State and Revolution: 100 years later

One Hundred Years later, State and Revolution remains one of the most beloved works of Lenin. Yet what can we learn from the attempts to implement its vision in the Russian Revolution?

State and Revolution is one of the most beloved works of Lenin, and for good reason. It is perhaps the finest work of Marxology, where digging through the notebooks of Marx and Engels is done not to prove an academic thesis but to prove an important political point: that the proletariat cannot simply inherit the bourgeois state and use it to build socialism, but must smash it in order to create a new state based on workers rule. Lenin also utilizes Marx and Engels to discern how this state is fundamentally different to the bourgeois state, drawing from Marx’s work on the Paris Commune especially. From these conclusions Lenin takes a political gamble. His party leads an insurrection to overthrow the provisional government around the call for “all power to the Soviets”, calling for a new state in Russia based on the power of the Soviets, or regional councils of workers and soldiers that were being formed both spontaneously and by party militants.

For Lenin, “all power to the Soviets” only made sense as a political slogan and plan for action when the Bolsheviks and those agreeing with their general programme had a majority in the Soviets, which in a sense were alternative “parliaments” for the working class. When the Bolsheviks were able to build a majority coalition of their party, left-SRs, anarchists and Menshevik Internationalists in the Soviets who wanted the overthrow of the government, an end to the war, and land to the peasants then “all power to the Soviets” was a slogan that made perfect sense.

So for the Bolsheviks, State and Revolution provided a sort of initial guide to how they would approach the revolution and rebuild society. The Soviets would take state power with a revolutionary programme and the working class would be armed as the military and police were demolished, the working class to take command. This would eventually happen in Russia, but initially the Soviets and the parties working within them (the Bolsheviks being the leading party) had to figure out how to run a country and develop a proletarian rather than bourgeois civil society.

Before delving into how the ideals of State of Revolution came into contradiction with the concrete realities of the revolution and what one must learn from that, I will go over the basic arguments of the book, which mostly come from the works of Marx and Engels. For Lenin, the state is defined as a “product of the irreconcilability of classes”, meaning that as long as classes exist there will be some sort of state which ensures the reproduction of those class relations with the ruling class having political hegemony. The state is not a neutral territory where classes can “reconcile” but ultimately “a power standing above society and alienating itself more and more from it”. Why is the state alien to society? Because it is a protection racket for the minority of rich capitalists, not a means for the majority of society to actually exercise control over politics. It creates “order”, but this order is strictly a bourgeois law and order that codifies the domination of the ruling class.  

Further, the state is a “special body of armed men”, the military and police, who are able execute the rule of law. Lenin mostly seems to find this important because it shows that the state is based on force. It is based not just through force, but force as executed by a special body, i.e. a separate section of the social division of labor (cops and military). The abolition of the police and armed forces, is the destruction of that part of the bourgeois state which defends and underwrites that state-form’s character as being above society; alienated from humanity as a whole.

The state is also described by Lenin as an “instrument” through which the ruling class exploits the oppressed class. This has been criticized as seeing the state as a mere instrument that classes can simply wield. But this is taking the metaphor too seriously. The point is that as long as there are class divisions, state power will exist because there will be need for a body that ensures capitalist norms of order than allow the ruling class to operate (or a body to suppress the remnants of the capitalist order if a workers state). Lenin doesn’t exactly go deep into the structural mechanics of why the state, while aiming to appear to be neutral, ultimately serves the interests of the ruling class. Part of the reason why is that the state is a tribute/tax/rentier taking organization and reproduces by taxing capitalists; therefore it has an interest in capitalist development being as successful as possible. The state also connects a strong economy to a strong military, the military bureaucracy wishing to project the hegemony of a capitalist state as dominant in the world market. In general, the state reproduces the social division of labor, and it reproduces a capitalist social division of labor. Therefore the capitalist or bourgeois state cannot act in a way that doesn’t allow for the reproduction of capitalism, and essentially provides the framework through which this can occur.

Lenin goes on to argue that classes can be abolished (though without saying at a national or international level), hence ending the social antagonisms that lead to a state existing. Yet there will be a transitional state, or dictatorship of the proletariat, that will replace the old capitalist state, based on the power of the workers. This state is sometimes called a “semi-state” because it is a state in the process of overthrowing the very foundations upon which it is based. Engels is quoted as saying “The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by that conduct the processes of production. The state is not “Abolished”. It Withers Away.Essentially, as the antagonisms of class divisions are transcended by communist relations, the state loses its power as a coercive force over society and simply becomes a means of administering society in harmonious way. This is contrary to the anarchist notion that the state itself will be abolished in an act of insurrection, or the Maoist notion that the withering of the state must be pushed along through “Cultural Revolution” or class struggle under socialism. While it is true this process will require struggle against bureaucrats, because the proletariat holds state power it can fight bureaucracy through transforming its actual roots, the social division of labor, and not just host purges to replace them with different bureaucrats.

This general outline, backed up quite sufficiently by quotes from Marx and Engels, is primarily an attack on the Social-Democrats like Kautsky and Bernstein who deny the need for a violent overthrow. While Lenin was a longtime admirer of Kautsky, by 1917 he had come to see Kautsky as not sufficiently stressing the need to smash the bourgeois state in earlier works like The Social Revolution and the Day After (1903). Kautsky instead saw the proletariat’s party essentially becoming a majority in parliament, and then making parliament into the main ruling body of the state. For Lenin, bourgeois parliament was simply not a fit form of representation for the working class. Yes, work in it, but do so to destroy it was his position. Lenin goes as far to say that violent insurrection is a determining point in whether a proletarian revolution has occurred or not; at this point Lenin has no illusions of the bourgeoisie peacefully surrendering its power. This position, that it was necessary to smash the state, was not always the opinion of Lenin. It was initially Bukharin and Pannekoek who would come to convince Lenin of the correctness of this position, that it was not an anarchist deviation from Marx.  

It is also an essentially correct general outline: the proletariat overthrows the bourgeois state, the proletariat becomes the new state, and this state withers away as classes whither away. Those who saw no rupture needed between the bourgeois state and proletarian state were simply reformists in the end, as they could not grasp a key element of revolution. Lenin backs up this reading using the piece Civil War in France by Marx, where the Paris Commune, considered by Marx and Engels to be a living example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is examined.

The Commune becomes an object of study that is meant to show what kind of state will replace the bourgeois and facilitate the rule of the workers. Lenin argues the first and most important decree is the disarming of the ruling class and the arming of the workers, replacing the police and military with the armed working class. Since the state is at its core the general means of coercion, placing these means in the hands of the workers commences the smashing of the bourgeois state. Lenin also stresses the democratic nature of the Commune, pointing out how elected officials had strict term limits, recallability, and an average worker’s wage. He also argues for simplifying the process of government to the point where any worker could be called on to participate, summed up by the saying “every cook can govern.” For Lenin both parliament and the ‘parasite state’ are also wiped away, though elective and representative features still exist. It is just that the legislative and executive branch are merged and government bodies are working bodies, e.g representative-legislative with strictly subordinate executive committees.

Much of State and Revolution also comes as a response to the anarchists as well as the social-democrats. Lenin sees the anarchists idea of abolition of the state “muddled and non revolutionary” as the state is a product of the social division of labor which is not transformed overnight and cannot be left to be controlled by the servants of capital. The anarchists simply proclaim to be for the abolition of the state, but have no plan to actually abolish it. Those who simply say they will abolish the state immediately lack an understanding of the historical conditions that produced the state and lead to its existence. Many anarchists argue that simply decentralizing power will end the state, while Lenin stresses the need for centralism and unity in the proletarian state. Yet for Lenin democracy is just as important as centralism, just not sufficient on its own, and the two are not to be counterposed. One must “develop democracy to the utmost” but not separate from the actual tasks of economic transformation in the revolution. Yet while in the proletarian state democracy is developed to the utmost, Lenin cites Engels on the ‘overcoming of democracy’, stating that in a communist future the need for democratic decision making where the majority rules over the minority will no longer be needed because there will be no need for a state.

The transition to Communism is also detailed, essentially taking the schema of dictatorship of the proletariat -> lower phase communism -> high phase communism from the the Marx’s Gothakritik. These sections essentially summarize how the development of communism from the ashes of capitalism will gradually make the state a relic of the past, replacing the rule of law via a coercive mechanism with the force of social norm in a real human community. Yet it also explains this will be a protracted process where elements of capitalism will remain and be phased out as possible. Lenin does mention the problems of bureaucracy, but acts as if simply putting them on an average salary will suffice to keep them in check.

So how does this all hold up today? First of all are the basics of Lenin’s theory of the state. The State under Capitalism is essentially a holdover of the centralized absolutist state renovated to meet the needs of capitalism and democratized to the extent popular struggles have pushed it to do so. That the state serves the ruling class is obvious, but the state also performs certain communal functions for society that cannot be left to private interests. It also has a military function that can’t be reduced to capital accumulation, as even a proletarian state would still need a military to defend itself from capitalist invasion. This is not to say these functions aren’t operated in a class biased matter, but that the state cannot simply be reduced to a body of armed men that defend the interest of the ruling class. There is a non-elected bureaucracy in the state that is not entirely parasitic but necessary for the day to day running of cities for example. Until their skills are redistributed, society will still need to rely on them, similar to how the Bolsheviks had to rely on Tsarist military generals. One could say that Lenin overestimates how quickly a complete break with the bourgeois state and its bureaucracy can take place, as if the Soviets can simply pop up and replace it once they are revolutionary enough. Yet while the Soviets can make important decisions, the actual running of the state on a day to day basis will still fall to the bureaucracy if the Soviets cannot perform their function.

This is not to say that “every cook cannot govern” contrary to Lenin, but that there are real embedded problems with bureaucracy that can’t simply be dealt with through force. Specialists and bureaucrats do contain monopolies of knowledge that allows them a privileged place in society as a result of that knowledge being necessary for society. Lenin doesn’t make a plan for dealing with this, but it becomes a problem on day one when the Red Guards have to break a Civil Servant strike opposed to the new Soviet regime. The same problem exists in industry and the military, with loyalists of the old regime being relied upon to keep society running and defending the workers republic. Relying on these specialists created problems for the proletarian state, as there was no plan to phase them out and collectivize their skills, creating the basis for a “red bureaucracy” that would become a force of conservatism in the new Soviet Republic. Some system must be developed to a) observe and control the bureaucrats and b) break down their knowledge monopolies and simplify the administration to make it so that they are easily replaceable. Breaking down these knowledge monopolies involves not only technological advances but also expansion of educational opportunities for the masses.

There is also the problem of “all power to the Soviets” as the solution to the state. Soviets are councils of workers that tend to form from strike committees in cross industry mass strikes to make decisions in those particular struggles. In a way they are “united fronts of the workers movement” where all different tendencies and trades in a region unite to make large scale political decisions in a mass struggle. After the mass struggle is over, the Soviets are no longer needed, and authority returns to the trade union and political parties. So therefore soviets have a sort of transient nature; they are not standing bodies that continuously meet to make decisions in most cases. Lenin’s aim was to turn the the Soviets into such organizations that would run society. The problem was that he ignored other important aspects of the state, such as the role of political parties.

If one has no political parties to choose from in voting for candidates, or only one, the result is that Soviets or other mass democratic assemblies simply will become rubber stamp organizations for the one ruling party. This is exactly what happened in the USSR – the Soviets tried to become the state but ultimately authority fell to the Bolshevik Party. It is similar for the local councils in Cuba. Lenin says nothing about the role of political parties in the new proletarian state in his essay, but as every political regime ever has revealed, the ruling party or parties largely determine the character of the regime. While the Bolsheviks did not seize power alone (they did so in alliance with the Left-SRs), their break with the Left SRs and the crisis of war communism sending proletarians to the front meant that the Soviets simply lost their ability to act as standing bodies of authority for the working class. By the mid 1920s Bolshevik delegates would dominate the soviets, the rest having no party affiliation with other parties being banned. No parties or even party factions meant workers had no real choices in voting for a political programme, but simply voted for the personalities of those running, or who could be best directed by the party to do their job.

A key insight that Lenin misses here, ironically enough, is the importance of the party. A Soviet democracy must actually be one where democratically organized mass parties collaborate. All states are essentially party-states to some degree, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be democratic. In general, a state is only as democratic as its ruling parties are. This means the internal regime of the those parties; do the rank and file meaningfully determine policy, are factions allowed? Even in a “one party state” different factions of the party can serve as different political options that people can vote for. This opportunity closed in 1921 with the banning of party factions. The nature of the soviets in a state where one monolithic party was ruling could only be to legitimize the rule of that party, and so any hope of bringing workers into the administration of society (which was still maintained in the course of the Civil War) was lost. The role of soviets became changed not because the Bolsheviks crushed them, but because conditions of the war, loss of interparty democracy, and the betrayal of the Left-SRs who launched a terror campaign against the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty (which also meant the armed wing of the revolution, the cheka, would become monopolized by the Bolsheviks). Whether soviets, citizens councils, or mass assemblies, these regional decision-making bodies on their own do not ensure democratic governance. This doesn’t mean rejecting such bodies, but realistically understanding their role, and the need for political parties that are themselves member-run and democratic.

An argument often made (see Brinton’s Bolsheviks and Workers Control) is that the Party essentially betrayed the Soviets by promoting its authority against their authority, overthrowing the authentic revolution. In this narrative the Soviets are basically “destroyed” by the Bolsheviks. What happened was moreso that the Soviets were hollowed out and the Bolshevik Party was the only force left to fill in the gap of authority. Ultimately, for the soviets to have governed, it would have been in partnership with a political party/parties and not in opposition to them. It is not possible to remove political parties from councils without banning parties outright, which would simply be a way to destroy programmatic politics and meaningful democracy. Political parties are not contrary to democracy, but essential for it, as no parties means no real political choices can be voted on, just personalities. Rather than looking at the question in terms of “do the Soviets govern or does the party govern” we should look at it in terms of “how will the parties and councils work together to ensure a government based on proletarian democracy.”

There is also the question of how useful the model of the “Soviet pyramid” for socialists governance is. To summarize, the model works where lower bodies elect delegates to regional bodies, and these delegates then elect the delegate of higher, central bodies. This idea is supposed to give more power to lower regional bodies but instead allows a single party to more easily concentrate power within the councils. This is because of a mediary regional council elects the central council, which creates a degree of separation between the voters and the central council. This ‘pyramid’ can have even more layers of mediation between the voters and the central gov, increasingly alienating the voters from their representatives. A more simple way to go would be to have local councils elected by locals and a central council elected universally that local councils are responsible to. While Soviet pyramid model is favored by Trotskyists, Council Communists, and Anarchists as “more democratic” it is actually less democratic.

sovietpyramid.png

An example of the “Soviet Pyramid” model from Cornelius Castoriadis, 1972.

 

This is not to dismiss the importance of councils of workers and local assemblies of governance in the revolution. As Engels pointed out in a footnote to Marx’s 1850 Address to the Communist League, “local and provincial government” can become “the most powerful lever of the revolution”. He cites the example of the local assemblies and communes of governance in the French Revolution, which were able to fall within the general laws set by the national assembly while pushing the revolution forward. It was these types that were first destroyed in the Thermidor according to Engels. Furthermore Engels argues that such “local and provincial governance does not “stand in contradiction to political, national centralization.” Rather than seeing a strict dichotomy between the locals and central governance Engels sees them both playing a cooperative role.

There is no doubt that such organizations like the Soviets becoming hollowed out signified a defeat for the Russian Revolution. Yet one must understand that the power of the Soviets ultimately failed because the party regime failed, and both must work together to be truly democratic. Organizations like the citizens councils of the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviets where the masses partake in government are essential for any kind of “proletarian civil society” to exist. The point is that we cannot count on the spontaneous activities of councils to solve the problem of governance; they are not a solution to bureaucracy on their own.  

Of course one cannot blame the failures of the Bolsheviks to overcome bureaucracy on Lenin’s lack of clear vision or a theoretical blunder. Ultimately the question of bureaucracy comes down to class struggle, the battle for proletarians to control officials and specialists through democratic measures. Yet Russian proletarians faced a situation of being in a peasant dominated country with a lack of modernization, hoping their revolution would spread internationally. To quote Rosa Luxemburg: “It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions. The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.”

Lenin wrote more about issues of bureaucracy in his latter years, after it became clear the vision of Soviet democracy was not the immediate outcome of the revolution. Instead the regime of the NEP, closer economically to Lenin’s original plans, took place of the unfeasible attempt at ‘war communism’ and Lenin began in his last days to try and solve the problem of bureaucracy. Ultimately, a full on Thermidor with the rise of Stalinism ensured these issues would never be properly dealt with, the NEP society that was the ultimate outcome of the revolution being destroyed in favor of a militaristic bureaucratic industrialism.

While State and Revolution is a masterpiece of communist theory, it has certain limitations that have been shown by the historical attempts to apply its ideas. It does provide a useful framework for thinking about the state, emphasizing the importance of its inherently class nature.What it doesn’t contain is all the answers about the complexity of the state during the transition to communism and exact answers to how one will construct the dictatorship of the proletariat. Rather than simply studying State and Revolution on its own we must study the Russian Revolution to see where its assumptions hold up, and when they don’t, why this is the case.

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Living in the Shadow of Stalinism

Communists today must grapple with the difficult realities of the USSR, a society where capitalism didn’t operate but working class rule was liquidated. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 11.58.23 PMAll who call themselves communists will find themselves haunted by the question of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc and forced to reckon with its historical realties. The tyranny of Stalin, the dysfunctional economic system, the social conservatism and nationalism; these are facts that cannot be brushed aside if one wants to seriously deal with the legacy of Marxism. Even more so the fact that the remaining Stalinist states are drifting toward market reform or collapse would seem at face value to discredit the fight for a society beyond the market as utopian and hopeless. While the USSR is gone we still live under its shadow, its example used as the ultimate talking point to discredit any kind of politics (whether anarchist or marxist) that looks beyond capitalism.

There are multiple ways to respond to this. One is to argue that the USSR is to be defended and that all criticisms, even those from the left-wing, are just a result of intellectuals being brainwashed by Cold War-era propaganda. This view has the benefit of not having to seriously grapple with our history, blaming the USSR’s collapse on the betrayal of “revisionism” and fully embracing its legacy. Another would be to deny any responsibility for the whole experience at all, starting the from the October Revolution itself, describing it as a mere “Bolshevik coup”. Liberals and many soft leftists can unite on this front, depicting the Bolshevik party as doomed from the start. For these types the Russian question is simply answered with the platitude “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The fate of the revolution is sealed in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done or even in the ideas of Marx himself. Neither of these will suffice, as such a serious topic requires a more nuanced and historically conscious approach.

Communists should look at the Bolshevik led revolution in 1917 as a triumph, a true historical moment of the working class seizing political power en masse. It was a triumph that was ultimately shortlived, but would give rise to the most radical wave of working class militancy seen during the inter-war period. The mutinies in the army, the left wing turn in the Soviets, the mass actions and factory occupations all show that a true transfer of power to the working class occurred. This was a revolution that was truly internationalist in scope, that saw its fate in its universalization carried out by workers in all lands. For the Bolsheviks Russia was the “weakest link” in the chain of global imperialism and their revolution was the beginning of an international revolutionary wave that would finalize the collapse of capitalism as a system. Imperialism had thrown mankind into barbarism and the Russian Revolution showed the power of organized wage slaves to challenge not only the war but the system that caused it.

The Bolshevik Party at time of October was not the bureaucratic-centralist caricature that modern day Leninist sects try to mimic but an organization that ran with a true sense of internal democracy and accountability with open debate and factions. If the Bolsheviks had a ‘conspiratorial’ quality it was because of circumstances forced upon them by an absolutist state; Lenin’s organizational ideal was the German Social-Democratic Party rather than the Nardonik tradition of peasant terrorism. Ultimately the idea that the fate of of the Russian Revolution was doomed from the beginning due to Bolshevik authoritarianism doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny. For example, the correct line on 1917 was not only debated within the party but was debated publicly in the party press. Furthermore the Bolsheviks did not seize power as a single party, but seized power in an alliance with the Left-SRs and the rest of the pro-revolutionary left with mass support from the working class. The notion that October 1917 was a conspiratorial coup led by a despotic organization is simply not tenable.

Despite the triumph that October represented it is clear that the revolution degenerated. At what point it was beyond saving can of course be up for endless debate. Was it in 1918 with the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty that made a undesirable peace deal with Germany instead of the left-communist and anarchist backed option of “revolutionary war”? Or was the line crossed with the suppression of the Kronstadt Revolt and banning of factions in 1921? Orthodox Trotskyists would say that with the consolidation of power by Stalin’s regime in the late 20s the USSR had become a “degenerated workers state,” where nationalized property-forms proved the working class essentially held power although in a bureaucratized form. Other traditions such as a the followers of Tony Cliff and Raya Dunayevskaya claimed that Stalin’s rise to power consolidated a ‘state-capitalist’ system where the state centralized all capital into its hands.

To me it is clear that the degeneration of the the revolution began before the ascendance of Stalin, though Stalin cannot be equated with Lenin and represented a complete break from the early revolution. Stalin’s consolidation of power represents an absolute point of no return, where whatever proletarian content that remained in the state was extinguished. ‘Stalinism’ was the political system that ultimately resulted, a nationalist and social-conservative distortion of Marxism that has forever tainted the reputation of socialism and organized class struggle. Yet the process through which the Bolshevik State degenerated into a counter-revolutionary force was already in motion under the rule of Lenin. The rule of true soviet power was short-lived. As the Civil War heated up a sort of autocracy of commissars was forced upon the population to mobilize for war and repression was ramped up. Trotsky even considered the militarization of labor. These were not initially seen as ideal policies, but as emergency measures to win the Civil War. Yet as the Civil War cooled down a return to an ideal Soviet rule where different proletarian tendencies debated and collectively made decisions didn’t return. Instead there was an ad-hoc state raised for the purpose of militarizing peasants for civil war, forced to reconcile with the class contradictions that it ruled over. Afraid of peasant over-represention putting them out of power, the Bolsheviks were weary of expanding soviet democracy. Yet the cost of this was to cut the proletariat off from political representation. Simon Pirani’s The Russian Revolution in Retreat shows in detail how the Bolshevik Party shifted from representing workers to increasingly representing specialists and state bureaucrats after the Civil War period, when opportunities for expanded political participation from the working class were in existence. The state had degenerated into a sort of ‘red bonapartism’ where different classes contested for control and influence. In the end, the class that ultimately won out was the petty-bourgeois: peasants, specialists and state-bureaucrats.

The Bolsheviks often compared themselves to the Jacobins, and for good reason. They were leading a revolution in a peasant majority country, where capitalist industrialization had yet to fully take off. Most urban industry was state owned and for military production. As a result revolution in Russia was faced with a dual task: completing the tasks of the bourgeois revolution like modernizing agriculture and overthrowing absolutism alongside the tasks of the proletarian revolution, the establishment of the rule of the working class and advance into communist society. The common understanding of the Bolsheviks was that the latter, proletarian revolution, would rely on the expansion of working class rule across Europe and then the rest of the world. As long as the revolution was isolated on a national scale it would be limited to bourgeois tasks. Despite the enormous wave of class struggle worldwide international revolution was ultimately defeated, and as a result the society that developed in Russia was not socialism, a society in transition to communism, but rather a society in transition to capitalism.

The brutal dictatorship of Stalin that arose out of the crisis of the 1920s regime was a response to the fragility of the the worker-peasant alliance that was the core of the revolution. Peasants were not only the majority of the population but had class interests that were contrary to industrialization, as they were only interested in producing for their own use plus whatever they could profitably market. They had no material incentive to produce greater surpluses for the state. Capitalist development always rests upon the destruction of pre-capitalist forms where the direct producers are tied to their subsistence, creating a propertyless mass that must sell their labor for wage to survive. Stalin’s forced collectivizations and rapid planned industrializations were an attempt to mimic this process, to put the entire nation to their maximum productive capacity through state mobilization rather than the sporadic nature of the market. To do this at the pace Stalin’s leadership desired required breaking the back of the peasants as a class and the forced expropriation of small producers, something that Engels and Lenin warned against.

The results of Stalin’s voluntaristic social experiment are well known and created a strange historical mutation which would be basis for the Soviet system and its copy-cats from then on. During the first 5-year-plan Soviet citizens experienced peacetime famines worse than those during the civil war while chaos erupted in the countryside. Some workers reacted to these changes with excitement strangely enough, hoping that it was the beginning of changes for the better despite sacrifices. Others resisted, the most notable instances documented in Jeffrey Rossman’s work on strikes in the Ivonovo Industrial Region. Despite this resistance the eventual results were a working class completely atomized and incapable of collective resistance beyond short outbursts. As Mike Macnair notes in many of his articles, there was no objective tendency towards working class self-organization in the USSR where workers formed independent organizations to defend their interests. Rather than a proper proletariat which is compelled to labor due to its propertyless-ness as opposed to extra-economic force, Soviet workers were more like militarized artisans serving as clientele to various bureaucratic cliques. Counter-revolution in Russia essentially created a dynamic that broke down the potential for proletarian class formation.

Stalinism had more than just a disastrous consequence on the class movement in Russia, but was an international phenomena that did extreme damage to the communist movement worldwide. It was a counter-revolution within the entire Comintern, an institution already ridden with problems from the start which would head into unforeseen opportunism under Stalin’s direction. The result of Stalin’s consolidation of power in the Comintern was essentially the destruction of the Comintern as a potential world party and was a major blow to the capacity of the working class to struggle on an international level. Its bureaucratization led to an assertion of Russian national interests over the policies of the international parties which would lead to the Popular Front strategy where communist militants were sold out by party leadership in order to make alliances with progressive bourgeois. In the case of the Spanish Civil War this meant crushing potential working class insurrection and organization. In WWII the Stalinized Communist Parties told workers to not go on strike and make sacrifices for the war efforts of the imperialist Allies. The post-war era saw various Soviet backed CP’s gain popularity, for example in Italy in France, yet these parties were shells of the original Comintern parties and espoused a workerist brand of social-conservatism and nationalism. Their popularity in the working class proved to be obstacles to revolution rather than a radicalizing force.

The system that developed in the USSR would spread over Eastern Europe after WWII, creating what would be known as the Eastern Bloc. At this point the USSR seemed to offer a path that promised rapid industrialization without relying on subservience to more powerful capitalists. It also retained the privileges of petty-bourgeois specialists and bureaucrats and made promises of development for the peasantry. This made the Soviet model attractive for anti-colonialist nationalists in the periphery looking to lead independence movements, as did the fact that the USSR was opposed to the United States and could offer support. As a result what were essentially bourgeois revolutions for national independence (Cuba, China, Vietnam) took on Marxist-Leninist discourse and aligned with the USSR, the USSR promising a path of development that would (supposedly) allow for autarky without consequence and advance beyond economic backwardness faster than global capitalism would allow for.

While Stalin’s industrialization policies may have aimed to mimic capitalist development, it is clear for a number of reasons that the system that developed in the USSR was not capitalism nor was it ‘state-capitalism’, a redundant term if there was one. It is true that in the 1930s and 40s the policies of the degenerated Comintern were for alignment with capitalist states. Yet the the internal dynamics of the USSR went against capitalism; pan-nationalization of enterprises essentially eliminated labor markets. Money ceased to function as a universal commodity, acting more as an accounting tool rather than directing the flow of labor and its products. There was no private ownership of the means of production, no accumulation of value. Nor was there profit in the capitalist sense, the closet corollary to it essentially being a tax imposed on factory managers by higher-ups. Yet there was certainly stratification and inequality as well as exploitation. A surplus product was appropriated from the workers by the state, with the planning of production subordinated not to the needs of the producers but to the national-military needs of the USSR.

The state bureaucracy did not form a coherent ruling class, but was legally distinguished from the workers who were essentially a legal category. Rather than a class defined through its ownership of property, the soviet ruling elite was more a caste defined through political privileges. Yet this political caste did not represent the interests of the working class, albeit in a deformed way. Rather, they aimed to be a substitute bourgeoisie and develop the productive forces for the nation without relying on a commercial relations and internal markets. This was reflected in the official ‘Marxist-Leninst’ ideology of the USSR, where a economistic and productivist variant of historical materialism equated social progress purely with the development of the productive forces.

Yet the managers and experts of the soviet state weren’t capable of replicating the inherent dynamic of capitalism where producers are compelled to economize on labor-time through technological innovations due to the pressures of market competition. This tendency is also known as relative surplus value. While technological innovations occurred, there was no systematic tendency where enterprises were compelled to take them up in order to compete. Rather, enterprises competed more to hoard up labor and equipment to meet quotas. Being shut off from intellectual property in advanced capitalist countries also stunted technological development. Yet the lack of a tendency towards relative surplus value shows that capitalist dynamics never truly existed in the USSR, making it incapable of competing with other world powers. A major part of this was the soviet ‘social contract’ that guaranteed full employment which made it difficult to hire and fire workers at will to accommodate for rapid technological changes.

Without the tendency to expel labor from the production process at the cost of machinery in order to raise productivity there was in no way a tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Periodic crisis of overproduction are a consistent feature of capitalism, yet such a tendency was clearly absent in the USSR. Labor productivity stagnated as the consumption needs of the military and state bureaucracy continued to grow, with material reproduction barely scraping by. The initial rush for industrialization under Stalin, being caused primarily by political voluntarism, was unsustainable for an extended period of time. For its last 20 years of existence oil rent essentially kept the country afloat. Rather than a more effective and centralized form of capitalism that signaled a new level of managerial domination over the proletariat the USSR found itself incapable of controlling and exploiting labor power as effectively as its capitalist rivals. The USSR was not a higher form of capitalism but rather a society stuck between the tributary Czarist state and the capitalism we see in Russia today, aiming to find an alternative route of modernization.

“State-capitalism” was in many ways what the USSR wanted to be but was incapable of achieving. Comments by Stalin about the continuing existence of the law of value in Soviet society and Lenin’s proclamations in debates with the Russia Left-communists that state-capitalism would be an improvement shouldn’t be taken at face value as evidence that the USSR was indeed state-capitalism. Rather they help us understand what the intentions of the regime were. Soviet planners were aiming to essentially maintain the categories of money, prices, and wage labor but plan their utilization rather than leave them to the anarchy of market competition. This amounted to using the surface forms of capitalism, but orienting them towards the production of use-values directed by the needs of the state bureaucracies rather than for exchange-value. As pointed out by Hillel Ticktin, this was a system obsessed with the production of use-values, yet was incapable of reliably producing them due to the alienation of the producers from the state. As a result the system produced massive amounts of waste and defective products, incapable of expanding production at the same rate as the capitalist powers.

An internal tendency towards capitalism developed in the soviet system because of the difficulties of controlling labor and the pressures imposed by global competition. A section of the bureaucracy tended towards bringing in markets and giving concessions to the capitalist powers due to the sterility and ineffective nature of the system. The Soviet system was so dysfunctional that even many leading bureaucrats despised it, and as a result some looked for a quick fix through liberalization. Yet marketization brings in unemployment and went against the military status quo. Attempts to reform the system under Khrushchev and Gorbachev through market reforms and decentralization only created new problems.

This picture of the USSR is quite grim, hardly painting it as a model that we would want to emulate whatsoever. It also shows a society where capitalism was absent, where nationalization of the means of production essentially blocked the internal dynamics of the national economy from the world market. While not exactly autonomous from capitalism due to being exposed to military-political competition and limited trade with world capitalist powers the Soviet bloc was a world where capitalism was internally negated. Yet what existed was not communism, a society which has transcended class divisions and oppression and made the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Nor was the working class holding political power and building such a system – as history has shown the tendency was not towards communism but towards capitalism.

This means grappling with a difficult reality. It means coming to term with the fact that under certain circumstances the working class can take power, but that it can lose it through forces that come from within the workers movement itself. It also means that the mere negation of capitalist relations of production is not sufficient. Ending the operation of the law of value through nationalization of the means of production may end capital accumulation but it doesn’t necessarily equate with communism.

Communism is more than just the end of capitalism, but the transcendence of class society as a whole. We are looking to end more than just value production and putting the means of production into the ownership of the workers. What we ultimately aim for is a human community without class divisions and oppression. This means we have to take on oppressions and social divisions that have their root in pre-capitalist societies, such as the mental/manual division of labor, the patriarchal division of labor, the division between city and countryside and state territorialism. The problem is not just capitalism, as if every social evil that communists wish to overcome can be directly rooted to capitalism (even if capitalism serves to reinforce it). Communist revolution must overcome the entire nexus of social oppression that is rooted in the history of class society as a whole. The USSR may have abolished capital accumulation but it proved incapable of overcoming these other social contradictions.

For example, an inherent divide between manual workers and specialized experts led to the reproduction of class divisions through caste-like hierarchies in what was a sort of anti-egalitarian ‘meritocracy’. This problem with specialists, unlike the peasant question in fully industrialized countries, is still relevant today and is a difficulty the Bolsheviks faced that future revolutionaries will face as well. Specialists are essentially petty-bourgeois; they are small-proprietors of intellectual property. As a result their class interests are in the long-term hostile to the proletariat. Communism would have to flatten the mental/manual division of labor by ending monopolies on skillsets that gives specialists the leverage to assert a inegalitarian hierarchy over manual workers. This would mean changing the very nature of work and education and would be one of the biggest challenges faced in a transition to communism from capitalism. The USSR had no such tendency towards even attempting this; stratifications tended to be reinforced rather than undermined.

Of course it would be hard to argue that such transformations were even possible in the USSR if they were attempted. Socialism-in-one-country is an impossibility, especially in a country as agrarian and economically backwards as Russia in 1917. Communism requires as a precondition industrialization and co-operation across the international division of labor that puts to task the full productive capacity of humanity while ending the military-political competition of nation-states. The consequence of this is that forcibly abolishing markets and commodity relations in early phases of revolution before such pre-conditions are met can lead to the bureaucratic mess that was the USSR’s attempt at planning, not actual collective control over production. Even maintaining a proper dictatorship of the proletariat for extended period of time in a isolated Russia proved impossible. In a country dominated by small producers with class interests in the long term hostile to the proletariat a workers republic would not be able to hold onto to power for long without help from other countries with a greater proletarian majority. Internationalism is not just a moral principle, but a material necessity for the proletariat to be successful in its tasks.

Contrary to what some might say there are lessons to be learned from the history of past struggles and revolutions that deserve our attention. If revolutions are social experiments the Russian Revolution has contributed the most to the general dataset. Yet the conditions revolutionaries faced in Russia couldn’t be further from our own. While probably the closest we’ve seen to a true proletarian revolution, the Russian Revolution was even then largely a peasant uprising against an absolutist state. Because of this the nature of the lessons we can learn are largely negative, in the sense of knowing what dangers can lie ahead and the kinds of difficulties that could be faced. There really is not a coherent positive strategy for current conditions provided by Bolshevism and the Comintern though there are some organizational examples we can draw from for inspiration. Yet Communists must still take responsibility for the soiling of our name by the Stalinist counter-revolution that rose out of the ashes of October. We need a nuanced and historical materialist theory that can provide real explanations as to what went wrong and why a workers party like the Bolsheviks could become the despotic social force that it did.

Gavril Myasnikov: hero of the working class

The life-story of Bolshevik oppositionist and left-communist Gavril Myasnikov teaches important lessons on the dangers of a political culture that stifles and represses internal debate and factions.  

1922-gavril_myasnikov

Myasnikov in 1922

The communist-left or ‘left-communism’ was not a movement composed of intellectuals isolated from the working class. The ‘left-communists’ mostly remembered for being attacked in Lenin’s famous pamphlet Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder were a real tendency within the workers movement, playing an important role not only in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy but in the Bolshevik Party itself. These experiences of the communist-left in Russia can provide many important lessons to marxists today and the life story of Gavril Myasnikov is no exception.

The ‘left-commmunists’ as a faction within the Bolsheviks first developed as a response to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which made peace with Germany under unfavorable circumstances for the Bolsheviks. This initial ‘left-communist’ faction included prominent Bolsheviks Bukharin and Dzerzhinsky and saw the treaty as a capitulation to world imperialism which would close off the potential for world revolution. Their opposition to it stemmed not from militarism and nationalism but from a belief that world revolution was on the agenda, the immediate task being to form a Red Army and aid the German working class in overthrowing their government. Whether or not this position was correct is up to debate. Ultimately the treaty was signed, despite protestations not only from the left-communists, but also Left-SRs and anarchists. According to Lenin it was more important to have an immediate end to the war and consolidate the Soviet state and too risky to pursue revolutionary war. Due to the difficulty of throwing together a real army in their current circumstances his position won eventually won enough enough support to pass after heated debate and the treaty was signed.

Gavril Myasnikov was a member of this left-communist faction and had a long history of working class militancy behind him. However Myasnikov, unlike Bukharin and Dzerzhinsky, refused to become a bureaucrat. His entire life proved to be one based on intransigent opposition to capitalism and all those who stood in the way of the revolutionary proletariat’s fight against it. He would not only be an enthusiastic participant of the October Revolution but would continue to fight for the proletariat to truly have a voice in the Bolshevik party afterwards. He never surrendered in this fight and ultimately died a prisoner of Stalinism.

Myasnikov was born in the Urals in 1889 and found employment as a metal worker. He found himself in the midst of a strong tradition of working class militancy and took an active role in the 1905 revolution against Czarist autocracy. This revolution saw the formation of the first Soviets through mass strikes and the intervention of political militants. These Soviets or ‘wokers councils’ aimed to unite the entire working class on a regional basis rather than on a trade or industrial basis and showed the capacity of the working class to organize as a progressive class in history, using the Soviets to agitate for political demands against the Czar such the introduction of a parliament. Myasnikov was impressed by the role of the Bolsheviks in these events and joined the party in 1906. Shortly after the Czarist police imprisoned him in Siberia. In prison Myasnikov faced forced labor, beatings and even went on hunger strike for 75 days. He attempted escape three times, each attempt seeing him trying to rejoin the revolutionary underground only to fall back into prison.

Myasnikov had returned from exile in Siberia in 1917 and played an active role in the October Revolution. He was involved in forming a factory committee, participating in his local Soviet and Bolshevik party district to take a leading part the seizure of power by the working class in the Urals. It was the on-the-ground activity of worker militants like Myasnikov that ultimately made the October Revolution possible. Without these networks of militants who made real connections to the masses of workers no alternative center of authority to the Provisional Government would have been possible.

Myasnikov’s revolutionary zeal was representative of the times surrounding him, where new potentials for social change were opening up all around him. However Myasnikov’s millenarian drive for revanchism against the old regime was a step above others. In July 1918 Myasnikov and a crew of workers executed the Czar’s younger brother the Grand Duke Michael. It is unclear whether this was an autonomous act or an order from higher level Bolsheviks. Either way it got him called “a bloodthirsty and embittered man, and not altogether sane” by the secretary of the Perm’ Bolshevik Party Committee, though shortly after Myasnikov reported to Lenin with the Czar and his family being shot shortly after.

As these events show Myasnikov had no qualms with red terror and proletarian dictatorship when they were aimed against reactionaries. Yet when it came to suppression of dissent from within the working class itself Myasnikov would adamantly fight for freedom of speech and the right to form factions with platforms within the party as well as control over industry through producers soviets. After opposing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Myasnikov recognized the need for unity within the party and stood by Lenin to defeat the Whites. At this point authoritarian measures were seen as temporary concessions due to the need to win the Civil War and it was hoped that the end of war would see a return of the Soviets. However by the end of the Civil War Myasnikov had joined in with groups like the Democratic Centralists and Workers’ Opposition who were criticizing the party from within, though his own critiques would differ from the aforementioned groups.

The Civil War had transformed the Bolshevik Party into a militarized an hierarchical organized and as the war ended this didn’t seem to change. The party was increasingly becoming an institution which represented petty-proprietors and professional bureaucrats as opposed to the revolutionary working class. The hopes that the proletarian democracy of the Soviets espoused by Lenin’s State and Revolution would return after the Civil War had been proven wrong. The future of the revolution was uncertain at this point and individuals like Myasnikov saw the future of the USSR as a legitimate workers republic at stake. The words of Victor Serge in his later work Memoirs of Revolutionary, also at the time a Bolshevik, capture a certain attitude within the party and amongst the broader working class:

“What with the political monopoly, the Cheka and the Red Army, all that now existed of the ‘Commune-State’ of our dreams was a theoretical myth. The war, the internal measures against counterrevolution, and the famine (which had created a bureaucratic rationing apparatus) had killed off Soviet democracy. How could it revive, and when? The Party lived in the certain knowledge that the slightest relaxation of its authority would give day to reaction.”

At this point Myasnikov primarily critiqued the Bolsheviks as a individual, not as a faction. He disagreed with the Workers Opposition’s position that unions should manage industry, counterposing to this administration of industry through producers soviets. Like his contemporaries who were also part of the communist left, the KAPD, Myasnikov believed that unions for the working class had outlived their use in the current period. However he would advocate for peasant unions, much to the dismay of the Worker’s Opposition who believed this would take power away from the industrial proletariat. His activities critiquing the party got him relocated to Petrograd from the Urals where he would be kept on a tighter leash but proved unwilling to be silenced. As a result he received the ire of Zinoviev who accused him of being an SR, threatening to expel him from the party.

In Petrograd Myasnikov focused on agitating for free speech. In March 1921 he called for unlimited free speech in a memorandum to the Central Committee. He also made it clear he thought this should extend even to monarchists, a comment that made it easy for Lenin to attack his platform. No other Bolshevik made this demand, thought eventually he would back off from this position, and argue that only manual workers should have freedom of speech. He also refused to condemn the Kronstadt rebellion, a position that the Workers’ Opposition refused to take. To Myasnikov Kronstadt was a sad example of communists murdering communists and showed how far the bureaucratization of the regime had gone.

Lenin critiqued Myasnikov’s arguments for freedom of speech on the grounds that they would allow reactionary forces to have the freedom to organize and spread their views, especially amongst the peasants. “What sort of freedom of the press? What for? For which class?” said Lenin in a 1921 letter to Myasnikov. Lenin undeniably had a point; that democracy and freedom are not metaphysical absolutes that exist independent of class context. However, while Myasnikov’s argument for free press extending to monarchists is certainly questionable it is undeniable that the proletariat cannot rule as a class if it does not have the freedom to represent itself. This requires a tolerance of internal debate and dissent as a well as a tolerance of internal factions. It also requires that the proletariat doesn’t face despotic conditions on the factory floor, which related to demands for workers control. Myasnikov responded to Lenin initially with panic but then wrote a letter in response. “You say that I want freedom of the press for the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, I want freedom of the press for myself, a proletarian, a member of the party for fifteen years.” he said. Lenin may have made him change his mind about extending freedom of the press to monarchists but his desire for a legitimate soviet democracy remained.

Lenin’s banning of factions in 1921 saw the Workers’ Opposition essentially suppressed. Myasnikov, while not yet part of an official faction, was expelled from the party in 1922. After this he would form an actual opposition organization, the Workers Group. The Workers Group united Myasnikov with former members of the Workers’ Opposition and operated as a clandestine organization, unable to print its own manifesto in Russia. The Workers Group Manifesto not only addressed issues in Russia but addressed the international communist movement as a whole. The Manifesto critiques not only the lack of working class rule in Russia but also the united front policy being imposed on the Communist Parties of the world. It also makes claims that fights for reforms are now historically obsolete and that insurrection is now on the agenda, expressing of the more voluntaristic tendencies in left-communism at the time.

The response of party leaders was to arrest Myasnikov and send him to Germany to do trade union work. It was here where we made connections with the KAPD, the left-communist party in Germany, as well as the more radical elements of the KPD (the more moderate of the communist parties who had the approval of the Comintern). The Workers Group critique of the ‘united front’ policy that sought unity with the same social-democrats who supported WWI and held back revolution at all cost resonated with the KAPD. Yet Myasnikov did not stay in Germany for long and returned to Russia during a strike wave where remaining members of the Workers Group were agitating. Shortly after arrival Myasnikov was put behind behind bars; Zionviev had promised him this wouldn’t happen if he was to return.

After spending over three years in prison and insane asylums Myasnikov was sent to Armenia, then Persia only to be arrested again. Myasnikov had already spent a good chunk of his life in prison and this one be one of his shorter sentences, leaving for Turkey after six months. In Turkey Myasnikov took up correspondence with Trotsky who was also in exile from Turkey. Years before Trotsky had helped repress and purge the Workers Group and lead the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt, yet Myasnikov looked beyond this and the two engaged in principled discussion.

After Turkey Myasnikov settled in France, publishing his pamphlet The Latest Deception that elaborated his theories of state-capitalism in the USSR. Trotsky still refused to believe the USSR was no longer a proletarian dictatorship, instead calling it a ‘degenerated workers state’. In summary his argument was that the working class had never been overthrown and nationalized property was evidence that the workers rather than bourgeois ruled (otherwise markets would return). As a result Trotsky was more of a loyal oppositionist to the Stalinist regime rather than a full-on opponent like Myasnikov. Instead of a mere political revolution that would reform the party Myasnikov claimed the sytsem itself must be overthrown and replaced with the rule of soviets with multiple political tendencies represented. He developed a theory where the ruling class in the USSR was not the proletariat with bureaucratic deformations as in Trotsky’s theory but a ‘social bureaucracy’ that expropriated political power from the proletariat and consolidated a state-capitalist system. These ideas were very similar to future state-capitalism theories expounded by the likes of CLR James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Tony Cliff and as a result have theoretical problems of their own. Their strength lies not so much in their ability to comprehend the USSR through marxist categories but rather in their political conclusions that allowed them to advocate working class independence from Stalinism.

Myasnikov would work in factories in France until 1945, meeting fellow oppositionists such as Ruth Fischer and Victor Serge. He remarried and was able to accommodate to life in France, remaining there during the war and keeping quiet. However in 1946 he disappeared. Friends inquired and discovered he had been taken back to Russia on a Soviet plane; nothing was heard of him since. What exactly happened is unclear, but it is clear that Myasnikov ultimately died a victim of the Stalinist state.

Myasnikov’s demands were not for the immediate institution of communism, which most knew wasn’t a possibility. Rather his demands were aimed to secure the proletariat the institutional means necessary to rule as a class. If this was the case, why were other Bolsheviks so hostile to Myasnikov’s demands? Wasn’t the Civil War over, meaning authoritarian measures were no longer needed? Wasn’t Lenin himself an advocate for soviet democracy in State and Revolution? Truth is that Russia was a peasant majority country, most of these peasants hostile to any kind of social change that would disrupt ownership of their property. Leading Bolsheviks worried that a return to mass soviet representation would give too much political voice to the peasants and would lead to populist or reactionary parties forming and gaining support. Getting the peasants a better deal would require the support of developed European industry, so therefore the leading Bolsheviks believed their only choice was to hold onto power at all costs through dictatorial means while giving the necessary concessions to peasant demands until world revolution came to the rescue. World revolution never came however and the result was that the Stalinist bureacracy would consolidate itself through mass repression and impose collectivization/industrialization in order to resolve ‘the peasant question’. However without the capacity to organize as a class workers had no means to combat the rise of Stalinism, nor would they have the means to oppose the full imposition of markets after the collapse of the USSR later on in 1989.

Why is the legacy of Myasnikov important today? Today many Leninist sects aiming to mimic the Bolsheviks impose crippling forms of centralism and repression of open political debate. They refuse any kind of transparency and act like rackets. It is often forgotten that before the Russian Civil War the Bolshevik was an organization that was centralist but also genuinely democratic, where dissenting views were openly discussed and factions were free to draw up platforms and debate them. The loss of this culture of internal dissent and debate was a major blow to the Russian Revolution. This was not because of vague abstract ideals of “democracy” or “freedom” but because the proletariat relies on political freedom in a very concrete form to be able to effectively organize and rule. The proletariat is an organically divided class. Factions are an expression of these divisions and enforcing a centralism that ignores them rather than a centralism based on real unity simply allows for the consolidation of bureaucratic cliques. The proletariat must also have genuine forms of political association which are not subsumed to the class interests of petty-propietors and civil bureaucracy that can adequately allow the class to represent itself. By banning factions such a form of association was blocked off. In the USSR the result of this was that the proletariat is ultimately liquidated as a class, only capable short outbursts over immediate economic demands.

Today organizations must learn from the early Bolsheviks rather than mimic the militarized, hierarchical and bureaucratic-centralist party it would become. We must aim for organizations that instead can work towards unity while allowing a healthy culture of debate. This of course doesn’t mean “anything goes” and that any political view should be accepted. Communists must work around firm principles and coherent points of unity that are clearly understood. Within these points of unity there should be room for discussion and debate, but at a certain level of divergence debate becomes pointless. For example, if a faction formed within a communist organization supporting US war with Iran or offering ‘critical support’ to MRAs those members should be expelled without question. Certain things are simply not up for debate; we are not liberals. That said many differences can and should be tolerated within a communist organization and creating a stultifying atmosphere where debate is prohibited can only limit how effectively it can grasp and intervene in its real surrounding circumstances while building a genuine connection with the working class.

Further reading:

Bolshevik Opposition to Lenin: G. T. Miasnikov and the Workers’ Group by Paul Avrich

Manifesto of the Workers Group

Letter to G. Myasnikov by V.I. Lenin

The Latest Deception by Gavril Myasnikov