- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Reassessing (continued)

Posted by: Barry Stoller on October 04, 1999 at 11:09:20:

In Reply to: Reassessing the U.S.S.R. posted by Barry Stoller on October 01, 1999 at 11:01:25:

How could one start a socialist revolution in a country like ours without dreamers?

RD has made some very worthwhile comments to my post, some of which I'd like to comment upon.

: Basically, Buick suggests that Lenin focused heavily on the pre-1848 Marx, and the comparable situation in Germany at that time, and basically he didn't assimilate Marx's changed analysis after that event.

I'm going to have to respectfully pass on that interpretation. The most important pre-1848 works of Marx---The German Ideology and the Philosophic & Economic Manuscripts---were not known to the original Bolsheviks. The former was published in full in 1932, the latter as late as the 1950s. Thus one could argue that Marx's whole emphasis upon alienation (and the urgency to challenge the social division of labor) was regrettably kept from Lenin. And the whole 'state' thesis came from a late (1886) Engels work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

Not that the Bolsheviks did not originally question the need to rotate jobs! There are many explicit passages in Bukharin's ABC of Communism, for example, which expatiate upon the more 'utopian' sections of The State and Revolution. They knew that the best way to prevent Party and bureaucratic abuses would be for the rank and file to participate directly in the administration of the state. The 'abnormal separation,' as Lenin put it, between mental and manual work was the social division of labor.

I have found it useful to reconsider Lenin's 'statist' positions from a very unlikely source---Stalin:

[Lenin] never stated that the Party is the state power, that the soviets and the Party are one and the same. The Party, with a membership of several hundred thousand, leads the soviets, with their local and national ramifications, which embrace several millions of people, both Party and non-Party, but it cannot and should not supplant them.(1)

He goes on to quote Lenin.

Then he goes on to say that Lenin defined the relationship between the Party and the people as one of 'mutual confidence'(2), asking what does that mean? Firstly, the Party must 'closely heed the voice of the masses,'and secondly, the Party 'must from day to day win the confidence of the masses'(3). There follows extensive quotations.

After repeating himself for a few pages---Stalin was one tedious writer---he gets on the topic of what happens when Party and people have dissenting interests. There are three categories according to Stalin: 1) When the Party bases its 'prestige' not upon the confidence of the people, but upon abuse of office; 2) when the Party makes incorrect assessments; and---most interestingly---3) when the Party makes correct assessments but the people are not ready to adopt measures based upon those assessments.(4)

Explicitly saying that---according to Lenin---the dictatorship of the proletariat proscribes 'the use of violence against the class as a whole, against its majority'(5), Stalin says that the Party must never under any circumstances 'impose its leadership on the class by force.'(6) Even when the Party is right on an issue and the people are not---according to Lenin, mind you---Stalin maintains that the Party must yield, that 'if the Party wishes to be a real leader it must know how to bide its time' and convince the people that its policies are the right ones.(7)

All of which explains the electrification of rural Russia and the 'retreat' of the N.E.P.

None of which explains Stalin's later disregard for all of the above!

What I find interesting about the above is that Stalin, even while consolidating his power, was still far from such consolidation (1926). Although it would have been to his advantage to find quotes substantiating a greater and greater centralization of the Party's authority (and infallibility), he could not. Lenin's words blocked him cold.

Did Lenin's apparatus block him? The answer is, tragically, no.

: I think their plans were fundamentally misguided by their vanguardist approach, the practice of democratic-centralism, etc.

As we all know, Lenin did not envision the Party following the will of the people---at least not right away. There were some pretty compelling reasons for this. One was that the majority of the country was composed of independent peasants, a few generations out of serfdom, illiterate, all saying 'Just leave me be with my few acres,' none of them cognizant of industrial methods and economies of scale. Should such people lead the country? Could they?

The tragedy, as I see it, was that the Bolsheviks, in their desire to centralize all forces of production, also centralized all decision-making about when, where, and how to do so. They are not to be blamed for Stalin's excesses---Stalin clearly disregarded Party philosophy---but they did centralize leadership to the point where Stalin took over. History has been most unkind to the Bolsheviks for that---and should be!

: "Parties do not make revolutions, only nations can" (IIRC) K. Marx, interview with Chicago Tribune.

And, obviously, economic conditions (which create political conditions) make revolutions. But to infer that Marx repudiated the guiding role of the Party in revolutions is to go too far in the other direction! Marx, after all, was very much a Party-man (the First International). Unlike Lenin, he did not have to actually run a country with that Party.

Don't be a stranger, RD.

1. Stalin, 'Problems of Leninism' [1926], Leninism vol. 1, International, n.d. [ca. 1930], p. 282.
2. Ibid., p. 283.
3. Ibid., p. 283.
4. Ibid., p. 287.
5. Ibid., p. 287.
6. Ibid., p. 288.
7. Ibid., p. 289.

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