Against the Left pt.2
II. BOLSHEVISM, STALINISM AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY
“No army at war can dispense with an experienced General Staff if it does not want to be doomed to defeat. Is it not clear that the proletariat can still less dispense with such a General Staff if it does not want to allow itself to be devoured by its mortal enemies? But where is this General Staff? Only the revolutionary party of the proletariat can serve as this General Staff. The working class without a revolutionary party is like an army without a General Staff. The Party is the General Staff of the proletariat.” (Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism).
Vladimir Lenin has much to answer for when one considers the political confusion of the British working class. It is fashionable for those who have read little or nothing of either Marx or Lenin to speak of “Marxism-Leninism” — a meaningless term because both bodies of thought were the results of different historical influences and conceptions of class struggle. Lenin’s Bolshevism was the product of a semi-feudal society in which the working class was vastly outnumbered by peasants only recently emancipated from feudal serfdom. Marx had looked to the workers of industrialised capitalist countries to organise for Socialism. It is not the purpose of this article to fully explain the Socialist criticism of the Russian Revolution, but to examine the theory which Lenin advanced: Bolshevism. Our argument is not with misguided Russian workers and peasants in 1917, but with the modern successors of the Bolsheviks who continue to advocate a theory which has proved to obstruct rather than advance the cause of Socialism.
Why then was Lenin not a Marxist? Central to Lenin’s theory was the belief that to persuade the Russian population of the need for Socialism would take five hundred years. Therefore, the programme of democratically gaining control of the State was rejected and replaced by a commitment to minority insurrection followed by dictatorship.
Let us consider the differences between Leninism and Marxism on the vital question of who makes the revolution, the working class, the overwhelming majority, or the vanguard. In What is to be done? Lenin asserts that
“There could not have been social-democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without . . . The working class, exclusively, by its own effort is able to develop only trade union consciousness . . .”
Here is what Marx and Engels had to say about such arrogant vanguardism:
“As for ourselves, in view of our past, there is only one road open to us. For almost forty years we have emphasised that class struggle is the immediate driving power of history, and in particular that the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is the great lever of the modern social revolution; we, therefore, cannot possibly co-operate with people who wish to expunge this class struggle from the movement. When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle-cry: The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the middle class.” (Letter to the German Socialist Workers’ Party, 17th September, 1879).
From the start the Socialist Party of Great Britain recognised that the October insurrection would not lead to Socialism. As evidence of the conditions came out of Russia, our critique was developed. In Britain we alone predicted the State capitalist outcome of the revolution, long before Stalinism was reluctantly exposed by certain sections of the Left.
The Bolsheviks revolution was unreservedly applauded among the Left in Britain. From Labourites like Ramsay MacDonald to Utopian reformists like Sylvia Pankhurst (editor of the Women’s Dreadnought, later to become Workers’ Dreadnought) to anti-parliamentarians like Hodgson and Bryan of the British Socialist Party, the Bolsheviks were looked upon with unqualified admiration. The smashing of the Constituent Assembly, the crushing of the Left Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, the anarchy of so-called War Communism, the attacks on the Russian peasants … all of these things went unrecorded (or else were justified) in the Left wing press.
In January 1919 the Bolsheviks invited sympathetic European and American parties to form a new, Third International. The Labour Party and the ILP declined the invitation, both hoping to revive the reformist Second International which had collapsed when its constituent parties had supported the war. The Socialist Labour Party, the British Socialist Party and two other small Left groups, the Workers’ Socialist Federation and the South Wales Socialist Society, gave their support to the formation of a Bolshevik-styled Communist Party of Great Britain which was established in August 1920. The ILP leader, Ramsay MacDonald analysed the reasons for the support given to the new International:
“The Third International is the product of two things — Russian conditions . . . and a dogmatic logic which spins policy from fancied necessity. The grand coup d’etat in Russia and its successful defiance of the whole of armed and financial Europe have properly roused the enthusiasm of democrats all over the world and have particularly affected those who have entered the Socialist movements since 1914. They find it impossible to pay tribute to the courage and strength of will of the Russian leaders and to demand that European reaction and spitefulness shall let them alone, without also supporting the Moscow International.” (From an editorial in the Socialist Review).
Looking now at the present image of the openly reformist, pro-parliamentary, eurocommunist Communist Party of Great Britain one could easily forget the militancy and bolshevism upon which it was originally based. Despite the change, the Communist Party has always been committed to three principles: the belief that the Bolshevik method of revolution and the soviet based regime should be imitated in the West; the reform of capitalism; the need for leadership in order to fulfil the first two aims. Their first election manifesto, published in 1929, indicated adherence to the above principles:
“. . . the Communist party is not a mere parliamentary party, but the leader of the workers in the class war in all its forms, whether it manifests itself in strikes, elections, demonstrations or other forms. Recognising that the working class can only conquer capitalism and become the ruling class by the creation of its own instruments of power (i.e. workers’ councils composed of delegates from the factories and the mass organisation of the workers) and the impossibility of the working class capturing and utilising the capitalist state … it participates in elections, in parliamentary action, in all forms of political activity as a means to the preparation of the working class for the act of imposing its will . . .” (Our emphasis)
This advocacy of the virtue of the Soviets came ironically at a time when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, under Stalin, was stripping the Soviets of any power they had possessed.
Secondly, on reforming capitalism, the 1929 manifesto advocated ‘the seven hour working day’, ‘non-contributory old age pensions at 60 years of age at least equivalent to the wages when employed’, ’10 shillings per week for adult unemployed’, ‘a national minimum wage of £4 a week’, ‘abolition of tied cottages’, ‘the raising of the school leaving age to 16′ and the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords’. This from the party which criticises the SPGB for getting nowhere in seventy years! Their justification for the sterile list of demands was that
“The struggle for reforms in the present period leads to revolution.”
Fifty years later the struggle for reforms — many of them the same futile demands — still leads to nothing but the continuation of the capitalist system. Thirdly, the 1929 manifesto proclaimed the CPGB’s commitment to the leadership principle:
“It has as its aim the leadership of the working class in the overthrow of capitalism.”
Throughout the Stalinist atrocities orthodox Communists continued to sing the praises of the Soviet system. When SPGB speakers stated that there was no Socialism in Russia our meetings were often broken up; when we criticised the purges as the instrument of a brutal dictatorship we were called Trotskyists or fascists. In the 1940s a branch of the SPGB invited the Communist Party to debate and received a reply saying that
“The Communist Party has NO dealings with renegades, liars, murderers or assassins.
The SPGB, which associates itself with followers of Trotsky, the friend of Hess, has always followed a policy which would mean disaster for the British working class. They have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party, told filthy lies about the Red Army, the Soviet people and its leaders, gloated over the assassination of Kirov and other Soviet leaders, applauded the wrecking activities of Trotskyite saboteurs in the Soviet Union, and are in short agents of Fascism in Great Britain.
The CPGB refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers, to be destroyed.”
The SPGB analysed later revolutions such as the Chinese and the Cuban, which were based on the Bolshevik model and praised by sections of the Left, as steps towards State capitalism. The Chinese revolution and the ensuing Sino-Soviet argument caused a split in the CPGB, with the so-called Marxist-Leninist Communist parties supporting Mao whilst the mainstream of the party remained loyal to Kremlin foreign policy.
In the first article of this series it was argued that the emergence of the Labour Party dealt a damaging blow to the political consciousness of the British working class. The birth and subsequent activity of the Communist Party has added to that confusion to an extent which is incalculable. The political fallacies which the Communist party has spread have buttressed the complacency of the ruling class and contributed to the continued political ignorance of the working class.