A Defender of the Russian Government: A Criticism and our Reply
To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.
Comrade Loheit’s letter is straightforward enough, and I do not agree that he “makes a number of sweeping statements.”
Your enmity towards the Russian revolution appears to be the result of your conception of social change. You evidently believe that capitalism can end and a shutter be put up, and that the new socialist society can begin afresh. Thus, in your January issue, A. Kohn wrote : “international Socialism will not deal with the effects of capitalist conditions, but lay the economic foundations upon which new social relations will nourish.” When it is remembered that Marx, in his letter on the Gotha Programme, wrote: “What we are concerned with is a communist society, not as it might have developed upon an independent basis of its own, but as it actually issues from capitalist society. In every respect, alike economically, morally and intellectually, it is afflicted with the congenital defects of the system from which it has sprung “—it will be clear that Kohn’s statement is quite un-Marxian.
This may help your other anti-Russian contributors to grasp that, although socialism is not fully established in Russia, the Soviet Union is no longer a capitalist State.
Your treatment of the Russian revolution is wrong because, while you may take a quotation from the “Manchester Guardian” of a report in the German bourgeois press, of a statement made by Trotsky, you do not give the statements of Buharin, Mikoyan, Yaroslavsky, or others of the Party majority, on the points of dispute with the opposition.
During a discussion at the recent Fifteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, Rykov said: “The Party directs the State and is responsible for its administration and for the socialist development of an enormous country.” You hate the Bolsheviks for this : but you seem to have forgotten the Communist Manifesto, where it says : “The Communists are the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others ; theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”
It is disgraceful to say that the Bolsheviki “dispersed the assembly by force, and have dictated by the same means ever since”; or that “they cannot revolutionise the economic basis of society by issuing decrees, nor by exiling or imprisoning all who are guilty of pointing out these obvious facts.”
In conclusion, I must say that some of your contributors who write about “legal and political rights,” need to remember Marx’s exposure of bourgeois parliamentarism in “The Civil War in France” ; and the last part of the Manifesto, explaining why Communists “in France ally themselves with the Social-Democrats,” and “in Switzerland support the Radicals,” and that they openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions “; together with the final portion of the “Poverty of Philosophy,” declaring for violent revolution, need to be reviewed by some of your writers who tend to ignore whole passages of Marx. It would be pleasant to see attacks on Capitalism in the socialist standard, as a change from untruth about the Communist International.
Yours for history, STUART FEATHER
(We have for convenience numbered the paragraphs in Mr. Feather’s letter.)
(1) We did not say that Lobeit’s letter was not straightforward.
To say that we do not understand the “difference between dictatorship and democracy,” and to make bold assertions as to what might have happened in Russia if the Bolsheviks had adopted a different policy 10 years ago and to give no evidence for either assertion, is in our view, rightly described as making “sweeping statements.“ Perhaps, in any event, Mr. Lobeit will be able to state his own case.
(2) Mr. Feather talks about our “enmity towards the Russian Revolution” and later on (see 5) of our hatred for the Bolsheviks. He gives no evidence whatever for either of these charges, both of which are as vague and unilluminating as to say that we are “enemies of the battle of Waterloo.” We do state as a fact that the Russian Revolution has not and could not have achieved the impossibility of creating Socialism in industrially, socially and politically backward Russia. Mr. Feather quotes Marx on the obstacles which will face the working class when Socialist society “issues from capitalist society.” This brings us straight to the heart of our criticism of people like Mr. Feather who think that an intelligent and armed minority can create Socialism when there is no developed capitalist system for it to issue from.
The statement quoted from the article by A. Kohn is clear enough if read in conjunction with the preceding arguments. The capitalists here and the Bolshevik Government in Russia are dealing with the problems of social relationships only in the framework of capitalism. That the Bolsheviks show greater enlightenment does not alter the fact that the economic system in Russia is capitalist and will produce its inevitable effects. The prime task of Socialists will be to change the basis of society and thus get at causes. To say that the working class which tackles this problem will itself be the product of capitalist environment is a truism which we naturally accept. Mr. Feather cannot conceive that “capitalism can end and a shutter be put up.” We, on the contrary, cannot conceive of the wage-slave condition of the working class being brought to an end or being altered in any material way, until after the organised working class has definitely put a shutter up on the political and social control of the capitalist class. What bearing the quotation from the Gotha Programme has on this question it is impossible to perceive.
(3) Mr. Feather gives no scrap of evidence to show that the Soviet Union “is no longer a capitalist state.” We will consider his evidence when he produces it. He does not disclose precisely what is his view, but the common fallacy shared by Labour Party and Communists reformers is the illusion that capitalism ceases to be capitalism when it is administered by a Lenin and his associates, or by a Ramsay MacDonald.
(4) Mr. Feather is so busy telling us what books we read and don’t read, and airing his views about our loves and hates, that he has, it seems, no time to acquaint himself with our position. If he will refer again to the December issue he will see that we published the extracts from Trotsky’s Memorandum for the information of our readers simply because Trotsky’s views are not readily accessible to them. The views of Trotsky’s opponents are readily accessible in numerous Communist publications. May we also remind Mr. Feather that we expressly dissociated ourselves from the programme in question. Our views are not a copy of Trotsky’s but have been repeated in our journal at intervals for over nine years. Our main criticism was made soon after the Bolshevik’s seized power. Time has justified it and apparently Trotsky and others are coming to see the soundness of it.
(5) Mr. Feather knows and knows why we “hate the Bolsheviks.” May we ask him to believe that we have something better to do than go about hating Bolsheviks. If he still believes that we hate them may we ask him for evidence, and finally, may we remind him that as early as 1917 and 1918, when those who were later to blossom forth as Communists were first applauding Kerensky’s rise and then deploring his fall, we almost alone in this country, were giving them due credit for the fine stand they made. Is Mr. Feather unable to appreciate the view that the Bolsheviks, like every other body which seeks working class emancipation, are justified, not by their sincerity or their intentions, but by the correctness of their position?
Mr. Feather quotes some remarks from the Communist Manifesto about the relations between the Communists and the proletariat in general, but ignores the fact that the overwhelming mass of the population in Russia is peasant, not proletarian. This is the determining factor, not the hopes and beliefs of the Russian Communists.
(6) Why is it disgraceful to say that the Bolsheviks dispersed the Constituent assembly by force and have dictated by the same means ever since? Mr. Feather does not, let it be noted, deny the truth of those statements.
(7) Does Mr. Feather then believe that the economic basis of society can be revolutionised by issuing decrees or by imprisoning opponents? We, like Marx, are of the opinion that “no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed.” (See Preface to “Critique.”)
(8) It is impossible to gather what is the connection between the phrase “legal and political rights” (and Mr. Feather, with typical slipshodness here, as elsewhere, omits to give references for his quotations) and some remarks in the Communist Manifesto about associating with other parties. The section of the Manifesto referred to is in any event dismissed by Engels in his 1888 Preface as antiquated because “the political situation has been entirely changed.” It is kind of Mr. Feather to give as a list of books we should read and tell us that we “tend to ignore whole passages of Marx” (whatever that may mean), but it would be more useful and to the point if he would state precisely what is his case against Socialism or in favour of a minority armed revolt or whatever it is he considers necessary.
(9) Mr. Feather has not, so far, produced even one alleged untruth about the Communist International, much less proved his charge. His implication that the Socialist Standard does not contain attacks on capitalism is untrue and is of course known by him to be untrue. We do not, it is true, act as share pushers trying to induce investors to buy shares in the Soviet Government’s 9 per cent. Rail Loan as do various so-called Communist journals. Perhaps if we did Mr. Feather would be satisfied that we were attacking capitalism.
(Socialist Standard, April 1928)