Downhill to Kautsky

The spirit of the moderate Bolsheviks, in 1917, whose real political cause was republican anti-tsarism, is alive and well and lives on in the mind of Dave Craig (Weekly Worker July 19). It is a highly dogmatic spirit, compressing history into the neat, abstract shapes of democracy in general.

Even Lenin’s State and revolution is claimed to express the “fundamental idea that runs through all of Marx’s work: namely that the democratic republic is the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat”. This assertion of a fundamental idea at this level of generality, free of concrete political and historical circumstances, is vulgar Marxism worthy of the Second International. Marx did not believe in the linear progress throughout the world and across social systems of a simple substance called ‘democratic republic’.

But the comrade does not mean a class and historically conditioned democratic republic. He is referring to his own invention of a democratic republic, which salvages the democratic minimum programme of old Bolshevism from its shipwreck in the Russian Revolution. But he only saves the democratic minimum programme by taking the bourgeois republic out of history. Dave simply superimposes the abstraction of a democratic republic onto the historical situation of dual power in Russia in 1917. The baby of the democratic minimum programme can be saved from the bathwater of centrism and reformism by subjectively redefining the democratic republic to enclose all the features of socialist revolution including soviets.

The comrade then crudely projects his own invention of ‘dual power republic’ on Lenin. But dual power is not a republic. It is the struggle of hostile classes for domination. For Lenin in April 1917 the workers had power within their grasp, but were not fully aware of their power. Dual power was a political miscarriage. The aim is not dual power, but power. As Lenin explained, insufficient class consciousness and organisation prevented the seizure of power until October 1917. Historically, factually there was no dual power republic in Russia in 1917 or anywhere else. Nor is there likely to be. It is merely a fantasy of Dave Craig.

Dave mangles and twists Marxist words and concepts, obscuring the fact that his concept of democratic revolution is a modern refinement of the moderate Bolshevik, two-stage view of the revolution, shared by Mensheviks and Stalinists. So the minimum democratic programme becomes a transitional programme which takes the workers from a pre-revolutionary period to the dual power republic! In other words the anti-monarchy republicanism of the RDG is the first bourgeois democratic stage.

Even Lenin’s creative energy was trapped for a period in two-stages theory, as Two tactics in the democratic revolution shows. In 1905 Lenin still shared Kautsky’s view that the road to socialism ran through a special bourgeois state. When Bukharin argued before 1917 that Marxists were anti-state, Lenin called him childish and refused to publish his views. But in 1917 he acknowledged Bukharin had been right against Kautsky. Comrade Craig is still a believer in the special bourgeois democratic state as a step to socialism.

Dave Craig dismisses Lenin’s criticism of formal democracy in the Renegade Kautsky. He rants that a “debate in 1918 about an actually existing workers’ state against returning to bourgeois democracy is not relevant for British constitutional democracy in 1999". But the debate was about the establishment of a workers’ state in 1917. Lenin’s assessment was that the institutions of bourgeois democracy, however democratic, fundamentally clashed with the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. This does have relevance for 1999. It shows there is no bourgeois federal republican stage to socialism.

Comrade Craig thinks that because we are in a period of reaction, and the red flag does not fly above my workplace and the pale pink flag of democratic revolution does not fly above his university, we must subject ourselves to a bourgeois democratic limitation. Looking at Dave’s metaphors, he views socialism as a remote land in the tradition of the Second International. There are usually two land masses separated by a very large river. One land mass is the present society, the other on the far side is the classless society. In between is the island of the democratic republic. Lenin’s metaphor of revolution is more appropriate. We act in a revolutionary way and, if we fail, that is a dress rehearsal.

Because Trotsky advocated bourgeois democratic demands in China in 1927-28 Dave imagines he has recruited him to the RDG cause. But Trotsky, like all communists, is not opposed to bourgeois democratic demands in some circumstances, provided they are part of the programme for workers’ power and not integrated into a democratic first stage for socialism. What is objectionable is comrade Craig’s blending of democratic slogans from semi-colonial China with modern bourgeois democracy in Britain in his iron logic of democratic revolution. Trotsky advocated democratic demands after the Stalinist utopian struggle for revolutionary democracy ended in the world historic defeat and crushing of the workers’ movement and the Chinese Communist Party in 1926.

Whether Trotsky’s formulation of democratic demands in Spain 1930-31 was correct or adequate is debatable. But Spain in this period cannot be compared with a long-established bourgeois democratic state like Britain. In countries of semi-feudal or extreme economic backwardness, bourgeois democratic demands play a larger role. In any event the Spanish workers and peasants skipped the democratic stage and seized the factories and land in 1936. There would have been a proletarian revolution and soviets had the Communist International and the Communist Party not limited themselves to democracy and republicanism as the first step to socialism.

A critical attitude to Bolshevism is crucial to develop Marxism. The idea that we are with Lenin and Trotsky on everything or we become Trotskyists or Leninists against Lenin and Trotsky is laughable. Marxists who have assimilated the lessons of October 1917 start from Lenin’s The renegade Kautsky and Lenin’s thesis of proletarian and bourgeois democracy in 1919.

But Dave Craig starts from Two tactics in 1905 or the old Bolshevik minimum democratic programme. To radicalise the Bolshevik Party and break it from the aim of a democratic republic was an uphill struggle. Dave Craig wants to take us downhill again to Karl Kautsky, a man who shared his passion for pedantic logic

Barry Biddulph