UK electors hang their parliament 2017!

The sun was shining this morning. I woke earlier than usual, made a cup of tea and switched on the TV, expecting to be bored by the election results. After all, I fell out with the Labour Party in 1966 and (short of alternatives) have tended to vote Labour holding my nose ever since. Never more so than during the Blair-Brown years from 1997. In fact, I came close to joining the ranks of the non-voters. I know that anarchists say we shouldn’t vote because it only encourages them – which is amusing but not much help. I do much more understand when people condemned to zero-hour contracts, frozen or non-existent social welfare, threadbare pensions feel neglected by the political class (THEY ARE) and don’t vote. But I vote on class lines, always have, because that is the foundation of my life.

But, I wasn’t bored – well, only by the talking head journalists who couldn’t believe that their own prejudices had been utterly confounded. The wooden PM, Theresa May, had been expected to get at least an increased majority, if not a landslide. In the end, we got a hung parliament – she hasn’t got a majority at all. How does that feel when you were promising ‘strong and stable leadership’ entering negotiations with the European Union to be the first ever country to leave? Whoops! Several Tory ministers will now have to defend wafer thin majorities next time round.

Better still was seeing the pundits confounded by the performance of the unelectable Jeremy Corbyn and his re-vitalised Labour Party, re-focused as not for decades on its core messages. He had barnstormed joyously around the country in a somewhat more restrained but bouncy version of Bernie Sanders, attracting huge crowds wherever he turned up. The big thing was that, finally, the younger voters got out to put their crosses on the ballot papers and made their voices heard. Not loud enough, but getting there. Let us hope they are in it for the long haul and don’t immediately return to walking aimlessly along the street with their heads down, earphones in, checking their Twitter feeds and crashing into lamp posts.

Given my politics, I am not going to get overly excited. I wouldn’t have done that even if Labour had won. But I am chuffed that our very personable local Labour MP massively increased his majority – a nice extra wedding present for him. He is a pretty decent guy, and so is Jeremy Corbyn. I am glad they have been vindicated in sticking as close as they possibly could to their personal convictions. It is at least good to feel some passion is back in British politics, and not in the nasty, xenophobic shape that dominated the Brexit referendum. Yes, there is hope back, little though it may be just yet. There is also some sense of relief that things were perhaps not quite as bad as previously thought.

Sadly, it won’t make much difference to the people on the Meadowell estate in North Tyneside. But they are a resilient lot. Having no other means, they have learned to fend for themselves, collectively, through their own organisation in the community, through decent, neighbourly solidarity. Now that really is worth celebrating. That, in the end, is what will change the world for the better and it has to come from the grassroots, not from the political class. Stop moaning, ORGANISE!

Reading Dunayevskaya on Rosa Luxemburg

Raya Dunayevskaya, Rose Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, (Humanities Press and Harvester Press, New Jersey and Sussex, 1982)

Much of the early part of the book on Luxemburg comprises a taking apart of her book on Accumulation of Capital as being based on false premises and a mistaken reading of Marx. I have no basis on which to disagree with this assessment. Much more important in my view are the issues over which Luxemburg differed from Lenin around Nationalism and Organisation.

Nationalism and National Liberation

There is a tell-tale phrase on page 52 of RD’s book on Rosa Luxemburg. She is referring to the disagreement between Lenin and Luxemburg on the question of nationalism and national liberation. Referring to Lenin in the period after the October Revolution in Russia she uses the phrase: ‘after he, himself, had come to power.’ I seem to recall that the Bolshevik slogan was ‘All Power to the Soviets!’ – not ‘All Power to the Bolshevik Party’, let alone ‘All Power to Lenin’. Maybe just a clumsy phrase, but adding to the impression of almost uncritical devotion to Lenin on the part of RD.

More importantly, in the discussion on the question of nationalism, I would query Lenin’s assertion (based on pure theory at the time, rather than evidence) that the emergence of movements of national liberation against imperialist powers would call ‘to come on the scene, namely, the socialist proletariat.’ Even if, once upon a time, proletarian organisations joined in national liberation actions such as the Easter Rising in 1916, the longer-term result was the consolidation in Ireland of a reactionary, regressive, Catholic dominated State in the South and a parallel reactionary, Orange and Unionist dominated State in the North. The labour movement did not become more socialist or more revolutionary either in Ireland or wider British society, but distinctly less so and divided against itself. This has been paralleled throughout the history of the 20th century and into the 21st, as there is barely a single example of a ‘liberated’ nation that has not become an oppressive dictatorship, such as those in Africa and Asia, or has spawned extreme right-wing demagogues such as those in the former Soviet Zone of Eastern Europe. In the former imperialist nations, nationalism has tended to rear its ugly head. Where is this socialist proletariat? Luxemburg may have got some of her precise arguments wrong at the time, but she was not wrong in principle. Nationalism of all sorts divides the working classes: it never unites them, nor encourages them towards socialism.

Whatever may have been the justification behind support for national liberation movements by Lenin and his Communist successors in the 20th century, it is certainly no longer a valid argument in the 21st century. My view is that Lenin based his theory largely on an opportunistic reading of the situation within the Russian Empire and the specific circumstances of the World War at the time – this is why he picked out the Easter Rising in Ireland as an example. By the second half of the century, the argument around national liberation owed more to the foreign policy requirements of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China: it certainly had no contribution to make to the emergence of a revolutionary proletariat anywhere. The experience today is that nationalism is a toxic poison for which the only antidote is uncompromising internationalism: examples, Hungary, Turkey, Trump’s USA, Zimbabwe, South Africa etc., etc. ad nauseam.

Organisation and Spontaneity

Nationalism was just one point of disagreement with Lenin. The other major one was on the relationship between spontaneity and organisation. RD quotes Luxemburg’s Mass Strike: “A rigid, mechanical, bureaucratic conception will only recognize struggle as a product of a certain level of organisation. On the contrary, dialectical developments in real life create organisation as a product of struggle.” (p 61) The existing evidence at the time was that the revolution arises more or less spontaneously, regardless of the existence or not and more often than not despite the existence of so-called revolutionary parties (something Marx himself reiterated, with RD’s agreement), and then proceeds to create its own forms of organisation: the Paris Commune, the Soviets or Workers’ Councils, and so on. RD, however, claims (p 60) that spontaneity is not enough on its own as it does not produce ‘a philosophy of Marx’s concept of revolution’. RD suggests that the failure of the 1905 Revolution was down to that.

Frankly I am even more confused than ever as to exactly what the revolutionary proletariat is able to achieve in RD’s view and what has to be outsourced to some intellectual leadership cadre – in which case, who exactly are they and which one of the Heinz 57 varieties of putative leaderships in current existence would qualify? Presumably only RD and her successors (who have also recently divided).

I can only assume, given RD’s worship of Lenin, that she sees this ‘leadership’ coming from some personal saviour in one of the revolutionary organisations. In this sense, the Soviets were created by the proletariat and then taken over by the Bolsheviks. I cannot but see this as a form of opportunism and one that beheads the proletarian movement and prevents them from making and learning from their own mistakes (as Luxemburg posits). It remains a moot point as to whether the intervention of the Bolsheviks ensured that they ‘did their best in the circumstances of what was forced on them 1917-23’ or whether that was first step that allowed, once again, the counter-revolution to emerge from within the revolution itself.

In today’s circumstances, there are too many competing fragments of what passes for a socialist movement, each embattled behind some rigid theoretical demarcation line and more interested in parasitism on spontaneous movements while competing amongst themselves for dominant influence. Many of them are, or have been, the product of some particular individual controlling his own fiefdom and using ‘democratic centralism’ as his weapon against internal dissent. When some hapless young person feels the first stirrings of revolutionary consciousness they frequently fall into the webs and snares set by these cults and sects rather than being able to freely associate with their own workmates and neighbours to develop their ideas. Instead they are made to feel inadequate until they have absorbed the great leader’s theories and/or fully accepted the rigid tenets of the particular group. Most likely outcome, they either become a fully-fledged cult member or, more often, become disillusioned, depressed and drop out.

Combating this is a Promethean task, which only a spontaneous uprising can accomplish by blowing them all away. Readers may gather this particular ‘old red fogey’ is talking from bitter experience. After reading RD’s three major texts, I have found in them little to encourage me to follow her constant refrain of returning to Hegel’s dialectic, though I have some sympathy with her aim of rescuing the Humanism of Marx from the Marxists. I guess I will look elsewhere.

Why I am/am not an anarchist

I first encountered anarchism as a political philosophy in 1966-67 at University, courtesy of a lovely guy, a Jewish pacifist with whom I became friends for a while. On a summer job processing peas one year, I met a guy who was in the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation – between us we even organised a go-slow action at the factory. I picked up a couple of publications on an Easter CND Demo in 1967 and witnessed my first ‘anarchist action’ – if that is what you could call it. On the last part of the march, a bunch of people led by a guy in a black beret and waving red and black flags, moved out of the main body of the march and ran shouting up the outside. I have no idea what they were doing or what happened afterwards; they disappeared without trace. It was funny, but nothing more.

I didn’t really bother with anarchist ideas until I had been through the Stalinist-Trotskyist mill and become thoroughly disillusioned. I picked up again some of those early publications and began to make contact again to explore papers like Freedom and groups and journals around Solidarity. In time, I worked out some sort of muddled philosophy based around a mixture of anarchist and syndicalist ideas, modified by my reading of Cornelius Castoriadis (aka Paul Cardan). At the time, the best outlet for this seemed to be the Anarchist Syndicalist Alliance, which published a paper called Black and Red Outlook. While I was, for a short time, its General Secretary (not as grand as the title sounds) and tried to use this base to reach out to other broadly libertarian socialist groups, this was personally not a good time and I suffered one of my periodic burn-outs. I gave up on everything to do with politics for many years and even disposed of my collection of socialist and anarchist literature.

I have never really returned to anarchism since those days in the early 1970s, though I kept sporadic contact with Solidarity until it eventually disbanded and still have a collection of pamphlets and books from that stable, as well as other broadly ‘councilist’ theorists. I have even bought again some of the books I threw away: principally Kropotkin and Rudolf Rocker. I guess I would more happily, then and now, describe myself as a libertarian socialist in a fairly general sense. I tried for a couple of years to work inside the Socialist Workers’ Party in the 1980s on that basis: doomed to failure against the demands to respect democratic centralism, toe the party line and not argue too violently with visiting regional officers.

During that period, the anarchist movement tended to succumb to various trends that came and went. There was the Punk Rock scene, which featured a lot of overpaid stars using anarchist symbols and rhetoric, peppered with expletives, in order to fill their pockets and delude disaffected youths. There was the ‘animal liberation’ movement’s adoption of what they called ‘direct action’. Later, there was the emergence of the ‘black bloc’ at anti-globalisation protests also using what they called ‘direct action’. None of this was remotely connected to the principled and well-organised use of direct action by syndicalist unions in the past, nor by non-violent dissident groups like the Committee of 100: both of these were part of wider movements and grounded in well thought out ideas, rather than the life-style behaviour of nihilists and anti-humanists who simply came and went.

Sadly, the ‘black bloc’ style of action is still around, generally parasitic on activities organised by trade unions and other movements. It is a pathetic, brain-dead form of protest, generally bringing discredit on the movements with which it is associated, probably heavily infiltrated by police agents and having more in common with the worst forms of jihadism and fascist street thuggery than with the movements they purport to represent. The only effect is usually to bring heavy police action against those who are engaged in peaceful activity, while the perpetrators of the window-smashing and throwing of Molotov cocktails hightail behind their black balaclava face masks like the cowards they really are.

I remain influenced by the ideas of some anarchist thinkers where these are based on class. But, given the idiots out there who profess to be the live movement, excuse me if I don’t call myself an anarchist.

Democracy – is it’s day done?

It may be a dangerous thing to put on line and attract the wrong sort of attention, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that parliamentary democracy is past its sell-by-date. It has historically been part of the development of burgeoning capitalist societies since the late eighteenth century. On the one hand, it is seen as a healthy means of keeping the lower orders in their place by giving them the illusion of ‘control’ over politics – though it has always been grudgingly conceded and is nowadays heavily managed. On the other hand, it is seen as part of a general dialogue connected with liberty, human rights and other conceptual ideals and therefore ‘a good thing’ in itself. However, this seems to be increasingly no longer true.

Particularly during the twentieth century and today, as capitalism has become more and more centralised on a diminishing number of powerful individuals supported by heavily bureaucratised political unions and state institutions, the emphasis on rights and liberties has tended to take second place to the need for unfettered exercise of centralised power, dependent on a façade provided by heavily managed elections. Numerous supposed democracies, whether in post-Soviet nations, the so-called ‘Communist’ nations (really, state capitalist), or in the supposed economic miracle countries of the global south (or their equivalent basket cases), find issues of even the most basic rights and liberties under constant attack. Most recently has emerged the subtle (or not so subtle) management of democracies using electronic media as tools for the manipulation of elections through a wide range of techniques: hacking, leaking, stealing and manipulating data, using algorithms to target individuals, etc. These might be softer than the use of riot police, closing down news outlets, arresting dissidents and so on, but no less effective and potentially chilling.

Against these distortions of democracy, the individual certainly has no power and that is even true of quite large political organisations and campaigns. The periodic pushing of a button or drawing of an illiterate’s mark on a ballot paper is more often than not becoming futile. However, the issue of freedom has not gone away. The disenchanted have a way of sometimes confounding expectations at the voting booth, even if this is often a response to some crude sloganizing by maverick political innovators.

The socialist movement needs to rediscover and reinvent its foundation in the principles of democracy, liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of organisation. It needs to foreground the issue of ‘power to the people’ by grounding it in the locality and the workplace, by making it a face to face phenomenon. It was there in the 1950s and 1960s at the heart of movements on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but we seem to have lost sight of how important that culture was. Healthy debate gave way to a proliferation of centralised organisations often justified by some kind of theoretical underpinning, but based on no more than the personal fiefdom of a self-appointed theorist. If the movement as a whole was dependent on such groups and individuals, socialism would now be dead in the water. But it keeps being rediscovered and reinvented. The incipient desire for freedom never goes away.

So, parliamentary democracy may have had its day and we should not be afraid to condemn it to death, but in its place we should be shouting loudly for a new democracy to replace what is in effect a disguised plutocracy – the rule by the rich for the rich, paid for by the rest of us and supported by passivity.

 

 

Reading Dunayevskaya – Philosophy and Revolution – 2

  1. ‘Part 2: Alternatives’ is a section with which I have little to disagree with (apart from point 3 above). I long ago accepted the idea of ‘state capitalism’, both as a description of Soviet society and as a description of global capitalism in the 20th century. I also rejected the idea of the leadership of a centralised, hierarchical and bureaucratic party (or union, or any other style of organisation). While I enjoyed (and still do) reading Sartre and the other existentialist coterie, I could never take seriously the idea that existentialism offered anything more than an inspiration for the individual flagging in the face of a stifling society when feeling isolated. I do however disagree with RD’s characterisation of existentialism as ‘petit-bourgeois’. I bridle at this cheap class characterisation of any ideas, since it is so redolent of Stalinism and the economic determinist concept of consciousness.
  2. ‘Part 3: Economic Reality and the Dialectics of Liberation’ is for me the most illuminating section of the book. For the first time in reading RD, I find I can recognize myself in what she is describing and analysing. The section covers the ‘noise’ around my early years of political consciousness, as well as events and movements within which I got my first practical experiences: African liberation, Biafra, the Congo, Cuba, the Civil Rights Movement, the East European Revolts and so on. Most especially, I recognize how I responded with excitement to the youth revolts of 1968, the emergence of Black Power and Women’s Liberation (though I am male and white). It was, for me, all about liberation, the prospect of self-development together with others, breaking down barriers, throwing off the shackles. I remember the slogan, ‘Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible’. This all relates back to Part One of the book and its concentration on alienation.

I warm to statements like these: ‘The reality is stifling. The transformation of reality has a dialectic all its own. It demands a unity of the struggles for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. Only then does the elemental revolt release new sensibilities, new passions and new forces – a whole new dimension.’ (p 292) After all, I have experienced this once in my lifetime and seen it happen elsewhere at other times. I hope it happens again soon and a more widespread and consistent level.

But I remain troubled that this book is not helping me to understand why all that excitement of 1968-1973 ran into the sand. Why, over the last decade or more, has the undeniably existing movement not emerged in a new way? What is holding things back? Why does society seem, if anything, to be regressing? Why is the quest for liberation so apparently helpless? Why does RD keep characterising ‘the other’ as ‘petit-bourgeois’ in this book? Isn’t she part of the same grouping as an intellectual theorist?

Reading Dunayevskaya: Philosophy and Revolution – 1

This is an extremely difficult book to read, especially if you have no prior knowledge about Hegel. It is not helped by the rather dense way in which it is written, assuming that the reader can follow the frequent use of undefined terms from Hegel’s writings. I am struck by how abstract and almost mystical is this hunt for connection between Hegel and Marx. I wonder whether I need such abstruse theorising at all in order to understand the world. Do I even need RD? Possibly in parts she is helpful. Marx in Capital is at least readable. Hegel is gobbledegook.

There are passages, when one gets away from this specialised argument, when the book is less dense, more clearly related to human experience and therefore easier to follow. Of course, this rather defeats the argument that understanding Hegel’s Logic is the key to understanding Marx, and in turn, Dunayevskaya’s conception of Marxist-Humanism. I will therefore stick with what I understand and make no attempt to follow the inscrutable. I will take it on trust that RD is honest when she says in relation to Lenin: ‘Naturally his aphorism about none being able to understand the first chapter of Capital who had not understood the whole of the Logic is not to be taken literally[1].’ I have no desire to go through an endless regressive study of philosophy back to the ancient Greeks in order to understand what is going on in my world today.

  1. I responded best to the passages on alienation (e.g. pages 87-88). The point about labour power being a commodity is crucial to understanding the inequalities of capitalist society, legally, culturally and socially, and therefore what is meant by ‘alienation’. This is not a simply economic issue about being separated from the product of our labour. We in the working class are first and foremost human beings, but we can only live if we sell our labour power. Hence, we trade our labour power as a commodity in the same way that we purchase consumer goods as commodities with the money we get from selling our labour power. [Note that some of this purchase is collective via taxation and creates another veil of obscurity.]

Capitalist society says that we are all free and equal – but the need to sell our labour power is absolute and in turn absolutely denies us our freedom as human beings with creative potential. As human beings in free association with others, we would naturally incline to find social and personal ways to secure our well-being and to express our creativity and self-development. We still attempt to do that in capitalist society, but we are constantly thwarted, corralled and thrown back. In capitalism, this desire is channelled into the need to get a job, and therefore to become educated, to develop skills both practical and social to improve our labour power (and increasingly we are also forced to fund this, most notably by higher education students having to take out crippling loans to fund their qualification chase). If there is money to spare after meeting the basic necessities of life, we may also use that to expand our self-development. We may try to become artists or writers, but we are forced to sell this as well, because that is the inexorable logic of capitalism. We purchase our leisure, relaxation, health and free expression as commodities.

Yet, we still retain our basic humanity, because we are still human beings, not labour automatons – hence the sense of alienation that affects us and sometimes drives us mad. It is impossible to be a true human being in capitalist society, even for the capitalists. At all times, at all levels, social relations are reduced to the sale and purchase of commodities. It does not matter if this is bread to survive or our third luxury yacht.

  1. RD asserts the issue of national self-determination as the critical point of disagreement between Lenin on the one hand and Stalin and Trotsky on the other (she doesn’t mention Luxemburg here, who also had distinct views, but that appears in her next book). How is this squared with the Red Army’s invasion of Poland or the role of the Red Army in the Ukraine against Makhno and other regional nationalist groups (1919-1921)? Was this an attempt to substitute war for revolution?
  2. She also goes on to the subject of leadership again, correctly criticising Stalin and Trotsky, but absolving Lenin whose theoretical writings seemed to advocate turning to the masses all the time, implying that the leaderships were always lagging behind. Once again – this does not square with the treatment of the WO, who specifically advocated this approach but were bureaucratically silenced by Lenin! I can accept the idea from experience. The major theoreticians of the New Left in the UK devised their left-reformist May Day Manifesto exactly 50 years ago. The movement that actually emerged the following year blew it away. I witnessed the change on the streets: in 1967 at Easter I attended the annual CND March from Aldermaston to London, which passed off in a good-natured cheerful fashion, keeping to the left-hand side of the road. The following March, we assembled in Trafalgar Square against the Vietnam War and the place was a sea of red flags. As the marchers set off, they immediately occupied both sides of the road and, when we arrived at Grosvenor Square in front of the US Embassy, it was bedlam and our contingent was just in time to witness a hopeless Cossack-style charge by mounted police against the crowds who had taken over the Square. Something other than reformism was in the air (which, of course had fizzled out by the following year).

[1] P&R p 105

Reading Raya Dunayevskaya: 1. Marxism and Freedom

Reading Marxism and Freedom

In general, I have little problem with Raya Dunayevskaya’s concept of Marxism-Humanism and how she arrives at her conclusions. I have a general problem with a major sub-thesis of the book: the role of revolutionary leadership. Throughout chapters 1-4, RD constantly refers to Marx criticising revolutionary leaders, e.g. ‘There would have been no revolution in 1848 if it had depended on the revolutionary leaders’. Should we not therefore be asking: what exactly do revolutionary leaders contribute to the process by which the working class achieves its emancipation? How do we place Lenin, Dunayevskaya and, indeed, Marx, in that question?

There are also some specifics with which I have difficulty, most notably her description of Lenin’s arguments and decisions after 1917 and the almost hagiographical tone she uses whenever she refers to Lenin. I think this suggests an ambivalence on Dunayevskaya’s part in relation to the role of revolutionary leadership.

I can concede that the attempt of the Bolsheviks to hold onto the gains of 1917 in the face of overwhelming odds was in difficulties almost from the start and doomed after the failure of the German Revolution in 1923. I can therefore also concede that mistakes would be made in trying to deal with such impossible circumstances and that, of all the Bolsheviks about whom we know, Lenin was by far the most intelligent in the leading cadres. [We know somewhat less about those in the lower ranks, that being one of the problems of history. There may have been better and younger comrades who perished or were silenced later.] However, there was one juncture in 1920-21 when Lenin could have taken a different line, opening possibilities I will outline later in these notes.

First, we should understand that Dunayevskaya’s accounts of the post-revolutionary events are second hand. She was not present and not directly involved. She was born Raya Shpigel on 1 May 1910 in the Ukrainian part of the Russian Empire and emigrated with her family to the USA as a child. When very young she joined the revolutionary movement there and was a member of the US Communist Party until expelled in 1928 for supporting Trotsky. She broke with Trotskyism after a short period serving as his secretary in exile.

RD constantly praises Lenin’s observations on how the nascent workers’ state was being distorted by bureaucracy and how leading members of the Communist Party were responsible for these adverse changes. What she (and Lenin himself) seem oblivious to is that Lenin was himself at the centre of both the Party and the State and its developing bureaucracy. Critical of others, he was less critical of himself. He rightly condemned Trotsky’s advocacy of militarising the working class and of the administrative turn of mind that lay behind it, as he was also right to condemn the machinations of Stalin and his henchmen. The problems came to a head in the debates about the role of the trade unions in economic organisation, coincidental with the Kronstadt Mutiny and the emergence of the Workers’ Opposition.

The leader of the latter faction was Shlyapnikov, a Bolshevik trade unionist. He argued in 1920 that the trade unions, through an All Russian Congress of Producers, should be given responsibility for economic development. This was in turn taken up by the Workers’ Opposition, which included other Bolsheviks such as Alexandra Kollontai. Essentially Lenin reduced the debate to a conflict between Trotsky’s militarism and Shlyapnikov’s ‘anarcho-syndicalism’, as RD and Lenin characterise it. Close examination of the documents produced by Shlyapnikov show that this is a false characterisation. He was at pains in his Theses to the 9th Party Congress of 1920 to place the CP at the heart of political leadership, with the Producers in their organisations operating under CP direction to bring about the necessary economic changes and improvements that the workers and peasants were themselves best placed to achieve, and had been achieving despite problems until that date. What Shlyapnikov hoped to achieve by this was summed up in the final thesis 28: ‘to protect the Party from the rush into it of alien careerist elements’. In other words, the whole emphasis of the Theses was to counter the development of the very bureaucratic distortions about which Lenin fulminated by placing the democratic organisations of the (admittedly small) working class at the centre of the key parts of the economy.

The Theses of the Workers Opposition of 1921 built upon these ideas and on the foundations of decisions along these lines made at earlier Congresses, by incorporating the greatest possible workers’ democracy into economic organisation. Where Shlyapnikov and the WO were coming from is clearly outlined in an appeal to the Communist International in 1922, pointing out that the Party was only 40% workers and 60% non-proletarian[1] and that the latter were using all and every means to silence the former in the supposed interests of ‘unity’. This document explicitly rejected the accusation of ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ that had been levelled against them[2].

What was Lenin’s role? He took the ‘middle way’ between Trotsky and Shlyapnikov, incorporating both factions and viewpoints into the centre of the Party and then told everyone to shut up in the name of ‘Party Unity’. Maybe that seemed a sensible, pragmatic response at a time when the revolutionary gains were at huge risk. Silencing the leading proponents of the working class within the Party at the same time as suppressing the Kronstadt Revolt by force of arms (led by Trotsky) would however produce exactly the wrong result. It empowered the bureaucratic elements, whose particular skill was working in the shadows.

Those of us, with the benefit of hindsight, who have had experience in more recent decades of the suppression of debate within Communist Parties and Trotskyist organisations in the name of ‘unity’, presented as ‘democratic centralism’ and ‘party discipline’, know and recognize how this tactic works and how it debilitates the liveliest and most creative members in favour of those who progress through the ranks by dint of silent acquiescence. If you want to know how Lenin therefore led directly to Stalin, look no further.

In all fairness, however, it should be admitted that, even had Shlyapnikov and the Workers’ Opposition been supported by Lenin, the revolution would still have failed. The difference may have been that the result was not Stalinism and that, consequently, the concept of communism might not have been sullied for countless generations. The revolution might have failed honourably.

Debate please, and less about the details of 1920-22 than about the principles at stake.

[1] If this was the case with the Party in general, across Russia, how much more might it have been evident in the centre?

[2] Throughout I have used the versions of these documents found in the on-line Marxist Internet Archive.