Letter from Afar, corrections from up close: Censorship or retrofit?


09/07/2017 by socialistfight

From John Marot:

Lih thinks the lessons the Bolshevik learned from the 1905 Revolution — Old Bolshevism’s ‘logic of hegemony’ — can serve as a guide to understand what the Bolsheviks did in 1917. They can’t. That is because those lessons do not take into account the extraordinary novelty of the February 1917 Revolution, to wit: Every Social Democrat prior to 1917 thought *one* government — *a* Provisional Government (PG) — would succeed Tsardom. But, in February 1917, *two* governments arise — the Soviet and the PG — and that throws everyone for a loop.

Lih does not understand the significance of this unprecedented and cardinal feature — but Lenin bends over backwards to analyse and bring out its significance in the April Theses. Furthermore, prior to 1917, the Bolsheviks expected they would dominate the (one) Provisional Government, making it a Revolutionary Provisional Government. But — lo and behold — this Provisional Government is dominated by the Kadets, a, in the Bolshevik view, *cowardly* liberal bourgeois party that could not be expected to lead anything — letting alone leading (formally) the bourgeois-democratic revolution!.

But, this is what, incredibly, has happened. Lih does not understand how this astounding turn of events has thrown the Bolsheviks for another loop! Lenin writes in an excised passage: “Let us not make the mistake of those who—like certain “O.C.” supporters or “Mensheviks” who are oscillating between the Gvozdev-Potresov line and internationalism and who only too often slip into petty-bourgeois pacifism—are now ready to extol “agreement” [soglashenie] between the workers’ party and the Kadets, “support” of the latter by the former, and so on.

In conformity with the old (and by no means Marxist) doctrine that they have learned by rote.” Here, Lenin is also implicating those Old Bolsheviks who are seeking a rapprochement with the Mensheviks and, therefore, a rapprochement with their policy of critical support to the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government. Lih does not understand this.

John Riddell

Part 3 of Lars Lih’s series ‘All Power to the Soviets’

By Lars T. Lih. The standard “rearming the party” interpretation of Bolshevism in 1917 is a gripping and highly dramatic narrative that goes something like this: Old Bolshevism is rendered irrelevant by the February revolution, the Russian Bolsheviks flounder until Lenin returns home and rearms the party, and the party is subsequently divided over fundamental issues throughout the year. Party unity is restored—to the extent that it was restored—after the other leading Bolsheviks cave in to Lenin’s superior force of will. Only by these means was the party rearmed by a new strategy that proclaimed the socialist nature of the revolution—an essential condition for Bolshevik victory in October.

Observers with strikingly opposed political viewpoints all had their reasons for supporting some version of the rearming narrative.[1] This story seemed doubly confirmed when it became known in the…

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9 thoughts on “Letter from Afar, corrections from up close: Censorship or retrofit?

  1. stephenrdiamond says:

    I haven’t seen any discussion of what’s to me Lih’s most extraordinary claim: that the Bolsheviks over several months *following* the April Theses failed to preach revolutionary defeatism because it was hostilely received by workers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Land, Bread and Peace seemed to do the trick


    • stephenrdiamond says:

      Have you reviewed the evidence to find that the Bolsheviks actually withdrew all mass propaganda for revolutionary defeatism? If so, why then do even would-be Leninists today take an open defeatist position in imperialist wars? Is it a matter of what appears to do the trick, rather than consisting telling the truth to workers.

      Three possibilities:
      1. Lih’s history is wrong.
      2. The Bolsheviks were not free of opportunist practices. (These, if they existed, would have strengthened the hand of Stalin when he turned nationalist. That is, if the Bolsheviks failed to wage a propaganda campaign against Russian chauvinism on the war question.
      3. My whole concept of revolutionary propaganda is faulty.

      I’d say each is about equally plausible.


      • stephenrdiamond says:

        I was extremely surprised to learn in Jack Conrad’s letter to WW that Lenin wasn’t a defeatist following the Februrary revolution. (Lenin – although off-the-cuff) is quoted: “We were defeatists at the time of the tsar, but at the time of Tsereteli and Chernov [top Menshevik and SR ministers in the Provisional government] we were not defeatists.” Come again?

        So, perhaps the Martovites were right after all! But what changed. The war remained imperialist, and the Provisional Government was playing its part. Did the invasion of Russia change the matter? That’s not what Leninist doctrine has taught subsequently.


      • stephenrdiamond says:

        I’m now reluctantly favoring explanation #2. Lenin is also quoted as saying, “we did not demoralise the army, but said: hold the front – the sooner you take power, the easier will it be to retain it”

        This is defencism in an imperialist war.


      • stephenrdiamond says:

        I wonder whether SF has looked at Trotsky’s Proletarian Military Program. It remains controversial today among would-be Trotskyists. I bring it up because it addresses the same issue apparently addressed by Lenin’s compromises with defencism, that is the “honest defencism” within the working class. But whatever one thinks of the PLM, it did not involve any support for the imperialist armies.

        I’m stunned by Lenin’s (alleged) comment quoted by Conrad: Oh, no, we don’t want to demoralize the army! Not us! The same argument could be used for supporting war credits.


  3. There are numerous quotes to show that Lenin and Trotsky were defeatist after February, that was the whole point of the April Theses. I don’t know about any off the cuff remarks reported by who and with what accuracy which meant he had changed his mind when he obviously never did. And the policy won and made the Russian revolution complete. Conrad and Lih argue ridiculous lies.


  4. And the Proletarian military policy does not contradict defeatism either, except for those who do not understand the Transitional method.


  5. stephenrdiamond says:

    It seem to me that Lih’s main claim is that the “Old Bolsheviks” were really Leninists all along. Whereas Conrad is pushing in the direction that Lenin became an “Old Bolshevik” after he wised up to the Russian reality.


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