Marx, Lenin and 1917

Was it possible, asks Marc Mulholland, for a bourgeois revolution to end in socialism?

Auguste Blanqui: not dissimilar to Lenin

What makes a bourgeois social revolution? It is not an upheaval which triggers capitalist development. Capitalism predated the bourgeois revolution. We may define bourgeois revolution as the subordination of the state to the requirements of capitalism. In essence, this means making the state dependent upon capitalism. The state is denied an independent or feudal income drawn from crown lands, taxation of direct labour or plunder. Instead it is made dependent upon capital - the surplus of market transactions in a commodity economy. This dependence takes place primarily in the form of deficit financing: the state being made dependent upon credit lines generated by bourgeois society.

Bourgeois revolutions were typically constitutional in form. They ended the fiscal independence of the state by instituting parliamentary control of supply in return for the rule of law. Parliamentarianism (which implies civil liberties) remained and remains the most reliable political form for capitalism, but more fundamental - and at a pinch sufficient - is state dependence upon debt.

The point here is that capitalism is already developed as a system, to a greater or lesser degree, before bourgeois revolution. Nonetheless, bourgeois revolution is pretty recognisable: it institutes representative government and basic liberties in civil society. Capitalism may exist without civil liberties, but so far only capitalism supports them.

What, therefore, would a socialist revolution look like? For the utopian socialists of the first half of the 19th century, state remodelling was of no priority, if it featured at all. Socialism in this period was primarily about saving workers from proletarianisation. It proposed the formation of more or less productive associations of workers exchanging equitably. Socialists usually looked upon themselves as reformists. They were not proposing a class-based revolution with immediate political effect, which had been the model of the French Revolution, as they saw it.

Cooperatives

While most socialists were thinking about cooperative associations in one way or another, there was often an exception made when it came to the hopelessly proletarianised - those brutalised victims of industrialisation and agricultural labour, without any skill or self-reliance, who were nothing other than degraded wage-labourers. Quite often, socialists imagined these people being taken in hand by the state and organised into labour armies.

Auguste Blanqui, the French revolutionary, became known as a ‘communist’ because he did approve of class struggle, a political overturn and the mobilisation of the proletariat. The German communists, including Marx and Engels, also saw themselves as communists. Characteristically, they tended to imagine socialism not as a society of cooperative associations, but rather as state ownership of the means of production. They spoke in the Communist manifesto, and elsewhere, of armies of labour.

Marx was never enthusiastic about cooperatives. He thought, reasonably enough, that cooperative workshops owning their own capital would quickly evolve into capitalist enterprises and all the old crap would revive. This, indeed, was the tendency. He also pointed out that small-scale cooperatives could hardly handle large-scale production problems - when he was writing, most notably railways. Marx polemicised against Proudhon on precisely these lines. For Marx a socialist economy would involve state ownership of the means of production operating a social plan to supply the needs of the population. (I am leaving aside the question of whether this would be a ‘state’ in the sense understood by Marx - it would certainly be a state in a sense we can understand).

Marx and Engels, however, did accept cooperatives to the extent that they saw them as a foundation for constructing a socialist economy, so long as cooperatives themselves did not own their means of production, which would be the property of the state. In the Civil war in France (1871) Marx spoke of cooperatives as a starting point for “possible communism”. Engels wrote to August Bebel:

Nor have Marx and I ever doubted that, in the course of transition to a wholly communist economy, widespread use would have to be made of cooperative management as an intermediate stage. Only it will mean so organising things that society - ie, initially the state - retains ownership of the means of production and thus prevents the particular interests of the cooperatives from taking precedence over those of society as a whole.1

The experience of state socialism persuades me that cooperative management cannot be considered merely intermediary. Indeed, Marx should have been more alive to the problem of statism than he was, given his awareness of the despotic power of state organisation of production in his analysis of the so-called oriental mode of production. The problem, it might be argued, was that Marx did not clearly theorise the distinction between proletarian revolution and socialism. Proletarian revolution may be the necessary vehicle for overcoming the capitalist mode of production. But socialism, or at least an effectively operating socialism, must be based not upon the proletariat, but on the associated producers.

Proletarians are wage-earners without scarce skill sets. They have little or no individual bargaining power in the labour market. A proletarian’s property is their individual portion of a more or less undifferentiated social labour-power. In a complex production process dominated by scientific management, such as Marx more or less accurately anticipated, they have little freedom at work other than to obey direction.

Though there are ambiguities and contradictions in his work, it is not at all clear that Marx thought this fate could be escaped for most workers: freedom would be freedom from work rather than freedom in work. But simply working for the state can hardly be said to destroy the proletarian status.

It is difficult to give any conceptual reality to the idea of associated producers, if the association spreads much beyond face-to-face interaction. There must be some distinction between the collective worker - as formed by capitalism and defined by Marx in Capital as a more or less helpless subject of technocratic control - and the associated producers.

Associated producers, it seems to me, must have conscious control of their work environment. They control their own work processes, recruitment and time management. They take on contracts for an agreed price with representatives of wider society. In short, the associated producer contracts with the state, rather than being employed by it.

I say the ‘state’, but in practice one must think of this as a nesting process. Most workers are not likely to have the confidence - or perhaps more importantly the interest - to run entire production processes. So we should think, rather, of the state arranging contracts with the enterprise; the enterprise, in turn, arranging contracts with the workshop, the office, the distributors, and so on. The principle would be subsidiarity, but surely not abolition of the division of labour. Categories of associated producers will no doubt specialise in management and administration: an irreducible requirement of any complex production process.

Each contract would end with the job and at least technically the cell of associated producers would dissolve at the end of each job contract, in the sense that it would not have a legal personality to accumulate capital. Insofar as workers may wish to move from one work process to another, the cell of associated producers would in reality as well as in theory continually dissolve and re-form.

It is surely important that the workshops do not own their own capital. This would lead to the reproduction of capitalist competition, as Marx anticipated, and thereby a rentier bourgeoisie living by capital alone. Equally, however, the means of production would not rest in the hands of a state personality. This is because state functions themselves would similarly be contractually arranged. There would be associated producers of economic planning, bureaucracy, judiciary, military, but no corporate state apparatus with permanent legal identity. Permanent sovereignty would rest with the people, which itself would reconfigure its opinions at the end of each electoral cycle, as is well understood in the democratic process.

As it happens, some form of this process already exists in the management techniques of contemporary capitalism. Corporations and public services are now generally organised as internal quasi-markets. Of course, this itself does not end wage labour, because the relatively unskilled proletarian brings only “his own hide to market”,2 as Marx put it. Workers are employed as individuals and plugged into work teams as needed. This requires a minimum assemblage of capabilities in a group of associated producers - a group having proprietorial rights over their necessarily cooperative labour, to conclude collective contracts.

Clearly cooperative management of labour through collective contract needs space for income inequality and price competition (even if money price is increasingly superseded by social labour time). Whether this would evolve - as the cooperative spirit develops, and as Marx anticipated - into complete communism, seems to me not a terribly profitable speculation. However, there would obviously be required the underpinning of communism, already embryonic in the welfare state, in which socially defined minimal needs are satisfied regardless of the individual’s contribution to social labour.

There was a strong stress on cooperative rather than statist socialism within the socialist movement up until about the 1870s. From this point, there was a significant shift toward statism. This coincides with a historic cleavage opening up between the small master artisans, shopkeepers and so on, who had often been organic intellectuals of the working class movement in the first half of the 19th century, and the wage-earning proletariat. The self-management ethos of artisans curdled into petty bourgeois hostility to wage labour. Kautsky referred to this newly rightwing petty bourgeoisie as the “reactionary democracy”.3

State socialists - generally known as collectivists - emphasised the development of large-scale industry unamenable, in theory, to worker control. German socialism, which in the 1860s had been proposing state financing of worker cooperatives, was by the mid-1870s arguing straightforwardly for state ownership. Jules Guesde in France was a good representative of this collectivist socialism. As he told the French National Assembly in a much reproduced speech:

Individual property is represented to us by the past as the guarantee of individual liberty and the most powerful stimulant to production … [But] Capitalist property [has] established itself upon the ruin of private property … It is this divorce between property and labour that creates the whole social problem … the tool of former times has grown into the ‘works’ of today … Collective property is growing even under your capitalist regime … Aristotle was right when he declared that slavery would only disappear when machines could do the work. Well, that moment has arrived. We have them - our slaves of iron and steel; they are our steam horses and mechanisms.4

Proletarian revolution, for Guesde, would simply be the “capstone” on an economic evolution towards collectivism. This argument was very similar to that outlined in Frederick Engels’ enormously influential Socialism: scientific and utopian. This presented a picture of the massification of production leading inexorably to socialism. Class struggle plays a surprisingly small role in this work.

Socialists of the Second International were quite frank that wage earners were unmotivated in their work compared to the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry, and they had little interest in self-management. The emphasis of the Second International was on shortening the working day and releasing proletarians from work by rationalising the economy, rather than workers themselves taking control as associated producers. This did come under some pressure in the early 20th century with the rise of revolutionary syndicalism, which posited unions as the organisers of production, and theorisations such as guild socialism in England.

Marxists in this period generally thought of the proletariat as effective precisely because it was a mass which favoured security and regularity of wage. This, it was argued, predisposes workers to the elimination of the market. The proletariat was seen as a revolutionary class because it could be organised in mass to this end.

Bolsheviks

In order to establish what proletarian revolution meant to the Bolsheviks, we need to look further back.

The Russian Marxists were much influenced by the 1848 revolution in France. In February of that year, a largely working class insurrection in Paris had overthrown the monarchy and a democratic republic had been established. The new republic included in its number Louis Blanc, a socialist seen as representing the worker interest. This arrangement did not last long. An election replaced the revolutionary Provisional Government with a conservative Constituent Assembly which summarily dismissed socialist influence on the government and provoked a workers’ rising in Paris. This was bloodily crushed in the June days insurrection. The most significant active theorist of working class militancy in this revolution had been Auguste Blanqui.

Blanqui proposed an organisation of the revolutionary clubs resting upon the proletariat. He argued for the arming of the working class and the disarming of the bourgeoisie, not in order to establish, in the short run, socialism, but rather to consolidate a militant, pro-worker republic, protected against counterrevolution, and leading transitionally to socialism. He is often presented as an insurrectionist who by minority coup would bring about socialism, but this is not really accurate. When a minister in the republican Provisional Government of France in 1848 said to Blanqui, ‘You wish to overturn us’, he replied: ‘No, to bar the road behind you.’

Such a permanent mobilisation of the proletariat, putting pressure on the government, would lead inexorably and ultimately - but not in one leap - to a proletarian socialist government. This is really very close to Marx’s idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletarian’, which should be understood in connection with his theory of the ‘revolution in permanence’. The armed and organised working class would pressurise a radical government until finally the proletariat were ready to take power themselves; and this could be a matter of decades. One should think of the dictatorship as dictating to government before assuming it altogether.

When Marx was writing primarily as a revolutionary democrat during the German revolution of 1848, he consistently argued for the urban crowd to pressurise the middle class revolutionary parliaments as a counterweight to counterrevolutionary manoeuvres. After the June days insurrection in Paris in 1848, he moved to arguing in favour of ‘revolution in permanence’. Proletarian pressure on a petty bourgeois revolutionary government, seeking to dictate to it, would - in an uninterrupted process - develop into a full-blown dictatorship of the proletariat in its own right. In his journalistic writings of 1850, Marx explicitly connected this strategy to the name of Blanqui. Misunderstanding Blanqui as a simple supporter of the revolutionary coup d’état, Hal Draper is rather embarrassed by this connection, and spends much of his book on the Dictatorship of the proletariat excessively downplaying the Marx-Blanqui nexus.

When Marx and Engels arrived in London as revolutionary exiles in 1850, they supported an effective alliance between their Communist League and the French Blanquist exiles. They jointly proposed a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which would ‘dictate’ the most thoroughgoing revolutionary measures to a petty bourgeois government, and which would in due course become itself a revolutionary government.

The ‘revolution in permanence’ and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, therefore, was in reality a joint product of the Marx party and the Blanquists. It was not just, or perhaps even mainly, a future form of government appropriate for the building of socialism, but rather a means by which to sustain militant proletarian pressure on a bourgeois or petty bourgeois revolutionary government. In turn, this was borrowed from the example of the plebeian sans culottes, organised in the sections of Paris, who had applied pressure from the left during the key radical years of the French Revolution.

After some months, Marx effectively broke from the Blanquist party in exile - though he was always loath to criticise the imprisoned Blanqui himself. He even broke from the Communist League, criticising its new leader, August Willich, for his willingness to see a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat as an instrument for the immediate introduction of communism. Marx now began to emphasise the self-organisation of the proletariat outside the pressure cooker of revolution in permanence. When he returned to the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it was in the context of the Paris Commune. He did not see this as a socialist experiment, but rather the model by which the proletariat could hold a republican revolution to the most exacting standards, build up its own strength, and begin to work out its own means of social salvation.

The Russian Marxists were enormously influenced by all of this. In particular, they paid a great deal of attention to the 1850 circular of the central committee of the Communist League, written by Marx, which encapsulated many of these ideas. Working on the assumption that their own bourgeois revolution had yet to come, they hoped to see a dictatorship of the proletariat emerging in the course of a Russian bourgeois revolution - leaning upon any revolutionary government, demanding the most democratic standards and facilitating the rapid organisation and training of the proletariat for its future socialist offensive against bourgeois power.

A trend of opinion within Russian Marxism known as the economists feared the consequence of the proletariat seeking a domineering political role in a bourgeois revolution. It made more sense, they believed, to leave the politics of bourgeois revolution to the bourgeoisie, while the proletariat organised as best it could under the conditions of tsarist autocracy its social consciousness and institutions, such as trade unions. A premature bid for proletarian political hegemony would only frighten the bourgeoisie into the camp of counterrevolution and encourage utopian socialist illusions in the proletariat.

As is well known, Lenin was a vigorous opponent of economism. In common with other Marxists, he insisted upon the proletariat adopting a leading role in the coming bourgeois revolution against autocracy. The Russian Marxists, led at first by Plekhanov, insisted that a dictatorship of the proletariat would be appropriate in the Russian Revolution, dictating to the bourgeoisie the proletarian price for its leading role in overthrowing autocracy: maximal civil liberties, democratic rights, scope for trade union and cooperative organisation - even nationalisation of certain sectors of the economy within the overall capitalist framework. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was the only national organisation of the Second International to include the demand for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ within the party programme. Plekhanov, at a party congress, openly speculated that such a dictatorship could even prevent, for a prolonged period, the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, such as had marginalised the working class left wing in the French Revolution of 1848.

In defending the idea of a proletariat dictating to the bourgeoisie in the Russian bourgeois revolution, Lenin was certainly within the Marxist mainstream. Nonetheless, this polemical contribution to the debate is often seen as the beginning of a divergent genus within Marxism in the form of Bolshevism. It is certainly true that the meaning ascribed to What is to be done? is much overstated. It was not a denial of the common Second International presumption that wage workers had an inclination toward socialism, even if it required a socialist party and usually bourgeois socialist theoreticians to develop and articulate the doctrine. It would be odd indeed for the Bolsheviks to stress a theory of proletarian incapacity for absorbing socialist ideas, at least by the time of the 1905 revolution. In the 1906 duma elections, the Social Democrats combined (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) won 80% of the vote in the workers category of the electorate. Socialism had an astonishing hold on the Russian masses.

The context for Lenin’s discussion was the assumption that the coming revolution would be bourgeois, by which was meant constitutional-democratic rather than anti-capitalist. The Mensheviks believed that the instinctive socialism of workers would allow them to ally with the bourgeoisie in pursuit of bourgeois aims - capitalist democracy - while retaining their class independence and formulating progressive demands that would strengthen the proletariat for its future struggle with the bourgeoisie. Lenin was more doubtful about this. While he thought that the bourgeoisie was weak vis-à-vis the tsarist autocracy, it would be ideologically strong vis-à-vis the proletariat, and likely to dominate it.

The role of Bolshevik Social Democracy, therefore, was twofold. On the one hand, it would seek to exclude the bourgeoisie altogether from any significant role in the constitutional-liberal revolution, placing it in the hands of the proletariat. The role of the party was to remorselessly undermine the authority of the oppositional bourgeois organisations and to outbid them by promoting organised insurrection as the only appropriate mechanism of revolution.

Problematic

A bourgeois revolution led by the proletariat was evidently a rather problematic concept: what would prevent the proletariat from attempting to push on to a socialism quite unfeasible, given the underdevelopment of Russian capitalism? Surely a proletarian dictatorship would collapse in bloodshed?

This led the Bolsheviks to the second half of their scheme. The proletariat would have a social ally that would restrict its ambitions to the politically possible. This would not be the urban middle classes, but rather the turbulent peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie. As Lenin wrote in 1905, “the course of events in a democratic overturn will bind us to such a mass of allies from the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry … that the fears of too swift a transition to the maximum programme are simply ridiculous”.5 Such a configuration of forces, the Bolsheviks hoped, would lead to an insurrectionary revolution that would make a clean sweep of tsarism and produce a capitalist-democratic regime based upon an overwhelmingly peasant democracy, leavened by a confident proletariat - which, as an urban class constituted in an effective political party, would be hegemonic.

The Mensheviks pointed out that the peasantry as a diffuse social class, unable to sustain institutions of its own political representation, were the natural basis of autocracy rather than (essentially urban) democracy, and that the proletariat was insufficiently mature to sustain democratic constitutionalism against the pressure of the great mass of the Russian population. Until capitalism had developed and civil liberties given a period in which the proletariat could exercise its political muscles, bourgeois civil society was simply unavoidable for the constitutional modernisation of Russia.

What characterised Bolshevism, therefore, was an intense disdain for constitutionalist liberals, combined with an unremitting focus on conspiratorialism in preparation for an insurrection. The endpoint was supposed to be a constitutionalist and liberal capitalist society, but one under the control, or dictation, of the insurgent proletariat and peasantry. This, rather than a concern that the proletariat was not inherently socialist, explains the centralist, hierarchical traditions bred in the bone and blood of Bolshevism. It had a great deal in common with the revolutionary traditions of Auguste Blanqui in the mid-19th century.

The Mensheviks were concerned that such ultra-revolutionism risked driving the bourgeoisie into the hands of the autocracy. The proletariat, they argued, was powerful enough to impose demands on the bourgeois revolution, but not to take it over. A tendency within Menshevism wished to shut down the underground conspiratorial apparatus altogether; they were known as ‘liquidationists’. They rapidly developed in a reformist direction. The Menshevik exile leadership generally rejected the liquidationist tendency, but emphasised that Bolshevik hostility to bourgeois liberalism would prevent any practical cooperation between the working and middle classes in the event of revolution, and would likely frighten the bourgeoisie into the camp of counterrevolution.

The outbreak of war in 1914 only reinforced in Lenin’s view the bankrupt nature of bourgeois liberalism. He was the first amongst the Marxists to entirely accept the notion that the bourgeoisie had ceased to be liberal in any meaningful sense, or progressive even relative to feudal reaction. By his theory of imperialism, Lenin attempted to prove that the bourgeoisie had become entirely integrated with statist militarism and authoritarianism. Particularly in his 1917 work, State and revolution, Lenin went back to Marx and excavated his definition of proletarian revolution as the smashing of the state apparatus through social revolution as civil war.

As it happened, the February revolution of 1917 showed clearly enough that the Russian urban bourgeoisie was, in fact, still inclined to constitutional-liberalism. Nor indeed was the February revolution and insurrection organised by a revolutionary cadre, as the Bolsheviks had anticipated.

Nonetheless, the Mensheviks also found that their slogan of proletarian self-organisation threatened to fatally undermine the tenacity of bourgeois liberalism, given the socialist, even millenarian temper of the Russian working class. For the dying Plekhanov, the Russian proletariat was simply too advanced politically, too backward socially: “Did we not begin the propaganda of Marxism too early in backward, semi-Asiatic Russia?”6

Lenin argued, in contrast, that the bourgeois revolution organised by insurrection, and under the aegis of a proletarian-peasant dictatorship, was still the order of the day. This was how Lenin understood the October revolution of 1917: not as a socialist revolution, but as a sui generis bourgeois revolution, in which the bourgeoisie would be dictated to by the masses, both proletarian and peasant, in such a way that the ideal conditions for socialism would be achieved in the shortest possible time. Lenin himself described the social formation thus instituted as “state capitalism”. Workers’ control in the factories and manufacturers would reduce the bourgeoisie to a kind of service class, politically and militarily subordinated - even partly enslaved - to the proletariat and peasantry. By the time the civil war broke out, the bourgeoisie was conscripted to do the menial work of the army (June 1918). The ration system operated on a class basis: a ratio of 4:3:2:1 - the smallest category for those living on income from capital, houses, business enterprises or hired labour, as well as clergy and professionals. The bourgeoisie was soon caught between starvation and illegal activities.

The Mensheviks had by now come to place great importance on the sovereignty of the Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks, however, saw it as a legalistic restraint on the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the bourgeois revolution, which would take institutional form through the soviets, and, as is well known, dispersed the assembly. It is worth noting that socialists of all description won an astonishingly huge majority in the Constituent Assembly: something like 80%. I should imagine there was no historical precedent for this. The Bolshevik seizure of power was not so much about establishing socialist government as establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

Socialism

Somewhat to the embarrassment of other Bolsheviks, Lenin continued to insist that the October seizure of power was a moment of the bourgeois revolution, not the socialist revolution. He only argued that it had moved onto the plane of socialist revolution once class struggle was initiated within the peasantry, with the establishment of Committees of Poor Peasants in June 1918. As he wrote,

Having completed the bourgeois-democratic revolution in alliance with the peasants as a whole, the Russian proletariat finally passed onto the socialist revolution, when it succeeded in splitting the rural population, in winning over the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians, and in uniting them against the kulaks and the bourgeoisie, including the peasant bourgeoisie.7

In fact, these Committees of Poor Peasants failed - they were ended in December - as did workers’ control over the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie (with the partial failure of the railways). The Bolsheviks introduced one-man control of the factories, whilst at the same time taking virtually all of industry, which had become more or less universally war industry, into state ownership. This was war communism. Even with the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, Lenin continued to describe the system as “state capitalism” (at the fourth Congress of Comintern, for example), by which he meant not the petty capitalism of NEP, but the continuing state ownership of strategic industries.

Not long before his death, Lenin wrote an interesting article on cooperation. He admitted that the Marxist tradition had been dismissive of cooperatives. But now he had come to think that it was the basis for building socialism:

All we actually need under NEP is to organise the population of Russia in cooperative societies on a sufficiently large scale, for we have now found the degree of combination of private interest … with state supervision and control of this interest, that degree of its subordination to the common interests which was formerly the stumbling block for very many socialists … Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society?8

The problem with this, however, was: had it all been worth it? Social revolution had been identified with a proletarian seizure of power, while the Russian proletariat were very far from being able to construct a socialist order. With the collapse of the soviets - which in many respects were reflections of proletarian immaturity rather than audacity, being ad hoc organisations in the absence of established mass organisations of the class, none of which had been allowed to develop under tsarism - the regime in Russia became a one-party state. A one-party state plus a largely market economy, such as characterised NEP, was rather less than inspiring.

We can look upon the Stalinist revolution of collectivisation and industrialisation as an attempt to vindicate the October revolution. Stalin made the point that Russia must show that it can build socialism in one country if it was to vindicate itself against social democratic criticism. As he said in a speech in 1926,

How did Messrs the Social Democrats try to scare the workers away from us? By preaching that ‘the Russians will not get anywhere’ … Is it not obvious, then, that whoever disseminates disbelief in our successes in building socialism thereby indirectly helps the Social Democrats?9

For Stalin, and for many others, the building of state socialism seemed the quickest route to vindicating the revolution. Collectivisation of agriculture and state-led industrialisation was a forced-march route to building socialism. The human costs, of course, were catastrophic: “Many … ideas of mine have been … put into practice,” wrote Kautsky, the champion of statist socialism, in 1931, “but I am not always pleased about it.”10

Leninism was in effect a theory of proletarian dictatorship; it never developed any theory, still less a practice, of the associated producers. This is not surprising: such theory barely existed in the socialist movement in total. Nonetheless, the revolution did produce something like socialism, and the command economy was not without significant merits, as Robert C Allen has shown. It was not the outright economic failure often depicted these days, though it was much more efficient at moving labour from backward agriculture to more productive industry than it was in generalising innovation.

Nor, I think, is it terribly useful to think of it as something other than a form of socialism. The ‘no true Scotsman’ argument, used a lot by Trotskyists, is really something of a cop-out. Russia did develop a mode of socialism, and as such does show significant problems with the socialist project: the overextension of state power, and the atomisation of civil society. A planning state is surely inextricably involved in any post-capitalist economics. But, in developing an economic sociology of state subordination to civil society, something beyond platitudes about workers’ democracy is required l

Notes

1. F Engels, letter to Bebel, January 20-23 1886.

2. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm.

3. www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1902/socrev/pt1-2.htm.

4. J Guesde Collectivism: a speech delivered to the French Chamber of Deputies London 1895, pp3-11.

5. Quoted in T Dan The origins of Bolshevism New York 1964, p328.

6. Quoted in MJ Lasky Utopia and revolution London 1976, p112.

7. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/prrk/subservience.htm.

8. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/jan/06.htm.

9. www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1926/01/25.htm.

10. K Kautsky Bolshevism at a deadlock Oxford 2014, p30.