The SPGB and the Centenary of 1917

Mhou

Anti-Capital generally does not publish book reviews, but an exception will be made for the book, “Centenary of the Russian Revolution,” published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB). 2017 was a carnival of anti-communism, in which all forms of media carried a century’s worth of reaction against the greatest event in the history of humanity. Defending the revolution is a necessary obligation for all who work toward the emancipation of labor from capital. This defense is especially important within the socialist movement, where you will find those who claim the method of Marx but energetically reject the revolution. An Anti-Capital reader requested a review of the SPGB’s book and we thought the subject important enough to act on that request.

But the text isn’t a traditional book. It’s a collection of articles originally published in the SPGB press organ– the Socialist Standard. The earliest article in the collection was published in 1905 and the latest in 1990. It is a collection which was assembled for the occasion of the centenary of the October Revolution of 1917 and elaborates the definitive political positions of the SPGB.

What Revolution?

18 months after the formation of the SPGB in 1904 from a split in the Social Democratic Federation, the new party published an article about the then-contemporary events happening in Russia:

“No one can gainsay the fact that the Russian workers have in the present upheaval shown great power of organization and class solidarity, but, on the other hand, nobody understanding even in the smallest degree the causes of the great Russian crisis can honestly assert that the struggle in which the Russian workers are now taking part by means of strikes and demonstrations is distinctly working class in character” (Centenary of the Russian Revolution, ‘The Russian Upheaval’, December 1905, p. 17-18)

This article concerning the Russian Revolution of 1905 and its inclusion in a book about 1917 was clearly an intentional statement by the SPGB. This article frames their entire conception of the class struggle and by extension, their position on the October Revolution of 1917.

The SPGB claims the method of Marx while at the same time rejecting Marx’s own application of this method. There can be no doubt, based on the SPGB’s position on all the revolutions and revolutionary movements of the 20th century, that they would have dismissed the Revolutions of 1848-49 and the Commune of 1871 for the same reasons that they dismissed the Russian revolutions of 1905, 1917 and the Spanish revolution of 1934-39. Indeed, there can be no doubt that the SPGB would have rejected the positions of the Communist League and the actions of its militants, like Joseph Moll who fell during the Palatine Uprising or Joseph Weydemeyer who served as an artillery officer in the Union Army during the American civil war, for the same reason they rejected the positions and actions of the Bolsheviks.

This explicit rejection of the Bolsheviks and its implicit rejection of Marx and his co-workers can be distilled into 1 topic: the Marxist conception of the class struggle.

For the SPGB, every revolution is a coup d’etat. February 1917 was a capitalist coup d’etat (Ibid, ‘The Russian Situation’, June 1917, p. 23), October 1917 was a Bolshevik coup d’etat (Ibid, p.31); 1905 was a “capitalist movement” (Ibid, ‘The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails’, August 1918, p. 37).

A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism).

There are a series of bizarre contradictions arising from this rejection of the class struggle. At the same time that they claim that struggles for higher wages, shorter hours and improved working conditions are inevitable and necessary under capitalism, they also claim that the workers’ party has no role in these struggles. At the same time that they reject the workers’ councils as organs of the proletarian revolution, they observe that the workers’ councils effectively wielded dual power after the “capitalist coup d’état” of the February Revolution (Ibid, p. 25 and p. 52-53).

Apparent in their flippant categorizations of the three Russian revolutions which completely disenfranchise and erase the millions of organized workers who were fighting under the red flag for socialism is a crass economic determinism:

“Capitalism may develop, but its basis and essential character remains the same. The principles, therefore, which are deduced from that basis and serve as a guide to working-class action remain unchanged. As for the application of those principles, in the words of Marx: ‘The more highly developed country holds up to the less developed the mirror of its own future.’ It is not, therefore, a question of us following Russia, but it will be a question of Russia having to follow us” (Ibid, ‘Parliament or Soviet? A Critical Examination’, April 1920, p. 47-48)

This rejection of the class struggle combined with crass economic determinism allowed the SPGB to deny the proletarian revolution in general and the October Revolution in particular on a basis much like that of the Mensheviks: the old line about Russia not being industrially developed enough for a proletarian-socialist revolution.

In place of the living dynamics of the real-existing class struggle as it actually exists and the course it actually takes at the heart of Marxist materialism, the SPGB substitutes metaphysics:

“In this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces and the industrial wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?

Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has recorded, the answer is ‘No!'” (Ibid, ‘The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails’, August 1918, p. 40)

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

In ‘The Russian Dictatorship’ (July 1920, p. 54), we find an incredible claim: that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a central theory of Marxism. The SPGB waded into the then-contemporary polemics between Lenin and Kautsky to give the following commentary:

“Marx, of course, is freely quoted by both writers. On p. 140 Kautsky, while stating that the Bolsheviks are Marxists, asks how they find a Marxist foundation for their proceedings.

‘They remembered opportunely the expression ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, which Marx used in a letter written in 1875.’

Kautsky states that this is the only place in the whole of Marx’s writings where this phrase occurs, though Engels used it in his preface to the 3rd edition of Marx’s Civil War in France.

Lenin’s reply to this is to call the passage a ‘celebrated’ one, and to call Kautsky several names. He then makes the following statement:

‘Kautsky cannot but know that both Marx and Engels, both in their letters and public writings, spoke repeatedly about the dictatorship of the proletariat, both before and after the Commune’ (p. 12.).

Here was a grand opportunity for Lenin to get in a powerful blow by giving some of these ‘letters and public writings’, but, to the chagrin, no doubt, of his followers, he does not give a single case outside those mentioned above. There are endeavors to twist some of Marx’s statements on the Commune of Paris (1871) into a support of this claim, but they are all dismal failures. Only in the Communist Manifesto is found a phrase – ‘the proletariat organized as a ruling class’ – that bears any resemblance” 

The phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ originates in an article penned by Marx’s co-worker from the Communist League, Joseph Weydemeyer, and published on January 1st, 1852 in the New York Turn-Zeitung. The content of the phrase however was already several years old and goes back to the German communist milieu from which both he and Marx emerged. The SPGB correctly identifies the Manifesto of the Communist Party as expressing this content: the revolutionary proletariat organized as a ruling class. But that’s the sum total of what they got right.

In a letter from Marx to Weydemeyer a few weeks after Weydemeyer’s article, “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat” was published in New York, Marx said:

“… and now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Ignorant louts like Heinzen, who deny not merely the class struggle but even the existence of classes, only prove that, despite all their blood-curdling yelps and the humanitarian airs they give themselves, they regard the social conditions under which the bourgeoisie rules as the final product, the non plus ultra [highest point attainable] of history, and that they are only the servants of the bourgeoisie. And the less these louts realize the greatness and transient necessity of the bourgeois regime itself the more disgusting is their servitude….” (Extract of a Letter from Marx to Weydemeyer, February 5, 1852)

The dictatorship of the proletariat– the revolutionary organization of power by the working-class– was identified by Marx as one of his two unique contributions and equal to the other: historical materialism (both rejected by the SPGB).

This was before the Commune. After the Commune came Marx’s definitive statement on the subject:

“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875)

Both passages were included and analyzed in Lenin’s The State and Revolution, in addition to Marx’s writings on the Commune.

On the occasion of Lenin’s death in 1924, the SPGB criticized contemporary articles about it– specifically those that mentioned the proletarian dictatorship in Marxism and its application in Russia:

“In the first sentence we have two assertions; one, that Lenin established the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, the other that this is a ‘Marxian principle’. Both statements are deliberately false.

Lenin never established any ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ – whatever that may mean – but only the Dictatorship of the Communist Party which exists today. In the whole of Marx’s writing that he himself saw through the press the phrase ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ does not occur once!” (Ibid, ‘The Passing of Lenin’, March 1924, p. 77)

It doesn’t occur to the SPGB that it was the revolutionary workers and their allies, organized in all forms of labor organization including the organs that would replace the capitalist state– the councils– and led by the workers’ party that established the proletarian dictatorship. It wouldn’t have been possible for them to articulate the situation as it was, because October was just a “coup d’état” and Marx never saw fit to promulgate the seizure of power by the organized working-class in their conception.

Times Change, Doctrine Doesn’t

With these questions underlying every word from every article, there is a high degree of similarity in each and every article written by the SPGB about the October Revolution, the Communist Party and the Soviet Union– from 1917 to 1990.

If you removed the names and dates within the articles, you wouldn’t really be able to tell whether it was written in 1918, 1923, 1938, 1956, 1965, 1979 or 1986.

“When the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, the SPGB pointed out that it would not result in Socialism, but in a development of capitalism. We laid great emphasis on the fact that Russia, being still very backward, was not ripe for Socialism. The population of Russia was composed chiefly of peasants. How could they, illiterate and individualistic in outlook, have any understanding of Socialism, or any desire for it?” (Ibid, p. 128)

“The Bolsheviks in spite of their Marxist language and at times idealistic phrases were never socialists. They served instead as spokesmen of a new ruling class in Russia, a class itself the outcome of the very economic tendencies existing in Russia, the tendencies towards State Capitalism. In the furnace of the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks were themselves forged into an instrument of class domination” (Ibid, p. 147)

“We rejected the propositions that a Socialist revolution had taken place in Russia, that the working class had come to power, that ‘intellectual minorities’ could ‘lead’ an unprepared working class to Socialism, that Parliament was ‘useless’ and that Russia had forged new instruments for working class emancipation…

Our attitude on the Russian question is unchanged today and there is nothing that was written by our comrades in 1918 that we would withdraw” (Ibid, p. 153-154)

All that exists is the doctrine. There is no room for the living class struggle, for the working-class as it is, for the balance of forces between classes. Unless and until the working-class, the class struggle and history itself adapt to the SPGB’s doctrine, socialism is to remain an ideal divorced from reality (and must be kept that way lest it become corrupted).

They are going to be waiting forever, just as their predecessors waited, for the impossible.

 

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “The SPGB and the Centenary of 1917”

  1. What an appallingly slapdash and incoherent review this is! And how utterly deceitful and misleading it is too. For instance, we find in it the quite frankly astonishing claim that:

    “A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)”

    I challenge the reviewer to identify a single passage in any of the material ever published by the SPGB that would remotely justify this ridiculous claim.

    The point that the reviewer studiously seeks to evade is quite simply this – that the 1917 “revolution” was not and could not possibly be, a socialist revolution. The subjective preconditions (mass socialist consciousness) and the objective preconditions (a developed economic infrastructure) simply did not exist in Russia at the time. Any Marxist worth their salt would have understood this. You can’t have “socialism in one country”, anyway, as even Lenin and Trotsky seemed to have understood.

    There was only one option available to the Bolsheviks which was to consolidate and develop capitalist relations of production based on generalised wage labour. Since you cannot administer capitalism in any other way than in the interests of capital and thus against the interest of wage labour, it was inevitable that the anti-working class character of the Bolshevik regime would sooner or later assert itself. And assert itself it did in a variety of ways – the imposition of one-man management, the crushing of the factory committees, the militarisation of labour programme, the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a tiny elite or new ruling class, and so on and so forth.

    To the eternal chagrin of naive Leftists who seem constitutionally incapable of distinguishing between what people say they are and what they do, the SPGB has done the working class movement great service by urging that workers not be misled by appearances into going up blind alleys.

    The SPGB does not at all deny that the Russian Revolution enjoyed the support of very significant numbers of workers but that in itself make it a proletarian let alone socialist revolution. No capitalist revolution was ever carried out solely by the capitalist class itself. The character of a revolution is not defined by its participants but by the kind of society it eventuates in. Even revolutions that appear to be directed against the bourgeoisie itself – and here the Bolshevik Revolution springs to mind – can, in the end, serve to entrench the rule of capital as Marx noted:
    If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its movement, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule (“Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality”, 1847).

    In a sense, the repugnant authoritarian capitalist regime of Putin and his crony oligarchs is the direct outcome of those momentous events in Russia a century ago. Between the two Vladimirs – Lenin and Putin – lies a chain of causality which it would be foolish to deny. The state capitalism of the Bolsheviks and their successors set the scene for the emergence of the kind of corporate capitalism we see in Russia today and it is no surprise at all to socialists how relatively easily so many of the erstwhile Red Bourgeoisie, the apparatchik or state capitalist class, transmuted into the oligarchs of today following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The truth of the matter is that the SPGB has been remarkably prescient in its analysis of developments in the Soviet Union over the entire lifespan of the latter and the reactionary Left, revelling in its pitiful nostalgia for a bygone Bolshevik era, simply cannot get over this as this miserable excuse for a book review more than amply demonstrates.

  2. “The point that the reviewer studiously seeks to evade is quite simply this – that the 1917 “revolution” was not and could not possibly be, a socialist revolution. The subjective preconditions (mass socialist consciousness) and the objective preconditions (a developed economic infrastructure) simply did not exist in Russia at the time. Any Marxist worth their salt would have understood this. You can’t have “socialism in one country”, anyway, as even Lenin and Trotsky seemed to have understood.”

    The reviewer of the reviewer needs to review. Nobody argues that the October Revolution was a “socialist” revolution; rather that it was a proletarian revolution; that the “All Power to the Soviets” was the dividing line between workers’ class struggle against the ancien regime and its bourgeois intermediations; that the overthrow of Kerensky and the provisional government and the subsequent dispersal of the “constituent assembly” were advances of the proletariat and indices to the impossibility of a bourgeois revolution.

    What the reviewer of the reviewer misses in all this is……..history, historical content, made ever so painfully clear to the most casual observer in the reviewer of the reviewer statement that: “In a sense, the repugnant authoritarian capitalist regime of Putin and his crony oligarchs is the direct outcome of those momentous events in Russia a century ago. Between the two Vladimirs – Lenin and Putin – lies a chain of causality which it would be foolish to deny. The state capitalism of the Bolsheviks and their successors set the scene for the emergence of the kind of corporate capitalism we see in Russia today and it is no surprise at all to socialists how relatively easily so many of the erstwhile Red Bourgeoisie, the apparatchik or state capitalist class, transmuted into the oligarchs of today following the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

    Well that must settle that hash, right? They were both named Vladimir, therefore they both must be cut from the same cloth. One Vladimir is the same as another in this; separated by 85 years, more or less, a world war, and the wreckage of world revolution (and that is not to deny the role the 3rd Intl played in that defeat) doesn’t matter.

    So our reviewer of our reviewer makes our case in his/her case when claiming the Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and situates himself/herself in that great tradition of stage-ism. That’s where state capitalism gets you– right back into the lap of stage-ism. Snuggle up, Robin.

    S.Artesian

  3. Perhaps S Artesian ought to tell us what in his view was the outcome of the Bolshevik Revolution if not the consolidation of capitalist relations of production in the guise of state capitalism. I repeat again the point I made. It is NOT the class composition of the participants in a revolution that determines its character but the nature of the society it ushers in. That’s what a revolution means – a change in the socio-economic basis of society . The Bolshevik revolution may have been overwhelming carried out by workers but it was, even so, a bourgeois revolution – or strictly speaking the culmination of a bourgeois revolution in Russia which swept away most of the remaining precapitalistic elements that impeded capitalist development in Russia. State capitalism being the model that is arguably more suited to an immature form of capitalism is the one that the Bolsheviks opted for, Lenin being a great admirer of German state capitalism.

    I will ignore S Artesian’s childish dig at my comment about the”two Vladimir’s” but would ask him to clarify his accusation that I have succumbed to “stage-ism” – whatever he imagines this to be. I was simply making the point that you cant have socialism unless a majority of workers want it and understand it. If you capture political power in advance of that majority understanding – which is precisely what the Bolsheviks did – you will be compelled to administer a capitalist system and since there is only one way you can administer capitalism – namely in the interests of capital- you will be forced to adopt measures that will inevitably be anti working class. That is precisely what happened in the case of the Bolshevik regime. It was not a proletarian dictatorship as our Leninist ostriches with their head firmly stuck in the sand, imagine. Rather it was the dictatorship of the Vanguard (who effectively stepped into the shoes of the old bourgeoise) OVER the proletariat. It was the dictatorship of capital over wage labour

    While he busies himself answering these points perhaps S Artesian might also care to tell us whether he endorses the disgracefully dishonest claim made in the review that “A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)”. If so , I extend the challenge to him to cite a single example in the entire history of the SPGB’s literary output to back up this claim

  4. Last things first: “While he busies himself answering these points perhaps S Artesian might also care to tell us whether he endorses the disgracefully dishonest claim made in the review that “A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)”. If so , I extend the challenge to him to cite a single example in the entire history of the SPGB’s literary output to back up this claim”

    SA: Since I’ve never read (to my knowledge) any of the SPGB’s tracts, (unless something appeared on Libcom– I simply don’t recall) I made no such claim. Challenge all you want, Robin, but I’m under no obligation to respond, and I take my obligations seriously.

    Robin’s claims are, in a nutshell, that a) the Russian Revolution was a bourgeois, capitalist revolution, from start to finish. (His/hers is not the claim that the Bolsheviks usurped a proletarian revolution) b) that the Bolsheviks were a “red bourgeoisie”– formed a specific and definite class c) a+b = state capitalism.

    Well, equally in a nutshell: a) this disregards the fact that the working class created institutions of its own class power; that those institutions did drive the revolution; that there was in fact an overthrow of pre-existing class relations b) that if the Bolsheviks formed a class, a red bourgeoisie, then the Bolsheviks had to have a specific and defined economic interest, a specific and defined relationship to 1) a property form 2) the organization of labor 3) the means of production– at least something akin to that, something at least akin to say the Radical Republicans during the US Civil War and Congressional Reconstruction period.

    Regardless of the petit-bourgeois background of the Bolshevik leaders, throughout the 1917 and civil war periods the Bolsheviks were fundamentally a party of the working class. The Bolsheviks had no cohesive economic relationship as owners of the means of production, something which, to say the very least, is critical to the designation of a class. If the Bolsheviks were a red bourgeoisie, then we need to see this at least in immanent, incipient form prior to the revolution; we need to see some economic linkage to the reproduction of labor power, on a social basis, as wage-labor. We do not.

    Perhaps this is a “new form” of capitalism, a “state capitalism”? Again such a new form requires us to jettison Marxism, completely, because (a) we have a capitalism without a class of capitalists (b) we have a capitalism where– and this is the critical determinant– the means of production are NOT organized AS VALUES for the purposes of exchange; for the purposes of the accumulation of value. This does not mean that the former Soviet Union was socialist. It means in fact socialism was impossible in the fSU…. as was capitalism…. as a product of revolution.

    Did the fSU state function in a “capitalist manner”? Of course, all states function analogously to capitalism. All states appropriate a portion or surplus. The issue is “analogous” and what analogous means is “similar in function, different in origin.”

    Any state, even the most revolutionary, is going to appropriate surplus; is going to “exploit” agriculture. The issues are the historical origins and immediate forms of that appropriation. Is that form a value form? Are the means of production organized as values to be exchanged? For that to occur, there is an absolute necessity for private accumulation, private ownership. There has to be a class, separate and apart, from “administrators” of the state, that engages in the appropriation of surplus as value.

    Did the fSU face issues of development and organization far beyond the capabilities of the state administrators that formed the background, and determined, that the fSU mimic the capitalist states? Of course. Did the fSU deliberately destroy workers’ revolts in the exercise of some notion of “self-interest.” Yes. None of that makes the Bolsheviks and the 1917 revolution capitalist.

    After making the infantile comparison of the “two Vlads” Robin decides not to ignore my chiding by claiming to ignore my chiding. To which I can only laugh and tell Robin to go to his or her corner for a timeout. There was after all the decimation of the working class in the civil war. There was the collapse of world revolution. There was isolation of the fSU. There was a world war. And there was the complete collapse of the fSU, with its severe devastation to the population, and the installation of private capitalism under the direction of the world markets. That’s quite a gulf separating the two Vlads. The careful reader will note that Robin’s continuity “from Vlad to Vlad” is nothing but a pseudo-left version of the bourgeoisie’s claim of “from Marx to Stalin.”

    Whatever the course of its development, the Russian Revolution was not capitalist; was not bourgeois. It was, and remains, the single most important event in human history.

    S.Artesian

  5. Robin has doubled down on the same request:

    “I challenge the reviewer to identify a single passage in any of the material ever published by the SPGB that would remotely justify this ridiculous claim.”

    And

    “I extend the challenge to [S. Artesian] to cite a single example in the entire history of the SPGB’s literary output to back up this claim”

    Unfortunately, such a single example was already provided in the review:

    “No one can gainsay the fact that the Russian workers have in the present upheaval shown great power of organization and class solidarity, but, on the other hand, nobody understanding even in the smallest degree the causes of the great Russian crisis can honestly assert that the struggle in which the Russian workers are now taking part by means of strikes and demonstrations is distinctly working class in character” (Centenary of the Russian Revolution, ‘The Russian Upheaval’, December 1905, p. 17-18)

    Robin tries to make it seem that the criticisms in the review are all related to class composition, as though the simple presence of workers is what makes us defend the October Revolution. For example, they write:

    “The SPGB does not at all deny that the Russian Revolution enjoyed the support of very significant numbers of workers but that in itself make it a proletarian let alone socialist revolution.”

    No one is suggesting that class composition is the defining issue, or that ‘support’ from the workers is the defining issue.

    The defining issue is whether the real actions of the workers constituted an affirmation of the independent and distinct class interests of the working-class, asserted through distinctly working-class forms of organization and distinctly working-class methods of class struggle.

    As was noted in the review, the SPGB cannot be characterized as inconsistent. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing; not when this consistency is based on a doctrinaire stage-ism and associated political immobility.

    Stage-ism is inherently opposed to the method of Marx (historical materialism) and is what led the SPGB to follow a line that has made the struggles of millions of workers, the organizations of millions of workers and the revolutions involving millions of workers—asserting their independent class programme– disappear.

    Robin quotes the Marx of 1847, but provides a stage-ist line that would, as noted in the review, disavow the Marx of 1848. It’s impossible for the SPGB to claim the mantle of Marxism when their doctrine inherently opposes the concrete actions taken by Marx and his co-workers in the Communist League in actual revolutions and workers’ class struggles.

    The revolutions of 1848-49 were not ‘socialist’ or even proletarian revolutions—and yet the Communist League was– and ex-CL militants were– active in them; Engels, Moll, Weydemeyer and Marx personally.

    The SPGB’s stage-ism is comprised of 2 parts: economic determinism and metaphysics. This was pointed out in the review, and Robin has given us more evidence, demonstrating that this stage-ism and its constituent elements are not something that existed only in the past.

    From the review:

    “In this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces and the industrial wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?
    Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has recorded, the answer is ‘No!’” (Ibid, ‘The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails’, August 1918, p. 40)

    From Robin’s reply:

    “The subjective preconditions (mass socialist consciousness) and the objective preconditions (a developed economic infrastructure) simply did not exist in Russia at the time.”

    And yet, the millions of organized workers, mobilized in mass political strikes, expropriations and armed self-defense who overthrew first the Tsar and then the bourgeoisie do not factor into either Robin’s or their predecessors’ conception at all—they’ve been made to disappear from history.

    The conditions for a proletarian revolution were met precisely because a proletarian revolution occurred. Marx’s attitude toward the Paris Commune and the political conclusions he drew from it emphasize this one outstanding point: the class struggle is always primary.

    –Mhou

    1. Mhou, you have surely to be jesting? What sort of warped logic allows you to infer from the 1905 article in the Socialist Standard , the following conclusion: “A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)”. Your grasp of logic has surely to be absolutely piss poor and shot to pieces if you imagine for one moment the evidence you cite is proof of this ridiculous claim of yours. Read what you wrote once again and this time slowly and hopefully the absurdity of what your wrote will sink in.

      The simple fact is that a central part of the SPGB’s case is precisely that “class struggle is the motor force of history”. as you put it. I can cite tons of evidence to back me up on this. Where do you want me to start? Perhaps the Party pamphlet on “historical materialism” would be a good place to start. Its just silly trying to pretend otherwise. It just makes you look foolish and pig ignorant to be blunt. Have you even read any of the Party’s literature? Somehow I doubt it

      And I see you are intent upon spouting yet more rubbish, like your comrade S Artesian, about the Russian Revolution, totally ignoring the point I made. You assert:

      “And yet, the millions of organized workers, mobilized in mass political strikes, expropriations and armed self-defense who overthrew first the Tsar and then the bourgeoisie do not factor into either Robin’s or their predecessors’ conception at all—they’ve been made to disappear from history.”

      Once again, no one has denied the involvement of millions of organised workers in the Bolshevik revolution. This is not the point at issue at all and, as seems to be a habit with you, in your perfervid desire to add colour to your argument, you grossly misrepresent me. I haven’t made the organised workers “disappear from history”. I have fully acknowledged their role. What I have focussed on instead is the OUTCOME of those struggles which was to bring to power a regime that set about consolidating capitalism in the guise of state capitalism as the expense of those Russian workers.

      Recall the quote from Marx:

      “If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its movement, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule” (“Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality”, 1847).

      This quite accurately describes what became of the Bolshevik revolution. At the end of the day it WAS a bourgeoise revolution carried out very largely by the Russian proletariat. How could it be anything other . Only romantic idealists like yourself and S Artesian could suppose it could be anything else.

      Despite your attempt to poohpooh the point I made there simply was not the mass socialist consciousness necessary for a socialist revolution to happen. Even Lenin understood this but you seem to one struggling with the point. You cant have socialism without a majority wanting and understanding it. Period. The overwhelming majority of Russian workers let alone the Russian population as a whole (of whom the working class comprised perhaps a tenth), were not socialists and had little or no interest in or understanding of socialism. What attracted then to the Bolsheviks was the latter’s reform programme and its populist slogans like “Peace, Land and Bread”

      If you cannot impose socialism on a non socialist majority then by default you are left with capitalism and as I said before there is only one way in which you can administer capitalism and that is in the interest of capital and consequently against the interests of wage labour. Its all very well for you say that “The defining issue is whether the real actions of the workers constituted an affirmation of the independent and distinct class interests of the working-class, asserted through distinctly working-class forms of organization and distinctly working-class methods of class struggle”. But what you seem to overlooked is that it was precisely these working class forms of organisation and working class methods of class struggle that were CRUSHED and /or co-opted by the Bolsheviks and their successors in their endeavours to consolidate and promote capitalist relations of production

      I will deal with the question of who constituted the Soviet capitalist class in separate post as the argument is quite complicated and convoluted which I dont have time now to go over now. I will simply refer people to this book which deals with the question rather well https://libcom.org/library/paresh-chattopadhyay-marxian-concept-capital-soviet-experience

  6. So you’re not “stage-ist” but without “mass socialist consciousness” which, because we’re all materialists, aren’t we, (or maybe not, at least in your case), said consciousness can only spring from the objective social conditions determined by the dynamics conflicts between the forces and relations of production, then you can only have a capitalist revolution? That is the definition of stage-ism. It rejects the single most important contribution to historical materialism since Marx’s own investigations– the dynamics of uneven and combined development.

    As for this: ” What attracted then to the Bolsheviks was the latter’s reform programme and its populist slogans like “Peace, Land and Bread”” you repeat the old anti-working class arguments that the workers can’t or wouldn’t grasp what was at stake in their struggle. And historically, you’re just flat out wrong. What attracted workers to the Bolsheviks, and amplified the Bolsheviks power in the soviets was the fact that the Bolsheviks were advocating “All Power to the Soviets.” Any number of studies have pointed to the increased petitions to the soviets, demanding that they take power, and reject the provisional government, from workers’ organizations, factory committees, and neighborhoods, coincident with the growing support for the Bolsheviks.

    For the record I’ve read Paresh’s book, and if memory serves me even met him briefly once in NYC where he played the “Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution from the getgo” card. He’s wrong. His arguments make a mockery of Marx’s categories.

    S. Artesian

  7. S Artesian, you do talk a load of tosh. When have I said or implied workers ” can’t or wouldn’t grasp what was at stake in their struggle”, huh? It is Leninists, not Marxists like myself. who call into question the ability of workers to understand socialism. This is the pretext for advancing their theory of vanguardism – the argument that a tiny elite must capture political first in advance of the working class becoming socialists – and allegedly on behalf of that class – in order to be in position to educate/indoctrinate the latter into becoming socialists. Of course what inevitably happens in this situation is that the vanguard transmutes into just another ruling class opposed to the interests of the working class. That is precisely what happened in the case of Bolshevik bourgeois revolution. A new ruling class arose out of the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a tiny elite which effectively monopolised the means of production on collective class basis rather than through individual capital holdings as was more common in the West . Ownership means the same thing as ultimate control and this ultimate control was vested in the hands of the state capitalist class by virtue of its stranglehold on the state machine.

    And no I am not wrong in saying Russian workers were attracted by the reform programme of the Bolshevik. I find your understanding of the situation to be extremely one dimensional and simplistic. Saying that “What attracted workers to the Bolsheviks, and amplified the Bolsheviks power in the soviets was the fact that the Bolsheviks were advocating “All Power to the Soviets.” ” does not preclude them also being attracted by the Bolsheviks reform package. It is not an either/or situation, you know and real like rarely conforms to the simplistic idea you seem to have of it. “Soviet” is just a Russian term for “council” which begs the question as to what Russian workers expected these councils to do for them. The answer is that they were looked upon as vehicles by means of which sweeping reforms could be implemented along the lines proposed by the Bolsheviks.

    Of course it didn’t quite turn out like that did it? As with the trade union movement or the factory committees, the soviets were cynically used or disbanded in the cases of the FCs to serve the interest of the rising state bourgeoise with its ever tightening grip on economic and political power

    1. I’ll simply note that you’ve provided no historical analysis of how this “red bourgeoisie” emerged, prior to the revolution, as a class, with distinct relations to the forces of production; nor have you provided any material analysis as to how this “red capitalism” functioned as actual capitalism– the accumulation of the means of production as values to extract value for the purpose of reproducing the “red capitalists” as capitalists.

      You say the development of this class is quite “convoluted” and then you provide this “Ownership means the same thing as ultimate control and this ultimate control was vested in the hands of the state capitalist class by virtue of its stranglehold on the state machine”– as simple-minded an analysis as there could be. It doesn’t wash.

      Regarding the soviets, just some simple questions: were the soviets organs of dual power? were the soviets organs of class struggle by the working class? If so, where are the organs of struggle of the “red bourgeoisie”?

      If your claim is that the Bolsheviks usurped these organs of working class rule, then your argument that the Russian Revolution was only, inevitably, and exclusively a capitalist revolution falls apart.

      S. Artesian

  8. Incidentally, Mhou, I have just today seen the text of a new SPGB pamphlet due to be published very shortly in response, amongst other things, to the current furore over charges of anti Semitism in the British Labour Party. The pamphlet is called “Why socialists oppose Zionism and Anti-Semitism”. The pamphlet restates the SPGB’s complete opposition to all nationalism – in this case Jewish nationalism in the form of Zionism – and calls instead for Jewish workers to unite with other workers in class struggle against our common enemy. Further proof, if it was needed, of the utter absurdity of your original contention that the SPGB rejects the notion of class struggle. If anything you should be directing your criticism not at the SPGB but at those left wing supporters of third world nationalisms who by giving support to nationalist causes give credence to the false idea of a common interest between workers and capitalists in these countries and so effectively help to dampen the class struggle.

    You should drop this ridiculous anti SPGB prejudice which you and others on Left seem to harbour and open your eyes to what is really going on here

    1. Robin: We can distill all of this to a series of simple questions:

      Was Marx and the Communist League correct in taking an active, and to the extent of their abilities, a leading role in the revolutions of 1848-49?

      Were CL and former CL members correct in taking an active role in the American civil war against the Confederacy?

      Was Marx and the International Workingmen’s Association correct in taking an active, and to the extent of their abilities, a leading role in the Paris Commune of 1871?

      The question of 1905 and 1917 are just extensions of those very questions. You’ve refused to to engage with this topic, which is /the/ topic; you’ve refused to engage with this question, which is /the/ question.

      The orientation of Marxists to 1848 and 1871 was a demonstration of the Marxist method in the class struggle, something lacking in all of the texts reproduced in the SPGB book on 1917 and lacking in all of your posts here.

      Also, that you confuse political disagreement with ‘anti-SPGB prejudice’ is absurd.

      1. Being “active” is one thing, espousing vanguardism is quite another. Marxists reject vanguardism which is the outlook of Leninists of all stripes . We argue that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself NOT some vanguard pretending to act on behalf of the workers. If the latter is your position then you have no right to call yourself a Marxist at all.

        On another matter I have now had the opportunity to look at the 1905 article you referred to in your review. It seems that not only have you been totally ridiculous in inferring from the quote you cited that the SPGB the rejects the notion of class struggle but you have also totally misrepresented what the quote is about by quoting it completely out of context. What the writer was criticising the actions of workers hoping to “gain some amelioration by participating in the fight for a free capitalist Russia”. In other words, what was being argued for workers to fight for their own cause, not coat tail the bourgeoisie in their desire for a free capitalist Russia.

        This is completely the opposite of what you claimed was the case . I hope you have the integrity to retract what you claimed in this atrocious review of yours

  9. S Artisan

    “If your claim is that the Bolsheviks usurped these organs of working class rule, then your argument that the Russian Revolution was only, inevitably, and exclusively a capitalist revolution falls apart.”

    Your argument is based on idealistic claptrap. Yes the Bolsheviks usurped the organs of working class power (not rule because the working class never at any point “ruled”). But just because these organs are working class in origin does not necessarily make them non capitalist or anti capitalist. I keep on making this point and you keep on disregarding this point. Just because the great majority who actively participated in the Bolshevik revolution were workers does NOT make that revolution a working class or proletarian revolution . A revolution is defined by the kind of society it ushers in NOT by the class character of those who participate in ushering it in. The Bolshevik revolution eventuated in the consolidation of capitalist relations of production and consequently can only meaningfully be described as a bourgeois revolution.

    The organs you refer to were populated by workers who were overwhelmingly non socialist in outlook and who were really only interested in the amelioration of their conditions of work and life under capitalism. Sadly, that is as far as their political horizons extended

    1. I’ll let your reply stand as its own critique. Now workers’ organs of dual power aren’t “socialist,” because the workers were only concerned with amelioration of their conditions of work. What bullshit. Not only were the Bolsheviks capitalists, the workers themselves were just incipient little bureaucrats. Your contempt for the actual revolutionary process, coupled with your inability to defend the “categories” you create–“red capitalism” “red bourgeoisie”– brilliantly illuminates your ignorance.

      Oh, btw, it’s Artesian, not Artisan, back to pooh-land with you, Christopher Robin

      S.Artesian

  10. Now you are just being an arrogant tosser, throwing a childish tantrum. So sorry I got your name wrong . We can’t all be perfect.

    I dont have “contempt for the actual revolutionary process”, you Leninist numbskull. On the contrary I have been trying to tell you in so many words that that process needs to be informed by an understanding of socialism and the socialist objective. Otherwise we are stuck with capitalism in some form or another.

    I did not say all Bolsheviks were capitalists. What I said was a state capitalist class emerged from within the regime itself as its concentrated all economic and political power within the hands of a tiny elite, effectively substituting for the old bourgeoise into whose shoes it stepped in functional terms. Nor did I ever suggest the “workers themselves were just incipient little bureaucrats” and I cannot imagine how you came to such a dumb conclusion.

    If you are going to criticise me at least do me the courtesy of quoting me correctly and putting words in my mouth

    1. Yeah, you do have nothing but contempt for the revolutionary process; you said the soviets were filled with workers who in the main couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything other than ameliorating their immediate conditions, as if that is not precisely what drives revolutions, you ignorant git. The Paris Commune, the soviets, the cordones in Chile, those self-centered workers who just don’t grasp the higher aesthetic beauty of SPGB socialism. Piss off.

      You said the Russian Revolution was a capitalist revolution; I said show me the class in its formation; in its relation to the organization of property and labor prior to the revolution. You can’t do that, so you claim that this new class was somehow formed whole cloth out of a new relation to a state apparatus, one that expropriated the extant bourgeoisie.

      Paresh too argues that the RR was capitalist from beginning to end, and he too cannot show the origins of a class in a unique relation to the organization of the economy. If the RR were capitalist, or even if the fSU became capitalist prior to (insert date here) where is the exchange value? Where is the distribution of social labor time as dictated by profit? By the laws of value?

      Did the fSU mimic capitalism? Indeed. Did it oppress and exploit the countryside and workers? Sure thing. Did it destroy the prospects for world revolution? More than once. That does not make the 1917 revolution one of by and for “red capitalists.”

      I put no words in your mouth. The Bolsheviks weren’t capitalists? Is that what you now claim? What were they then? And then how did they become capitalists, if they couldn’t organize the means of production as values, for exchange, for ownership?

      Leninist numbskull? Whose tantrum? Fuck you asshole. Get off our website. You’re done.

      S. Artesian

      1. Robin is reduced to insults and demands a retraction, claiming that the conclusion of the review was based on a spurious use of an out of context passage from a single article; only, it was not made based on a single passage, and more than one was provided in the review and repeated in the comments. In addition, Robin has taken up the same line as was present in the articles republished in the book ‘Centenary of the Russian Revolution’. That line posits 2 things:

        – the development of the productive forces is the limiting factor in the possibilities for the working-class (economic determinism)

        – a prerequisite of a proletarian revolution is ‘mass socialist consciousness’ (idealism).

        Robin explicitly distilled exactly these 2 points in their reply:

        “The subjective preconditions (mass socialist consciousness) and the objective preconditions (a developed economic infrastructure) simply did not exist in Russia at the time.”

        This is the same line that the SPGB promoted in all their texts that were collected and republished in the book ‘Centenary of the Russian Revolution’ (and beyond).

        This schema is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism).

        This characterization was not made in relation to 1 passage in 1 article, but in relation to the line taken in dozens of articles on the October Revolution (and 1905, and February 1917) across 85 years and the political positions used by a defender of this line in the here and now, in the comments section to this review.

        Robin not only did not deny their stage-ism, but confirmed stage-ism as the basis of their political conceptions. They did not deny the stage-ism demonstrated by the SPGB in the articles from their press organ collected in the book ‘Centenary of the Russian Revolution’ but made it a point to emphasize how consistent the SPGB has been since it was founded– indeed, the content of stage-ism hasn’t changed since 1904. It has always meant a rejection of the class struggle.

        The actions taken by the Russian socialists in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions were in continuity with the traditional Marxist conception of the class struggle; it was but an extension of what the Communist League had done in the revolutions of 1848-49, what Marxists had done during the American civil war and what IWMA members did in the Paris Commune.

        It is not possible for anyone to uphold the line of the SPGB in relation to 1905 and 1917 and not denigrate such actions, including those taken by Marx personally, during 1848-49, the 1860’s and 1871. According to the schema presented—i.e. the combination of economic determinism and idealism—these events must have been purely capitalist affairs with no opportunity for independent working-class action. As such, Marx, Engels, Moll, Weydemeyer, etc. then deserve the same treatment afforded the Russian socialists, Lenin, etc. But that necessary conclusion was sidestepped.

        “The Sovietites, of course, trust to a revolt of the army against Parliament; but such a revolt would be unnecessary if revolutionists were in a majority therein, and it would be futile (and in the highest degree unlikely) if they were not. The army cannot establish Socialism. That must be done by the mass of society, the working class, who possess the majority of the votes for the public bodies, national and local, and can therefore convert those bodies into revolutionary agencies whenever they choose to do so” (The Centenary of the Russian Revolution, ‘Parliament or Soviet? A Critical Examination’, Socialist Standard, April 1920, p. 46-47)

        Such a position is only possible in the name of Marxism if you liquidate the experiences of 1848-49, the 1860’s and 1871 and the theoretical and practical conclusions drawn therefrom, starting with:

        “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’” (1872 Preface to the Manifesto of the Communist Party)

        It was precisely the theoretical and practical conclusions of such experiences which informed the orientation of socialists to the Russian revolutions.

        Characterizing the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 as capitalist coup d’etats is an attack on the Marxist conception of the class struggle and an attack on the revolutionary agency of the working-class.

  11. I think this whole appalling episode demonstrates one thing – that the so-called Hard Left have little or no understanding of where the SPGB is coming from. They interpret the Party’s characterisation of Russia in 1905 and 1917 as being capitalist revolts as somehow suggesting a repudiation of class struggle. The SPGB, so they say, don’t want to get involved in the struggles of the day but only put forward the abstract idea of an alternative to capitalism which they interpret as being idealist. This is of course arrant nonsense. It needs to be made clearly understood that the SPGB supports the most militant class struggle possible but a distinction has to be made between the economic field of struggle and the political field. The reform versus revolution debate pertains to the political field not the economic field. The SPGB endorses militant industrial struggles but it doesn’t get directly involved as a party because to do so would ironically weaken the power of organised labour by encouraging political division where strength comes from unity. It is as individual socialists that SPGB members get practically involved. As an organised entity it is exclusively in the political field that the SPGB operates. One can see how this may give rise to the misconception that the SPGB repudiates the class struggle.

    Ironically it is the Hard left who are the complete idealists here in that they assume that class struggle is something that exists outside of the experience of workers and has to be something that we chose to do. By contrast, the position of the SPGB is the Marxist one that class struggle is intrinsic to the very existence of capitalism itself. It is not something we can opt out of. We dont need to invent this struggle; what we need to do is clarify where it ought to be heading in political terms. That is the function of the SPGB – to spread the idea of different kind of society in which classes and class struggle will cease to exist. That is the whole point of a revolutionary approach to class struggle – not to prolong it indefinitely by engaging the reformist treadmill but to bring it to an end. In that respect, the Hard Left has more or less completely lost touch with the revolutionary tradition. Its ‘revolutionary’ slogans are hollow and empty and its analysis of the situation fall completely wide of the mark – as this appalling review in Anti-Capital demonstrates. At the end of the day the Hard Left has nothing to offer and has nowhere to go; It is trapped by it own ideology and doomed to irrelevance.

    1. Again, we have an SPGB member characterizing the Russian Revolution as a “capitalist revolt” without any recognition of the significance such a categorization must have for historical materialism. Where is the party of the capitalists leading the revolt? Where is the capitalist class itself? Where are the revolutionary organs of capitalist power? The SPGB members don’t give a thought to these critical questions, ensconced as they are neatly in the lap of stage-ism– the means of production are not developed enough to support socialism, therefore the struggle of the proletariat is objectively for capitalism; is objectively “capitalist.”

    2. While I do appreciate that Dave has replied without the insults that came to characterize earlier comments from a different reader, this latest reply reinforces the characterizations made thus far by myself and co-workers at Anti-Capital.

      To be specific, the charge of idealism was made in relation to the conception of ‘mass socialist consciousness’ as a prerequisite to revolution– as in, supporting an immobile position of the workers’ party as “educator” for eternity, awaiting the day that the overwhelming majority of the human population (not just the workers) are won over to socialism. This charge was backed up by passages from the SPGB’s writings and those of a reader in the comments here. The hundreds of thousands of workers and untold number of peasants mobilized under the banner of socialism did not meet the SPGB’s requirements of ‘mass socialist consciousness’ during 1917, which gives credence to the charge that what is meant by ‘mass socialist consciousness’ is in practice a permanent political immobility; a program of changing the hearts and minds of the human population before a revolution is possible—

      meaning that the primary motor force of history is not the class struggle, but the beliefs of a majority. That is basis for the charge of idealism here.

      “As an organised entity it is exclusively in the political field that the SPGB operates”

      As in earlier exchanges, we are stuck in a loop in which the characterizations made in the review are denied—and this denial is supported with more evidence that the original characterizations were accurate.

      A consistent position taken by Anti-Capital since the publication launched in 2016 was that primary characteristic and opportunity for socialist development of the class struggle in the present is the potential for the unification of struggles with one another on multiple terrains: in the US, this manifests in the broad capitalist attacks on racial minorities (voter suppression and police violence against the Black community), immigrants (the ICE regime and Arizona SB1070-type bills) and organized labor (‘right-to-work’ laws, Janus v. AFSCME SCOTUS decision) and the trifecta of working-class resistance to these attacks.

      In our coverage of the West Virginia public school workers’ and communications workers’ strikes for example, we elaborated what this means in practice.

      In the case of the West Virginia public school workers’ strike, it was a broad movement in which both union and non-union workers participated from the very beginning, drawing all public school workers, regardless of trade, onto the picket lines. It was an economic struggle for higher wages and improved health care.

      But it immediately took on a political character, as the demands for higher wages and improved health care were not isolated to those working in education but were taken up on behalf of all public employees in the state in all job categories and trades. The workers formulated the slogan and demand of taxing the profits of energy companies to pay for both the wage increases and improvements to the public employee health plan—the growing-over of an economic struggle into a political struggle par excellence.

      But it also took on an immediately social character as well. The workers organized food collection and distribution networks to provide lunches and in some cases other meals as well to the public school students who depend on subsidized or free school meals.

      In the content of 1 struggle, the workers struggled on all terrains: economic, political and social. In the content of 1 struggle, the interests and needs of public school workers, all public employees and all working-class residents of the state were raised.

      The position we elaborated before the strike, during the strike and after the strike was multifaceted:

      -Extension of the food collection and delivery networks to provide for not just public school students, but all impoverished residents of the state.

      -Cross pollinating strikers from the schools with those who were simultaneously walking the picket lines statewide in the Frontier Communications strike, which was ongoing at the same time; uniting the struggles of public and private sector workers. This could’ve been accomplished by walking each other’s picket lines and taking up one another’s demands as their own.

      -Extending the political demands of the strikes to include opposition to recently passed anti-immigrant, voter suppression and anti-union legislation in the state.

      -Send picket delegates to other public workplaces to leaflet and set up informational pickets to bring out non-school public workers on strike to increase the likelihood of a victory on health care; which necessarily meant a victory in taxing the profits of the energy companies to pay for workers’ health care.

      It was a highly dynamic and opportune struggle for the working-class and the socialist movement. It was the first major strike of the year and it heralded a strike and organizing wave in the US: since the West Virginia school workers went out on strike, hundreds of thousands of workers have also struck, including other large units of workers (e.g. healthcare workers in California, teachers in Oklahoma, etc.).

      The political position of the SPGB as elaborated in Dave’s reply is merely to stand aside from it all, to offer verbal support with the catch that the only legitimate socialist action in such a situation is to proselytize for socialism—taking no position on the demands of the struggle or the means by which it may be extended and deepened. To take such a position, to intervene politically in an economic, social or non-socialist political struggle of the working-class, is by their definition “reformism”.

      Dave writes, “By contrast, the position of the SPGB is the Marxist one that class struggle is intrinsic to the very existence of capitalism itself. It is not something we can opt out of”

      Agreed that no one can opt out of the class struggle.

      However, political organizations can opt out of the Marxist conception of the class struggle, which is what we see elaborated in the book ‘Centenary of the Russian Revolution’ and in the comments to the review.

      Dave continues, “That is the function of the SPGB – to spread the idea of different kind of society in which classes and class struggle will cease to exist. That is the whole point of a revolutionary approach to class struggle – not to prolong it indefinitely by engaging the reformist treadmill but to bring it to an end”

      And that is that. Is the end of capitalism at the hands of the workers to be found in winning the hearts and minds of a majority before they can move in a revolutionary direction, or in intervening in the class struggle as it really exists and as we find it, on the basis of the Marxist method and the theory of socialism as the real movement of the working-class, to forge the arms of the revolutionary struggle?

  12. Recently, Anti-Capital published a review (issue 13) of the SPGB’s ‘Centenary of the Russian Revolution’ (2017), a collection of articles from the Socialist Standard, dealing mainly with the so-called Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath.

    Amongst the numerous inaccuracies littering the review one in particular stands out:

    “A common theme throughout the SPGB’s writings is an explicit rejection of the class struggle as the motor force of human society (historical materialism) and a rejection of the class struggle as the material basis for the revolutionary movement of the working-class (socialism)”.

    Anyone familiar with the Socialist Party would instantly know this is simply untrue. You only have to look at its Declaration of Principles in which the notion of class struggle, far from being ‘explicitly rejected’, is explicitly acknowledged.

    The SPGB shares Marx’s view that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself, not some Leninist vanguard. For that to happen, workers en masse – not just in one country but across the world – need to want and understand what this basically entails. In other words, there needs to be a conscious socialist majority.

    That there was no such majority, or even a significant minority, in Russia (or elsewhere) in 1917 is indisputable. Lenin himself noted that ‘the majority of the population in Russia are peasants, small farmers who can have no idea of socialism’ (speech at Seventh All-Russia Conference of the Party) and that the ‘proletariat and semi proletariat’, had ‘never been socialist, nor has it the slightest idea about socialism, it is only just awakening to political life’. In another speech, he frankly admitted ‘We know how small the section of advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia is’ (Second All-Russia Congress of Commissars for Labour, 1918)

    This was precisely Lenin’s justification for his vanguard party, supposedly drawn from this small and politically advanced section of the working class, to take matters into its hands; the great majority of workers and peasants, in his estimation, were not yet imbued with a socialist consciousness so the vanguard had to take power and act on their behalf.

    Yet, oddly enough, the Leninist reviewer in Anti-Capital rebukes the SPGB for saying much the same thing as Lenin in this case – namely, that there was no mass support for socialism – and goes on to assert: “In place of the living dynamics of the real-existing class struggle as it actually exists and the course it actually takes at the heart of Marxist materialism, the SPGB substitutes metaphysics.”

    But how is it ‘metaphysics’ to question whether the majority of the Russian population in 1917 were mentally prepared for socialism? If anything seems ‘metaphysical’, it is the belief that you can somehow conjure a stateless non-market socialist society into existence without a majority wanting and understanding what that means beforehand. On the other hand, if you agree that a socialist majority is first needed in order to implement socialism how can you then go on to describe a revolution as ‘socialist’ when demonstrably – as in 1917 – such a majority was conspicuous by its absence?

    The plain fact is, given the paucity of socialists at the time, the Bolsheviks, with the best will in the world, had only one course of action open to them, given their determination to seize power – namely, to embrace some form of capitalism. Furthermore, there is only one way in which capitalism can be administered – that is, in the interests of capital and against the interests of workers. That is why the 1917 uprising was nothing like the idealistic picture that Anti-Capital paints.

    This is the conclusion any ‘Marxist materialist’ would draw yet, according to the Anti-Capital reviewer, it is precisely ‘Marxist materialism’ that the Socialist Party has renounced. It is accused of “crass economic determinism” for erasing from history the “millions of organized workers who were fighting under the red flag for socialism”. How it can be charged with the crime of ‘economic determinism’ while attaching such importance to the subjective preconditions for socialism, is not explained.

    The reviewer shows a complete lack of understanding of the relationship between the goal of socialism and the process of class struggle itself – the suggestion that propagating the former somehow ‘substitutes’ for the latter. On the contrary, the former arises out of the latter just as Marx’s ‘class-for-itself’ arises out of his ‘class-in-itself’. Socialist consciousness separates the one from the other. Far from being divorced from the class struggle, putting forward the case for socialism is, in fact, the most politically efficacious way of prosecuting that struggle from the workers’ standpoint. What could possibly be more revolutionary than advancing an objective that directly challenges, and calls into question, the rule of capital itself?

    Moreover, the whole point of the class struggle is surely to end it, not indefinitely prolong it out of some misguided masochistic desire to be endlessly exploited by our capitalist employers. You can only end it by eliminating class ownership of the means of producing wealth and establishing socialism and for that, as stated, you first need a conscious socialist majority. There is nothing noble or edifying about the idea of class struggle for its own sake. We demand the right to live as human beings, not mere ‘hands’.

    How little the Anti-Capital reviewer understands the SPGB’s perspective is also borne out by the comments about its supposed views on industrial struggles. According to the reviewer this is further evidence that the party rejects the class struggle:

    “There are a series of bizarre contradictions arising from this rejection of the class struggle. At the same time that they claim that struggles for higher wages, shorter hours and improved working conditions are inevitable and necessary under capitalism, they also claim that the workers’ party has no role in these struggles.”

    This is a complete muddle. If anything, the contradiction lies with the reviewer in admitting that the Socialist Party says such struggles are ‘inevitable and necessary’ under capitalism and then bizarrely claiming that it rejects the class struggle. The fact that the SPGB does not think it’s appropriate to directly engage, as a political party, in the industrial conflicts that workers are embroiled in, in no way means it repudiates class struggle itself. That is a completely unwarranted inference to draw which, moreover, is entirely at odds with the party’s own stated position of principled support for industrial militancy along sound lines.

    It is simply that, unlike opportunist Leninist sects that have a habit of wanting to cynically exploit industrial disputes in order to recruit more members, the Socialist Party recognises that workers engaged in such disputes come from many different political backgrounds. Consequently, to sow political divisions among workers (which is precisely what direct party political intervention would do), rather than concentrate on the immediate issue at hand would, ironically, weaken the collective strength and unity of the trade union itself. As individuals, however, many members of the Socialist Party are active trade unionists and there is no contradiction whatsoever between this and their espousal of revolutionary socialism.

    However, it is the question of what constitutes a ‘revolution’ that perhaps most sharply separates the SPGB from the Leninists. For it, and fully in line with Marxian usage, what this term denotes is, simply, a fundamental change in the socio-economic basis of society.

    It is not about how you achieve that change – the methods you use. For the instance, the use of violent force does not necessarily signify a revolution if all it results in is the overthrow of one particular ruling class and its replacement by another. If nothing has really changed substantively in terms of the basic social relationships that define a given society then you have not really had a revolution; merely a pseudo-revolution.

    Nor does a revolution have to do with the class character of its agents or participants. No capitalist revolution was ever effected solely, or even mainly, by members of the capitalist class. Invariably, the capitalists called upon the assistance of the far more numerous subordinate classes – like the proletariat or the peasantry – in their bid to overthrow the then existing pre-capitalist social order.

    This is true even when the overwhelming majority of the participants in a ‘revolution’ were workers – as in Russia, 1917 – when traditional bourgeoisie were dispossessed only for the Bolshevik regime to step into their shoes, functionally speaking. Indeed, in almost uncanny anticipation of the outcome of that particular event, Marx once noted how the mass mobilisation of workers in a struggle against the bourgeoisie can, in the end, serve only to entrench the rule of capital:

    “If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its movement, the material conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule” (Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality, 1847).

    So it is not the methods or the class character of the participants, involved in a revolution that determines its nature but, rather, its outcome – whether it results in a fundamental change in the organisational structure of society. There are basically two ways you can talk about a ‘revolution’. You can call it an ‘event’ – like the political act of replacing capitalism with socialism – or you can call it a ‘process’ (providing such a process is consciously aligned, or congruent, with the desired outcome of establishing socialism). In this latter sense, we can say ‘the revolution’ has already begun and will (hopefully) gather momentum in the form of an expanding movement for socialism, leading up eventually to the revolutionary ‘event’ of capturing political power.

    According to Anti-Capital, however, the SPGB allegedly maintains that “Marx never saw fit to promulgate the seizure of power by the organized working-class in their conception” – meaning a revolution in the sense of an ‘event’. This is simply untrue. Of course the party is fully aware that Marx advocated the capture of political power. Moreover, this is something it advocates and, again, this is enshrined in its Declaration of Principles. It insists, however, that this political act must be carried out democratically by an organised working class that is genuinely socialist in outlook. Otherwise it cannot possibly amount to a socialist revolution. It cannot possibly usher in socialism.

    Again, according to Anti-Capital:

    “For the SPGB, every revolution is a coup d’etat. February 1917 was a capitalist coup d’etat (Ibid, ‘The Russian Situation’, June 1917, p. 23), October 1917 was a Bolshevik coup d’etat (Ibid, p.31); 1905 was a “capitalist movement” (Ibid, ‘The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails’, August 1918, p. 37).”

    This too is misleading. The SPGB does not say ‘every revolution is a coup d’etat’. There have been revolutions in the past fully deserving of the term ‘revolution’. These brought about a fundamental change in the socio-economic basis of society – such as from feudalism to capitalism. However, capitalism is now thoroughly global. Consequently, the only legitimate use of the term ‘revolution’ today (at least in Marxian terminology) must entail a social transformation that culminates in genuine socialism. Anything short of that would not truly constitute a ‘revolution’.

    This is why the Socialist Party was, technically, perfectly correct in describing the 1917 Bolshevik ‘revolution’ as a merely a coup d’etat. Capitalist relations of production based on generalised wage labour were not introduced under the Bolsheviks but merely consolidated and extended under their rule in the guise of state capitalism. At best, you could describe 1917 as a culminating moment in a protracted process of capitalist revolution that had begun earlier.

    After all, even under the Tsar, capitalist industry was making headway in the towns and some of the factory complexes, like the giant Putilov works, were amongst the largest and most modern in the world. Moreover, at the time, Russia was the most heavily indebted country in the world with capital pouring in from countries, like France and Britain, to finance industrial development. The Bolsheviks’ decision to renege on these foreign debts was one reason for the subsequent invasion of Russia by various foreign powers in alliance with the white armies during the turbulent civil war that followed.

    In any event, there can be no justification whatsoever from a Marxian standpoint for describing the events of 1917 as a ‘socialist’ revolution. As we have seen, genuine socialism was simply not on the political agenda. What initially attracted the Russian workers – and the far more numerous peasants – to the Bolsheviks was the promise of sweeping capitalist reform, not socialist revolution. Indeed, under the influence of the Bolsheviks the very term ‘socialism’ itself came increasingly to mean something quite different to the original Marxian concept. Instead of signifying a stateless non-market system of society it came to be redefined by Lenin as a form of ‘state capitalist monopoly’.

    The Bolsheviks, for their part, opportunistically and cynically exploited the civil unrest at the time to catapult themselves into power but we should not romanticise the unrest itself as something other than it was. It was driven by such desperate concerns as securing waged employment in a context of widespread factory closures and financial collapse. It was certainly not the opening salvo of a socialist revolution, determined to fashion a completely new kind of society on the ruins of capitalism. That is just naïve fantasy, a retrospective construction put on events by ideologues in love with flowery rhetoric.

    The rest, as they say, is history. The Bolshevik regime, having first curried favour with the workers, viciously turned upon them, imposing upon them its brutal dictatorship of the vanguard over the proletariat. The roll call of anti-working class measures implemented by the regime is long and impressive: the crushing of the factory committees, the subordination of the trade unions to the state, the imposition of top-down ‘one-man’ management in the factories, the ruthless suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion on fabricated charges, the introduction of the notorious ‘militarisation of labour’ programme under Trotsky and the systematic elimination of all political opponents both inside and outside the Party.

    It is, frankly, quite pathetic in this day and age, especially given the benefit of hindsight, that there are still some people around, like those involved in the Anti-Capital project, so deluded as to feel it incumbent upon themselves to glorify and defend the Bolshevik coup as ‘a necessary obligation for all who work toward the emancipation of labor from capital’. All the available evidence suggests the very opposite was the case. It resulted in the ruthless subordination of labour to the goal of capital accumulation – a classic feature of capitalism. Indeed, according some estimates, the rate of capital accumulation out of surplus value in the early Soviet Union, with its concomitant suppression of working class consumption, was among the very highest in the world at the time (Peter Binns, ‘State Capitalism’, Marxism and the Modern World, 1986).

    The development of soviet state capitalism prepared the ground for the emergence of the corrupt corporate capitalism of Putin’s Russia today. Indeed, many of the obscenely rich oligarchs of modern Russia were themselves once high-ranking members of the Soviet ruling class. All they wanted in their ‘revolution from above’ that overthrew the old Soviet system was to modernise the conditions of capitalist exploitation to make it more ‘efficient’ and beneficial to themselves.

    If we could turn the clock back to 1917, as our Leninist conservatives, wallowing in their misplaced nostalgia, would have us do, the eventual outcome would still be little different to what it unfortunately happens to be today.

    1. So…. let’s imagine that our long-winded correspondent from SPGB is in St. Petersburg or Moscow, or anywhere in Russia in 1917, April 1917 or June or even October. Question: do our righteous anti-Bolsheviks recognize, raise, support the demand of “All Power to the Soviets,” or do our righteous anti-Bolsheviks demand the calling of a constituent assembly EDIT: by the provisional government? Simple question. If our righteous anti-Bolsheviks do support “All Power to the Soviets” then to not ally with the Bolsheviks is unacceptable sectarianism. The anarcho-communists who supported all power to the soviets understood that. If our righteous anti-Bolsheviks couldn’t support, raise, or defend “All Power to the Soviets” then they would have been made irrelevant back then, as they are today.

      Our righteous anti-Bolsheviks don’t like what became of the October Revolution (which was not a coup, but rather both the end of one phase and the beginning of the other of the civil war sweeping through Russia), so what? Neither do we, meaning me. Again, so what? The question posed was which class through which organs would seize control of the political arena and prepare itself to engage and win the next phase of that civil war.

      SA

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