Note: this was written as a response to an old comrade & was meant to update him on my current outlook on the socialist movement. we had both been members of Young Socialist Alliance & Socialist Workers Party, the leading trotskyst organization in the late 60’s, early 70’s. this was not sent. way too long for a personal e-mail.
recently, i wondered what was goin’ on with M. had not seen any FB postings by him. needless to say, i loved the young M i used to know.
lack of critical thinking was not a problem for us in the late 60’s & early 70’s though my enthusiasms led me down strange roads.
after my SL period. i’ve made it a principle to work as broadly as possible towards the purposes the circle of activists with whom i was working had set for ourselves.
(Spartacist League, another Trotskyst group whose members had split from the Socialist Workers Party in early 60’s. I was a member from about 1972-77…78?)
in early 1980, when i resurfaced into political work with CISPES (the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), we worked very closely with the Salvadoran political groups in support of the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) and learned a great deal about avoiding sectarianism. tho in many cases, they had historical differences, they did not allow these to disrupt their political work.
in addition to their solidarity work, these same groups were instrumental in the the wave of organizing that led to Justice for Janitors/SEIU to organize hotel & building workers in the late 80’s, early 90’s. i was very impressed.
my strategic goal is very simple: to further the interest of the working class and its allies. i have a far left interpretation of that but it has not been a barrier to comradely work with activists from many tendencies. in AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees) there were few socialists. though we were clearly in the minority, our simply being “socialist” was not a problem. we were not organized into a faction nor were we attempting to recruit to a party.
since retiring, i’ve consciously begun to assess my theoretical views.
on a narrow level i knew i was not an active Leninist or Trotskyst… had not been a member of such a grouping since the spartacist league.
why not? am i hostile to such formations? what do they contribute to the cause of worker’s revolution & the re organizing of industry, agriculture, communities, regions, society on an equitable basis?
must this re organization remain a utopian ideal and placed on hold while the “vanguard” party secures its military/political hold on a new state that they call the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and has in ALL cases where it “succeeded” devolved into a dictatorship over the proletariat?
can this undesirable outcome be avoided?
in considering these issues, i’ve started to read carefully on the texture of the Russian Revolution. not from the perspectives of the Leninist & Trotskyst who have a vested interest in their portrayal of the October 1917 transfer of power to the soviets that in essence meant the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks led by Lenin.
Lars Lih’s Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-1921 has been an eye opener as have his other writings on Lenin & the comintern. I’ve also started reading accounts of and by left wing (in most cases anarchist) opponents of the Bolsheviks. Recently, i found an article by Martin Buber on Lenin excerpted from a book entitled Paths on Utopia. though Buber is best known as a religious philosopher, this article gave me a great deal of food for thought. it reminded me of the distinction between the state & society. society’s organizations & leaders “administer” while the state “governs”. buber appears to have been a religious anarchist. not sure if he can also be considered a “leftist”.
will have to read more & i’ve ordered a copy of Paths on Utopia.
no one i’ve read had or has a clear strategy on how we and our beloved class & communities can avoid the pitfalls that to a large extent were forced on the Bolsheviks.
one of Buber’s admonitions that rings true (though not a direct quote): they (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, other bolsheviks & those of us who have rationalized their reactions to an extremely difficult situation) have made a virtue of necessity.
yes, until Stalin’s purges few Bolsheviks were expelled from their party. but anarchist oppositions active in factory councils had their groupings & newspapers suppressed while the Bolsheviks drove to centralize industrial authority in bodies they controlled.
the leninists, trotskysts and assorted stalinists insist that we must choose to support the Bolshevik effort to centralize, to suppress anarchistic tendencies of the factory councils & local soviets because this would lead, eventually to worker’s control & socialist re organization of industry & society.
but we know from hindsight that was not the case. these bolshevik efforts led to the strangling of workers’ decision making. all decision making was to be centralized, controlled by the “vanguard” party, the central committee, the “worker’s state”, the politburo…
oh, Trotsky says, “stalin represented the bureaucracy…” and where was he when this bureaucracy was forming? what was his role?
lenin & trotsky were the centralizers in chief. together they suppressed any efforts to hold onto the de-centralized factory level decision making that had marked the period between the February & October revolutions. within a month or two of taking power, the bolsheviks began their drive to suppress factory & industry level decision making in favor of national decision making.
in 1921, at their 10th party congress, Lenin & the Bolsheviks went further and banned factions in the russian communist party. this coincided with the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion.
lots of water has flowed under history’s bridge since 1921.
despite these historical differences, can folks who consciously advocate for decentralized decision making make common cause against the destructiveness of modern capitalism with folks who advocate in theory centralizing decision making within a powerful new state?
nearly a 100 years have passed since 1917, 1921… it’s not clear that the working class is capable of realizing the tasks that socialist, communists & anarchists believe to be our destiny. we struggle for a better world & believe it’s possible through empowerment…the power to decide democratically in the workplace, in communities, in cities & regions.
but a huge obstacle is in our way: the capitalist hold the commanding heights of the economy & its state is intellectually intrusive & militarily powerful.
we have tried frontal assaults… we have tried building centralized movements & centralized states… perhaps we need to identify how revolutions, insurrections, struggles really work?
how are relic governments who by nature are centralized organizations actually outmaneuvered, outflanked and ultimately defeated by people’s movements?
let’s return to the example of the 1917 Russian Revolutions. the February movement that ousted the Tsar was a surprise to the Bolsheviks and other socialists.
it was the work of thousands of actions, thousands of groups acting on their local, neighborhood or regional grievances. the soldiers rebelling against their officers. the women waiting in bread lines. the peasants yearning for land of their own. workers’s pushing back against low pay & working conditions.
the October uprising was the result of the trust placed in the bolsheviks to follow through on the promise of the February revolution. it’s stage was set by the peasant communes seizing the land. the soldiers & sailors ousting the officer corp. the factory committees seizing control of decision making in their workplaces.
immediately, the Soviets now under bolshevik control began the process of centralizing decision making. what does it mean to centralize decision making? you have to take decisions out of the hands of those directly involved and place it in the hands of a central authority, a national organization far removed from local conditions, the vanguard party at the head of the new state…
because the centralizers, those that aim at the creation of a new state to be called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” concentrate so much effort at building centralized organizations even before the seizure of power… in fact, they theorize constantly that a centralized organization, vanguard party is necessary for the seizure of power…
though they also postulate that only one revolution (the 1917 October Russian revolution) has been carried out by a “healthy”, righteously communist vanguard party… the rest have been carried out by “un-healthy”, “stalinized”, “deformed” communist parties or by formations that were not “communist vanguard parties” …unfortunately, these also resulted in centralized states that precluded and/or suppressed direct decision making on the part of workers and citizens.
those of us who advocate a decentralized model for the workers, peasant & other community, social movements, need to exert some effort in explaining our ideas and strategies and critiques…
though not as much, if as i believe, we are correct that de-centralized movements, organizations, decision making is more natural and ultimately more likely to succeed than movements focused on centralization that seem to recreate the centralized state power that they claim to want to eradicate…but not just yet…
i intend to continue to research these ideas & continue to share my thoughts. i want to make every effort to be critical of my own assumptions. there is no one answer to everything and i’m open to learning from everyone.
your friend, M