1920s >> 1929 >> no-300-august-1929

Russia Was Never Socialist: Review -“An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution” (Vol. II).


“An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution” (Vol. II). Publisher: Martin Lawrence, 15s. “Preparing for Revolt,” Lenin, 5s. (Modern Books, Ltd ). “Lessons of October,” Trotsky. 3s. (Labour Publishing Co.).

The first volume of the “Illustrated His­tory” was noticed in these columns in June, 1928. The second volume carries the story from July, 1917, to the introduction of the New Economic Policy.

Lenin’s book consists of a series of letters and articles written between August and October, 1917 ; several appear in the Illus­trated History.”

Trotsky’s short work was published in 1925. It was written in view of the defeat of Communist strategy in Bulgaria and Germany, and suggests the necessity of “Bolshevising” the Communist International, which, being interpreted, means, “Let’s have better leaders !”; a fairly familiar phrase in this country.

Trotsky claims a considerable amount of credit (as a leader of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee) for the success of the insurrection of October, 1917, and eulo­gises Lenin (“who was not in Petrograd,” p. 61), only in order to discredit Kamenev, Zinoviev and others.

He repeatedly emphasises the dependence of “the whole course of the revolution,” (p. 67), upon “the broken and discontented peasant army of many millions”; yet he tells us on p. 26, “a democratic coalition of workers, peasants and soldiers could not be other than weak, and could not actually attain to power,” hence the necessity for the Bolshevik dictatorship.

An interesting sidelight on this claim is obtained from the “Illustrated History,” (p. 302). “The victory of October is attributed by the Bolshevik Party to the fact that from the very first months of the revolution they rejected not only the Mensheviks’ compro­mises with the Capitalists, but also the idea of a ‘workers’ Government,’ which would have isolated them from the peasants and would have left them to the mercy of the Capitalists.”

Lenin chose the slogan, “All power to the Soviets !” The peasants, and not the workers, were in a majority in the Soviets (if the soldiers are reckoned among the peas­ants). This choice, as Lenin said, “pro­tected” the Bolsheviks from jumping over the peasant revolution.”

Here is proof positive of the utter stu­pidity of the claim that the revolution in Russia was Socialist, or that the working-class hold power. According to the Bolshe­viks themselves, neither separately nor in alliance with the peasants is such a thing conceivable. The much-vaunted dictator­ship of the proletariat is nothing more than a hollow euphemism for opportunist office-holding by the Bolshevik Party.

Let us turn to Lenin, There is a considerable amount of repetition in his book which might well be boiled down to the two articles entitled “The Approaching Crisis” and Will the Bolsheviks maintain power?”

In the former he deals with his proposed economic measures.

Here are the chief of these measures :—

(1) The nationalisation of the banks.

(2) The nationalisation of the trusts (sugar, petroleum, coal and metal monopolies).

(3) The suppression of business secrecy.

(4) The obligation for all industrialists, merchants and employers to group themselves into trusts.

(5) Enforcement of the organisation of the population in consumers, societies under the control of the State.

Speaking of the first proposal, he says, “The ownership of the capital with which the banks operate is certified by printed slips called shares, bonds, etc. Not one of these slips is suppressed or altered by the nation­alisation of the banks …. whosoever has fifteen millions, keeps his fifteen millions.” (pp. 107-109).

“Nationalisation would have immense advantages, not so much for the workers (who rarely do business at a bank) as for the mass of peasants and small industrialists” (p. 111).

“From the military point of view it would bring immense advantages, and would in­ crease the military strength of Russia” (P. 112).

Speaking of trust nationalisation, “It is necessary to appeal directly to the initia­tive of the workers and offer them a definite percentage of profits on condition that they exercise complete control and increase pro­duction ” (p. 119). And again, “What we have to do, I repeat, is not establish Soci­alism in a day, but expose the theft of pub­lic money,” p. 124 (italics Lenin’s).

“The vital matter is not the confiscation of Capitalist property, but universal, all-embracing workers’ control over the Capi­talists and their possible supporters” (p. 192).

How did these proposals work out in prac­tice? In the industrial establishments, as on the land, the closing days of the Provisional Government in 1917, witnessed the growth of anarchy, economic disorder.

“The workers, even before October and during; October, began to occupy the factories unsystematically” (p. 533, “Illus­trated History”), therefore,

The Soviet Power saw itself faced with difficult problems of organisation . . . Not merely was there no idea of the imme­diate introduction of Socialism, but it was also not held necessary to nationalise the whole of industry.

The Soviet Power adopted the plan of the introduction of a special form of State Capi­talism in which the majority of the factories and workshops still remain the private property of the Capitalists, are not yet nationalised.

These factories are joined together in trusts under the control of the proletarian State (from above) and the organs of workers control (from below). This was a programme for the collaboration of the pro­letarian State and the Capitalists, for the leading; and reconstruction of industry” (p. 526-7).

The years of intervention and civil war, 1918-21, forced the Soviet Power to go much further in the direction of the regulation of private property relations than it had in­ tended” (p. 527).

Yet even so we learn on p. 549 that “up to the year 1921 it is not possible to speak of a Socialist system of production.” As for the so-called “workers’ control,” that went the way of the Constituent Assembly and several other items promised by the in­surrectionists, and even “decreed” — on paper.

“During the second half of 1918, the nationalisation en masse of factories began in the towns . . . The direct leadership of industries by State organs took the place of control of production by the workers.”

During the period of “war Communism,” “Famine and confusion tortured the working population to the limits of endurance” (p. 527). Between July, 1918, and the be­ginning of 1920, something like half-a-million workers (a third of those engaged in large-scale industry) went to work on the land largely owing to the fall in real wages (p. 550).

There “the October revolution had not merely deprived the landlords of their land and given it to the peasants it had also in­tensified the internal conflicts among the various classes of peasantry” (p. 551).

No sooner had “March, 1920, brought final victory to the Red Flag” (p. 543) however, than the peasant ranks closed in opposition to the very “State which had led the struggle against the rebels who were fight­ing to regain the property of the landlords” (p. 553).

War Communism had forbidden trade, but a new form of secret trading arose. Con­ditions in these secret trade markets were uncommonly favourable for the peasants” (p. 553).

In the early part of 1921 strikes broke out for increased rations and the restora­tion of trade.

Discussion disclosed the antagonism within the ruling party, revived the united forces of the other parties, and weakened the influence of the party over the workers at the most critical moment” (p. 551).

Then occurred the Kronstadt rebellion. “Its economic demands were completely met by the N.E.P.,” which Lenin definitely described as a retreat. (Speech at the Ple­num of Moscow Soviet, November 19th, 1922.) Writing in September, 1917, Lenin had declared that “Russia is a country dominated by the petty bourgeoisie. The vast majority of the population belong to this class” (“Preparing for Revolt,” p. 67).

Five years later conditions bore eloquent testimony to the facts that “it is impossible to introduce machinery on a large scale into agriculture in Russia,” and that “no in­surrection will create Socialism if the econo­mic conditions do not permit of the establish­ment of it” (“Preparing for Revolt, pp. 152-3).

With the substitution of taxation of the peasantry for compulsory grain deliveries, agricultural production and trade resumed their normal course. The State industries expanded and the number of workers en­gaged in large-scale industry generally in­creased by over a million in five years (“Illustrated History,” p. 560).

This very great increase, etc., was still, however, insufficient to absorb all the un­employed streaming in from the land. The number of registered unemployed rose to 1,310,000 on December 31st, 1926 (p. 561).

Thus a third of the workers are on the dole.

The reason is not far to seek. “Agricul­ture is not only employing a much larger amount of machinery than before the war, but, as time goes on, more complicated machinery also, as, for example, tractors. In 1914, the total number of tractors in Russia was 187, while in the U.S.S.R. in 1926 there were 23,000 tractors in use” (p. 562).

Yet even this development leaves Russia fundamentally peasant. It is not one, nor two, but several tens of millions who require industrialising on modern lines before they are likely to be fit material for Socialism.

It is owing to “the low stage of develop­ment of Russia’s productive forces and the incompleteness of her economic and techni­cal organisation” that the colossal strain of the World War precipitated Tsarism and the last relics of feudalism into the abyss. The State machine had to be reorganised, not in order to abolish an imperfectly devel­oped Capitalism, but in order to clear the way for its development. As in the French Revolution, so in Russia, the interests of individuals who had amassed great wealth in any form under the old regime had to be sacrificed to the interests of the property-owning class generally.

This is all the so-called “Socialism” of Russia amounts to. The chief victims were the landed aristocrats, who were the most active section of the counter revolutionaries. Split up into half-a-dozen political groups, the rest of the property-owning class were unable to come to a permanently workable agreement.

With an army in revolt and economic col­lapse in sight, power passed into the hands of the only party with sufficient organisation and understanding to face the task of peace and reconstruction. That this party con­tained a considerable working-class element and possessed also a marked degree of Soci­alist knowledge, is an encouraging symptom of working-class ability and the spread of revolutionary ideas.

All this, however, does not blind us to the fact that the Bolshevik power rests on the control of a conscript peasant army and that political expression of the class antago­nisms (which are denied legal form outside the Party) find vent within the Party. The Bolsheviks silenced the Social Revolutionary Party, but carried out their agrarian pro­gramme.

In like manner a “Labour” Government, in this country administers Liberal reforms. The foreign policy of the Bolsheviks which was announced with such a flourish has likewise proved but a variant of the old Tsarist policy of intrigue. Instead of assist­ing in the education of the international working-class it has financed confusion and the propaganda of criminally futile policies of insurrection, long ago obsolete in West­ern Europe.

The working-class in this and other coun­tries must capture power, but this will not be accomplished by the influence of magic slogans. When the workers are ready to establish the co-operative commonwealth, they must at least be ready to vote for it.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, August 1929)

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