The means or the end?

Phil Sharpe contrasts Dave Craig’s views on revolutionary democracy with those of Trotsky

In his recent article (Weekly Worker July 1) Dave Craig alleges that I ignore the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion as an expression of the degeneration of the Soviet regime. I could also ask him why he ignores the significance of the ruthless suppression of the peasant rebellions of 1921.

These rebellions were calling for an end to war communism in the immediate period after the civil war. However, the peasantry are of no significance to Dave Craig, unless they are sailors based in Kronstadt. If comrade Dave has read my previous articles closely he will find that I explain how war communism was an important expression of the development of bureaucratic utopian socialism, and it indicated the start of illusions about the building of socialism in one country.

The introduction of the New Economic Policy partially changed the ideological situation introduced by war communism because Lenin came increasingly aware of the need to tackle the domination of bureaucracy. But the solutions proposed by Lenin were ultimately limited because they were not based upon the development of inner-party democracy, and instead Lenin advocated and achieved the banning of party factions. This situation represented the defensive politics of a transitional regime that was a rapidly degenerating workers’ state, and contained definite tendencies towards establishing new class rule. However, this regressive tendency was not fully realised in 1921, and was only definitely completed between 1928 and 1929.

It is this context of unfinished degeneration that is the basis of analysing the Kronstadt rebellion as a counterrevolutionary action that protests against the not yet realised bureaucratic regression of the Soviet regime. As the Kronstadt sailors did not want to negotiate in a meaningful manner, and effectively demanded the overthrow of the Soviet regime, compromise seemed to be impossible. Thus the choice was between anti-Bolshevik counterrevolution and a declining Soviet regime. The Kronstadt sailors wanted soviets without Bolsheviks and effectively they were for political domination by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionary Party.

In contrast the various peasant revolts wanted an end to war communism, which suggested an aspiration to introduce NEP, and these demands did not amount to a call to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Yet Dave Craig’s neglect of, and silence about, the aspirations of the peasantry suggests he has little sympathy for them, even though they were suppressed in 1921 in a harsher manner than the Kronstadt rebellion.

Obviously to Dave Craig democracy applies to the urban centres of Russia, but is not applicable to the peasant masses. Democracy is a selective concept to the Bolsheviks, Kronstadt sailors, bourgeois democrats and Dave Craig, because the peasantry remain a reactionary mass who are useful for constructing revolutionary alliances, but have no active role after the revolution, and so become the dominated instrument of the urban party. But the proletariat should not be indifferent to this process, because the domination of the peasantry is connected to the exploitation of the proletariat. If the proletariat is truly to be the leading revolutionary force, then democracy should apply to all, and not the self-selecting few.

If the proletarian and peasant alliance had been built on consistent democratic principles between 1918 and 1921 then it may have been possible to counteract some of the tendencies towards bureaucratic degeneration. This is because the dictatorship of the proletariat would have been stronger, and expressed a balance of class forces in favour of the Soviet regime. Instead the Soviet regime was externally and internally isolated in 1921 and was already degenerating. The absence of a strong proletarian and peasant alliance meant Kautsky was proved correct: the revolution was premature and had become regressive, and the party was being transformed into a Bonapartist instrument of new class rule.

Does the above analysis mean that Dave Craig is ultimately correct about Kronstadt? The suppression of Kronstadt was an expression of the increasing domination of bureaucratic tendencies within the Bolsheviks, but they had no choice about their course of action because they were not going to voluntarily surrender power to an expression of bourgeois and petty bourgeois counterrevolution. But if rebellion had occurred under Stalin, then the Kronstadt call to redevelop soviets without Bolsheviks may (a matter for debate) have become progressive, especially as Trotsky before 1934-35 only had a reformist programme to transform and rejuvenate the soviets of a degenerated workers’ state. Hence because the Kronstadt rebellion occurred in 1921 - a time of transition and flux - it was still premature to support a virtual insurrection against the declining Soviet regime.

Dave Craig also refers to Trotsky’s analysis of France in order to justify his conception of revolutionary democracy, but he does not refer to the historical context of Trotsky’s call to defend bourgeois democracy. Trotsky calls for measures to strengthen bourgeois democracy, not as a distinct stage in the process of socialist transition (Dave Craig’s ‘dual power republic’ expresses this stageism), but as an expression of the concrete historical conditions in France: the need to defeat fascist counterrevolution and oppose the Bonapartist concentration of political power.

In his Programme of action for France (New York 1974, pp21-32) Trotsky explains that capitalism in decline means the “suppression of the democratic regime” (p21). The stabilisation of capitalism has been temporary, but this period has been used by the ruling class to resort to fascism as the answer to the threat of the proletariat: “Benefiting from the reverses in its revolutionary march towards socialism, the world bourgeoisie is using its last resort, fascism, by means of which it is making desperate efforts to clear the organised working class from its road” (pp21-22). Trotsky combines historical confidence in the proletariat making inevitable and predetermined revolution with a more concrete understanding of the immediate significance of the potential for fascist counterrevolution. In order to oppose this threat of counterrevolution Trotsky does not defend an abstract democratic programme, but instead combines an economic and political analysis as the basis to mobilise opposition to political reaction.

Trotsky develops a strategic perspective based around transitional demands. He calls for the abolition of business secrets, for workers’ control of industry, for a 40-hour week and increased wages, and equal pay for equal work between men and women. Trotsky also demands nationalisation of the banks and big monopolies on the basis of workers’ planned production. These demands, despite their strategic importance, are not just meant to be economic and limited to the working class, but rather they are part of the political struggle that is required by the workers and peasants for hegemony within French society. The battle for democracy within French society cannot be limited to the proletariat and its struggle for workers’ control of production: instead it is necessary to enlarge and expand the conception of democracy and include the peasantry. On this basis the peasantry can become an ally of the proletariat rather than the bulwark of reaction.

Trotsky has learnt the lessons from the Russian Revolution and Stalinist degeneration, and he calls for an alliance between the workers and peasants that is based upon equality. He argues that collectivisation should not be forced, and expropriation should be limited to large-scale farms:

“We affirm that our final aim, as a higher form of progress, is the collectivisation of agriculture as well as of industry. But the proletariat cannot force this aim on the peasantry. It can only facilitate the evolution towards this goal. The proletariat can only make proposals in this direction, which must then be completed, corrected and broadened through the common experience of the two classes equally oppressed by the capitalist exploiters. We must first secure for the peasants a real opportunity to determine their own fate, to decide the use of their forces and their property, to express their preferences in methods of farming, to choose by their own judgement the moment of passing from private to collective farming” (p26).

Thus Trotsky is outlining a principled policy for the relations between the workers and peasantry based upon consultation, consensus, diversity and pluralism, and opposing coercion. The peasants are being given the economic and political freedom of choice in relation to the forms of economic activity, and this means participatory economic democracy is not limited to the workers.

In political terms the workers’ and peasant alliance is also very important. The bourgeoisie is suppressing democracy and the revolutionary alternative is to replace the capitalist state with a workers’ and peasants’ government, as the basis of a proletarian state. This means the unity of the workers and peasantry is required as the democratic basis to overthrow capitalism and achieve the success of proletarian revolution:

“Reaction tries to frighten the peasants with the spectre of a proletarian dictatorship that subjugates the peasants to the workers. But in reality the proletarian state cannot be achieved as long as the proletariat is isolated from the peasantry” (p29).

The peasantry are presently atomised and scattered, and they require unity with the proletariat in order to gain a sense of their own political power and capacity to transform society in economic and political terms. So the hegemony of the proletariat, in unity with the peasantry, helps to realise the democratic capacity of the peasants, who can then act to oppose capitalism in a revolutionary manner. In concrete terms this means committees of struggle can be established in working class and peasant areas, and these can become organs of struggle against fascist counterrevolution. This defensive struggle for democracy against fascism has the mass potential to become a revolutionary struggle for the workers’ and peasants’ commune state. Thus the peasantry are crucial in relation to the task of changing the balance of class forces in favour of realising proletarian participatory democracy and establishing that state.

Trotsky does not seem to separate the question of the peasants and democracy from his traditional demands. The unity of the workers and peasants is considered necessary in relation to the perspective of realising the United Socialist states of Europe:

“Against the politics of the imperialist blocs, against the pacifist lie of the League of Nations, against the secret diplomacy of the war and the madness of armaments! Throughout the aged European continent - divided, militarised, bloodstained, threatened with total destruction by a new war - we raise the only banner of liberation, that of the workers’ and peasants’ United States of Europe, the fraternal federation of Soviet States!” (p28).

What then of Trotsky’s conception of revolutionary democracy which Dave Craig believes is the expression of a transitional call for a dual power republic? In general strategic terms Trotsky calls for the formation of workers’ militia in order to oppose the threat of a coup and fascist reaction, and the arming of the workers and poor peasants can achieve the overthrow of counterrevolution and bring about the defeat of the bourgeoisie.

In more immediate terms the workers still have illusions in bourgeois democracy, and so it is necessary to defend bourgeois democracy against Bonapartism and fascism. But this requires the establishment of a radical bourgeois democracy that is based upon the radical traditions of 1793. This involves the abolition of senate and presidency, the establishment of universal suffrage at the age of 18, and the right of recall of deputies. Dave Craig will agree: so far, so good. This is the radical bourgeois democratic republic that he aspires to in the attempt to realise the dual power republic.

However, contrary to Dave Craig, Trotsky is not content with this form of bourgeois republic. To Trotsky this type of bourgeois state is only satisfactory to the extent that it is able to express opposition to fascism. In other words, could it be possible that a bourgeois republic can be influenced by mass pressure to oppose fascism? Thus Trotsky states: “Workers adhering to democracy must further understand that it is not enough to defend democracy: democracy must be regained” (pp31-32).

Trotsky does not oppose a defensive struggle at the level of bourgeois democracy, but it is not enough to oppose reaction: it is necessary to establish the organs of mass participatory democracy that can express offensive struggle against counterrevolution, and then overthrow capitalism. But with Dave Craig’s approach a radical conception of bourgeois democracy is a sufficient basis for class struggle, and so he ends up essentially defining revolutionary class struggle as economistic, and this contrasts with the political terrain of the struggle to achieve a radical form of the bourgeois republic.

Trotsky does argue: “A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power” (p31). But this is not a call for a dual power republic: rather Trotsky is arguing that winning the battle for democracy is crucial for the struggle for socialism. This involves many different forms, from establishing workers’ and peasant unity to reforming bourgeois democracy, but Trotsky’s strategic aim remains the same - to smash the bourgeois state through proletarian revolution.

In contrast, for Dave Craig the means become the end, and the end is reduced to the means. Thus the dual power republic seems to be the means and end, and the end of achieving the proletarian and peasants’ state becomes superfluous.