Where Russia Stands
On the question of whether a Socialist Revolution is possible without, as a prerequisite, a majority of the population understanding Socialism, and being in favour of it, we have contradictory views expressed by the Bolsheviks. We will quote some opposite statement as examples of their confusion.
Lenin states on one occasion :
“The first problem of any rising political party consists in convincing the majority of the population that its program and politics are correct. … The second problem of our party was the conquest of political power and the suppression of the resistance of the exploiters.” (The Soviets at Work, p. 10.)
He puts this point of view even more strongly in Left Wing Communism, as witness the following:
“Without an alteration in the views of the majority of the working class, revolution is impossible. . . It follows that for the revolution it is essential first that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand the necessity for a revolution, and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it. “(Page 65.)
If the above quotations have any meaning at all they surely signify that, before the workers can conquer political power, there must be a majority understanding Socialism and in favour of it. In other words, there must be a majority of class conscious workers.
Were we of a guileless and trusting disposition we would accept the above evidence that Lenin was against minority action—Blanquism. But alas! we are critical, and so we find that Lenin in other writings took up exactly the opposite point of view.
Under the heading “Elections to the Constituent Assembly” the following appeared in the Workers’ Dreadnought, 21.8.20:
“This is a process which the representatives of the Second International have never been able to understand, namely that the proletariat can be victorious without conquering a majority of the population. To limit or condition this victory to the acquisition of a majority of votes at an electoral contest under bourgeois domination is evidence of chronic intellectual indolence, or else, quite simply, of a device to deceive the workers. In order to bring the majority over to its side, the proletariat must first overthrow the bourgeoisie and take possession of the power of government, and then, after having destroyed the old state apparatus, introduce the Soviet system, whereby the domination and authority of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois democrats over the non-proletarian labouring masses is at once nullified. It must finally complete the destruction of the influence of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois democrats over the majority of the non-proletarian labouring masses by satisfying their economic needs in a revolutionary manner, at the expense of the exploiters.”
Lenin, in the above quotation, states in effect that first of all a minority of the workers must conquer political power and then induce the majority of the workers to come over to their side. In the previous extract, however, he states that first of all we must have a majority in favour of Socialism and then conquer political power. He tries to have both ways, and is on this account self convicted of being wrong in one attitude or the other.
On this particular point it was left to a gasbag to put the finishing touch to the absurdity. In The Development of Socialism from Science to Practice Karl Radek stated :
“The notion that the proletariat should undertake no revolution until it is satisfied that it has the majority of the people at its back is nonsense, for in no capitalist State would the democracy be left free to convince itself that it had the majority of the people at its back. Young working men and working women, exploited as they are to the uttermost by the capitalist, are nowhere to be found in the enjoyment of their full (political) rights. Were they possessed of them the bourgeoisie would straightway send Parliament to the devil rather than allow the workers to carry into effect the will of the majority of the people.” (Page 20. Socialist Labour Press.)
The latter part of this passage shows that Radek, at any rate, is opposed (or should be if he is logical) to parliamentary action, as, on the surface, it does not appear to be much use accompanying parliament to the devil! Of course Radek gives no evidence for his statement—but that would be too much to expect from one who contends that Socialism has left the domain of Science and entered that of Practice.
The Bolsheviks, as a matter of fact, had a majority in favour of the “Peace, Bread, and Land” part of their programme, but by no means a majority of CLASS-CONSCIOUS workers – hence the compromises and concessions to mass ignorance and their attempts to justify compromising policy. This also explains the contradictory statements they were driven to make on various occasions. For instance, we have Lenin saying—
“What can be achieved at once by a revolutionary act has been achieved at once ; for instance, between the 26th October, 1917 and the 8th November, 1917 all private land ownership was abolished.” (The Workers’ Dreadnought, 3.7.20.)
If all private land ownership has been abolished then we, who are thousands of miles away, would only be logical if we assumed, on the strength of Lenin’s statement, that there was no longer any private ownership of land in Russia. What are we to think, then, when we read the following, under the heading “A Rough Draft of the Thesis on the Agrarian Question—For the Second Congress of the Communist International” ?—
“However, the direct problem of the victorious proletariat should not be the expropriation of the rich peasantry, for the necessary material, especially technical necessaries needed for the socialisation of such farms, fail. Besides that, the social conditions do not allow for this. In exceptional cases, allotments are confiscated which are let out on hire or which are necessary for the petty-peasant population round about these parts. Part of the agricultural machines, which belonged to the rich peasantry, should be lent to these peasants gratis, and so on. According to the general rule—the proletarian State power—the rich peasants should be assured of their land, “which should be confiscated only in case of rebellion against the existing labour power. . . Concerning the question of how the land, confiscated from the rich landowners, is worked, in Russia, which is economically backward, this land was divided amongst the peasantry ; only in exclusive cases the so-called Soviet farms were organised.”
From the above it will be seen that private property in land has only been abolished on paper. Practically private property still persists. In actual fact, so far as land is concerned, Russia has retreated a step from social production, as land is parcelled out in smaller lots than formerly, the result being a more primitive form of production.
The Bolshevik programme of compromising (“revolutionary compromises”) is not merely put forward as being action necessary in Russia, on account of its backwardness, but is laid down as an axiom to be followed out by Socialists in all countries. This is where we come right up against Lenin and the Bolsheviks in general. Here is Lenin’s advice to class-conscious British workers (Left Wing Communism, published by the Communist Party of Great Britain):
“. . since the workers in Britain still support the British Scheidemanns and Kerenskys ; since they have not yet experienced a government composed of such men . . it follows without any doubt that the British Communists must participate in Parliament. They must from within Parliament help the workers to see in practice the results of the Henderson Government; they must help the Hendersons and Snowdens to vanquish Lloyd George and Churchill united” (p. 65).
“The Communist Party must offer to the Hendersons and the Snowdens a compromise, an electoral understanding:—”Let us go together against the union of Lloyd George and Churchill; let us divide seats in Parliament according to the number of votes cast by the workers for the Labour Party or the Communists (not in the elections but by a special poll), we to retain the fullest freedom of agitation, propaganda, and political activity” (p. 66).
Let us submit the above excerpts to a close examination.
In the first paragraph Lenin states that the majority of the workers “still support the British Scheidemanns and Kerenskys.” In his succeeding remarks he makes it clear that he designates by this phrase the Henderson and Snowden group. A superficial examination of the situation here would show that the above statement is very wide of the mark, yet Lenin’s advice is based on such imaginary material. The result of the last General Election, and also of the more recent Bye-elections, clearly demonstrates that the workers in this country overwhelmingly support the avowed capitalist candidates against the alleged Labour candidates. The fact is that recently the. Labour vote has relatively shrunk against the vote cast for Independent Liberals, Coalition Liberals, Tories, and Coalition Tories—none of whom come within the scope of Lenin’s phrase “British Scheidemanns and Kerenskys.” As a matter of fact Lenin slaughters himself in the same paragraph when he recommends us to help the Snowden group to beat Lloyd George & Co. If the majority of the workers support the Henderson and Snowden groups, then the latter should be the majority in Parliament and should want no help to overthrow Lloyd George and take over the governing power. If they do not desire to take over the governing power our help would be wasted. And finally, by the time we would be strong enough to force them to take over power we should be strong enough to take over power ourselves. However, Lenin is badly informed as to the position. The Labour group is in the minority though they support the Lloyd George Government.
The naivete of the suggestion that the Communists should offer “to the Hendersons and Snowdens a compromise, an electoral understanding,” but “we to retain the fullest freedom of agitation, propaganda, and political activity” is too good to pass over. To imagine that the wily Labour leaders are so simple as to walk blindly into the net spread with so much ostentation and “hot-air” needs a child-like, trusting, and simple conception of things such as we cannot lay claim to. This point of view is urged on the ground that the change in view of the workers can “be brought about by the political experience of the masses only.” On the same line of argument are we then to support every new party that arises so that the workers shall learn the rottenness of such parties by experiencing their shortcomings as governing parties ? Why not give Bottomley’s Business Government a chance to shine ? No wonder Lenin thought it would take five hundred years to establish Socialism !