31/03/2017 by socialistfight
A reply to Eric Blanc’s “A Revolutionary Line of March: ‘Old Bolshevism’ in Early 1917 Re-Examined”.
Gerry Downing, 31st Mar, 2017
Eric Blanc begins:
“Contrary to Leon Trotsky’s influential account, Bolsheviks in March 1917 opposed the Provisional Government and called for a revolutionary soviet regime.”
Eric Blanc is an independent researcher in Oakland, California. He is the author of the forthcoming monograph, Anti-Colonial Marxism: Oppression & Revolution in the Tsarist Borderlands (Brill Publishers, Historical Materialism Book Series).
This is a attempt by Eric Blanc to rubbish the role of Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian Revolution. It contains much political confusion and seeks to gain some credibility for itself by seeking to prove it is not as bad as the similar attack on Leninism/Trotskyism by Lars T Lih. In fact its central purpose, set out in the introduction, is to defend the politics of Stalin, Kamanev and Zeniovev in the period from February 1917 to the end of the year, up to the October revolution and its immediate aftermath.
To achieve this slight of hand he pretends that the pre April 1917 position of the Bolsheviks was the same as the political line achieved by Lenin’s April Theses, which reversed that position. He said that those who still retained the outmoded democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry should be consigned to the “museum of old Bolsheviks”.
The democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry implied a capitalist government brought to power by a bourgeois revolution. This “democratic revolution” he says is simply a matter of the relationship to other socialist parties, principally the Mensheviks. That this is the difference between a bourgeois revolution, led by the bourgeoisie for the Mensheviks but by the working class for the Bolsheviks, and a socialist revolution led by the working class to impose the dictatorship of the proletariat he nowhere makes clear. And clearly he does not understand that.
Nor does he spell out that in fact the appearance of the powerful Soviets made the old programme of a bourgeois revolution led by the working class completely redundant. And this Stalin, Kamanev and Zeniovev did not understand and they WERE supporting the Provisional Government and this Lenin put a stop to when he returned. And Trotsky arrived at the same conclusion independently and if Lenin has not changed the party line on this question the revolution would have been drowned in blood. It is true that some second rank Bolsheviks, like Shliapnakov in particular, had arrived at this conclusion but Stalin and Kamanev ousted him as editor of Pravda in March to change the line.
By seeking to prove Lenin and Trotsky wrong he reduces the political struggle to an objective process which would have taken place irrespective of Lenin’s April Theses. He mentions this just once and that to dismiss almost totally the single most important document in the whole history of revolutionary socialism, indeed of revolutionary history:
“The 24-29 April All-Russian Bolshevik conference, and the preceding internal discussions of Lenin’s ‘April Theses’, significantly strengthened the party’s political cohesion and intransigence empirewide. Sharp attacks on the Provisional Government were stepped up after April and local Bolshevik militants across the empire began for the first time to consistently foreground the call for a soviet regime. The need to clearly demarcate themselves from any major measures openly in contradiction with the popular demands for change.”
“Lenin’s impact or to the rapidly changing political context is difficult to gauge precisely. In March, the Provisional Government had not yet announced any major measures openly in contradiction with the popular demands for change. April, however, was marked by a massive outcry from below in response to the revelation that the government planned to continue the imperialist war ‘until victory’.”
It was far more important than that and the failure to assess it and say who supported it and who opposed it and why simply obfuscates the whole question.
And that revolution could not be consummated in Russia but only as the first step in a rolling world revolution. That was Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution in 1906 and the April Theses in 1917. In treating it all as simply a question of the Bolsheviks seizing power in Russia and not on the internationalist basis which gave Lenin the political confidence based on the understanding of the global crisis of capitalism to lead a socialist revolution.
Because, of course, socialism is unachievable and unsustainable in a single country, particularly one as backward as Russia. By socialism we mean a social and economic equality based on a superior mode of production than capitalism. It must begin to make available the super abundance of wealth to enable Marx’s definition of full communism from The German Ideology, “to each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. Not the Stalinist version of “actually existing socialism”; whatever Stalinist regimes did irrespective of the level of social and economic equality prevailing within the state.
Eric Blanc, like Lars T Lih, is a defender of Kautsky which dares not say so as Lih and the CPGB/Weekly Worker does. Because Stalin, never understood or agreed with the revolutionary perspective of the April Theses, he merely yielded to Lenin and did not continue his opposition like his more honest co-thinkers Kamanev and Zeniovev. He simply readopted Kautskyism after 1924 without saying so. In that sense Eric Blanc is likewise not as honest as Lars T Lih.
Of course the importance of Trotsky’s Lessons of October is to prepare the working class to fight against the reimposition of the historically outmoded democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry by the Comintern under Zeniovev and then Stalin in China in the middle to late 1920s and everywhere else. And Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution extended in 1927 to China and the East to combat this retreat to stagist capitulation to the national bourgeoisie.
But you could not fight that if you did not understand the Russian Revolution in the first place. Neither Lars T Lih nor Eric Blanc understand it because they are not revolutionary practioners themselves.