Jim Creegan’s letter on the Kamenev editorial from March 1917 brings up issues that demand further discussion (Letters, March 5). Before turning to these wider issues, however, let me challenge some of Creegan’s factual assertions.
I am not “oblivious” to the fact that the Provisional government of 1917 remained loyal to tsarist treaty commitments - and, more importantly, neither were the Bolsheviks! Articles in Pravda in March 1917 denounced the imperialist war and the government’s commitment to it. Creegan incorrectly states that mutiny and mass desertion were already taking place in February and March; this was not the case when Kamenev wrote his editorial, nor when Lenin returned in April, nor for a considerable time thereafter. The political problem that the Bolsheviks faced was the exact opposite: the soldier section of the Petrograd Soviet was so ‘defencist’ that they regarded the ‘defeatist’ Bolsheviks as traitors. Precisely for this reason, Lenin dropped all talk of ‘defeatism’ after his return.
Lenin did not call for armed insurrection as either a strategic or tactical goal in spring 1917. On the contrary, he called for “peaceful development” of the revolution, whereby a soviet majority (not necessarily a Bolshevik one) would reject coalition politics and create an all-socialist government. Only after the July days was this tactic/strategy rejected - and even then only provisionally.
There is no basis for claiming that the Petrograd Bolsheviks passively waited for an automatic process to unfold, thus “substituting process for agency”. On the contrary, they called for active organisation of soviet and party forces, campaigns to bring home the need for soviet power by exposing the counterrevolutionary nature of the Provisional government, arming the workers, etc, etc. On the other hand, Lenin also relied on an “automatically unfolding revolutionary dynamic” - namely, the objective reasons that would force the elite-based Provisional government to alienate the Russian workers and peasants. Creegan desperately wants to dig as deep a gulf as possible between Lenin and his closest associates, but he can do so only by systematically shuttering out the ‘active’ side of Kamenev and the ‘automatic’ side of Lenin.
Why is Creegan so fervidly anti-old Bolshevik? All for the greater glory of Lev Trotsky and his formula of “permanent revolution”. For some reason, many admirers of Trotsky don’t think he looks good unless the ‑old Bolsheviks look bad. This problem brings us to the wider issue of the profound nature of the Russian Revolution and the role of Bolshevism. Let us start by positing that any political strategy from the 1905-07 period would need substantial modification to fit a revolution that broke out in very different circumstances over a decade later. Creegan points out some of the changes required by the old Bolshevik outlook, but he and the Trotskyist tradition in general seem to be under the mistaken impression that their hero’s scenario from 1905-07 did not also require substantial modification in 1917 and years after. We can illustrate this by looking at the question of the peasantry.
Talking about the Russian Revolution without talking about the peasant is almost like talking about Hamlet without the prince. When Creegan discusses the old Bolshevik strategy, he explicitly mentions the peasant (the proletariat in power “could not transgress the bounds of bourgeois property due to Russia’s overwhelming peasant majority”). In contrast, when he discusses the “permanent revolution” strategy, the peasant is only vaguely implied (“a socialist regime in backward Russia could not sustain itself” in the absence of European revolution). Let us review the logic of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” and the role it assigned to the peasant.
The centrality of the peasant to the 1905 revolution was evident to all Social Democratic observers, and so they applied what I have termed the “axiom of the class ally”: the proletariat cannot go further in any revolution than the class interests of a necessary class ally. Attached to this major premise was a minor premise about Russia: the peasantry was not ready to move toward socialism. Conclusion: the upcoming Russian Revolution could not directly move to socialism and the proletariat could therefore not remain in power after the revolutionary period. Although Trotsky fully accepted both premises, he still thought that the proletariat could and should stay in power until forced out.
He pictured post-revolutionary relations with the peasantry as follows: the proletariat in power would carry out various democratic reforms that would win the loyalty of the peasant. But the class nature of the proletariat would compel it to take socialist measures that would inevitably alienate the peasant majority. The resulting clash would be “the beginning of the end … the conflict will end in civil war and the defeat of the proletariat. Within the confines of a national revolution, and given our social conditions, there is no other ‘way out’ for the proletariat’s political domination.”
In other words, in the absence of European revolution, even an originally democratic revolution would inevitably end up in civil war between workers and peasants, leading to defeat (both political and moral, although Trotsky didn’t stress this point) for the proletariat. Trotsky was unfazed by this horrendous outcome, because he was so sure that the Russian Revolution would lead to a successful European revolution.
Let us now turn to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. In 1917, Lenin did make an innovation (not a fundamental break) by proposing that meaningful “steps toward socialism” could be made in Russia with the peasants’ support (thus preserving the axiom of the class ally). After the October revolution, efforts were made to pursue this path by encouraging collective agricultural production. But the peasants did not take kindly to these efforts, and the Bolsheviks voluntarily called them off (long before the introduction of NEP in 1921, by the way). Of course, there was much conflict between the peasantry and ‘soviet power’ during the civil war, but these conflicts arose from the burdens of achieving a common goal: namely, defeating the anti-democratic counterrevolution. If the Bolsheviks had been compelled, à la Trotsky, to alienate the peasantry by forcing socialist measures on them, the revolution would have gone down the drain in short order. Luckily, the Bolsheviks - very much including Trotsky himself - refused to act out this logic.
We should not let ourselves get bogged down in some sort of contest over which 1905 strategy - old Bolshevism vs “permanent revolution” - had to be modified the most. Yet I believe that the heart of old Bolshevism was preserved.
This core can be stated as follows: the socialist proletariat will carry out a mighty “people’s revolution” (narodnaiarevoliutsiia) by providing political leadership to the peasantry, resisting “bourgeois liberal” attempts to cut short the revolution halfway, beating back the armed counterrevolution and carrying out a vast political and social transformation of Russia. The victorious Red Army - manned by peasant recruits, officered by politically-neutered ‘bourgeois specialists’, and guided by a party based in the socialist proletariat - was the incarnation and vindication of old Bolshevism.
Lars T Lih
Since my only reason for living, according to Ted Rankin, is to heap “calumny” on that poor benighted thinker, GiladAtzmon, it would be churlish to turn down an open invitation from one of Atzmon’s more cerebral supporters (Letters, March 19). Apparently, Atzmon’s expositions on Jewish identity are so innovative and revealing that I have dedicated my life to trying to preserve some form of proprietorial ownership of the debate.
Atzmon’s precocious insights are summed up in his book The wandering who?, where he writes of the “Judaic god, as portrayed by Moses, an evil deity, who leads his people to plunder, robbery and theft. The never-ending theft of Palestine in the name of the Jewish people is part of a spiritual, ideological, cultural and practical continuum between the Bible, Zionist ideology and the state of Israel.”
I confess to preferring the more mundane and boring approach of Ali Abunimah, professor Massad, Omar Barghouti and other Palestinian and Arab activists: “Zionism, to Atzmon, is not a settler-colonial project, but a transhistorical ‘Jewish’ one, part and parcel of defining one’s self as a Jew.”
The idea of explaining the actions of Netanyahu, Hertzog, etc, in terms of the major characters in the Old testament obviously has great appeal for the more romantically inclined of Atzmon’s chorus. Like all racist explanations, it is certainly a lot simpler than the theories of Leon, Shahak, etc. No doubt Atzmon’s references to “Jewish Marxism” or “Socialist Jewnity” are merely illustrative.
I wish Ted Rankin well in his hero-worship of false idols.
In the excitement leading up to the solar eclipse on March 20, few seem to have commented on the very strange quirk of fate that the disc of the moon should seem from an earthly perspective to be exactly the same size as the sun. The moon is 400 times smaller than the star at the centre of our solar system yet it is also just 1/400th of the distance between the earth and the sun.
While we may take it for granted that the two main bodies in the earth’s skies look to be the same size, the odds against this optical illusion happening at all are huge. Isaac Asimov, the respected scientist and science fiction guru, described this perfect visual alignment as being “the most unlikely coincidence imaginable”.
The existence of the moon has been vital for the development of higher and complex life forms on the earth, both by acting as a gigantic planetary stabiliser maintaining the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the equator of the sun at 22.5 degrees, and by slowing down our planet’s rate of spin. Without these, the extremes of temperature on the Earth and the resultant catastrophic weather conditions, as wind and tides moved wildly between hot and cold zones, would have made complex life all but impossible, with much of the water on the planet, vital for any form of life, either frozen or boiling.
The moon appears to have exerted a strong influence on human female fertility, with it not being at all uncommon for a woman to menstruate on the same moon phase each month - 28 days being merely an average, while the period between one full moon and the next is 29.53 days. It is curious that the average gestation period of a human female is around 266 days, or nine full lunar cycles.
Our moon is much larger and much lighter than it should be. Earth is only 3.66 times the size of the moon, but 81 times the moon’s mass. It seems the moon has a tough, hard outer shell and a light or non-existent interior. The puzzle of the hard surface was compounded by the discovery of uranium 236 and neptunium 237 in moon rocks - elements not previously found in nature. Soviet sources in 1976 announced the discovery of iron particles that ‘do not rust’ in samples brought back by an unmanned mission in 1970. Iron that doesn’t rust is unknown in nature and well beyond current earth technology.
The duration of the moon’s orbit is 27.322 earth days. The moon is 27.31% of the size of the earth. The earth currently turns on its axis 366.259 times for each orbit around the sun. The earth is 366.175% bigger than the moon. The moon makes 366 orbits of the earth in 10,000 earth days.
In the deep recesses of human history there appear to be recollections of a time before the moon. Aristotle told of a people called the Proselenes who lived in Arcadia, a mountainous region in central Greece. Selene was the Greek goddess of the moon and Proselenes means ‘Before the moon’. The Greek writer, Plutarch, and the Romans, Ovid and Apollonius Rhodius, all referred to the Arcadian people living there “before there was a moon in the heavens” as being “folk older than the moon”.
Some of the discoveries made by the Apollo moon missions were simply extraordinary and still unexplained, as was the abrupt and unplanned termination of the programme after Apollo 17, wasting and writing off billions of dollars, and ending previous media speculation on the profitable aspects of a colony on the moon and mining operations.
Given the apparent importance of the moon for the development and reproduction of human life on this planet, I am surprised we are all not more curious as to the true origin and purposes of this mysterious and complex celestial body.
Communist Platform has made two contributions of £100 pounds each to Left Unity’s election fund, from cash raised through the link on the CP website. LU national secretary Kate Hudson has sent this email in recognition of these donations.
“Dear Yassamine, Thank you very much for the donation of £100 to Left Unity, which you have sent on behalf of the Communist Platform. Best wishes - Kate.”
Please make sure you continue making contributions, as Left Unity needs funds for both general and local election contests.
Steve Freeman manages to recall John Pearson’s name, but seems to get just about everything else wrong (‘At the hustings’ Weekly Worker March 19).
Nobody threatened to “lampoon the CPGB”. John Pearson threatened to “lamp” (ie, physically assault) a member of the Campaign for a Marxist Party who was not a member of the CPGB. This comrade complained and the meeting called on John to apologise and withdraw his threat. He refused to do either and a subsequent meeting voted to expel him. Neither was a CPGB meeting, but put on by the Campaign for a Marxist Party. As it all happened seven or eight years ago, I do not remember the details, but it is probable that the CPGB was in a minority. Steve Freeman was, I am sure, present and I think was one of the few people to vote against John’s expulsion. To the best of my knowledge Pearson has not apologised to this day.
Memory plays strange tricks on us, especially when we are on the wrong side of an argument, as Steve was on that day. However, to suggest that the CPGB would call for someone to be expelled for threatening to lampoon us smacks of deliberate dishonesty. He appears to be trying to create the impression that the CPGB is a cynical, manipulative and bullying sect, when what the majority at that meeting was trying to do was uphold the principle of comradely behaviour within the workers’ movement - ie, free and robust debate, without any threat of violence.
We call upon all revolutionary organisations and activists to work together on the basis of a joint strategy against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression.
We live in a world of increasing inter-imperialist rivalry, revolutionary uprisings and counterrevolutionary threats. In this period of history, so revolutionary in nature, which commenced in 2008 with the outbreak of the great recession, it is more urgent than ever to unite all authentic revolutionaries and to build new, truly revolutionary parties in every country and to strive for the foundation of a Fifth Workers’ International.
Such a new World Party of Socialist Revolution must be built as a clear and unequivocal alternative to the current official leaderships of various camps, treacherous labour bureaucrats, leaders of the social democratic parties, heads of Stalinist parties, Bolivarianism, parties representing petty bourgeois nationalism and parties based on Islamism. These current leaderships consciously or unconsciously mislead the workers and oppressed. To replace such leaderships it is, first of all, urgent to openly denounce them. However, at the same time, it is absolutely necessary for revolutionaries to fight inside existing mass movements and to apply the united front tactic towards their leaderships.
In the context of today’s complex class struggles and world political events, revolutionaries can only fight for the leadership of the liberation struggle if they pursue correct tactics and a clearly defined programme. Time and again, we have seen that all centrist organisations, which purport to represent an alternative leadership, have failed miserably in their evaluations of which side to stand on when the barricades are drawn. In a world of increasing imperialist rivalry and tremendous class polarisation, only an international revolutionary organisation based on a solid programme and encompassing an internationalist working class cadre can lead the working class along the correct path towards socialist revolution.
The RCIT calls on all revolutionaries to intervene in the class struggle and combine all necessary tactics with propagandising for a programme of working class power, which can only be achieved by a socialist revolution. Such a programme must be built on the methods outlined by Trotsky’s Transitional programme of 1938: Build action committees in workplaces and in workers’ living areas. Purge the trade unions of bureaucrats and collaborators with the capitalists. For democratic, rank-and-file control over the trade unions. Build revolutionary communist fractions inside the trade unions. Transform the trade unions into militant instruments for the socialist liberation struggle of the working class. For a sliding scale of working hours until everyone is employed without loss of pay.
For the right of self-determination for all oppressed national groupings deprived of the right to secede. For revolutionary movements of women, migrants, youth, unemployed and national minorities. For the right of the oppressed to caucus in workers’ mass organisations and their movements. Build committees and action councils of the workers, peasants and poor to organise the struggle. For armed workers and oppressed militias. Expropriate the capitalist class. Nationalise the large enterprises and banks under workers’ control. For a workers’ government allied with the peasants and urban poor and based on local councils and militias. Fight for new workers’ parties and for a Fifth Workers’ International based on a revolutionary programme.
No future without socialism. No socialism without revolution. No revolution without a revolutionary party.
Revolutionary Communist International Tendency