Some Ramdom Remarks
Party Problematic in Revolution
In what Follows the term
'Revolution', (originally taken over
from Astronomy) signifies total transformation of an existing society into a new society. In that sense it is a social revolution involving society's economic- social material basis, its political-juridical edifice and, finally, the whole mindset of the people. Of course this totality beginning at a particular historical moment takes a very very long time to work out fully.
In class societies, of which the capitalist society till now is the most advanced and final form, a social revolution has been up to the present a minority revolution. In contrast, the revolution by the people, occupying the lowest rank in capitalism, who have only their labour power (manual and intellectual) to dispose of in order to live, will be, by definition, a majority revolution. In the 1848 Communist Manifesto we read, "all previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the independent movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority". Decades later, in 1895, Engels elaborated on this theme in his 'Introduction' to Marx's 1850 Class Struggles in France :
"All revolutions up to the present day have resulted in the displacement of one definite class rule by another; but all ruling classes up to now have been only small minorities in relation to the ruled mass of the people. One ruling minority was thus overthrown, another minority seized the helm of the state in its stead.... This was on every occasion the minority group qualified and called to rule by the given degree of economic development.... If we disregard the concrete content in each case, the common form of all these revolutions was that they were minority revolutions. Even when the majority took part, it did so whether wittingly or not—only in the service of a minority".
Thus the lowest and most oppressed class(es) in bourgeois society—the toiling people—possessing no means of production but only their own labour power (manual and intellectual) to offer in order to continue to live and reproduce will naturally also constitute society's great majority. Consequently their revolution will surely be a revolution of the majority, opposed to the existing ruling class constituting the minority. However, contrary to all earlier minority revolutions, this majori-tarian revolution, work of the exploited and most oppressed—the lowest rank in society—has to be and is an emancipatory revolution, such that the liberation of the lowest stratum of society automatically implies the liberation of the rest of society. To paraphrase a famous Buddhist saying, the working class, having crossed, leads the rest of humanity cross, setting itself free, will free the rest. The end result is an Association of free and equal individuals.
This has important implication for the means needed for attaining the goal. A revolution with its emancipatory goal cannot simply mimic the method of struggle employed by a revolution uniquely aimed at the seizure of state power for changing one regime for another. It should be stressed that though it is the "great duty of the working classes to conquer political power" as Marx underlined, this cannot be a simple transfer of the bureaucratic-military machine from the hand of the existing regime to the new regime of the working people. The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.
The means employed towards creating an emancipated society must have to be in harmony with this great aim of liberation.
In the twentieth century the (single) Party has been the instrument par excellence for the seizure of state power from the existing regime with its military bureaucratic machine intact (with absurd simplification equated to revolution itself) and perfecting it. This has been the case with both fascist and communist parties, of course professing very different agendas, but equally marked by Party-State slavery of the great majority of the labouring individuals. None of these—necessarily all minority revolutions—was aimed at creating a society of free and equal individuals.
History has demonstrated that a Party, hierarchically organized from top to bottom with military discipline, uniquely built for conquering state power, whatever its other uses, cannot be the instrument forged for liberating the most oppressed and exploited. This follows from what we prefer to call Marx's 1864 postulate "The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves". This liberation can only come from their own self created organization independently of any outside elitist intervention by political parties formed mostly by unelected and irrevocable groups of middle class intelligentsia, claiming to know the interest(s) of the toiling people better than the toilers themselves.
Working people's self-governing organs, in fact, have emerged spontaneously in every popular revolution which political parties later tried to manipulate for their own selfish (party) interest and finally converted into organs of the state machine conquered by them.
The Paris Commune of the great bourgeois French Revolution of 1789 with its forty eight sections was the form of political organization of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie (the famous 'third estate') against the feudal social order during the period 1789 to 1794. These sections constituted themselves as self administering bodies and they formed the revolutionary municipal council, the Commune of Paris. Side by side with these municipal organs there arose spontaneously clubs and societies whose sole aim was, in the words of Robespierre, "to instruct, to enlighten their fellow citizens the true principles of the constitution" (cited in Hanna Arendt, On Revolution). Speaking in September, 1791 before the National Assembly, Robespierre equated this 'public spirit' with 'revolutionary spirit'. He added that 'the end of the revolution was the conquest and conservation of freedom'. However, no sooner had Robespierre risen to power and become the political head of the new revolutionary government in 1793, a matter of weeks after he had made his above cited remarks, than he reversed himself completely. As Arendt very pertinently observes "Now it was he who fought relentlessly against what he chose to name 'the so-called popular societies', and invoked against them the 'great popular Society of the whole French people', one and indivisible". Similarly Saint Just, Robespierre's great revolutionary companion reversed himself and turned against the societies. The Jacobin government successfully transformed the sections (earlier referred to) into organs of government and into instruments of terror. Robespierre's rule of terror was an attempt to organize the whole French people into a single gigantic party machine through which the Jacobin club would spread a net of party cells all over France, to paraphrase Arendt who further adds, "These things have become very familiar through the course of the Russian Revolution, where the Bolshevik party emasculated and perverted the revolutionary soviet system with exactly the same method". No wonder Lenin was such an admirer of the Jacobins.
We see here, clearly for the first time, the conflict between party system and the new revolutionary organs of self rule, contradictory to each other, nay, irreconcilable to each other. Very pertinently Arendt observes "When Robespierre established the tyrannical power of the Jacobins against the non- violent power of the people, he broke the most pronounced political ambition of the people as it had appeared in the societies, the ambition to equality, with the result that in the incessant factional strife in the National Assembly, the people remained indifferent, and the sections of Paris did not come to their aid".
Years later workers' self governing organs appeared with the Paris Commune in 1871. The Commune was formed of the municipal councilors chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. According to the plan of the Communards—which they did not have time to work out—the existing centralized government was to be replaced by the self government of the producers. The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate bound by formal instructions and revocable at any time, there was no political party. The Commune's secret was, as Marx underlined, that it was essentially a working class government, while all previous forms of government were repressive, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of Labour". Let us note that instead of state being further strengthened, it was Society which would replace the State. (This question would be again posed by Marx four years later in the Critique of the Gotha Programme].
By the way, contrary to what the 1848 Manifesto had prescribed as a revolutionary measure, that is, transforming the means of production into state property, Marx saw for the first time, the Commune doing something completely new to him, that the Commune was transforming the means of production not to any state, but "into mere instruments of free and associated labour". Marx (and Engels) registered this new experience in the 1872 preface to the Manifesto stressing that faced with the Commune's experience they considered now that the earlier programme had in some details become "antiquated", particularly, concerning the state.
In the early twentieth century, in 1905, arose the workers' self governing organs, soviets (councils) in Russia as a sequel to the huge strike movement of the workers, beginning with textile workers in Moscow district in the first Russian Revolution. Soviets sprang up also in many provincial cities. These were non-party assemblies of workers, with socialist parties losing their political identity in a coalition. In the Moscow soviet, due to the influence of the socialist revolutionaries, the Bolshevik attempt to subordinate this soviet to their own exclusive leadership failed. This revolution was of course suppressed bloodily by the regime.
As regards the new form of organs of workers' self-administration which arose spontaneously in Russia in 1905, the soviet, its fundamental characteristic was that, contrary to the opinion of Russia's Party-State historians, there was no straight line development from Soviets of 1905 to the post October(1917) Bolshevik state organs. As an uncontested German historian of Russia's soviet movement, Oskar Anweiler has (in his book Soviet Movement in Russia] stressed, the Soviets of 1905 as well of February 1917 developed over a long period independently of the Bolshevik Party and its ideology, and their aim in no way, from the beginning, was the conquest of state power. It is only in Lenin's scheme of revolution and theory of state that the logical development appears stepwise as Paris Commune of 1871-soviets of 1905-soviets of 1917 as the basis of state power.
Bandelier traces the uneasy (if not hostile) relation between the Bolsheviks and the councils (soviets) from the very birth of the soviet movement with the general strike of 1905 in Russia. It is notable that Bolshevik treatment of these self administering organs was in sharp contrast with the treatment of these newly born Soviets by the Mensheviks on whom the historical reminiscences of the 1789 French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871 exercised considerable influence. The Mensheviks saw the new Soviets as workers' revolutionary organs of self-administration. They directly spoke of the formation of revolutionary communes in the interest of promoting the uprising and disorganising the government. Anweiler stresses that 'not the Bolsheviks but the Mensheviks who introduced the 1871 Paris Commune in Russia'. Remarkably in their plan the Mensheviks spoke of the formation of self governing, deputized organization from top to bottom with a view to uniting the workers and peasants. If there is a question of theoretical forerunners of Soviets it can be said that it is the Menshevik idea of revolutionary self-administration.
Returning to Russia in April 1917, Lenin saw and immediately understood the importance of soviets in the eyes of the people. 'All power to the Soviets' became the abiding slogan for the Bolsheviks. Without this slogan there might not have been the October Revolution, say some historians. With how much cynicism Lenin treated the great slogan 'all power to the Soviets' is clearly seen in his confidential correspondence to his leadership comrades on the eve of the seizure of power, published only after Lenin's demise ('The Crisis has matured'). While loudly proclaiming publicly 'all power to the Soviets' Lenin in his private communication with his leadership colleagues showed utter distrust if not disdain for the Soviets—this vehicle of 'formal' democracy—and persevered in his attempt to persuade leaders with democratic susceptibilities that the party must alone (v svoi ruki), ignoring the Soviets, capture power and that 'it would be naive to wait for a formal majority for the Bolsheviks'. To 'wait' for the Congress of Soviets is complete 'idiocy', or 'total treachery' (polnaya izmena) for the Congress will give nothing, and can 'give nothing' (nichevo ni mozhetdat).
The incompatibility between Party principle and soviet principle was starkly made clear in July, 1917 when for a short period the non Bolshevik socialists -Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries -dominated the Soviets, and Lenin promptly declared that "power has passed into the hands of the counter revolution", consequently the slogan 'all power to the Soviets' was out of date. Stalin (on behalf of the Party) added, "we are absolutely for those Soviets where we have the majority" (cited by Anweiler)"
The Bolsheviks seized effectively the political power from these Soviets, not from the Provisional Government, and destroyed any possibility for this initial (bourgeois) democratic revolutionary movement to advance further. By the beginning of summer 1918, the Soviets as independent self-governing organs of Russia's working people, going through an exponential decay, evaporated, giving rise to the absolute dictatorship of the Party-State. Through the absorption of the Soviets by the Party-State, power of the Soviets was metamorphosed into soviet power, to use the apt expression of the Menshevik internationalist, Julius Martov, the much neglected hero of the Russian Revolution.
Indeed the watchword 'all power to the Soviets' flatly contradicts Lenin's frequently expressed goals of his Party alone to conquer and monopolise power, and never to leave it.
Oskar Anweiler has observed 'the strength of the Soviets lay in their close link with the masses of workers and soldiers whose mouthpiece they were... They were sensitive barometers of the voice of the masses of the moment... The radicalisation of the masses had to make itself felt through the radicalisation of the Soviets. When a group whose objective is totally opposed to the democratic character of the Soviets succeeds in obtaining their leadership with the help and in the name of the masses, the consequence has to be the general downfall of the Soviets. This was the case of the Bolshevik victory in the October revolution. The soviet movement which began as a democratic movement transformed itself into the springboard of the Bolshevik dictatorship. The real background of Lenin's philosophy of state was the fight for power. The slogan 'all power to the Soviets' was primarily of a tactical nature. The Soviets in practice were the means for seizing power by the Party.
Another notable example of the workers' self governing organs was the short-lived council movement in Hungary in 1956.Oskar Anweiler, the great historian of the soviet movement in Russia, has also keenly studied the rise of the council movement in Hungary. He observes that as in Russia of 1905 and 1917, in Hungary, in October, 1956, councils sprang up everywhere, independent of one another, of the most disparate kinds. 'The council movement seized with indescribable speed the whole land where the factory councils formed the backbone of the revolution'. Together with the factory councils they were formed in all kinds of places, offices, universities, the army. In the countryside sprung up the peasants' councils. As in Russia in 1905 and 1917 these were improvised organs of struggle which sprang up from the needs of the moment. However, the movement lasted a little more than a month. It met the same fate as that of the 1921 Kronstadt soviet (this latter uprising of the proletariat against the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' had raised the slogan 'all power to the Soviets, not to parties). In early November, 1956, the Russian Party-State crushed the Hungarian libertarian movement by mass massacre.
Somewhat different was the case of the Spanish Revolution of 1930s which showed—as opposed to the Bolshevik revolution in almost all respects—that a self governing mass of working people independently of parties and free from any bureaucratic vice, and aimed at creating a society without rank and class antagonism is capable of great deeds. This was strikingly illustrated by the working people of Spain for a relatively short period during their Revolution of 1936-39. These working people defeated the Franco fascists over two-thirds of Spain within a month of the start of the fascist uprising. These were 'people in arms', who for the first time saw themselves not as employees or serfs, but as human beings freed from the tyranny of the boss, and with all the means of production at their disposal.
They had gained sufficient consciousness to understand that 'their ends were libertarian communism, their means direct action independent of all party politics'. At this point it is worth citing Trotsky on the Spanish proletariat. He had remarked from exile, "The Spanish proletariat displayed fighting qualities of the highest order... economically, politically, culturally. The Spanish workers from the very beginning of the Revolution showed themselves to be not inferior, but superior to the Russian proletariat at the beginning of October Revolution in 1917". They had no need of a single party leadership for their achievements, one could add.
Thanks to the propaganda of the 'communists' and the liberal bourgeoisie the bloody events in Spain during 1936-1939 have been known to the public as the 'Spanish Civil War', a war between the fascists and the democratic Republic. However, what really was happening was not simply an anti-fascist war, but a profound social revolution involving millions of Spain's workers and peasants. The Spanish case of working people's self governing organization after defeating the fascist had triple aspects: through the armed militias they carried on the war against the enemy, by terror they destroyed or intimidated the enemy in their midst, and they took over the factories and estates abandoned by their owners, and continued to work there, where the committees were anarchist, 'there was a definite policy of collectivization which was intended to prepare the way for a thoroughgoing social revolution . Far from regarding the war as a mere war of defense against fascism, they saw in it the opportunity for which they had long been waiting to create a new type of society', writes the great observer of the Spanish events, Gerald Brenan, in his 1962 book The Spanish Labyrinth. Drawing on his close observation Brenan writes, "When the military uprising took place in July, 1936, every village in the anarchist districts of Spain threw off its municipality and began to govern itself through its syndicates. This syndicate was simply an assembly consisting of every able bodied man and woman in the village who belonged to the working classes, whether s/he was a member of the CNT ( National Confederation of Labour) or not. They met one evening a week and for several hours discussed village problems. Anyone who chose had the right to speak. The syndicate elected a committee which governed the village.
Brenan also reports on the actions of the communists in the Spanish civil war as a contrast. This should be of interest to Frontier readers.
The communists' appetite for power was insatiable, and they were completely unscrupulous. To them the war meant winning it for the communist party. Thus they kept the Aragon front without arms to spite the Anarchists and prevented a very promising offensive in Extramadura from taking place because the credit for its success might have gone to Caballero (the leftwing socialist leader). They seemed to have no programme that could not be reversed, if its reversal promised them any advantage. Their going back on many of their past tenets recalled the feats of those Jesuit missionaries of the seventeenth century who, the better to convert the Chinese, suppressed the story of crucifixion. The communists showed that the great release of feelings that accompanies revolution was distasteful to them. In the midst of a war of liberation the communists appeared in the guise of professionals and experts, and not content with harmonizing such impulses and directing them towards the end of military victory, they proceeded as far as they could to suppress them altogether. For their whole nature and history made them distrust the local and spontaneous and put their faith in order, discipline and bureaucratic uniformity.
Finally, of course, the Revolution was defeated, the heroic working people had to succumb to the counter revolutionary forces, the Republicans and 'communists', and the betrayal by a part of the collaborationist anarchist leadership. Thus, while 'people in arms' had won the Revolution in 1936, "People's Army" lost the war in 1939, as the anarchist militant Vernon Richards has so very aptly put it in his book Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (1983).
The starkest example of incompatibility of (single) party domination with working people's self governing organs one sees in the 1921 revolt of the Kronstadt soviet against the Bolshevik Party when the working people brought out, loud and clear, against the party dictatorship—"commissarocracy plus the firing squad"—the slogan "All Power to the Soviets and not to Parties". An eminent historian has underlined the similarity of the 1871 Paris Commune with the 1921 Kronstadt Soviet. He has remarked "Power and democracy were the fundamental questions which bedeviled Russia in the 1917 revolution. The Kronstadters' attempt to solve them produced a bustling, self-governing egalitarian Soviet democracy, the like of which had not been seen in Europe since the days of the Paris Commune". (Israel Getzler ‘Kronstadt, the Fate of a Soviet Democracy’ 1983. P 246).
The relation between councils and parties appeared so important to Bertolt Brecht that in a letter written in 1941, November 19, he asked Karl Korsch to undertake a historical research on the specific grounds of the downfall of the workers' councils in the context of the relation of parties to the councils, adding that in his view Korsch was the only person who could do this work. Unfortunately Korsch could not manage to do it before his death.
This is indeed a subject worth investigating. As it was mentioned earlier workers' councils follow directly from the libertarian postulate of workers' self emancipation so clearly laid down by Marx in 1864. Ultimately a higher form of society—compared with the society of wage labour—in which, to use Marx's words , "the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle" (Capital, vol. 1) can be built only on this foundation. It is through these self-governing organs freely and directly chosen by the labouring people and without the intervention of groups (parties), who are in fact foreign to them, that the labouring people seek to build a new social order in order to take their affairs in their own hands.
[paresh chattopadhyay, email@example.com]
Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 - 29, 2016