Thread: What Lenin's Critics Got Wrong: Either Thermidor or Paris Commune bloodbath

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    Default What Lenin's Critics Got Wrong: Either Thermidor or Paris Commune bloodbath

    This post is my tense take on Mitchell Cohen's article, What Lenin's Critics Got Right. I'll skip to the bottom part of his article:

    Originally Posted by Mitchell Cohen
    In that same essay in which Marx spoke of the “nightmare,” The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), he chastised “die Sozial-Democratie.” Marx had a very specific target in mind: a political coalition that amalgamated a workers’ movement and “petty-bourgeois” republicans, requiring the former to yield some of its radical social thrust and the latter to become more “social.” This alliance faltered, losing to conservatives and to a rising autocrat. Marx criticized it in canny ways but without fully appreciating the implications [...] Marx’s scorn for “social democracy” rested on a belief in the world-historical mission of that sole social class. What, however, if the proletariat was not to universalize all interests? What if classes and societies were to become more differentiated? What if other factors in addition to classes, real and imagined, shape history?

    Certainly, all those “what ifs” no longer need posing, and even if the social democracy Marx chastised failed, it still pointed to the only plausible, if often unsatisfying, alternative for democratic egalitarianism: social and political coalitions forged by unavoidable compromises.


    Coalition-making was not Lenin’s scientific way, not with social-democratic comrades in 1903 nor with other left-wing parties in October 1917. Bolshevism’s practical and theoretical answer to challenges from the left or, simply, from reality, was finally, “so what?” Revolutionary will dissolves them.
    Since this is in the History forum, I won't delve into contemporary consequences. I will, however, pose the rough contours of an alt-history, one in which the pre-"sealed train" inevitability of an "all-socialist coalition" involving the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks, and even the Bolsheviks.

    1) Such a coalition would have continued Russia's participation in the war, this time under the guise of "revolutionary defencism."
    2) Despite such participation, there would have been no guarantee that foreign imperialist armies wouldn't have intervened like they did in early Soviet Russia. To them, OVERTHROW CAPITALISM still means OVERTHROW CAPITALISM, even with Mensheviks in the coalition, and even with moderate Bolsheviks in the coalition. "Revolutionary defencism" on the Russian side was still about triggering revolution in more than just Germany.
    3) In real life, it took the discredited Constituent Assembly for the bulk of the Socialist-Revolutionaries to consider the immediacy of their main plank, land redistribution (the centenary of this policy achievement being today, of course). CPGB comrade Mike Macnair once noted that Lenin himself adopted this plank from the SRs not in 1917, as is usually claimed, but as early as 1905! An "all-socialist coalition government" would have no time to both conduct war against Germany and consider land redistribution. Other policy agendas would have had to be put on ice.
    4) It is often argued that a supermajority agreement in a constituent assembly is required for the harmonious development of a constitution. Nobody wants civil war. However, civil war was already thrust upon Russia before the October Revolution! Even if Kornilov himself had been genuine about defending the not-so-revolutionary Provisional Government, there were czarist generals licking their chops at the possibility of launching counter-revolution.

    5) The Kerensky cabinet itself was weak from the outset. Who is to say that the cabinet of an "all-socialist coalition" would have been otherwise?

    Some history: The Paris Commune's Communal Council was a coalition between the Blanquists and the Jacobins. It was more republican than socialist, actually. Part of the reason why the Commune bloodbath occurred was because they formed the plenipotentiary Committee of Public Safety too late; they were too busy dealing with other things. The Commune could have been saved... had the central committee of the National Guard itself become the Committee of Public Safety (read: breakthrough military coup) that the squabblers didn't form until it was too late.

    6) An "all-socialist coalition" based on the soviets might have decided to dispense with a cabinet altogether, transferring the country's executive power to the soviet's executive committee. However, that would have repeated the same indecisiveness of the aforementioned Communal Council!

    What Lenin's critics got wrong, indeed! Without the intransigent desire and "iron will" to stack a truly revolutionary provisional government (Sovnarkom) with cabinet members from the same political party, the Russian republic headed by an "all-socialist coalition" would have melted away due to combined pressure from imperialist war, "allied" imperialist intrigue, and czarist counterrevolutionaries!
    Last edited by Die Neue Zeit; 9th November 2017 at 06:55.
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    Two points:
    Firstly notion that a social order ruled by a variety of viewpoints is inherently weaker than a social order controlled by a singular viewpoint, as you implied, is one that ought to be re- examined. Such a notion is demonstrably the impetus of a variety of forms of authoritarianism and dictatorship. Looking at Russia, for example, one can see that this notion, imbibed in the Bolshevik concept of democratic centralism, led to suppression of a variety of members of their society.
    Secondly, what really led to the counter revolution of the Bolsheviks was that they believed in a strict ordering of the party and state in a manner that led to a small group of revolutionary intellectuals holding complete dominion over the working class. This is not an egalitarian system, and to call it socislism is a mistake. Socialism is the control of production and policy by the working class, not the control of production and policy by a ‘revolutionary’ elite. If the October Revolution had truly put power in the hands of the lower class, then theoretically they would have been able to exit a catastrophically unpopular war, whilst retaining democracy, and still being unified, not by an oppressive revolutionary elite, but by a shared common interest in preserving a revolutionary state of affairs that was directly beneficial to them.
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