- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Tuesday, 05 October 2010 08:03
- Written by Bob Avakian
From Bob Avakian's K. Venu Polemic:
"Lenin does frankly discuss the fact that
"'in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts (by imperialism in some countries) that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class.'...
One can only ask here: what is wrong with this?"
"...it does not get to the essence of things if the masses have the formal right to replace leaders, when the social conditions (contradictions) are such that some people are less “replaceable” than others... Voting Mao out of office would only mean that somebody less qualified—or, even worse, someone representing the bourgeoisie instead of the proletariat—would be playing that leadership role. You can’t get around this, and adhering to the strictures of formal democracy would be no help at all."
"Given the contradictions that characterize the transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, if the party did not play the leading role that it has within the proletarian state, that role would be played by other organized groups—bourgeois cliques—and soon enough the state would no longer be proletarian, but bourgeois. ... the problem with the ruling parties in the revisionist countries is not that they have had a 'monopoly' of political power but that they have exercised that political power to restore and maintain capitalism. The problem is that they are not revolutionary, not really communist—and therefore they do not rely on and mobilize the masses to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to continue the revolution under this dictatorship."
Intro by Mike Ely
I am reading Badiou's new work "Communist Hypothesis" together with others. It argues that the previous communist Party-State has reached the limits of its historical value. This is connected to a view that the Leninist party itself has shown historical limits, and that new forms of communist organization need to be developed.
We would like to urge our readers to start by tackling (together!) the now available Badiou work on the “The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?” which we have recently posted here on Kasama.
As a counterpoint to that: we are continuing to publish excerpts from a detailed defense of the Party-State by Bob Avakian.
In some cases, it has been proposed that the "Commune form" be resurrected as an alternative to the later Party-State -- going back to the mass democratic structures of the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, which were also even-more-briefly tried as a government form during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in Shanghai.
- This deals with the weaknesses of a mass democratic form of government, but also questions raised about popular will itself -- the relationship between popularity and truth, between mass line and correct line -- and what that means for a future revolutionary state form.
- This deals with the weaknesses of a mass democratic form of government, but also questions raised about popular will itself -- the relationship between popularity and truth, between mass line and correct line -- and what that means for a future revolutionary state form.
These passages come from Avakian's "K. Venu polemic" which argues there are material reasons why the Party-State form may not be easily bypassed or superseded. This polemic originally appeared in A World To Win magazine #17 in 1992 where it bears the awkward (and self-referencing) name "Democracy: More Than Ever We can and Must Do Better Than That."
We have added our own subheads and paragraph spacing to break up the long text.
* * * * * * *
By Bob Avakian
The Paris Commune in Perspective: The Bolshevik & Chinese Revolutions as its Continuation and Deepening
Next, let’s turn to the review in this CRC document of what Marx summed up from the Paris Commune*, in his monumental work The Civil War in France, particularly regarding the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the armed people themselves and the fact that all officials in the Commune were elected and could be recalled by the votes of the people, through universal suffrage. These sections of the CRC document also recall how Lenin upheld these essential lessons in The State and Revolution (and some other writings in the period just before and for a period after the October Revolution), but then, even under Lenin, the CRC document argues, there began a basic departure from this path (see paragraphs 2.1-6.6).
First, some “historical overview” is required. Here we have to call attention once more to the fact that in the experience of the Soviet Union (and of socialism generally so far), it has not proved possible to fully implement the policies adopted in the Paris Commune—and, to a large degree, in the very beginning of the Soviet Republic—policies to which Marx had attached decisive importance. To focus on a key aspect of this, it has not been possible to abolish the standing army as an institution and to replace it with the armed masses themselves. This is largely owing to what has been spoken to before: the fact that revolutions leading to socialism have taken place not in industrially developed capitalist countries where the proletariat is the majority of the population (or at least is the largest class), as Marx and Engels had foreseen, but in technologically backward countries with large peasant populations where the proletariat is a small minority; these revolutions have occurred not in a number of countries all at once, but more or less in one country at a time (leaving aside the experience of the Eastern European countries in the aftermath of World War 2, where there was some transformation in aspects of social relations but there was never a real socialist transformation of society); and socialist states have existed in a world still dominated by imperialism.
As for why it has not been possible so far—and is very unlikely to be possible for some time into the future—for socialist countries to abolish the standing army and replace it with the armed masses as a whole, it can be summarized this way: To do this will require an advancement in the transformation of production relations (and social relations generally), as well as in the development of the productive forces, to the point where the masses as a whole, and not just a small part of them, can be organized and trained in military affairs on a level that is really sufficient to deal not only with “domestic” counterrevolutionaries but beyond that the armed forces of the remaining imperialist powers and other reactionary states. When that point is reached, there will in fact no longer be a need for a section of the masses—a special body of armed people—who specialize in and devote their main activity to military affairs: the standing army can then be abolished and replaced with the armed masses. But, again, no socialist state that has so far existed has achieved or even come anywhere near that point.
Marx, in his writings on the Paris Commune (and Lenin when he wrote The State and Revolution before the October Revolution), did not have this experience to sum up. To a significant degree, while the fundamental orientation in these works concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat must be upheld, many particular aspects of their analysis reflect an insufficient understanding of the intensity, complexity, and duration of the struggle to carry out the communist transformation of society—and the world—after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established in one or a number of countries. After all, the Paris Commune only lasted two months and only in parts—though very important parts—of France, and not in the country as a whole.
To highlight, in a somewhat provocative way, the historical limitations of the Paris Commune, it is useful to repeat what I wrote in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?: insist on is evaluating the line and practice guiding the states where such revolutions have occurred to see whether in fact they are consistent with the fundamental orientation set forth by Marx through his summation on the Paris Commune—whether the lines, policies, institutions, and ideas that have characterized those societies have overall led in the direction of transforming society toward the abolition of classes and, with them, the state (and the party). On the basis of these criteria, we must once again reaffirm “the traditional Marxist-Leninist[-Maoist] interpretation” that the Soviet Union under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, and China under the leadership of Mao, represented the continuation of the Paris Commune.
One other point must be addressed here—another way in which the expectations of Lenin with regard to the character of the proletarian revolution have not been fully borne out. In the first year after the October Revolution, Lenin wrote that: “when the uprising in Petrograd was already in the full flush of victory and the power in the capital [Petrograd] had actually passed into the hands of the Petrograd Soviet”. (HCPSU, Moscow, 1939, Chapter Seven, part 6)
Trotsky, among others, opposed this, standing on the formality that the armed insurrection should be declared by this All-Russia Congress of Soviets. All this is linked with the point made earlier (in the summary of general conclusions) about how the insistence on formal democracy that marks the CRC document would lead logically to declaring the Bolshevik-led armed insurrection to be a violation of democracy and a failure to rely on the masses, through their representative institutions, to carry out the seizure of power. This is very much in line with the arguments Trotsky made at the time; and if such arguments had been listened to, that would very probably have killed the armed insurrection, and then there never would have been an October Revolution to argue about.
The CRC document allows that the Bolshevik decision to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly
“was justifiable in the sense that the power of the Soviets which had emerged through revolution was really representing the political will of the vast majority of the people”.
And the document seems to say it was justified for the Constituent Assembly to then be dissolved, through an act of the Central Committee of the All-Russia Soviet—an act taken on the initiative of the Bolsheviks (see par. 5.4).
Note well: “was really representing the political will of the vast majority of the people”. This is correct—and, as stressed before, this also applied to the carrying out of the armed insurrection, even though that was not strictly done through the decision of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets or with the formal approval of the majority of the masses, through their elected organs. In fact this criterion—whether or not something conforms to the basic interests but also to the “political will” of the masses of people—is the essence of the matter and far more decisive than questions of formal democracy. But it is precisely this criterion that this document “forgets”—abandons and replaces with criteria of formal democracy—in its “re-examination” of the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat—no, more, of “the whole history of the communist movement and the basic concepts we had held aloft so far”.
Then the document says: “But, what was developing...[was that] the new political system was gradually coming under the control of the communist party.” (par. 5.7) Here is where the argument about “the dictatorship of the party” begins to become more full-blown. The document goes on to assert that:
The authors of this document actually quote this statement from Lenin, but they do not grasp its significance—apparently they are so put off by the use of the metaphor “cogwheels” that to them it is of little importance that Lenin says that the Soviets perform the functions of government and that these Soviets are “special institutions” and are “of a new type” (note: they are not the same old institutions of bourgeois society but represent a radically new form of state power and are performing the functions of government). How, and with what outlook, is it possible to miss the historic significance of this?
Yes, Lenin does frankly discuss the fact that “in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts (by imperialism in some countries) that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat [here Lenin is referring to the trade unions in particular] cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class.” (ibid, p. 21) And then Lenin goes on to make the infamous statement that, “The whole is like an arrangement of cogwheels”, and, “It cannot work without a number of ‘transmission belts’ running from the vanguard to the mass of the advanced class, and from the latter to the mass of the working people.” (ibid)
One can only ask here: what is wrong with this? Where, in any of this, is there the notion that the party exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat and the functions of government in place of the masses?
The only objection that can be raised—and the one that is in fact being raised in this CRC document—is that Lenin insists on the leading role of the party.
You may object to that if you wish—and certainly the bourgeoisie, and various Mensheviks, social-democrats and so on, from the time of Lenin on down, have strenuously objected to it—but anyone claiming to be a communist and to uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat in principle must show how the masses can in fact exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat and prevent the restoration of capitalism without the leading role of the party that is, without the institutionalized leading role of the party. The one is the same as the other: recognizing this leading role in words while insisting it not be an institutionalized leading role amounts in reality to the same thing as negating this leading role altogether. We shall see how this CRC document aims to show precisely that the masses would be better off without the (institutionalized) leading role of the party under socialism, and how the document fails miserably—as it must—to show this.
What Happened to the Mass Democracy of the Early Soviets?
To put this whole question of the role of the Soviets (and other mass organizations) in relation to the Communist Party in broader, and more historical, perspective, it is necessary to “demystify” this whole thing a bit. In the first place, although in a real and profound sense the Soviets were the creation of the masses, this was never a question of some “pure” or purely “spontaneous” creation of the masses. The Soviets were the product of the class struggle, in which the masses were influenced by a number of different political forces, including the Bolsheviks and also the Mensheviks and a number of others. And within the Soviets, from their inception, there was continual and often fierce struggle between representatives of different trends, ultimately representing different class interests.
A concentrated focus of this struggle was the question of what, after all, was the political role of the Soviets and what process they were to be part of. To put it simply, the Bolsheviks saw in the Soviets a means for the masses to be organized for the overthrow of the old order, the smashing of the old state machinery and the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat; the Mensheviks and others rejected and resisted this—their view of the Soviets flowed from their petit-bourgeois outlook—and when and to the degree that they led or influenced the Soviets, this was in the direction of turning them into mass organizations oriented toward social-democratic and/or anarchist programs, in opposition to the seizure and exercise of state power by the proletariat. Struggle over these fundamental differences went on within the Soviets before and right up to the October insurrection; and it went on, in different forms, after power was seized.
It is true that, not long after the seizure of power, Lenin recognized the need for an adjustment in the role of the Soviets and the relation of the Party to them, which is reflected in the statements by Lenin that the CRC document cites. But this has to be understood in the context of the concrete events of the time as well as in a larger historical perspective. As noted earlier, this was a situation of desperate civil war and then, even with victory in that war, of massive disruption, dislocation, and disintegration, economically and politically. In these circumstances, many of the most advanced elements within the Soviets had volunteered to become leaders and commissars of a Red Army that had to be created, almost literally, overnight and hurled into decisive battle. Others were mobilized on different but also decisive fronts of struggle: on trouble-shooting missions where crises of various kinds had erupted; to help in the suppression of counterrevolutionaries; to help staff the food administration, factory management, etc.; and to join and build up the Party.
The fact is that, by the end of the civil war, tens of thousands of workers, soldiers, and sailors held responsible administrative positions (and this policy of absorbing advanced masses into the governing apparatus would continue with the collectivization and industrialization drives later, under Stalin’s leadership). But it was also a fact that, as a result of all this, many of the best and most far-sighted leaders of the proletariat were enlisted not in the Soviets but in other institutions. And, along with this, there was a shift in the relative weight of the Soviets, as compared to these other institutions, including especially the Party, in the actual administration of society and the overall exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is what Lenin is speaking to with his much-maligned analogy about cogwheels, conveyor belts, and so on, and his more general statement about the leading role of the party in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat: Lenin is summing up, from the actual experience of that crucial period, that it is not possible to exercise this dictatorship simply through the Soviets or without systematic (institutionalized) party leadership of the Soviets (and other institutions and mass organizations). But he is not saying that the Soviets will no longer play a decisive role—he makes clear that they will continue to be relied on to perform the functions of government. He is not saying the party can replace the Soviets (or those other institutions and mass organizations) in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He is not saying the leaders, rather than the masses, are decisive in the exercise of this dictatorship.4
Recall of Leaders?
Here it seems important to speak to another practice of the Paris Commune that Marx identified as a matter of decisive importance: the “replaceability” or “revocability” of leaders. Once again the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has shown that it has not been possible to apply this principle in the strict sense in which Marx spoke of it, drawing from the Paris Commune, where officials were elected by the masses and subject to recall by them at any time.
It must be said straight-up that it does not get to the essence of things if the masses have the formal right to replace leaders, when the social conditions (contradictions) are such that some people are less “replaceable” than others. To give an extreme example, if the masses in socialist China had had the right to vote Mao out of office, and if they had exercised that right foolishly and voted him out, they would have been confronted with the stark fact that there wouldn’t have been another Mao to take his place. In reality, they would find themselves in a situation where someone would have to play a role which, from a formal standpoint, would be the same as that of Mao; that is, someone would have to occupy leading positions like that, and the division of labour in society—in particular between mental and manual labour—would mean that only a small section of people would then be capable of playing such a role. Voting Mao out of office would only mean that somebody less qualified—or, even worse, someone representing the bourgeoisie instead of the proletariat—would be playing that leadership role. You can’t get around this, and adhering to the strictures of formal democracy would be no help at all.5
This, of course, does not mean that the division between masses and leaders should be made into an absolute, rather than being restricted and finally overcome; nor still less does it mean that the leaders and not the masses should be seen as the real masters of socialist society. In revolutionary China great emphasis was given to the role of the masses in criticizing and in an overall sense supervising the leaders. And this found expression on a whole new level through the Cultural Revolution, which, Mao stressed, represented something radically new—“a form, a method, to arouse the broad masses to expose our dark aspect openly, in an all-round way and from below”. (Mao, cited in Report to the Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Peking: Foreign Languages Press [FLP], p. 27) Yet, as important and pathbreaking as this was, the fact remains that throughout the socialist transition there will not only be the need for leaders—and an objective contradiction between leaders and led—but there will be the possibility for this to be transformed into relations of exploitation and oppression.
Given the contradictions that characterize the transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, if the party did not play the leading role that it has within the proletarian state, that role would be played by other organized groups—bourgeois cliques—and soon enough the state would no longer be proletarian, but bourgeois. It must be said bluntly that, from the point of view of the proletariat, the problem with the ruling parties in the revisionist countries is not that they have had a “monopoly” of political power but that they have exercised that political power to restore and maintain capitalism. The problem is that they are not revolutionary, not really communist—and therefore they do not rely on and mobilize the masses to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to continue the revolution under this dictatorship.
As spoken to above, through the Cultural Revolution in China new means and methods were developed for attacking the differences and inequalities left over from the old society—means and methods for restricting bourgeois right to the greatest degree possible at any given time in accordance with the material and ideological conditions. Yet it will remain a fundamental contradiction throughout the socialist transition period that there are these underlying differences and inequalities and their expression in bourgeois right, which constitute the material basis for classes, class struggle and the danger of capitalist restoration. This is a problem that cannot even be fundamentally addressed, let alone solved, by a formalistic approach. It has to be addressed through waging class struggle under the leadership of revolutionary communists—making this the key link—and in no other way. And this is exactly how it was approached under Mao’s leadership.
Specifically with regard to income distribution, through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution a basic orientation and, flowing from it, concrete policies were adopted to gradually narrow wage differentials—in accordance with the development of common affluence and mainly by raising the bottom levels up. As an important part of this, there was an orientation of keeping the difference in pay between government officials and ordinary workers as little as possible—the fundamental spirit of the Paris Commune on this was proclaimed and upheld in practice—although such pay differences still existed and were viewed as something that had to be further reduced. But, once again, as important as it was to apply such principles, in correspondence with the actual conditions at any given time, this could not change the essential fact that, for a long historical period, there will persist differences and inequalities in socialist society which contain within them the potential to develop into class antagonism if a proletarian line is not in command in dealing with them.
The Exercise of Power in Socialist Society: Leadership, the Masses and Proletarian Dictatorship
With this in mind, let’s return to the question of the “dictatorship of the party”. The CRC document goes on to say that,
“The position taken by Lenin in relation to the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat is not very different from the position Stalin adopted and implemented.” (par. 5.9)
This is essentially true...But to cast Stalin, and Lenin, in a bad light and buttress its accusations against “the dictatorship of the party”, the document says that,
“Stalin argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat is ‘in essence’ the dictatorship of the party. And in exercising this dictatorship, the party uses the Soviets as mere transition belts like the trade unions, Youth league, etc.” (par. 5.9)
It is remarkable how the CRC document quotes this one phrase from Stalin, but it does not quote what he says, at great length, before and after it. First, here is the immediate context in which Stalin uses this phrase: Problems of Leninism [POL], Peking: FLP, p. 184, emphasis in original) Stalin then goes on to discuss, for literally page, after page, after page, how this must not be taken to mean that “a sign of equality can be put between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leading role of the Party (the ‘dictatorship’ of the Party), that the former can be identified with the latter, that the latter [the Party] can be substituted for the former [the proletariat]”. (ibid, emphasis in original)
[snip of elaboration of Stalin's views.]
It could be argued that, even with everything Stalin says about this question, along the lines I have cited here, still the formulation that the dictatorship of the proletariat is “in essence” the dictatorship of the party is a rather unfortunate one.
There is, I believe, some truth to this:
Ironically, this formulation itself can be interpreted as cutting against the very relationship that Stalin was insisting on—the relationship in which the masses exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of the party. It could be further argued that this formulation can reflect, or at least encourage, a tendency toward not relying on the masses, toward a “top-down” orientation. And, especially in light of experience—positive as well as negative—since that time, it must be said that there is some truth to this as well. Such a tendency did become rather pronounced in Stalin. This, however, was not a straight-line process but one in which a more correct orientation on Stalin’s part was, in certain significant aspects, turned into its opposite, as Mao pointed out....
Where does Restoration Come From?
[An] idealist viewpoint on the basis for the engendering of the new bourgeoisie in socialist society and the danger of capitalist restoration is repeated a number of times in the CRC document, including in the remarkable assertion that: “he [Lenin] comes to the solution of replacing dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat by simply reversing the dictatorship of the minority over the majority into a dictatorship of the majority over the minority. Hence no qualitative break with the old structure is required. Ultimately, the old structure which concentrates political power in the hands of the state leadership, leads to the emergence and strengthening of a new ruling class from among the working class and the ranks and leadership of its party itself.” (par. 9.2, emphasis added) Here it can be seen even more clearly how the CRC document treats the superstructure—actually a distorted view of the superstructure in socialist society—as the decisive element in “the emergence and strengthening of a new ruling class”... [T]he Maoist line identifies the essential material basis for capitalist restoration as residing in the remaining contradictions in the social relations, above all the production relations, within socialist society, as well as the international relations. It focuses on the superstructure fundamentally in relation to these contradictions. The line of this CRC document makes such contradictions in the economic base a secondary matter, subordinate to the supposedly decisive element: the existence of “such a political structure”, i.e., a dictatorship of the proletariat which is not based on formal democracy...
Bourgeois-Democratic Formalism of Rosa Luxemburg
Let’s move on to this document’s summation of what it calls Rosa Luxemburg’s “piercing criticism” of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union (see section 6). According to Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks were fundamentally wrong, because like Kautsky, they “‘oppose dictatorship to democracy’”. And, argues Luxemburg, the Bolshevik position is “‘far removed from a genuine socialist policy’”—she actually says that the Bolsheviks “‘decide in favour of dictatorship in contradistinction to democracy, and thereby in favour of dictatorship of a handful of persons, that is, in favour of dictatorship on the bourgeois model’”. (Luxemburg, as cited in the CRC document, par. 6.1, from Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York, 1970, p. 393, emphasis added) This is yet again the “classical outlook” of the petit bourgeois who stands midway between the bourgeois and the proletarian and recognizes in the dictatorship of both a subordination of petit-bourgeois interest to the interests of the ruling class, but who does not readily recognize the fundamental difference between these two dictatorships...
The CRC document continues with its presentation of Luxemburg’s “piercing criticism” as follows: “She observed that, the model of dictatorship of the proletariat established under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky [sic], after the October Revolution, was actually trying to eliminate democracy as such, in the name of ‘the cumbersome nature of democratic electoral bodies’.... ‘To be sure every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure: for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come the correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.’... Opposing Lenin’s claim that the Soviet system of proletarian democracy is a million times better than bourgeois democracy, she [Luxemburg] evaluated the situation under the dictatorship of the proletariat practised by Bolsheviks thus: ‘In place of the representative bodies created by general popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the Soviets as the only true representation of the labouring masses. But with the repression of political life in the land as a whole, life in the Soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule.’” (par. 6.2, 6.4.; the citation in the CRC document for the statements by Rosa Luxemburg is: Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 387, 391) This is a social-democratic line which—despite Luxemburg’s attempt to distinguish her position from bourgeois democracy—perfectly exposes the fact that such a position conforms to the bourgeois-democratic outlook. The masses of people in the Soviet Union, at that time especially—the early years of the Soviet Republic—were certainly energetically, actively, and consciously involved in political life, on a broader and deeper scale than anything history had witnessed up to that time. And Luxemburg’s argument is in no way a refutation of Lenin’s assessment that the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was practised in the Soviet Republic, was “a million times more democratic”—for the masses of people—than any bourgeois-democratic state. To argue otherwise, as Luxemburg does, and to declare that the Bolsheviks were seeking to stifle the political activism of the masses and to eliminate “democracy as such”, betrays an outlook that identifies the political activism of the masses with the strictures of bourgeois-democratic formalism and identifies “democracy as such” with democracy as practised according to bourgeois-democratic principles. And this is precisely what Luxemburg does with her emphasis on “representative bodies created by general popular elections”—in opposition, let it be noted, to “the Soviets as the only true representation of the labouring masses”—and her calls for “unrestricted” freedom of press and assembly.
The CRC document even goes so far as to say that, “The basic defect of the Soviet system”—note well: the “basic defect”—“is exposed by Rosa in this way: ‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party, however, numerous they may be—is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for one who thinks differently.’” (par. 6.3., citing Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 389-90)
First, it is distortion and slander to say that there was freedom only for those who supported the government and the Bolsheviks. It is true—and it is right—that counterrevolutionary forces were suppressed, particularly when they rose in arms against the Soviet government. There was, for example, the famous incident of the Kronstadt rebellion in which, as Lenin frankly acknowledged, there were masses involved; but, as he put it, before long the intrigues of the old whiteguard generals (that is, the old generals of the counterrevolutionary army that had waged the civil war against the proletarian regime) came out into the open in relation to the Kronstadt events, as did the imperialist connections of these whiteguard generals. It became clear that the Kronstadt revolt represented an attempt to overthrow the proletarian regime and restore the old order. So, naturally and correctly, people participating in such reactionary revolts were suppressed. (See “Tenth Congress of the R.C.P. (B.), March 8-16, 1921”, part 2, “Report on the Political Work of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.), March 8”, LCW, vol. 32, pp. 183-85)
But there was plenty of criticism raised, and “allowed”, of the government and the Party. This is very clear, among other things, in reading Lenin’s writings and speeches from these years of the new Soviet Republic. Lenin talks openly about how they are existing in a petit-bourgeois atmosphere, and that they have to learn how to find some form of accommodation with the petit-bourgeois strata, particularly among the peasantry, without compromising away the basic interests of the proletariat. He discusses the whole problem in historical terms—how you can expropriate and crush the resistance of the big bourgeoisie and landlords relatively quickly once you’ve seized power, but you have to carry out a policy of long-term co-existence and struggle with all the small-scale producers and generally with the petite bourgeoisie—as he puts it, you have to both live with and transform the petite bourgeoisie, in its material conditions and in its outlook, as part of advancing toward the elimination of class distinctions (such a discussion can be found, for example, in Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, which was written in the first few years of the Soviet Republic). So Lenin’s writings and speeches from those years—including, incidentally, some that are quoted, in a distorted way, in this CRC document itself—make very clear what Lenin’s basic approach was, and that his was not an orientation that anyone who raised criticism of the government and the Bolsheviks should be suppressed and denied political rights.
Instead of seriously grappling with what Lenin has to say about these difficult contradictions, the CRC document looks to Rosa Luxemburg’s misguided criticisms for guidance. Much of what is mistaken about these criticisms, and their underlying orientation, is revealed in the statement by Luxemburg that freedom is “always and exclusively freedom for one who thinks differently”. This, of course, is linked to Luxemburg’s call for “unrestricted” freedom of press and assembly, etc. And this is in line with classical bourgeois democracy, which identifies freedom with the rights of the minority against “the tyranny of the majority”. For example, this is very similar to the formulations of people like John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville in their writings on democracy and on individual liberty. In response to this, the question must be posed: who is it that, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, “thinks differently” most of all—if not the bourgeoisie and counterrevolutionaries? I am not being facetious: the “logical conclusion of the logic” of Luxemburg here is that they, above all, should be granted freedom, full political rights. And then where is the dictatorship of the proletariat?7
It is very instructive to contrast Rosa Luxemburg’s statements on what freedom is, “always and exclusively”, with the profound statements of Mao Tsetung on what constitutes the freedom, or the fundamental rights, of the labouring people in a socialist society: the right to control society, the right to be masters of the economy, the right to control and suppress the antagonistic forces that are trying to restore capitalism, the right to exercise their rule in all spheres of the superstructure. Everything flows from this freedom, or these fundamental rights, as discussed by Mao. This represents something much more profound and correct than Luxemburg’s definition of freedom—in fact it is the opposite of Luxemburg’s democratic formalism—it speaks to the essence of the matter: “Who is in control of the organs [of power] and enterprises bears tremendously on the issue of guaranteeing the people’s rights. If Marxist-Leninists are in control, the rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed. If rightists or right opportunists are in control, these organs and enterprises may change qualitatively, and the people’s rights with respect to them cannot be guaranteed. In sum, the people must have the right to manage the superstructure.” (Mao, A Critique of Soviet Economics, New York: Monthly Review, 1977, p. 61, emphasis added) Here Mao, like Lenin before him, puts forward the correct, the materialist and dialectical, view of the relationship between the exercise by the masses of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leadership of their communist vanguard.
Let’s move on to the next point that needs to be addressed in this CRC document:
“But in spite of all these major breakthroughs, it can be seen now, that the New Democratic Peoples Dictatorship established immediately after the completion of revolution in China or the dictatorship of the proletariat which followed, did not mark any significant advancement from the basic framework developed by Lenin and Stalin.” (par. 7.2)
To this, considering the spirit and thrust of the CRC document, one can only respond: “Thank god!” By now it should be clear that the “significant advancement” the authors of this document find lacking is in fact the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the adoption in its place of models based on the “piercing criticism” of people like Luxemburg and her exposure of the “basic defect of the Soviet system” in its departure from bourgeois-democratic formalism.