Violence and socialism

A red triangle smashing into a white circle on white and black, representing the Russian Civil War

A painting representing the Russian Civil War

Today, more than it has in the past, the topic of violence is one that is being debated hotly, especially in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the workings of SYRIZA in Greece, and the wave of unrest in the Arab world.

To the Utopian socialists, violence was abhorrent: many of them had been appalled by the supposed excesses of the French Revolution. In line with their view of the progress to a socialist society as one that was not based on class but an appeal to reason and enlightenment, the cooperative society based on common ownership was to take place as a result of social experimentation (cf. New Lanark and the various utopian communities established in America1) and long-term peaceful transition by building model societies and education which would attract all lovers of reason and humanity.

Nevertheless, this is decidedly not the attitude that the socialist movement would take in later years: although it was obviously never universally accepted, especially among the somewhat-relevant Utopian sects still in existence, violence was seem as both legitimate and necessary, especially on the continent (socialism was not a major political force in England at this time, and in America it was virtually nonexistent). This was during a time when states in Europe and North America were much more authoritarian and heavy-handed than they are now, and the methods of capitalist repression far more brutal, and thus the need for violence was not really disputed at all: socialists took part in all sorts of violent actions, from conspiratorial insurrections to popular revolution to more mundane but still violent confrontations in the class struggle, such as self-defense of workers against repression by the capitalists. In addition, where socialist organizations were illegal (as they often were), the idea of a pacifistic policy seemed rather out of place, to say the least.

Nevertheless, during the late 19th century, the issue became a bit more contentious. Socialist parties throughout the capitalist world became more powerful in numerous ways: culturally, politically, and especially numerically; also, states had become far less autocratic and far more democratic, with the introduction of (aside from France and Britain, admittedly limited) legislatures in which socialists could field candidates either independently or as a party (these places also made great propaganda platforms in an era where freedom of speech outside parliament was rather limited in certain circumstances). In addition, military tactics and technology had come a long way since 1848, which still weighed heavily on the traditions and mindsets of many socialists. This was when military technology started to assume more modern forms: muskets were replaced by rifles, and repeating ones at that; artillery had become far more advanced, being able to fire more accurately, harder, and faster; the new planned layouts of many cities were not very conducive to street-fighting. Quite famously, after 1848, Paris was redesigned entirely and one of the express purposes for building the wide boulevards the city is famous for was to prevent effective urban insurrection to begin with: as the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 shows, it worked; and, finally, the nations of Europe had grown new, huge, professional standing armies, which were far more trained and mobile than the forces of before, which, in comparison to these new military forces unleashed upon the world, were laughable. These factors combined to make the formerly unshakable belief in the necessity or at least the preference of violence somewhat shaky.

The position that eventually settled down as the mainstream one was somewhat of a balanced view of violence given the situation. On the one hand, there was the possibility of electoral victory, especially in countries such as America, Britain, and France; on the other hand, violence was not ruled out entirely. Marx said in 1871 at a speech to the IWMA:

“The congress at The Hague has brought to maturity three important points:

It has proclaimed the necessity for the working class to fight the old, disintegrating society on political as well as social grounds; and we congratulate ourselves that this resolution of the London Conference will henceforth be in our Statutes.


But we have not asserted that the ways to achieve that goal are everywhere the same.

You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries — such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland — where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor.”

Likewise, Engels, in his now famous introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 gives a similarly balanced assessment, as well as addressing some of the issues that I myself briefly touched upon above. According to Engels, while electoral victory is possible, it is still not necessarily guaranteed or even likely. However, socialists should use parliament to its fullest extent, and if they are prevented from taking hold of the state by means of force then the socialists themselves are no longer bound to legality and violence may be used free of any charges of instigation and in a generally superior position all-around.

For a while, this constituted the basis of the strategic orientation of the socialist parties of the Second International, combined with a belief, at least in the SPD, of the collapse of capitalism (Zusammenbruch, which quite literally means to break down or collapse) at some time in the future, which would then provide the basis for the socialist takeover of the government. There were, of course, dissenters, from both the left (like Sorel and the syndicalists) and the right (notably Bernstein), but this was the general view among socialists at the time.

Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth

Comrade Lenin doing some spring cleaning

However, Russia conspired to challenge this view. Even before the October Revolution, at least two Russian Marxists had come to the conclusion that one could not simply “take over” the state: Nikolai Bukharin, in his analysis of imperialism, and Vladimir Lenin, who claimed to have reconstructed the Marxist theory of the state from theoretical distortions in the Second International. Not only this, but in 1917 the proletarian revolution in Russia occurred; the urban proletariat and the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government and set up a soviet government, later calling elections to the Constituent Assembly but dismissing the body shortly after due to disputes about the party lists2. While the initial takeover was forcible but not bloody (not a single shot was fired), the Soviet state was later involved, during the Russian Civil War, in conflict with counter-revolutionary forces and various other factions, which constituted the real bulk of the revolutionary fighting and the consolidation of the revolution’s grasp on the country.

According to Lenin, the experience of the Russian Revolution had shown in practice one of the lessons on the Marxist theory of the state and of revolution that had allegedly been buried or misunderstood: the theory that, contrary to parliamentarian and electoral approaches, the bourgeois state had to be smashed. The state as a bureaucratic-military machine cannot be seized and wielded by the workers as is or with merely a few touch-ups. Although Lenin also acknowledges, like Marx, that in England and America there was a period of time where the character of the state there allowed for a peaceful seizure of power, the development of imperialism has rendered this impossible, and now even these states are to be smashed. He writes in The State and Revolution:

“Today, in 1917, at the time of the first great imperialist war, this restriction made by Marx [of the necessity of force to the continent] is no longer valid. Both Britain and America, the biggest and the last representatives — in the whole world — of Anglo-Saxon ‘liberty,’ in the sense that they had no militarist cliques and bureaucracy, have completely sunk into the all-European filthy, bloody morass of bureaucratic-military institutions which subordinate everything to themselves, and suppress everything. Today, in Britain and America, too, ‘the precondition for every real people’s revolution’ is the smashing, the destruction of the ‘ready-made state machinery’ (made and brought up to the ‘European,’ general imperialist, perfection in those countries in the years 1914-17).”

Therefore, in Lenin’s view, the possibility of peaceful transformation and the coming to power through parliament was over, however limited it might have been in the first place: the socialist revolution can now only come about through violent insurrection of the bourgeois state and its replacement by a proletarian one. This remained, in one form or another, the general view of Marxist socialists until the modern time, although in the mid- to late-20th century the “eurocommunist” view revived the notion of working through parliament.

So this brings us to the present day. What is to be the communist orientation for the modern day and our modern conditions? There are certain ways in which we need to investigate this.

First of all, we must refuse to accept the view that we must a priori reject the use of violence. If violence is necessary, communists will use it. It is said that Leon Trotsky had once said that not believing in force is the equivalent of not believing in gravity: and in the realm of proletarian politics, it is. The need for violence is determined by the social context: it is beyond us to deny that there are situations where it is legitimate and useful to use violence, and in fact where it is the only way to effect forward progress in the proletarian movement. In such a situation, opposition to violence would be equivalent to siding with the counter-revolutionary forces: when the proletariat is confronted with an obstacle, or being shot at, etc., to say that the correct response is to not confront it or to take the bullets with dignity is treason to the proletarian cause. Likewise, all moralistic sentiments about eschewing the use of violence forget that the existing system, which subjects not only current but future generations to death by hunger, war, genocide, and imperialism, and is thus in the long run a million times worse than the deaths caused by a revolutionary civil war or a Red Terror.

Second of all, we must do away with the opposite error, the worship of force and struggle as things good in and of themselves. As Engels said of the possibility of peaceful transformation, “It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it.” Violence is ultimately a means to an end, and just another possible tactic: its desirability cannot be established beforehand, just as its undesirability cannot.

Based on these two points, I will give my opinion about what the general orientation towards violence in our political practice should be for socialists today.

First of all, violence is necessary in self-defense against the capitalist class, and in every area of the globe where the capitalist class is forcibly attacking the workers, as in today happening in the peripheries of the capitalist world with extreme brutality, the workers have every right to shoot back. Likewise, lesser acts of violence, mainly in the core capitalist countries, can and indeed ought to be responded to appropriately if the movement is not to be crushed before it can really mature.

Second of all, violence is absolutely necessary as a tactic where revolutionary work is illegal and the state is blatantly undemocratic and therefore legal routes are impossible to pursue.

Third of all, Lenin was correct when deducing the impossibility of parliamentarian approaches to reach a satisfactory goal in 1917, and unfortunately his analysis holds up even better today. Although the electoral successes of SYRIZA and the “left” in Europe generally had seem like shining lights pointing the way, in reality their light blinds us: they show us the possibility of going into electoral politics and doing moderately well in the polls (fantastically well I should say, given our general popularity elsewhere), this is true, but it is also true that these same politics are fundamentally limited. First of all, there remains the same threat that Engels identified in 1895: the possibility of a counter-revolutionary coup. We have seen this in action several times, not only with socialist parties but even with non-socialist parties unfavorable to large sections of the bourgeoisie or the state bureaucracy and military. The most famous example, of course, is the overthrow of the Allende government by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. We could cite another Latin American example with the 1954 coup d’état and overthrow of the Jacobo Árbenz government in Guatemala where a leftist government was deemed a threat to the US state geopolitically and, to the largest landowner in Guatemala, the United Fruit Company, financially. A European example is forthcoming as well: the 1936 overthrow of the Popular Front government in Spain by Francoist forces. The list goes on. While this certainly opens up the opportunity for legitimate armed struggle, which happened in Spain with the outbreak of the civil war, it totally destroys the notion that a “peaceful” transition is possible and that one cannot “utilize” the bourgeois state for socialist purposes, and also illustrates that the proletariat must come to terms with its class enemy, one way or another, in revolutionary civil war, unless we are so exceptionally lucky as to have a bourgeoisie which keels over and doesn’t fight back3.

In addition, even allowing the possibility of a really socialist party ascending to power in parliament, it would find the other limit of parliamentary activity: the fact that, as Lenin says, parliament is not the “center” of power and never can be for that matter. Since the advent of imperialism and the massive expansion of the state and military bureaucracy, the legislature has had to contend with this bloated machine. Parliament has to contend with the mechanisms of the state’s own unelected bureaucrats, its civil servants, armed forces, etc., and therefore these needs balance out the so-called absolute power of the parliament. In addition, if it is not a major hegemonic power like the United States or China, its own capabilities are limited by geopolitical needs: a small country like Belgium with a socialist government would, due to its interdependence on the world market and the enormous pressure of the US state, be compelled to move in certain ways for its own survival and if it did not want to commit political and social suicide. So even getting into parliament is not a guarantee for a socialist transformation, having to balance oneself against both an antagonistic bureaucracy and capitalist pressure from the outside.

The violent overthrow of the government does not protect oneself, of course, protect oneself from outside governments; in fact, it makes them more liable to attack. However, this sort of conflict deals with the issue of outside interference in a sort of way, i.e. actually opposing them as opposed to grudgingly going along with their general will, that a dedicated peaceful approach cannot (otherwise it runs the risk of turning into a violent approach!).

But before those problems can even be considered, we must deal with the issue of even getting elected to the first place arises. This is not an easy task. In many cases the bourgeois state is not as easily won as getting a simple majority; regarding the intricacies of the American constitution, for example, and how nigh-impossible it is for any one party to control the government, much less a socialist party which gets dismal results to begin with because of a combination of a first-past-the-post system and gerrymandering, this article is a good one. While this problem is not necessarily as pronounced in other countries, it always exists in some form or another. Bourgeois democracy “is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation” indeed!

Given the above reasons, the only option available to us as socialists is the calling for the replacement of the old state machine by a new, proletarian one — and this includes, unfortunately for those of us who are pacifistically inclined, the use of violence.


  1. Some of these still exist today, although it suffices to say that we are not yet living in a socialist society.  
  2. The dispute was specifically over the split in the Socialist-Revolutionary Party which had occurred prior to the elections. When the election lists were drawn up, the two main factions, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, were still one party; however, when, after getting a majority in the Second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks overthrew the existing government, the Socialist-Revolutionary party was split over the issue, with the Left SRs being supportive of the Bolsheviks (until their resignation after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Left SRs even held positions in the Sovnarkom) and the Right SRs opposing the Bolshevik revolution and supporting the provisional government and the eventual calling of the Constituent Assembly (not very surprising — Kerensky, leader of the provisional government, was an SR). The party lists for the elections when they were eventually called after the revolution, however, failed to reflect this: the Left and Right SRs were listed as a single party, and hence the Bolsheviks claimed that the Left SRs lost seats to Right SRs because supporters of the Left SRs had to vote for the SR party.  
  3. Which is a position taken quite seriously by the Socialist Party of Great Britain  

About Maximilien Robespierre

I am an American comrade and a founder of the ##marxism IRC channel on freenode. I have been accused of, among other things, ultraleftism, impossibilism, Bakuninism, totalitarianism, Blanquism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, anarchism, insurrectionism, Bordigism, minoritarianism, intransigence, and hopeless incoherence. I am also rather silly.
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7 Responses to Violence and socialism

  1. modulus says:

    Would you extend this analysis to illegal activities in general, or just to violent ones?

  2. Maximilien Robespierre says:

    I guess you could extend it to illegal activity in general, but I certainly don’t think you can equate them: it’s one thing to say that violence is necessary in the class struggle and it’s another thing to say that something else is necessary. At least I’ve yet to hear someone posit that credit card fraud or bank robbing or so on is an absolute necessity for the proletariat in its struggle against the capitalist class.

  3. James O'Brien says:

    Regarding violence in a general sense.

    The capacity to exercise sufficient violence such that an entity, whether an animal, human, or organisation, can defend itself, is a necessary requirement for both life and liberty because, contrary to scolding parents, it doesn’t take two to fight; it just takes one, and in that situation it is going to be a pretty brief fight.

    In the advanced democracies, where large scale violence is comparatively rare, the consequences of being physically defeated are today fairly minor: occasionally serious personal injury perhaps, a loss of face etc. Even in Northern Ireland or the Basque Country where well organised nationalist guerilla armies were defeated quite recently, the consequences for their grassroots has been extremely mild. Not so in the past, where widespread pillaging and raping, not to mention slavery itself, were the fruits of victory.

    The majority of slaves in the ancient world came from the defeated side in a war, not just the men captured in the fighting, but often large swathes of the defeated civilian population too. To lose a war was a major, often irrevocable, calamity. To not defend one’s community was to accept slavery not only for oneself but for one’s descendants.

    Principled or absolute pacificism, which advocates a total renunciation of violence even in self-defence, originates as an ultra-ethical response to the injustices and barbarity of the world only to result, paradoxically, in profoundly reactionary positions in practice.

    The Christians’ Sermon on the Mount, with its “turning the other cheek” defeatism, is perhaps the clearest example of reactionary pacificism.

  4. James O'Brien says:

    If I may say so, you are generous to the Bolsheviks in the account of the their disbanding of the Constituent Assembly.

    If they had been so moved by the injustice done to the Left SRs by the the mother party’s apparatus, they surely could just have rerun the election using new party lists.

    It is more likely that they knew that in such a peasant dominated country that they would struggle to hold power under a system of universal suffrage and went looking for a series of justifications for their plan to shut it down.

    Lenin’s Theses on the Constituent Assembly are a curious mixture of the general and the specific, but the main argument is that the soviets represented a higher form of democracy, were more suited to being the institutional manifest ion of the dictatorship of the proletariat etc. It has the air of post facto rationalisation to my somewhat cynical eyes, but others differ, obviously.

    Not that the Bolsheviks were thinking like grubby, conventional politicians, obsessed about retaining office, but more that they, or at least Lenin and Trotsky, saw Russia as the spark that could ignite successful socialist revolutions across Europe, and therefore it was their duty to hold power, following the example of the Paris Commune, for as long at they could. Not a stupid position to hold, but also, unfortunately, not a correct one.

  5. Maximilien Robespierre says:

    I’ve been accused of being soft on Bolshevism before: occasionally it is necessary due to the rampant anti-Bolshevism that runs amok in the socialist camp today.

    If they had been so moved by the injustice done to the Left SRs by the the mother party’s apparatus, they surely could just have rerun the election using new party lists.

    Was the disbanding of the Constituent Assembly necessary? No, probably not; you are absolutely right that they could have called a new election to the Constituent Assembly using revised party lists. This is a criticism that many made, including, I think, Rosa Luxemburg. However, just because it was not absolutely necessary with regards to the initial justification for disbanding does not mean it was not a good move.

    Lenin’s Theses on the Constituent Assembly are a curious mixture of the general and the specific, but the main argument is that the soviets represented a higher form of democracy, were more suited to being the institutional manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat etc. It has the air of post facto rationalisation to my somewhat cynical eyes, but others differ, obviously.

    I am one such person who differs; not because I believe in Lenin’s integrity to the point that I would not have him doing anything other than fully open and honest politicking, but because the dates don’t much up. Lenin did in fact believe that the soviets were a better “institutional manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and had been arguing this since at least April 1917, months before the Bolsheviks were even capable of taking power and even longer before the calling and dissolution of the Assembly itself. In fact in these same theses he even says: “Not a parliamentary republic—to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step—but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.” The Bolsheviks mainly called for the convocation of the Assembly because they felt obliged to given they had called for one the whole period before April 1917 and among many sections of the population there was still considerable support for the idea. So while it is conceivable to that Lenin, back in April, came up with a rationalization for a potential dissolution of the Assembly or an excuse to not call it at all, I think such a position ascribes too much foresight to old comrade Lenin who, after all, was not a prophet but a revolutionary.

    … Lenin and Trotsky, saw Russia as the spark that could ignite successful socialist revolutions across Europe, and therefore it was their duty to hold power, following the example of the Paris Commune, for as long at they could. Not a stupid position to hold, but also, unfortunately, not a correct one.

    It is easy to say now, in 2012, that the position the Bolsheviks took was incorrect; we have 95 years of history between us and we can safely say that revolution in Europe would not happen for a variety of reasons including the general disorganization of revolutionaries there (most Communist Parties would not be formed until after the main thrust of the revolutionary wave had begun to wane: the KPD was certainly too little too late, having been formed only when fighting had already begun breaking out; in Italy the PCd’I was only formed after the PSI had already done some damage, and so on). But at the time it was not clear, especially in Russia. In fact chances looked fairly good. At the time, with the knowledge that they had, the Bolsheviks took a strategy that was very understandable and something most of us would probably do too — at the very least I am unable to say I would not react the same way. But then again, I’m probably not the most objective person when it comes to evaluating the Bolsheviks.

    I apologize for the length of this reply.

  6. James O'Brien says:

    Well, Lenin’s infatuation with the soviets blew hot and cold with all the stability of a moody two year old on a prolonged dose of speed. From exalting them in early summer to despairing of them in July, to extolling their virtues of the highest form of democracy in December to censoring them in the following Spring, we’d be hard pressed to decipher any consistency in his position, all his bluster in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky etc notwithstanding.

    The more economical interpretation is that when it was favourable to his political strategy the soviets received support, when they stood in the way they were subjected to withering criticism and, later, police action.

    It is easy to say now, in 2012, that the position the Bolsheviks took was incorrect;

    True, it is easy enough to say that these days, but nevertheless it is notable how many socialists don’t say it. They content themselves with explanations, often superficial or incomplete ones about the SPD’s betrayal, the Allies’ support for the Whites etc while avoiding judgements regarding the Bolshevik strategy as it was applied to Europe. But hindsight is only of use if we…er…. use it, in this case, to reassess the conditions that led to it being a failure.

    I realise it’s a brief comment and far from the full extent of your analysis but the reasons you posit for the failure of the revolutionary wave are too contingent and omit any mention of the fundamental differences in conditions between Russia and the western countries that condemned Bolshevism to definite failure (the level of capitalist development and the maturity of the proletariat, the nature and degree of the absolutist regime compared to the more democratic west etc).

    After all, the revolutionaries in Russia were being totally suppressed before the regime collapsed. Yet they blossomed and took power. If anything, the revolutionaries in the west had more freedom to organise. It is not that they started too late or that they made this or that unwise choice. The Bolshevik strategy failed everywhere in Europe because the conditions there were so profoundly different to Russia that it had no prospect of succeeding. And never has, despite near on a hundred years of effort. Its main areas of successful export, albeit even then with modifications, were in the colonies and China, where, again, the conditions were far less developed than in Europe or the US.

    Even the quite large Communist Parties that eventually emerged in the advanced countries, i.e. The PCF or the PCI, were forced to pursue, whether consciously or not, an essentially Social Democratic strategy if they were not to shrink to the size of a Trotskyist sect.

    Lenin excoriated Kautsky and Martov for pointing out that elementary truth and yet to this day, Leninists repeat his criticism as if it were correct. So I think there is some utility in pointing out he was wrong.

    In fact chances looked fairly good. At the time, with the knowledge that they had, the Bolsheviks took a strategy that was very understandable and something most of us would probably do too — at the very least I am unable to say I would not react the same way.

    Who knows what any of us would have done in those circumstances. But what about today? Is a strategy of revolutionary civil war as advocated by the Bolsheviks for the advanced capitalist countries a sound one for modern Europe or America?

    Quite a lot of the revolutionary descendants of the Bolsheviks, as well as the anarchists, do in fact advocate that as policy, even if they tone it down in practice. This has consequences for their support or lack thereof, for a broad, mass socialist party.

    If, after all, the problem was the inadequate organisation of the revolutionary vanguard rather than the objective situation, it makes sense to concentrate one’s energy on organising such a party with a view to taking advantage of any opportunities that capitalism will throw up. On the other hand, if the problems were deeper, then the classic Social Democratic strategy may be relevant to us. The myriad of minuscule Leninist parties in Europe and North America indicates that this is an ongoing problem.

  7. Maximilien Robespierre says:

    Your post smells of Kautskyite heresy and therefore I have taken the liberty to phone the Cheka. Your show trial will be scheduled for next month.

    (I am joking, of course.)

    The more economical interpretation is that when it was favourable to his political strategy the soviets received support, when they stood in the way they were subjected to withering criticism and, later, police action.

    Like I said, I don’t have any faith that Lenin was a saintly politician. It is true that he was extremely pragmatic. However I fail to see the political expediency of calling for all power to the soviets when (1) the soviets were not dominated by the Bolsheviks but by Mensheviks and SRs and (2) they therefore did appear to be imminent organs of Bolshevik power. Not to mention that in July, when you say that he “despaired” of the soviets, the Bolsheviks were pretty influential and some factions were actually considering the issue of insurrection during the July Days fiasco, although Lenin himself remained conflicted on what to do (it appears that by the time he wrote Marxism and Insurrection (which, by the way, is excellent in its treatment of revolution not as a question of will but as a question of objective circumstances) in September 1917 he had come to the opinion that during July 3-4 “the objective conditions for the victory of the insurrection did not exist.”). The problem of soviets post-October 1917 is trickier: there was some amount of political repression shortly after the revolution although the RCW definitely intensified this. It goes into the question of how much the soviet form is compatible with substitutionism: Lenin certainly thought that soviet democracy was compatible not only with the dictatorship of the communist party (I have given my personal opinion on the matter in my fourth post on the topic of the communist party although I don’t think it’s incompatible with Lenin’s view on any fundamental level) and even with the dictatorship of individuals (cf. The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government where Lenin proclaims “There is, therefore, absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is, socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals.” In fact, the whole of the document past section seven would probably illuminate a lot on this issue. Incidentally, Trotsky does not disagree with this view even in his later years.), and that therefore the dissolution and replacement of anti-Bolshevik soviets was not incompatible with the soviet form as the form of proletarian dictatorship.

    I realise it’s a brief comment and far from the full extent of your analysis but the reasons you posit for the failure of the revolutionary wave are too contingent

    It seems we are in disagreement here too. I’d be interested to hear why you think that the Bolshevik strategy of “smashing the state,” i.e. of insurrection against the capitalist state was not going to work in Europe for some reason other than contingent and subjective ones because you have only given small, tantalizing hints as to why in your comment, although I’m afraid such an opinion would probably warrant a post on its own and not a mere comment. However, I will briefly state my opinion on the matter: I am in fact in favor of the Bolshevik strategy; the success of the Bolshevik line and indeed of revolutionary politics in the peripheries of capitalism is due to nothing less than the fact that that is where capitalism is weakest culturally, politically, and economically, and therefore cannot oppose revolutionary socialism as well nor accommodate workers’ demands to the same extent as the core countries; its failure in the west in 1917 (and, indeed, mostly everywhere except Russia itself — don’t forget the revolutionary movements in Eastern Europe which failed as well!) was due mostly the conditions regarding revolutionary organizing (which has nothing to do, I might add, with moralizing about the Second International — although occasionally I will make a jab at them, admittedly).

    Even the quite large Communist Parties that eventually emerged in the advanced countries, i.e. The PCF or the PCI, were forced to pursue, whether consciously or not, an essentially Social Democratic strategy if they were not to shrink to the size of a Trotskyist sect.

    I believe I have elsewhere pointed out the fact that the size of revolutionary parties cannot be separated from the level and development of class struggle in a given period. However, since this comment is already an ungodly length and my next point is fairly big in and of itself, I will not delve into the topic except to say that (1) my positions regarding the communist party have been outlined in my series of posts on the proletarian class party and (2) I’m not a terribly big fan of either the PCF or the PCI (although I’ve got a soft spot for the pre-war PCd’I). This response should be sufficient for the topics raised in the remainder of your post regarding Leninism and strategy.

    However I do want to make a point about the Social-Democratic strategy and its attitude to violence, which I outlined in the article itself (it is obviously not a comprehensive examination though). I think this is very relevant to the so-called betrayal of the workers by Social-Democracy and is key to understanding it in a materialist way and not in a mythological-moralistic way. The Social-Democratic line was oriented strategically towards a breakdown of capitalism, the Zusammenbruch, which even gets a mention in Kautsky’s The Class Struggle, if I remember correctly. The work of the Party during the period between the present and the revolutionary breakdown was to prepare the workers for taking state power and generally building up its base as much as possible to give it the best possible position when the revolutionary crisis began, at which point the Party could either take power by force or by being voted in. This is crucial for understanding the actions of the Social-Democratic parties. In 1914 the SPD was given the prospect war which could potentially undo years of work and threaten its political position which, of course, would be harmful for the proletarian movement, or so it was said. Unfortunately the other Social-Democratic parties were likewise unwilling to face the possibility that perhaps years of organizing would be destroyed completely by the war and made a similar decision to back the war (which was, in their opinion, supposed to be quick anyway). In doing so they went back on previous agreements and sided objectively with the bourgeois state, especially later when especially the SPD played a role putting down the insurrections in the West, although subjectively they still considered themselves on the side of the greater proletarian movement. Obviously, of course, this is a gross simplification, and you can feel free to critique it as you wish, but it’s my (current) line of thinking on the topic. (Personally I love Liebknicht’s stance on the war).

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