Democracy and Dictatorship in Russia
The unflagging interest in Russian conditions is forcing a wider discussion of the implications of Socialism. On the one hand the 100 per cent. Bolsheviks, as they style themselves, accept everything done by the Soviet Government as the best of all policies, and invite the rest of workers of the world to follow out the same policy. On the other hand, the open enemies of the workers, together with the more insidious agents bought by the master class, claim that everything the Bolsheviks have done is wrong and opposed to progress, liberty, and the rest of the cant phrases of our masters.
The leaders and supporters of Bolshevism, however, are attempting to defend in discussion many of their methods which cannot be justified from the Socialist standpoint. These methods, viewed in the light of what limited knowledge the “freedom of the Press” allows us, seem to to be due to—
Capitalist intervention and counter-revolution.
Backward economic development.
Lack of Socialist knowledge and organisation among the majority.
Seizure of power by the vigorous Bolshevist minority.
The backward economic development was pointed out by Trotsky in 1916 (“Our Revolution,” p. 87.):
Our industrial development, though, marked in times of prosperity by leaps and bounds of an “American” character, is in reality miserably small in comparison with the industry of the United States. Five million persons, forming 16.6 per cent, of the population engaged in economic pursuits, are employed in the industry of Russia; six millions and 22 2 percent., are corresponding figures for the United States. To have a clear idea as to the real dimensions of industry in both countries, we must remember that the population of Russia is twice as large as the population of the United States, and that the output of American industries in 1900 amounted to 25 billions of rubles whereas the output of Russian industries for the same year hardly reached 2.5 billions.
There is no doubt that the number of the proletariat, the degree of its concentration, its cultural level, and its political importance depend upon the degree of the industrial development in each country.
The actual barrier to the adoption of Socialist ideas among the majority of the population is indicated by Trotsky:
The strong adherence of the peasants to private ownership, the primitiveness of their political conceptions, the limitations of the village horizon, its distance from world-wide political connections and interdependencies, are terrific obstacles in the way of proletarian rule. (P.105.)
On the question of socialising the land Trotsky writes:
One must not forget that the peasants have for decades made redemption payments in order to turn their land into private property; many prosperous peasants have made great sacrifices to secure a large portion of land as their private possession. Should all this land become State property, the most bitter resistance would be offered by the members of the committees and by private owners.
Starting out with a reform of this kind the Government would make itself the most unpopular among the peasants.
And why should we confiscate the land of the committees and the land of small private owners? . . . there would be no economic gain in such a confiscation and redistribution. Politically, it would be a great blunder on the part of the labour government as it would make the masses of peasants hostile to the proletarian leadership of the revolution.
The significance of the peasantry and the dependence of the working class success in Russia on the world’s workers is told in these words:
Left to its own resources, the Russian working class must necessarily be crushed the moment it loses the aid of the peasants. Nothing remains for it but to link the fate of its political supremacy and the fate of the Russian Revolution with the fate of a Socialist Revolution in Europe. (Page 144.)
Without direct political aid from the European proletariat the working class of Russia will not be able to retain its power and to turn its temporary supremacy into a permanent Socialist Dictatorship. (Page 137.)
A few weeks before the Bolsheviki assumed power Trotsky wrote of the unripeness of the peasants in “What has Happened”:
“The Russian Revolution is a direct product of the war. The war created for it the necessary form of a nation-wide organisation, the army. The greater part of the population, the peasantry, had been forced into a condition of organisation. The Soviets of Soldiers’ Delegates called upon the army to send its political representatives, thereupon the peasant masses automatically sent in to the Soviets the same liberal intellectuals, who translated the indefiniteness of their hopes and aspirations into the language of the most contemptible quibbling and hairsplitting opportunism. The petit bourgeois intelligentsia, which was in every way dependent upon the greater bourgeoisie, obtained the leadership over the peasantry. The Soviets of soldier peasant representatives obtained a distinct majority over the representatives of the workers. The Petrograd advance-guard was declared to be an ignorant mass. The flower of the Revolution was revealed in the persons of the March Social Revolutionists and Mensheviki of the ‘provincial’ intellectuals, leaning on the peasants.” “The Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 264.
In defending the Brest-Litvosk peace Lenin said:
“Finally the task of Socialist reorganisation in Russia Is so great, so difficult, both because of the petit bourgeois elements who are taking part in the Revolution, and because of the unsatisfactory level of the proletariat, that its solution still requires some time.” (“Why Soviet Russia Made Peace.”)
In May, 1917 Lenin wrote of the prospects in “Letters from Abroad, Number One:
“Historic conditions have made the Russian workers, perhaps for a short period, the leaders of the international proletariat, but Socialism cannot now prevail in Russia. We can only expect an agrarian revolution, which will help to create more favourable conditions for working-class development. The main result of the present Revolutions will have to be the creation of forces for more revolutionary activity, and to influence the more highly developed European countries into action.” —“Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 30.
The large proportion of small property holders to workers in Russia was pointed out by Lenin and Zinoviev in 1915:
“The ruling class of Russia comprises only 43 per cent. of its population, namely, less than one half.”—“Socialism and War.”
Karl Radek, the Bolshevik leader (“Class Struggle,” Aug. 1919) justifies the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks in Russia on the ground that Russia “possesses a proletarian minority.” He says that in countries with a capitalist minority a dictatorship would be unnecessary owing to weak resistance.
The Bolsheviks and Democracy
Prior to seizing power the Bolshevik leaders demanded a Constituent Assembly.
Writing in the “Novy Mir” (New York) of March 19th last, Trotsky said :
“Only a revolutionary labour government will have the desire and ability to give the country a thorough democratic cleansing during the work preparatory to the Constituent Assembly, to reconstruct the army from top to bottom, to. turn it into a revolutionary militia, and to show the poorer peanuts a practice that their only salvation is in support of a revolutionary Labour regime. A Constituent Assembly convoked after such preparatory work will truly reflect the revolutionary creative forces of the country and become a powerful factor in the further development of the Revolution.” — “Our Revolution,” p. 204.
During Kerensky’s Provisional Government the Bolsheviks frequently denounced them for delaying the election of the Constituent Assembly. As soon, however, as it was elected the Bolshevik minority withdrew and Lenin’s Government dispersed it on the ground that it was elected on old lists and was not representative. They claimed that events moved so rapidly that the population had become Bolshevik since the nominations and voting took place. Trotsky says (“October to Brest-Litvosk,” p. 80), “democratic institutions become a still less perfect medium for the expression of the class struggle under revolutionary circumstances.” Ever since the abolition of the Constituent Assembly Lenin and Trotsky have attacked the idea of democracy. Lenin has gone so far as to say: “Democracy is only a form of authority. We Marxists are opposed to every form of authority,” —“Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 104. “The word democracy cannot be scientifically applied to the Communist Party. Since March 1917 the word democracy is simply a shackle fastened upon the revolutionary nation and preventing it from establishing boldly, freely, and regardless of all obstacles a new form of power: the Council of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates, harbinger of the abolition of every form of authority.” (P. 155.)
This anarchistic objection to authority recalls Engels’ reply to the Italian followers of Bakunin, published in the “Neue Zeit” in 1873, on “The Principle of Authority,” in which he said: “Either the Anti-authoritarians do not themselves know what they are talking about, and in that case they are only creating confusion, or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the cause of the proletariat. In either case they are only serving the reaction,”
Lenin compares the Soviet form of government to the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune, however, was elected by universal suffrage, and had it not used its authority it would not have lasted more than a day, as Engels’ clearly shows.
In his book “From October to Brest-Litvosk” Trotsky had agreed to the democratic principle which they afterwards condemned. “If,” he wrote, “in the final analysis, it is to the advantage of the proletariat to introduce its class struggle, and even its dictatorship, through the channels of democratic institutions, it does not follow that history always affords it the opportunity for attaining this happy consummation.”
Writing in July 1917 (“Constitutional Illusions”) Lenin denounced the Provisional Government as being afraid to call the Constituent Assembly—which was doubtless true. ‘Lenin said:
“The Constituent Assembly in Russia at present would give a large majority to the peasants, who are more left than the Social Revolutionists. The bourgeoisie knows this. Knowing this, it cannot help but struggle against an early convocation of the Constituent Assembly.”
When Lenin’s prophesy was fulfilled and the peasants’ delegates were the majority, the Bolsheviks abolished the Assembly “by the bayonets of the Red Guard,” to use Lenin’s wards.
Originally the Bolsheviks demanded complete power for the Soviet executive “until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly.” After the Bolsheviks had assumed power for three months, they announced the elections for the Assembly (Nov. 25, 1917), and dispersed it when it showed the Bolsheviks in a minority. The so-called reasons for abolishing the Assembly still lack evidence in their support for the Bolsheviks permitted the elections to be held.
Dictatorship and the Soviets
The Bolsheviki have often defended their dictatorship by quoting Marx’s criticism of the. Gotha Program (1875) where he refers to the transition from Capitalism to Socialism as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat pending the abolition of classes altogether. Marx, however, refers to a dictatorship asserted by a working-class majority over the capitalist few, and not to the dictatorship of a minority attacked by Engels in his Criticism of the Blanquist Program.
Lenin has admitted the Blanquist character of the November 1917 seizure of power—
“Just as 150,000 lordly landowners under Czarism dominated the 130,000,000 Russian peasants, so 200,000 members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletarian will on the mass, but this time in the interest of the latter.” — “The New International,” New York, April, 1918, Bolshevik paper.
Lenin’s defence of this as due to the lack of knowledge among the masses is in these words:
“If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years. The Socialist political party, this is the vanguard of the working class, must not allow itself to be baited by the lack of education of the mass average, but must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative.’’—Lenin at Peasants’ Congress. “Ten days that Shook the World.” P. 303.
Here we get a possible reason for the objection to democracy. The argument that the Bolshevik action is justified because it brings desired results is not true, because Russia is feeling the effects of the backward majority and lack of mental training. Lenin admits this in his “Soviets at Work.” No democratic society can advance beyond the general mental level of its members, and the internal conflict of various sections of the workers bears adequate witness of this. Socialist society more than any other would require the active, enthusiastic, and intelligent support and interest of the majority to co-operate in conducting affairs. While political democracy is but a part, and incomplete without industrial democracy, we have to use even the semi-democratic forms of modem capitalism in order to organise the workers for the capture of political power. Democracy is not a bourgeois idea—it flourished in the ancient gens—and even complete political democracy is feared by the capitalists because of the growing interest of the workers in Socialism.
Soviet government is not the highest form of democracy, for the Executive is several times removed from the actual voters. The fear of peasant dominance is seen in the Constitution, which gives 125,000 city voters five times the representation of the rurals.