I ended up writing about this, what’ll basically be an essay about speaking and doing for people, rather than with them, while returning to write an essay that I never managed to complete because something else came up and I had to deal with it. Either I just forgot that text or didn’t care enough about it. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter why what was. I’ll see if I get it done sometime in the near future. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.
Right, this essay touches on what Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze discuss in their recorded conversation known as ‘Intellectuals and Power’. The gist of this conversation is that both agree that intellectuals, including but not limited to academics, should not speak for people, that is to say speak in their stead, as if they had a calling to speak in their place because the people can’t or don’t understand what’s at stake. Deleuze (206) provides his take on the issue:
“A theorising intellectual, for us, is no longer a subject, a representing or representative consciousness. Those who act and struggle are no longer represented, either by a group or a union who appropriates the right to stand as their conscience.”
He (206) clarifies his view:
“Who speaks and acts? It’s always a multiplicity, even with the person who speaks and acts. All of us are ‘groupuscules.’ Representation no longer exists; there’s only action – theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks.”
In other words, in his view, which I subscribe to by the way, if one speaks, one already speaks as a member of this and/or that group, because, well, one is a group. Groups are understood as ever shifting, consisting of various points that function as relays and form networks. This means that when you say or do something, no one has the right to do something for others, unless it is done with them, which, of course, then done with their explicit consent. No one can simply claim to know better, be aware of something that others should be aware but aren’t and then act for them.
Foucault (207) provides a more history oriented take:
“The intellectual was rejected and persecuted at the precise moment when the facts became incontrovertible, when it was forbidden to say that the emperor had no clothes. The intellectual spoke the truth to those who had yet to see it, in the name of those who were forbidden to speak the truth: he was conscience, consciousness, and eloquence.”
But, be as it may, he (207) adds that:
“[T]he intellectual discovered that the masses no longer need him to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well, without illusion; they know far better than he and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves.”
So, in summary, thus far, it’s not that intellectuals may not play a role, as they most certainly can, but rather that their position in any struggle is always within and, conversely put, never without, as he (207) goes on to add:
“But there exists a system of power which block, prohibits, and invalidates this discourse and this knowledge, a power not only found in the manifest authority of censorship, but one that profoundly and subtly penetrates an entire societal network. Intellectuals are themselves agent of this system of power – the idea of their responsibility for ‘consciousness’ and discourse forms part of the system. The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself ‘somewhat ahead and to the side’ in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘discourse.’”
More concisely put, he (208) states that:
“[T]o sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination from a safe distance.”
So, you do and say (or just do if saying is considered doing, which I think it is), whatever it is that you do and/or say with others, as part of the people, not for them, not ahead and aside of people. Deleuze (208-209) responds to this, adding that:
“[R]eforms are designed by people who claim to be representative, who make a profession of speaking for others, and they lead to a division of power, to a distribution of this new power which is consequently increased by a double repression; or they arise from the complaints and demands of those concerned. This latter instance is no longer a reform but revolutionary action that questions (expressing the full force of its partiality) the totality of power and the hierarchy that maintains it.”
In this case, note how he specifies that those who claim to speak for others and subsequently do speak for others are reformers and those who are actually concerned are revolutionaries, inasmuch as they take action, of course. He (209) provides a couple of examples, one pertaining to prisons and another pertaining to kindergartens, in order to point out how, in the former case, prison protests, by the inmates themselves, can thwart reforms, and how, in the latter case, it leads nowhere, because, I’d say, no one actually listen to children, well, except other children, which is why things often are the way they are. In his (210) words, [c]hildren are submitted to an infantilization which is alien to them.” Anyway, to get back to the topic, he (209) rephrases his take on reform and revolution, in reference to his interlocutor, Foucault:
“[Y]ou were the first … to teach us something absolutely fundamental: the indignity of speaking for others. … [O]nly those directly concerned can speak in a practical way on their own behalf.”
Does this mean that the intellectuals, including the academics, have no function then? Well, I wouldn’t say that. It’s rather that the intellectuals are just like anyone else. They don’t have a special license to speak for anyone else but themselves, just like anyone else. They can still advocate for this and that, speaking from own their position, just like anyone else, making compelling arguments etc., based on what they know and how what they know would also beneficial to others, just like anyone else, but they cannot speak for others, to claim to speak from their position, to represent them.
For example, the results of my studies indicate a bit of this and a bit of that, but it does not mean that I get to say that people must or should respond to the results in a certain way, because the results indicate what they indicate. That’d be reformist. I roll my eyes every time that someone asks me to explain the implications of my work, the applicability of it, what good does it do, how it could change the world, or so to speak. It’s just so inane. I agree with Deleuze and Foucault on this. I believe that I must leave it up to the people to do what they will with it and doing nothing is also an option, among other options, as is using a print version of my work as a paper plane or to level a wobbly table. The purpose of the intellectual is to give people tools that they can but don’t have to use, as explained by Deleuze (208), in reference to Marcel Proust:
“It is strange that it was Proust, an author thought to be a pure intellectual, who said it so clearly: treat my book as a pair of glasses directed to the outside; if they don’t suit you, find another pair; I leave it you to find your own instrument, which is necessarily an instrument for combat.”
Now, of course, we don’t need Proust to tell us that (nor Deleuze, nor me, for that matter) but, oddly enough, we do get that in someone like him, someone who is thought to be a pure intellectual, someone who is thought to have engaged in fiction, dealing with figments of his imagination, that is to say being completely alienated from everyday life. He doesn’t tell you what to think or what to do. He leaves it up to you to decide. If you get something out of reading his works, then great, but if you don’t, then, well, too bad, read something else or, more broadly speaking, engage with something else. You might be tempted to think that he is doing all the heavy lifting for you, explaining all that for you, but, the thing with reading is that it always takes effort because you are, in fact, engaging in a dialogue with what you read, even though your interlocutor is a mere figment of your imagination. In other words, it’s actually you who is doing the heavy lifting, for you, and it’s then up to you to think of it what you may.
I’d say the view espoused by Deleuze and Foucault is, nonetheless, a minority view. There’s certainly no shortage of people who speak for others, claiming to represent them and standing as their consciousness. I’d say this is particularly common among the academic activist types who, while knowledgeable and aware, think they know better than the people whose consciousness and interests they claim to represent.
Okay, to be fair, this is hardly a new issue. Much more has been on the line than a bit coffee room chatter or social media rambling. Revolutions are exemplars as they tend to involve people who claim to hold the key to a perfect society, but the results fall short of perfect by … well … they don’t get even close. If you ask me, nothing really changes, only those who run the show. If something does change, it’s like going from a bad situation to an even worse situation. Deleuze explains this well in conversation with Claire Parnet in ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’ or ‘Gilles Deleuze from A to Z’ as it is translated to English. He struggles to keep a straight face when discussing the Left (G for Gauche). He finds it particularly amusing how people keep being surprised by how revolutions go wrong. As he points out, you have to be a bit dimwitted not to realize that there’s something else, something profound, at play that makes them go wrong, not just these or those circumstances. In summary, the Russian revolution, the French, the American revolution and the English revolution, they all went to shit, as did the Algerian revolution, to list all the revolution that he mentions. We could say the same about any of the recent revolutions. The politicians and the media heralded the Arab Spring, as did a lot of people, but, well, you know, surprise, surprise it went to shit. Fuck all changed. Did it surprise me? No. Not at all. The problem is, as Deleuze goes on to explain it, that states of affairs can always be appraised as good or bad, no doubt about it, but that assumes that people are like this and/or that under those conditions and that people want a revolution if the conditions are deemed to be bad for them. In other words, this ignores how people are, in fact, always changing, desiring, becoming-revolutionary. To be clear, to avoid confusion, he is not saying that there is a set path to change, going from one state to another (and so on, and so on), desiring or becoming this and/or that, like some object. It’s irreducible to something like wanting this OR that. Deleuze explains this alongside Félix Guattari (292) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’:
“Becoming-revolutionary remains indifferent to questions of a future and a past of the revolution; it passes between the two. Every becoming is a block of coexistence.”
So, yeah, there is, of course, past and future of the revolution, and they can be understood as states, as how things were and how they will be, like slices of time and space, as examined here and now, even though my here and now examination is already past when you read this and will be in the future for you until you read this, but that’s not the point with becoming. When you think in terms of becoming, there’s no need to explain that. Explaining it would not be about becoming, but about attempting to explain who or what you are or, well, were, because when you assess that, you’ve already changed. Anyway, to get to the point, Deleuze thinks it’s silly to assess whether a revolution failed and to what extent it failed, because, when one thinks in terms of becoming (difference-in-itself or differentiation), a revolution is always a failure. Those who claim otherwise fail to understand that change comes from within and it never stops. No matter how much worse things get, it never prevents people from becoming-revolutionary, as he points out. It’s the same thing even if things pan out great as that won’t prevent people from becoming-revolutionary either.
Right, as I pointed out there’s no shortage of people who wish to speak for people, if not for the people. To further explore this, I’ll turn to what is known as vanguardism. To understand what that is, it’s useful to know that, according to a dictionary, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, it comes from the word vanguard (OED, s.v. “vanguard”, n.) has its roots in avant-garde or avant-guard (OED, s.vv. “avant-garde”, n, “vantguard”, n.), French for ‘before guard’, the part of an army that operates in the front, like a spearhead, it’s opposite being rearguard (OED, s.v. “rearguard”, n.1), the part of an army that protects the rest of the troops in the rear, making sure that it is possible to retreat safely. These two, vanguard (OED, s.vv. “vanguard”, n., “avant-garde”, n, “vantguard”, n.) and rearguard (OED, s.v. “rearguard”, n.1), can also be contrasted, so that, figuratively speaking, the former is what’s at the forefront of something, that is to say pioneering, innovative or revolutionary, and the latter is what’s staying back, that is to say conservative, reactionary or counter-revolutionary. So, in short, vanguardism (OED, s.v. “vanguardism”, n.) has to do with “the quality of being in the vanguard of a political, cultural, or artistic movement” and a vangardist is “a person in the vanguard of a political, cultural, or artistic movement”. In contemporary parlance, vanguard (OED, s.v. “vanguard”, n.) is also associated with communism, being:
“[T]he elite party cadre which, according to Lenin, would be used to organize the masses as a revolutionary force and to give effect to communist planning.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is certainly best known for this, actually using that word, but, apparently, this can also be traced by to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as Karl Kautsky, a contemporary to both. I’ve been trying to find if someone before Lenin ever used that word, or a variant of it, but so far I haven’t ran into anyone who did that before him. That said, you can argue that it’s there, in their works, at least sort of, at least if the party is understood as separate from the people, which, of course, is debatable. To my understanding, this, whether the vanguard is within or without, was hotly debated at the time and still is today. I realize that this might be a translation issue, but I find it pretty confusing to read the old texts, when, at times, ‘party’ and ‘organization’ are used as mere synonyms, a party being an organization, and other times they are to be understood as distinct from one another, a party being a broad organization involving loose affiliation so that anyone can claim to be a party member, and an organization being understood as acting within the party as a tightly knit and highly selective unit. I’m tempted to explain this as having to do with a political party, on one hand, and a house party, on the other hand, because the former involves membership whereas the other other is something that just about anyone can join, but, then again, typically you need to be invited to a house party, so, yeah, it’s a bit weird because it makes it seem like the party is the people, open to everyone, at least potentially, whereas the organization is not the people, not being open to everyone, yet acting within the party. Isn’t that just some sort of representative structure within the party, you know, like in an association where the members elect certain people to certain posts, for a certain time period, let’s say a year, according to the rules the members have come up with? Anyone can become a member, unless the rules prohibit that, of course, but you do actually have to be a member, as opposed to being just considered a member or self-designating as a member. So, the way I see this is that the party is not the people, but, in this context, there’s a temptation to define it as such because then the organization within the party can claim to stand for the people, even though it is not the people who have elected them to stand for them, because not everyone considers him- or herself to be a party member, that is to say aware of there even being a party, as the party needs to be created first by some people who then claim to represent all of the people. Isn’t that just self-appointment? If that’s not the case, then the organization within the party only represents some people, not all the people, which isn’t as useful for the organization because it can’t to claim speak for everyone, nor to act on their behalf, nor to serve their interests.
Then there’s the issue of having multiple organizations within the party, kind of like circles in a circle, whether or not one has to be a member of an such an organization to be in the party, as well as whether there is an organization that oversees these (other) organizations, that one (central) organization that organizes it all. Then there can also be organizations that operate outside the party, either unrelated to it or unsupervised by it, which further complicates this. Anyway, I don’t think these complications to the formula change much as there is still that (central) organization, that tightly knit and highly selective unit that is seen as a supervisor to it all, one way or another. This is something that I find Lenin constantly skirting in his writings, glossing over the fact that he is in charge of it all, alongside other self-appointed leaders, while making it appear as if that (central) organization was not in control of all the (other) organizations that may or may not exist within the party, depending on how it is supposed to be organized. He seems to be fine with anyone’s presence, but only inasmuch as it does not alter how the party is directed by his crew.
As a related issue, it’s also often unclear what someone means when they refer to people, in what sense it is being used. To some, it’s everyone, as in the people, whereas to others it’s some people, usually their people, which they may then also refer to as the people. It can get pretty confusing when someone who claims to be a man of the people, for everyone, even if the person puts emphasis on the downtrodden so that everyone gets mentioned, not just those who typically get mentioned, actually advocates for only some people. What is meant by working class and the proletariat can also be somewhat fuzzy, although I think there’s less confusion with these than with people. To my understanding, the former is supposed to mean people who make their living in wages paid by someone else, as opposed to, for example, making a living out of self-employment and/or capital gains, whereas the latter is supposed to mean certain working class people, namely industrial workers. That said, I find these two used interchangeably, so it can be a bit tricky to get what is meant by the former or the latter.
If I’ve understood correctly, all peasants would be considered working class people but not proletariat, because some of those making their living off the land could also be considered the owners of the means of production, the land and what else is necessary, whereas those working in a factory are always solely dependent on wages. This is not to say that many peasants aren’t or weren’t solely dependent on wages, but rather that some either engage in subsistence farming or operate as landholders who hire others to work on the land, while possibly but not necessarily working the land themselves. I’d go as far as to say that, under certain circumstances, living off the land is a prime example of what the Social Democrats refer to as collective ownership of the means of production and products, inasmuch those who live off the land do not own the land. To use a Deleuzo-Guattarian example, nomads live off the land, but they don’t strictly speaking own the land. They are distributed on the land rather than the land being distributed to them. It’s not that they aren’t in control of their surroundings, which change all the time, inasmuch as they do, but that owning something is alien to them, nonsensical really. It just doesn’t compute.
Right, as Lenin is best known for advocating for vanguardism, I’ll try to further elaborate it through his views. But before I do that, I think I need to provide some relevant background information. It’s quite the ordeal to try to grasp what’s what, who’s who and what position they occupy, vis-à-vis others, if you are not familiar with what went on at the time. As the nomenclature can quite confusing, I’ll first cover the main factions, why they are called what they are called, and then I’ll move on to summarize what went on in the Russian Empire in the early 1900s.
So who or what were the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks? The short answer is that they were the two major factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) founded in 1898 before the party split into two rival parties who both claimed the party as their own. Because it’s rather unwieldy to discuss them by using the same name, it’s just easier to refer to them as the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. This issue issue pertaining to the party name appears to have been sorted out later on, but it’s simply more practical to keep using those names for the two parties.
The names were first used following the events of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, which took place in Brussels and London in 1903. In short, the Bolsheviks mean the ‘Majority’ and Mensheviks the ‘Minority’, but these names are not derived from how many people supported these factions at the time, which is not only confusing but also misleading, because it makes it appear as if the Bolsheviks were more popular than the Mensheviks at the time when, in fact, that’s was not the case. For example, Lenin wrote that the Bolsheviks were in the minority and the Mensheviks, alongside other factions, were in the majority in the soviets (short for Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies), in the summer of 1917, as mentioned by him (82) in ‘The Turning-Point’. I’ll explain the inner workings of these soviets soon enough, but the point here is that by no means were the Bolsheviks a majority faction from the start.
As discussed by Lenin in ‘Account of Second Congress of R.S.D.L.P.’, ‘Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board’, and ‘A Brief Outline of the Split in the R.S.D.L.P’, majority and minority have to do with how the party members voted on various issues during the Congress, mainstream Iskrists (from Iskra, the party newspaper) being dubbed by him as the majority, and the opposition, the non-mainstream Iskrists (and the anti-Iskrists) being dubbed by him as the minority. In short, he called his side the majority and the other side led by Julius Martov the minority. There were, of course, other factions within the party, consisting of various anti-Iskrists, but, according to one of the party members and congress attendees, Vladimir Akimov (101-106), as mentioned in ‘The Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party’, the Iskrists didn’t consider them welcome to take part in the congress preparations, drafting the party program, nor were they invited to attend the congress, despite calls made for the party program to express collective thought. Moreover, as also mentioned by him (105-106) the anti-Iskrists present at the congress were apparently treated with derision; “the leaders of the congress would stop at nothing in their determination to ‘throw out’, to use Lenin’s expression, all elements that displeased him.” In short, there were many factions among the Social Democrats, but the Iskrists didn’t think there was room for dissenting views within the party. Anyway, these two main factions, later parties, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, were popular in Russian urban centers, namely Saint Petersburg (also known as Petrograd), whereas the Socialist Revolutionaries, led by Viktor Chernov, were popular in the rural areas.
What about the soviets then? Well, a soviet (OED, s.v. “Soviet”, n., adj.), as in, for example, the Soviet Union, short for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), simply means council. That said, it’s typically understood as pertaining to how these parties sought to organize, bottom-up, and, more generally, how what came after, the Soviet Union, was to be organized and governed. To be more specific, it (OED, s.v. “Soviet”, n.) is typically understood as:
“In the U.S.S.R.: one of a number of elected councils which operated at all levels of government, having legislative and executive functions.”
And, by extension (OED, s.v. “Soviet”, n.):
“In other countries: a similar council organized on socialist principles.”
It can also be understood as having to do with the people themselves:
“A citizen of the U.S.S.R. Chiefly in plural (hence loosely, = the Soviet Union or its leaders).”
In other uses, it has to do with the way things are run (OED, s.v. “Soviet”, adj.):
“Of, relating to, or having, a system of government based on soviets[.]”
And, more broadly, the way things are in that system (OED, s.v. “Soviet”, adj.):
“Of, relating to, under the influence of, or living in the U.S.S.R.”
Now, of course, these are not all uses for the word, but they should give you an idea of what it has to do with. To return to an earlier point, I’d say that it’s most helpful to understand soviet as a council. To my understanding, its use is not strictly speaking limited to these context and it has been used in reference to various councils, but it is, nonetheless, most closely associated with workers councils, hence my previous remark about it being about bottom-up organization, rather than some top-down entity, like a state council. These soviets were promoted as such, giving voice to the people. You don’t see it mentioned that much by the people involved because the parties are not themselves the soviets.
The best known soviet is the Petrograd Soviet, also known as the Saint Petersburg or Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies, that was set up once the Tsar was removed from the throne. In ‘The Revolution in Russia and the Tasks of the Workers of All Countries’, Lenin (352) refers to it as “a real peoples government.”
So, how does a real people’s government work then? How is it organized? How does it operate? What are its inner workings? Well, according to Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky (151-152), as explained by him in his essay ‘The Soviet and the Revolution’, a soviet is an organization, but not just any organization as what distinguishes it from other organizations is that it’s not an organization “among the proletariat” but “an organization of the proletariat” which seeks “to become an organ of public authority.” He (152) also characterizes it as “an organized expression of the will of the proletariat as a class.” He (155) calls it “the first democratic power in modern Russian history” and “the organized power of the masses themselves over their component parts.” In contrast to the system put in place by the Tsar as a concession in 1905, he (155) argues that it “is a true, unadulterated democracy, without a two-chamber system, without a professional bureaucracy, with the right of the voters to recall their deputy any moment and to substitute another for him.” In other words, a soviet is a council that consists of elected councilors, what he (155) calls deputies. They are considered to be responsible to the people who elected them to represent them. So, what distinguishes the soviet from other forms of representative democracy is the lack of terms, as the people, the voters, can recall and replace their representatives at any given time, as opposed to waiting for the next election. That said, he (156-157) also argues that while a soviet may not officially represent more than this or that many people, for example some 200 000 workers of the earlier Saint Petersburg Soviet (1905), as opposed to the entire population, the entire 500 000 workers of earlier Saint Petersburg Soviet, it nonetheless represents the interests of the entire population, “of all these proletarian masses”, extending not only to cover the workers, but also everyone else as well, “[a]ll the oppressed, all the unfortunate, all honest elements … all those who were striving towards a better life”, those “instinctively or consciously on the side of the Soviet.” In other words, a soviet is defined as having the license to represent just about everyone. There are, of course, those who oppose a soviet, but, according to him (157), it is “actually or potentially a representative of an overwhelming majority of the population.”
In summary, what distinguishes a soviet from other forms of representative democracy is how it, at least supposedly, represents the will of the people, that is to say virtually everyone, whether they know it or not. In other words, the will of the soviet is not to be understood as the will of the majority, that everyone just has to accept regardless of whether they agree or disagree with it, but as the genuine will of everyone. If you disagree, you either aren’t conscious of the issue, what’s good for everyone, you included, or you are against the overwhelming majority of the people, thus aware of the issue but seek to serve your own interests instead of the interest of the people.
There can also be multiple tiers in the soviet system. A soviet is indeed merely a soviet, among other soviets. In the Russian context, the various local soviets came to take part in a countrywide labor congress, what became known as the ‘All-Russian Congress of Soviets’, which in turn, came to take part in multi-country labor congress, what became known as the ‘Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union’. Simply put, the soviets elected delegates who took part in the countrywide congress, which, in turn elected delegates who took part in the multi-country congress. In other words, people did not elect their representatives at all levels, only locally. The system appears to have been democratic, considering that the local level had direct elections and then those representatives elected representatives to the higher tier soviets, but I’ll return to this shortly.
This system was complimented by executive committees that operated when the congresses were not in session. Simply put, the executive committees were the ones in charge of running the show on behalf of the congresses, considering that the congresses were not in session that often. The countrywide labor congress was thus supplemented by the ‘All-Russian Central Executive Committee’ (commonly abbreviated as VTsIK) and the multi-country labor congress was supplemented by the ‘Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union’ (commonly abbreviated as TsIK). Applying to both tiers, the executive branch of the committees became known as the ‘Council of People’s Commissars’ (commonly known as Sovnarkom and abbreviated as SNK) ‘of the Russian SFSR’ and ‘of the Soviet Union’ respectively. Each commissar functioned as the president of a commissariat, such as the commissariat of foreign affairs, which operated as its own committee consisting of members appointed by the commissars. The executive committees were considered to be responsible for the congresses and the councils of people’s commissars to the executive committees, as the congresses elected the committee members which then elected commissars.
I pointed out already that this arrangement is democratic, but it was only superficially so, because, unless I’m mistaken, the ‘Councils of People’s Commissars’ ran the show, not the executive committees, nor the congresses. Now, that was clearly not intended to work that way, as evident from the 1918 Constitution, but it is what it is. If we gloss over that for a moment, assuming that such violations of rights and responsibilities never happened, there’s also a fundamental issue that undermines this soviet conception of democracy, which Lenin dubbed as real people’s democracy, as already pointed out. This has to do with how the system of representation clearly favors urban soviets over provincial soviets, so that the former can elect one representative to the countrywide congress per 25 000 eligible voters, whereas the latter can elect one representative to the countrywide congress per 125 000 inhabitants, as set in the 1918 and 1924 constitutions. On paper, that’s a 5:1 ratio, which means that if you happened to live in the countryside, well, your vote is 20% of the vote of someone living in a city! Democracy! Equality! Representation!
Oh, and this gets even better on the local levels! When it comes to a regional soviet, an urban soviet can elect one representative per 5000 eligible voters, whereas a county soviet can elect one representative per 25 000 inhabitants. Again, that’s a 5:1 ratio. The same ratio also applies to the aforementioned provincial soviets, so that also aforementioned urban soviets can elect one representative per 2 000 eligible voters, whereas the rural soviets can elect one representative per 10 000 inhabitants. County soviets consist of rural soviets, which can elect one representative per 1 000 inhabitants. Rural soviets consist of village soviets, which can elect one representative per 10 members of the soviet. There are also couple of extra definitions (I have no idea what the Soviets of Deputies are…) and it’s added that the same logic of having executive committees that operate alongside the congresses apply on all of these local levels, but that’s all beside the point I want to make. It’s quite clear that some people are more equal than others in the soviet system.
Now, you might object to my math because an eligible voter is not the same as inhabitant. Correct. This is not a topic that gets covered that much, but, as explained by E. A. Ross and Selig Perlman (318), in their article ‘Soviet Government in Russia’, while the ratio is not that skewed, the system still heavily favors the urban areas over the rural areas. For example, they (318) estimate that on the provincial level, 2000 urban voters, male and female, count as 5000 inhabitants, considering that not everyone gets to vote. I don’t know what’s that based on, but, okay, if each family has approximately three children, that would be about right. I reckon the fertility level was actually above that, but, then again, you have to take into account infant mortality, as well as other factors, such a shorter life span. So, that would mean one representative from the urban soviets per 5000 inhabitants, whereas the county soviets get one representative per 10 000 inhabitants. Based on that estimate, which may or may not be accurate, that’s a 2:1 ratio, not a 5:1 ratio. That said, one also needs to take into account how the urban soviets are taken into account not once but twice when electing representatives to the countrywide congress, as pointed out by Ross and Perlman (318). Note how in this system each urban soviet elects members directly to to the countrywide congress, as well as to the provincial soviet, with a favorable ratio. Using the same math, each urban soviet gets one representative per each 62 500 inhabitants in the countrywide congress, which translates to 12.5 seats in the provincial congress. Let’s assume that the provincial congress has the maximal capacity set in the 1918 constitution, meaning 200 seats. That means that an urban agglomeration like Saint Petersburg or Moscow, at one million each back in the day, give or take, would result in netting all 200 seats in the province. So, in the countrywide congress, a city size of a million would get 16 seats directly and 8 seats indirectly, assuming there isn’t some clause that guarantees the rural soviets a minimum number of seats in the provincial congress. So, if that 5:1 ratio looked bad, as did the 2:1 ratio, well, I reckon it’s even worse, considering how the urban areas can easily snag the seats in the provincial congresses. Now, I’m not familiar with what counted as an urban soviet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in set in place in such a fashion that they came to dominate the provincial level, so that the those in the countryside had no say in anything in the higher tier soviets.
If I’ve understood things correctly, the complex multi-tier soviet system was subsequently removed in favor of a sole authority: the ‘Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union’ and the ‘Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’ which operated whenever the Supreme Soviet was not in session. In other words, the multi-tier system was replaced by a much more simplistic two-tier system which was, I’d say, more honest about how things worked and had worked in the past as well, top-down, rather than bottom-up. Each constituent country, such as Russia or Ukraine, had its own ‘Supreme Soviet’ and ‘Presidium’, but they were, nonetheless, subordinate to the ‘Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union’ the ‘Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’, which, themselves were, apparently, only nominal rubber-stamp entities within the Soviet Union, as the executive entities populated by party leaders made all the decisions.
I think that’s enough about that. It’s time to explain how things got to that. Firstly, much of what Lenin and others discuss pertain to the Russian Empire, an absolute monarchy. The Tsar (Emperor), Nicholas II (Nikolai II), ran the show from 1894 to 1917. He was forced to abdicate, that is to say to give up the throne. He ended up naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as his successor, given his own son Alexei was too young and sickly to assume the position. His brother Michael deferred his acceptance to the will of the people. The problem with the Tsar was that, well, it’s hard to come up with anything positive to say about him. To my understanding, he was pretty much hated by everyone, even by those who supported monarchy, because not only did he act in ways that made people hate him all across the empire, but he was also particularly bad at running the country. In short, it wouldn’t be unfair to characterize him as an incompetent and out of touch with reality. He seems to have been someone who was completely out of touch with what goes on around him, which is why just about anyone else looked in comparison to him.
Secondly, the Tsar is replaced by a Provisional Government in 1917. It pledged to set up free and open elections, so that the people of Russia, including women, mind you, could decide for themselves what kind of system they want. The voters were tasked to choose a party, not specific people in the party. In other words, a party created a list of candidates and the voter chose that list or some other list. The voter couldn’t choose to vote this or that candidate or, conversely, object to some candidate on a party list. It was all or nothing. This became a hot potato following the elections because one of the parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries, split into two parties before the elections, but after the party voting lists had been set.
Thirdly, the Provisional Government was removed by the Bolsheviks before the elections, but the elections were carried out, nonetheless. The results of the elections reflected the demographics of the Russian Empire. Lenin (253-254) summarizes the results in ‘The Constituent Assembly Elections and The Dictatorship of the Proletariat’: “Party of the Proletariat” (Bolsheviks) ≈ 25 percent of the votes, “Petty-Bourgeois democratic parties (namely Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries) ≈ 62 percent of the votes, and “Parties of landowners and bourgeoisie” (namely Constitutional Democrats) ≈ 13 percent of the votes. While his account may not, of course, be authoritative, I chose it because not only does it exemplify his views on other parties, how he designates the winners of the election, their former fellow party members, the Mensheviks, and the Social Revolutionaries, as petite bourgeoisie, merely democratic, but not really for the people, but also how he was well aware of his own defeat in the elections, no matter how he (255-256) spins the results into a Bolshevik people’s victory over the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie by basically ignoring the parts of the country were people didn’t vote for his party, which is basically the whole country except for Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Tver and Vladimir.
Fourthly, to make sense of the results, the Socialist Revolutionaries were particularly popular because they catered to the rural population, which dwarfed the urban population. In other words, catering for the rural population was a smart move by the Socialist Revolutionaries as most people lived outside the major cities. The rural areas were also important because, surprise surprise, food is typically produced outside the urban centers.
Fifthly, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, were in no position to dictate anything in the Constituent Assembly, despite having removed the Provisional Government. They would have had to ally themselves with the clear winners of the elections, but, in their view, collaboration with the winners would have compromised their own views. In their view, the people who voted for the Socialist Revolutionaries ended up represented by people who shouldn’t have represented them because the party list was finalized before part of the party split off from it, forming what is often referred to as the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. At the time, members of this faction held views that were compatible the views of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard to say whether the Bolshevik view on this was correct or not, whether people would have voted differently had there been separate lists for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the mainstream Socialist Revolutionaries, because it’s one of those should have, could have, would have things. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, be as it may, the Bolsheviks opted to ignore the results and set up their own system while preventing the Constituent Assembly from operating.
I’m sure I’ve managed to leave out all kinds of the details, glossing over this and that, perhaps generalizing things too much, but I’d say that’s the gist of it. I’ll now jump to address Lenin’s take on the events. I’ll include some commentary from others, because, well, it should by now be evident that Lenin tends to explain things in ways that make him look good.
So, the elections took place, the results were out and the Bolsheviks ended up in the minority, which is only ironic, considering all the fluff around being called the majority. To be fair, getting about one fourth of the seats in the Constituent Assembly is by no means a bad result. I’d say it’s actually a pretty good result for a party that wasn’t super popular in the first place. That said, it’s clear it simply wasn’t good enough for Lenin because, well, his party had already been running the show. He (254-257) came to realize how unpopular his party was among the people, a clear minority, so he opts to ignore some 75 percent of the population, the vast majority, so that his people can dictate things. He (257) does his best to legitimate this by arguing that the votes cast in cities are worth more than the votes cast outside the cities:
“The town cannot be equal to the country. The country cannot be equal to the town under the historical conditions of this epoch. The town inevitably leads the country. The country inevitably follows the town.”
Simply put, he reckons his party won the elections because, for him, it’s a given that it’s the case. He builds on a presupposition that the cities lead and the countryside follows, which makes his party the winner. Note how he isn’t saying that this must be the case, but that it is the case, nonetheless. That’s a clever move, but, then again, he isn’t saying when this wasn’t the case, nor when this will not be the case, so you might as well ignore how he claims that this applies under the historical conditions of his time. In other words, he is claiming that this is a historical a priori, rather than an a priori, but I’m not convinced. The problem this is that he presupposes that there has always been these two, what he calls the country and the town, and, I guess, always will be. This allows him to state that there is this inevitability. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t saying that it’s universally the case, that it’s always been like this and always will be, because his claim that it’s historically the case is based on what he considers to be universally the case, that there is this country/town dichotomy. He could just say that the strong get to exercise power over the weak, because that’s how it works, too bad, but he doesn’t want to say that because I reckon it would make him look despotic. He (261-263) actually does kind of hint to this direction, considering how the can’t help but to boast how half of the imperial army and navy voted for the Bolsheviks, claiming that proportional military superiority proves that the Bolsheviks won the elections. Okay, so, because you have more troops at your disposal than others, this means that 25 percent is more than 75 percent. Despotic much? On top of this, he doesn’t explain what it is about the historical conditions of his time that makes it inevitable that the town leads and the country follows.
It’s also worth pointing out the obvious, how this is connected to how the country is deemed much less important than the town in the soviet constitution(s) or, quite literally, how it is viewed as less important in the very constitution of the soviets. It doesn’t take a much to fathom why he that’s the case. He does like to remind his audience that it’s the case, that the town trumps the country, even though it’s very clear that he is arguing for this after the fact, after people didn’t vote for his party, or, well, him, really. Of course, to take his side for a moment, this totally makes sense. He is in the minority, in a very clear minority, mind you, trumped by the Socialist Revolutionaries and their allies, his former comrades, those who disagreed with him, the Mensheviks, so, yeah, it totally makes sense that he did what he did. To be brutally honest though, I reckon he fucked up, having illusions of grandeur, grossly overestimating the popularity of his party, which led him remedy his own fuckup by nullifying the election results by force, followed by rigging the soviet election system to relegate the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, while also made it appear that the party elite, he included, of course, were elected to lead the people. I mean I disapprove, but you do have to give credit to the man for all that gerrymandering. He certainly knew how to make sure that he’d be in charge, while making it seem like he didn’t elect himself to that position. I wouldn’t say that that’s unique to him, by no means, but, yeah, he sure seems to have been particularly good at that.
So, why did the Bolsheviks actually go through with the elections? In his book on Lenin, ‘On Lenin: notes towards a biography’, Trotsky (105-113) mentions this being debated among the Bolsheviks. In summary, if the elections were to take place, as they then did, Lenin wanted to postpone the elections, apparently not only because of the voting list issue, but also because he wanted to broaden the voter base by allowing younger people to vote, to rearrange the Bolshevik voting list, to remove all kinds of opportunists and careerists from the ranks, and to disqualify the bourgeoisie from the elections. That said, according to Trotsky, Lenin didn’t actually even want to go through with the elections, calling it unwise and a mistake that could prove costly to the Bolsheviks. For Lenin, it made no sense to let people vote on something that the Provisional Government had considered a step forward, when the Bolsheviks already ran the show. In his view, the Bolshevik rule was a further step forward, meaning that letting the people vote would be just be a step backward. To be more precise, it’s not that this would lead to a step backwards for the eligible voters, that is to say everybody, regardless of how they might vote, but for his party. To take his side, for a moment again, it doesn’t make sense to risk people choosing the wrong people to lead them when the Bolsheviks already lead them. He had already won through coup d’état, so it’s kind of pointless. Anyway, others argued against him, pointing out to him that postponing the elections would make the Bolsheviks look weak and petty, not to be trusted, because they had reproached the Provincial Government for that themselves. Others also pointed out to him that they simply need others to trust them, for now, because further delays may make it evident to others that the Bolsheviks might not be as strong as they claim to be, which, I guess, might lead to strong arming them when it was doubtful whether they could thwart a popular uprising against them.
The problem with Trotsky’s account of this is that while does explain why the Bolsheviks agreed to take part in the elections, just like Lenin’s account on the elections, it’s written much after when all this took place. It’s not entirely clear from his writing whether the Bolsheviks were aware how badly the elections would go for them, considering that he (106) says: “In the meantime it became evident that we would be in a minority, even if the left Social Revolutionaries gave us their support[.]” This might be an issue with the translation, but, if we go with this English translation, I’d say that while they may have had an inkling, they didn’t expect things to go as badly as they did, considering that, according to Trotsky, Lenin hedged on that, challenging others to consider what if the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie gain majority in the Constituent Assembly and how that would be an improvement to the situation at that moment, right after they had removed the Provisional Government.
Right, what about the soviets then? Why did the Bolsheviks opt for a coup d’état at a time when the soviets were actually in charge of things and the Provisional Government only nominally so? Well, Lenin addresses the position prior to the coup d’état in ‘On Slogans’. He (185) points out that slogans are only apt in this or that context, depending on the corresponding states of affairs. Simply put, what was once said may have made sense back then, only to make no sense right now. He (185-186) uses the example of “the slogan calling for the transfer of all state power from the Provisional Government to the Soviets”, also known as “All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets”, which was “correct” between February 27 and July 4, 1917 as it was “a slogan for peaceful progress”, but is not, no longer, as judged after this time period, or, to be critical, at least that’s what he claims.
To be more elaborate, there was an expectation among the revolutionaries that the position to exercise state power would be fully transferred to the soviets, the “delegations from the mass of free – i.e., not subject to external coercion – and armed workers and soldiers”, from the Provisional Government that shared this position with them (a crippled arrangement were neither could achieve anything), as he (185-186) explains this. He (185) really emphasizes the position of the soviets as “[w]hat really mattered was that arms were in the hands of the people and there was no coercion of the people from without.” People, yes, everyone, were to be free and thus equal, hence the point out there being no expectation to comply to someone or some entity that acted above and beyond them.
To get to the point, he (186-187) stresses that this expectation of peaceful transfer of state power was not met at the time, during that time period, and therefore the slogan is no longer correct in a new situation marked by the transfer of power to the counter-revolutionaries, aka the bourgeoisie and their collaborators, the Cavaignacs (which I take to be the high ranking military officers, in reference to Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, a French general responsible for quelling a rebellion), the Cadets (aka C-D’s, short for Constitutional Democrats), the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. He (187, 189-190) adds to this that not only was this no longer correct but it was also delusional (were it to be correct), against the interest of the people because, in his view, the soviets had become compromised by those who supported the bourgeoisie and the monarchists, partly out of fear, “tainted by abetting the butchers”, the Cavaignacs and the Black Hundreds (Tsarist loyalists). In other words, in his view that slogan was no longer correct because everyone except the Bolsheviks either already were or had turned into counter-revolutionaries. Simply put, he considered the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries to be sellouts, for having cooperated with the bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government.
Note how Lenin (185-187) argues that the slogan, “All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets”, used to be appropriate, but no longer was at that point in time because the soviets had been compromised in the meanwhile. I’d say that the problem really was that his faction, the Bolsheviks, wasn’t getting their views through the soviets, which he (185) himself calls the delegations of the people. Simply put, when the soviets weren’t doing his bidding, he turned against them, denouncing them as betrayers, counter-revolutionaries and aides of the butchers. Later on, he (191) points out that he is not against the model of soviets, having the state run by the councils of the people, but against the soviets of that time. What he is really saying is that he is fine with people running the state, as long as the people who run the state through the soviets are Bolsheviks, that is to say as long as they subscribe to his views.
Lenin didn’t want the state to be run by the soviets, and preferred a coup d’état, because, rather inconveniently for him, the soviets were run by the wrong people, that is to say by not him and his crew. Simply put, he thought that the people were wrong and that they kept making the wrong decisions, so it was therefore up to him to run things for them, because they don’t know what’s what, because they’ve been duped to act against their own interests. He wants it all for the people, but, under the supreme authority of the Bolshevik party, the party led by him. Oh, how convenient!
It’s worth noting that this vanguardism is not something new in 1917, something that he came up with on the spot when things weren’t looking so good, when the revolution wasn’t handled the way he wanted it to be handled. In ‘What Is To Be Done?’, he (370) specifies the role of the party:
“At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.”
Later on he (426) adds that:
“[N]ot only are we able, but it is our bounden duty, to guide[.]”
“[I]f ‘we’ desire to be front-rank democrats, we must make it our concern to direct the thought of those who are dissatisfied only with conditions … to the idea that the entire political system is worthless. We must take upon ourselves the task of organising an all-round political struggle under the leadership of our Party in such a manner as to make it possible for all oppositional strata to render their fullest support to the struggle and to our Party.”
In summary, he is promoting the role of those who know better, i.e. those are more conscious about social issues, in making people more aware of those social issues. Okay, I don’t think many people would disagree with that. That’s fine by me. I don’t think that’s what distinguishes his views from the views of his opponents though. He (428-432) promotes propaganda, agitation and political organization among the people, as well as utilizing mass media to make people aware of issues, to expose the government’s role in this and/or that issue, rather than simply seeking to change things through bringing up these issues through the government. To be honest, this isn’t even all that radical. This happens all the time these days. Anyway, so, what distinguishes his (432) view, or the Bolshevik view, from the view of his opponents is the role of party as the vanguard, assuming the leadership role, so that the project won’t get compromised:
“[W]e Social-Democrats will organise these nation-wide exposures; all questions raised by the agitation will [b]e explained in a consistently Social-Democratic spirit, without any concessions to deliberate or undeliberate distortions of Marxism; the all-round political agitation will be conducted by a party which unites into one inseparable whole the assault on the government in the name of the entire people, the revolutionary training of the proletariat, and the safeguarding of its political independence, the guidance of the economic struggle of the working class, and the utilisation of all its spontaneous conflicts with its exploiters which rouse and bring into our camp increasing numbers of the proletariat.”
Okay, so, the party will be responsible for directing all of this, while making sure that no compromises are made and no distortions are permitted. What’s missing is explaining who gets to be in the party, to form the vanguard, and what criteria they must meet. He (438-448) does emphasize knowledge and training, that is to say know-how, at least partially because, well, it’s kinda hard to struggle against opponents who are better prepared than you are, not only in terms of the equipment involved but also the know-how involved in using the equipment. He (450) argues that most people are capable of revolution, but only in the capacity of a foot soldier, a grunt who fights against the system in the streets, taking part in strikes or clashes with the police and military. Conversely, according to him (449-450), most people are incapable of fighting against the “political police”, aka secret police, as dealing with it “requires special qualities” only found among “professional revolutionaries.” Now, at a glance, this appears to be a lot like military organization. An army consists of a mass of soldiers commanded by officers who are not only well versed in tactics and strategy, but also in the tactics and strategies of the enemies. If you ask me, none of this is that surprising. I mean he (458-459) does go on to give some rudimentary, yet proper pro-tips about running an illegal organization, like, you know, not leaving a goddamn paper trail! Amateurs! Everyone knows this! Oh, and, yes, I know, I know, it’s easy to say that now. Anyway, what’s still missing is how one gets to be a professional revolutionary, a member of the vanguard.
He (452) moves on to discuss how things are or, rather, ought to be organized. For him (452-454), the workers form a trade union that encompasses the whole population, being as extensive and public as possible, that is to say open to everyone, also including non-Social Democrats, whereas the revolutionaries, short for the professional revolutionaries or revolutionary Social Democrats, form a party that “must perforce not be very extensive and … as secret as possible.” Later on, he (469) adds to this that “[t]he more secret such an organisation is, the stronger and more widespread will be the confidence in [it].” Well, yes, but only inasmuch as you can trust that organization, which, obviously isn’t a given, even though he, of course, would like people to believe that it is. The problem with secrecy is that people won’t be able to judge for themselves whether someone is on their side or not, which is a bit shit for them, having take that person’s word for it. It’s a bit too convenient that the person can’t tell them, just because it might otherwise risk the cause.
Anyway, it’s interesting how he (452) explains this, the way he does, only to point out that “all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession” must be done away with in both cases. I mean, he (450) refers to the workers as the “masses”, the “average people of the masses”, “the overwhelming majority” and “the labor movement”, while referring to the revolutionaries as “politicians” who are capable of dealing with the Okhrana, the secret police. He (470) also points out that workers and intellectuals can both become professional revolutionaries as all it takes is training, only to also point out that this doesn’t mean that they become alike as the intellectuals still have a broader training, something that the working class revolutionaries won’t have, unless plenty of, supposedly, unnecessary effort is put into giving them broader and, I guess, more academic training. I don’t know about others, but I reckon he is attempting to get away with saying that people are all equal, being part of the same movement, while also saying that some of these people, of course, need to lead others because they can’t lead themselves. He (471) scoffs at people who speak of average workers because, according to him, it is insulting to the workers to think of them as, well, average, talking down to them, just as it would be if one were to talk to students about average students. This is pretty ironic, considering that he himself keeps elevating certain people above everyone else, how it is he (455) who is preaching to the masses about how priests (as well the police, the secret police, agent provocateurs and liberal politicians) seek to lead them astray. The irony is palpable! He presents himself as speaking to the workers, among the workers, like a fellow worker, at their level, man-to-man, or so to speak, despite being an intellectual, whereas others who speak to them always speak from an elevated position, regardless of their background. He (473) even makes this remark about how even the intellectuals stand at a level “so low on the plane organisation that the very idea that we could rise too high is absurd!” Here he is commenting more on what is sufficiently accessible to the masses, noting that what he and other intellectuals can provide cannot be too high brow because they are also there with the masses, in the thick of it, hardly above them.
Come on, even I probably have more credibility as a worker than he does, having worked a number of summers in factories (and yes, I know, being a worker was certainly much tougher back then than it was for me, as was life in general), and serving in the military, whereas he seems to have … well … done fuck all really. I already knew how things went next door, being fairly familiar with it, but, damn, before reading what he has written, I didn’t know or realize how much he clearly hated the common people, how distanced he was from the people he supposedly fought for. He is clever though. He certainly does his best to not appear to speak for the masses, above the masses, even though I reckon that’s exactly what he is doing.
He (458-460) does address why having a two-tier system is preferable, but, to me, this has to do with running clandestine operations. I’d say his merits are to found in that aspect, providing people information regarding sound tactics against the Tsarist autocracy. He (459) even hesitates to call it anything proper because that’s what results in the police clamping down on the workers’ activities under the autocracy. That said, I still don’t see him explaining how this would be relevant under Social Democracy. On top of that, I don’t think he really understands his opposition within the Social Democrat movement, considering that he (460) doesn’t understand, or, well, isn’t willing to understand the potential benefits of organizing non-hierarchically (as presented by someone, unnamed, possibly the editor, Yevgeny Zelensky, aka Nadezhdin, in the journal ‘Svoboda’, which, unfortunately, isn’t readily available for me to read). He (460) just ignores how beneficial it would be for the movement if there were no leaders for the state to imprison and/or execute, only more and more of people capable of doing what the other person can do. Later on, he (464) makes a concession, acknowledging that it is indeed easier to wipe out a handful of leaders, than it is a great mass of people, less being easier to deal with than more, obviously, only to point out that, it is harder to get rid of a “dozen wise men” than it is to get rid of a “hundred fools.” Okay, fair enough, it may well be easier to deal with a hundred easy targets than it is to deal with a dozen difficult targets, but he is clearly missing the point, or, rather sidestepping it. I’d say this is actually a good example of rhizomatics vs. arborescence! As quoted by him (460), his opposition actually states that:
“‘A dozen wise men can be wiped out at a snap, but when the organization embraces the masses, everything proceeds from them, and nobody, however he tries, can wreck the cause[.]’”
His opposition does indeed mention “a hundred fools” (a particularly poor choice of words, if you ask me), in a preceding sentence, which he gladly uses against his opposition (because it’s just too easy to make it work against the argument), but his opposition does not actually argue that “a hundred fools” is harder to get rid of because a hundred is simply more than twelve. What his opposition is saying is that if you have no distinct leaders, only an amorphous mass, it doesn’t make any difference if you wipe out this or that many people as there’s always more of them. It’s like trying to get rid of fungus that grows in a soil. It makes no difference whether you wipe out the parts growing above the ground. There will be more of where that came from. You could, of course, try to replace the soil, sure, but how far, wide and deep will you have to go? Where will it end? He (463) actually acknowledges this, noting that “[t]he fact is, of course, that our movement cannot be unearthed, for the very reason that it has countless thousands of roots deep down among the masses”, but, for him, this is, for some reason, beside the point, considering that he finishes his sentence by adding that “but that is not the point at issue.” It isn’t? Come on, come on! That’s exactly the point at issue. You just have to sidestep it because otherwise you can’t have it your way!
I’d say he is simply unwilling to see the upside of that view because he (449-450) views the masses as incapable of acting without the leadership that he advocates for, which is, of course, he and his crew. That said, he (461) does have a point about how, in actuality, people tend leave it up to a handful of people to do the thinking for them, which is, I guess, why he’d be inclined to point that out. Then again, I’d say that he (461-462) is also simply unwilling to take up this idea, to work on it, as if just because things are the way they are, in a certain context, mind you, they’ll be like that in future, unless he gets his way, unless people subscribe to his views, of course. He (461-462) has this odd example where you have a demagogue, what he also calls a wiseacre, who appeals to the mass, the “hundred fools”, exalting them over the established leadership, the “dozen wise men”, in order to spur the people to act like reckless revolutionaries and distrust the established leadership. He is, again, sidestepping the argument made by his opposition and presenting it as one form of leadership vs. another form of leadership, as the leadership of the fools vs. the leadership of the wise. If you present it like that, then yeah, sure, you’d go with the wise instead of the fools, but that’s not what his opposition is saying.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that he (460-462) isn’t just explaining the pros and cons of mass vs. vanguard. He is also arguing for the vanguard approach by claiming that the mass is simply incapable of coming up with anything worthwhile. He (462, 465) makes these little concessions, noting that students (education, at least some) and workers (little or no education) are alike, one no better than the other, and that everyone gets to have a say, regardless of whether they are part of the mass or professional revolutionaries, to make it seem like everyone is equal or equally worthy in the cause, only to point out that the working-class movement needs a little spark (Iskra?!), as opposed to just waiting for the movement to, well, move on its own, you know, like a movement does or at least is supposed to anyway. This is where the professional revolutionary steps in, to push on, to provide knowledge to the masses, as he (462) points out. He (462-463) reprimands his opposition for presenting the professional revolutionaries as operating from the outside, calling “‘pushing on from outside’” a “hideous phrase”, because it makes the masses suspicious of all outsiders, not only demagogues. He (462-463) appears to struggle with the arguments made by his opposition, because, as already discussed, he wants to comes across as a man of the people, at their level, not above or beyond them, only to state something like that the general distrust of his opposition to all outsiders prevents the professional revolutionaries from bringing the people “political knowledge and revolutionary experience from the outside”. I think he is well aware how his opposition has cornered him by pointing out to him that you can’t be inside and outside, within and without, at the same level and above it, at the same time, how you can’t be one of the guys, part of the gang, or the like, if you keep thinking that you are better than everyone else and that what you do, the way you do, is in everyone’s best interest, but, of course, he can’t actually concede to his opposition because it would undermine his own interests, his sweet gig as a leader.
He (463) is super adamant about this, in fact so adamant that he expresses the need to repeat this point about demagogy and he does this, once again, by first making concessions to his opposition. He (463, 466) goes on the defense, noting that his opposition might consider his methods of debating “uncomradery” and “undemocratic”, that is to say in bad faith (which it is, if you ask me), only to spin this in his favor by acknowledging that his opposition is, in fact, acting in good faith, pure in its intentions, but, also naïve. In other words, it is this naïveté, this unenlightenedness, that makes them demagogues, not their calling or revolutionary desire. In his (463) words, “the unenlightened worker is unable to recognise his enemies in men who represent themselves, and sometimes sincerely so, as his friends” and this particularly problematic because “nothing is easier than to employ demagogic methods to mislead the masses, who can realise their error only later by bitter experience.” It’s interesting how he isn’t seeing how he, as a so called outsider, could also be a mere demagogue, someone who is trying to mislead the masses. He just doesn’t get it that when the development, that enlightenment he refers to, comes from within the mass, rather than from outside it, there will be no demagogues, no outsiders who seek to lead the movement astray, and no leaders to eliminate in order to halt the movement. Okay, I reckon he gets this, but, well, as I already pointed out, the problem with that is that a leaderless movement doesn’t need leaders, that is to say him.
If you look at more contemporary protesting, for example in the US, the strength of those movements is that they don’t have leaders that can be plucked out from the ranks. Okay, some might rise from the ranks, on the spot, only to be removed after gaining some notoriety, but that’s beside the point because they are not irreplaceable, nor do they consider themselves to be irreplaceable. It wasn’t that long ago that the police stated something along the lines of there being gangs that aren’t organized like gangs, in the sense that they don’t have leaders or a hierarchy, which, of course, makes it tough for the police to deal with them, but that’s exactly the point! That’s exactly what Lenin’s opposition is pointing out to him!
Lenin (464) provides a five point summary of his views. Firstly, he reckons that a revolutionary movement always needs “a stable organisation of leaders” in order to maintain continuity. Note how it’s not, no longer, just about having leaders but about having stable leadership, that is to say more or less fixed leaders. Later on, he (469, 476) refers to the leaders as the Party and views this arrangement as “absolutely necessary”. He is, of course, taking it for granted that he and his crew make up the stable leadership and that there is no alternative to this arrangement. Secondly, the bigger the mass, the more urgent need there is for stable leadership. Demagogues are everywhere so leaders are needed to keep make sure people aren’t led astray. He is, of course, also taking it for granted that the leaders themselves aren’t demagogues. Pretty convenient, eh? Thirdly, the leaders should mainly be professional revolutionaries. Note how he isn’t saying that only professional revolutionaries can become leaders, which keeps things open, but then again, the way I see it, he leaves this sort of open just so that people can’t say that only certain people can be leaders. It has sort of an illusory quality to it, making it appear that everyone can become a leader, even though that’s not really the case. It’s not actually impossible for others to become leaders, but it’s virtually impossible. Fourthly, if the state is autocratic or, more contemporarily, the more autocratic the state is, the more there is need to keep things hush-hush, which means that the number of leaders should likewise be limited, thus only including professional revolutionaries, proper pros who can avoid detection by the secret police so that the movement can endure. This does makes sense strategically, as he (477) goes on to specify, I’ll grant him that, but, then again, this ignores the potential of not having a clear hierarchy. Fifthly, the more people are involved in the movement, the more people can become leaders.
The problem with Lenin’s (464) formulation is that he presupposes that there needs to be leaders. It’s easy to undermine him by simply pinpointing how his views are based on that presupposition. That’s exactly what his opposition does. I think he is well aware of this, as already discussed, but he (463) opts to ignore it, to sidestep it as beside the point, even though it’s exactly the point of contention, because it is his Achilles heel.
To explain this issue in Foucauldian terms, the way André Berten and Foucault discuss (413) this in the abstract in ‘What Our Present Is’, Lenin (464) thinks that it’s obvious, self-evident, that there is a fixed basis of political power. He (464) asserts that a movement cannot gain traction, that it cannot gain the position to exercise power over others in a society unless it is guided by “a stable organisation of leaders”. He does not, however, have recourse to any a priori basis or foundation of power because there is no such basis or foundation, only local strategies that are used to create a basis and make it appear as legitimate, as expressed by Foucault (413) in response to Berten. Simply put, while Lenin (476) would certainly like people to believe that the arrangement he proposes is “absolutely necessary”, it isn’t. It isn’t any more necessary than any other arrangement, including the arrangement proposed by his opposition. They are all claimants, pretenders, alternatives among alternatives, options among options.
In order to legitimate his views and his position, Lenin (474) appeals to theory, that is to say Marxism. The way he (474) sees it, the mass may well be discontent with the existing states of affairs, but it won’t be revolutionary, leading to change, without being consciously linked to class struggle in capitalist societies. So, for him (474-475), “[o]nly a gross failure to understand Marxism”, including any erroneous or misguided understanding of it, intentional or not, “could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating” an exemplary revolutionary organization, when, in fact, the opposite is the case:
“On the contrary, this movement imposes the duty upon us; for the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine ‘class struggle’ until this struggle is led by a strong organisation of revolutionaries.”
In other words, he sees it as his duty to lead the mass of workers as otherwise the mass will not realize their own interest. It’s also a double duty as he must not only guide the mass, but also protect them from losing their way, getting sidetracked and lured by demagogues. As I pointed out already, this, of course, builds on the assumption that he is correct, that only he knows what’s what, that he serves the interest of the people and not his own, which the people cannot know for sure because their leaders assert that they must operate in secrecy. Once more, he (476-476) feels the need to emphasize this, noting that everything else must be made subsidiary to this necessity of secrecy:
“Secrecy is such a necessary condition for this kind of organisation that all the other conditions (numbers and selection of members, functions, etc.) must be made to conform to it. It would be extremely naïve indeed, therefore, to fear the charge that we Social-Democrats desire to create a conspiratorial organisation.”
Haha, fear not my fellow worker! Yeah, there sure was nothing to be afraid of, certainly not a leadership that would act in its own interests instead of the interests of the people who they claim to serve. Nothing to see here, certainly not demagogues!
He (477) repeats his earlier statements on how his opposition mistakes his views as undemocratic, by noting that what he promotes is not “anti-democratic”. He (477-478) acknowledges that democratic organizations are always open and public, so that anyone can join in and have a say by getting elected, not just a select few self appointed individuals. Therefore an organization that fails these criteria is not democratic, as he (477) goes on to add. That said, he (477) opts to sidestep this issue by moving on to indicate the absurdity of pointing out the obvious, that one cannot uphold the democratic principle in an organization that is secret by necessity. Similarly, he (478) adds that he is all for open elections and a fully public political arena, but, again, this can’t be done because of the necessity of secrecy. In short, once again, he is having it both ways, saying that he is all for democracy, like who wouldn’t be, while granting himself an exception to this. It’s all ends justify the means for him, as actually acknowledged by him (479). Knowing how things turned out in the following decades, this bit by him (480) is just too juicy not to mention:
“It would be a great mistake to believe that the impossibility of establishing real ‘democratic’ control renders the members of the revolutionary organisation beyond control altogether.”
Haha! Hahahahahaha! Oh, for sure! It gets even better, even juicier, as he (480) adds to this that:
“They have not the time to think about toy forms of democratism (democratism within a close and compact body of comrades in which complete, mutual confidence prevails), but they have a lively sense of their responsibility, knowing as they do from experience that an organisation of real revolutionaries will stop at nothing to rid itself of an unworthy member.”
To my knowledge that’s exactly how it worked in the following decades, considering how getting rid of ‘unworthy’ members seemed to be like a constant thing within the Party. He (480) adds detail to this:
“[T]here is a fairly well-developed public opinion in Russian (and international) revolutionary circles which has a long history behind it, and which sternly and ruthlessly punishes every departure from the duties of comradeship[.]”
Stern, ruthless, check and check. So, in summary, he (481) argues that there are no anti-democratic tendencies within the leadership, because the leaders keep one another in check instead of looking out for one another. I’m sure no one has ever said such and done the exact opposite, which is what his opponents were concerned with, what he (481) considers to be “the musty odour of the playing at generals”. Again, he acknowledges the issue, but makes an exception for it.
He (481) also questions the very definition of democracy in order to rally support for his views. To him (481), democracy is not properly realized in the so called direct democracy, when each person gets to have a say by casting a vote on whatever is at stake and take part in whatever it is that concerns to that person, because it’s simply less efficient that representative democracy, which, in turn employs full-time officials, professionals who work for the people in representative institutions. He (481) is clearly very much against the direct approach, calling it absurd in its primitiveness. To be clear, what he considers apt for the purpose, representative democracy, is not exactly what one might think it is, considering how he (481-482, 488) is not only troubled by organizations in which decisions are based on majority vote, so that every member gets to have a say, because that’s direct democracy, but also by any organization that itself is “built on an elective basis”. So, according to him, contrary to popular belief, democracy is not a system in which everyone gets to have a say. Now, to be fair, this is actually kind of how it is in representative democracy, considering that one’s say in each matter is at best mediated, there being no guarantee that the representatives actually represent the people following the election. I’ll grant him that. That said, his take on representative democracy also rejects people being elected to represent people. He (482) isn’t very specific about this, but, the way I understand this, he thinks that those who represent people should not be chosen by popular vote. That’s not only a quite peculiar take on representative democracy, but also on democracy in general. I mean it’s literally the exact opposite of democracy, considering that his formulation is supposed to be for the people, but not by the people, not even by proxy.
Now, if you define democracy and conspiracy as something else as what people generally think they are, then, of course, you must agree with him (482) that the objections made against him, calling his approach undemocratic and conspiratorial, are certain “totally unsound”. He is most certainly a man of the people, inasmuch you take his word for it, that he knows what’s best for the people. Speaking of people, the Bolsheviks sure knew when to appeal to the people, in general, on the whole, as the whole population of the Russian Empire, and when to be particular about it. For example, Fyodor Ilyin, best known as Fyodor Fyodorovich Raskolnikov (‘The Tale of a Lost Day’, IV), remarks in ‘Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin’ how, related to the voting list issue, fellow Bolshevik Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov addressed the party split of the Socialist Revolutionaries in front of the Constituent Assembly in its opening session, with approval from Lenin:
“‘How can you,’ he wondered, ‘appeal to such a concept as the will of the whole people? For a Marxist, ‘the people’ is an inconceivable notion: the people does not act as a single unit. The people as a unit is a mere fiction, and this fiction is needed by the ruling classes. It is all over between us’, he summed up. ‘You belong to one world, with the cadets and the bourgeoisie, and we to the other, with the peasants and the workers.’”
Contrast this with how Yakov Sverdlov (The Tale of a Lost Day’, I) uses the word ‘people’, as reported by Raskolnikov:
“‘The Central Executive Committee expresses the hope that the Constituent Assembly, in so far as it correctly expresses the interests of the people, will associate itself with the declaration which I am now to have the honour to read to you,’ said Comrade Sverdlov. Calmly and solemnly, without haste, he then read the declaration, ending his address with these words: ‘By authority of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, I declare the Constituent Assembly open.’”
Note how, Sverdlov mentions the will of the people and how the Constituent Assembly ought to express it correctly. So, when Sverdlov speaks of the will of the people, he speaks for all the eligible voters in Russia, not only for some eligible voters in Russia, albeit at the same time hoping that the Bolsheviks get their way, despite the elections results. Now, unsurprisingly, this did not happen. Things started going down hill for them immediately as a former Menshevik, now a Social Revolutionary, Viktor Chernov was chosen as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, which prompted the Bolsheviks to reject Constituent Assembly as a legitimate governing body. So yeah, again, Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks were certainly men of the people, inasmuch you subscribe to their definition of people. Remember, the vanguard is always correct, as Lenin (324) points out in his “Speech on the Agrarian Question, November 14 (27)’ (1917):
“A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely reflect the average political level of the masses.”
For him, it doesn’t matter what the numbers and percentages are, whether one fourth or the whole population is fully on board with him and his party, because, regardless of the elections results, “the [R]epublic of Soviets is a higher form of democracy than the usual bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly”, as he (379) pointed out prior to the first session of the Constituent Assembly, as indicated in his ‘Theses on the Constituent Assembly’. As you can see, he was a man with a backup plan. He knew what to do if he didn’t get his way through the Constituent Assembly. Sure, there is the problem of the party split of the Social Revolutionary Party that wasn’t reflected in the elections, casting doubt on the election results, as he (379-380) correctly points out, but, then again, to reiterate an earlier point, I think he is only bringing this up because the Bolsheviks weren’t as popular in the elections as he thought they were. By his own admission, he isn’t even really that willing to build on that as an argument as he (380) considers the poor timing of the election to be a more important factor. Simply put, he (380-381) reckons that people have changed their mind since the election day as things continue to change in Russia, with the Bolsheviks gaining more and more ground around the country each day, which, in his view, is not reflected in the election results. To express this in slogans, he (381-382) states that:
“The course of events and the development of the class struggle in the revolution have resulted in the slogan ‘All Power to the Constituent Assembly!’ – which disregards the gains of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, which disregards Soviet power, which disregards the decisions of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, of the Second All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, etc. – becoming in fact the slogan of the Cadets and Kaledinites and their helpers.”
In short, he is saying that the Constitutional Assembly is a mere ruse. Now, of course, this is an after-the-fact statement that he has formulated following the elections. He (382) is well aware how it is only likely that he cannot have his way through the Constitutional Assembly, which is why he was willing to reject its authority when things didn’t go his way:
“The entire people are now fully aware that the Constituent Assembly, if it parted ways with Soviet power, would inevitably be doomed to political extinction.”
It’s worth noting here that this is because geography matters. The Bolsheviks were popular in the areas of the country were these things took place, namely Petrograd, and had plenty of troops and weapons to enforce their views. It’s not really a matter of debate, who thinks what and how much support they have from others, if one of the factions can overrule any decisions by force. Anyway, it’s clear that the Bolsheviks were only willing to take part in the Constitutional Assembly if others were willing to let them, the representatives of the one fourth of the population, to do all talking and make all the decisions for them. Everyone else was to be there to listen and approve. Simply put, following the elections, what he (383) needed was a re-election, because, in his view, people had voted incorrectly, against their own interests or, as he puts it, against the will of the people, which, is actually the will of the vanguard, i.e. his will.
Kautsky criticizes Lenin exactly for this in his book ‘The Dictatorship of the Proleteriat’ leaning in on the already discussed issue of what counts as democracy: who gets to have a say, whether they get to speak for the people and who are the people. He (2) states that the Bolsheviks have declared that it is the duty of the people to follow the Party. There is to be no questions asked, as he (2-3) goes on to add. In short, as expressed by him (3), that’s hardly what one would call democracy, because “[o]ne man’s speech is notoriously no man’s speech.”
He (4) lessons Lenin on this issue, arguing that socialism is typically understood as a central goal of socialists, “the socialisation of the means of production and of production”, which, in turn, helps in achieving their ultimate goal, “the abolition of every kind of exploitation and oppression, be it directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race”, whereas democracy has to do with the means, how to achieve these goals. He (4) comments on the latter, adding that understood as means to the end, democracy can, of course, also be “unsuitable, or even a hindrance”, depending on the circumstances. Aye, the problem with people is that, well, they may disagree with you. Firstly, as he (4-5) points out, it’s your job to get them to agree with you and the best way to do that is to align with the people, supporting them, taking part in the struggle, and not the other way around. Secondly, as he (4-5) goes on to add, once the mass agrees with you, once they are on board, reaching the ultimate goal is only inevitable. That said, in his (5) view, socialism and democracy are both means to the same end, ways of reaching the same ultimate goal, the one already mentioned. In addition, he (5) argues that “[s]ocialism as a means to the emancipation of the proletariat, without democracy, is unthinkable.”
He (5-6) provides a number of examples (which I’m sure you can check out yourself) in order to prove a point, how you can a society, a system, that has social production, people being charge of the production themselves, only to serve some other ends, such as a despot, a trade company or a religious mission. In other words, people may well be in control of their everyday life, and even prosper economically, as he (6) points out, but it doesn’t guarantee a good life for the people, the abolition exploitation and oppression in all its forms, if people don’t to run things themselves. He (7) also reverses this, adding that it also possible to have a democratic society, where people run things themselves, but so that the people don’t own the means of production themselves, there being private ownership. This also prevents the abolition of exploitation in all its forms. In summary, the point he (5-7) makes is that neither socialism nor democracy necessarily lead to the other, but both are needed.
He (7-8) acknowledges that it is certainly difficult, but by no means impossible to achieve both socialism and democracy, to reach Social Democracy. The problem with achieving socialism through democracy is particularly tricky because, firstly, it’s only likely that many people have too much to lose, which means that they’ll do everything they can to prevent the Social Democrats from gaining the needed majority in elections, and, secondly, if that fails, they’ll seek to revert back to how things were by force. So, it would appear that socialism and democracy cannot be achieved through democracy and, in his (8) view, it sort of is, but not because democracy is in itself flawed, but because it isn’t well suited for the purpose. Why? Well, it doesn’t matter what some election result is if someone can nullify it with recourse to violence. That’s what armies are for, for making sure that some people don’t push the reset button when things don’t work out for them. People aren’t fond of that being mentioned, but it is what it is. That said, as he (8) points out, if that does happen, if it results in violence, it proves that it happens precisely because those in the position to do so fear the consequences of democracy, or, should I say, democracy in itself.
Now, to be practical, because I think you have to be, it doesn’t do you much good to get to prove a point, if it only results in a military intervention. In this regard, I think it’s fair to say that a failure is failure. That said, proving a point does tend to swing things in your favor, at least in the long run. The more you claim to uphold democracy while having soldiers bayonet your own people, the more the soldiers will start to question the whole thing, because, to keep the mass in check, you need a lot of soldiers who, guess what, tend to be people who aren’t any better off than those who they are ordered to keep in check. This is exactly why he (8-9) emphasizes the importance of defending democracy, whatever it takes.
He (12-13) summarizes all this as the “Will to Socialism” (which immediately made me think of Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, there being this Will, but I don’t know if there’s anything to that), which can only become manifest in people under certain industrial conditions where people end up being relegated to wage labor, as opposed to conditions where the masses engage in small production, that is to say working for themselves, because that involves the “Will to uphold”, to have private property. The Will to Socialism only emerges and becomes more widespread if people can no longer compete with one another, that is to say when large scale industrial production takes over the market, as he (13) points out. Conversely, if people work independently, as small producers, there isn’t much to organize them socially, as he (13-14) goes on to point out. It’s also not enough for there to be some people who have this Will to Socialism because for it to become a thing in a society, there must be more people who want Socialism than people who don’t want Socialism, as stated by him (14). It’s quite simple, really.
To be absolutely clear, he (16-17) really emphasizes the role of the mass. Sure you have people among the bourgeoisie who have sympathy for the downtrodden, but not even a vocal minority can do much for the majority because it’s up to the people themselves to realize that the way things are isn’t in their interest, as he (17) explains this. This may seem to involve an impossible task, but, as he (17) points out, there have been movements who’ve shown “strength and courage to fight against poverty”, albeit the problem with those, such as Auguste Blancqui and Wilhelm Weitling, has been that they’ve granted themselves the status of a savior, a messiah. In short, there are no easy answers, no shortcuts that can be taken. Speaking and doing things for others just won’t work in the long run.
When it comes to handling criticism, from his fellow Social Democrats, that is to say from within, or so to speak, Lenin (493-495) simply won’t any of it, as evident from his writings in ‘What Is To Be Done?’ (1902). His earlier article, ‘Where to Begin’ was not well received by everyone. To be more specific, many didn’t really comment it, at all, which is fine by him (494), but he (494-495) turns very defensive about it when being criticized, picked to pieces, and questioned “merely on the grounds that [its authors] dare to ‘legislate’ and come out as the ‘supreme regulators’” and argues that it’s just demagoguery and “primitiveness of political views.” He (495) can’t or won’t see the merit of his opponents, when, for example, someone finds it problematic “to establish an ‘inspectorship over the Party’.” In a way, it would make sense to have some check on the Party, that is to say the vanguard, but, then again, wouldn’t that simple make that suggested entity the actual vanguard? This is exactly the problem with hierarchy, how positions that make it possible to exercise power over others tend to end up in the hands of the few, one way or another. It’s the same with the criticism over secrecy, which he (495) defends on the grounds of secrecy, end of discussion. He (494-495) wants nothing to do with such petty “‘democracy’” and “‘democratism’”.
What did others think of his views? Well, to return to Kautsky for a moment, he (19) thinks that the class struggle can’t be won and the ultimate goal achieved by using secret methods: “[m]asses cannot be organized secretly, and, above all, a secret organisation cannot be a democratic one” as “[i]t always leads to dictatorship of a single man, or of a small knot of leaders.” He (19-20) acknowledges how tempting it is to operate in the shadows, but as necessary as it may appear, it won’t promote “self-government and independence of the masses” but rather the leaders who end up considering themselves saviors of the people and reinforcing “their dictatorial habits.” He (20-21) lists a number of people, including the already mentioned Weitling, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, in order to make a point about how there’s a general tendency among those concerned with Socialism to promote strong leaders over people. I’m actually not that surprised by this observation, considering that the 1800s was, more or less, still marked by sovereignty rather than democracy, involving what Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ calls sovereign power, the obedience to central authority, as opposed to disciplinary power, regulatory power effectuated diffusely through various institutions.
Kautsky also explicitly addresses Lenin and Bolsheviks in his book, dedicating chapter VI to this. I don’t think it’s worth including his (59-60) summary of the situation, despite being well informed, clear and concise, because all the relevant background information has all been covered by now. No surprises here. Anyway, he (59) states that:
“[T]he Bolsheviks [have] always believed in the omnipotence of will and force, and now, without considering the backwardness of Russia, are trying to shape the Revolution on Socialist lines.”
In other words, as evident from the 1917 Constituent Assembly election results, the Bolsheviks ignored the importance of the countryside, which, unlike “the rest of Europe, [was] still a revolutionary factor”, as he (59) points out. To add insult to the injury, he (60-61) credits the Provisional Government removed by the Bolsheviks for having “accomplished far more political and social reform than any other middle-class government in the same period”. That says a lot, considering how those changes were made in a few months or so, including coming up with the candidate lists in a country larger than the Soviet Union in its heyday, at a time period when they barely had some telephone lines. Was that enough? Apparently not, which is why he (61) also hedges on whether he thinks it was enough at the time, considering how belligerent the Bolsheviks were at the time.
He (62-63) also reckons that the Bolsheviks were overly ambitious, having too many great expectations based on a flawed premise. Simply put, they thought they were more popular than they were, that people would follow their lead, not only in Russia, but also across Europe. In his view (62-63) this kind of makes sense, but only inasmuch that presupposition holds; “[t]his was all very logically thought out, and quite well founded, provided the supposition was granted, that the Russian Revolution must inevitably chain the European Revolution.” Now, obviously this did not hold, not because it couldn’t hold, but because it just didn’t. The conditions in Russia and in Western Europe were just so different that it just didn’t hold, as he (63) points out. This is, of course, his view. I’m more inclined to emphasize how this presupposition didn’t have much to it even when confined just to Russia. I mean, about one fourth of the votes for a popular movement is by no means a poor outcome, but it’s not exactly a majority, nor a clear or substantial majority. Anyway, he (64-65) reckons that the situation being what it was, made it very hard for the Bolsheviks to do any better, largely because they inherited a defeat in a major war, having to settle for it, while running a campaign for well-being in a country known for the exact opposite. That doesn’t mean they are off the hook, just because things were so off the hook at the time, but I reckon it does help to understand some of the desperation, why they chose to ignore the election outcome, as he (65) points out.
Trotsky, accuses Lenin of substitutionalism in ‘Our Political Tasks’, arguing that the party, that is to say the vanguard, ends up thinking for others, rather than educating the people who would then think for themselves. In summary, the underlying problem is that one substitutes the people with a few people, who will, in turn, be substituted by even fewer people and so on, and so on, until there’s only a dictator who thinks for everyone. In the Russian context, this would mean that one ends up back in square one. If you look at how things panned out, that’s exactly what happened following the revolution.
Similarly to Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg criticizes Lenin’s approach in ‘Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy’. She (248) acknowledges the uniqueness of the situation, how the Russian Social Democrats need to come up with an effective strategy under the Tsarist autocracy. That said, she (248) believes that it is up to the mass of people to make the revolution happen and that it will happen eventually, regardless of the autocracy. She (248-249) sees the difficulty in having to leap from autocracy to social democracy, there being no clear or direct domination by the bourgeoisie like there has been elsewhere. In other words, people don’t feel antagonized by the bourgeoisie, but by the Tsar, which, I guess, may make them even sympathetic to the bourgeoisie, considering that the Tsar’s actions also concern and antagonize the bourgeoisie. There is just Tsar and then everyone else. That’s how absolutism works. In short, it’s hard to unify the mass, to make them conscious of the issue, when the bourgeoisie isn’t there to antagonize them, give them that vital spark, as she (249) points out.
She (249-250) realizes how difficult it is to do what the Russian Social Democrats have set out to do, making people conscious of the political situation. That said, she (250) considers Lenin’s approach to be rigid and ultracentralist, marked by “uncompromising centralism” which builds on the separation of the mass and the professional revolutionaries and strict top-down disciplinary leadership. She (250) explains what this arrangement means in practice:
“[T]he Central Committee has, for instance, the right to organize all the local committees of the party and thus also to determine the membership of every individual Russian local organization … , to provide them with a ready-made local statute, to dissolve and reconstitute them by fiat and hence also to exert indirect influence on the composition of the highest party organ, the congress. Thus the Central Committee emerges as the real active nucleus of the party; all the remaining organizations are merely its executive instruments.”
In other words, while a local level does exist, or at least existed for a while, as already established in this essay, there is no genuine bottom-up organization because the Party, the vanguard, gets to interfere in their affairs as they see fit. It’s all top-down because if the leadership doesn’t like how things are run locally, they get to make changes for them, including appointing whoever they feel is suited to the task into various positions within the local organizations. Lenin addresses these comments in ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Reply by N. Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg’, but it’s hard say how convincing his arguments are, considering that he adheres to his own views, being a Bolshevik, whereas he considers her to be his opponent, one of the Mensheviks. There’s a clear schism and the more he says in his response, the more it deteriorates into factionalism, considering that, by the end of the text, he (482) considers her views to perversions of Marxism.
She (250-251) doesn’t question the need for centralization because the mass needs to be unified in their struggle. What she (251-252) does question is the way this is to be achieved according to Lenin. She argues that the mass does not become class conscious out of the blue, but as part of the struggle, so they need participate in it, not waiting for the right moment when they are called to action by the vanguard who quickly fill in the blanks for the mass who then execute their orders to perfection. This ties in with her earlier comment about the need for actual antagonism between the classes in the society. Therefore she (252) argues that:
“From this it follows that social democratic centralization cannot be based either on blind obedience or on the mechanical submission of the party’s militants to their central authority and, further, that an impenetrable wall can never erected between the nucleus of the class conscious proletariat that is already organized into tightly knit party cadres and those in the surrounding stratum who have already been caught up in the class struggle and are in the process of developing class consciousness.”
She (252-253) characterizes Lenin’s approach as, on one hand, Jacobin (in reference to the French revolutionary movement), the emphasis being on centralization of all affairs, to the point of micromanagement, and, on the other hand, Blanquist (in reference to Louis Auguste Blancqui), the emphasis being on secrecy. In his response to her, Lenin (474-475) disagrees with her take. Be as it may, Jacobin, Blanquist or neither, I think he sidesteps her (253) main points about his views:
“It be none other than the authoritative expression of the will of the conscious and militant vanguard of the workers, vis-à-vis the separate groups and individuals among them; it is, as it were, a ‘self-centralism’ of the leading stratum of the proletariat, the rule of its majority within the confines of its own party organization.”
Exactly, it’s not the people who are class conscious, that is to say aware of the situation, how things are and what’s at stake, but rather the self-appointed vanguard who claim to speak for the people. Lenin likes to claim otherwise, but, judging by election results following the coup d’état, he clearly overestimated the consciousness of the people.
I think this is enough about vanguardism, at least in reference to Lenin and Bolshevism. It has certainly been interesting reading, even though I can’t say agree with on almost anything. In my view, he is a guy who jumps through all kinds of hoops in order to legitimate his own position as a leader, as a central authority figure within the leadership group, as a man who should be entitled to lead the mass. It’s all very top-down, rather than bottom-up. I can sort of understand why he’d go that route, firstly because that’s what most people are or were used to, he himself included, and secondly because what he opposes, the Imperial Russian government, was known to be very heavy handed, forcing the revolutionary movement to run clandestine operations. Then again, it’s one thing to promote this centralized approach prior to a revolution and another thing to keep going with it following the revolution, which he most certainly did. In his texts, he certainly does his best to not come across as bigoted, by making these little concessions, here and there, but I don’t think he was a man of the people. I don’t think he liked workers, at all. Some may disagree with that, fair enough, but, be as it may, he most certainly hated the peasants, not because he had to, but because they were such an inconvenient mass to him, not knowing who to vote, thus fucking up his project.
He most certainly had a way with words. When you read his texts, he can be very compelling, to the point that he sort of captivates your imagination, I’ll give him that, but, then again, that’s exactly what troubles me when I read his works. You sort of forget that, well, he doesn’t really give a fuck about the people. He doesn’t want to say it, to put it bluntly, without making those little concessions, but I reckon he thought people were idiots, incapable of coming up with anything on their own, which is why he and his comrades are needed. He doesn’t stop in his writings, not even for one moment, to doubt his own position as a leader, which he clearly takes for granted, as simply necessary. I think he did realize the ingenuity of what his opponents proposed, but he couldn’t have any of it because he would have been relegated to being replaceable in that arrangement, just like everyone else. He could have just acknowledged that his work is done once the autocracy was toppled, giving people the option to elect their leaders, the leaders they themselves desire, but, of course, knowing better, he couldn’t handle it that people didn’t choose him and his people, as evident from his remarks about the soviets being compromised, how they included people who he did not agree with.
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References (legislation / preparatory documents / reports)
- Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1918).
- Constitution of the Union of Soviet Republics (1924).