First, a series disclaimers.
not sure of the value of styling myself an “anarcho-communist”. i am not as widely read in the anarchist tradition as i ought to be and hope to be.
i claim that label on a “purely” technical basis.
to M-Leninist command party advocates, anyone who doesn’t advocate for a command party state is an “anarchist”. for most M-L command party types that is the extent of their “wisdom” and “knowledge” of the non-command party communists. anarchist share the vision of a an egalitarian society (“from each according to their ability…to each according to their need”) but are dismissed as “anti-scientific” and “utopian”.
i’ll take the “utopian” dismissal up in the final paragraphs of this note.
nor is this note a point by point refutation of Paul Le Blanc’s writings. i am — justifiably or not – using this article as jumping off point for my thoughts regarding Lenin, Trotsky & Bolshevik role in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and their subsequent influence on the socialist movement of the 20th century and extending into the present century.
from the reading of various articles by Le Blanc and fellow ISO member, Paul d’Amato and others in their tendency and many more by self identified Trotskysts & Communists of other tendencies, they seem to place their claim of distinction for and value of Leninism, the Communist International and Trotsky-ism on 1. an organizational norm called “democratic centralism” that may or may not have characterized the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP, and 2. the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.
the October Revolution is certainly one of the most dramatic event of the 1917 Russian Revolution but is it the sole or main criteria by which to judge the Russian Revolution? and did a “unique” form of organization contribute decisively to that seizure of power? and has it contributed to the achievement of “socialism”?
Le Blanc & d’Amato have written articles defending Bolshevik organizational practice. Within Leninist-Communist circles this is referred to as “democratic centralism”.
this organizational concept is very flexible. per its advocates, it can stretch from being very free-wheeling & democratic to top down marching orders (centralism). this seems “flexible” enough to cover whatever it’s adherents may say about it. perhaps too convenient.
in fact, democratic-centralist organizations allow for quite a bit of discussion in cell or branch meetings but decisions made at these levels of the organizations can be vetoed and re directed by organizational levels above the cell & branch meetings. differences of opinions not smoothed over at lower levels can rise through the organization and may ultimately be decided at a national committee meeting or convention. sometimes these higher level meetings result in reconciliation among factions or is the setting for a split among the members of the organization.
(above paragraph is from personal experiences with d-c communist parties & groups.)
these reconciliations may be genuine but in my experience and knowledge, they are rarely based on newly established principled political agreement on the issues debated.
the minority tendency or faction, may decide to submerge their differences until a more opportune time. members of the minority may recoil from a trajectory that w’d lead to a split with the “mother” organization, renounce their opposition & adhere to the majority. there are many social, peer group & opportunistic elements in the denouement of tendencies, factions.
one thing that Lenin’s Bolsheviks and modern communist parties/groups hold in common is that organizational and political positions are the rightful purview of leadership committees. these leadership committees (Central Committees or Executive Committees) oversee compliance and enforce decisions. these leadership bodies use their position, role in the organization to influence the outcome of discussions, debates, votes, personnel selection including expulsions in such a manner as to ensure their continued dominance.
these norms, dynamics do not make Leninist-Communist organizations different in kind from other organizations. the centralist element of this concept mimics the top down discipline of a military formation & indeed there is a great deal of military jargon utilized by the Leninistic Communists in their descriptions of parties & their role in revolutionary movements.
is democratic centralism a unique contribution to modern political thought?
according to Bolshevik-Communist adherents, a Leninist-democratic centralist style vanguard party made possible the Bolshevik seizure of power. these adherents usually style that seizure of power as “the” socialist revolution.
the seizure of power?
a major claim for the need for a vanguard Leninist style party is that without it the seizure of power by the working & toiling classes is impossible.
Le Blanc, D’Amato and many folks who style themselves as left critics of Stalin, especially Trotsky-ists make this claim despite the fact that many formations that were not Leninist Vanguard parties have defeated capitalist armies/governments & set up their own governments/ states.
these formations include (though are not limited to this list) workers militias and de-mobilized military units (Russia: February-October 1917), the Russian Red Army (eastern europe at the end of WW2), peasant guerrilla armies (China), mixed worker & peasant military formations (Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua), military coup d’etats (Afghanistan), electoral and popular organizations (Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile), popular front coalitions (South Africa).
some of these examples resulted in socialist governments though they were unable to transition to a socialist economy… none of these examples required what D’Amato or Le Blanc w’d recognize as a “healthy Leninist Vanguard party”.
yet, D’Amato, Le Blanc following in Trotsky’s train of thought and most adherents of Leninistic Vanguard parties claim that such a party is crucial.
the facts speak against this understanding. it is simply not true.
the seizure of power by any group is a military & tactical problem. it can be and has been solved in many ways.
the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917, solved it in the context of the defeat and disintegration of the Tsarist military in WWI, the worker’s control of most industries & peasant uprisings. this defeat and disintegration was itself in the context of a societal wide loss of confidence in the tsarist model of development that was closely tied to and dominated by western european interests. after the tsar abdicated in February 1917, peasant, worker and soldier assemblies developed into parallel political & administrative bodies. what Lenin called “dual power”.
by October, the Bolsheviks held the upper hand in the Soviets of workers, peasants & soldiers. the Kerensky government & the Kornilov rebellion were defeated by their lack of loyal forces. these forces were in the camp of the soviets now led by the Bolsheviks.
Lenin & the Bolsheviks saw their opportunity & struck. they were bold and flexible. Lenin suggested that the Bolsheviks take power directly. Trotsky and others suggested utilizing the Soviets. All power to the Soviets.
in this, my understanding is that the Russian anarchist movement bloc-ed with the Bolsheviks. they had the impression they w’d be a respected element within the soviets and w’d be able to continue their work in more local assemblies.
the military, tactical problem of defeating a bourgeois government and its military apparatus has been solved by many formations. few revolutions are led by Communist parties. none since the Russian Revolution have been led by “healthy” Communist parties according to the Trotsky-ists.
nonetheless these transfers of power occurred. subsequently, some of these new governments declared themselves socialist or communist.
given the right circumstances, context, relationship of forces, formations other than a healthy Communist party can lead the seizure of power.
the claim of necessity of a Leninist vanguard party organized along democratic centralism lines as crucial to the seizure of power by the working and toiling classes does not seem to hold up.
of what value then is this democratic centralist formation for the socialist transformation of society? Russia 1917 and after…
if it is not necessary for the military defeat of the bourgeois government’s military what is its purpose?
Lenin and the Bolsheviks (including Trotsky) were honest about its purpose. to dominate the transition to socialism via a very long period of state capitalism. Lenin’s speeches & writings especially after October 1917 revealed his admiration for many western models of state capitalism.
Very quickly Lenin and the Bolsheviks moved to suppress the democratic features of the Russian Revolution— the factory committees, local soviets, participation of anarchist & other non-Bolshevik formations in political & economic decision making.
their model was centralized decision making in all aspects of society. yes, Stalin carried this to a monstrous level but he and his cohorts were following the logic of Lenin & “democratic centralism” and most importantly, the needs of industrialization on a model of state capitalism.
but the democracy envisioned by the Russian toiling classes & championed by the Russian socialist movement prior to October 1917 was given short shrift.
there in fact was and always are differences of opinions, assessments, viewpoints that must be sorted out. even within inner circles. these are often worked out via discussion, trial and error. a “democratic” sorting out.
but sometimes these become hostile differences and are settled via suppression (anarchist newspapers in 1918), outlawing (factory committees in 1917-1918), military assault (Kronstadt in 1921), imprisonment or exile (as happened to Trotsky in 1927).
but for the vast number of Russians (and we can add other revolutions that have placed the command party communists in the central decision making role) the experience has been undemocratic with decision making usurped by an elite … and as anarchists and left oppositions within the Bolshevik party & later (too late) Trotsky critiqued, in the interest of the elite.
at times, the interest of the elite and the mass of the population overlapped… suppressing the various invasions by the european financed white armies, the German invasion (WW2), the hostility of western european and more traditional capitalist governments (the cold war).
the moment of “revolution”
something that has struck me since i started taking seriously the anarchist critique of the Bolsheviks & Leninist democratic centralist parties is that the Leninists place great importance on the October 1917 seizure of power. they describe this moment as “the” socialist revolution and most of their descriptions of “socialist revolution” end with the seizure of power by one formation or another.
it’s as though having reached that “moment” they want to distract us from what happened next.
they have very great difficulty in accepting that their model revolution led to the suppression of the working and toiling classes in Russia and many other countries where this model was “successful”. they have great difficulty in explaining how we can have socialism without democracy. how state capitalism is the road to socialism. why their heroes (Lenin, Trotsky in this case) championed the suppression of formations outside the control of the Bolshevik central committee including the factory committees that sprang up after the February 1917 revolution to administer local affairs, the former worker-soldier soviets that made their military victory over the Kerensky government possible and finally, opposition tendencies within their own party. so much for democracy.
to their credit, command party Communists, if pressed… especially by anarchist who are critiquing them from the left… they will admit that an immediate, near magical transition from capitalism to socialism is not possible. the command party communist party will have to guide a long transition period where the working class and toiling classes will have to follow …obey?.. direction from the vanguard party. this direction will be imposed, if necessary, by prisons, execution squads, gulags, exile.. a long, difficult transition period of incalculable perhaps interminable length… judging from subsequent experience.
from each according to their ability… to each according to their needs.
these two phrases are the definition of socialism shared by socialists, Leninist-communist & anarchists. but Marxists & Lenin (who rightfully saw himself as a Marxist-Socialist) see this as something that will not characterize their workers’ state society until a long period of dominance by the vanguard party… which in turn is dominated by it’s central committee.
during this long period, working class empowerment and democracy are necessarily suppressed in favor of central authority autocracy.
my impression is that hasn’t worked very well for us.
though not a traditional anarchist, i w’d recommend Martin Buber’s review of anarchism in his book entitled Paths in Utopia. he includes a chapter on the Lenin and the Russian Revolution. he is not unsympathetic to the Lenin & the Bolsheviks but critiques them for making a virtue of necessity and working against the preparation & nurturing of the working & toiling classes for autonomous self rule as opposed to centralized decision making.
how can this be done? are there any guarantees for democratic, self governance?
the short & cryptic answers are: we’re not sure it can be done and no there are no guarantees for democratic self governance.
however, those of us, who feel uneasy with the Leninist vanguard party model for a socialism that never seems to come close to being realized, we have to participate in the mass movements for justice, equality, empowerment… and, yes, be active in organizations that are integral to those movements… where and when possible, we need to identify or set up and defend models for a future socialist society in the present. though we must caution ourselves and others that these models are possibilities and not yet anarcho-socialism.
most importantly, we must advocate for self government as opposed to centralized authoritative government.
and, unfortunately, we have to critique the “vanguard” party adherents because we’ve seen where their path leads.
one last thought…We’re all Utopians
perhaps we may never reach the ideal of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” but that ought to be …i think… our ultimate goal. such goals …egalitarianism, fair distribution of wealth, caring for the weaker ones among us, equality, self governance may be utopian but …i would offer… nonetheless desirable.
nearly all traditions of thought have a utopian element…the “promise land” though yet to be attained & perhaps unattainable is nonetheless desirable. the Jewish, Xian, Muslim heaven. the Buddhist Nirvana. all may be illusions but nonetheless something their adherents never give up hope for.
i know that many communists, anarchists do not like being called utopians but in fact… ? …well, at least in thoughts and hopes, we are utopians.
(edited and published for first time 5.24.2018 though begun and neglected since Dec 2014…i thinks)