[Marxism] Marxist critique of Leninism

Daniel Koechlin d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Sat Feb 2 21:09:03 MST 2013

Hi Mark,

As a materialist, I agree with you that "pie in the sky" discussions 
about Socialist organization are both essential and at the same time 
meaningless "differences in vocabulary".

That's dialectics for you.

It is in the heat of the revolutionary moment that the difference 
between a disciplined party and a Workers' council will become evident. 
A party means that broad coordination can be achieved between different 
sectors and their overall action unified in order to accomplish a single 
goal, that of the working class seizing power. However, the same 
objective can be accomplished by a revolutionary union which federates 
local unions, industries and localities in order to collectively 
coordinate the establishment of Workers' councils. The difference 
between the two approaches is that a party has a leadership that is 
elected independently and has its own agenda which is to seize political 
power on behalf of the working class. Unlike a federation of 
revolutionary unions which is composed of elected delegates from the 
different unions and which seeks to abolish political power per se in 
order to enable the workers to organize themselves independently.

  In a nutshell, it boils down to the concept of "imperative mandate". 
Delegates from a union have an imperative mandate to follow, they MUST 
represent the will of those who chose them as representatives. If they 
do not follow their imperative mandate, they may be immediately replaced 
by others who will truthfully represent their mandate. Political parties 
do not have this concept of "imperative mandate", which means that once 
they are "elected" they do not have to represent those who elected them, 
but rather work in the best interests of the party. This notion of 
"election" as giving a, more or less, "free reign" to the representative 
is the result of the 19th century ideal of representative democracy as a 
way of keeping the rabble as far away from the decision-making process 
as possible. In the US and Europe, universal suffrage was a long way in 
the making. When at last (once Capitalism was established and powerful 
enough) it was instituted, it was obvious that workers and peasants 
would not be allowed to decide things for themselves.

Lenin was astute and his contribution was to see that the revolutionary 
movement could not afford to wait for ever. There are always 
opportunities to be seized in order to further the interests of the 
working class. The world is in a state of flux, and a certain course of 
action can bring about many social and economic outcomes. However, prior 
to 1917, revolutionary unions were doing exactly that. The struggle for 
the 8-hour day had raised the consciousness of millions of workers from 
the US to France, from Russia to Spain. WWI represented a gigantic 
disaster for revolutionary unions, as it became evident that the state 
could use nationalism to destroy international solidarity and co-opt 
many unions into the state apparatus. This was the same strategy used by 
the Social Democratic parties but on a grander scale.

Leninism on the other hand gained credibility after 1917. This was the 
first time that a successful Socialist revolution had taked power 
anywhere. Revolutionary unionism was swept aside in favour of Leninism, 
and soon, those segments that were close to revolutionary unionism, 
namely Luxemburgism, Council Communism and Left Communism were ousted 
from the Komintern. And yet many who had helped the Bolshevik revolution 
in Russia from 1917 onwards became increasingly disillusioned with the 
result. This was not Marxism as they understood it, but a deviation from 
Marxism. And however Lenin fumed against "infantile left-wing 
devitationism" many old-time revolutionaries felt that, even though 
conditions in Russia were still semi-feudal, still there was no excuse 
for the kind of authoritarian management of the work force that was 
emerging in the USSR. And then, internationally, the Komintern started 
condemning genuine proletarian movements and creating "Communist 
parties" who were obviously in thrall to Moscow and acting contrary to 
the interests of the local working class.

Again , Kronstadt was a watershed. The demands of the Kronstadt Soviet 
for more self-management were met by fierce repression on the part of 
Trotsky. Centralized control was now the aim of the USSR. Centralized 
planning might not be a bad thing when a federation of councils decide 
to coordinate production and distribution, but when a small group of 
bureaucrats get to decide the working conditions in every factory and 
use a secret police to achieve their production targets, then 
centralized planning becomes an obstacle to the emancipation of workers 
and results in more alienation than under a bourgeois boss. Although 
workers were told that they were working for "the Working Class", this 
did not prevent them from rebelling. The Bolsheviks told them that a 
uniform wage system, in which everybody would be paid the same 
(uranilovka) was a "leftist and counter-revolutionary" demand. Apart 
from many open Workers' revolts (Tambov, etc.) inspired partly by 
Anarchists, Russian workers resorted to quiet sabotage as working more 
would only mean their quotas would get increased. Already in the 1920s 
the rural population was being exploited at a far greater degree as they 
were the key to producing the resources essential for the rapid 
industrialization of the nation. In order to prevent mass immigration to 
the cities in search of a job in industry, an internal passport system 
was put in place.

Compare this with the way the CNT during the Spanish Revolution of 1936 
had both a strong presence among the Aragon pesants and the industrial 
workers of Barcelona. In Aragon, agricultural workers formed councils 
and collectivized the land voluntarily. Those who didn't want to be part 
of the council could continue as small, independent land owners, selling 
their pigs independently, but could not access the council's mechanized 
assets or its distribution network. The situation varied considerably 
from village to village. In some villages, the peasents' council 
abolished "money" altogeter (all food items are to be brought to the 
church and there shared equally), in others they issued vouchers, in 
others "labour-time currency", in others everybody was paid the same 
wages, etc.
The CNT set up an Economic Coordination Comittee to coordinate 
production and send food as quickly as possible to the "columna de 
hierra", the 10,000 strong "Iron Column" of CNT volunteers departing for 
the front line. In Barcelona meanwhile, workers collectivized every 
industry imaginable and each plant sent delegates to the Economic 
Coordination Comittee. Their efforts were hampered by Stalin and the 
Spanish CP who wanted to seize control of the remains of the Spanish 
Republic and this situation ultimately led to an open armed 
confrontation between the CNT and the PCE and the participation of the 
CNT (2 million members) in the Republican government.

More information about the Marxism mailing list