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Commentary :: Globalization & Capitalism

The Negative And Positive Lessons Of October 1917

Nathan defends ideas of Leninist dictatorship while Steven Argue advances the ideas of socialist democracy advocated by Rosa Luxemburg.
Nathan wrote:

Do you agree that Lenin and Trotsky used dictatorial methods, i.e., they were dictators? Weren't their so-called dictatorial methods for the advancement of the historic interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, dictated by the contingencies of the historic moment,
not meant to be eternal policies, as they became under the bureaucrat Stalin?

Even Rosa agrees that the building of Socialism in the SU was done under extreme, not ideal, conditions.

What is your position on Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed? Rosa is no Trotskyist, is she?

Under extreme isolation, could the SU be an open society in 1920 or 1921. You know that War Communism, Steve, did not last all that long. And then, bam, a concession to capitalism, a concession mind you, in the form of the NEP. Does not Marx say that the conclusions of the communists flow from the historical process going on under our very eyes. I find the following passage from Liberation News a- historical, metaphysical and idealist.

Steven Argue Responds:

"Rosa Luxemburg was a leading German and world socialist who opposed the betrayals of the Social Democratic Parties who at that time supported their own bourgeoisies as they entered the First World War across Europe. Rosa Luxemburg instead advocated revolutionary socialism. Like Eugene Debs in the United States she was sent to
prison for her leadership in opposing the war. In addition, while being supportive of the Russian revolution, she was at the same time opposed to the dictatorial methods of Lenin and Trotsky in the Soviet Union. Rosa Luxemburg instead advocated democratic communism, as does Liberation News."


Steven Argue responds:

First of all Rosa Luxemburg never read Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed because she was murdered by the German capitalist class in 1920, before Stalin had come to power in the Soviet Union. For Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky were contemporaries who had carried out a successful workers revolution in the Soviet Union while she was coming close to accomplishing the same in Germany.

A key defining point for the revolutionary left was the Russian revolution of October 1917. At that time the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky were swept to power in a popular revolution that called for an end to the war with Germany, land reform, and socialism.

Besides the betterment this revolution meant for the workers and peasants in general, giant strides forward were made for oppressed nationalities, Jews, women's rights, and gay rights.

Before the revolution, under Czarist rule, Jews were routinely slaughtered in the thousands in government-sponsored pogroms. Peasants were the property of feudal landlords, and huge numbers of drafted young peasants were dying in the inter-imperialist slaughter with Germany. This all ended with the Russian Revolution. In addition gay rights and the right to abortion were legalized for the first time in any country with the birth of the Soviet Union.

Priorities were made of literacy and meeting the basic needs of the people. Yet, from the beginning, the Russian revolution had inherited a poor economically backward nation soon to be further devastated by civil war and the invasion of many imperialist armies.

While supporting the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg disagreed with Lenin and Trotsky on three key points. These were on the national question, agrarian policies, and on the question of dictatorship.

On the question of workers democracy Rosa Luxemburg was correct. She saw the Marxist concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" differently from Lenin and Trotsky. She saw this simply as the toiling majority becoming the dictators over the capitalist minority that once held power. For that majority to actually be in charge they would need democratic organs, universal suffrage, and democratic rights. For Lenin and Trotsky the concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" fit more into bourgeois models of individual dictatorship.

Under Lenin and Trotsky the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was not what it was called, it was actually the dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky. This was all within the framework of one party rule, a Communist Party that came more and more under the dictatorial control of Lenin and Trotsky. This dictatorial rule inside of the party reached its final culmination in 1920 when one of the party's leading cadre, Alexandra Kollontai, dissolved her faction called the "Workers Opposition" at the emphatic request of Lenin.

With no opposition factions within the party and no opposition parties allowed outside of the party, the dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky was complete.

A different attitude by Lenin would have produced a much better and more open society that would have made Stalin's type of rise to power through skullduggery and corruption within the ranks of the party impossible. From Lenin arguing against the democratic rights of party members, to Stalin murdering all of the leading members of the party (with the ironic exception of Alexandra Kollontai), these are very different but related policies. Workers democracy was the alternative proposed by Rosa Luxemburg.

Many of the opponents to Lenin and Trotsky outside of the party were murdered. Granted this was within the context of a civil war where the rightwing of fake leftist groups took up arms against the revolution along with the more openly pro-Czarist forces and imperialist armies sent in from abroad. The supposedly socialist Mensheviks had held power between the February and October 1917 revolutions and had failed the people in every way including starting the war back up with Germany. They needed to be prevented from retaking power. Likewise many of the anarchists fought under the slogan of soviets (a Russian word for democratic workers councils) without Bolsheviks or Jews.

Yet how well any government, whether socialist or capitalist, and especially socialist, deals with insurrectionary or terrorist forces is not primarily a military question. It is first and foremost a political question. A popular revolutionary government such as the
Russian revolution should not have had to rely on terror against its critics, as Lenin and Trotsky did, in order to survive. They should have had different standards for those who picked up arms against the revolution and those who did not. Had they proceeded in such a way fewer people would have taken up arms against the revolution.

Unfortunately Lenin did not see things this way. On March 27th, 1922 in Lenin's speech to the Eleventh Party Congress on the second year of the NEP Lenin states, "Bauer now writes, `There, they are now retreating to capitalism! We have always said it was a bourgeois revolution.' And the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, all of whom preach this sort of thing, are astonished when we declare we will shoot them for such things."

The pro-capitalist and pro-war positions of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were wrong. Despite the difficulties that had been faced, history has shown that Trotsky was clearly correct in his Theory of Permanent Revolution in saying that the revolution must be socialist. Likewise the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries as organizations had taken up arms against the revolution. But to declare the opposition to be shot for what they say? This is truly barbaric!

Rosa Luxemburg did not see the question as being counterpoised between bourgeois democracy (democracy for the rich) on the one hand (defended by "socialists" who had betrayed socialism and become administrators of capitalist exploitation and war) and on the one hand dictatorial communism. She rejected both and fought for a socialist society where the working class has democratic control.

In 1918 Rosa Luxemburg wrote in her work "The Russian Revolution", "Socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat."

It is on this fundamental position that the Workers Democracy Party agrees with Rosa Luxemburg.

Rosa Luxemburg was wrong in her opposition to Lenin on the national question. Lenin worked to guarantee the rights of the traditionally oppressed nationalities, to the point of supporting their right to succeed from the Soviet Union if they so chose. Lenin saw this as a way to create trust and unity in a society that he characterized as being a prison house of nations under the Czar. Rosa Luxemburg saw the right to succession as ready-made formula for imperialist intervention against the revolution.

Lenin's formula worked well, and portions of it even survived after Lenin's death with the planned economy used consciously to advance traditionally poorer nations in the Soviet Union. This economic advancement brought progress to all spheres of life with, for instance, free guaranteed healthcare and education for all and the rights of women in the traditionally Muslim Republics being the most advanced in the Near Eastern / Central Asian region.

Nathan, the economic measures of the NEP have little to do with this question of socialist democracy except for the fact that they were a retreat that may not have been necessary if Lenin and Trotsky had not alienated important sections of the working class through the repressive measures of war communism. In addition, had the administration of the socialist economy been set up with real workers' control and input the NEP may have been avoided as well.

On Trotsky's work, the `Revolution Betrayed' my personal opinion is that it is primarily a dry assessment of Stalinism in the Soviet Union that fails to come clean on Trotsky's own personal mistakes.

It is an essential role for the revolutionary party, in the face of mainstream lies and amnesia, to be the collective memory of past working class struggles and the theoretical advances that were made. Likewise it is not the role of the revolutionary movement to gloss over fundamental mistakes, we should instead learn from mistakes so as never to repeat them.

The capitalist governments of the world are not democratic. They are the dictatorship of those who have the means to buy the democracy. We make a fundamental mistake if we concede to them the defense of democracy. We fight those in power for both workers democracy and socialism.

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