Spontaneous economism and the challenge of revolutionary democracy - part one

Marxism and the democratic republic

Over the last couple of months or so the Weekly Worker has carried an extensive exchange on the issue of national self-determination and its place in the communist programme. Naturally, given events in the Balkans and Nato’s air war against Serbia, this has been generated by, and to a considerable degree centres on, the Kosova question. Nevertheless it also encompasses the United Kingdom and involves criticism of the CPGB’s demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales.

Numerous articles and letters have outlined often sharply conflictive positions. Inevitably the language and manner of expression has on occasion been robust. As one who earnestly believes that a rational, but unfettered dialogue provides the sure road to truth and enlightenment, I have no problem here. Yet, whatever the polemical style, or immediate aim, of this or that writer, underlying the whole controversy is the challenge to spontaneous economism - no matter how muscle-bound in its leftism - represented by the politics of revolutionary democracy. Nowadays this finds its highest expression in the CPGB’s Draft programme.

Tom Delargy, of the Scottish Socialist Party, articulates the prejudices the economists in his article, ‘What sort of federal republic?’ (Weekly Worker April 15). The comrade holds a generally correct position when it comes to Kosova. Unfortunately this owes more to healthy gut reaction against the horrors inflicted on this tiny nation by Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party regime than commitment to revolutionary democracy and the method of Marxism. Indeed in his polemic by proxy with his silent partners in the Campaign for a Federal Republic - an SSP factional platform - the comrade actually turns to Jack Conrad and rhetorically asks him to supply an answer to the question - “What is revolutionary democracy?”

How to reply? We will begin by recapitulating comrade Delargy’s argument against what he imagines revolutionary democracy to be. In so doing I will of necessity discuss the politics of Marx and Engels, and then turn to the history of Bolshevism. Like Marx and Engels before them, the Bolsheviks described themselves as revolutionary democrats. A partisan grasp of Bolshevism also allows us to show where comrade Delargy is blinkered by the myths of Trotskyism.

Undoubtedly all this is germane to the main subject at hand. That is economism and how it disarms the working class programmatically. Bolshevism in particular formed itself through unremitting struggle, not only against the economists or strikists of the trade unionist variety but against the ‘imperialist economists’. Beating the drum of the new socialist epoch they famously downplayed or dismissed the political fight for democracy under capitalism, in particular when it came to championing the right of nations to self-determination. The national question has taken on new forms in the post-colonial, post-Cold War world. Nevertheless Bolshevism, for all its faults and limitations, is far from outdated. Its advocacy of the fullest democracy under capitalism and steadfast stand on the right of nations to self-determination retain their relevance. Having explored this in some detail in the next part of my article, I will go on to discuss the criticisms of those such as comrade Sandy McBurney and explain our revolutionary democratic approach to the conquest of socialism by the working class and how the communist programme differs from the sorry incoherence of economism.

What then of comrade Delargy? Our friend seems convinced that revolutionary democracy is a 666-type mark characteristic of Kautskyism: ie, it is “above-class democracy”. That cardinal sin no doubt explains why he poses the following query: “Under revolutionary democracy who is the ruling class?” It “cannot be the working class”, he reasons. “Otherwise, there would be no sense in positing it as a separate stage prior to workers’ power.”

This conclusion in turn explains why comrade Delargy wheels out that old warhorse The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky. The comrade knits together a long quote from Lenin to the effect that “‘Pure democracy’ is the mendacious phrase of the liberal who wants to fool the workers” (VI Lenin CW Vol 28, Moscow 1977, p242). Revolutionary democracy, in the credo of comrade Delargy, presumably originates with Karl Kautsky after his break with Marxism, but was also swallowed by ‘old’ Bolsheviks, above all Zinoviev and Kamenev, “who proposed transforming dual power (the coexistence of workers’ councils alongside a bourgeois government) into a constitutionally stable entity”. This “centrist project”, says comrade Delargy, “was and remains an objectively counterrevolutionary project” (Weekly Worker April 15).

There is a rather thorny problem. The comrade appears blissfully unaware that Marx and Engels were revolutionary democrats before they became communists; and that then on after they remained revolutionary democrats till the end of their days. Revolutionary democracy is no sneaky code word invented by revisionists as a cynical cover for capitulation before bourgeois democracy. On the contrary it describes the method required by the working class itself, if it is to liberate itself, and in the process the whole of humanity.

Neither socialism nor communism can be delivered from on high. Not by a leftwing government in Edinburgh or Westminster, nor by a benign despot like Castro, nor a labour dictator such as Arthur Scargill. Communist revolutionary democrats therefore distinguish themselves from other socialisms - elitist schools of socialism and communism such as bureaucratic socialism, military socialism, bourgeois socialism, critical-utopian communism, etc. We proletarian communists do not set ourselves apart from the working class, but seek at all times to show what is in the general interest of the movement. That can be summed up as fighting at every turn of events to maximise democracy: ie, power and control from below - under capitalism (and then under socialism). Only in this way, from below, can the goal of communism be realised. The workers make themselves into a universal class through taking the lead in the struggle to socialise democracy.

That concern for creating the most fertile conditions for mass initiative explicitly informs the platform of the Communist Party in Germany in 1848. Its ‘Demands’, written jointly by Marx and Engels, were what we would nowadays designate a minimum programme. For the sake of comrade Delargy it is well worth summarising. In the first place we find that “whole of Germany shall be declared a single and indivisible republic” (1). Not, it should be noted, a socialist republic. Comrade Delargy, and others with a similar outlook, should think long and hard about that. Or were Marx and Engels renegades, “bowing” to bourgeois or pure democracy and thereby anticipating their wayward pupil, Karl Kautsky?

The ‘Demands’ go onto call for universal male suffrage (2); the “universal arming of the people” (3); “free” legal services (5); measures to aid the peasantry and small tenant farmers (6,7,8); “a state bank” (10); nationalisation of the “means of transport” (11); the “complete separation of church and state” (13); curbs on the right of inheritance (14); a steeply graduated income tax and “abolition of taxes on articles of consumption” (15); “state guarantees” for those who are “incapacitated for work” (16); and finally “universal free education” (17).

The short document concludes that it is in the interests of the German proletariat, petty bourgeoisie and small peasants “to support these demands”:

“Only by the realisation of these demands will the millions in Germany, who have hitherto been exploited by a handful of persons ... win the rights and attain to that power to which they are entitled as the producers of all wealth” (K Marx, F Engels MECW Vol 7, Moscow 1977, pp3-7).

Evidently Marx and Engels considered the republican demand for the abolition of the fragmented monarchy system in Germany a matter of the utmost importance. True, the realisation of their minimum programme presented in the ‘Demands’ was not within itself to transcend the bounds of bourgeois civil society. Rather it was to prepare the working class for higher tasks. Something that would be ensured by making the revolution permanent. In the mean time, during the period of transition, what was to replace the monarchy? As I have shown, not necessarily the socialist republic. The exact class content of the state is left open-ended. But its form is unmistakable. It is the democratic republic based on the “sovereignty of the German people”. Here, as Engels explained in the launch issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, was the organ of the anti-monarchist revolution won by “fighting in the streets of almost all the cities and towns of the country, and especially the barricades of Vienna and Berlin” (F Engels MECW Vol 7, Moscow 1977, p16).

There is another thorny problem for comrade Delargy. The comrade is no innocent. He is intelligent and reasonably well read. Somewhere in the back of his brain lodges the memory that Lenin and the Bolsheviks called themselves revolutionary democrats. No matter. As a good Trotskyite comrade Delargy knows, or believes he knows, that he is on firm ground. Lenin broke from ‘old’ Bolshevism and its ‘revolutionary ‘democracy’ and converted to Trotskyism. We can leave our friend to repeat his comforting fairy story:

“It is a measure of Lenin’s genius that although he and his party entered the 1917 revolution armed with a completely inadequate programme it took him no time at all to see the necessity of embracing Trotsky’s, and it took him only a few weeks before winning the majority of his party. Lenin and Trotsky were never in any doubt as to which class would lead the revolution. What Lenin did fail to see until after February 1917 was that a tiny minority of the Russian population, the working class, could take state power and, backed by the immense peasantry (a non-socialistic, rural petty bourgeois class), retain it for long enough to be rescued by a victorious European working class, whose revolution the Russian Revolution could help precipitate” (Weekly Worker April 15).

Now we move onto comrade Delargy’s dismissal of the modern-day revolutionary democracy advocated by the CPGB, which he equates with the goal of a bourgeois republic. “Lenin,” he says, “may have been slower than Trotsky in seeing this potential in backward Russia.” But he was “never in any doubt that the revolution in Britain (a country where the working class formed the overwhelming majority) would put the working class into the driving seat”. In other words there is no need to fight for a republic under capitalism: ie, under today’s social conditions. Presumably to do so is Kautskyism. Comrade Delargy’s federal republic, is, you see, a federal socialist republic (logically he should reject working class demands for higher pay on the ground that socialists are for the abolition of the system of wage labour).

Economism is always very bold when it comes to the future. Very timid when it comes to today. The “working class in power in Britain (as in Russia)”, comrade Delargy informs us - as if we did not know and constantly proclaim it - “would not be content with stopping with the overthrow of the monarchy and an unelected second chamber”. “Of course” these would go, the comrade declares. But their “overthrow” would not “represent the pinnacle of the revolutionary movement”: merely “some of the least important aspects of it” (Weekly Worker April 15).

There is a lot to disentangle. We can best begin with Trotsky. He was a great revolutionary. But his latter-day followers like comrade Delargy do him a grave disservice by lionising his pre-1917 role. In essence Trotsky took a centrist, “conciliation-ist” position from 1903 until May 1917, when he returned from the USA and placed himself “at the disposal of the Bolshevik Party”. Trotsky later maintained that until then his “revolutionary ideas or proposals amounted to nothing but ‘phrases’”. Lenin on the other hand carried out “the only truly revolutionary work”. That was, a contrite Trotsky argues, “work that helped the party take shape and grow stronger” (L Trotsky The challenge of the Left Opposition: 1923-25 New York 1980, pp265, 267). Was Trotsky right? Absolutely!

Why does comrade Delargy pretend that it was Lenin who underwent a Trotskyite conversion in 1917, and not Trotsky who underwent a Leninite conversion? As we have seen from the passages reproduced above, basically it stems from the comrade’s economistic approach to present-day politics. Democratic questions are the “least important aspects”, if not ghastly traps to be avoided. Crudely put, the role of revolutionaries in a country like the kingdom of Scotland is twofold. In the here and now support and give a socialist coloration to bread-and-butter issues like the minimum wage, cuts and trade union rights. That is practical politics, which in spite of the much vaunted ‘transitional’ claims of the Trotskyites, remain firmly within the narrow horizon of the monarchy system. Then in the indefinite future lies the socialist millennium. As there is no revolutionary situation in Britain, that resides in the realm of propaganda.

The minimum or immediate demand for a federal republic advanced by the CPGB - which enshrines the democratic unity of the working class in Britain - has no place in comrade Delargy’s world view. The only republic he is willing to countenance is the socialist republic. Consistently the comrade also implies that the workers’ state would abolish the unelected second chamber. Put another way, however, these “least important” demands will have to wait till the revolution before they can be realised. Up to the dawn of the new order the left should critically operate under the constitutional monarchy system and ignore siren calls for a democratic republic. The role of the left is to dream of the future and in the practical world support and encourage strikes and other such economic struggles. Comrade Delargy’s anti-monarchism is therefore platonic, not revolutionary.

Lenin is very inconvenient for comrade Delargy. Lenin did after all stress the necessity for working class hegemony in the struggle for a republic in Russia. Unlike comrade Delargy, for Lenin the “overthrow of the monarchy” was far from unimportant. It was a crucial strategic aim. Unless the workers took the lead against the tsarist system there could be no hope of a revolutionary seizure of power.

In contrast, because he was anti-Lenin, a caricatured pre-1917 Trotsky serves comrade Delargy’s economism admirably. Lenin might have been right and Trotsky wrong about building the Party. But Trotsky was right and Lenin was wrong about the Russian Revolution. So says our comrade Delargy.

As we have read, comrade Delargy insists that in order to lead the October Revolution, Lenin had to embrace Trotsky’s programme and abandon his “completely inadequate programme” of revolutionary democracy. Lenin, it should be said, advocated what he might have called a bourgeois revolution sui generis, in which the role of the revolutionary government of the Jacobin type (clearing the medieval barriers to capitalist development) would be played by the ‘democratic dictatorship’. Full socialism only becomes materially possible after a whole period of economic development.

Comrade Delargy ridicules Lenin’s demand for the revolutionary democratic dictatorship - ie, rule - of the proletariat and peasantry. His whole account is disjointed. Nevertheless the comrade sings from the Trotskyite songbook. So it takes no effort to present the comrade’s version of Lenin’s theory. He indignantly complains that Lenin - and modern-day Leninists - posit “a separate stage prior to workers’ power” (Weekly Worker April 15). Such a ‘theory of stages’ is by definition a cardinal sin for any self-respecting Trotskyite. How was this theory supposed to work in Russia?

First stage, there would be an anti-tsarist revolution. It could not be led by the bourgeoisie. That class, said Lenin, was too cowardly and compromised with the autocracy. The proletariat would have to substitute and lead the peasant millions and the ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’. However, though carried out in a novel way, the revolution would only bring socialism nearer by laying the basis for capitalist development under democratic conditions. Once that capitalist stage had been completed, the working class could think about putting forward its own class agenda and preparing for the second, socialist, revolution. The ‘democratic dictatorship’ is, for comrade Delargy, synonymous with bourgeois freedom and bourgeois progress and thus with a “bourgeois republic”.

Actually the real theory of artificial stages in Russia was advocated by the Mensheviks. Their analysis flowed from crude historical analogies and was thus very superficial. The only difference with the above sketch being that the ‘bourgeois revolution’ would necessarily be finished by the bourgeoisie. The proletariat had to support the bourgeoisie in carrying through its predetermined historic mission. That could involve independent militant action. However, in the event that a popular revolution proved successful in Russia, the proletariat puts the bourgeoisie in power. Obeying the ‘laws of history’, it then patiently waits in the wings, as a “party of extreme opposition”, until capitalism has been fully developed and the conditions created for socialism. For Mensheviks then, there would have to be two revolutions in Russia. One bourgeois with a bourgeois state. The other, coming a long time after, was socialist, with a socialist state. The two are separated by a definite historical stage and crucially by distinct and antagonistically opposed regimes.

Lenin explicitly rejected this mechanical schema. His theory was based on Marx’s permanent revolution. As we have said, Lenin considered the bourgeoisie in Russia counterrevolutionary. As a class it could not even begin the ‘bourgeois revolution’. The workers would have to take the initiative in overthrowing tsarism at the “head of the whole people, and particularly the peasantry”. The main political slogans of the Bolsheviks were ‘Abolish the monarchy’ and ‘For the democratic republic’.

If their popular uprising proved successful - and remained under proletarian hegemony - the revolutionary dictatorship (rule) of the proletariat and peasantry would not meekly make way for the bourgeoisie. Yes, capitalism would be “strengthened”: ie, allowed to develop. But there would be strict limitations. Not only an eight-hour day, trade union rights and complete political liberty, but an “armed proletariat” in possession of state power. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry would wage a “relentless struggle against all counterrevolutionary attempts”, not least from the bourgeoisie.

Such a hybrid regime could not survive in isolation. It would, and must, act to “rouse” the European socialist revolution. The proletariat of advanced Europe would in turn help Russia move to socialism (which requires definite material conditions in terms of the development of the productive forces). Inevitably there would, with the course of material progress, be a differentiation between the proletariat and the peasantry. But not necessarily a specifically socialist revolution: ie, the violent overthrow of the state in Russia.

There would not be a democratic or bourgeois stage and then a socialist stage at the level of regime. Democratic and socialist tasks are distinct and premised on different material, social and political conditions. But particular elements interweave. The revolution could, given the right internal and external conditions, proceed uninterruptedly from democratic to socialist tasks through the proletariat fighting not only from below, but from above: ie, from a salient of state power. The revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat thereby peacefully grows over into the dictatorship of the proletariat, assuming internal proletarian hegemony and external proletarian aid from a socialist Europe. Here is Lenin’s real theory elaborated in his pamphlet Two tactics of social democracy in the democratic revolution (see VI Lenin CW Vol 9, Moscow 1977, pp15-130). It is readily available, easily checked and not difficult to grasp. So why does comrade Delargy mischievously paint Lenin in the false colours of Menshevism?

What of Trotsky, whose programme was so superior compared with Lenin’s “completely inadequate” one? Comrade Delargy takes it for granted that it was qualitatively different, compared to Lenin’s. Actually an objective observer can only but be struck by the remarkable similarity. In his Results and prospects, published in 1906, Trotsky explained his application of Marx’s theory to Russia. Along with Lenin he dismissed any revolutionary potential of the bourgeoisie. The working class had to form a revolutionary government “as the leading force”. They would do so in “alliance with the peasantry”. But, given the circumstances of Russia, the fact of proletarian state power would destroy the “borderline between the minimum and maximum programme: that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day”. However, one should not interpret such a formulation to mean Trotsky entertained the conceit of a backward and isolated Russia as ripe for socialism. No communist then believed any such thing. Trotsky, to his credit, remained implacably hostile to “national socialism” till his untimely death in 1940 (L Trotsky The permanent revolution New York 1978, p159). So Trotsky understood that the revolution would have to be permanent, or uninterrupted, if the working class in Russia was not to be “crushed”. European revolution was vital. Suffice to say, the differences with Lenin’s theory are those of nuance.

True, in Results and prospects and subsequent works, and in Lenin’s so-called replies, there was a very unrewarding polemic between the two men. Factional interests produced more heat than light in both cases. Trotsky dismissed out of hand any suggestion of a “special form of the proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution”. He was intent on rubbishing and equating both the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Lenin in turn attacked Trotsky for “underestimating” the peasantry by raising the slogan, ‘Not a tsar’s government, but a workers’ government’.

On the basis of such evidence Trotsky is no doubt right when he concludes that Lenin had “never read my basic work”. The above slogan was proclaimed not by Trotsky, but his (then) friend and collaborator, Parvus. “Never did Lenin anywhere analyse or quote,” says Trotsky, “even in passing, Results and prospects” (L Trotsky The permanent revolution New York 1978, p166). He goes on to cite the “solidarity” that existed between himself and the Bolsheviks during and immediately after the 1905 revolution. And for those who demonise the term ‘stage’ and belittle the pre-1917 Lenin, Trotsky’s boast that he “formulated the tasks of the successive stages of the revolution in exactly the same manner as Lenin” should provide them with food for thought (ibid p168). The same can be said for Trotsky’s confident affirmation about how “Lenin’s formula” closely “approximated” to his own “formula of permanent revolution” (ibid p198). Comrade Delargy can carry on claiming that Trotsky’s theory was superior to Lenin’s “completely inadequate programme”. But that only shows he is more interested in endlessly repeating fairy stories than grasping the truth.

What of Lenin abandoning his theory of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ in order to lead the October Revolution, as asserted by comrade Delargy? Here is a fable hatched by Trotsky himself after Lenin’s death in 1924. No doubt he was desperate to counter the campaign against ‘Trotskyism’ launched by the triumvirate of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev. By pretending that Lenin had undergone a Trotskyite conversion in April 1917, he could enhance his own reputation and at the same time highlight the negative role played by Kamenev and Zinoviev during 1917. Notoriously they ‘scabbed’ on Lenin’s call for ‘All power to the soviets’ and a second revolution (that, it should be pointed out, did not prevent both men occupying positions of the highest responsibility after the revolution).

In February 1917 tsarism collapsed in face of defeats at the hands of the German imperial army and an outburst of popular protest. The fall of the monarchy was a watershed. It was the beginning of the revolution. A provisional government was formed, headed first by prince Lvov and, following his departure in July, by the Socialist Revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky. The (unelected) provisional government continued Russia’s involvement in the imperialist slaughter, refused peasant demands for land redistribution and constantly delayed the convening of a constituent assembly. In short the proletariat and peasantry had “placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie”. Nevertheless Russia was the freest of the belligerent countries and alongside, and in parallel to, the provisional government there stood the soviets, or councils, of workers, soldiers and peasants. There was dual power.

What was Lenin’s programme during this “first stage of the revolution”? Did he junk his old theory? On return from exile he issued the call for the Party to amend “our out-of-date minimum programme” (VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p24). Obviously the demand to overthrow the tsar was now obsolete. The key was to combat ‘honest’ popular illusions in the provisional government and raise sights. The Bolsheviks were a small minority in the soviets. Their task was to become the majority by agitating for the confiscation of the landlords’ estates and the nationalisation and redistribution of land, the abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy, and the amalgamation of the banks under workers’ control. This would prepare the conditions for the “second stage of the revolution” and the transfer of all power into “the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants”. The “only possible form of revolutionary government” was a “republic of soviets of workers’, agricultural labourers’ and peasants’ deputies” (VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p23). Lenin made no claims that the Party’s “immediate task” was to “introduce” socialism. Only that production and distribution had to be put under workers’ control to prevent the impending meltdown of the economy.

Do these ‘stageist’ programmatic formulations and the perspective of a workers’ and peasants’ republic indicate an abandonment or a development of Lenin’s theory in light of new and unexpected circumstances? I make no excuse for turning to Lenin for an answer. In the article ‘The dual power’, he writes the following:

“The highly remarkable feature of our revolution is that it has brought about a dual power. This fact must be grasped first and foremost: unless it is understood, we cannot advance. We must know how to supplement and amend old ‘formulas’ - for example, those of Bolshevism - for, while they have been found to be correct on the whole, their concrete realisation has turned out to be different. Nobody previously thought, or could have thought, of a dual power” (ibid p38).

Lenin faced stiff opposition from amongst the ‘old’ Bolsheviks. Their confused, and semi-Menshevik, position brought about by the unique situation was summed up by Kamenev in Pravda:

“As for comrade Lenin’s general scheme, it appears unacceptable, inasmuch as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution is completed, and builds on the immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.”

The criticism was wrong on two accounts. Firstly, though state power had been transferred, that did not fully meet the immediate programmatic aims of the Bolsheviks. Things were very complex. The old Romanov order had been politically overthrown. To that extent, argued Lenin, the programme had been fulfilled. But the ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’ in the form of the soviets had voluntarily ceded power to the bourgeoisie. Life for the moment was in that sense closer to the programme of the Mensheviks. To bring it in line with that of the Bolsheviks required carrying through the agrarian revolution - the landlords still held their estates - and splitting the peasants from the bourgeoisie. “That,” asserted Lenin, “has not even started” (ibid p44).

Repetition of the slogan ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in general had become a mere abstraction. Events had “clothed it with flesh and bone, concretised it and thereby modified it” (ibid p45). The soviets (councils) were real. The Bolsheviks, or those whom Lenin was now calling the communists, had to deal with the actual situation where instead of coming to power this ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ existed side by side with, and subordinate to, a weak government of the bourgeoisie. Lenin energetically fought for the Party to struggle for influence in the soviets. Once they had a majority, the programme could genuinely be completed.

The dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry had therefore become interwoven with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The Russian Revolution had gone further than the classical bourgeois revolutions of England 1645 or France 1789, but in Lenin’s words “has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” (ibid 61). There can be dual power, but not a dual power state (comrade Delargy is right on this). One of the dictatorships - ie, powers - has to die. Either the revolution was completed under the hegemony of the proletariat or popular power would be killed by counterrevolution. It was one or the other.

Secondly, there was Kamenev’s fear of voluntarism, of going straight to socialism. Lenin swore that there was no such intention. “I might have incurred this danger,” explained Lenin, “if I said: ‘No tsar, but a workers’ government’. But I did not say that; I said something else” - ie, that power must pass to the workers’ and peasants’ soviets (ibid p48). The peasant movement could not be “skipped”. The idea of playing at the seizure of power by a workers’ government would not be Marxism, but Blanquism. Power had to be exercised by the majority.

Far from rejecting his old formulation of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, Lenin quoted his 1905 Two tactics pamphlet to back up his concrete application of it in 1917. Like everything else such a slogan had a “past and a future”. Its past is “autocracy, serfdom, monarchy and privilege ... Its future is the struggle against private property, the struggle of the wage worker against the employer, the struggle for socialism” (ibid p52). Kamenev and the ‘old’ Bolsheviks could only see the past. That is why they sought unity with the Mensheviks. But in 1917 the future had begun, above all around the attitude towards ‘defencism’ and preventing the economic collapse caused by the imperialist war. Russia and its people could only be saved by the soviets of workers and peasants. That was not socialism. It would though bring socialism nearer.

Perhaps comrade Delargy would argue that what was good for backward Germany in 1848 and backward Russia in 1917 is no good for advanced capitalist countries. He might care to ponder then that in his ‘Critique of the Erfurt programme’, written in 1891, Engels attacks his SPD comrades for failing to raise the demand for the republic in a now industrialised Germany. They used the threat of a new anti-socialist clampdown by the Bismarck government as an excuse. Engels suggests various ways round the problem. Whatever the precise formulation, the hold of Prussianism and its monarchy must be abolished. What is needed? “In my view,” says Engels, “the proletariat can only use the form of the one and indivisible republic” (F Engels MECW Vol 27, London 1990, p228).

In the same work Engels reiterates that in the British Isles a “federal republic” - presumably formed between Britain and Ireland, but conceivably an England-Ireland-Scotland-Wales federal republic - “would be a step forward” (ibid). Marx and Engels had on a whole number of occasions raised that demand for the British Isles. For them the workers in Britain must struggle for the fullest democracy. Lenin approvingly cites the call by Marx and Engels for a federal republic in the British Isles in State and revolution.

That does not mean the slogan is necessarily correct. But to arrogantly dismiss it, to equate it with Kautskyism and class treachery, is surely a sign of a big political problem for those who would use the name of Marxism.

Trotsky’s writings on Spain in 1930 are instructive too. Spain was still a monarchy. Trotsky therefore calls for a democratic republic and tells the communists to “struggle resolutely, audaciously, and energetically for democratic slogans”. Not to do so “would be commit the greatest sectarian mistake”. The communists should distinguish themselves from all the “leftists” not by “rejecting democracy” (as the anarchists, syndicalists and economists), but by “struggling resolutely and openly for it” (L Trotsky The Spanish revolution New York 1973, pp59-60). The proletariat “needs a clear revolutionary democratic programme”, he insists (ibid p77). Only so armed can the proletariat lead the coming revolution, says Trotsky.

Was Trotsky right? Again, absolutely!

Jack Conrad