‘‘An Introduction To Manifesto’’

On Armando Hart’s Socialism

Paresh Chattopadhyay

On March 12, 2015, appearred an article "An Introduction to Manifesto" by the Cuban communist Armando Hart on the website <marxlaboratory>, where the author shows himself very critical of what he considers as the degeneration of the "essential principles of Marx and Lenin" which have been "adulterated, whittled away", and this is the reason, according to the author, for the "failure of the left". What is required is a new type of thinking based on the clarification of the "works of these geniuses", he stresses.

We have read with great interest Armando Hart's piece on the Manifesto. He speaks of a number of important things towards building a better socialism than what has existed after Lenin's demise. His steadfast attack on reformism is praiseworthy. While appreciating his noble intention(s), we may be permitted to take up only a couple of his themes for further discussion.

It is not very clear why he pairs Marx with Lenin on the question of socialism. He holds, as we have mentioned above, that after Lenin's demise the "essential principles of Marx and Lenin were adulterated". What are these "essential principles" which Lenin shared with Marx regarding socialism, we wonder. We submit this is a misleading representation of the subject. The "essential principles" of Marx on socialism are the exact opposite of Lenin's "essential principles" on socialism however surprising this might appear to some.

Indeed, reading the paper closely, it seems that the socialism which we find here affirmed, is really Leninist, not Marxian. The first thing that strikes our attention is the total absence of the role of the independent movement of the working class—the 'grave diggers of capital'—in the struggle for socialism, reminding one of the image of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Only the role of LEADERS is emphasized. No reference to what Marx calls workers' "self activity", independent of the role of big leaders, the supposed 'saviours'. The unseated supposition is that the working class and the rest will follow the commands of these wise 'saviours' in order to be free from capital. As if Marx had never penned 'the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves' (1864). And again, less than a decade later, in the 'Afterward' to the first volume of CAPITAL Marx characterized the working class as that 'class whose profession (Beruf) in history is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes'. Thus the proletariat is its own saviour, it does not require a special group of 'professional revolutionaries' a la Lenin. Paraphrasing Rosa Luxembourg one could say that the working class does not need a 'school master'. As Marx wrote to a friend in 1865 : 'the working class is either revolutionary or it is nothing'. That is, the entire working class (itself) consists of 'professional revolutionaries'. Years earlier, speaking of the workers, Marx, in a letter to Feuerbach (1844, August 11), wrote, 'it is among these "barbarians" of our society that history is preparing the practical element of human emancipation'. In other words, the self-emancipation of the proletariat automatically carries with it emancipation of the rest of society.

What kind of socialism is in question and in what sense, one does not get clearly from the piece. Since there is an amalgam of Marx with Lenin, our guess is that this is the socialism that has prevailed in the world after the Bolsheviks had seized power in 1917 (really from the Soviets under the slogan 'all power to the Soviets', not from Kerensky or from the Provisional Government). The seizure of power was neither initiated nor led by the working people. They simply followed the Party—headed by a tiny group of unelected and unrevocable radicalized intelligentsia, self styled 'professional revolutionaries', far removed from the locus of the extraction of surplus value, with no popular mandate. Initially massively, indeed, the working people who had hated the old regime, welcomed the latter's fall, before the reality of the new power revealed itself. In fact, this socialism is characterized virtually by a single Party rule with the means of production and communication mainly in the hands of the State—under the misnomer 'public ownership', where the social relations of production which prevailed under the old regime, generalised commodity production including wage system, continued. In Marx things are exactly the opposite. Socialism arises from adequate objective and subjective conditions generated by the existing society. And the decisive factor is the proletarian revolution. The proletarian revolution in question as the 1848 Manifesto underlines, is the outcome of the action of the independent movement of the 'immense majority in the interest of the immense majority'. Again, the successful seizure of power (not by a single Party in the name of the working class, but by the 'immense majority' of working people on their own initiative) does in no way signify—contrary to a widespread view—victory of the revolution. This seizure of power making the working class the ruling class, coterminous with the 'conquest of democracy', is 'only the first step in the revolution', as the Manifesto underlines. And the revolution continues till the end of the existence of class antagonism, giving rise to socialism, qualified by Marx as the 'Union of Free Individuals', based on the ''Associated mode of production", with no commodity (money) production, no wage/salaried labour, no State. We have not seen in the discourses of any spokesperson of socialist regimes this (self) emancipatory meaning of society projected after capital. Incidentally, the socialism initiated by the Bolsheviks and spreading to the different corners of the earth over the years, is characterized precisely by these enslaving features, already before the disappearance of Lenin, squarely opposed to those in Marx. The process is seen clearly in the way, though not in details, the Bolsheviks under Lenin had established their 'socialism'.

The whole process of establishment of socialism in Russia starts with 'one man show' when Lenin, back from exile in April, 1917, announced to the surprise of almost all the socialists of Russia that Russia had passed the stage of bourgeois democracy with the gaining of state power by the bourgeoisie and the landlords, and that the socialist revolution was on the agenda. He could not justify the need for such a revolution on the basis of the materialist conception of history according to which a social(ist) revolution is integrally associated with a change in the social relations of production. It is not simply a question of change in political power. Lenin imposed his will first on his own Party, and then tried to impose this on the totality of the Russian people. Years back Marx had in his 1857-58 manuscripts called such attempts—in the absence of the necessary objective and subjective conditions—'Don Quixotism'.

With the slogan 'all power to the Soviets' the Leninists seized power behind the back and over the head of the Congress of Soviets. The decision to take power in this most undemocratic way was taken by an infinitely small group of radicalized intelligentsia without any popular mandate whatsoever. In fact on the eve of the Second Congress (October 25, 1917), answering a questionnaire on what kind of government they wanted, the great majority of the delegates to the Congress, among whom the Bolsheviks were dominant, replied 'all power to the Soviets'. Any thought of a government by the Bolshevik Party alone did not cross their minds. The same scenario Trotsky observed among the army members of the Soviets when, shortly before the seizure of power, they were asked if they were ready to come out for the revolution, to which they replied that they would if only the call came from the Soviets. Trotsky noted with surprise that though many of them were members of the Bolshevik Party, none mentioned the Party.

In fact the Bolshevik Leader while advancing in public the most popular slogan 'all power to the Soviets', in his confidential correspondence to his colleagues, on the eve of the Second Congress of the Soviets, showed utter distrust, if not disdain, for the Soviet power, this "Vehicle of formal democracy", and put enormous pressure on his colleagues to accept his position that the Party "alone", ignoring the Soviets, seize power, and that "it would be naive to wait for a formal majority for the Bolsheviks". (We know from Roy Medvedev that Lenin "never believed in an arithmetic majority") and that it would be ruinous or a formality to wait for the wavering vote of October 25". Ultimately Lenin by threat of resignation from the leadership , succeeded in rallying the majority in the central committee for an immediate seizure of power.

How could one, then, qualify the Bolshevik seizure of power as proletarian, representing the "immense majority in the interest of the immense majority", as Marx (and Engels) would have it? The stark reality of the acclaimed 'proletarian' revolution clearly comes out in Trotsky's 1935 "Diary in Exile"—"Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg the October Revolution would still have taken place—on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg there would have been no October Revolution. If Lenin had not been in Petersburg I doubt if I could have managed to conquer the resistance of the Bolshevik leaders". Baruch Knei-Paz who cites this in his 1978 book "The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky", comments "here the vanguard was reduced to its absolute extreme : not even the Party but one individual, Lenin". An undisputed German authority on the Soviets, Oskar Anwiller, wrote "The usurpation of power on the eve of the meeting of the highest Soviet organ signified at the same time the break of the Bolsheviks with Soviet democracy. On the day of their highest triumph began the deprivation of power of the Soviets, and the banner of Red October, 'all power to the Soviets' proved soon to be a bitter illusion". Similarly, a distinguished American historian Robert Daniels wrote, "All power to the Soviets appeared to be a reality on the 26th of October, 1917. But it was mostly the power to the Bolsheviks in those Soviets. By July 1918, the locus of decision making shifted from the Soviets to the communist party. The whole system of Soviets and executive committees was reduced to an administrative and propaganda auxiliary of the Party. Deprived of power in the Soviets and in factories, the Russian proletariat found that the triumph of the dictatorship in its name was a hollow victory".

Leaving aside the fundamental question whether in any of these 'socialist' countries there could occur a proletarian revolution let us have a brief look at the reality of the regimes. We will focus on the prototype. First, Lenin has to be credited for the restoration of the original libertarian position of Marx and Engels on the State (in relation to the society after capital) in his polemic with the 'revisionists' in April 1917 that there would be no State in communism (which, by the way, is the same as socialism in Marx and Engels). Lenin justly noted 'Marxist doctrine of the State has been distorted by the Second International', and, 'we Marxists are opposed to every kind of State'. Incidentally, Lenin was at his most libertarian moment during the same period, that is, the period before snatching the power, though that was a very short moment. But then, he interpreted Marx's two stage-development of the communist society as two different kinds of society, the first being socialism and a transition to the second, communism proper. In his State and Revolution, he practically mixed up the first stage with what Marx had called 'proletarian dictatorship' preceding the first stage, and asserted, on the basis of a strange misreading of Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Programme", the existence of State in the first stage with citizens as wage/salaried employees of the state under strict control and discipline. This State socialism with wage labour was really State Capitalism, in strict Marxian terms (Capital, vol. 2, and 'Notes on Adolph Wagner' 1880). It should be stressed en passant, that in Marx's discussion of communism including the two stages, there is no mention of State for the simple reason that there would be no class antagonism after capitalism had disappeared. A quick perusal of the 'Critique of the Gotha Programme' shows that right from the start of the new society, it is society or Association itself—with no State—which is in charge. The existence of wage/salaried labour would also automatically mean the existence of commodity-money relations in socialism. The existence of State would of course mean the existence of all the instruments of repression, bureaucracy, standing army, and police. In a 1844 polemic Marx had already stressed that 'the existence of State and the existence of slavery are inseparable'. In his Address on the 1871 Commune—which had no State in the proper sense of the term—he stressed that the political instrument of the workers' enslavement cannot serve as the political instrument of their emancipation. Needless to add, this anti-Marx position of Lenin became the standard position of all the successive regimes under the communist rule. However, just as State is non-existent in Marxian socialism, in the same way Party also is totally irrelevant in socialism as conceived by Marx and Engels, and indeed, nowhere in his discussion about the future society Marx mentions the presence of Party. Contrariwise all the post-1917 socialisms are Party States (where, to boot, Party is the single Party).

The beginning 'moment' of the Russian Revolution in February 1917, initiated and dominated entirely by the Russian toilers without any party 'guides', targeting basically the pre-capitalist social order, started out as an immense democratic mass movement in an open ended, plural revolutionary process , the initiative being taken by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat, the women workers, on the international women's day. (This scenario really corresponds to how Marx and Engels envisaged the start of the proletarian revolution).

Contentwise a bourgeois democratic revolution in process this mass movement had the potential, it appears, to go over, in course of time, given appropriate objective conditions, to an authentic proletarian/socialist revolution (in Marx's sense), if they were given freedom to march forward through their own self governing organs in a process of "revolution in permanence" as Marx would say (1850). However, the Bolsheviks by their pre-emptive strike on the self governing organs of the toilers (Soviets and factory committees) put a brake on the process and thereby destroyed this possibility. As Victor Serge, a star witness, reports, soviet democracy lasted only for a few months, from October, 1917 to the summer of 1918. Beginning with 1919, the Bolsheviks started to deny all the dissidents the right to political existence.

The reality of the new regime totally contradicted Lenin's pre-October promises. Thus, instead of all position holders of the regime being elected and subject to recall by the electorate a la 1871 Commune, and as promised by Lenin himself before October, the body of Party nominated officials hierarchically organized from top downwards increased in gigantic strides, and Lenin admitted that the Bolsheviks had effectively taken over the State apparatus of the old regime. Similarly there arose a special police apparatus of which the core—secret police—installed five weeks after the seizure of power, grew to over a quarter million by 1921. Victor Serge noted that the secret police judged the accused and the simple suspects without ever hearing or seeing them, consequently, without giving them any possibility of defence. As to the military machine, the new 'Red' Army abandoned the earlier promised election of officers, and it became a 'standard' army as in any class society, where erstwhile tsarist officers were placed in responsible positions in increasing numbers, as the historian Anweiler noted.

In fact, workers' enthusiasm for the revolution lasted barely for a few months. Then began a process of disillusionment.

(In what follows we draw on William Rosenberg's important work on the workers' situation in the immediate post-October period, "Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power" in Daniel Keiser, ed, The Workers' Revolution in Russia, 1917. 1987). In the eight months or so after October, nothing seemed to have changed for the better. This realization and the even more precarious uncertain conditions that soon emerged, disturbed and angered broad groups of workers. By summer 1918 there were widespread anti-Bolshevik protests. Thus after the initial weeks of 'triumph' and the period of traumatic demobilization together with rapid socio-economic decline in winter, a "new stage began to unfold in the Bolshevik labour relations, one that soon led to open conflict, repression, and the consolidation of Bolshevik dictatorship over the proletariat, in place of proletarian dictatorship itself." A major outbreak of worker protest in Petrograd occurred around the closing of the Constituent Assembly-the last freely elected representative body when a number of demonstrators were killed and wounded, there were huge protests at the plants in the districts which were traditionally Bolshevik strongholds. "Greatest shock seemed to be over the brutality with which the Bolshevik forces had turned 'on their own'." It is in this context that there emerged the Conference of the Factory and Plant Representatives as a centre of worker dissidence. In the first 'extraordinary' meeting of the Conference (1918, March 3) delegates attended from at least fifteen metalworking plants and a number of print shops. In a second 'extraordinary' meeting (1918 April 3) the Bolsheviks were attacked directly for "assaulting the workers' movement with tsarist methods". By April 7 (1918), there were representatives in more than forty Petrograd enterprises representing around fifty thousand workers. June 26 saw another 'extraordinary' meeting . It was estimated that out of 146000 workers in Petrograd about 100,000 supported the Conference's goals. However, the regime's authorities declared that any sign of sympathy for the strike would be considered a criminal act. Rosenberg adds that for Lenin economic chaos was the result of pre-revolutionary circumstances. Factory committee movement still reflected "dangerous anarchistic and syndicalistic tendencies". Factory administration had to come under the centralizing and coordinating control of trade unions which themselves had to be integrated into the Bolsheviks' State and Party apparatus. The author quotes one spokesperson of the railroad committee : "Accusation of 'anarcho-syndicalism' had always come from anti-worker and right-wing elements. How very strange that representatives of Bolshevik power now join in similar denunciations".

The separation-alienation of the working people from the "workers' state" reached its crescendo in the movement against the 'workers' state' by the politically most advanced section of Russia's working people in Kronstadt which had attained the "most democratic self-rule" of toilers "after the Paris Commune", as the most authoritative historian of the Kronstadt Soviet, Israel Getzler, underlines. This uprising of the proletariat against the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', confronting the Party with what the Party itself had promised before taking power, was an open affront -the watchword "All power to the Soviets and not to Parties"—which the Party-State could hardly tolerate. The upholders of this great democratic and humane movement were bloodily suppressed by the Party State (with no accountability) on completely false charges. Not a finger was lifted against this veritable war crime from the international communist movement, with the sole exception of the council communists. (We have proudly dedicated our forthcoming book "The Associated Mode of Production against Marxism" to the memory of one of the heroic figures of the Kronstadt revolt, the young Anatolii Lamanov, the creator of the watchword "All Power to the Soviets and not to Parties", one of the first to be executed as a "counter revolutionary" by the "Workers' State").

Vol. 47, No. 43, May 3 - 9, 2015