Where Russia Stands
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Earlier in this series of articles we promised to examine more closely the oft-repeated assertion that the Russian Bolsheviks were carrying further, and in the same spirit, the movement begun by the Paris Communards in March, 1871.
On comparing the Commune with the Bolshevik movement we find that there are fundamental differences between them.
The first (and most important) difference that comes to our notice concerns the method of control. The Commune aimed at, and realised during its short life, control of affairs directly by the whole people ; whereas the Bolsheviks aimed at control by a few. It is true the Bolsheviks, in some of their proclamations, have made it appear that the Russian masses were in control, but we have already supplied abundant evidence through these columns illustrating how different the actuality is from the appearance. In order to bring the Bolshevik position on this question clearly to mind again, we submit the following further illustration :
“Nevertheless, we do not for a moment deny that our apparatus is rigidly centralised ; that our policy towards the bourgeoisie and towards the parties of the compromising Socialists is repressive in character; that the organisation of our own Party, as a ruling Party which exercises a dictatorship through the Soviets, is of a militarist type. “—(“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Russia,” by N. Bucharin in the Workers Dreadnought, 4/12/1920).
Such, is the Bolshevik position—the antithesis of control by the masses.
What was the attitude of the Commune on this question ? Let us permit Engels to give his evidence first.
In his introduction to the German edition of the Civil War in France (see The Paris Commune, NewYork Labour News Co.), Engels points out that :
“The members of the Commune were divided into a majority of Blanquists, who had also predominated in the central committee of the National Guard, and a minority, which consisted for the most part of members of the International Working Men’s Association, who were adherents of the Proudhonian School of Socialism.”
He then shows that both the Blanquists and Proudhonists did the very reverse of that which the doctrines of their school proscribed . Of the Blanquists he writes as follows:
“The Blanquists fared no better. Brought up in the school of conspiracy, held together by the rigid discipline essential to it, they started from the conception that a comparatively small number of resolute, well-organised men would be able not only to grasp the helm of State at a favourable moment, but also, through the display of great energy and reckless daring, to hold it as long as required, that is, until they had succeeded in carrying the masses of the people into the revolutionary current and ranging them round the small leading band. To accomplish this, what was necessary, above all else, was the most stringent, dictatorial centralisation of all powers in the hands of the new revolutionary government. And what did the Commune do, which in the majority consisted of these very Blanquists? In all its proclamations to the French people in the provinces it called upon them for a free federation of all French communes with Paris for a national organisation, which, for the first time, was to be the real creation of the nation. The army, the political police, the bureaucracy, all those agencies of oppression in a centralised government, which Napoleon had created in 1798, and which since then every new government had gladly used and kept up as ready weapons against its enemies, were to be abolished everywhere, as they had been abolished in Paris. “—Page 16.
Lenin repeatedly cries out against the charge of “Blanquism” levelled at his group, and asserts “We are not Blanquists,” yet it is obvious that Engels’ description of the French Blanquists exactly fits the Bolsheviks.
We have previously quoted Zinovief‘s statement that the Russian Communist Party controls the State machine from top to bottom, though the membership of this Party was only a little over 600,000 in April, 1920, some of whom were excluded from voting. Taking Zinovief’s statement with that of Bucharin, quoted above, what is the difference between the Russian party and the Blanquists as defined by Engels? Only this. The Bolshevists are Blanquists in practice, whilst the Blanquists acted directly opposite to the Blanquist idea.
Now let us hear what Lissagaray, the historian of the Commune, has to say.
Of the Central Committee, the committee appointed by the National Guard prior to the promulgation of the Commune, he writes as follows :
“Their farewell address was worthy of their advent : “Do not forget that the men who will serve you best are those whom you will choose from amongst yourselves, living your life, suffering the same ills. Beware of the ambitious as well as the upstarts. Beware also of mere talkers. Shun those whom fortune has favoured, for only too rarely is he who possesses fortune prone to look upon the workingman as a brother. Give your preference to those who do not solicit your suffrages. True merit is modest, and it is for the workingmen to know those who are worthy, not for these to present themselves.
They could indeed “come down the steps of the Hotel de Ville head erect,” these obscure men who had safely anchored the revolution of the 18th March. Named only to organise the National Guard, thrown at the head of a revolution without precedent and without guides, they had been able to resist the impatient, quell the riot, re-establish the public services, victual Paris, baffle intrigues, take advantage of all blunders of Versailles and of the Mayors, and, harassed on all sides, every moment in danger of civil war, know how to negotiate, to act at the right time and in the right place. They had embodied the tendency of the movement, limited their program to communal revindications, and conducted the entire population to the ballot-box.” —Page 124.
The Central Committee referred to by Lissagaray was composed of delegates appointed by the National Guard. The latter body comprised the able-bodied citizens of Paris after the departure of the Versaillese. The delegates in question were none of them appointed as members of any particular group or party; all were, as, Lissagaray repeatedly emphasises, unknown, obscure men, who voluntarily relinquished the power they held as soon as they had arranged for, and carried through, the elections of the delegates to the Commune itself.
The Bolshevik movement is the attempt at dictatorship on the part of a group within the Russian Communist Party. The Paris Commune, on the contrary, was no dictatorship of a party or group, but an endeavour to realise the participation of the whole of the people democratically in the administration of social affairs.
Much has been written by the Bolsheviks and their supporters around the question of freedom of the Press; volumes of ridicule and abuse have been poured upon the heads of those unfortunates who opposed the suppression of the bourgeois press, or who suggested that there was no point in gagging the press if the Russian masses were sufficiently advanced to understand the position. It must be borne in mind that the Bolsheviks make great capital out of the alleged overwhelming support they received from the workers, soldiers and peasants.
What did the Communards do (with no precedent to assist them) in this connection when faced by a position similar to that facing the Bolsheviks? Let us hear Lissagaray again :
“Sunday the 26th (March, 1871) was a day of joy and sunshine. Paris breathed again, happy, like one just escaped from death or great peril. At Versailles the streets looked gloomy, gendarmes occupied the station, brutally demanded passports, confiscated all the journals of Paris, and at the slightest expression of sympathy for the town arrested you. At Paris everybody could enter freely. The streets swarmed with people, the cafes were noisy ; the same lad cried out the Paris Journal and the Commune ; the attacks against the Hotel de Ville, the protestations of a few malcontents, were posted on the walls by the side of the placards of the Central Committee. The people were without anger because without fear. The voting paper had replaced the Chassepot.”— Page 172.
From the above it will be seen that the statements of the Bourgeois were circulated as freely and openly as the statements of the Communards—exactly the opposite of the procedure in Russia. The Bolsheviks suppressed antagonistic journals; put into operation a “Committee of Public Safety” against their adversaries; demolished the Assembly that had been one of their watchwords ; put into operation labour and military conscription; and, in general, ruled with a mailed fist.
The Bolsheviks claim that the working class must break up the capitalist state machine as a preliminary step to the social revolution. On this question they make excessive use of Marx’s phrase, from the Civil War in France, the “working class cannot simply seize the available ready-machinery of the State and set it going for its own ends.” We have already dealt with this point, but a little further examination of it will be useful, particularly as Lenin employs several pages of his The State and Revolution to force an unwarrantable inference from Marx’s words.
In the first place, what constitutes a social revolution? A social revolution goes through three phases : First the educational and agitational phase; then the conquest of power; and finally the reorganisation of society to meet the requirements of the class just arisen to power.
Marx analysed the Commune and showed that once in power (that is to say, having reached the second phase) the Communards provided an illustration of the methods to be adopted by the workers to accomplish the revolution in conditions; that stopping at the mere laying hold “of the ready-made State machinery” would not solve their difficulties; but he nowhere suggests that the workers should abstain from, in the first instance, obtaining control of this machinery. Engels makes the matter quite clear when he says, in the Introduction to the Civil War in France (already quoted) :
“From the very outset the Commune had to recognise that the working-class, having once attained supremacy in the State, could not work with the old machinery of government. ” (Italics ours.)— Page 17.
It is necessary to use the evidence of the Commune very carefully in this connection, because at the time a peculiar position had arisen. The French Bourgeoisie had already divested themselves of the greater part of their power by their intrigues and manipulations with Germany. In fact, in order to fight the Commune they had to beg of Bismarck the release of the French soldiers interned in Germany. The general in charge of the operations against the Commune was the same MacMahon who had “sold out” at Sedan.
The break-up of the capitalist State machinery may be a preliminary step to the revolution in social conditions, but it certainly is not a preliminary step to the conquest of power. The Bolsheviks, when blinding themselves with “the break up of the State machinery ” infer that this machinery must be “smashed ” before power can be obtained (it is true they frequently contradict themselves, as we have shown elsewhere), hence their contention that strikes and street insurrections are the main methods of action. For example, in the Socialist Review for July, 1920, there appears a translation of an official document entitled “Parliamentarism and the Struggle for the Soviets.” The following paragraph from this document makes clear the Bolshevik attitude :
“What we would particularly emphasise is the following : The real solution of the question is to be found, under all circumstances, outside Parliament, in the street. That strikes and insurrections are the only methods of resolute war between Capital and Labour is now clear. Therefore, the chief efforts of comrades should be directed to the work of the mobilisation of the masses, the establishment of the Party, the development of its own groups in industry and their control over it, the organisation of Soviets during the course of the struggle, the leading of mass action, agitation for the revolution among the masses—all that in the first line ; Parliamentary action and participation in election campaigns only as one expedient in this work—nothing more ” (Italics ours.)—Page 272.
The above document is signed “G. Zinoviev, President of the Executive Committee of the Communist International,” and dated September 1st, 1919. It must be remembered that Lenin is a leading member of the E.C. of the Communist International.
Many further illustrations could be given, but the above is sufficient to indicate what a subordinate position is given to parliamentary action by the Bolsheviks.
To those who refuse to be carried away by mere verbiage, it must be obvious that to attempt to smash the political machinery, without first getting hold of it, is the best way for the workers to get their heads smashed. If they first get hold of the political machinery (which they can do when the majority so wish) they can then, as Engels puts it, lop off its worst features at once. Engels’ statement, anent the State, made in 1891, is as follows :
“But in reality the State is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another class, and that no less so in the democratic republic than under the monarchy. At the very best it is an inheritance of evil bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once, as the Commune did, until a new race, grown up under new, free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself this state rubbish in its entirety. “—Page 20. Introd. to German ed. Civil War in France. (Italics ours.)
The above rather brief comparison of the Paris Commune with the Bolshevik movement will convey an idea of the nature of the differences between them.
Before concluding our sketch of the Russian movement there is another point to which we wish to draw attention.
Lenin and other Bolshevik writers frequently contend that they did not base their hopes of success upon an early uprising of the international working class. If we examine their proclamations and the reports of their speeches, however, we find that the contrary is true. The following quotations should set any doubts upon this point at rest :
“If in awaiting the imminent proletarian flood in Europe, Russia should be forced to conclude peace with the present-day Governments of the Central Powers, it would be a provisional, temporary, and transitory peace, with the revision of which the European Revolution will have to concern itself in the first instance. Our whole policy is built upon the expectation of this revolution.” (Italics ours.)—Page 160. From “What is a Peace Programme,” by L. Trotsky. Printed in International Conciliation” (New York, No. 149, April, 1920.)
In the same journal from which the above extract is taken there appears a May 1st Appeal from the Communist International “to the Toilers of the Whole World,” which is signed by the “Executive Committee of the Communist International,”‘ and concludes as follows :
“In 1919 was born the great Communist International.
In 1920 will be born the great International Soviet Republic. “—Page 181.
It must be again pointed out that Lenin is a leading member of the Executive that sent out the above appeal, and Zinoviev is the secretary.
In different contributions, Trotzky and others go into ecstacies over the alleged spreading of the Soviet Movement throughout the world. Trotzky, in particular, states (Pravda, April 23rd, 1919) :
“At the present moment one awaits from day to day the victory of the Soviet Republic in Austria and in Germany. “
We are afraid the days are rather long ones, and Trotzky relies too much on wishes and too little on exact information.
However, time will bring the solution to Russian doubts and difficulties, as it has brought the solutions to the problems of the past.
At the present moment nature is playing a tragic part in the business. In ordinary circumstances a drought in Russia is a very serious matter owing to the primitive agricultural methods and the failure of the peasants as a class to make provision for the future. At the present juncture, when a world-wide drought of a particularly severe character has been combined with circumstances due to Bolshevik dictatorship, the results are greatly exasperated and presage disaster to the Bolshevik regime.
This fact, however, is no excuse for jubilation on the part of Bolshevik opponents, nor is the shedding of crocodile tears over the starving peasantry helpful. It should, however, induce the workers—and particularly the self-styled “revolutionists” of the brass band variety—to study the whole of the conditions, so far as information is available, that have given rise to the present state of affairs. By such action they will enlarge their knowledge of principles and tactics, and be capable of taking an understanding part in the struggle for international working class emancipation.
One lesson above all Russia drives home : No backward nation can leap the intermediate stages of development and jump ahead of the vanguard. One nation learns from another, and progress is, on the average, parallel in the advanced countries.
The laws of historical development, which work with an iron-like consistency, are defeating the Bolsheviks more conclusively than any capitalist army.
(Socialist Standard, October 1921)