in these volumes, but some of the key works are The April Theses, The Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution, War and Revolution, The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, “Left-Wing” Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality, and Theses On The Present Political Situation.


Two other important guides to Lenin’s political career and the history of the Bolsheviks are Paul Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party24 and Marcel Liebman’s Leninism Under Lenin.25 Both have excellent chapters on the party’s role in 1917. And for those wondering whether this history still has relevance for today, Le Blanc’s Unfinished Leninism: The Rise and Return of a Revolutionary Doctrine,26 is a must read.


The working class and revolution from below


Modern historians have done a considerable amount of work uncovering the active role played by workers in the revolution. Steve A. Smith’s Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories 1917–1827 looks at the attempts to establish workers’ control in factories from the February Revolution to the middle of 1918. Two volumes by David Mandel are also important: The Petrograd Workers and the Fall of the Old Régime: From the February Revolution to the July Days, 191728 and The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power: From the July Days 1917 to July 1918.29 All three books show the debates within, and the initiatives taken by, Petrograd’s working class.


Smith’s research is summarized more briefly in his essay “Petrograd in 1917: The View From Below,” in The Workers’ Revolution in Russia, 1917: The View From Below, edited by Daniel H. Kaiser,30 which includes articles on Moscow as well as Petrograd. Smith’s work serves as an antidote to the myth that the Bolsheviks used “demagogy and lies” to win working class support. According to Smith:


Bolshevik agitation and organization played a crucial role in radicalizing the masses. But the Bolsheviks themselves did not create popular discontent or revolutionary feeling. This grew out of the masses’ own experience of complex economic and social upheavals and political events. The contribution of the Bolsheviks was rather to shape workers’ understanding of the social dynamics of the revolution and to foster an awareness of how the urgent problems of daily life related to the broader social and political order. The Bolsheviks won support because their analysis and proposed solutions seemed to make sense. A worker from the Orudiinyi works, formerly a bastion of defensism [i.e., support for the war] where Bolsheviks were not even allowed to speak, stated in September [1917] that “the Bolsheviks have always said: ‘It is not we who will persuade you, but life itself.’ And now the Bolsheviks have triumphed because life has proved their tactics right.”


For the role of women workers in particular, see Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and Women Workers in 1917,31 which considers the position of women in Russia before the revolution, the activities of prominent women revolutionaries, such as Nadezhda Krupskaya and Alexandra Kollontai, and the crucial role played by women workers in Petrograd in 1917.


Achievements of the revolution


The Bolshevik victory in October was followed in the next days, weeks, and months by a flurry of radical reforms. The new government announced its intention to immediately withdraw Russia from the war. Peasant land seizures in the countryside and worker control of the factories were legalized. Government officials were to be paid only the average wage of a skilled industrial worker.


The death penalty was abolished in the military (it had been abolished for civilian offenses following the February Revolution). Freedom of religion was established (ending the legal oppression of Jews), and the state and education were separated from the church. Free education was introduced and mass literacy campaigns were begun, descibed in Megan Behrent’s, “Education, Literacy, and the Russian Revolution,” in ISR 82, March-April, 2012.


All the old legislation that had served to oppress women was also swept away. Equal pay for women became the law. Marriages could be ended at the request of either partner. Children born out of marriage were given equal rights. All legal restrictions on abortion were ended. State-funded maternity homes and free nurseries were established, and Women’s Departments were set up in all areas of the country with the aim of bringing women together to play an active role in changing society. Part one of William G. Rosenberg’s anthology Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia,32 a collection of writings by Kollontai, Trotsky, and many other participants in the revolution, covers “The Culture of a New Society: Ethics, Gender, the Family, Law, and Problems of Tradition,” and is essential reading on these topics. Also see Wendy Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917–193633 and Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia.34


All references to sex practices were removed from Russia’s criminal code and homosexuality ceased to be a crime. In 1923, Dr. Grigory Batkis, the director of the Moscow Institute for Sexual Hygiene, described the new approach:


Soviet legislation . . . declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as no one’s interests are encroached upon. Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offences against public morality, Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called “natural” intercourse.


Dan Healey examines the experience of gay men and lesbians before and after the revolution in Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent.35


The vibrancy of the new society was reflected in a huge surge of activity in the cultural field. There was a flowering of artistic endeavor in the visual arts, drama, filmmaking, and literature. Some of this is described by Victor Serge (a Belgian-born anarchosyndicalist who joined the Bolsheviks shortly after the revolution) in his outstanding book Year One of the Russian Revolution,36 first published in 1930, which provides a detailed narrative of the revolution’s first twelve months:


Such a thirst for knowledge sprang up all over the country that new schools, adult courses, universities and Workers’ Faculties were formed everywhere. Innumerable fresh initiatives laid open the teaching of unheard-of, totally unexplored domains of learning. In this period too, the museums were enriched by the confiscation of private collections: extraordinary honesty and care characterized this expropriation of artistic riches. Not one work of any significance was lost.


Part two of Rosenberg’s anthology Bolshevik Visions focuses on “Creating Soviet Cultural Forms: Art, Architecture. Music, Film, and the New Tasks of Education.” Also well worth a look is Abbott Gleason, Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution.37 For examples of Russian revolutionary art see John Milner, et al., Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932,38 produced to accompany a centenary exhibit in Britain. Another wonderful visual collection is David King’s Russian Revolutionary Posters: From Civil War to Socialist Realism, From Bolshevism to the End of Stalinism.39


The national question


The Russian Empire was a vast edifice encompassing many smaller nations. In a series of writings before and during World War I—including “Theses on the National Question” (1913), “Critical Remarks on the National Question” (1913), “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1914), and “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1915), Lenin argued that socialists in dominant countries must unequivocally support the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, while socialists in oppressed nations should argue for the necessity of international working-class solidarity.


Following the October Revolution, these principles were put into practice. The old Russian Empire was replaced by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and its constituent nations were given the right of self-determination. Special efforts were also made to win the support of oppressed nationalities—see especially two volumes edited by John Riddell: To See the Dawn: Baku, 1920—First Congress of the Peoples of the East, and Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920.40 Jeremy Smith, The Bolsheviks and the National Question41 is a useful guide. Also see Eric Blanc, “Anti-Imperial Marxism: Borderland Socialists and The Evolution of Bolshevism on National Liberation,” ISR 100, Spring 2016.


How the revolution was lost


The achievements of the first few months and years of the revolution were impressive, but the Bolshevik government soon found itself faced with severe difficulties. Despite pockets of advanced industry, Russia was an economically backward country which had been set back even further by the disruption and destruction of the war. By the summer of 1918 there was a cholera epidemic in Petrograd and severe food shortages throughout the country. An assassination attempt left Lenin seriously injured. Shortly afterwards, Russia was invaded by armies from many of the major capitalist powers, including the United States, Britain, and France. These countries gave vital support to the White Armies of the deposed ruling class, plunging Russia in to a full-scale civil war, which further devastated the country.


The best overview of this period can be found in third volume of Cliff’s biography of Lenin, Revolution Besieged: Lenin 1917–192342 and, to a lesser extent, Trotsky: The Sword of the Revolution 1917–1923,43 the second volume of his biography of Trotsky. Revolution Besieged in particular provides a clear sense of the impossible conditions faced by the Bolsheviks and how the material privations, war, and economic collapse in the context of the revolution’s failure to spread rendered the building of a society based on workers’ control impossible.


The standard history of the civil war is W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War.44 It is, however, marred by its unconcealed hostility to the revolution: the first sentence describes the months between February and October 1917 as an “orgy of proletarian self-indulgence.” For Trotsky’s own account of how he organized and led the Red Army to victory, see Trotsky’s Military Writings.45


There are also a number of eyewitness reports of the difficulties Russia was experiencing during these years. Arthur Ransome, a British journalist (and later a well-known author of children’s books) who married Trotsky’s personal secretary, published Russia in 1919 and The Crisis in Russia (1920), both reissued by Redwords in 1992, but now most easily found online.46 Some of Victor Serge’s articles from the same period are collected in Revolution in Danger: Writings from Russia 1919-1921.47 Alfred Rosmer, a French syndicalist who joined the Communist movement after the revolution, regularly visited the Soviet Union in the early 1920s and published his recollections in Lenin’s Moscow48 in the 1950s.


From the outset, Lenin and Trotsky were both clear that in order to survive, the revolution needed outside support. As Lenin put it in March 1919: “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish.” Germany did experience its own February Revolution in November 1918, when an uprising overthrew the kaiser and ended the war, but despite several years of political instability after that, there was no equivalent of the Russian October. In other countries, Russia’s revolution inspired high levels of militancy, factory occupations, and even workers’ councils, but no successful working-class revolution.


In Russia itself, the Red Army, led by Trotsky, eventually defeated the counterrevolution, but only at a huge human and material cost. Food shortages resulted in a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside, and the number of workers in urban areas fell from 3 million to 1.25 million. Thousands of the most dedicated working-class militants died in the civil war. The combined effects of international isolation, scarcity, and the disintegration of Russia’s working class, put the revolution’s gains under threat. In Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory,49 Kevin Murphy shows that in some factories workers retained considerable control over production until as late as 1927, winning regular wage increases, but in many others workers’ power had become an abstract slogan long before then, while the soviets became little more than talk shops.


In the dire conditions of the civil war and its aftermath, the Bolsheviks felt compelled to outlaw political parties that were critics of the revolution, some of which had openly sided with the counterrevolution. The Western capitalist powers had been unable to crush the workers’ state directly, but they had created the conditions for decay from within, manifested in serious and sometimes violent tensions between the working class and the peasantry.


As the democratic soviets withered, the Communist Party fell under the control of a bureaucracy of full-time officials and opportunists. Stalin, who had played an inconsequential role in the October Revolution, had maneuvered himself into the position of general secretary of the party. In Lenin’s Last Struggle,50 Moshe Lewin shows that Lenin fought against the growing bureaucratization of the revolution in the final months of his active political life, including writing a testament in which he advocated that Stalin be replaced as general secretary. But Lenin suffered a series of strokes in 1922. By early 1923 he was physically incapacitated and the attempt to remove Stalin failed. By the time of Lenin’s death in January 1924, the Communist Party was very different from the workers’ organization it had been in 1917.


In the course of the 1920s, Stalin defeated his political rivals until, by 1928, he reigned supreme. The last gains of the revolution were destroyed, the remaining members of the Bolshevik “old guard” were physically eliminated, and the Soviet Union was industrialized on the backs of the working class and the peasantry, resulting in millions of deaths. The river of blood that separated the early years of the revolution from Stalin’s dictatorship is the proof that Stalin’s rise represented the triumph of counterrevolution—as Victor Serge argued in his 1937 book From Lenin to Stalin51—not a continuation of the Bolshevik revolution.


Chris Harman outlined the underlying causes of the revolution’s eventual defeat in his 1967 article “Russia: How the Revolution was Lost,”52 reprinted in Anthony Arnove et al., Russia: From Worker’s State to State Capitalism.53 Neil Faulkner covers the same ground in part three of his People’s History. Both Harman and Faulkner draw on the analysis in Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed,54 originally published in 1936, which offers a Marxist materialist analysis of the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy. However, both Harman and Faulkner disagree with Trotsky’s claim that the Soviet Union remained some kind of workers’ state in the 1930s, and argue instead that the bureaucracy had transformed itself into a new ruling class.


Was the defeat of the Russian Revolution inevitable? I would argue it was not, but I will leave the final word to Serge:


It is often said that “the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning”. Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse – and which he may have carried in him since his birth – is that very sensible?55


Top five


This survey has referenced many books. Read as much as you can, but here are my top five recommendations:


Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution


John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World


Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution


Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power


Neil Faulkner, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution


Russia was such a backward country in 1917 that it still used the old Julian calendar, abandoned by the rest of Europe centuries earlier, by this time running thirteen days behind the modern Gregorian calendar. So the seizure of power took place on October 25, by the Russian calendar, which was November 7 for most of the rest of the world.

Publisher information for titles mentioned is included in the endnotes, below.This guide will focus on positive recommendations, but there are also books to avoid. Included on the latter list would be the numerous works of professional anticommunist Richard Pipes (for many years a professor of history at Harvard), who scrupulously ignores evidence and research contrary to his views. Also worth a miss is A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924 (Viking, 1997) by British historian Orlando Figes, which relies on dubious sources and distortion to paint a negative picture of the revolution.

International Socialist Review, Issue 3, Winter 1997, http://www.isreview.org/issues/03/russia….

This article, along with Trotsky’s 1932 speech, “In Defense of the Russian Revolution,” will be published by Haymarket Books later this year.

Published by Pluto Press, 2017. The British science fantasy writer and Marxist China Miéville’s book from Verso Books, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, also looks like a promising guide, but I have not yet read it. See Paul Le Blanc’s review of Miéville’s book, along with Neil Faulkner’s new book on the Russian Revolution, elsewhere in this issue.

For Trotsky’s personal recollections of the revolution, see chapters 24–28 of My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (Dover Publications, 2012), originally published in 1930.

The Socialist-Revolutionary Party was a populist party based on the peasantry. In the course of 1917 it split into moderate (right) and radical (left) factions.

“Reply to Ciliga,” New International, Vol. V, No. 2, February 1939, https://www.marxists.org/archive/serge/1…. Ante Ciliga was a Yugoslav Communist who was at one time a supporter of Trotsky’s Left Opposition. He later abandoned Marxism for Croatian nationalism.

Source : ISR Issue no.105

Peasant Uprising in the Russian Revolution of 1917-Chris Kinder

Posted by admin On March - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Peasant Uprising in the Russian Revolution of 1917-Chris Kinder


“The subsoil of the revolution was the agrarian problem.” —Trotsky

The Russian Revolution was, above all, a workers revolution. It put the working class in power for the first time in history, and promised a world revolution to come, which would abolish war, national oppression and exploitation forever. It inspired workers’ rebellions around the world, and came close to succeeding in its ultimate goal. But workers were not the only ones to rebel in Russia in 1917. Without peasant support, indeed without the peasant uprising to throw off their own chains of oppression, the Russian Revolution never could have survived.

Unlike most of Europe, Russia was a backward, primarily agrarian society, in which capitalism had a late start, and still, at the opening of the Twentieth Century, held no political rights under the Tsarist autocracy. The overwhelming majority of its populace were peasants. As in most peasant societies, there was a long history of rebellions, all of which were defeated, but which were memorialized in legend and song for centuries. When in February of 1917—in the midst of the devastation of World War I—urban workers and soldiers rose up and toppled the fragile Tsarist autocracy in a matter of days, peasants immediately took notice. Could their grievances, so long ignored, be addressed in this new situation?

Peasant rebellions were endemic in Russia
Peasant rebellions dated back as far as the Russian defeat of the Mongols, and the establishment of the Tsar as the “ruler of all Rus” in 1503. People of Mongol origin—Tatars, Kirghiz, Kalmuks, etc.—were deprived of all rights and could be forced into serfdom by the Russian nobility, and even into outright slavery (slave markets were legal until 1828.) Serfdom in Russia was slave-like feudalism—peasants were not allowed to leave the land they were born on. This soon produced uprisings, including major revolts in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The leader of the first of these, Stepan Razin, was memorialized in a statue dedicated by Lenin in 1918; and the second, led by Yemelyan Pugachev, amassed a great army and took several cities before its eventual defeat, and Pugachev’s public beheading.

These rebellions were remembered by the peasants, but also by the landed gentry and the autocracy. When Russia suffered a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War in the 1850s, at the hands of the decrepit Ottoman Empire and its British and French allies, Russian rulers began to think about modernization. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 under Alexander II was the immediate result. This decree took a step away from feudalism, and at first, peasants were thrilled. The communal land on which peasants toiled had belonged to the landlord, but now it was “allocated” to the peasant commune (the village mir.) But the devil was in the details, and the problems were many.

Fearful of revolution—such as those of 1848 in Western Europe—the gentry at first had wanted serfs to be freed, but without any land. The also fearful Tsar however, did not want to create a proletariat of landless workers. A compromise ensued, but it did not provide enough land for a growing population of peasants to survive on and still maintain their traditional three-field system.1 Furthermore, the landlords retained the best lands for themselves, and large sections of what had been commons, including forests, roads and rivers, were now accessible only for a fee. The forests were important to the peasants for building material and for fires in winter. Finally, the peasants were also required to make redemption payments for the land they did receive for 49 years, with interest! The peasants were still tied to the communal land, could not sell their portion of it, and often had to take jobs working on landlords’ farms, to the neglect of their own plots. In short, life remained grim for the peasants.

Capitalism creeps in
Underlying the land situation in 1861 was the insinuation of capitalism onto the scene. Just as in the latter days of feudalism in Western Europe, the landed gentry in Russia was accumulating debt to urban financiers. The redemption payments demanded of the peasants were to be the source of financing of bonds issued to the landlords by the state, so that the loss of ownership of the land could be turned into capital. But the redemption payments were essentially uncollectible from the poor peasants, who lacked sufficient land to be able to survive, let alone sell their produce.

The 1861 reforms had the effect of stimulating a capitalist market, however. The amount of grain for sale on the open market increased, as did non-gentry ownership of farms. The rural proletariat of landless laborers, composed of peasants who couldn’t make it as farmers, also increased. Here we have the background to uneven and combined development: an ancient but still dominant feudal aristocracy was becoming more intertwined with a nascent capitalism.

The 1905 revolution
As the Twentieth Century dawned however, the Russian autocracy failed another big test on the international stage. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Tsar’s naval fleet was demolished by the Japanese Empire, which the Tsar had seriously under-estimated. This debacle quickly sparked the Revolution of 1905. Workers rose up, went on strike, established workers soviets, and chose a revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, to lead the St. Petersburg Soviet. Peasants rose as well; not all, but enough to make the Tsar pick very carefully for a loyal regiment to shoot down protestors outside the Winter Palace in the Bloody Sunday massacre, killing at least 1,000. The 1905 uprising was put down, but the autocracy knew it had to do something to prevent further risings, and accelerate its modernization without undermining its still feudalistic noble ruling class. A fake parliament called the Duma was created, and the “solution” on the land was, essentially, more capitalism.

Based on earlier assessments of what was needed, Pyotr Stolypin, Chairman of the Tsar’s Council Ministers, laid out a plan in 1906, which was based on “banking on the strong ones.” The traditional communal land system was to be undermined by empowering peasants with the right to privatize the land by “cutting out” and selling their section of the commune. The reform also enabled the formation of peasant co-operatives, which became dominated by kulaks and middle peasants, who could operate on the market. This was “an explosive capitalist shell” aimed at the commune. The purpose was to promote capitalist farmers who would be a support for the regime. To facilitate this, the redemption payments of 1861, destined to expire anyway in 1910, were abolished.2

Peasants remained hungry and rebellious
Again, the penetration of capitalism on the land produced a stronger market, including international grain sales, as a minority of peasants were able to break away from the communes. Meanwhile, peasants who sold out their land because it was insufficient for them to live on added themselves to the ranks of landless farm laborers. Most peasants were enraged, and opposition to the land sales grew. In a year or two there were incidents of peasants seizing land that had been “cut out” from the commune, as well as attacks on big landlords, including the burning of mansions. The peasants, having gone through all the Tsar’s reforms, were still land hungry and rebellious.

The numbers illustrate the situation. In 1905, about one-half of all arable land was private (including church and state-owned land), and about half of that was owned by 30,000 great landed gentry. The other half of all arable land—and often the worst land—was in the hands of some ten million peasant families, mostly in the communes, or small ownership plots.

The final disaster for the Tsar
Enter the next, and, as it turned out, final disaster for the fragile regime of Tsardom: World War I. War recruitment carried away ten million workers and peasants, and stripped away two million horses, as well as food stuffs for the army and other resources, while defeats in the trenches mounted. Peasants who could no longer sow the land increased in number, and in the second year of war even some middle peasants began to go under.

An initial surge of patriotism was a setback for the revolutionary left (the Bolsheviks had been gaining strength in recent years,) but that didn’t last long. Workers’ rebellion soon infected the cities, and peasant hostility exploded from month to month. The stress on the economy was shown by the steady decline in bread rations for workers in (newly renamed) Petrograd. This provoked women workers to take to the streets in protest on International Women’s Day 1917; and they were soon followed by the rest of the workers and the soldiers who were garrisoned in and around Petrograd. Tsar Nicholas II, who had foolishly thought he could save his futile war by himself going to the front, abandoned his throne within days. The February Revolution was on.

Workers and peasants rise up
The workers immediately formed soviets again as in 1905, and peasants began to take action against the landlords, slowly at first, but soon ramping up. The February Revolution had dramatically increased the already high rate of desertions of peasant soldiers from the trenches. Returning to their home villages, these men were armed, impatient and ready to promote radical action. They took a leading role in events that were soon to envelop the countryside. The first weeks in February saw villages remain inert, but by March, the specter of a peasant war hung over the landlords. This was a mixture of paranoia and reality: in some provinces, peasant committees were arresting landlords, banishing them, seizing the land, or “readjusting” their rents arbitrarily. As some of the frightened nobles began selling properties, often to foreign investors, kulaks began buying them up as well. Poor peasants’ resentment of landlords began to extend to rich peasants as well, and objection to land sales mounted.3

The Revolution thus far had unleashed a torrent of organizing activities among the masses, and peasants were no exception. In May, a month-long All-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies was held in Petrograd. This conclave, though, composed primarily of representatives of the upper layers of the peasantry, provided an opportunity to assess the peasants’ state of mind. Delegates came from the zemstvos, or elected local assemblies, established by Tsar Alexander II in 1864, which were dominated by village shop keepers, as well as the co-ops of the more well-off peasants; and a few from the village mir. The representatives were overwhelmingly of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRs), the descendants of the Narodniks, who were intellectuals who proclaimed going “to the people” as the path to end Tsarist rule. While they proclaimed “land to the tiller,” their plan now was to pressure the bourgeoisie to implement land reform, through the projected Constituent Assembly, and were resolutely opposed to workers demands for peace or the eight-hour day, or peasants acting on their own to solve the land question.

Lenin addresses peasant congress
The Bolshevik delegation to this assembly was small, but Lenin addressed the congress on May 20th, and he proclaimed a program of land nationalization through organized direct action by the peasants regardless of legality. According to eyewitness Nicolai Sukhanov, “It would seem that Lenin had landed not merely in a camp of bitter enemies, but you might say in the very jaws of the crocodile.” But Sukhanov went on to report that, “The little muzhiks listened attentively and probably not without sympathy. But they dared not show it…”4

In fact, Lenin (not for the first time) had put his finger on the central problem facing the revolution: the fact that the bourgeoisie, which was tied in with the landed aristocracy, was incapable of making a democratic revolution. The Bolshevik position, in distinction from the Mensheviks, had always been that the working class alone was capable of making the democratic revolution. The Bolsheviks’ formula for this was the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. With the influence of Lenin’s thinking, and Trotsky’s promotion of the Marxist understanding of the revolution in permanence, this formula was revised to assert the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry. And that alliance, while it would expect the workers to take the lead in making their own revolution, and establishing a workers’ state, would not depend on the workers substituting themselves for peasant action. This was to be an alliance, not an over-lordship.

The key to the Russian Revolution
The revolution would necessitate that the workers put forward their own demands, not limiting themselves to the democratic simplicities of the capitalists. After all, the masses had rebelled in February against the imperialist war, yet it went on; and against the approaching famine (largely due to the war,) yet that went on; workers demanded the eight-hour day, but that was ignored; and the peasants were rebelling against the icy grip of the aristocracy over the land, yet the Provisional Government let that go on. Of all the supposedly “revolutionary” parties—Mensheviks, SRs, etc.—the Bolsheviks alone said that the masses should act for themselves in putting forward their own demands.

And that is the key to understanding the Russian Revolution: it was not a “coup;” it was a coming together of what the masses wanted and needed, and a leadership prepared to facilitate their success. That formula included the peasants, and explains the Bolshevik’s Land Decree, and its relation to the theory of permanent revolution.

For most of 1917 however, the peasants were represented by the SRs, not the Bolsheviks. At the peasants’ congress in May, at which Lenin spoke, the SRs promoted and passed an extremely radical resolution, calling for: “Conversion of all land into national property for equal working use, without any indemnity.” But they didn’t mean that the peasants should act on their own! As Trotsky explains, “To be sure, the kulak understood equality only in the sense of his equality with the landlord, not at all in the sense of his equality with the hired hands. However, this little misunderstanding between the fictitious socialism of the Narodniks and the agrarian democratism of the muzhiks would come out in the open only in the future.”5

SRs or Bolsheviks,
who should lead?
That “future” came quick. As the congress was winding down, reports came in of peasants taking the Congress’ resolutions seriously in the localities, and appropriating the land and equipment of the landlords. The SRs, at their own conference in early June, immediately sounded a retreat! They condemned all land seizures done arbitrarily by the peasants, and insisted that they wait for the Constituent Assembly. Their line was based on the fact that they were in alliance with the Provisional Government, in which they would soon be a part (their representative Alexander Kerensky became Minister of War, and then Minister Chairman.)

And so it went for months. The peasants clung to the SRs at the local level because of their avowed aims, but the SR leaders were all about compromising with the bourgeoisie, which was financially interlinked with the landed gentry. The landlords complained of the mounting confiscations of their land, and the Kadet (bourgeois liberal) bankers loaned out against the real estate for billions of rubles. So the SR tops supported the bourgeois government’s feeble attempts to defend the gentry’s land. They planned to dicker with the landlords over reconciling their utopian slogans with bourgeois interests at the Constituent Assembly; but the peasants were not waiting around for this pie in the sky.

Assault on the landlords
The action in the countryside soon became a stampede, with kulaks in the lead, with poor peasants drawn in on the general assault on the big landlords. The rich peasants had horses and wagons with which to sack the estates and carry off the goods, while the less well-off followed their lead in a wholesale demand for land. This was certainly not what the SR compromisers wanted, but it wasn’t exactly what the Bolsheviks wanted either. Lenin had called for organized confiscations, with peasant organizations taking over the big estates to work as collectives; and he emphasized the need for the landless workers and poor peasants to form soviets to present their own needs for socialization of the land. With some exceptions, neither of these calls were being heeded.

Yet the Bolsheviks, by October, though still a minority in local peasant organizations, had been the only party to call for peasant direct action, and peasants were listening. Trotsky reported that, in the escalating rush to attack the gentry’s estates, the SR leadership was increasingly pushed aside. This was documented by Trotsky in the Volga region: “The muzhiks called [their SR leaders] ‘old men,’ treating them with external deference, but voting in their own way.” Trotsky continues, “It is impossible to weigh the influence of the revolutionary workers upon the peasantry. It was continuous, molecular, [and] penetrating everywhere…”6

The October Revolution: Bolsheviks conquer power
This was the situation, as of the Bolshevik conquest of power on October 25th: the peasant masses, in opposition to their own SR leadership, and under the influence of revolutionary workers and Bolsheviks, were seizing the land. While carrying out the SR program of land to the tiller, rather than the Bolshevik plan for organized takeovers to establish collectivization, the peasants were staking their claim as a petty bourgeois class: they wanted the land. The brilliance of Lenin’s leadership now lay in accepting this, for the present, as the will of the masses.

The working class took power in alliance with the peasantry, who were the vast majority in the country, and Lenin knew that simply declaring the Bolshevik program as law would not change the reality of what the peasants were doing. The workers were in power, but no revolution can impose socialism by decree; it must be built brick by brick. The Land Decree, the second (after the peace decree) to be passed by the 2nd Congress of Soviets, was based on the resolutions of peasant organizations, passed under the leadership of the SRs. But while the SRs saw this as a bargaining chip to present to the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks saw it as the will of the peasants, taken by direct action, and endorsed it as such.

But how does this square with the theory of Permanent Revolution, which affirms that the working class in a backward country such as semi-feudal Russia, must not only make the democratic revolution that the bourgeoisie could not make, but must also put forward its own demands for socialism and workers’ rule? The workers’ own demands, for bread, peace and land, had been out there on the street from the February beginning. But complaints were heard, both within the Bolshevik Party and from without, about how the Bolsheviks failed to implement the socialist revolution on the land.

Rosa Luxemburg’s critique
Foremost among these critics was that of the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Writing from prison in 1918, Luxemburg asserted that, “the direct seizure of the land by the peasants has in general nothing at all in common with socialist economy.” And, she goes on, “In the first place, only the nationalization of the large landed estates…can serve as the point of departure for the socialist mode of production on the land.” In the second place, she asserts that, “one of the prerequisites of this transformation [is] that the separation between rural economy and industry…should be ended in such a way as to bring about a mutual interpenetration and fusion of both.”

All of this is right on the mark. Luxemburg then continues, “That the soviet government in Russia has not carried through these mighty reforms—who can reproach them for that!” She insists that the Soviet government, “in the brief period of their rule, in the center of the gripping whirlpool of domestic and foreign struggles,” could not have been expected to have accomplished these reforms, which she calls, “the most difficult task of the socialist transformation of society!” Again, well and good.

But then we come to the crux of the matter: Luxemburg says that, “A socialist government which has come to power must…take measures which lead in the direction of that fundamental prerequisite for a later socialist reform of agriculture…” This, she says, the Bolsheviks did not do by calling for “immediate seizure and distribution of the land by the peasants,” or, she says, Lenin’s slogan of “go and take the land for yourselves,” which “simply led to the sudden, chaotic conversion of large landownership into peasant landownership.” (Emphasis in original)7

Lenin promotes organized
land seizures
What Luxemburg missed here was probably not her fault. News of the Russian Revolution was highly restricted in Germany in 1918 under a government of Social Democrats who were soon to be her murderers; and especially if one was in prison, as she was. But the truth she missed is that Lenin tirelessly made clear two things: First, the call for the peasants to seize the land themselves was directed explicitly against the program of the SRs, which called for land nationalization, but instructed the peasants to wait for “negotiations” with the landlords, or for the bourgeois Constituent Assembly to decide. Secondly, Lenin consistently called for land seizures to be organized. As he said at the aforementioned Peasant Congress in May 1917, “Let him [the peasant] know that the land he is taking is not his land, nor is it the landowners, but the common property of the people…” and, “Until [the power of the working people is established], the local [peasant] authorities…should take over the landed estates and should do so in an organized manner according to the will of the majority.”8

In order to facilitate these aims, Lenin tried to promote the organization of landless and poor peasants, both before and after October, with, unfortunately, little result at first. Lenin also consistently argued for the preservation of gentry property for peoples’ use, rather than its destruction, which is what many peasants were doing. (In this, peasants were remembering their long experience with failed rebellions. They were saying, you must destroy everything, lest they come back.)

But Lenin’s Land Decree was very clear in laying down what Luxemburg advocated, i.e., “measures that lead in the direction [of] a later socialist reform of agriculture.” According to the Decree, “All land…shall become part of the national land fund. Its distribution among the peasants shall be in [the] charge of the local and self-government bodies, from democratically organized village and city communes, in which there are no distinctions of social rank, to central regional government bodies.”9

Peasants withhold grain in famine
Nevertheless, it’s true that the peasants’ appropriation of the land for themselves led to trouble for the workers state, in that peasants began to withhold grain to the cities, sparking threat of famine, as Rosa Luxemburg noted. But Luxemburg’s plea for a “fusion” of agriculture and industry, much to the chagrin of the Bolsheviks, was impossible just then. Starting with the early days of the Revolution, factories began to lock out workers in defiance of the Bolsheviks, and the trickle of workers who went back to the peasant villages where they were from increased.

Then, with the start of the Civil War, workers and peasants were called upon to form the Red Army, which they did with little hesitation, further interrupting what little production capacity was left. This became a key to the famine which gripped urban Russia in 1918-19: the workers—and their new state—had nothing to offer the peasants in the way of manufactured tools and goods in exchange for foodstuffs. Forced requisitioning of grain became essential. But without this Land Decree, solidifying the removal of the landlords, the Bolsheviks would have lost the civil war.

Bolsheviks finally make headway on the land
This dismal situation ironically improved somewhat with the resignation of the Left-SRs from the Soviet government after the ratification of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which ended Russia’s participation in World War I. I say “ironically,” because under the treaty, the Bolsheviks had to cede the Baltic States to Germany, and they had to recognize the independence of the Ukraine, which quickly came under German influence: not good. This is not to say that signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was not necessary: it was of utmost importance to end the imperialist war that had devastated Russia and Europe. But the Ukraine was the most highly developed, most capitalistic, and most productive of agricultural areas of the former Russian Empire.

However, with the SRs out of the government, their influence over the peasants declined. The SRs had tended to favor individual action by the richer stratum, while the Bolsheviks, whose influence now increased, continued to support poor and landless peasants. The “improvement” was that with this rising influence, and with the onset of the civil war in mid-1918, Lenin finally succeeded in mobilizing poor and landless peasants, through Poor Peasants Committees and Communes. This signaled that the Bolsheviks had succeeded in splitting the peasantry along class lines.

Lenin explains collectivist goals
Lenin explained this in a speech to a peasant congress of the Poor Peasants Committees and Communes, in December of 1918: “At first there was the general drive of the peasants against the landowners…This was followed by a struggle among the peasants themselves, among whom new capitalists arose in the shape of the kulaks, the exploiters and profiteers who used their surplus grain to enrich themselves at the expense of the starving non-agricultural parts of Russia.” Lenin emphasized that now, “…our common task and our common aim is the transition to socialist farming, to collective land tenure and collective farming.” This was to be done gradually, using persuasion and “transitional methods,” and involving middle peasants as well as poor.10

The Kulaks and poor peasants had been united in overthrowing the landlords, but now rich peasants were selling their grain on the black market at high prices, defying the workers’ state’s monopoly, and even threatening its survival. The organization of poor peasants promoted the state monopoly on the sale of foodstuffs, aided in grain seizures from the rich peasants, and supported the mobilization of peasants in support of the workers state in the face of imperialist and White army reactionaries mobilizing to destroy it.

The drive to collectivize would not be completed in Lenin’s lifetime, nor would it prevent the “one step back” that the Bolsheviks had to take at the end of the civil war in 1921, in the form of the New Economic Policy, or NEP, which became necessary to jump start Russia’s devastated economy. However, the Bolshevik’s commitment to the permanent revolution is fully confirmed by their handling of the peasant question. Just barely out of feudalism, the peasant majority in Russia, oppressed by the landlords and hungry for land, had to go through the stage of making the bourgeois revolution on the land, which they could only do with the alliance, and leadership, of the urban proletariat.

But this “stage” of the peasant revolution must not be confused with the stagism of the Mensheviks or the Stalinists who later led the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. In the Menshevik/SR/Stalinist worldview, the bourgeois revolution had to come first, while the working class waited for the bourgeoisie to complete a revolution (which it was incapable of completing.) But the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky were not so inclined. They showed that indeed, the working class had to press forward with its own demands in order not only to complete the bourgeois revolution (including that of the peasants), but to move forward toward socialism for workers, and in timely fashion, for the peasants as well.

Throughout history, peasant revolts had never been capable of leading to a peasant revolutionary state. The peasants, being class divided among themselves, could only prompt a new dynasty (as in China,) or a new urban petty-bourgeois layer into power. They had never been so capable, that is, until the Russian Revolution, when, together with the working class, they made history.

1 The three-field system, in which two fields were planted and one left fallow, rotating each year, was a standard throughout feudal Europe. This helped prevent soil depletion from over-working, and from the planting of single crops endlessly on the same fields. Modern agriculture attempts to circumvent this with artificial fertilizers, but that is another story.

2 Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Sphere Books Ltd, London, 1967, Vol. I p. 59

3 Trotsky, Vol. I, p. 364-65

4 N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917, Harper, 1962, Vol. 2, p. 371. Sukhanov was a Menshevik with a wide range of contradictory opinions, but he was a great eyewitness reporter. A “Muzhik” is a Russian peasant.

5 Trotsky, Vol. I, p. 371.

6 Trotsky, Vol. III, p. 24.

7 Rosa Luxemburg, “The Russian Revolution,” in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, Pathfinder Press, 1970. This was written in mid-1918 and not published until years later.

8 Lenin, “Speech On the Agrarian Question,” to First All Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, May 22 (June 4th) 1917, Collected Works (CW), Vol. 24. pp. 486-505.

9 Lenin’s Decree on the Land, in Mervyn Matthews, ed., Soviet Government: A Selection of Official Documents on Internal Policies, New York, 1974, p. 319.

10 Lenin, “Speech To The First All-Russian Congress of Land Departments, Poor Peasants’ Committees and Communes.” December 11, 1918, in CW, Vol. 28, pp. 338-48. Transitional methods included state support and incentives for collective farms.

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Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism Socialism from Below-Joel Geier

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Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism
Socialism from Below
By Joel Geier

Fifty-one years ago the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club published Hal Draper’s The Two Souls ofSocialism.1 Of the hundreds of radical pamphlets published in the 1960s, Two Souls has had perhaps the longest-lasting impact. Appearing at a time when various forms of top-down versions of socialism—social democracy, Stalinism, and Maoism—were in vogue, its emphasis on workers’ self-emancipation set it clearly apart. Moreover, Draper did not merely reintroduce genuine Marxism to a new generation; in its originality and clarity, Two Souls—and the subsequent work that elaborated in detail on his arguments—presented a different way of looking at the world, at socialism, and at competing ideologies.

Traditional interpretations maintained that the essential divisions in the socialist movement were between reform and revolution, pacifism versus violence, and democracy versus authoritarianism. Two Souls took a somewhat different angle, namely, that “throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-From-Above and Socialism-From-Below,”2 thus introducing the vocabulary, narrative, and ideas of socialism from below as the contemporary representation of revolutionary Marxism.

The unifying feature of the many varieties of socialism from above, Draper argued, is distrust or opposition to the working-class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. Socialism from above, Draper specified, is the idea that socialism “must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite not subject to their control in fact.”3 Distrust of the mass’s ability to rule and denial of democratic control from below are the core tenets of the many variants of socialism from above that have dominated the history of the socialist movement.

The heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”4 These few words summarize what Draper would later work for decades to restore and defend as the heart of revolutionary Marxism in his analysis of the entire body of Marx’s political writings, as presented in numerous articles, as well as in his indispensable, magnificent multivolume series, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).

A major thesis of Two Souls was that social democracy and Stalinism, the two major self-styled socialisms from above, despite their real and obvious differences, both identify socialism with the statification of the economy, and both reject workers’ democratic rule as the foundation of socialism. Long before Stalinism, Eduard Bernstein, the theoretical father of social-democratic reformism, was the first to revise Marxism to eliminate working-class self-emancipation from its essence, substituting “superior educated” parliamentary representatives for the “uninformed masses” as the agency for socialism. Social democracy and Stalinism, whose advocates strongly denied their similarities, were the dominant radical ideologies that divided the socialist movement during Draper’s political life, which was split between those who supported “democratic” Washington or “socialist” Moscow. These constrained political choices debilitated the working-class movement long before the wrecking operations of neoliberal capitalism began.

Draper’s other major insight in Two Souls was to show how Marx closely linked revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism. Draper traced Marx’s path as “the first socialist thinker and leader who came to socialism through the struggle for liberal democracy,” beginning political life as a “radical democratic extremist,” defending all democratic rights throughout his life, and insisting that democracy meant control from below. Before Marx, “Nowhere did the line of the Socialist Idea intersect with the line of Democracy-from-Below,”5 joining collectivism with democracy. Draper demonstrated that only proletarian socialism could merge collectivism with democracy. Without this fusion of revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism, he argued, all other radical variants eventually veer off into some form of socialism from above.

Yet Draper showed that Marx was not so naïve as to think that workers could at any moment run society. To do so, they would have to transform their consciousness and themselves through struggle. As Marx argued to the Communist League in 1850,

We say to the workers: “You will have to go through 15 or 20 or 50 years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change extant conditions, but also in order to change yourselves and render yourselves fit for political domination”; you on the other hand say to the workers: “We must attain to power at once, or else we may just as well go to sleep.”6

“This is Marx’s program for the working-class movement,” wrote Draper, “as against those who say the workers can take power any Sunday, and those who say never.”7

Two Souls then applies these insights by contrasting the theory and practice of different, important socialists from above and below. Draper showed that the fathers of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, were not the libertarians they are claimed to be but authoritarian opponents of all democracy, including a workers’ state. Proudhon, for example, opposed the right to strike. Draper exposed the German Social Democrats Ferdinand Lassalle, and Eduard Bernstein, the English Fabians, and the American nationalist Edward Bellamy—state socialists, revisionists, and would-be reformists—as glorifiers of the existing state and its bureaucracy with its lack of democratic control from below. He contrasted them with contemporary revolutionary champions of workers’ control: William Morris, Rosa Luxemburg, and Eugene Debs, among others. Draper later expanded the pamphlet’s short historical overview of socialism from above with greater depth in the “Critique of Other Socialisms” section of his KMTR.8

Two Souls was a transformative text for those socialists attempting to uphold and revive genuine Marxism in a period dominated by variants of socialism from above. Its introduction defined the political identity of the Independent Socialist Clubs, founded by Draper (along with this author) in Berkeley in 1964. Draper’s ideas were also shared by the International Socialists (IS) in Britain and the International Socialist tendency, a collection of small left organizations internationally, committed to opposing both US imperialism and Stalinism, and that were closely connected to the IS in the UK. Two Souls continues to inform the politics of the International Socialist Organization.

Though Two Souls gained some notoriety on the left, most of Draper’s valuable contributions to Marxism are almost unknown, invisible to today’s radicals. And yet, Draper was arguably the most important American author and defender of international socialist politics in the last half of the twentieth century. Draper’s substantial theoretical innovations came in the period when Marxism was also being distorted beyond recognition by academic reinterpretations that considered Marxism as a form of “class reductionism.”

Draper was resolute in keeping revolutionary ideas alive in those hollow years. Much as Lenin had done in his work State and Revolution, Draper worked to bring Marx’s views—as Marx himself expressed them—to light, to free them from the distortions of “friends” as well as enemies.

The aim of this essay is to introduce to the newly emerging socialist movement Draper’s central role as the Marxist navigator of late-twentieth-century American socialism, free of all the distortions of socialism from above. In that spirit, this article will present a short survey of his work in the context of his political activity.

Along with Engels, Draper believed that Marx’s “real mission in life was to contribute…to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat . . . to make [it] conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation.”9

Born Harold Dubinksy in Brooklyn in 1914, the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from Ukraine, Draper joined the youth organization of the Socialist Party, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), when he was a teenager, becoming one of the outstanding socialist student leaders of the 1930s in the student antiwar strikes and in the American Student Union.10 His major achievement in the 1930s was winning the YPSL to the Trotskyist Fourth International—the association of international organizations and parties adhering to the politics of Leon Trotsky, the exiled leader of the Russian revolution who had broken with Russia’s rising bureaucratic state under Stalin. As Draper reported in the September 1937 issue of Socialist Appeal, “The Young People’s Socialist League became the first organization of the Second International to go over to the banner of the Fourth Internationalist movement by action of its 9th National Convention.”11 It was unfortunately, an unmatched record; no other Second International organization ever followed. As a Trotskyist, Draper took part in the US Socialist Workers’ Party founding convention in 1937–38.

But the Fourth International soon revealed that it was unprepared for the eruption of Russian imperialism and the spread of Stalinism beyond Russia. In August 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a neutrality pact in which they agreed to militarily carve up Poland between them. With crucial German support, Russia occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Finland and Romania. In return, the Russians provided the Nazis with secure borders to successfully fight a one-front war in the West, which led to the conquest of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and France.

The Trotskyist movement maintained that since nationalized property was a conquest of the revolution, Russia remained a workers’ state in spite of the fact that workers were not in control. On these grounds, they supported the Russians in this war of foreign conquest and occupation, calling upon the workers of the invaded countries to assist the Russian army. They claimed that doing so was “defending Russia from imperialist attack.”

Draper was part of a group of SWP leaders that included Max Shachtman, James Burnham, and Martin Abern who refused to support the Soviet invasion and occupation of Eastern European states, and concluded that Russia under Stalin had developed into a new form of class society. The dissidents in 1940 raised a slogan that summarized their opposition to all sides in the war as imperialist, and which would be their signature banner for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but for the Third Camp of International Socialism.”12 Draper, who as head of the YPSL had led most of its members into the SWP, now as national secretary of the YPSL Fourth International led 90 percent of its members into the new Trotskyist opposition as the movement split over World War II.

Draper was part of the opposition team developing the new position that, under Stalinism, the bureaucracy had emerged as a collectivized ruling class. The Trotskyist majority argued that since the invading Russian army was nationalizing property, destroying the capitalist class, and setting up social systems identical to those of the “Russian workers’ state,” it was carrying out the socialist revolution from above through “bureaucratic, military means.” The opposition, which soon left the SWP to form the Workers’ Party (WP), insisted that, while bourgeois revolutions were often carried out from above, there was no such thing as a socialist revolution from above: the socialist revolution, in Marx’s words, could only be achieved through the self-emancipation of the proletariat.13

The WP restored the theory that workers’ democracy is central to socialism by reexamining what constitutes a workers’ state when property is nationalized. When property is nationalized, they concluded, the question becomes: Who owns and controls the state that is the repository of nationalized property? Workers’ democracy is not an added extra but an essential element; socialism cannot exist without workers’ control of nationalized property, the economy, and the state. In Marx’s words, it is “the raising of the working class to [the] position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy” that defines a workers’ state. When the working class has no power, there is no workers’ state; those who have power, the bureaucracy, are actually the ruling class.

These ideas, which overcame confusion that arose during the process of degeneration of the Russian Revolution, were first developed in the Workers’ Party under the collective leadership of Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, C. L. R. James, Joseph Carter, Ernest Rice McKinney, Albert Glotzer, Raya Dunayevskaya, Irving Howe, Julius Jacobson, and many other veteran Trotskyists. Draper’s collaboration was essential in developing these positions; he spent the rest of his life elaborating upon them. Most of his work cannot be separated from the collective contribution of the WP and its successors.14

Draper was a shipyard worker in San Pedro, California, and a rank-and-file trade union militant during World War II. He took an active part in the finest moment of the WP’s history: its class-struggle approach to antiwar work. That work created rank-and-file groups in major industrial unions in opposition to the pro-war no-strike pledge and class collaboration with the War Labor Board—a pledge signed by the trade-union bureaucracy and supported by the social democrats and Stalinists. In the ensuing great wildcat-strike wave of the war years, the WP was the only radical group willing and able to provide direction and leadership.

When Draper was laid off from the shipyards, he became a full-time organizer for the Los Angeles branch of the WP. His proudest achievement as branch organizer was coordinating trade union work and leading opposition to racism and to fascists through direct working-class mass mobilization, without calling upon the state to ban free speech.

In his article “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” he drew upon these lessons to answer similar questions that arose in the 1960s and are relevant today in the fight against the right wing. “Revolutionary socialists,” he argued, “want to push to the limit . . . the fullest democratic involvement of the great mass of the people . . . all the way [without which] no progressive social transformation is possible.” But he did not reduce all social struggles (strikes, wars, revolutions, etc.) to questions of free speech. “Only juridical cretins can believe that all social struggles are resolved by any kind of speech, free or otherwise…. [S]ocial struggles are decided by the contest of power.”15

In 1948, Draper was called back to New York to help stabilize the WP as editor of the New International, the group’s theoretical monthly. In 1949, the WP reorganized itself as the Independent Socialist League (ISL)—concluding that its size did not warrant calling itself a “party”—with Draper as the editor of its newspaper, Labor Action. For the next eight years, he was pivotal in holding the ISL together by almost singlehandedly putting out a lively newsweekly. At times he wrote entire issues under pen names (Philip Coben, Bernard Cramer, Paul Temple, and H. Spector) to disguise that this stimulating newspaper was the work of one person. A major benefit of Labor Action was its role in educating the Socialist Youth League (later the Young Socialist League), aligned with the ISL—the sole non-Stalinist socialist youth organization of the period. This small youth renewal maintained the continuity of revolutionary socialism, playing an outsized role in the new civil rights movement, and producing a remarkable number of radical leaders of the 1960s as well as cadres for both the future International Socialists (IS) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Draper’s journalism in the years of reaction strengthened the ISL’s political outlook and international influence, despite its ongoing decline. Labor Action was distinguished by its defense of civil liberties against the anti-Communist witch hunts, championing the emerging civil rights movement, defense of the labor movement, implacable hostility to all imperialism, and support of class struggle and revolt everywhere it appeared. While Labor Action is archived in the Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org), the lack of an index means that the vast majority of Draper’s writings are not readily accessible.16

At the end of the 1940s, Draper directed the ISL’s attempt to deal with the postwar reality that had destroyed its prewar Trotskyist perspective that the end of the war would result in socialist revolution in the capitalist countries and that Stalinism could not survive the war. The ISL dropped the revolutionary dogma that capitalism was no longer capable of expanding, and introduced the “permanent war economy” theory as a starting point to explain the postwar boom.17

The expansion of Stalinism led many ex-radicals, like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, to support the West, with theories that Stalinism atomized the working class, rendering it incapable of resistance, thus ending class struggle and history. Draper and Shachtman argued instead that Stalinism’s class and national contradictions showed it would be an unstable, short-lived system. Their position was soon confirmed by the Titoist Yugoslav Communist split with Moscow and by working-class revolts in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, about which Draper wrote extensively.18 But political clarity was not enough to overcome demoralization as revolutionary prospects faded. Cold War McCarthyism hit the working-class left, and the WP went into a long, drawn-out political and organizational decline.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Draper was the most prominent American advocate of third-camp socialism. His was a heroic but losing fight against the drift of the socialist movement toward accommodating and capitulating to Washington or Moscow. He wrote a stream of exposés of the ruling class’s actions, maneuvers, dynamics, policies, and aims for world domination. Some of his strongest polemics were against his former comrades of the WP/ISL, led by Max Shachtman and later Michael Harrington, as they integrated into the pro-Western camp. In 1961, for example, he published a pamphlet that included a speech that Shachtman had delivered to the SP supporting the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, along with his own critique of Shachtman’s arguments.19 Draper’s writings from this period left a strong anti-imperialist heritage for his comrades in the International Socialists to build upon, particularly when they were isolated on the left (as when they publicly opposed Israel’s 1967 War) or faced apologetics for the foreign policies of so-called “progressive” ruling classes.

Only a few of Draper’s antiwar articles are easily available. One collection, America as Overlord,20 begins with “Behind Yalta: The Truth About the War,” a superb exposé that took up the entire April 4, 1955, issue of Labor Action.21 It examined the just-released papers of the February 1945 Yalta Conference, in which the “three great democrats,” Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met to celebrate their approaching victory by dividing Europe as the spoils of war. As Churchill claims to have said to Stalin at Yalta: “Don’t let us get at cross purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have 90 percent predominance in Romania, for us to have 90 percent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?”22 Draper’s study of the Yalta papers highlighted the imperialist deals that World War II was really about; the contempt that the Big Three had for less powerful nations, including their allies; and the unfolding imperialist rivalries between the three that were to become harbingers of the Cold War. Draper revealed that, at Yalta, the rivalry between Britain and the United States was greater than that between either of them and Russia. Neither the Americans nor the British understood the profound change in the imperialist balance of forces that was shortly to become apparent, beginning the next round of imperialist competition between America and the USSR.

Imperialist crimes examined

In the 1950s Draper focused on the major imperialist crimes of the period (Korea, Suez, Algeria, Hungary), but he also wrote on imperialist outrages others neglected, with essays on America’s role in Guatemala, Okinawa, Samoa, and Guam. The highlight of the collection in America as Overlord are bookend pieces on distinct phases of American imperialism. In the essay “America as Arbiter,” Draper examines the Suez crisis to probe the changes in relations between the United States and the other capitalist powers that resulted from World War II. He defines this new phase of imperialism in the role of the United States as organizer of world capitalism, the superpower that acts as “mediator and arbiter” of its imperialist camp—one that, to be sure, had its own interests within that camp, but had to reconcile the interests of the conflicting capitalist powers into one camp under its domination. Draper connects this to the feudal relation—not of master and serf but of overlord and vassal—and probes the contradictions of this new role as policeman, dominator, organizer, and arbiter for global capitalism.23

The book ends with a wonderful essay that is still relevant as a guide on how to support progressive wars, despite their limitations. “The ABC of National Liberation Movements” was written in 1968, after a massive military action by the forces of the National Liberation Front throughout Vietnam (the Tet offensive), to change the position of the Independent Socialist Clubs.24 Draper argues in an introductory note that Tet revealed that the “war in Vietnam was not primarily a civil war between two Vietnamese sides, one of which (the old reactionary side) was being supported by the imported arms of western imperialists. The Tet offensive showed conclusively that the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese supported the NLF either actively or passively.”

Despite the NLF’s Stalinist politics, which the ISC continued to oppose, it was necessary to support the NLF’s victory as a struggle for self-determination against foreign imperialist aggression. Draper described the historical support of the Marxist movement for genuine wars of national liberation or for democratic rights, despite the undemocratic character and reactionary politics of the class and/or political forces leading them. In doing so, he draws out the distinction between political and military support—“military support” being the Marxist term for supporting the victory of one side without providing political support for its leadership. He then explains the application of this revolutionary policy in previous wars, in a survey that includes China under Chiang Kai-shek against Japanese attack; Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito against a potential Russian invasion; and Ethiopia under Haile Selassie against Mussolini’s Italy, among others. Though written contemporaneously to address a needed adjustment to a political line, it remains a powerful education on Marxist war policy.

The other volume of Draper’s 1950s antiwar essays is War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism.25 This book is a primer on all aspects of antiwar methodology. Draper addressed the confused thinking within the socialist movement as it attempted to maintain Lenin’s slogan that he issued with the outbreak of World War I of “revolutionary defeatism.” In normal language, calling for the defeat of one side in a conflict implies that you support the victory of the other side. Most revolutionaries thought that if you were not for defeat, then somehow you were for the defense. But as Draper said, “This defeatism of Lenin’s sought to combine some variety of ‘defeat of your own government’ with the antiwar policy of opposition to both war camps.” The murkiness of the position became obvious during World War II for socialists who did not support the Allied war but were not calling for the defeat of the United States by Nazi Germany.

In exploring the history of this slogan in Lenin’s work, Draper discovered that it originated in the Russo-Japanese War, when he supported the defeat of Russia and the victory of “progressive” Japan; this was prior to his understanding of modern imperialism. Lenin later argued that the defeat slogan applied only to reactionary tsarist Russia, not to other countries. But the German Social Democratic Party used precisely that argument to justify its social-patriotic line for supporting Germany against Russia in World War I. Lenin’s slogan became more confusing when socialists attempted to apply it to all countries in an inter-imperialist war such as World War I, calling for the defeat of all while disclaiming victory for any. Lenin justified his position by arguing that calling for defeat would facilitate revolution—it was a way to cut against any concession to ones “own” government’s patriotism. But revolution should not be equated with defeat, nor does defeat necessarily facilitate revolution—it can just as easily facilitate reaction. Lenin had firsthand experience of that danger in the Russian Revolution. The plots of General Kornilov, Alexander Kerensky (president of the provisional government), and others were designed to produce military setbacks—the surrender of Petrograd, and even Russia’s defeat by Germany as a lesser evil—in order to facilitate the victory of the counterrevolution.

Draper sympathetically contrasted the views of leading anti-war internationalists like Luxemburg and Trotsky, who were against both imperialist camps; but in opposing the military victory of their own government, they did not counterpose a desire for its military defeat. Draper’s investigation showed that Lenin abandoned revolutionary defeatism in 1916, didn’t raise it during the Russian Revolution, and never repeated it. The position did not appear in any early Comintern documents.

Zinoviev revived “revolutionary defeatism” in the fight against the Left Opposition to magnify historical differences between Trotsky and Lenin. It was incorporated into the program at the Sixth Comintern Congress of 1928. Defeatism became integrated into the revolutionary canon as the only consistent antiwar policy. Draper’s intellectual courage and principled scholarship caused him to challenge existing revolutionary dogma and examine every aspect of Lenin’s views and contradictions on the question, rejecting defeatism as the one unsound aspect of Lenin’s war policy.

These essays are a remarkable training in socialist scholarship. They show how Marxists can have an open, inquisitive, critical attitude to our theoretical heritage, preserving its essence while overcoming errors. It is one of Draper’s finest contributions to Marxist policy as well as revolutionary functioning. These two books are among the few readily available articles from Draper’s many writings in the 1950s.26

Into the library

Despite Draper’s effort to hold the ISL together through its publications, in 1958 Max Shachtman convinced the organization to dissolve into the Socialist Party. Draper, in his unsuccessful opposition, saw this as an enormous capitulation to right-wing social-democratic politics. In its aftermath he stopped being a full-timer, went to library school, and moved to Berkeley, California, where he worked part-time in the university library. His activity shifted from journalism to theoretical essays, including works that would later become incorporated into Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Among those essays are “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Marx and Engels,” “Marx and Engels On Women’s Liberation,” “The Death of the State in Marx and Engels,” and “The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels.”27

All of these titles reference both Marx and Engels; Draper was the strongest fighter against the “persistent effort to put a wall between them . . . eliminating Engels from the picture has a massively crippling effect on any attempt to understand Marx.” He defended Marx and Engels as a partnership, referring to them as “The Firm”—a collaboration with an agreed-upon division of labor. It’s a recurring staple in academic Marxism that the two held different views and that, on at least some questions, Engels didn’t understand Marxism. Draper argues that if Engels got it wrong and Marx thought that he and Engels had the exact same views, “obviously, Marx did not understand Marxism either; only the mythologists do.” To attempt to separate the work of their collaboration, Draper maintained, is to create a hole in the Marxist canon, and “the bigger the vacuum that can be created in the Marx canon the more easily can the empty spaces be filled in freehand and at will by anyone who cares to spin a fantasy of their own about Marxism.”28

In the 1960s, Draper, more than any other radical from the 1930s, was able to make the leap into the new radicalism—as a participant, an interpreter, and a defender of the emerging New Left movements. To start, he was instrumental in the split with the Shachtmanites as they moved to support the Democratic Party and American imperialism, a split that led to the formation of the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club (ISC), forerunner of the International Socialists. He initially opposed a membership organization, but without convincing him, the ISC would not have been founded; he was its theoretical and political leader. It was through the ISC and its cadres that Draper would have his greatest impact on the radicalization of the 1960s.

Auspiciously, the ISC was formed the same night as the Free Speech Movement (FSM), in which Draper and the ISC had important roles. Present at the ISC’s invitation-only inaugural meeting were Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, shortly to become the two major leaders of the FSM, and this author. These three attended the ISC’s first public meeting, where Draper spoke on “Clark Kerr’s Vision of the University.” The next day Weinberg was arrested at the Campus Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) table and placed in a police car, which provoked the now-famous sit-down around the car. The police car became the stage for a speak-out in which both Savio and Weinberg carried Draper’s ideas of the preceding night into the new movement. The following week, the ISC published those ideas as a pamphlet called The Mind of Clark Kerr, His View of the University Factory,29 which became the “bible” of the FSM—the framework of ideas for which it fought against Kerr’s model of the university. Kerr, then president of the University of California system, saw the university as a “knowledge factory,” integrated with and subservient to industry and business, with himself as the “captain of the bureaucracy” and students as raw material to become technicians and middle managers for capitalism. It was, Kerr said, the “wave of the future” and it would be pointless to try to fight it—or so he thought until the captains of business ordered their hired hand in the bureaucracy to shut down the Berkeley civil rights movement, unleashing the FSM.

Draper was a frequent, powerful speaker at FSM rallies, interpreting the dynamics of the social and political forces in California that stood lined up against the students in the battle of Berkeley. He connected with and understood the impulses and consciousness moving the new generation of radicals. Kerr saw Draper as his main intellectual opponent, referring to him as “the chief guru of the FSM.”30 Many of Draper’s ideas were expressed by Mario Savio, including in his famous speech on stopping the machine by putting your bodies on the gears. Draper wrote the classic history of the FSM: Berkeley, The New Student Revolt.31 His series of articles in New Politics marked his role as the intellectual defender of the New Left against its old-left critics.32

The FSM was a link in the radical chain, the bridge between the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, the catalyst in the creation of the mass student left that played a leading role in the antiwar and other social movements. The American war in Vietnam took off a few months after the FSM was founded, in March 1965. Opposition emerged with a series of teach-ins that began at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spread throughout the country. In Berkeley, as a result of the FSM, the thirty-six-hour Vietnam Day teach-in was the largest in the country, drawing 30,000 people. Draper, as representative of the ISC, was asked to debate a leading peace activist, Robert Pickus, on immediate withdrawal versus negotiations now. Draper boldly proclaimed that people who proposed negotiations shared the American imperialist mentality, assuming that the United States had a right to negotiate the fate of another country. Second, he asserted that promoting negotiations was a pro-war position of “war now, peace later.”33 The United States would continue to wage war while it negotiated to achieve its goals, and if the Vietnamese did not capitulate to US demands, war would be prolonged. Negotiations were thus a liberal cover to justify the continuation of war. Using his impressive knowledge of foreign policy, Draper won the debate and the Berkeley student movement to the position of immediate withdrawal. From there the call for immediate withdrawal gained credibility and spread nationally. This would have occurred in time without Draper’s efforts, but he certainly helped speed up the process.

In 1967, Draper wrote an article for the first issue of the Independent Socialist (later renamed Workers’ Power) called “Who Will Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” 34 After Two Souls, it is the most quoted and best known of Draper’s writings. It makes an unforgettable argument against voting for the Democratic Party as a lesser evil by showing how that dynamic has helped propel all politics further to the right. Draper reasoned “that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.” Even when there really is a lesser evil, supporting it undercuts prospects for fighting the Right, and usually results in getting both the lesser and the greater evil—as liberal and conservative policies often converge to serve the needs of capitalism. In posing the question of whether to vote for the Democrats as the lesser evil, “it is the question that is the disaster, not the answer. In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitations of this choice.”

In 1968, the ISC was the architect of the California Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), which registered 120,000 people into a new, independent political party committed to Black liberation and opposition to the war. The PFP formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party (BPP), and Draper played a major role in organizing the campaign to run Eldridge Cleaver of the BPP as the PFP’s presidential nominee. Cleaver’s politics, however, were unstable; he made rapid moves to ally first with the politics of counterculture “yippies,” and then those of guerrilla warfare. This led to a disastrous campaign and damaged hopes that the PFP would be the springboard for independent political action. It was to be the last major movement activism he engaged in. The collapse of the New Left and student movements in the next two years was another demoralizing element.

In 1971, Draper led a small split from the International Socialists. The new perspective he outlined was that the road to a revolutionary party was not through traditional socialist organization, though this was still the future goal. Two of Draper’s essays now popular on the internet, “A New Beginning” and “Anatomy of the Micro-sect,” summarize his new position.35 Although they are the weakest of Draper’s published works, they found significant support among radicals who were disillusioned with revolutionary organization and open to viewing the decline of the Left during a reactionary period as due to subjective weakness in left organizations, including real sectarianism that existed at the time among competing small organizations making wildly unrealistic claims as to their own capacity to lead the masses.

Draper proposed creating a political center, principally defined as a publication center, as an alternative to what he rejected as the “sect” road, a membership organization based on a well-defined program. In a series of essays, Draper, known for being extraordinarily meticulous in his scholarship, strangely presents embarrassingly superficial historical narratives to back up his new views. He makes the sweeping claim, without evidence, that no sect has ever succeeded in producing a revolutionary party, ignoring the emergence of the European socialist movement. Bolshevism, he asserts, was in essence Lenin’s political center, focused on the publication Iskra. This has some validity for the period leading up to 1903 and the formation of the relatively small Bolshevik faction. The subsequent emergence of Bolshevism as a mass party with its underground illegal organization, shop organization, factory-cell structure, district committees, and cadres is ignored, replaced by Draper’s bizarre, unsubstantiated claims that the Bolsheviks remained a faction, was not a membership organization, and was a broad party.

The real difficulties of building revolutionary organization evaporate when all that is needed is a publication produced by a small number of self-selected editors, without the messy problems of a membership, democratic input, control, or correction. Draper criticizes the failures of sects, while ignoring the inability of political centers such as Monthly Review, the National Guardian, and Dissent, to be the road to creating a mass party. He ignores the history of his own political centers that were no more successful. Labor Action could not stop the disintegration of the ISL. The Independent Socialist Committee of 1963, which Draper chaired, attempted to maintain loose ties with left-wingers through pamphlets, publications, and correspondence, and was a miserable flop until the ISC launched as a membership organization. The Center for Socialist History has issued some good publications, but that’s its limit.

The best ideas cannot substitute for organization. The most tragic example is that of Leon Trotsky acting as a fantastic political center in 1930s Germany. Trotsky’s writings on fascism and how to fight it are among the greatest works of Marxist analysis, and they had mass readership and popular support. But they could not be translated into action, as the miniscule size of the Trotskyist organization made it impossible for Trotsky’s views to become a material factor in the fight against fascism. Draper’s ideas, as this essay maintains, are vital in the fight for socialist revolution. But they can only be realized if they are debated and deployed by revolutionary fighters, cadres, and rank-and-file workers trained in organizations based on those political ideas.

In the last twenty years of his life, Draper made his last great contribution to the socialist movement by delivering the fullest explanation of revolutionary Marxism ever to appear in print, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).36KMTR, four massive volumes that total more than 3,000 pages, provides the foundation for the entire structure of the politics of socialism from below. It integrates the interconnected political questions that Marx worked on throughout his life: class, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and other classes; self-emancipation; the class nature of the state; state bureaucracy; revolution; Bonapartism; the dictatorship of the proletariat; and other political tendencies. Its amazing scholarship was an inspired advance in Marxist literature and theory. As Paul Sweezy of Monthly Review stated, “It will remain an indispensable source for all serious students of Marxian ideas . . . there is nothing in the existing literature which is even remotely comparable to it.” It is an all-encompassing but, as Robert Heilbroner wrote in the New York Review of Books, “extraordinarily stimulating work, written in a fresh, open, often amusing style.” 37 It is the outcome of Draper’s talents as a highly readable, clear, engaging, and witty writer. His brilliant intellect, sharp, analytical mind, and extraordinary capacity for hard work shine through each volume. Draper taught himself German as he was writing the book to better understand Marx’s words, nuances, meanings, and to retranslate passages where Marx had been misinterpreted by inaccurate or clumsy translations.

Draper’s self-imposed mission in KMTR is to allow Marx to speak for himself, to restore Marx’s thought—not as others have interpreted it but as Marx himself saw it. It is, in its copious citation of Marx’s ideas, Marx’s own “meaning of Marxism.” Draper does this not through selective clippings, quotations, or articles, but through systematically engaging with Marx’s entire corpus. Draper restricts his study to Marx the political man, not Marx the philosopher, economist, or theorist of historical materialism. His anchor begins with Engels’s characterization that “above all else Marx was a proletarian revolutionist,” and the first volume begins with a new explanation of how Marx became a Marxist. Draper focuses not on the traditional narrative of Marx’s philosophical development—from the Young Hegelians to Feuerbach, and beyond—but rather on Marx’s political emancipation from Hegel’s political philosophy on the state, bureaucracy, and private property. For Hegel the state (including the absolutist, authoritarian, monarchical Prussian state) is eternal; it embodies the just relationship of harmony among society’s elements and is the realization of freedom. The state bureaucracy was thus the “universal class,” representing the interests of all of society.38 Marx’s rejection of the existing state and its institutions and bureaucracy led him on a journey “from a radical-democratic liberal to revolutionary-democratic communist,” from democratic extremist defender of the free press and all democratic rights to finding that those goals were best realized in the proletariat, in socialism, and—crucially—in the principle of proletarian self-emancipation, the foundation of revolutionary socialism from below.

Draper’s first volume, State and Bureaucracy, is not a “short course” introduction with a few maxims and quotations on the relation of the state to the ruling class. It explores Marx’s realization that the state and the bureaucracy exist to defend private property, which led him to become a Marxist. Throughout his life he continued to refine his ideas on these questions. Draper explores all of Marx’s rich, highly complex explorations of the nature of the state and its bureaucracy in ever-changing class societies, in different historical situations, with the developments of classes and their separate layers, and in terms of the relationship between base and superstructure. The emphasis is on the capitalist state and the peculiarities of the capitalist class, which give rise to the “political ineptitude” of the bourgeoisie as a governing class. This is truer for the bourgeoisie than for any previous ruling class because, under capitalism more than any other class society, economics and politics are separated. As Draper remarks, rule by a capitalist class was

profusely crisscrossed internally with competing and conflicting interest groups, each at the other’s throat . . . competing national groups (countries) are split by regional group interests, different industrial interests. Antagonisms within an industry, rivalry between producers of consumers and producers goods, light and heavy industry . . . internally, [made] capitalism . . . a snake-pit. By comparison, the incessant feuding of medieval barons was a marshmallow-throwing contest.39

The bourgeoisie remains the ruling class as long as the social relations of capitalist production are maintained, but the different permutations of this dynamic and its relation to the political state vary widely, as Marx explored and Draper detailed amply.

To present Marx’s views faithfully, Draper asserts, requires an “excavation.” Draper models his methodology on Lenin’s State and Revolution, which Lenin described as an engagement “in excavations, as it were, to bring undistorted Marxism to the knowledge of the mass of the people.”40 Even Lenin, Marx’s greatest disciple, was for most of his political life unaware of Marx’s real views on the state. Most of Marx’s collected work had not been printed, and Lenin accepted prevailing Second International doctrine, which held that the institutions and bureaucracy of the state could be used for socialist construction, and that only anarchists call for the destruction of the existing class state. Lenin had to do a personal as well as a political excavation. He dug up all of Marx’s then-extant printed work about the state in order to wipe away the reformist gloss that the Second International had overlaid onto Marx’s views and restore Marx’s revolutionary opposition to the existing state, representing his views on a workers’ state and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Draper made that his model for KMTR: it is a personal as well as a political restoration project for all of Marx’s political views, not just one, and to uncover and clear away not just social-democratic falsifications but also more recent distortions imposed on Marxism as a result of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution.

Draper submits that, in the process of degeneration and Stalinist counterrevolution, it was not only the institutions of proletarian rule (soviets, trade unions, the Bolshevik Party, etc.) that degenerated; ideas did as well. Principles became distorted as necessary measures to defend the revolution against imperialist invasion and counterrevolution, and were turned into virtues. Draper argues that, had the German Revolution been successful, these distortions—which Lenin recognized as retreats from socialism—might have been thrown out the window. But the German Revolution failed, and these distorted ideas were then accepted and passed on as the norms of Marxism: “The distortions became principles.”41 One example is Trotsky’s conclusion that “the dictatorship of the proletariat found its distorted but indubitable expression as the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.”42 This idea, from the greatest fighter against the rising bureaucracy, had no relation to anything in Marx’s thinking but shows how ideas accepted as Marxist theory became damaged as a result of the Russian degeneration.

The second volume, The Politics of Social Class, is groundbreaking: there has been nothing approaching it in the Marxist literature for the past 150 years. Draper proceeds from the understanding that “class dynamics is the foundation of all of Marx’s politics.” He examines the anatomy of all the social classes of modern society and their interrelations with the working class. There are individual sections that pore over Marx’s assessments of the bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, peasantry, and intellectuals, and their politics and role in revolution. These in-depth sections, with their 700 pages of complex and sophisticated delineation of class composition, class struggle, class structure, and the relation of different classes to politics and revolution, are indispensable political guides. In particular, a discussion on Marx’s and Engels’s conclusions on class forces in the 1848 revolution shows that they were the basis for the theory of permanent revolution, on which Trotsky later elaborated.43

Draper’s approach to social class is also borrowed from Lenin: “Marxism is the theory and practice of proletarian revolution.” The key word is proletarian, and the focus is on what distinguishes the proletariat in its revolution. Marx states that the working-class movement, unlike the movements of all previous revolutionary classes, which had been minority class movements, is “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”44

Working-class revolution is different from all previous revolutions because the proletariat is a propertyless class; it does not, nor can it, own property. The bourgeoisie, the previous revolutionary class, was able to build its economic power under feudalism, then politically supplant the old, decaying feudal ruling class through bourgeois revolutions. However, Marx says, that it is impossible for the propertyless proletariat to develop its economic powers under capitalism. Proletarian revolution can only succeed by conquering political power, “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.”45 Political power then starts the process of economic transformation to socialism. And, as Draper stresses, the proletariat must do that very rapidly once it takes power; otherwise, it will be defeated by the rooted power of the capitalist class and its institutions. Nationalized property does not create a workers’ state, but a workers’ state nationalizes property. Proletarian revolution is a reversal of previous revolutionary patterns: the conquest of political power must come first, and success occurs if and when the political revolution leads to an economic and social revolution. The proletariat’s inability to own property circumscribes its only way to rule democratically and collectively, without which it cannot be a ruling class. To emancipate itself, it is forced to liberate all humanity, which is what makes the proletariat the “universal class” in Marxist theory.46

Democratic collectivism is the introduction of proletarian democracy. Yet, Draper clarifies, when most people discuss democracy they mean bourgeois democracy. Working-class and bourgeois democracy overlap in such matters as rights to free speech, free press, free assembly, the right to organize opposition, and so on. Marx defends all bourgeois democratic rights, but states that under bourgeois democracy they are at best limited and distorted and often little more than a “democratic swindle.” The model country of the democratic swindle, Marx says, is the United States, where democratic rights are used to convince the working class to cooperate in their own exploitation. Democracy has to be separated from its bourgeois shell. The basic element of proletarian democracy is democratic control from below; but it is necessary to create a new, more democratic form of state in which control can actually come from below.47 As Engels stated in an 1891 postscript to Marx’s Civil War in France, “Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the phrase: dictatorship of the proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.”48 In short, the workers’ dictatorship consisted of organs of direct democracy (workers’ councils, soviets, factory committees, trade unions, workers’ militias, etc.) controlled by the working class from below.

Draper wrote a whole volume on the dictatorship of the proletariat devoted to dispelling forever the slanders against Marxism on this issue.49 It is questionable whether there will ever be another inquiry on the topic in this depth, and anyone who writes on the subject in the future will have to deal with Draper’s volume to be taken seriously. To undo the damage done to Marx, Draper examines the meaning of the term dictatorship over the centuries, its currency in Marx’s time, and how it has no relation to the modern usage of dictatorship: an individual dictator, a party dictatorship, a military regime, or a repressive “barracks communism.” Draper explores every instance of Marx’s use of the term dictatorship of the proletariat and finds that it is always a dictatorship of a class: that is, dominating society by setting up class institutions of power and class rule. In Marx’s day, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie just meant the rule and dominance of capitalism over the institutions, laws, and ruling ideas of capitalist society. Draper shows that Marx uses the term dictatorship of the proletariat interchangeably with proletarian power, with proletarian political rule, with workers’ democracy, with workers’ state—the term had no other meaning for Marx, nor should it for socialists.

Class dynamics—the raising of the working class to the position of ruling class—are the substance of all of Marx and Engels’s socialist politics. The proletariat, the state, revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat form a unity, and that unity is the self-organization and self-emancipation of the working class. The working class, to emancipate itself, has to become fit to rule through revolutionary activity. It cannot be free to rule until it liberates itself of all capitalist ideas and politics. For Marx, this begins with independent working-class organization to carry through these struggles, to raise the consciousness, confidence, and combativity of the working class. Through this process workers become fit to rule. The school of revolutionary politics goes only through working-class organization, independent of the ruling class.

Draper, the most important American Marxist theorist of the latter half of the twentieth century, dedicated his life’s work and the enormous effort of KMTR to helping revive Marx’s proletarian revolutionary ideas because of their historic mission of working-class self-emancipation. His writings have much in them to educate a new generation of revolutionaries. But they will only come fully into their own when Marx’s does, when a revival of class struggle produces a working class that is conscious of its real position. To succeed, cadres will have to be educated and trained in the politics of socialism from below, merging with the vanguard of the working class in creating a revolutionary leadership dedicated to the self-emancipation of the working class as the road to the future socialist society.

Hal Draper’s “The Two Souls of Socialism” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1966/twosouls/) was published in New Politics (Winter, 1966), 57–84. It was also issued as a pamphlet by the Independent Socialist Clubs. The version on Marxists.org cited here is from the pamphlet published in 1970 by the International Socialists. According to Draper’s introduction, this was a rewritten and expanded version of an earlier article, “Socialism from Below as the Meaning of Socialism,” in Anvil (Winter 1960), the magazine of the Young Peoples Socialist League. This earlier version was also reprinted in the British magazine International Socialism 11 (Winter, 1962).
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 9.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Meeting of the Central Authority,” Collected Works, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978), 626.
Draper, “Two Souls.”
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 24, 468.
Hal Draper, “The Student Movement of the Thirties,” https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “Left Wing Carries YPSL Convention,” 1937, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
The original 1940 slogan was “Neither London-Paris nor Berlin-Moscow.” As World War II unfolded, it changed to “Neither London, Washington, Moscow nor Berlin, Tokyo, Rome.’” When the Cold War started in 1946, it took the familiar form used for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow.”
An analysis of Russia as a new class society can be found, for example, in Max Shachtman, “Is Russia a Workers’ State?” New International, Vol. VI, No. 10, December 1940, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtm….
I discuss the split in Joel Geier, “War and Revolutionary Socialism: The Second World War and the Origins of International Socialism,” at http://wearemany.org/a/2014/06/war-and-r….
Hal Draper, “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” Independent Socialist 4 (April 1968), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
The Labor Action archive can be found here: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
See, for example, T. N. Vance, “The Permanent War Economy, Part I,” New International, Vol. 17, No. 1, January–February 1951, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/wr….
Draper’s and Shachtman’s articles on Tito are in the August, September, October, and November 1948 issues of New International, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, Two Views on the Cuban Invasion: A discussion pamphlet (Oakland, 1961), https://archive.org/details/TwoViewsOfTh… Hal Draper, “Notes on India-China Border War,” 1962, in possession of author. Excerpts of it appeared under the title “Defensism or Defeatism,” in International Socialism 13 (Summer 1963), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Hal Draper, America as Overlord (Alameda, CA: Center for Socialist History, 2011). The issue of Labor Action devoted to Yalta, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Ibid., 1–54.
Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy: The Second World War, Vol. 6 (New York: Rosetta Books, 2002), 227.
Ibid., 55–67.
Ibid., 145–63. https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996).
America as Overlord and some other writings by Draper are available from the Center for Socialist History: http://csh.gn.apc.org/.
The four essays were published in New Politics 1, no. 4 (Summer 1962); International Socialism 44 (July–August 1970); and Socialist Register 1970 and 1971. All are at marxists.org/draper.
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 23–26.
Hal Draper, The Mind of Clark Kerr (Berkeley: Independent Socialist Club, 1964), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Clark Kerr, “Fall of 1964 at Berkeley: Confrontation Yields to Reconciliation,” in Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, The Free Speech Movement, Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 391.
Hal Draper, Berkeley: The New Student Revolt (New York: Grove Press, 1965), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “FSM: Freedom Fighters or Misguided Rebels?” New Politics IV, no. 1 (Winter 1965); Hal Draper: “In Defense of the ‘New Radicals’,” New Politics IV, nos. 3 (Summer 1965) and 4 (Fall 1965), http://www.unz.org/Pub/NewPolitics-1965q….
Quoted in James Petras preface to We Accuse, A powerful statement of the new political anger in America, as revealed in the speeches given at the 36-hour “Vietnam Day” protest in Berkeley, California (Berkeley and San Francisco: Diablo Press, 1965), 3.
Hal Draper, “Who’s Going to Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” Independent Socialist 1, no. 1, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “Toward A New Beginning—On Another Road; The Alternative to the Micro-Sect,” 1971, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/… Hal Draper, “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect,” 1973, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Vol I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977); Vol II, The Politics of Social Classes (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978); Vol. III, The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986); Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
Draper, KMTR, Vol. I. The Sweezy and Heilbroner blurbs are on the back cover.
Ibid., 32–34, 77–95.
Ibid., 323.
Ibid., 20–21.
Hal Draper, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 99–101.
Leon Trotsky, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism,” 1935, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky….
Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 201–87.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto in The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, Phil Gasper, ed. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 55.
Ibid., 69.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 40–55, 70–80; Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 141–47.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 38–52, 282–97, 302–10.
Engels quouted in KMTR, Vol. III, 317.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. III.
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Issue #64
March 2009
Hothouse Earth
Capitalism, climate change, and the fate of humanity
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Hothouse Earth
Chris Williams
Letter from the editors
Obama’s mixed message
The road to Gaza’s killing fields
Toufic Haddad
The right-wing counteroffensive
Ernesto Herrera
The U.S. economic crisis
Fred Moseley
Critical Thinking
Return of the one-state solution
Phil Gasper

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