Thread: When Lenin and Trotsky abolished workers control

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  1. #1
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    Default When Lenin and Trotsky abolished workers control

    In the years after the October revolution, Lenin and Trotsky gradually took power away from the workers councils in favour of party control. I believe* Trotsky stated that the party cannot be expected to subject itself to all the "moods and whimses" of the soviets.

    What were the reasons why the Bolsheviks took this measure?

    It has been suggested that Mensheviks attempted to defeat the revolution by putting pressure through the workers councils. If so, isn't it somewhat of a catch-22 to abolish the essence of socialism (workers control) in order to defend socialism?

    What would have been a better alternative to deal with the threat of counterrevolution? Are there, in your opinion, any situations in which the party vanguard should have the option to abolish workers democracy?

    Do you agree that, external factors such as isolation aside, these were the seeds for all succeeding negative (anti-democratic, anti-worker) developments after Lenin's death? I have noticed that some tendencies denounce the degeneration of the USSR, or even its switch to 'state capitalism', without taking into account anti-democratic developments that took place before the Stalin period and may well have made possible/paved the way for what was to follow.

    The disempowernment of the soviets may have only been intened to be a temporary measure. But the workers councils never regained any decision-making power/authority in the following 60+ years of 'Soviet' rule (regardless of external and internal developments) and it is doubtful that the CPSU had the slightest intention of reforming the system towards a workers democracy at any point. I am also unaware of any other Marxist-Leninist countries in which soviets played a significant role. With regards to this, do you agree with the Bakunin quote that "if you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself"?

    What checks and balances do you suggest to prevent anti-democratic/un-socialist developments and ensure workers control and workers democracy while at the same time successfully preventing counterrevolution?





    *I use the formulation "I believe" because I have been unable to locate the quote since I first read it
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    Great piece. Well done comrade for asking these interesting questions.

    This is something I have a split-mind on (if that makes sense). Basically I remember reading Lenin saying "we need to take one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards". This makes logic in a marxist-leninist sense as they believed that the workers control was not suitable at that stage and is concurrent to Soviet economic problems.

    In my opinion they should have established communal democratic workers councils and politically empowered them to make decisions based on the given circumstances as opposed to centralised control from Moscow. Though in saying that I wish to hear from other comrades here regarding this situation as I dont really have my mind made up on this.
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    Brilliant post. It is an interesting question. I have many arguments with my best friend the Trotskyist who argues the Bolsheviks HAD to do what they did for the revolution to survive. I am skeptical. I agree with Pastradamus, they should have dissolved the party and given full power to the workers councils.
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    For a detailed sequence of events in this process see Brinton, Bolsheviks and Workers' Control.

    The thing is, Bolsheviks (leadership, at least) didn't see soviets or factory committees as the backbone of socialism, but democratic centralism exercised through the "proletarian party". They didn't think they were doing anything wrong by abolishing workers' control.
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    It has been suggested that Mensheviks attempted to defeat the revolution by putting pressure through the workers councils. If so, isn't it somewhat of a catch-22 to abolish the essence of socialism (workers control) in order to defend socialism?
    Of course, which is probably why it never happened. District soviets throughout 1918 and into 1919 remained relatively apolitical. Even the Bolshevik party, whose organisational apparatus had fallen into severe decay post-October, did not begin to tentatively interfere in their operations until the end of 1918. Obviously the city soviets were different, and there is a very good case to be made that elections to the Petrograd Soviet in late 1918 were unrepresentative, but these organs were simply too unwieldy to play any real role in governance. For example, there were almost a thousand members of the Petrograd Soviet post-October and the executive stretched into the dozens. Actual power lay with both grassroots organs (ie, the district soviets) or more centralised regional organisations (not all of which were imposed by Moscow) that attempted to coordinate economic and security affairs

    What there is no case for is arguing that the Bolsheviks moved to establish some form of 'dictatorship of the party'. An examination of the Bolshevik party in the immediate post-October period (and I'd highly recommend Rabinowitch's The Bolsheviks in Power) shows that the party's organisation and structures fell into sharp decline as its most capable cadres were sucked into soviet work. Party activity almost halted completely much to the consternation of those remaining activists. More to the point, those Bolshevik fractions working in the soviets or other revolutionary organs did so independent of party oversight. For example, the party's Petersburg Committee, which had been hugely influential in the lead up to the October Revolution, virtually ceased to exist until August/September 1918 and was certainly not providing oversight or guidance to its members involved in Soviet work. IIRC Zinoviev was not even a member of the Petersburg Committee until autumn 1918

    As for the Menshevik groups, these (such as the EAD during 1918) drew support not from the district soviets but their surviving contacts in various factories. Unsurprising for an opposition that remained opposed to soviet rule. Broadly however the factory committees and unions, long bastions of Bolshevik support, remained pro-Soviet and the eventual suppression of groups like EAD aroused little anger/backlash

    Originally Posted by DJ-TC
    The thing is, Bolsheviks (leadership, at least) didn't see soviets or factory committees as the backbone of socialism, but democratic centralism exercised through the "proletarian party". They didn't think they were doing anything wrong by abolishing workers' control.
    The distinction as to be made here between 'workers' councils' and 'workers' control'. The former (soviets) were never intended to fulfil the roles of factory committees or even act as administrative organs of government. In turn while the Bolsheviks looked favourably on the factory committees (I particularly recall Lenin advocating abandoning the soviets for them during 1917) they were never a central plank of their platform
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    This is always what has bothered me about soviet democracy. Although obviously Lenin made a massive mistake taking power from the soviets (perhaps he really was corrupted by power?) I still see a problem with the idea of "giving all power to the Soviets". What is to stop the elected delegates from refusing recall and becoming a new ruling class?
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    For a detailed sequence of events in this process see Brinton, Bolsheviks and Workers' Control.

    The thing is, Bolsheviks (leadership, at least) didn't see soviets or factory committees as the backbone of socialism, but democratic centralism exercised through the "proletarian party". They didn't think they were doing anything wrong by abolishing workers' control.
    I think the line DJ-TC puts forward comes down to bit of an evil-men theory of history. The bolsheviks, including Lenin - in fact Lenin being the most prominent among them in this respect - called for "all power to the soviets". They did see that the fact that the mass organs of the working class were turning into empty shells was very problematic, they constantly expressed how uncomfortable they were at having ended up at the top of the state and so forth. The bolsheviks, including most of their leading militants were sincere revolutionaries with good intentions who were for working class power, and who did their best contribution among the whole class in the struggle for that aim. They certainly had confusions and serious mistakes, which have to be criticized and lessons of which have to be drawn yet the problem went far deeper than being a problem of the bolsheviks, their intentions, theories or subjective actions. The problem externally was the failure of the revolution to expand, thus its isolation. And only consequently the internal problem was the fact that the state organ became a very suitable layer for the bourgeois-bureaucrats who were rising due to this isolation.

    Here is a good article on the topic:

    http://en.internationalism.org/wr/30...orkers-control
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    The distinction as to be made here between 'workers' councils' and 'workers' control'. The former (soviets) were never intended to fulfil the roles of factory committees or even act as administrative organs of government. In turn while the Bolsheviks looked favourably on the factory committees (I particularly recall Lenin advocating abandoning the soviets for them during 1917) they were never a central plank of their platform
    First of all, Soviets were not typical "workers' councils," at least most of those who seized city - and later nationwide - authority. Soviets were, in most cases, councils of representatives with not well defined mandate, and their number was not respective to numbers they represented. In Petrograd, factory workers elected over 500 representatives - half chosen by 13% of workforce in small shops, half by 87% in large factories - while soldiers elected over 2000 of them.

    Second, actual workers' councils were supposed to execute workers' control on a nationwide scale. Soviets were not completely fit to do this, first of all because they weren't always comprised of worker-delegates who would follow base instructions, but elected party-agitators who were obliged by their respective "party line."

    (Of course, there were exceptions: Kronstadt Soviet was designed in such a way that only soldiers and workers from given regiments and workplaces could have been elected as Soviet delegates.)

    Organizations best fit for creating and developing workers' control were factory committees, elected at actual factory councils: they tended to connect through city and regional economic councils and made plans for future workers' control of economy in the form of actual self-management and planning.

    These organizations were suppressed by actions of the Soviet government, Sovnarkom and VCIK.

    Third, Lenin's sudden sympathies for the committees were short-lived, since his April concept of "Soviet Republic" was back on track in a no time. Soviets were supposed to be both the base for "worker-peasant government" and "peoples' economy."

    I think the line DJ-TC puts forward comes down to bit of an evil-men theory of history. The bolsheviks, including Lenin - in fact Lenin being the most prominent among them in this respect - called for "all power to the soviets". They did see that the fact that the mass organs of the working class were turning into empty shells was very problematic, they constantly expressed how uncomfortable they were at having ended up at the top of the state and so forth.
    I'm sorry, but no, this is not about one being "evil" or not; this is about actual facts that unfolded from day one. Fact remains that Lenin did not envisage workers' councils and actual workers' control as the backbone of socialism but he saw "peoples' economy" as a domain of the "Soviet Republic."

    Workers' role of actual management of production and planning was dismissed as a "syndicalist deviation" while workers were supposed to "control" economy in the form of supervision through unions, party and control inspections.

    Let's be frank. Use of Taylor system and old state-control structures (tzentri and glavki) was not a consequence of "isolation" and war, that, as viewed by Lenin in April 1918, was "over." This was the consequence of a fundamentally different vision of economy and the actual position of Lenin and the Party bureaucrats as "dirigeants".

    The bolsheviks, including most of their leading militants were sincere revolutionaries with good intentions who were for working class power, and who did their best contribution among the whole class in the struggle for that aim. They certainly had confusions and serious mistakes, which have to be criticized and lessons of which have to be drawn yet the problem went far deeper than being a problem of the bolsheviks, their intentions, theories or subjective actions.
    Sorry, but I have to jump in here as well.

    It is true that Bolshevik membership was indeed for working class power, and that membership came into sharp conflicts with those who lead the party over certain important issues, but it is also true that "working class power" wasn't always imagined in a proper perspective. Most of the active membership still saw the Party as an executive means of that "working class power." When it came down to party members who were also delegates of the workers to choose between party discipline and their mandate, they often enough chose the former. Events at the IV congress of the Soviets are a vivid depiction of this fact.

    Actions of Bolsheviks themselves lead to this degeneration of Soviet power.
    Last edited by Lamanov; 4th May 2009 at 15:56.
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    First of all, Soviets were not typical "workers' councils," at least most of those who seized local - and later nationwide - authority. Soviets were, in most cases, councils of representatives with not well defined mandate, and their number was not respective to numbers they represented. In Petrograd, factory workers elected over 500 representatives - half chosen by 13% of workforce in small shops, half by 87% in large factories - while soldiers elected over 2000 of them
    You're ignoring the district soviets and various military committees

    Second, actual workers' councils were supposed to execute workers' control on a nationwide scale. Soviets were not completely fit to do this, first of all because they weren't always comprised of worker-delegates who would follow base instructions, but elected party-agitators who were obliged by their respective "party line."
    The first part is unquestionably true, the various soviets were never intended to serve as organs of workers' control (edit: in the syndicalist sense). Hence the need for the distinction. The second part is simply false - the various Bolshevik fractions were not under the direct control of the CC or otherwise forced to toe the 'party line'. As I noted in the above post, the party structures had decayed to the point where this form of control was impossible. Throughout 1917 and 1918 where Bolshevik members took part in local soviets they did so without party oversight or control

    Bolshevik fractions in the soviets (district or city), Preparliament and Democratic State Conference (both 1917), CEC, Constituent Assembly, etc, were all semi-independent of the party proper. To give an example, when deciding on the party's stance towards the Constituent Assembly the Bolshevik Central Committee was unable to simply pass down a 'decree from on high' to its members. Instead the CC representatives (including Bukharin and possibly Lenin) were required to meet with the party's delegates to the Assembly on 12 Dec 1917 where a vote was then held as to whether the fraction should adopt the position of the CC

    Fact remains that Lenin did not envisage workers' councils and actual workers' control as the backbone of socialism but he saw "peoples' economy" as a domain of the "Soviet Republic."
    And if Lenin were a syndicalist I might slate him for hypocrisy. But he wasn't. With the exception of one short period during the summer of 1917 the Bolshevik position was consistent in advocating the soviets as the primary organs of revolutionary change

    Now you can of course argue that the Bolsheviks were mistaken in this policy but I get the feeling that you're going much further than that in ascribing active malice to Bolshevik decisions
    Last edited by ComradeOm; 4th May 2009 at 17:24.
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    I'm sorry, but no, this is not about one being "evil" or not; this is about actual facts that unfolded from day one. Fact remains that Lenin did not envisage workers' councils and actual workers' control as the backbone of socialism
    Considering that the slogan of the bolsheviks during the day one was all power to the soviets and the factory committees were massively promoted until the limited production under them became too inefficient for the conduction of the economy of the civil war, this statement is clear wrong.

    but he saw "peoples' economy" as a domain of the "Soviet Republic."
    I don't really remember reading anything about a "peoples' economy". On the other hand, he did not even see the Russian state as a "workers' state" let alone seeing the Russian society as a socialist society. He defined it as a "workers' and peasants' state with serious bureaucratic deformations". Regardless of the theoretical flaws of such definition, he was aware of the problem and evidently did not see the current situation as anything near a positive one.

    Workers' role of actual management of production and planning was dismissed as a "syndicalist deviation" while workers were supposed to "control" economy in the form of supervision through unions, party and control inspections.

    Let's be frank. Use of Taylor system and old state-control structures (tzentri and glavki) was not a consequence of "isolation" and war, that, as viewed by Lenin in April 1918, was "over." This was the consequence of a fundamentally different vision of economy and the actual position of Lenin and the Party bureaucrats as "dirigeants".
    Again this is not accurate. First of all, the Russian civil war (17-21) over by 1918 and the revolution was still isolated. Secondly, on the other hand, I think your approach towards the revolution is very mistaken. You basically see it as an economical event. On the other hand, it was impossible to have an economy based on socialist means of production in any way in Russia as it would have been in any single country, including the most advanced industrial ones taken individually. Added to that the conditions of constant pressure from different imperialist powers and the war, nothing but expanding could have provided the necessary conditions for the building of socialism. In this sense I think the revolution begins as a social and political phenomenon rather than an immediate economic one, and I view the factory committees in this respect as well:

    (Understanding October 1917 and the Factory Committees) The factory committees were class organs. In 1917 they were one of the forms generated by the proletariat to express its growing consciousness: “The soviets lagged behind the factory committees, the factory committees lagged behind the masses... the masses showed themselves to be a ‘hundred times to time left’ of the most left party (the Bolsheviks)” (Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution).

    After the revolution, in an unprecedented situation and with the illusion in the proletarian state, the Bolsheviks and the Soviets, along with the committees themselves saw the latter’s role to be part of the workers’ control of the economy. For the Central Council of Petrograd Factory Committees “Control (Workers’) must be understood as a transitional stage towards organizing the whole economic life of the country according to socialist principles” (Draft instructions on workers’ control, issued in 1917). The new Soviet government believed that: “Workers control is exercised by all the workers of the given enterprise through their elected bodies, such as the factory committees.” (Decree on Workers’ Control, 27/11/1917).

    This effort to have the workers control the economy led to important forums of the proletariat class consciousness, like the committees, losing their political content by being absorbed into the state structure for controlling the economy.

    The loss of these political organs was far more damaging than any introduction of one-man management, Taylorism and all the other measures.

    These economic measures were a product of economic ruin and chaos, along with the demands of the civil war. Lenin called them retreats and tried to explain them at every opportunity. But in themselves they did not call into question the ability of the proletariat to defend its own class political interests. By contrast the loss of the political nature of the committees and the mass assemblies they were based on seriously undermined the mass political activity of the proletariat. Without a flourishing base of mass assemblies and committees, the soviets were left as empty shells, which meant the proletariat had no means, apart from the Bolshevik Party, of trying to exercise its control over the state, including its economic organizations, and to push back the growing attacks on its interests.

    Here we can see that the idea that the committees represented a “higher level of production and distribution than Bolshevik one-man management”, turns everything on its head. It is only by the proletariat exercising its political dictatorship internationally that it will lay the basis for a ‘higher’ level of production etc, not speculation about this or that form of factory control.
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    I would like to note that the Soviets are united front organizations of the working class, much like trade unions. They don't suffice for political leadership - that role falls on the shoulders of the revolutionary party. Trotsky wrote an article aimed exactly at answering those who criticized the Bolsheviks for supposedly replacing the class dictatorship with a party dictatorship:

    The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from the insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity. In the revolutionary vanguard, organised in a party, is crystallised the aspiration of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power. In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard. The Soviets are the only organised form of the tie between the vanguard and the class. A revolutionary content can be given this form only by the party. This is proved by the positive experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of other countries (Germany, Austria, finally, Spain). No one has either shown in practice or tried to explain articulately on paper how the proletariat can seize power without the political leadership of a party that knows what it wants. the fact that this party subordinates the Soviets politically to its leaders has, in itself, abolished the Soviet system no more than the domination of the conservative majority has abolished the British parliamentary system.
    Full article here.
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    The distinction as to be made here between 'workers' councils' and 'workers' control'. The former (soviets) were never intended to fulfil the roles of factory committees or even act as administrative organs of government. In turn while the Bolsheviks looked favourably on the factory committees (I particularly recall Lenin advocating abandoning the soviets for them during 1917) they were never a central plank of their platform
    Whatever happened to all that Paris Commune rhetoric about combining legislative and executive-administrative functions, then? As for "all power to the factory committees," that was definitely an ultra-left illusion.

    For a detailed sequence of events in this process see Brinton, Bolsheviks and Workers' Control.

    The thing is, Bolsheviks (leadership, at least) didn't see soviets or factory committees as the backbone of socialism, but democratic centralism exercised through the "proletarian party". They didn't think they were doing anything wrong by abolishing workers' control.
    What the Bolsheviks proved was that soviets / "workers councils" (moreso factory committees, being much closer to strike action) are incapable of governing, that "All power to the soviets" was and remains an illusion. The latter organizations were dominated and, in 1917, created by the various political parties (as you yourself admitted).

    Ideas of Leadership and Democracy

    What is needed, therefore, in response to the original post, is strict democratic - nay, demarchic - features within the worker-class movement, especially if the party itself is that movement (and it should be, like that historical vanguard party-movement in Germany called the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands):

    1) At least the major issues should be voted upon by as many of the rank and file directly as possible (a warm up for broader plebiscites held by society as a whole);
    2) Personnel should *NOT* be elected, but rather selected by lot (thereby diverting wasteful election discussion time towards discussing issues, but also achieving real representation on a statistical basis);
    3) Selected personnel should still be subject to recall; and
    4) "Freedom of discussion" should also entail timely criticisms of decisions made (as opposed to "shutting up and towing the party line"), even if the minority is bound to help carry out those decisions. There may have to be standards of "professionalism" regarding such criticisms, but such standards should not entail sectarian peer pressure.

    Bolshevik fractions in the soviets (district or city), Preparliament and Democratic State Conference (both 1917), CEC, Constituent Assembly, etc, were all semi-independent of the party proper. To give an example, when deciding on the party's stance towards the Constituent Assembly the Bolshevik Central Committee was unable to simply pass down a 'decree from on high' to its members. Instead the CC representatives (including Bukharin and possibly Lenin) were required to meet with the party's delegates to the Assembly on 12 Dec 1917 where a vote was then held as to whether the fraction should adopt the position of the CC
    Doesn't this remind us of the SPD vote for war credits in 1914 due to a lack of democratic-centralist control over adherence to the Basel Manifesto by the Reichstag fraction and the SPD executive committee?
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    Whatever happened to all that Paris Commune rhetoric about combining legislative and executive-administrative functions, then?
    Well here we once again run up against the differences between theory and practice. Frankly it didn't matter a damn what role the Bolsheviks envisaged for the soviets or what the precedent in Paris was. The soviets were established by the Russian workers themselves without regard to either. Anything the Bolsheviks (or any Marxists or commentators since) thought about these bodies has to be reconciled with the above reality

    As it is the soviets as formed in 1905 and 1917 were never intended to serve as organs of self-governance. They were first and foremost for addressing the political demands of the proletariat. Now obviously the Bolsheviks, and others, thought that they could be more than that but it was not until the complete collapse of the Tsarist state structures following October (in particular the dissolution of the district dumas) that the district soviets began to become organs of local government. In doing so they more or less stepped into a vacuum and, without anyone noticing or advocating it, amassed real power at a grassroots level

    All of which really underscores just how talk about what the Bolsheviks planned or intended is pure nonsense. There was virtually no planning involved and the state that emerged post-October did so in fits and starts in a strictly ad hoc manner

    Doesn't this remind us of the SPD vote for war credits in 1914 due to a lack of democratic-centralist control over adherence to the Basel Manifesto by the Reichstag fraction and the SPD executive committee?
    Indeed, the Bolsheviks (with their democratic structures and regular affirmation of policy by congress) was much more democratic than the SPD. The problem with the latter was not the lack of centralism but the lack of democracy
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    First off, thanks to everybody who replied so far. It's a lot of text to take in - especially since you've incorporated links to articles as well - so the best I can do at this point is ask you some questions one post at a time to furthen my understanding.

    My first impression when going over your replies was slight disappointment as it seemed to me that not only was workers power in the early USSR not implemented in a way that is coherent with my idea of socialism, but was perhaps never even intended to be.

    There is some talk of the proleteriat exercising workers power through the revolutionary party. This sounds great - but since the majority of workers are not part of the party vanguard and therefore have no democratic input, what then is the factual difference to those much-malinged socialist countries where political and economic decisions were/are made on behalf of the workers by an elite, rather than by workers?

    My other, very superficial, impression upon first reading was that my expectations of socialism might actually be closer to the syndicalism that the article DJ-TC linked to puts against the (top-down?) democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks. Although I obviously do not believe in the "wickedness of the Bolsheviks" I do indeed, at this point, have a "fetish for workers coucils" and other mass organs of the proletariat - in fact, I would consider them the most fundamental prerequisite for socialism.

    But again, I haven't had the time to read your responses and links in-depth yet - and there are a number of instances where I can simply not seem to get past the rhetoric and make much sense of what is being said. For that matter, feel free to move this thread to Learning if you deem it more appropriate (especially since I started this to learn and determine my positions).

    Of course, which is probably why it never happened.
    Did the Bolsheviks not dismantle democratic workers organs even before the Stalin era? If so, when and for what reasons did this process begin?

    District soviets throughout 1918 and into 1919 remained relatively apolitical. [
    What was their original purpose?

    What types of political and economic decisions did the Bolsheviks intend to be taken by democratic workers organs, and what decisions were restricted to the party vanguard?

    Actual power lay with both grassroots organs (ie, the district soviets) or more centralised regional organisations (not all of which were imposed by Moscow) that attempted to coordinate economic and security affairs
    Up to what point did these grassroots organs effectively retain any decision making authority in political and economic matters, and what were some of the reasons why they were dismantled later on?

    Do you consider the fact that they were eventually dismantled a mistake or inevitable given the circumstances? What checks and balances would you suggest to prevent the party from taking anti-democratic measures "next time around"?

    How would you describe the character of the more centralised regional organisations? Did common workers have any possibilities to influence/intervene in decisions taken by those?

    An examination of the Bolshevik party in the immediate post-October period shows that the party's organisation and structures fell into sharp decline as its most capable cadres were sucked into soviet work.
    How would you describe the relations of power between the party cadres and workers within the Soviets?

    The distinction as to be made here between 'workers' councils' and 'workers' control'. The former (soviets) were never intended to fulfil the roles of factory committees or even act as administrative organs of government.
    Were any mass organs intended to act as administrative organs of government that enabled workers to have direct democratic input? If so, which?
    Last edited by communard resolution; 5th May 2009 at 22:11.
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    Indeed, the Bolsheviks (with their democratic structures and regular affirmation of policy by congress) was much more democratic than the SPD. The problem with the latter was not the lack of centralism but the lack of democracy
    Part of centralism is the sovereignty of the party congress. The SPD did not have this. Furthermore, the International Socialist Bureau didn't have critical points of control over the SPD's executive committee, and even if that committee upheld class independence and solidarity, it didn't exercise centralist control over the parliamentary fraction.

    For class-collaborationists, centralism is fine so long as they call the shots. My post on the Bolsheviks' lack of control over their soviet fractions was a critique and not a compliment.
    "A new centrist project does not have to repeat these mistakes. Nobody in this topic is advocating a carbon copy of the Second International (which again was only partly centrist)." (Tjis, class-struggle anarchist)

    "A centrist strategy is based on patience, and building a movement or party or party-movement through deploying various instruments, which I think should include: workplace organising, housing struggles [...] and social services [...] and a range of other activities such as sports and culture. These are recruitment and retention tools that allow for a platform for political education." (Tim Cornelis, left-communist)
  29. #16
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    First off, thanks to everybody who replied so far. It's a lot of text to take in - especially since you've incorporated links to articles as well - so the best I can do at this point is ask you some questions one post at a time to furthen my understanding
    I hope the below helps. If you're looking for reading material check out the link in my sig. I give a short bibliography at the bottom and would particularly recommend Rabinowitch's works for your area of interest

    My first impression when going over your replies was slight disappointment as it seemed to me that not only was workers power in the early USSR not implemented in a way that is coherent with my idea of socialism, but was perhaps never even intended to be
    'Workers power' is an ambiguous phrase. The Bolsheviks were never really keen on direct 'workers control' (ie through factory committees) because a) they were not syndicalists, b) it was probably a practical impossibility given the state of the economy at the time, and c) the Bolsheviks were under no illusions as to the ability of Russia to enter the socialist mode of production independent of the rest of Europe

    Conversely they did place a great deal in store by the potential of the 'workers councils' (ie, the soviets) which were really the fulcrum of Bolshevik policies throughout 1917 and the basis of their subsequent legitimacy. But there was no clear idea as to just what 'All Power to the Soviets' actually meant. Were they to remain as political bodies exerting oversight on government machinery (as per their initial form pre-October) or would they actually assume direct responsibilities for governance (as they preceded to do with the collapse of the duma system)? Its hard to overstate the degree to which government in Russia was a complete mess during the Civil War years with a hodgepodge of competing bodies - some local, some from Moscow - struggling to keep the country afloat. And don't take the Bolsheviks to be a single entity either, there were plenty of differing opinions within the party

    There is some talk of the proleteriat exercising workers power through the revolutionary party. This sounds great - but since the majority of workers are not part of the party vanguard and therefore have no democratic input, what then is the factual difference to those much-malinged socialist countries where political and economic decisions were/are made on behalf of the workers by an elite, rather than by workers?
    Oops, I missed this one on the initial run through. Hopefully the below will address the myths of the "party vanguard" and expose the real role of the party post-Revolution. If there was intended to be a 'dictatorship of the party' then the Bolsheviks went about it in a very funny way

    My other, very superficial, impression upon first reading was that my expectations of socialism might actually be closer to the syndicalism that the article DJ-TC linked to puts against the (top-down?) democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks
    Personally I think one-man management may have been a mistake but I can't fault anyone for making it. The Russian economy was effectively in the process of collapsing entirely during these years (which is not to even mention the Whites and other security challenges) and the first priority of the new government was first and foremost in securing the survival of Soviet power

    Where you're wrong is in assuming that the "democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks" had anything to do with this. That's a common suggestion by those who believe that core Bolshevik beliefs/practices were the cause of the eventual despotism and to this end. Lenin was a centralist, no question about that, who believed in national government (the last point was something that most Bolsheviks agreed on - they were not federalists) but this had nothing to do with party organisation or ideology; ie, 'democratic centralism' is not shorthand for tyranny. The Bolshevik party prior to 1917 was an extremely democratic, and relatively decentralised, organisation with plenty of differing opinions. See here for details. The question is how this structure eventually broke down

    Did the Bolsheviks not dismantle democratic workers organs even before the Stalin era? If so, when and for what reasons did this process begin?
    The problem with history is that events rarely happen with a purpose and that there's never a single cause responsible. The Bolsheviks did not deliberately set out to undermine the soviets (which remained the bedrock of their support) but, for a variety of reasons (see below), the power of the soviets diminished over the years

    Incidentally they were never abolished entirely. While their role was completely superseded by the bureaucratic state during the early Stalin reforms they still existed in some form (AFAIK) in 1989

    What was their original purpose?
    Originally the soviets were political bodies that were first and foremost concerned with giving the workers a voice and organisational platform. This was all they could be under the Tsar. When the October Revolution eventually came it was soviet bodies (and not, as often assumed, the Bolshevik party) that took the lead in overthrowing the Provisional Government

    Following October the simple lack of government throughout the nation compelled the soviets to transform themselves (on an individual basis and in an ad hoc manner) into ruling bodies. City/provincial soviets formed sections for the economy, security, etc, while district soviets took over the day-to-day running of their neighbourhoods. There was no one single driving force/party behind any of this

    What types of political and economic decisions did the Bolsheviks intend to be taken by democratic workers organs, and what decisions were restricted to the party vanguard?
    Distinction time. What emerged post-October was the grassroots/local system of soviets (plus other networks of factory committees and unions) and a national government in Petrograd/Moscow that comprised the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) together with the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets. There was, as I note above, no clear delineation between local and national level and you also had intermediate levels such as the Northern Labour Commune. It was a mess - to give an example, IIRC at one point Petrograd alone had six different bodies on different levels deciding economic/security policy

    That said the trend that did become clear over time was a rationalisation of these bodies, generally tending towards a consolidation of power in national networks centred on Moscow and the Communist Party. This was not clear though and was a gradual process. Although Lenin pushed hard for integration of policy, the local soviets and various bodies retained real power to decide local policy for years after October. If I had to give dates I'd say that they were definitely playing second fiddle to the Sovnarkom by 1921, to the Party by 1924, and then finally lost out entirely when Stalin redesigned the state during the late 1920s and early 1930s

    Do you consider the fact that they were eventually dismantled a mistake or inevitable given the circumstances? What checks and balances would you suggest to prevent the party from taking anti-democratic measures "next time around"?
    As I said, it was not deliberate policy until the Stalin years. Now its an extremely complicated question but simplifying somewhat (keep in mind what I said about single causes above)
    I personally consider the problem to be stemming from the same broad source - the Russian proletariat was too weak to complete the transition of power to a socialist state. This gave rise to a number of very distinct problems - such as, the necessity for increased centralisation and encroachment of the Party on state/soviet bodies; the breakdown of democratic practices in these same organs; the diminishing importance of soviets; and the inability of the soviets to resist these trends

    At the heart of each of the above was the dire state of the proletariat during the Civil War years. The economic collapse of the Tsarist state, plus the intervention of Allied and German armies (more so the latter), created enormous crises even before the Whites began to take to the field en masse. Urban centres were hit particularly hard by the lack of food - the population of Petrograd was over two million in 1917 (admittedly a war inflated figure) but had dropped to less than 750K just a few years later. Factories fell empty as workers spent their time scavenging for food and (ironically) the war orders dried up. At the same time thousands of workers were being called up to either soviet work or the Red Army; in most cases never to return to the workplace. The Russian proletariat was fairly new in any case (as they joked most workers 'still had mud on their boots') and there was mass migration back to the villages

    This was the background of the transformation of the Soviet state. The worsening state of the proletariat (who were after all the lifeblood of the Revolution) drastically weakened the local soviets at the same time that it made the centralising measures from Moscow more necessary than ever

    How would you describe the character of the more centralised regional organisations? Did common workers have any possibilities to influence/intervene in decisions taken by those?
    It would be difficult to generalise. IIRC the Northern Commune (centred on Petrograd) was effectively a congress of local soviets organised by the Petrograd Labour Committee. It members would have in turn elected an executive to carry out the day-to-day operations. Its an example of how centralising tendencies were not unique to Lenin or Moscow (indeed the Petrograd Labour Committee had organised the congress in direct opposition to national bodies)

    How would you describe the relations of power between the party cadres and workers within the Soviets?
    Non-existent until mid/late 1918. The Bolshevik Party organisation was hit even harder, and far earlier, than the soviets by the degeneration of worker numbers - bear in mind that the party was comprised of those workers most enthusiastic for Soviet power. Almost immediately after October its most capable cadres, as the most militant and revolutionary workers, were sucked into either local soviet work or sent out of the cities to 'export' revolution to the countryside. The result was that party work almost entirely ceased and the party organisations lay dormant. Especially when compared to the extremely proactive role they had played in the events leading up to October

    The Bolsheviks had always paid a huge amount of attention to agitating and building up support/contacts amongst the factories and the result of this ceasing was that party membership dropped like a stone. A year after the Revolution the party membership in Petrograd had fallen from over 60,000 to under 6,000. Over 50% of these were engaged in full time soviet work and thus unavailable to the party. To the distractions of soviet work you also have to add in the general loss of the proletariat and the relative unpopularity of a government unable to solve the continuing food crisis. It wasn't until September 1918 that the party committees began to reprioritise party work and become involved, tentatively at first, in influencing soviet policies

    This disconnection probably wouldn't have been of importance if not for the weakening of the Revolution's class basis. When the party began to revive itself it was considerably less democratic than before (due to botched internal reforms that went unnoticed rather than any malice) but the reason it reentered the political scene was due to the waning vitality of the soviets and the need for some basic national organisation of coordination

    Were any mass organs intended to act as administrative organs of government that enabled workers to have direct democratic input? If so, which?
    Because of their origins as basically 'talking shops' for the proletariat, the soviets (certainly at a city level) were generally too large and unwieldy to act as direct democracies. The soviet delegates voted on broad policy and provided oversight but the actual day-to-day work was carried out by elected executives or sections. I think this was the same in the lower district soviets (of which there were twelve in Petrograd alone) but obviously citizens would have more input in these smaller bodies. So the soviets were democratic but direct democracy was only practical at the lowest levels
    March at the head of the ideas of your century and those ideas will follow and sustain you. March behind them and they will drag you along. March against them and they will overthrow you.
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  31. #17
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    You appear to have significantly lower standards than me.
    That article in nothing but a thinly veiled attack on anarchism. And, like ICC attacks on basically anything, fails miserably. Also, it doesn't really respond to anything in the bolshies and workers' control.

    Also, no war but reputation war!
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    That article in nothing but a thinly veiled attack on anarchism. And, like ICC attacks on basically anything, fails miserably.
    Making statements without even trying to back them up does not make the statements true and makes you look a bit foolish.

    Also, it doesn't really respond to anything in the bolshies and workers' control.
    That is actually true, it's the second article I linked to that does actually, it was my mistake.
    "Communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution." - Karl Marx

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    There is some talk of the proleteriat exercising workers power through the revolutionary party. This sounds great - but since the majority of workers are not part of the party vanguard and therefore have no democratic input, what then is the factual difference to those much-malinged socialist countries where political and economic decisions were/are made on behalf of the workers by an elite, rather than by workers?
    1. You misunderstand the concept of a vanguard, although that's understandable because it has been twisted beyond recognition. The vanguard isn't an "elite"; it is simply the most politically conscious part of the working class.

    2. By the time it has seized power, the Bolshevik party wasn't a party of the vanguard alone (although it was still a vanguard party in the sense that that was where its leadership came from), but a mass party of the working class. It was no 'minority of the workers' that was calling the shots.
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