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Archive for February, 2016

Revolutionary parliamentarism?:Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the electoral arena-Review by Todd Chretien

Posted by admin On February - 2 - 2016 Comments Off on Revolutionary parliamentarism?:Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the electoral arena-Review by Todd Chretien

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1.Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels through the Revolution of 1905:
The Ballot, the Streets—or Both
By August H. Nimtz

2. Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917:
The Ballot, the Streets—or Both

If we do not understand Lenin’s conception of “revolutionary parliamentarism,” as socialist scholar August Nimtz describes it in Lenin’s Electoral Strategy, then we cannot understand how the Bolsheviks came to power, supported by the majority of the Russian working class, in October 1917. Nimtz shines a spotlight on Lenin’s (and to a certain extent Marx and Engels’s) approach to elections, analyzing the choices they faced in the volumes’ subtitle: “the ballots, the streets—or both,” to reveal a little-discussed aspect of political work that was, according to Lenin, an “indispensible” part of the Bolshevik Party’s success.

Though the greater part of both slim volumes deals primarily with Lenin’s experience, Nimtz begins his study with a chapter that sets out to show that “Lenin’s position . . . was squarely rooted in the politics of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.”

In 1848, Germany had only barely begun down the path of industrialization. A feudal ruling state structure divided its national territory into dozens of mini-fiefdoms, each ruled by a local king or prince. Marx hoped that the outbreak of revolution in Germany in 1848 would bring down this whole edifice, as the great French Revolution of 1789 had done, and usher in, not socialism, but political democracy and capitalist economic development. And upon that ground, prospects for workers’ revolution might then flourish.

This strategy immediately confronted a roadblock; namely, the big German bourgeoisie, and even most of the middle classes, had no interest in actually fighting to overthrow the kaiser. Instead of producing revolutionary Jacobins, 1848 spawned timid politicians. Engels diagnosed the reformers as having caught that “incurable malady, parliamentary cretinism, a disorder which penetrates its unfortunate victims with the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and future, is governed and determined by a majority of votes in that particular representative body which has the honor to count them among its members.” Once the German kaiser smelled fear, he went for blood, crushing the revolution in the spring of 1849, proclaiming his own constitution—granting himself nearly unlimited powers—and banishing tens of thousands of revolutionaries, including Marx and Engels, into exile.

Back in London, Marx and Engels drew up a balance sheet. Nimtz places great emphasis on what became known as Marx’s Address to the Central Authority of the Communist League, which he presented to the surviving Communist League members in 1850. Nimtz remarks that Lenin reportedly committed this speech to memory and delighted in quoting it. In it, Marx asserts that if the big bourgeoisie is no longer interested in revolution in any form, and “the democratic petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned [e.g. suffrage, tax reforms], it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until more or less all the propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power.”

In place of political democracy serving as a halfway station on the road to proletarian revolution, Marx argues that the fight for extending democratic rights for the working class and the oppressed under capitalist conditions is an integral part of the socialist revolution itself, the “permanent revolution,” or the “revolution in permanence,” depending on the translation. Flowing from this, and most directly relevant to Nimtz’s thesis, Marx derives several lessons with respect to electoral politics:

Even when there is no prospect whatever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates [preferably League members] in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces and to lay before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be bribed by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by doing so they are splitting the democratic party and giving the reactionaries the possibility of victory. The ultimate purpose of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat.

Lest Marx be understood to mean that the revolution will be channeled entirely along the electoral path, Nimtz points out that Marx was chiefly concerned with workers using elections to develop their own consciousness and organization—to “count their forces”—all the while emphasizing the need to organize a proletarian militia. Marx understood electoral campaigns for posts within a capitalist state as merely one tactical field of operations—which may have more or less value in a given context—in an overall revolutionary strategy. This sort of revolutionary parliamentarism includes critical corollaries, which Nimtz derives from Marx and Engels’s work over the next several decades.

In 1864, Marx helped launch the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA)—subsequently called the First International—as a coalition of radical trade unions, anarchists, and socialists. Soon thereafter he and Engels faced complications related to electoral work. On the one hand, when the IWMA helped found the Reform League in England, which aimed to win universal (male) suffrage, several of the League’s candidates, upon election to parliament, commenced to cutting deals, hobnobbing, and generally taking ill with parliamentary cretinism. Similar opportunism arose in Germany where Marx’s one-time collaborator Ferdinand Lassalle founded the General Association of German Workers, only to begin secret negotiations with the kaiser for reforms in exchange for working-class quiescence. On the other hand, the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin campaigned relentlessly against any electoral work on principle, preferring secret armed putsches. Thus, Marx’s revolutionary parliamentarism faced challenges from opportunists and anarchists alike.

In the wake of the Paris Commune in 1871, the International collapsed, largely over arguments related to the defeated uprising, leading Engels to formulate his and Marx’s position once again:

For us abstentionism [from elections] is impossible. . . we seek the abolition of classes. What is the means of achieving it? The political domination of the proletariat. . . revolution is the supreme act of politics; whoever wants it must also want the means, political action, which prepares for it, which gives the workers the education for revolution and without which the workers will always be duped.

Why does Engels here stress “political action?” This polemic was aimed especially at Bakunin and his strand of anarchism. In doing so, Engels stresses his opposition to notions of spontaneous revolution or an expectation that sudden revolts against oppression or exploitation can defeat the capitalist state. Instead, in order for the working class to learn how to defend itself on an elementary level, lead a whole constellation of the oppressed, constitute itself as a power in its own right, and then, finally, overthrow the highly armed and ideologically coherent capitalist state, a long process of political education, self-organization, critique, and experience is required. That is, Engels is not counterposing elections to strikes, protests, occupations, and other forms of direct action and class struggle; rather, he is saying that all these forms must be integrated and conceived as an overall strategy for revolution.

As it turned out, the Paris Commune represented the last revolutionary insurrection in Western Europe until the Easter Uprising in Ireland in 1916. Over the next forty years, socialist working-class parties took root in more than a dozen countries and, although they continued to face significant repression, they were allowed to stand in elections for local and national assemblies of various capitalist states. Nimtz traces the growth of the German movement and explains how Marx and Engels attempted to confront the growing problem of opportunism. It is a complicated history, but suffice it to say that after a merger in 1875, the German Socialist Workers Party (SADP) won a number of seats in the Reichstag—the national parliament. Although this body remained subject to the authority of the kaiser, Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck worried enough about the SADP’s success to outlaw the party in 1878 under the Anti-Socialist Laws. Many party leaders reacted by moderating the SADP’s rhetoric in the hopes of attracting liberal support.

Marx and Engels were not, to put it mildly, happy with this turn. Nimtz directs our attention to the Circular Letter they drafted to the party leadership in 1879. In it, they demanded that the editors of the most important party newspaper be removed, insisted that the elected Reichstag delegates be placed under party discipline, defended the rank-and-file party membership’s right to criticize the Reichstag fraktion, and called August Bebel (one of the party’s founders) and Edward Bernstein (a member of the editorial board) to come to London to meet with them in person for a settling of political accounts.

After this scuffle, Marx’s health declined rapidly until his death in 1883. However, Engels remained deeply involved in the SADP’s affairs, serving as a sort of advisor-in-exile to the party leadership. Though officially banned, the party exploited legal loopholes, nominating “independent” candidates throughout the 1880s before the anti-socialist laws were finally overturned in 1890. Now able to function openly and “count its forces,” the party (renamed the Social Democratic Party—SPD) elected many dozens of Reichstag delegates, becoming the best-organized parliamentary opposition force. While enthusiastic about the party’s growth, Engels became increasingly alarmed at the opportunist and reformist tendencies incubating within. By 1890, Nimtz argues that the “parliamentary disease has metastasized into a cancer.”

Further evidence of this appeared in 1891 when Karl Kautsky, Engels’s young protégé and SPD theoretician, wrote that “parliamentary activity. . . is the most powerful lever that can be utilized to raise the proletariat out of its economic, social and moral degradation.” Why didn’t Engels criticize Kautsky for his seemingly narrow-minded focus on parliamentary activity as opposed to strikes, uprisings, etc.? Nimtz suggests that Engels never got around to reading Kautsky’s pamphlet, which may very well be true as he was at the time struggling to finish editing volume 3 of Capital. But Engels did pick other fights. In 1895, just months before his death, he lashed out at Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of his most trusted collaborators, for editing an essay in such a way as to make it appear that Engels supported “the tactics of peace at any price and of opposition to force and violence.”

Nimtz contends that “the split in the Second International over World War I, between communism and social democracy was long in place. . . owing in large part to two very different conceptions of how Marxists should comport themselves in the electoral/parliamentary arenas.” Here, I think Nimtz is too categorical. He is certainly right about the sharply differentiated trends growing between the left, center, and right within the Second International parties (the international coalition of parties founded in 1889 of which the SPD was the leading force), and he is also right to point to parliamentary politics as one of the points of friction. However, the splits did not occur primarily (“in large part” as Nimtz argues) along the lines of electoral strategy. Questions as to the nature of the capitalist state itself, reform and revolution, the role of trade unions, alliances with other revolutionary classes, and, especially, imperialist war and colonialism all played major roles in the split.

Lenin’s electoral politics
Which brings us to Lenin.

“No one did more to utilize the electoral and parliamentary arenas than Lenin for revolutionary ends,” argues Nimtz. Furthermore, “the ‘head-start’ Marx and Engels gave Lenin on electoral politics goes a long way toward explaining why the Bolsheviks . . . were hegemonic in October 1917.” In making this claim, Nimtz hopes to move revolutionary parliamentarism from the margins to the center in the drama of the Russian Revolution. He is right to do so; I only wish he had more effectively related this part of Bolshevik policy to their work and views of trade unions, agitation in the army, united fronts, national self-determination, state and revolution, etc., instead of trying to set it above these factors. By doing so, he errs in arguing that electoral tactics were the lynchpin to all of Lenin’s formulations, instead of simply being one (previously underappreciated) component of a dynamic whole.

Of course, for the first ten-plus years of Lenin’s political career, the question of standing in elections didn’t come up for the simple reason that Russia was a police state. Nimtz goes to great length to demonstrate, as authors such as Lars Lih, Tony Cliff, Neil Harding, Paul LeBlanc, Earnest Mandel and others have done, that the absence of freedom in Russia led Lenin to see the fight for democracy as a central pillar of his strategy for the working class. As Lenin himself put it, the “proletariat alone is capable of bringing about the complete democratization of the political and social system since this would place the system in the hands of the workers.”

Lenin advocated working-class preeminence no matter the form of the struggle, from mass movements, to uprisings, to campaigns against national and religious oppression, to fighting sexism, to standing in elections. In fact, although there were other issues at stake, this insistence on proletarian independence from even its staunchest allies, not only in the fight for specifically working-class demands, but in the overall fight for democracy, turned out to be one of the central dividing lines which deepened the famous 1903 Bolshevik-Menshevik split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP).

As it happened, a revolution exploded across Russia in 1905, soon after the Bolshevik-Menshevik split after troops slaughtered hundreds on January 9 in a peaceful procession in St. Petersburg pleading with the czar for reforms. In June, terrified by the power of the upheaval, the czar agreed to elections to a Duma, or national assembly, but his decision to exclude workers and poor peasants from the voting only added fuel to the fire. In October, a general strike in St. Petersburg launched the first soviet, or workers council, and the idea caught on in city after city. These councils grew so powerful that they began to take on aspects of what was later called dual power, threatening the legitimacy of the czarist state itself. Despite the onslaught from below, the czar’s forces held firm. Exhausted from a yearlong struggle and massive repression (15,000 executions, 20,000 injuries, 45,000 exiles), the soviets were dispersed, but not before the czar was forced to grant workers and poor peasants the right to vote in the upcoming Duma elections scheduled for April 1906.

Unlike Marx and Engels’s Communist League had done in 1848, neither faction in the RSDLP dissolved itself during the revolution—in large measure thanks to the example set by the SDP. Quite the opposite, both grew rapidly, alongside the socialist Jewish Bund, as well as the Polish and Baltic sections of the party. Meeting in Stockholm and Stuttgart in 1906 and 1907, the factions had grown from several thousand activists to a mass party with tens of thousands of members. At both Congresses, the RSDLP conducted multisided debates, involving topics well beyond electoral calculations, yet Nimtz is right to point out that the elections to the Second and Third Dumas loomed large.

In the wake of 1905’s bloody repression, a debate broke out among the RSDLP about how to respond to the czar’s granting of the Duma elections. Unsurprisingly, a large numbers of revolutionaries, including the majority of Bolsheviks in 1906, wanted nothing to do with czar’s sham Duma—even if workers would now be allowed to vote in a limited way. Lenin seems to have supported the Bolsheviks’ boycott tactic in the run up to the spring 1906 elections of the First Duma, based on the argument that at that stage revolution was still on the agenda. At the very least, as Nimtz points out, Lenin was unwilling to break with his faction’s dominant sentiment while the firing squads were still shooting down comrades in great numbers.

The majority of the Mensheviks, on the other hand, supported taking part in the election —after workers were granted the vote—in hopes of eventually transforming the Duma into a “real” parliament, even if the electoral law itself severely skewed the voting process. In order to stack the elections to the Duma in favor of the landlords, the vote was conducted by social class and carried out in several rounds based on one delegate being granted in curias, or districts, to each 2000 landlords, each 7000 wealthy and middle class urban citizens, each 30,000 peasants, and each 90,000 workers—these ratios are for the Second Duma, but the law was similar for all Duma elections.

Socialist hostility to the czar’s Duma notwithstanding, elections took place in the spring of 1906 and generated considerable enthusiasm. And, although the representative structure favored the elite, voting by social class turned out to be a silver lining for the RSDLP. “Imagine what it would be like for a communist today,” says Nimtz, “to be able to debate every credible opponent before an audience composed exclusively of industrial workers, in their own workplaces. . . . This has probably never happened before or since, anywhere.”

No section of the RSDLP was able to organize a coordinated campaign for the First Duma elections, yet many members or sympathizers stood as candidates on their own initiative or as part of local efforts and fifteen were elected. Drawing on Marx’s 1850 “Address,” Lenin realized the importance of the opportunity the elections presented for socialists to “count their forces” and, from this point on, strongly advocated Bolshevik (and RSDLP in general) participation in the elections. Figuring out exactly how to do this was not without its complications.

As it turned out, the czar was unhappy with the large number of elite liberals who won seats in the First Duma (they advocated a constitutional monarchy), so he dissolved it after two months, setting elections to a Second Duma for February 1907. Once again, too liberal for his taste, he dissolved it and ordered elections for a Third Duma in September 1907, which, through a combination of merciless repression and further voting restrictions, finally returned a sufficiently conservative Duma which the czar allowed to sit from 1907 to regularly scheduled elections in 1912.

In terms of the boycott question, by the fall of 1906 Lenin had largely succeeded in winning over the Bolsheviks to take part in the elections. This process was aided by the fact that they were in a minority at the April 1906 Stockholm RSDLP Congress and the majority, guided by the Mensheviks, set course to participate in the elections with or without the Bolsheviks. Most Bolsheviks realized that the boycott would simply mean leaving the field open for the Mensheviks and thus, not only did the Second Duma elections take on a strategic field of struggle for the working-class movement in general, it also became a key battleground on which to fight out intraparty fights over policy and leadership.

In the run up to the February 1907 Second Duma elections, Lenin translated Marx’s insistence that the working class maintain its independence in general into concrete electoral tactics through a series of debates over the question of blocs with other party and class forces in the complicated, multiround elections. Designed to be confusing and easily manipulated by the authorities, elections were held in various stages by social class and by region. For workers in St. Petersburg—Lenin’s main arena of operations as well as the main focus of Nimtz’s research—this meant choosing delegates at the factory level who would then have to bargain through a complicated system of alliances in order to finally select Duma delegates at a later stage.

Nimtz shows that during all this, Lenin drew a sharp line between the Menshevik policy of promising critical support for the liberal bourgeois Cadet party in the Duma versus the Bolshevik policy of hostility to the Cadets and support for a bloc between the Bolshevik members of the RSDLP and the peasant and radical intelligentsia delegates from the Trudovik and (sometimes) Social Revolutionary parties. Further, while Lenin advocated deals and alliances with other radical parties or delegates in the second and third rounds of voting, the Bolsheviks insisted that workers should only vote for members of the RSDLP in the first round at the factory level—and because only Bolshevik faction candidates supported this policy, this meant practically fighting it out between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in competitive elections at workplaces across Russia.

After a hard-fought campaign, 200 out of 250 factory delegates voted to support the Bolshevik Left Bloc policy in January 1907. Nimtz claims that, “This is no doubt the moment when the Bolsheviks assumed leadership of the St. Petersburg proletariat.”  Nimtz may well hang too much on these elections, but he is onto something.

The Bolshevik electoral policy also won support within the RSDLP, helping raise the Bolsheviks from minority to majority (when support from the Polish and Latvian party sections is included) by the time of the May 1907 Stuttgart Congress. This shift largely had to do with a strategic vision of which class alliance would lead the coming revolution against the czar and the landed barons. The Mensheviks argued for an alliance between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie (Cadets)—a policy which included an argument that the workers must not present too radical a policy so as not to “frighten” their would-be bourgeois allies—while the Bolsheviks advocated an alliance between the working class and the peasantry (Trudoviks and Social Revolutionaries), with the working class as the “vanguard” of this alliance. Nimtz suggests that this divide was most clearly fought out over parliamentary blocs, as two thirds of the Stuttgart Congress sessions dealt with Duma debates with leading RSDLP Duma delegates, Tsereteli for the Mensheviks and Alexinsky for the Bolsheviks, each traveling to Stuttgart to participate in the three-week congress.

Explicitly referring to the debates raised by Marx and Engels about the need for working-class independence, Lenin took Tsereteli to task at the congress for revisionism, arguing that “the year 1848 does not teach us to make alliances with bourgeois democrats but rather the need to free the least developed sections of the masses from the influence of bourgeois democracy, which is incapable of fighting even for democracy.”

Despite the ground gained by Lenin’s revolutionary parliamentarism, support for returning to the boycott tactic remained relatively strong within the Bolshevik faction, leading Lenin to write a pamphlet entitled Against Boycott aimed at his own faction almost immediately after the Stuttgart Congress. Lenin won the argument this time around and the Bolsheviks once again successfully applied the no-blocs-with-Cadets policy in the Third Duma elections in the fall of 1907. Unfortunately, the elections coincided with a tide of political reaction, demobilization, and depression on the part of the working class, and the atmosphere forced the whole RSDLP further and further underground.

This is not the place to trace the complex relations between the party factions or within the factions themselves—the liquidationist trend among the Mensheviks (who sought to abandon the illegal party apparatus) and the ultra-left trends among the Bolsheviks (who stood against running candidates), for example. Nor does Nimtz take up the argument as such about how and if the Bolsheviks constituted themselves as an fully independent party in 1912—as opposed to remaining a (highly organized) faction within the RSDLP. Nimtz believes the Bolsheviks did constitute themselves as a fully independent party in these years, and I agree with him. However, what is most original about Nimtz’s work is that he shows just how important the Duma elections were at every stage of the intra/interparty fights from 1906 right through the 1917 Revolution itself.

In fact, he takes Harding, Cliff, LeBlanc, and others to task for not granting this aspect of Lenin’s activity sufficient weight—especially between 1908 and 1912—and I think he makes a convincing case on this front. Over the course of those years, as czarist repression was at its height, Lenin clung tightly to the thin legality the RSDLP fraction in the Duma provided. He kept in close communication with the deputies from exile, even writing some of their speeches. And following Marx and Engels, he insisted, with some success, that although the party was driven underground, the Duma delegates still had the duty to subordinate themselves to decisions carried out at party conferences and internally-elected leaders.

Stressing Lenin’s close relationship with the Duma fraction between 1909 and 1911, and the ability of the Duma RSDLP members to function legally, also helps explain how the party (both Bolshevik and Menshevik wings) survived and was able to operate over the course of its worst thirty-six month period of repression. Certainly, Cliff and LeBlanc, for instance, are not wrong to stress the party’s dire straits. For example, Cliff writes

The movement was in actual fact in complete disarray. For instance, in the summer of 1905, the Moscow district had 1,435 members. The figure rose in mid-May 1906 to 5,320. But by mid-1908, it had dropped to 250, and six months later, it was 150. In 1910, the organization ceased to exist, when the district secretary’s job fell into the hands of one Kukushkin, an agent of the okhrana, the secret police.*

I have always accepted Cliff’s version of the party’s near total liquidation during this time as a given, but I think Nimtz succeeds in showing that, as bad as it was, the party, and especially the Bolshevik faction, survived as a visible and organized presence within Russia.

In fact, Nimtz’s approach sheds important light on the vexed question of the 1912 Prague Conference. Called by Lenin and his supporters in the Bolshevik faction, the meeting attempted to stand on the decisions of the last full party Congress in 1907, when the Bolsheviks were in the majority. The ensuing repression, and a whole series of withering internal fights, had reduced the party’s strength—and the Mensheviks leaned on support from sections of the SPD leadership to force fruitless unity negotiations on the increasingly politically distinct trends, one which retained its revolutionary principles, and the other which was moving in an increasingly moderate direction. By 1911, clearly, Lenin had had enough of the paralysis, but why did he pick January 1912 to insist on the Bolshevik faction having the right to initiate a reorganization of the party?

Nimtz argues that Lenin believed that “the forthcoming elections provide a natural, inevitable ‘topical’ pretext for such work.” Writes Nimtz, “More than a year before the elections . . . Lenin began campaigning.”  Cliff, Harding, and LeBlanc have, rightly, argued that Lenin noticed an increase in activity in 1911, but I think Nimtz gives us a sharper picture of what Lenin was up to. As it turns out, one of the Prague Conference’s most important initiatives was planning the launch of a daily legal newspaper, Pravda, in St. Petersburg.

Pravda hit the newsstands on April just weeks after czarist troops massacred hundreds in Lena during a gold miners’ strike. It soon reached a daily circulation of between 30,000 and 40,000. What has not been widely recognized is that the RSDLP Duma deputies extended their parliamentary immunity to Pravda, without which it could not have published nearly as openly as it did. With regards to Nimitz’s running polemic with Cliff, et al., it is worth noting that Cliff fails to note Pravda’s relationship with the Duma faction. This also helps explain Lenin’s relationship to Pravda. Far from being a one-man mouthpiece, the paper was the collective project of clearly aligned Bolshevik organizers working alongside Duma delegates (and rank-and-file party members) who did not always operate along strict factional lines. Thus, some of Lenin’s articles insisting on complete independence from the Mensheviks in the upcoming September 1912 Duma elections did not make it into Pravda, either because the on-the-spot Bolshevik editors didn’t agree, or out of fear of alienating the Duma delegates.

In the run up to the elections, Lenin sent Inessa Armand, one of his closest collaborators, to St. Petersburg to convince the local party of his electoral tactics, which mirrored his 1907 insistence on complete independence in the first round and no blocs with the Cadets in the second round. Armand won over the workers at the Putilov works, the largest factory in St. Petersburg, laying the basis for a repeat of the Bolshevik’s success in the factory elections. Although she was arrested soon after, Armand’s efforts set the stage for a strike of 70,000 workers when the authorities tried to annul the Putilov elections, as well as those in other factories. This is fascinating stuff, and Nimtz does a magnificent job of connecting the dots. And it all points to the impressive capacity of the Bolsheviks, as well as left-wing Mensheviks and generally pro-RSDLP worker militants, to combine legal work (under the partial protection of parliamentary immunity) and strictly underground work, while connecting both to a base of some tens of thousands of workers who had joined the party during the 1905 upswing but who could not easily operate as open party members in the repressive conditions of 1906–1911.

The period from the September 1912 election of the Fourth Duma until the onset of World War I in the summer of 1914 confirms Nimtz’s thesis that the elections and the subsequent relations between the party factions, its mass membership, and the Duma fraction loomed large in Lenin’s thinking and practice. As noted above, Lenin used the elections to launch Pravda and give a focus to party organizing work, as well as a means to bring to the fore the programmatic and political debates between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, especially focusing on why the working class should organize independently from the liberal capitalist Cadet Party. Pravda’s editorial line helped create a mass working-class base for the Bolsheviks, even as responsibility for that line, and the paper’s practical operations, were shared between the left wing of the Duma fraction (who did not initially operate on strictly factional lines), on-the-spot organizers in St. Petersburg factories, and hardline Bolshevik operatives sent from abroad by Lenin. Pravda soon became so identified with the Bolsheviks that the Mensheviks felt the need to establish their own newspaper—Luch or The Ray—to compete.

As the most visible form of party activity, the Duma fraction’s political affiliations served as a proxy for the coalescing organizational independence of the Bolsheviks from faction to party. Five out of six members of the Duma fraction members supporting the Pravda line (including one who turned out to be a police agent) came to visit Lenin in the summer of 1913 in Cracow, Poland to hammer out policy and finalize the split with the Mensheviks. Yet, Nimtz demonstrates that “hard” split was not simply settled by Lenin and the Prague conference in 1912; instead, thousands of St. Petersburg workers debated the competing political positions of the increasingly hostile and independent party factions, largely through the lens of the Duma factions. In 1913 and 1914, around ten thousand workers signed declarations or took up monetary collections to support one Duma group or the other, with the Bolsheviks securing support at a rate of about two to one.

This long, open struggle prepared the ground for the ability of the Bolsheviks to oppose World War I as a party. On July 26, 1914, the Bolshevik Duma members refused to support Russia’s declaration of war, leading to their expulsion from the Duma and their arrest. In a negative fashion, the Bolsheviks’ arrest clearly confirmed Lenin’s warning against the Russian form of the “parliamentary disease” Engels had warned about decades before. That is, the faith that the Mensheviks had placed in the czar’s willingness to respect parliamentary legality was either an opportunist betrayal or dangerous naïveté. While a capitalist state might permit a certain number of revolutionaries to win seats for a time, the rulers would always violate their own constitution and turn to repression when push came to shove.

Wartime repression effectively ended the limited legal operations of the Duma until a workers and soldiers’ revolt forced the czar to abdicate in February 1917, after more than three years of catastrophic death and destruction. Out of the rebellion, two forms of state confronted each other in a situation of dual power. The first was the so-called Provisional government, an ad hoc, unelected conglomeration of aristocrats and leading members of the bourgeois Duma parties who promised to continue the war. The soviets that had first appeared in 1905 reconstituted themselves and stood alongside the Provisional government, this time with mass participation from not only urban workers, but also peasants and, critically, armed soldiers and sailors. The February Revolution now presented Lenin with a whole new series of questions related to which institution would win out. Nimtz, following the topic of his study, focuses his analysis of 1917 on the specifically electoral calculus involved in these dilemmas.

First, as has been widely discussed, in his April Theses, Lenin immediately emphasized the importance of strengthening the soviets, or workers assemblies. Throughout this period, Lenin was working on his book State and Revolution, in which he sharpened his views on the need to disperse and break up the old capitalist state and replace it with a revolutionary workers government based on the democratic will of the exploited classes. Far from the revolution constituting a retreat from elections and democratic practices, Lenin argued that the soviets were more democratic from the point of view of the working classes than the old Duma or institutions like Western European parliaments. Lenin merged his theoretical starting point with the historical experience of 1905, forming the basis of his famous slogan “All power to the soviets.”

Second, while Lenin argued that the soviets should take power, he continued to press for the most democratic rules possible to be adopted within the old, capitalist electoral bodies, insisting that Bolsheviks stand candidates in city council elections, for example. Further, Lenin and the Bolsheviks advocated that elections for a Constituent Assembly (a sort of revolutionary congress) be convened immediately—even if the Assembly would not necessarily represent a clean break with the capitalist state form. As the Provisional government feared the radicalized masses, it did its best to frustrate elections for such an Assembly, which was to be based on universal suffrage. Rather than dismissing the Assembly as less democratic than the soviets, and therefore arguing to boycott it (and other local elections besides), Lenin spoke in favor of the Bolsheviks participating with the clearest party list that could be managed under the chaotic circumstances.

How did he square his simultaneous support for elections to the Constituent Assembly, which would not necessarily represent a break with capitalism, and his support for the soviets taking power and replacing the capitalist state with a workers state? Although Nimtz does not explicitly address this apparent conundrum, Lenin’s attitude flows from the key lessons of revolutionary parliamentarism he absorbed from Marx and Engels: so long as the working class cannot overthrow the limits of capitalist democracy, revolutionary socialists should use the electoral arena to “count their forces” and build up their consciousness and organizational capacity, but the ultimate goal, as Marx summarized back in 1850, was “to make the revolution permanent until more or less all the propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power.”

Third, Lenin always assumed that elections would normally constitute a critical part of the revolutionary process. In September, as the Bolsheviks gained sway within the soviets, the existing Menshevik and Social Revolutionary soviet leadership (which had been elected on a national basis in June), attempted to head off the drive to soviet power by creating an ad hoc “Democratic Conference” of all the revolutionary trends. Critically, the Conference was not based on clear democratic elections, but was simply a power grab—what the aristocrats and liberals did in February under the banner of the Provisional government, the moderate socialists now tried themselves. Absent a clear democratic mandate, and owing to the growing radicalization of the soviets and the impending date of the second national gathering of soviets in late October, Lenin insisted on, and won, a policy of boycott of the Democratic Conference by the Bolsheviks.

Fourth, although Lenin, basing himself on the example of the Paris Commune, argued that organized force was necessary to overthrow the Provisional government and that the Bolshevik Party should take the initiative to launch an insurrection, this insurrection would only be legitimate if confirmed by the majority vote of the assembled national soviet delegates. And that is exactly what the Bolsheviks did. Rather than seizing all power for the party, the Bolsheviks looked to the democratic will of the soviets to begin building a revolutionary workers state. The soviets had been elected in the freest elections the world had ever known, and all delegates were immediately recallable. A multiparty coalition government composed of Bolsheviks and the left wing of the Social Revolutionary party (and supported, albeit critically, by the left wing of the Mensheviks) took power in the name of the victorious revolution, despite a walkout staged by the right wings of the Social Revolutionary and Menshevik parties. The October Revolution demonstrated that insurrection and revolutionary democracy are not opposites, but rather are two closely related mechanisms.

The Russian socialist movement’s deeply ingrained habit of making decisions by majority vote, elections by party list, discipline of the elected deputies to their base, etc., all contrast starkly with the failure of some subsequent revolutionaries (Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Castro, for example) to appeal to direct, immediate elections among the masses as the normal process for building a workers state. Nimtz traces this back to the incredible lengths to which Russian revolutionaries of all factions went in order to convene democratically elected congresses and conferences to decide on party policy and leadership. Given the choice between bureaucratic diktat and risking prison, exile, and execution to elect delegates, debate, and vote, Nimtz shows they choose the latter whenever at all plausible. This is a lesson, which should not be lost on future generations, and Nimtz deserves credit for underlining it.

As good as Nimtz is in bringing the past to life and uncovering new and important aspects of Lenin’s political practice, his analysis of current left formations falters, as he gives what seem like cursory reviews of complex situations in Greece, Germany, and elsewhere. There are other distractions in the book, such as Nimtz reprinting part of an email exchange with historian Alexander Rabinowitch and his belief that Castro’s maneuvers somehow confirm Bolshevik strategy. Nimtz is a talented historian, but his affinity for certain political tenets of the American Socialist Workers Party should be kept in mind while reading his work. That tradition, at least since the early 1980s, has argued for a rejection of Trotsky’s conception of permanent revolution and a reliance on Lenin’s pre-1917 formulations of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. None of this automatically invalidates any of his judgments, but it is worth knowing when balancing his views against other like-minded historians—especially when balancing his more aggressive polemics. Those criticisms aside, as the weight of this review makes clear, Lenin’s Electoral Strategy deserves to be widely read and discussed.

Mazdoor Kissan Party:Three Leftist Organisations Merge in Pakistan-Taimur Rahman

Posted by admin On February - 2 - 2016 Comments Off on Mazdoor Kissan Party:Three Leftist Organisations Merge in Pakistan-Taimur Rahman


The merger of three leftist parties into the Mazdoor Kissan Party is discussed in the context of a brief history of Pakistan’s left since independence. The contemporary political challenges and the debates about organising left politics in such a context are flagged.

The Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP), and People’s National Congress merged into one organisation on 20 December 2015, the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP). The merger was announced amidst red flags at a peasant convention in the stronghold of the party in Hashtnagar, Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan.

Long spells of military dictatorships, backed by imperialism, have spawned religious extremist movements and provided little opportunity for communist forces in Pakistan to operate openly in a democratic set-up. The internal divisions within Marxist organisations have also contributed to a state of demoralisation and paralysis within the progressive community. The number of leftist organisations and the manner in which they have combined and split from each other, more often than not, leaves people outside of Pakistan flabbergasted. It is difficult to follow just how many organisations are created, split and then re-merged. Perhaps most readers are not very interested in this history. Most people are more interested in what the left can actually accomplish.

However, since many readers of EPW are supportive of a left wing politics and interested in the outcome of the progressive movement, I would like to take this opportunity to provide a summary of the splits and mergers within the Pakistani left in the recent past.

Communist Party of Pakistan

Once the Communist Party of Pakistan was outlawed in 1954 after the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, and subsequently Hassan Nasir was incarcerated and tortured to death, the left in Pakistan was forced to operate under the umbrella of other organisations. This tactic of operating through other organisations has become such an endemic part of the very psychology of the Pakistani left that even when objective conditions have changed, the left prefers to operate in much the same way.

In other words, there has always been a tension within the Pakistani left of operating secretly, or operating openly with a watered-down message that is less likely to invite state or right-wing repression. While the former path has led to the formation of tightly organised circles, it has also tended towards sectarianism and becoming disconnected from mass movements. Similarly, the latter path has often led to the complete liquidation of the original revolutionary ideas and programme, not only into social democracy, but even more problematically into the purely bourgeois politics that is scarcely any different from the politics of the ruling classes with the only exception that the individuals may have had a revolutionary past. This can be seen as a constant theme throughout the history of the Pakistani left, irrespective of the group or organisation one examines.

To begin with, after being banned, the Communist Party of Pakistan joined the National Awami Party. Similarly, a section of a new generation of leftists that was radicalised in the 1960s joined the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a section of the left was associated with the Awami League in East Pakistan. Almost all the largest political parties in Pakistan subscribed to socialism in the 1970s. This is a testament to the strength of the left intelligentsia of Pakistan, which despite illegality, their critique of class society managed to dominate the narrative of Pakistani politics. It was precisely to break this consensus founded on progressive premises that 11 years of a brutal military dictatorship was necessary. It was not as a result of some fair and equal public debate that Pakistani society gravitated towards religious extremism and authoritarian politics. Rather, it was purely a consequence of a state-manufactured coercive process.

Hence, while in the 1970s when the three major political parties of Pakistan were dominated by a socialist discourse, there was sadly never a time when Pakistan’s socialists were able to create an independent mass-based political party that could rival the political organisations of propertied classes (illusions about the National Awami Party (NAP), PPP, or Awami League (AL) notwithstanding). And perhaps the major reason why this never became the case is because the left at first was forced into a position where it had to seek refuge within a larger left-of-centre party. And second, because that became, with time, more or less the accepted method of left praxis in Pakistan.

Across the world, the 1960s saw both the enormous extension of leftist ideas, especially amongst the youth, as well as the formation of many new left organisations and the Sino–Soviet split within the communist movement itself. Similarly, in Pakistan while much of the Pakistani left continued its association with the NAP, the latter itself was divided along seemingly irreconcilable differences. And finally, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government banned the NAP and the party redefined itself as the Awami National Party (ANP), those who considered themselves Marxists slowly left the ranks of the ANP to form smaller leftist organisations. The perception within the left was that the ANP had moved away from socialism and into the camp of Pashtun nationalism. Sadly, a portion of the left associated with Begum Nasim Wali Khan also joined the reactionary Pakistan National Alliance (against the PPP) that led to the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq.

Hence, from the once united NAP developed many smaller groups in West Pakistan that subscribed to Marxism–Leninism, and attempted to form a political organisation that would be closer to socialist principles. C R Aslam led the Pakistan Socialist Party. Abid Hassan Minto led the Awami Jamhoori Party, Major Ishaq and Afzal Bangash led the MKP, and Jam Saqi and Imam Ali Nazish continued to lead the still underground Communist Party.

Mergers and Splits

The history of how the NAP managed at one time to unite the nationalists and communists under one umbrella, and their subsequent split is yet to be written. Most scholars have focused only on the early period (namely, the 1950s) of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). And the more this latter history is shrouded in mystery, the more the Pakistani left has romanticised that period when the left could (at least in theory) exercise some influence on the national politics of Pakistan by their alliance with nationalist movements within Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the mass momentum behind the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the 1980s, with which the left itself was associated in various ways, did not reveal any of these contradictions. Despite the splits it was clear that major tasks had to be achieved against dictatorship and fundamentalism, and the goals of socialism were clear and demonstrable in the arena of international politics (even when they were criticised by the left itself).

The real crisis of the Pakistani left—a crisis that we are still recovering from—came with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Perhaps because the left in India continued to advance in the 1990s (it is perhaps the only communist movement to have done so), it is difficult for Indian progressives to imagine the devastating intellectual impact of the destruction of socialism in the Soviet Union.

The result of this crisis of faith was that those who continued to adhere to the doctrines of Marxism and socialism clamoured for unity between various surviving or existing Marxist groups. These calls for unity reached such a crescendo that all the old theoretical differences became completely irrelevant to the rank and file of various organisations.

In 1994, the MKP and the Communist Party began a dialogue for unity that culminated in their merger in 1994. The CMKP at that time became, arguably, the major party of the Pakistani Marxist left. For a while, many thought that this would now be the stable formation that could result in the revival of the left. However, this illusion did not last long. In 1999 the party experienced its first major split when Imdad Qazi and Maula Bux Khashkhehli called a party Congress in Hyderabad and restored the CPP. Then the CMKP split further in the Lahore Congress of 2003 when, led by Afzal Khamoosh, the majority voted to restore the MKP. A minority continued to operate as the CMKP. In this way, the CMKP split up into at least three groups (CPP, CMKP, MKP) and declined in terms of its organisational strength.

But time and struggle are the best teachers bringing political competitors back to the negotiating table for the larger object. Hence, in April of last year, the CMKP first merged with the followers of Peoples National Congress to form the Peoples Mazdoor Kissan Party. And then the Peoples Mazdoor Kissan Party as a whole merged with Afzal Khamoosh’s organisation to reunite the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party.

Will this new unity last? Will it be able to capture the popular imagination of the working people? We are confident that it will, but only time will tell. However, for the moment, the progressive community in Pakistan has supported this as a welcome development that would strengthen the hands of all those seeking a society free of dictatorships, religious extremist violence, oppression, and class exploitation.

MKP and Religious Extremism

The draft programme of the party is too lengthy and with too many different aspects to capture in the space available in this brief essay. Instead, I think it will be more interesting to address one concern that seems to be on the top of everyone’s mind in and out of Pakistan. That is, how do we understand religious fundamentalism?

Liberal solutions to the question of religious extremism have been to support the bourgeois democratic parliamentary process to emphasise secular education and values, and to work with the state and media to limit the scope of religious fundamentalism. In sum, they do not link the question of religious extremism to any examination of the class structure of the country.

On the contrary, liberals are prone to dismiss any class analysis of religious fundamentalism by arguing that fundamentalists can be found in all classes of society. The fact that socialists can equally be found amongst all classes of society and yet socialism is a class-based movement does not seem to dissuade them from their erroneous conclusions.

No class movement in the history of the world has ever coincided perfectly with the members of that class. Movements are carried out in the broader interests of definite classes. And while the movements are broadly composed overwhelmingly of the individuals of that class, they almost always include people whose class background is at odds with their political convictions. Vice versa, there are many individuals and even entire sections of the class, who identify not with their own class interests but with the interests of other classes.

Nor is it enough to suggest, as some progressives do, that religious extremism is purely the result of imperialism (that is, the counter-revolutionary campaign carried on by the United States (US) and Pakistan against the Afghan communists). Such an analysis is weakened by the fact that religious fundamentalism has been present as a political force long before imperialist assistance with intellectual roots going back several centuries. They would fail to note how religious fundamentalism has been used by the state and the ruling class to crush democratic aspirations within Pakistan, to stifle the development of a rational discourse in the academy, to further Pakistani interests outside of its borders, and to quell nationalist and class rebellions inside of Pakistan (take for example their role in the massacres of 1971).

There is a third line of reasoning that is perhaps the most untenable and ridiculous of all—that the Taliban represent a religious form of anti-imperialism. But events have so thoroughly discredited this view that was argued by some Trotskyist groups in and outside of Pakistan that we need not waste any further ink on such preposterous ideas.

It is our contention that the Islamic fundamentalists represent a reactionary and restorationist movement. The term reactionary refers to any movement or ideology that “opposes change or progress in society, and which seeks a return to a previous state.” It is restorationist in the sense that it adheres to the belief that pristine or original Islam should be restored. In fact, this movement opposes the entire social, cultural, political, economic, and ideological revolution associated with the rise of modern capitalism. Whether we speak of modern education, the emancipation of women, the ideas of enlightenment, the scientific revolution, and so on, in all these things and more, we find that Islamic fundamentalism sets itself in opposition to the march of history.

How is it possible that 500 years after the emergence of capitalism and at least a century after the capitalist transformation of South Asia, such a reactionary and restorationist movement could have come about and gained influence? Does this not contradict one of the cardinal principles of Marxism that history moves in a progressive direction?

In our view, Marxism does not preach a unilinear evolutionism. It is premised upon the dialectics of class struggle that includes both the possibility of progress and also of reaction. Classes defend their interests. Hence it is only logical that pre-capitalist classes will also attempt to rollback and reverse the tide of history. Whether we examine their ideological apparatus or their political programme for the restoration of a theocracy, everything takes us back to medieval texts and middle-age debates. Their entire framework is built on the idea that the unadulterated Sharia of the 12th century must be restored to the last letter. Nothing better emphasises this than the way in which they have attacked all the gains made under the umbrella of women’s emancipation.

Some liberals and especially some postmodernists are prone to point out that religious fundamentalists use very modern means to recruit and organise (that is, they use social media, mobile phone technology and so on). But this is a ridiculously low bar. The intellectual apparatus required to use technology and the critical and scientific thinking that a culture needs to create that very technology are two completely different things.

In Conclusion

Religious fundamentalism, as an ideology, represents those class forces in society that hark back to the medieval period. They are the representatives of those medieval classes that have been ruined by the advance of industry and the march of history. Their struggle to restore what history has destroyed inexorably leads them towards extreme forms of violence, not just against the state but also against ordinary people, because society is unwilling to turn back the wheel of history. Hence, we see the struggle against them as part and parcel of the unfinished business of the democratic revolution.

The capitalist and landed classes of Pakistan are unwilling to conduct the struggle for the complete emancipation of the people from these medieval elements because they, from time to time, require the support of this medieval movement against democratic and socialist movements (and Syria and Libya, to name but two recent examples, clearly demonstrate that the same conclusion holds true for imperialism). Instead, their ultimate and final defeat can only come about with the rising tide of a peoples’ movement against class rule.

—Taimur Rahman teaches political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan.

Source: EPW

Digital Labor and Imperialism-Christian Fuchs

Posted by admin On February - 2 - 2016 Comments Off on Digital Labor and Imperialism-Christian Fuchs


The International Division of Digital Labor
A century has now passed since Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) and Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy (1915), as well as Rosa Luxemburg’s 1913 Accumulation of Capital, all spoke of imperialism as a force and tool of capitalism. It was a time of world war, monopolies, antitrust laws, strikes for pay raises, Ford’s development of the assembly line, the October Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the failed German revolution, and much more. It was a time that saw the spread and deepening of global challenges to capitalism.

This article reviews the role of the international division of labor in classical Marxist concepts of imperialism, and extends these ideas to the international division of labor in the production of information and information technology today. I will argue that digital labor, as the newest frontier of capitalist innovation and exploitation, is central to the structures of contemporary imperialism. Drawing on these classical concepts, my analysis shows that in the new imperialism, the information industries form one of the most concentrated economic sectors; that hyper-industrialization, finance and informationalism belong together; that multinational informational corporations are grounded in nation-states, but operate globally; and that information technology has become a means of war.1

Defining Imperialism

In his 1916 “Popular Outline,” as he subtitled his work, Lenin defined imperialism as

capitalism at that stage of development at which the domination of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all the territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.2
Bukharin and Preobrazhensky understood imperialism as “the policy of conquest which financial capital pursues in the struggle for markets for the sources of raw material, and for places in which capital can be invested.”3 Bukharin, a contemporary of Lenin and editor of Pravda from 1917 to 1929, drew conclusions similar to Lenin’s list of imperialism’s key features, delineating imperialism as “a product of finance capitalism” and arguing that “finance capital cannot pursue any other policy than an imperialist one.”4

For Bukharin, imperialism is also necessarily a form of state capitalism, a difficult concept to apply in the context of neoliberalism, which is based more on worldwide domination by corporations than nation-states. He saw nations as “state capitalist trusts” locked in a “worldwide struggle” leading to global war.5 For Bukharin, imperialism is simply “the expression of competition between” these trusts, all aiming to “centraliz[e] and concentrat[e] capital in their hands.”6 Lenin, in contrast, wrote that “an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony.”7 Lenin’s formulation of a competition between “great powers” is more careful than Bukharin’s concept of state capitalist trusts, because it encompasses both companies and states.

For Rosa Luxemburg, meanwhile, imperialism is the violent geographical and political expansion of the accumulation of capital, the

competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment…. With the high development of the capitalist countries and their increasingly severe competition in acquiring non-capitalist areas, imperialism grows in lawlessness and violence, both in aggression against the non-capitalist world and in ever more serious conflicts among the competing capitalist countries. But the more violently, ruthlessly and thoroughly imperialism brings about the decline of non-capitalist civilizations, the more rapidly it cuts the very ground from under the feet of capitalist accumulation.8
Luxemburg argues that capital wants to extend exploitation globally, to “mobilize world labor power without restriction in order to utilize all productive forces of the globe.”9

Whatever their differences, Lenin, Bukharin, and Luxemburg all share the conviction that imperialism is “the final phase of capitalism,”10 or a form of “decaying capitalism,”11 and that consequently the “ruin of the bourgeoisie is inevitable.”12 Such statements reflect not just the political optimism felt by revolutionaries of the time, but also a then-common structuralist and functionalist understanding of capitalism that assumed the system’s inevitable decline. Indeed, they were writing at the outbreak of the First World War, which was to be followed after a short prosperity by the Great Depression and the Second World War—giving adequate support to their arguments for the global instability of the system. A hundred years later, capitalism continues. But while it may have taken on new qualities, capitalism can still be characterized as imperialism, and continues to experience major outbreaks of its inherent tendencies toward crisis.13

Labor and Imperialism

Lenin, Bukharin, and Luxemburg all saw the international division of labor as a central feature of imperialism. Lenin uses the notion of the division of labor to mean a division between the industries on which certain banks focus their investment activities.14 He sees the export of capital, in contrast to the export of goods, as a crucial feature of imperialism:

As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilized not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, [and] raw materials are cheap.15
Similarly, Bukharin argued, based on Marx, that a social division of labor between town and country and among enterprises, branches, economic subdivisions, and nations–the international division of labor–is a defining feature of capitalism.16 This division depends partly on natural causes (for example, “cocoa can be produced only in tropical countries”17) and partly on social causes, “the unequal development of productive forces” which “creates different economic types and different production spheres, thus increasing the scope of international social division of labor.”18 The “labor of every individual country becomes part of that world social labor through the exchange that takes place on an international scale.”19 Given a world market and unequal productivity, less productive countries are forced to sell commodities at prices below their value in order to compete, which results in a system of unequal exchange.

Rosa Luxemburg focused in her concept of imperialism on the “relations between capitalism and the non-capitalist modes of production,” in which the

predominant methods are colonial policy, an international loan system—a policy of spheres of interest—and war. Force, fraud, oppression, looting are openly displayed without any attempt at concealment, and it requires an effort to discover within this tangle of political violence and contests of power the stern laws of the economic process.20
For Luxemburg, the international relations of imperialism require robbery and the exploitation of labor: “Capital needs the means of production and the labor power of the whole globe for untrammeled accumulation.” Hence, “it cannot manage without the natural resources and the labor power of all territories.…’sweating blood and filth with every pore from head to toe’ characterizes not only the birth of capital but also its progress in the world at every step.”21

Although Lenin, Bukharin, and Luxemburg differed politically on several aspects of imperialism, especially on questions concerning the role of nationalism in class struggles and liberation, national self-determination, and the use of foreign markets in capitalism, it is clear that for all three theorists, the periphery is not just a source of resources and a market for selling commodities, but is also embedded in an international division of labor.22 As part of this division, the exploitation of workers in the periphery enables the export and appropriation of surplus value by large companies.

The International Division of Digital Labor

Global communications, in the form of the telegraph and international news agencies, already played a role in imperialism by the time of the First World War, helping to organize and coordinate trade, investment, accumulation, exploitation, and war.23 A hundred years later, qualitatively different means of information and communication such as supercomputers, the Internet, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and social media have emerged. But just like the labor of workers in the periphery during earlier stages of imperialism, the production of information and information technology is part of an international division of labor, one that continues to shape modes of production, distribution, and consumption.24

Critical scholars introduced the notion of the new international division of labor (NIDL) in the 1980s in order to stress that developing countries had become cheap sources of manufacturing labor and to track the rise of multinational corporations.25 In their book The Endless Crisis, John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney situate the rise of multinationals in capital’s attempt to overcome long-term economic stagnation and attain global monopoly profits.26 Multinationals aim to drive down the wage share globally and increase their profits by installing a system of global competition among workers. The consequence is a worldwide increase in the rate of exploitation that Foster and McChesney, drawing on Stephen Hymer’s work, call a “strategy of divide and rule.”27

Table 1 shows comparative data for the world’s 2,000 largest multinational corporations in the years 2004 and 2014. These companies’ revenues accounted for more than 50% of worldwide GDP, showing that multinationals compete for monopoly status at the global level. In both years, almost three-quarters of the capital assets of these companies were located in the FIRE sector—finance, insurance, real estate—which confirms Foster and McChesney’s assertion that we can accurately speak of a system of global monopoly-finance capitalism.28 However, these assets also include significant shares in mobility industries (transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, vehicles), manufacturing, and information (from telecommunications hardware, software, and semiconductors to advertising, the Internet, publishing, and broadcasting). All of this indicates that to varying degrees, global capitalism means not only monopoly-finance capitalism, but also monopoly-mobility capitalism, monopoly-hyperindustrial capitalism, and monopoly-information capitalism.29

Table 1. World’s 2,000 Largest Multinational Corporations, 2004–2014

Total revenues $19,934 bn $38,361 bn
Total capital assets $68,064 bn $160,974 bn
Total profits $760.4 bn $2,927.5 bn
Share of revenues in world GDP 50.8% 51.4%
Share of finance, insurance, real estate (FIRE) in total assets 70.8% 73.6%
Share of FIRE in total profits 32.7% 33.5%
Share of information industries in total assets 5.9% 5.5%
Share of information industries in total profits 0.8% 17.3%
Share of information industries in total revenues 11.3% 13.1%
Share of mobility industries in total assets 7.5% 6.9%
Share of mobility industries in total profits 22.4% 19.0%
Share of manufacturing in total assets 7.1% 6.9%
Share of manufacturing in total profits 28.3% 18.6%
Chinese multinationals in top 2000 49 207
U.S. multinationals in top 2000 751 563
Share of Chinese assets 1.1% 13.7%
Share of Chinese profits 3.6% 14.3%
Share of North American and European assets 77.4% 63.1%
Share of North American and European profits 82.9% 61.7%
A significant change between 2004 and 2014 was the rise of Chinese multinationals, whose shares of assets, revenues, and profits dramatically increased. European and North American multinational corporations now no longer control around three-quarters, but instead two-thirds of global capital, which means that they nevertheless continue to be dominant. That Chinese multinationals play a more important role does not signify a fundamental break, but rather shows that China imitates Western-style capitalism, so that a “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” has emerged.

The NIDL is at the heart of the information and digital economy that produces information and communication technologies (ICT) and information itself. Various forms of physical work produce information technologies that are then used by workers in the media and cultural industries to create digital content, such as music, movies, data, statistics, multimedia, images, videos, animations, texts, and articles. Technology and content are thus dialectically interconnected, so that the information economy is at once physical and non-physical. The information economy is neither a superstructure nor immaterial, but rather a specific form of the organization of productive forces that cuts across the base-superstructure divide.

Figure 1 shows a model of the major production processes that are involved in the international division of digital labor. Each production stage involves human subjects (S) using technologies of labor (T) on objects of labor (O), yielding a new product. The very foundation of global digital labor is the agricultural labor cycle by which miners extract minerals. These minerals then become the objects in the next production stage, as they are processed into ICT components, which in turn enter the next labor cycle as objects: assembly workers build digital media technologies using ICT components as inputs. The outcome of all this labor is these digital media technologies, which manage the production, distribution, circulation, and consumption of diverse types of information.

Figure 1. The International Division of Digital Labor
“Digital labor,” therefore, does not only denote the production of digital content. It is a category that rather encompasses the whole mode of digital production, a network of agricultural, industrial and informational labor that enables the existence and use of digital media. The subjects (S) involved in the digital mode of production–miners, processors, assemblers, and information workers–stand in specific relations of production. So what is designated as S in figure 1 is actually a relationship, S1–S2, between different subjects or subject groups.

Today most of these digital relations of production are shaped by wage labor, slave labor, unpaid labor, precarious labor, and freelance labor, making the international division of digital labor a vast and complex network of interconnected, global processes of exploitation. These range from the Congolese slave miners who extract minerals for use in ICT components, superexploited wage-workers in Foxconn factories, and low-paid software engineers in India to highly paid, highly stressed software engineers at Google and other Western corporations, precarious digital freelancers who create and disseminate culture, and e-waste workers who disassemble ICTs, exposing themselves to toxic materials.

Let us look at one example of digital labor. In 2015, according to the Fortune list of the largest transnational corporations, Apple was the world’s twelfth largest company.30 Its profits grew from $37 billion in 2013 to $39.5 billion in 2014 and $44.5 billion in 2015.31 That year, iPhones accounted for 56 percent of Apple’s net sales, iPads for 17 percent, Macs for 13 percent, and iTunes, software, and other services for 10 percent.32 The Chinese labor involved in manufacturing an iPhone made up only 1.8 percent of the iPhone’s price, while Apple’s profits from iPhone sales were 58.5 percent, and Apple’s suppliers, such as the Taiwanese company Foxconn, made a 14.3 percent profit.33 Thus the iPhone 6 Plus does not cost $299 because of labor costs, but rather because for each phone, Apple on average earns $175 in profits and Foxconn makes $43, while the workers assembling the phones in a Foxconn factory receive just $5. The high cost of iPhones and other products are a consequence of a high profit rate and a high rate of exploitation—direct results of the international division of digital labor. China is, as Foster and McChesney write, “the world assembly hub” in a system of “global labor arbitrage and…superexploitation.”34

According to the 2015 Fortune Global 500 list, Foxconn is the third-largest corporate employer in the world, with more than a million workers, made up mostly of young migrant workers from the countryside.35 Foxconn assembles the iPad, iMac, iPhone, and the Amazon Kindle, as well as video game consoles by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. When seventeen Foxconn workers tried to commit suicide between January and August 2010, and most of them succeeded, the issue of dismal working conditions in the Chinese ICT assembly industry began to attract wider attention. A number of academic studies have subsequently documented the everyday reality at Foxconn factories, where workers must endure low wages, long hours, and frequent work schedule disruptions; inadequate protective gear; overcrowded, prison-like accommodations; yellow unions managed by company officials and distrusted by workers; prohibitions on talking during work; beatings and harassment by security guards; and disgusting food.36

Yet Apple boasts in its Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report that the company requires its “suppliers to achieve an average of 95 percent compliance with our maximum 60-hour work week.”37 The International Labor Organization’s Convention C030 on work hours recommends an upper limit of forty-eight hours per work week, and no more than eight hours a day. That Apple prides itself on enforcing a sixty-hour work week for labor in its supply chain shows that contemporary imperialism’s international division of digital labor is not just exploitative, but also effectively racist: Apple assumes that for people in China, sixty hours is an appropriate standard.

Apple’s 2014 report also claims that the company audited the working conditions of more than a million workers. However, these audits are not conducted independently, nor are their results reported independently. Since Apple doesn’t rely on independent corporate watchdog organizations such as Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), its reports must be considered inherently biased: workers being studied by their own employers will certainly not report their complaints, lest they lose their jobs.

As to the numerous labor-rights violations listed above, the report’s style and language suggest that the failings of suppliers and local agencies are the problem: “Our suppliers are required to uphold the rigorous standards of Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, and every year we raise the bar on what we expect….We audit all final assembly suppliers every year.” The report could never acknowledge that such behavior is really driven by multinational corporations’ own demand to produce cheaply and quickly. Apple’s ideological strategy diverts attention from its own responsibility for the exploitation of Chinese workers.

Conclusion: Ideology and Resistance

Apple has marketed the iPhone 5 as being made “for the colorful” and the iPhone 6 as “bigger than big.” Such slogans imply that the digital technological revolution has brought about a new and better society that benefits all. Similar ideological promises and claims can be found in the context of social media, cloud computing, big data, crowdsourcing, and related phenomena. Such assertions are forms of technological fetishism that assume that technology inherently fosters a good society without analyzing the social relations in which it is embedded. In technological fetishism, just as Marx wrote of classic commodity fetishism, the “definite social relation between men themselves” assume “the fantastic form of a relation between things.”38

Confronting the international division of digital labor with Lenin, Luxemburg and Bukharin’s classical concepts of imperialism helps us to unmask this technological fetishism. The example of Apple shows that digital technology and the ideologies that frame it in advertising and politics are obscured by a fascination with the new that necessarily overlooks the continuities of global exploitation.

Apple achieves high profits in the international division of digital labor by outsourcing manufacturing labor to China, where the Western strategy of “exporting capital abroad” achieves high profits because wages are low and the rate of exploitation is high.39 The exploitation of workers at Foxconn, Pegatron and other companies shows that “‘[s]weating blood and filth with every pore from head to toe’ characterizes not only the birth of capital but also its progress in the world at every step.”40 Through it all, Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s analyses remain as true in the twenty-first century as they were a hundred years ago.

Foster and McChesney argue that “capitalist contradictions with Chinese characteristics” include overinvestment in construction and urban real estate, weak consumption, extreme exploitation, rising inequality, unused infrastructure, discrimination against rural migrant labor, pollution, and environmental degradation.41 Yet media reports about China in the West tend to ignore the country’s active political culture of working-class and social struggles stemming from these contradictions. According to data from the China Labor Bulletin, 1,276 strikes took place in China in 2014.42 China is not a monolithic society, but one with active and vivid working-class struggles against exploitation. In October 2014, after earlier labor unrest in June, a thousand workers went on strike for wage increases at the Foxconn factory in Chongqing.43

The short and medium-term goal of digital working-class struggles should be the formation of worker-controlled companies in the digital and cultural industries, at all levels of organization and over the entire globe, no matter if it disturbs social media, software engineering, the freelance economy, mineral extraction, or ICT assembly. In the longer term, the aim should be to overcome the capitalist organization of these spheres, together with capitalist society itself. The question of what role the national or international dimension of social struggles against digital capitalism should play is a matter for strategic political debates. In an 1867 address to the International Workingmen’s Association, Marx argued that “in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labor force.”44 It is true today as it was then that if “the working class wishes to continue its struggle with some chance of success,” then the only adequate response to global capitalist rule is that “the national organizations must become international.”45


For detailed analyses, see: Christian Fuchs, “Media, War and Information Technology,” in Des Freedman and Daya Kishan Thussu, eds.,Media and Terrorism: Global Perspectives (London: Sage, 2012), 47–62; Christian Fuchs, “Critical Globalization Studies: An Empirical and Theoretical Analysis of the New Imperialism,”Science & Society 74, no. 2 (2010): 215–47; Christian Fuchs, “Critical Globalization Studies and the New Imperialism,”Critical Sociology 36, no. 6 (2010): 839–67; and Christian Fuchs, “New Imperialism: Information and Media Imperialism?”Global Media and Communication 6, no. 1 (2010): 33–60.
Vladimir I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” in Collected Works, vol. 22 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1927), 266–67.
Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky,The ABC of Communism (Monmouth, UK: Merlin Press, 2007 [1920]), 119.
Nikolai Bukharin,Imperialism and World Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 140.
Ibid., 158.
Ibid., 120-121.
Lenin, “Imperialism,” 269.
Rosa Luxemburg,The Accumulation of Capital (New York: Routledge, 2003 [1913]), 426–27.
Ibid., 343.
Ibid., 427.
Lenin, “Imperialism,” 300.
Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, ABC of Communism, 143.
Compare for example John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney,The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capitalism Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012); David Harvey,The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Ellen Meiksins Wood,Empire of Capital (London: Verso, 2003).
Lenin, “Imperialism,” 221–22.
Ibid., 241.
Bukharin,Imperialism and World Economy, 18, 21.
Ibid., 19.
Ibid., 20.
Ibid., 22.
Luxemburg,The Accumulation of Capital, 432.
Ibid., 345–46, 433.
See Paul Mattick’s 1935 essay “Luxemburg versus Lenin,” inAnti-Bolshevik Communism (Monmouth, UK: Merlin Press, 1978).
Christian Fuchs,Digital Labor and Karl Marx (New York: Routledge, 2014).
Folker Fröbel, Jürgen Heinrichs and Otto Kreye,The New International Division of Labor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
Foster and McChesney,The Endless Crisis.
Ibid., 114–15, 119.
Fortune Global 500 list 2015, available at http://fortune.com.
Apple Inc., 10-K Report 2014. Available at http://sec.gov.
Jenny Chan, Ngai Pun and Mark Selden, “The Politics of Global Production: Apple, Foxconn and China’s New Working Class,”New Technology, Work and Employment 28, no. 2 (2013): 100–15.
Foster and McChesney,The Endless Crisis, 172.
See Christian Fuchs,Culture and Economy in the Age of Social Media (New York: Routledge, 2015).
See Jenny Chan, “A Suicide Survivor: The Life of a Chinese Worker,”New Technology, Work and Employment 2, no. 2 (2013): 84–99; Chan, Pun, and Selden, “The Politics of Global Production”; Foster and McChesney,The Endless Crisis, 119–20, 139–40, 173; Ngai Pun and Jenny Chan, “Global Capital, the State, and Chinese Workers: The Foxconn Experience,”Modern China 38, no. 4 (2012): 383–410; Jack L. Qiu, “Network Labor: Beyond the Shadow of Foxconn,” in Larissa Hjorth, Jean Burgess and Ingrid Richardson, eds.,Studying Mobile Media: Cultural Technologies, Mobile Communication, and the iPhone (New York: Routledge, 2012), 173–89; Jack L. Qiu,Goodbye iSlave: Rethinking Labor, Capitalism, and Digital Media (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016); and Marisol Sandoval, “Foxconned: Labor as the Dark Side of the Information Age,”tripleC 11, no. 2 (2013): 318–47.
Apple Inc., Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report, available at http://apple.com.
Karl Marx,Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 165.
Lenin, “Imperialism,” 241.
Luxemburg,The Accumulation of Capital, 433.
Foster and McChesney,The Endless Crisis, 157.
China Labor Bulletin Strike Map, available at http://strikemap.clb.org.hk.
“Thousands of Foxconn Workers Strike Again in Chongqing for Better Wages, Benefits,”China Labor Watch, October 8, 2014, http://chinalaborwatch.org.
Karl Marx, “On the Lausanne Congress,” inMECW, vol. 20 (London: Lawrence and Wishart 1984), 421–423.
Ibid., 422.

New books shed light on Trotsky’s struggle against Soviet bureaucracy-Reviewed by Barry Healy

Posted by admin On February - 1 - 2016 Comments Off on New books shed light on Trotsky’s struggle against Soviet bureaucracy-Reviewed by Barry Healy


Leon Trotsky
Paul Le Blanc
Reaktion Books, 2015, 224 pp., $39.99

Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy
Thomas M. Twiss
Brill, 2014, 502 pp., $205.00
Leon Trotsky was one of the central leaders of the Russian Revolution. As the organiser and Commissar of the Red Army that saved the Soviet power and leading light of the struggle against Stalinism, he is surely one of the great heroic — and tragic — figures of the Twentieth Century.

Taken together these two books provide an insight into the major theoretical dilemma that emerged from the Russian experience: how a successful revolution could degenerate into a parody of workers’ democracy to the point of becoming a murderous dictatorship.

Because Trotsky’s revolutionary integrity remained untarnished after his murder in 1940 at the hands of a Stalinist assassin it is easy to fall into a deification of his work — something that competing Trotskyist sects have delighted in doing.

Paul Le Blanc steers clear of those rocks in his very fine, short biography. He demonstrates a very clear-eyed and measured approach, combined with an unqualified opposition to Stalinist tyranny.

He writes of Trotsky’s life together with the full gamut of his relationships — including sexual, Trotsky was not a paragon of bourgeois family virtue — and both critiques and defends his legacy. Trotsky was often accused of arrogance, which Le Blanc deals with fairly. However, despite his personal failings Trotsky genuinely demanded honesty and dissent from his comrades, not the spiritual desert that Joseph Stalin inhabited.

Trotsky’s final battle

Given Trotsky’s epic achievements both as a revolutionary leader and as a writer, it might come as something of a surprise that Le Blanc concentrates his attention on Trotsky’s work in the period after his fall from power — his time of exile when he laboured to produce the Fourth International.

But Le Blanc is being true both to the intention of the Reaktion Books’ Critical Lives series and to Trotsky’s perception of his own legacy. Each Critical Lives book “relates and brings alive” the subject’s life “and assesses their major works at the same time.”

Le Blanc writes that Trotsky remained true to “the ideals that animated his entire life,” and that he “followed a trajectory that took him out of the centre of power. This was the doomed but determined fighter who sought to defend and explain the relevance of the heroic best that was in the early Communist tradition.”

Trotsky regarded the last period of his life, where he battled to keep revolutionary Marxism alive, as his most important work. This was the time when he analysed fascism and tried to influence politics during the Great Depression while responding to the Moscow trials (at which he was the chief defendant in absentia). He also intervened from afar in the Spanish Civil War and other events leading to World War II.

His fundamental disagreement with Stalin was over how best to defend the USSR against capitalist encirclement. At the theoretical level it boiled down to their two divergent concepts: Permanent Revolution (Trotsky) versus Socialism in One Country (Stalin).

Behind those two theories were two totally different understandings of working class democracy and how capitalism operates in a globalised world. Should the encircled Soviet Union have depended on internal workers’ democracy to build its state or on a specialised bureaucracy? Should it attempt to make class peace with one or other imperialist power, even the most repugnant, in order to secure its own position?

This is where Thomas Twiss’s book dives in deep. Like Le Blanc, Twiss is both sympathetic to and uncompromising in appraising Trotsky’s strengths and weaknesses. But where Le Blanc uses a rather broad narrative brush, Twiss is microscopic.

Twiss follows Trotsky’s thinking from the first years of the Bolshevik Revolution through the internal party faction fights of the 1920’s and the 1930’s Moscow Show Trials up to his demise. This is an exacting history that covers the development of Trotsky’s ideas in relation to his political battles.

He explains how Trotsky’s perceptions of political developments both blinkered and illuminated his evolving theoretical understandings. In turn Trotsky’s theories shaped his political stands — both for good and for ill.

Theories of workers’ democracy

The question of democracy has been central to the socialist movement at least since Karl Marx and Frederick Engels famously stated that the first step in the communist revolution “is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class” by winning “the battle of democracy.”

Going further, in 1871, while writing of the Paris Commune, Marx concluded that the working people, in making their revolution must smash what he called the “bureaucratic-military machine” that is the bourgeois state. Vladimir Lenin further expanded on this in State and Revolution.

Lenin argued that the Russian socialist revolution would establish a Commune-like regime based on the unique creation forged by the Russian revolutionary experience, the soviets or popular councils. The Bolsheviks confidently expected that popular sovereignty would be ensured by some fairly simple organisational structures — starting with state power founded on workers’ soviets and peasants’ organisations.

Following that, the danger of a bureaucracy forming would be warded off by replacing the standing army with a militia, eradicating the division between executive and legislative functions, having the right of recall of all elected officials, and regulating officials’ salaries to the level of workers’ wages.

Eventually, Lenin wrote, as the need for the repressive aspects of the state became redundant, even this radically democratic proletarian state would itself wither away.

However, soon after the revolution many within the Bolshevik Party, including Trotsky and Lenin, were discussing Soviet bureaucracy as a growing problem. In time, the Soviet Union became synonymous with anti-democratic bureaucracy, mass murder of revolutionaries and the cult of personality around Stalin, the chief of the bureaucracy.

Trotsky’s name, on the other hand became synonymous with the most effective analysis of and opposition to the Revolution’s bureaucratic degeneration. Yet, as Thomas Twiss demonstrates his understanding did not develop in a straight line.

As he grappled with the question Trotsky was guided by aspects of classical Marxist thinking as well as the conjunctural issues confronting the Revolution. He also engaged with and debated competing analyses that emerged in and around the Communist Party.

Phases of Trotsky’s theorising

Far from being a mystical prophet, Trotsky was fully human in this work. There were many hesitations and developments in his thinking, which can be divided into three distinct phases.

During the 1918-1921 civil war and the first years of the New Economic Program (NEP) he identified bureaucracy as the cause of inefficiency throughout the economy but most especially in the Red Army supply chain. That is, he saw it as a technical question and he was lightning fast in coming up with technical solutions – which often rode roughshod over democracy.

However, by 1923, just five years after the Revolution, in the second phase of his thinking, he became worried by the growing divergence of the state and party apparatuses from democratic control and the rising influence of alien class forces. From 1926 onwards he deepened his appreciation of the roots of the bureaucracy and the danger it presented to the revolution.

But it was only after the defeat of the German working class by the Nazis that Trotsky came to see the bureaucracy as a distinct social formation with its own interests. While not terminating the achievements of the Russian Revolution, it had attained a high degree of autonomy from all Soviet social classes.

In the immediate post-1917 revolutionary period all the Bolsheviks saw bureaucracy in terms of classical Marxist formulations that are scattered throughout the writings of Marx and Engels on the state. Following Marx and Engels, they essentially held that bureaucracy was an embodiment of political alienation, that is, separation of the state apparatus from democratic control.

Marxist thinking about bureaucracy

Marx first dealt with bureaucracy in his The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in which he rejected Hegel’s idealistic belief that the Prussian civil service was motivated by the interests of the whole of society. Marx argued that the central institution of the modern state, which he named “bureaucracy,” was just one more self-seeking, “particular, self-contained society within the state.”

Marx believed that the bureaucracy simply redefined the common good to correspond with its own particular interests.

Going further, in his book On the Jewish Question, Marx, while still using Hegelian language, contested Hegel’s assertion that the state resolved civil society conflicts: “Far from abolishing these factual distinctions, the state presupposes them in order to exist … It is only in this way, above the particular elements, that the state constitutes itself as a universality.”

Thus, for Marx the state and its bureaucracy, rising out of social conflicts, depended upon the continued existence of those conflicts for its legitimacy — while simultaneously claiming to represent the interests of everyone.

In the years immediately after the revolution, leading Bolshevik views on bureaucracy — including those of both Lenin and Trotsky — derived from these Marxist concepts but also from the more prosaic view of bureaucracy as simply the rule by faceless, paper-shuffling officials. That is, while influenced by Marxism, they saw bureaucracy as a secondary (though negative) phenomenon characterised by excessive formalism, paperwork and inefficiency.

They believed that bureaucracy would be curtailed significantly by the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that it would ultimately disappear in the socialist society that they were building — based on the soviets that neither Marx nor Engels had lived to see or theorise about.

Realities of War Communism

The Bolsheviks failed to recognise that these democratic ideals were being undermined by facts-on-the-ground created during and after the Civil War. For example, the Bolshevik government was hamstrung by Russian workers’ abysmally low level of literacy.

Far from being able to assign government functions to workers, as predicted in State and Revolution, the Bolsheviks were forced to rehire Tsarist bureaucrats, at inflated wages, to “coach” workers in their responsibilities. The “specialists” were paid a premium above the wages of the workers who they tutored, which became a source of demoralising envy.

It did not take long before the old, corrupt Tsarist ways infested the structure, especially as the most class-conscious workers went to the front line of the Civil War. Far worse, the war destroyed the factory base of the soviets, undermining one of the central tenets of the Bolshevik state project.

This nascent bureaucracy thrived in the atmosphere of economic privation the Civil War created. As the war smashed the economy, the population survived physically through a combination of rationing and barter, and morally via a superlative level of political commitment.

This moral commitment, based on shared hardship, was known as War Communism. It was regarded as an emergency period. Fully-fledged communism was expected to follow victory, based on material plenty.

During War Communism, Trotsky headed the largest Soviet government department: the War Commissariat. He demonstrated the fiercest reactions to administrative inefficiency. He had a short fuse when it came to obstructions and looked for short cuts around them.

Trotsky particularly hated excessive centralism and inadequate coordination of economic resources. “From 1919 through 1922,” Twiss says, “Trotsky wrote more extensively and coherently about this form of bureaucracy that any other.”

Confusion in Bolshevik debates

A difficulty in the Bolshevik discussion at this point was that different leaders were using the same vocabulary to refer to different aspects of the bureaucratic phenomenon. What was occurring was, while facing the totally new phenomenon — bureaucracy in a workers state — leaders attacked varied characteristics and raised competing solutions, all using very similar terminology.

As Twiss notes:

During the party controversies of these years, these semantic differences occasionally generated confusion when Trotsky, under attack for his “bureaucratic”-authoritarian methods, responded by hurling the charge of “bureaucracy” back at his critics. In fact, the wide differences within the party over the real meaning of bureaucracy were a reflection of the vastly differing concerns of those who used the term.

For contemporary readers of these debates, sometimes the language becomes even more confusing because often references to events in the French Revolution were used as shorthand to describe current events.

In this early period most Bolshevik leaders persisted in seeing the problem of bureaucracy in terms of the separation of political institutions from the masses and the intrusion of bourgeois influences.

Trotsky saw it quite differently. He was knee-deep in waging the Civil War and he defined the problem as that of inefficiency and poor coordination. That led him to his life-long interest in economic planning and to support increased autonomy to enterprises and economic organs.

Only in later years would Trotsky return to his Marxist roots in analysing the bureaucracy — by which time it had become a life and death issue, not just for the Soviet Union but for him personally.

Lenin had his own ideas about how to tackle the problem and advocated the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate — a sort of super-auditor — to eliminate waste. While Trotsky had misgivings about adding yet another layer to the bureaucracy in the hope of reforming it, he nonetheless came to an anti-bureaucratic alliance with Lenin in late 1922 and supported his policy.

The Twelfth Party Congress in April 1923 passed motions endorsing improved economic planning, but immediately following that the majority of the Bolshevik leadership failed to carry out the line. Trotsky deduced from this that the problem required more than a technical fix.

Trotsky deepens his analysis

Twiss says that between 1923 and 1925, “Trotsky’s critique of Soviet bureaucracy underwent a dramatic transformation.”

Beginning in late 1923 Trotsky wrote a series of articles in Pravda in which he elaborated on the question of the bureaucracy, even raising the spectre of “bureaucratic degeneration” within the Party Old Guard. His articles were later published as a pamphlet under the title The New Course.

He began to regard bureaucratism as a political problem within the party and state. Market forces, alien class pressures and specialisation among officials were pushing the party and state to the right. This sparked his oppositional activity on behalf of party democracy, which he saw as essential to changing economic policy.

Trotsky was defeated in that struggle but returned to the political fray again in 1926 when the United Opposition coalesced, bringing Trotsky together with other Old Bolsheviks, led by Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev.

Meanwhile, Stalin, as party General Secretary, used his control to marginalise revolutionaries he distrusted and foster those who supported him. Over time, he became “king” of the bureaucrats by protecting their interests.

Trotsky led the United Opposition in enunciating a comprehensive theory of the bureaucracy derived from the notion that rightward shifts in the USSR’s economic life had taken the Party itself to the right. He began warning of the danger of a Soviet “Thermidor”.

Meaning of thermidor

Thermidor was the eleventh month in the French Republican Calendar, created by the French Revolution. It was the month in which Robespierre, the radical leader, was overthrown. Being drenched in the history of the French Revolution, Bolsheviks understood that Trotsky was describing a counter-revolution that changed political leaders and eliminated radicalism, but which did not dismantle the basic gains of the revolution.

Twiss says that the term “Thermidor” was first employed by Lenin in early 1921. But, as used by Trotsky in 1927, it indicated an opening for capitalist restoration, if not in a straightforward manner. Trotsky said Thermidor was “a special form of counterrevolution carried out on the instalment plan … and making use, in the first stage, of elements of the same ruling party — by regrouping them and counterposing some to others.”

However, while warning of the danger, Trotsky believed that the Soviet Thermidor had not yet arrived. Other Oppositionists, particularly those who had come from the Democratic Centralist and Workers’ Opposition groupings, believed that the Soviet Thermidor had already occurred.

The Stalinists used their statements as weapons against the entire United Opposition, which in turn led Trotsky and other leaders to publicly disavow the position.

The Opposition’s political strategy was formed by its analysis that Thermidor was a danger but not yet a reality. This analysis dictated that, for the time being, the Opposition would attempt to reform Soviet political institutions, and not to organize a new revolution.

Internal democracy within the Party became a farce as Oppositionists were arrested and Trotsky and other leaders subjected to abuse and even forms of violence during Central Committee meetings.

In November 1927, in celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, Oppositionists marched in the official parades in Moscow and Leningrad, carrying banners with their own slogans: “Strike against the NEPman and the bureaucrat!”, “Down with opportunism!”, “Carry out Lenin’s testament!”, “Beware of a split in the party!” and “Preserve Bolshevik unity!”

Stalin responded by expelling them from the party the next month for constituting a faction. Following this Zinoviev and Kamenev capitulated to Stalin, leaving Trotsky alone as the only significant opposition to the bureaucracy.

Stalin and the German debacle

Trotsky expected that the Stalin faction would turn further to the right, but that anticipation was confounded when Stalin turned dramatically leftwards with his forced-march industrialisation and ultra-left “Third Period” international turn.

This strained Trotsky’s theoretical understanding. He had insisted that there was a direct relationship between the leadership’s rightist orientation and its undemocratic behaviour. However, it was pursuing a near crazed ultraleftism while worsening its internal regime.

In early 1933 Trotsky was still warning of the danger of a Soviet Thermidor, not that it had already taken place. Meanwhile, in Germany, Stalin’s ultraleftism was destroying any hope of a united working class response to Adolf Hitler’s rise.

It was the German Communist Party’s betrayal that pushed Trotsky to finally clarify his thinking about the Soviet bureaucracy. An interesting aside in this is that, just as Lenin turned to reading Hegel’s Science of Logic immediately after the outbreak of WWI and fed it into his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Twiss says that Trotsky also turned to Hegel after the German debacle.

Over the next eighteen months Trotsky gnawed at the bone of his theory and produced The Revolution Betrayed. Le Blanc says that it covered “a broad array of economic, social, political and cultural issues”. Twiss says it was “the culmination of the development” of Trotsky’s thinking.

Trotsky argued that the “Soviet state and society were fluid and transitional,” Le Blanc explains. While the capitalist profit motive was missing from the USSR, socialism “could not be reduced to a state-owned economy with top-down centralised planning in a single country.”

Trotsky referred to the Soviet reality as “a contradictory society”. He hoped for the restoration of proletarian democracy and feared the eventual restoration of capitalism.

His vision of workers’ democracy included freedom of speech and genuine elections. He called for the restoration of internal Bolshevik democracy within the party and for the legalisation of other workers’ parties to participate in reinvigorated Soviets.

While Trotsky amplified this theory up until his death he did not alter it.

Meanwhile, Stalin began a mad purge within the USSR using show trials to slander all alternative Bolshevik leaders – especially Trotsky – and murdering tens of thousands of loyal Party members. This paved the way for possibly his most notorious betrayal: the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty, which opened the gates to the mass slaughter of World Warii.

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