The real distortions that Lars T Lih uses to prove his ridiculous theses are to misrepresent the programme of the Bolsheviks pre-April 1917, to misrepresent Lenin’s stance in April 1917, to hide the capitulation of Kamenev, Stalin and MK Muranov to the provisional government before April and to rip the debate out of its international context (‘All power to the soviets!’, April 20).
He obscures the real issues by vague phraseology in April 1917:
“… Kalinin endorsed the soviets as a vehicle for the class vlast of the workers and peasants, à la old Bolshevism. Nevertheless, he did not endorse Lenin’s own personal enthusiasm about the soviets as a higher type of democracy …. As soon as the soviets and their mass base grasped these realities (as the Bolsheviks believed them to be), they would take ‘full and complete vlast [vsia polnota vlasti] into their own hands. Insofar as the revolution is going to develop and to deepen, it will come to this: to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’.”
If we ignore the pretentious use of Russian phrases, “The class vlast of the workers and peasants” is a theoretical and political nonsense phrase; the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ was the central thing that Lenin’s April theses rejected. In Marxist terms this refers to a capitalist government in a capitalist state. Lenin could not be more explicit that he was totally opposed to this programme by April 1917:
“Whoever now talks only about the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ has lost touch with life, has, in virtue of this circumstance, gone over, in practice, to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; and he ought to be relegated to the museum of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiquities (or, as one might call it, the museum of ‘old Bolsheviks’).”
And the April theses were not ‘old Bolshevism’. Writing in 1905, Lenin spelled out the ‘old Bolshevik’ position:
“By participating in the provisional government, we are told, social democracy would have the power in its hands; but, as the party of the proletariat, social democracy cannot hold the power without attempting to put our maximum programme into effect - ie, without attempting to bring about the socialist revolution. In such an undertaking it would, at the present time, inevitably come to grief, discredit itself, and play into the hands of the reactionaries. Hence, participation by social democrats in a provisional revolutionary government is inadmissible.
“This argument is based on a misconception; it confounds the democratic revolution with the socialist revolution, the struggle for the republic (including our entire minimum programme) with the struggle for socialism. If social democracy sought to make the socialist revolution its immediate aim, it would assuredly discredit itself ... It is the march of events that will ‘impose’ upon us the imperative necessity of waging a furious struggle for the republic and, in practice, guide our forces, the forces of the politically active proletariat, in this direction. It is the march of events that will, in the democratic revolution, inevitably impose upon us such a host of allies from among the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, whose real needs will demand the implementation of our minimum programme, that any concern over too rapid a transition to the maximum programme is simply absurd.”
It could not be clearer here. It was to be a bourgeois revolution to bring about a bourgeois republic led by the working class based on the ‘minimum programme’ - ie, reforming capitalism (as opposed to the Menshevik programme of a bourgeois revolution led by the liberal bourgeoisie against tsarist absolutism). Any attempt to carry out a socialist revolution would “inevitably come to grief, discredit itself, and play into the hands of the reactionaries”. First, capitalism must be developed for a whole historic period - not just a few months - to build up the forces of the organised working class and to make the economy ready for the socialist revolution. Such was the political wisdom inherited from Karl Kautsky and German social democracy, unchallenged until Trotsky’s 1905 Permanent revolution and rejected by Lenin in his April theses. This is Trotsky’s very different outlook in his 1906 work, Results and prospects:
“The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest utopianism to think that the proletariat, having been raised to political domination by the internal mechanism of a bourgeois revolution, can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination of the bourgeoisie. The political domination of the proletariat, even if it is only temporary, will weaken to an extreme degree the resistance of capital, which always stands in need of the support of the state, and will give the economic struggle of the proletariat tremendous scope.”
These are two counterposed views of historical perspectives for the Russian Revolution. It would indeed be a bourgeois revolution, Trotsky assessed then, but one that could not sustain itself without expropriating the bourgeoisie and making the socialist revolution - hence the uninterrupted, permanent revolution. No whole historic period of consolidating the bourgeois republic and building up its resources was possible, and, contrary to Lars, a few months is not an historical era in which the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry reigned: dual power reigned in this period, which had to be, and was, settled in the immediate future in favour of one class only. Fully aware of this, Lenin now abandoned the first, ‘old Bolshevik’ perspective and adopted the second in his April theses.
In reply to Eddie Ford’s ‘Crush the saboteurs’ (April 27), I like a lot of what he writes, but some of it is just wishful thinking.
Eddie asserts there are few leftwingers in today’s Labour Party that have anything like the calibre and track record of Corbyn, McDonnell and even Abbott - not that those three haven’t continually capitulated to the Labour right since Jeremy was elected leader. So Jeremy must stay on when, as the Weekly Worker thinks highly likely, Labour loses the general election, presumably because there is no-one else in today’s party who would be a worthy successor.
And who is to be the force that is to “crush the saboteurs”? It won’t be Momentum now, will it, given Lansman’s coup approved by Corbyn and McDonnell? Surely Eddie read Carla Roberts’ article in the same issue, entitled ‘Cohering the Labour left’. Quote: “Momentum itself is disappearing down the plughole with ever increasing speed …”
Oh how things have changed, We were originally told Corbyn’s leadership victory and the creation of Momentum would transform the Labour Party, curing the democratic deficit of the Blair years. I recall the starry-eyed Alliance for Workers’ Liberty delegates at the PCS union conference in May 2016 browbeating us to affiliate PCS to both the Labour Party and Momentum. Conference wisely decided to wait a year. But in 2017 we will not be debating affiliation to Labour - a recent consultation revealed that two-thirds of branches responding are dead against affiliation. Readers might not have realised that for civil servants the government of the day is our employer and we do not recall Labour ever doing civil servants any favours.
Still, PCS invited Jeremy to address us last year and he went down very well, just as McDonnell has always done, but we know that they do not represent the Labour Party.
Then we have Paul Demarty’s ‘Diversionary dead end’ article, which castigates both the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the RMT union for not joining Labour and instead daring to suggest we need a new workers’ party. It would not be a “Labour Party mark two” if it stuck to MPs being on the average worker’s wage and instant recall. That would stop the opportunists and careerists who infest the Parliamentary Labour Party and regard themselves as totally unaccountable to the membership and to conference.
How much longer will the CPGB and others keep flogging the rotted, 100-year-old corpse that is the utterly failed ‘Join the Labour Party and pull it left’ dead horse? Why would I want to join a party that is at civil war all the time? Why, after Corbyn’s ‘transformation of Labour hasn’t moved it one inch towards the left would I keep pushing this immovable rock (actually cemented in place by Corbyn’s constant surrenders to the right)?
Corbyn has been shown to place Labour electability over socialist principles. He, like Tony Benn before him, is just an old Labour ultra-loyalist. I think he will step down if they lose the general election. Eddie cannot overlook the disconcerting fact that Corbyn did not expect to win the Labour leadership - and still less become prime minister with the incredible pressure that would bring.
Now, imagine where the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition would be if the 400,000 new Labour members had instead joined Tusc. If only we had a workers’ party with democratic accountability - Labour has still not been transformed into a democratic socialist party and the election of Corbyn hasn’t budged Labour one inch.
Union leaders want Labour affiliation to get knighthoods and lordships for themselves later - in return for not fighting job losses and cuts in services from Labour councils today. Those same unions often will not allow their conferences to debate disaffiliation or to reduce the donations they make - they have no mandate to stay affiliated. The CPGB and others have no right to disingenuously assert that workers must flock to join Labour because it is “organically linked” to the trade unions.
The Limehouse Declaration of 1981 was a bit before my time as an activist, but I do remember in my 20s spending hundreds of hours working for the Labour Party in the 1987 election.
I don’t know why, but I particularly remember canvassing and leafleting around the Wykes Road estate in Exeter. This was an area of what had been council housing which was a slightly better off council estate. In previous years, it had been a sea of red ‘Vote Labour’ posters, but in 1987 it was 50-50 Labour and Social Democratic Party-Liberal Alliance. I recall knocking on doors and getting the response that ‘Yes, we used to vote Labour, but we have bought our council house and, well, we are not so sure now’.
This is hardly surprising, because council tenants got a massive subsidy for buying their council houses. A nice bribe. Of course, a few years later interest rates had crashed through the roof and all those Alliance (or Liberal Democrats, as they became) posters vanished. Indeed, many of those former Labour voters who defected to the SDP had probably also vanished - evicted for not keeping up with their mortgage payments.
Today those former council properties are now largely in the private rented sector. Where I live in Exeter, as a council tenant you can rent the same flat for double the price in the private sector. This, of course, means that the state pays vast amounts of money in housing benefit when some of those tenants are unemployed or low-paid. Let’s be clear about this: this is now state money going to landlords to pay their mortgages; in the past, it was money going towards provision of public housing. Given housing benefit can no longer meet the high rents, it also means that there are customers queuing up at the food banks, because, after they have taken their rent out of their low pay, they have literally no money left to feed themselves. Yes, that is Tory Britain - millions of working people (not just the unemployed) using food banks. It is an obscenity, given we are one of the richest nations on earth. This is a political choice that the public make when they vote Tory. Personally, I don’t know how Tories can sleep at night.
So, to 1987 - what a hideous campaign. A section of the former Labour right had ensured a Tory victory. They would rather have Tory misery than left and anti-nuclear Labour hope.
That brings us back to today. What do our Blairite Labour MPs want?
The liberal middle class is brain-dead about war. They do not want to hear about war, speak about war or see war protestors.
The liberal middle class has emotionally numbed out. They have a complete lack of empathy for the millions of people that the USA has slaughtered, the nations that the USA has bombed to piles of rubble, and the suffering the USA has caused to tens of millions of people.
Out of sight and out of mind, the USA has destroyed millions of minds, bodies, homes and lives forever. The indifference of the liberal middle class is mind-boggling. Some sadistically see the war images as entertainment and even beautiful displays of power.
The recent Earth Day in the US was like Orwell’s two minutes of hate. Climate change is the liberal middle class’s hated Emmanuel Goldstein. Big Brother and the mainstream media know how to coopt dissent and make it meaningless, while letting the people feel relevant and powerful. Real protests and real power of the people are brutally crushed by the police state.
I had the personal experience of being a spoiler on Earth Day. I belong to St Pete for Peace in Saint Petersburg, Florida. It is an anti-war group that has been able to survive the peace drought after the USA invasion of Iraq in 2003. We thought it would be a good idea to take an anti-war rally to Williams Park in downtown St Petersburg, where there was an Earth Day fair. Our reception was anything but warm. It was like a cold bucket of Agent Orange.
We were warned not to take our anti-war posters into Williams Park. It was not the police that warned us - it was the organisers of St Pete Earth Day. They told us to stay on the corner across the street and out of sight or they would have us arrested.
Thinking that I had a constitutional right to do so, I walked through the park anyway with an upside-down American flag as a freedom of speech statement. I was immediately accosted and told that no demonstrations were allowed. I thought Earth Day was supposed to be a demonstration and a protest against the continued destruction of the Earth and all its living creatures.
Florida is one of those ‘stand your ground’ states. So we stood our ground with open carry of anti-war signs. We were not going to go quietly. As we walked through the fair with our anti-war signs, we said “Happy Earth Day” to the vendors and attendees. Their responses were a few polite thanks. Mostly we got cold stares or avoidance of eye contact. My upside-down flag of distress got a few hoots and confrontations. But few people wanted any dialogue about war.
Normally I do not write about myself, but Earth Day has been eating away at me. It left me angry and dumbfounded. I keep asking myself if the liberal middle class was brain-dead. Is it possible for people to want to do something about climate change and not see the connection to war, militarism and empire? They just don’t get it: war, climate change, war, climate change, war …
The liberal middle class is as stuck in the American mythology as conservative Republicans. They still think that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds; that America is the best country in the world; that America cares about democracy and human rights; and that being anti-war is unpatriotic.
The liberal middle class are too comfortable in their isolated world of high-rise condominiums and SUVs. What will it take to bring them down from their ivory tower in the mostly white Northside of St Petersburg? Do they ever think about the mostly black Southside and its lack of basic social services?
During the rainy season in Florida, the Southside is flooded with raw sewage, because the city closed the sewage treatment plant for lack of funds. It saved $32 million a year by letting raw sewage flood the black neighbourhood and flowing into Tampa Bay, where it pollutes the water.
Empire-building, imperialism and war are perverting the domestic economy, sucking out its resources and denying citizens the socialist programmes that the Bernie Sanders revolution talked about. Even Bernie does not take on the military-industrial complex. His supporters made excuses for him that being anti-war during his 2016 presidential campaign would be ‘political suicide’, and that secretly Bernie was anti-war.
In a recent CNN interview Bernie said: “Assad has got to go. Isis has got to be defeated, but I do not want to see the United States get sucked into perpetual warfare in the Middle East.” Bernie is part of the problem, not the solution. “Assad has to go and Isis has to be defeated” is magical thinking without “getting bogged down in perpetual war”. Thinking so is unconsciously letting the warmongers continue the status quo. It is saying more war, more destruction, more death and more climate change. Bernie’s revolution has melted like the Arctic ice.
We can be relevant, powerful and do something about climate change and save millions of lives. We can hit the streets with mass protests against war. Support whistleblowers and those that refuse to obey illegal orders. Refuse to cooperate. Be disruptive. Use non-violent civil disobedience to sabotage the war machine.