February 1917: The workers’ councils open the way to the proletarian revolution

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Fred
February 1917: The workers’ councils open the way to the proletarian revolution
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: February 1917: The workers’ councils open the way to the proletarian revolution. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
Confidence l

ICC wrote:
The decisive activity of the Bolsheviks had the central axis of developing consciousness in the class, based on confidence in the masses’ capacity for criticism and analysis, confidence in their capacity for unity and self-organisation. The Bolsheviks never pretended to make the masses submit to a preconceived ‘plan of action’, raising the masses as one raises an army. “The chief strength of Lenin lay in his understanding the inner logic of the movement, and guiding his policy by it. He did not impose his plan on the masses; he helped the masses to recognise and realise their own plan.” (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, “Rearming the Party”).

"Confidence in the masses' capacity for criticism and analysis," is surely the key here. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Will we see. the like again? Let's hope so! 

d-man
photos of councils?

Are there any good pictures of the workers' councils in meetings?

d-man
posing for the photo

^In the hall of the former governor's house sits the Vologda provincial executive committee of the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, elected on the First provincial congress of Soviets in April 1918. In the center of the table (left to right) - K.A. Avksentevsky (in uniform), I.I. Dons, Sch. Z. Eliava, V.F. Romanov, M.K. Vetoshkin, I.A. Summer. (source)

^Participants of the First provincial congress of Soviets in Vyatka in January 1918.
Delegates at the building of the cinema "Colosseum".

^Delegates of the Second Altai provincial congress of Peasants' Deputies. In the group: Erushev N.V. (2nd row 4th left) - a delegate from the Barnaul district, Ustinovich V.I. (3rd row 7 right) - the chairman of the Congress and chairman of the executive committee of the Altai. Barnaul, the People's House. From 27 January to 3 (16) February 1918. (source)

^May 9, 1918. First congress of Soviets of Workers 'and Soldiers' Deputies of Scheglovskaya district. The Congress adopted a decision to transform the village Shcheglova into the city Shcheglovsk.

^Delegates to the 4th congress of Soviets Venevsky district in front of the district Office. April 12, 1918

 

Fred
Thanks d-man for thiis

Thanks d-man for thiis  remarkable photographic evidence of the most amazing breakthrough in humanity's development we've ever made. They don't reveal anything beyond appearances of course: working class appearances: serious of intent, no smiling, But they certainly reek with historical  significance when you know what they are,

d-man
^Meeting of the factory

^Meeting of the factory committee of the "Phoenix" plant (later Sverdlov plant). Petrograd, 1917 (source)

It seems the proceedings of a plenary council congress/meeting would operate much the same as a parliament/city/state council. I don't understand the ICC's position really. Soviets themselves were the state ("state" is a quite vague term, like we can say today parliament/city councils are the state, though there's also the government and further the administraton, etc.). And it seems even the local soviets elected a (smaller) executive committee. Kautsky's position was that soviets should not become state organs (he recognised them just as fighting organs), that was where Lenin disagreed with him after all.

 

 

Link
photos

Excellent photos dman.  Could you please explain how you added photos in here tho cos i can seem to find anyway of adding the photos that i have. cheers

d-man
The last photo is of a

The last photo is of a factory committee: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_committee

I find very few (actually none) photos of actual councils, preferably local ones, in an active meeting session.

I only copy-pasted the link to photos already found online (to first get a copy of the url of a photo, you hover over it with your mouse and click "view image", and then here on the forum click the "Image"-symbol to paste it). If you have photos on your computer it seems to post it here first upload them (to a site like eg photobucket) to create a link to your photo.

d-man
So it seems the ICC position

So it seems the ICC position is that soviets indeed become organs of the (commune)-state, but the factory committees do not. This is not clear from the article (dated 1997), when perhaps the ICC had not yet made the distinction?

 

^Participants of All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees. (source)

^The delegates of the First All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees in Petrograd on October 17, 1917. (source)

^ Petrograd Conference of Factory Committees (which appears to be the same as the All-Russian conference)

^Ivanovo-Voznesensk Soviet of Workers 'and Soldiers' Deputies. 1917

Fred
Thanks

Thanks de-man for the fascinating and cheering pictures. 

mikail firtinaci
The first soviet in the 1905

The first soviet in the 1905 revolution was formed in Ivanovo-Voznesenk btw.

Alf
the shape of things to come...

It's not possible to say with any precision what form the future Commune state will take, but we can draw certain lessons from the Russian revolution:

 - rejection of any idea of the party as a state organ 

 - rejection of any violence within the working class and minimisation of violence towards other oppressed strata

 - necessity for the direct organs of the class to maintain their independence from - and control over - statist organs. So even if it was necessary to form a Red Army in the civil war period, it was an error to dissolve the workers' militias into it. It was an even greater error that the Cheka almost immediately escaped the control of the councils

 - necessity for the workers' councils to retain independence from the councils dominated by other strata. In Russia there was an attempt to give a greater weight to the workers' delegates to the central soviets than to the peasants' or soldiers' deputies, which showed an intuiton of the problem, even if it will present itself in a different way in any future revolution.

So it was not so much a question of the factory commitees versus soviets; the principle is the autonomy of the various class organs, which are the dynamic force pushing towards communism, and a permanent vigilance towards organs which have the task of regrouping the population as a whole or administering what can only be a hybrid and transitional social formation.  

Demogorgon
As a follow up to Alf's post,

As a follow up to Alf's post, I think it's also important to consider the differences between the Factory Committees and the Councils. The Factory Committees emerged as workplace organs whose immediate concern was the removal of bourgeois despotism in the workplace and then became instruments for the management of production. They played a very important role in the radicalisation of the movement: Bolshevism very quickly dominated the committees while the Councils remained under Menshevik control. It was this emergence of consciousness that almost persuaded Lenin to adopt the slogan "All Power to the Factory Committees". In the end, however, the Bolsheviks shifted their orientation to the Councils even though they had a minority in them.

Although the Committees had an essential role in the development of consciousness and the establishment of workers power, the nature of their origin tended to give a somewhat parochial, workplace-based consciousness, orientated around running the factory in what was still an essentially capitalist economy. This left them vulnerable to getting bogged down in the immediate necessity of running production and thus far more prone to remaining trapped in the reified nature of capitalist ideology.

The Councils, on the other hand, emerged from the wider struggle and as organs of political and social power. It was for this reason they directly threatened the state by their very existence, in a way the factory  committees never did. They also represent a more global aspect of proletarian consciousness and the necessary dominance of the social over the economic with the aim of the final dissolution of the latter.

But, as Alf has said (and Lenin implied), the most important principle is that, whatever the concrete forms that workers' organs, the state, etc. take in a future revolutionary period is that proletarian class organs must retain absolute independence from both political parties and state-organs. There must be organs that can defend proletarian interests without compromise.

LBird
Principle and its realisation

Alf wrote:

So it was not so much a question of the factory commitees versus soviets; the principle is the autonomy of the various class organs, which are the dynamic force pushing towards communism, and a permanent vigilance towards organs which have the task of regrouping the population as a whole or administering what can only be a hybrid and transitional social formation.  

[my bold]

I quite agree with you, Alf.

In the past, I've summarised this as the question 'who controls the keys to the armouries?'.

When I asked this question of the ICC, the answer to which would determine where the balance of power lay between the party and the class, I expected the answer: 'the democratic, class conscious, revolutionary, proletariat will control the keys to the armouries'. That is, the ICC (or any 'party') won't control any arms, and the ICC can be dissolved at the decision of the workers' councils.

But, this answer wasn't forthcoming. It was as if the ICC had never considered the question of where 'power will lie'.

Once again, I consider 'the principle of the autonomy of the class organs' (by which I mean 'workers' councils', not 'cadre parties') is a principle embodied in the class' control of armouries.

LBird
...without compromise

Demogorgon wrote:

But, as Alf has said ... the most important principle ... is that proletarian class organs must retain absolute independence from both political parties and state-organs. There must be organs that can defend proletarian interests without compromise.

[my bold]

Again, I agree with Demo.

The only issue is what does this 'most important principle' look like when it is realised in political power.

I'd suggest 'control of the keys to the armouries' is a good way of putting it, so that any worker can understand how the 'principle' would operate.

Arms prevent 'compromises'.

d-man
Demogorgon mentions the

Demogorgon mentions the particularism of factory committee, but a soviet could equally be particularist for its region or city. In fact, there was soviet particularism with regard to food acquisation, a complaint made by Sverdlov in April 1918.

Both a soviet and a factory committee are already representative organs, i.e. they are elected (they are not the direct proletarian population itself). And each soviet has its executive committee. One of the reasons is simply that any large representative body (say a council of more than 700 people) cannot effectively govern.

So it doesn't make sense to speak of autonomy of the (even purely worker) soviet as class organ from the state. The soviet is a state organ, just like parliament or any city council today is. And the executive committee of a soviet is like the government or a city mayor's cabinet today.

^ First conference of Moscow soviet of workers and soldiers deputies February 1917 (source)

^ Executive committee of Petrograd soviet 1 March 1917. Soldiers dictate to N.D. Sokolov to write down the order.

^Executive committee of Petrograd soviet in meeting. Nikolay Chkheidze sitting second on the left.

 

Demogorgon
The Soviets certainly had

The Soviets certainly had problems, d-man. Many years ago, before I joined the ICC, I wrote an article detailing some of the chaos that reigned in the early revolutionary phases.

I think the point here is that the nature of the Soviets posed the possibility of a more global view which the FCs could not.

As for the question of the state, this isn't as straightforward as you seem to argue. If I understand your argument correctly, you're suggesting that because a council or executive committee emerges from mass assemblies they somehow constitute state organs. We argue that it is the mass assemblies that are sovereign: the councils and committees are expressions of the assemblies. From our Basic Positions: "In order to advance its combat, the working class has to unify its struggles, taking charge of their extension and organisation through sovereign general assemblies and committees of delegates elected and revocable at any time by these assemblies". The assemblies must maintain vigilance towards its committees and executives, to ensure they function in the interests of the masses as they really are, not merely an idealised vision of them.

(This, incidentally, is why membership of the mass assemblies is determined solely on a class basis, regrouping all workers simply on the basis of being a worker. Being a communist cannot ever be a prerequisite for being an assembly member, delegate or executive. This is simply smuggling in the dictatorship of the party by the back door.)

What makes a state organ is not simply the formation of some sort of committee from a mass group. As you say, this is essential for the functioning of the group. If this was the case, every strike committee would somehow be a state organ which is obviously not the case.

What truly makes a state organ is the monopolisation of armed force and the separation of the organ from the rest of "civil society". A state organ acts in the interests of a ruling class in a society still divided by classes, but must also take into account the interests of other strata.

The difficult the working class faces in post-revolutionary period is that it has two essential choices. There are plenty of non-exploiting strata that are not workers or only exist on the periphery of the working class. In Russia it was the peasants. These strata, while victims of capitalism, do not have the same interests as the workers. How should the working class relate to them? Does it impose the communist transformation of society on them, by force if necessary? Or will it have to proceed through compromise and persuasion?

Depending on the balance of class forces (which will ebb and flow), the proletarian dictatorship may have to adopt different policies at different times. This will be the case even without the active resistance of a rump bourgeoisie. The organs that take responsibility for making an inherently unstable society work will, by definition, be forced to take into account the interests of these other strata.

If the workers councils take on this role directly, sooner or later they will lose the capacity to represent pure proletarian interests. Given the tendency to make virtue of necessity, material necessity quickly gives way to ideological corruption. This was readily apparent in the decline of the Bolsheviks.

In these circumstances, assuming the working class maintains its combativity and consciousness, it will automatically generate new organs to represent its very specific class interests anyway against the tendencies to compromise and conservatism inherent in a state organ's need for stability.

This is why, whatever the specific origins of new state organs in the future, there will always be a potential for conflict between this state and the working class. Our view is that the working class must not confuse its specific interests with that of either the state or society in general, and must be prepared to maintain its own armed, class organs wholly independently of all other forces in society.

d-man
photo of a mass assembly?

The question then becomes what was a mass assembly (MA). How did it elect a soviet (which in turn selected its own executive committee)? By the way, my argument is that the soviets are state organs, not because they're elected representatives bodies (which they are), but because they exercise power. They can control the Red Guards, just as (theoretically) today's parliament (representative of today's sovereign, the People) controls the army. 

You answer that the MA's membership "is determined solely on a class basis, regrouping all workers simply on the basis of being a worker. Being a communist cannot ever be a prerequisite for being an assembly member,[...]"

So according to your logic, not only should communist party-members refrain from standing in elections into a soviet (which is a state organ), but they should not even go into "mass assemblies". The entirely consequent outcome of this logic is not just anti-party (which becomes almost the least of its problems), but fundamentally anti-communist.

Demogorgon
Quote:The question then

Quote:
The question then becomes what was a mass assembly (MA). How did it elect a soviet (which in turn selected its own executive committee)?

I'm not entirely sure how to answer that question, because surely the answer is obvious? You see mass general assemblies of workers in all sorts of circumstances. Election of delegates can be as simple or complex as necessary, formal or informal, as per the circumstances.

Quote:
By the way, my argument is that the soviets are state organs, not because they're elected representatives bodies (which they are), but because they exercise power. They can control the Red Guards, just as (theoretically) today's parliament (representative of today's sovereign, the People) controls the army.

I don't think this works for the transitional period. What sort of civic representation will other strata have? Or will they have absolutely no representation at all?

Quote:
So according to your logic, not only should communist party-members refrain from standing in elections into a soviet (which is a state organ), but they should not even go into "mass assemblies". The entirely consequent outcome of this logic is not just anti-party (which becomes almost the least of its problems), but fundamentally anti-communist.

I don't see how you can conclude that from what I wrote! If I say you do not have to be a carrot to be a vegetable, that doesn't mean carrots are not vegetables. Participation in mass assemblies is open to all workers, regardless of their political persuasions, including communist workers and non-communist workers and members of various parties. However, party-members elected as delegates are responsible to the assembly, not the party. If the positions of the party conflict with the mandate of the assembly, then the mandate takes precedence or the delegate resigns (or is removed).

A more difficult question is participation of non-worker communists. I seem to recall the Social Democrats used this against Rosa Luxemburg, preventing her from participating in the council congresses in Germany.

d-man
If the method in which a MA

If the method in which a MA elects a delegate to a soviet is decided by this MA itself (and thus in a sense, is arbitrary), that still does not mean that it is unimportant to know how a MA actually elected a delegate.

Do you have any concrete information on how a soviet was elected by MA(s)? How did the candidates present themselves, etc.? And does "participation" in a MA mean something more than just electing a candidate(s) to a soviet?

The nebulous character in which you (or the ICC) speak of a MA also makes the theoretical position, that it should not become a state organ, devoid of meaning. Such a theoretical position can only apply to elected/representative organs, i.e. soviets.

Soviets, unlike factory committees, were open also to non-proletarians. By the way, even within a purely worker committee, you would face differentiation between skilled and unskilled workers etc. However, I wrote in reply to your statement that a MA is not open to non-proletarians: "Being a communist cannot ever be a prerequisite for being an assembly member". So indeed you join hands with the SD argument against Luxemburg.

 

d-man
Everybody today hates

Everybody today hates meetings, by the way. A mass assembly can well sound like a nightmare.

d-man
Even the (plenary) meetings

Even the (plenary) meetings of a soviet itself were less often attended:

Rabinowitch wrote:
In 1917 nearly one hundred deputies and sometimes significantly more had attended key district soviet meetings; in the first half of 1918, the average figure was down to about thirty (who had time for meetings?).

The Evolution of Local Soviets in Petrograd, November 1917-June 1918: The Case of the First City District Soviet," Slavic Review, Spring 1987.

--

On election proceedings to a soviet, see pp. 18–23 (first chapter by Getzler) in Revolution in Russia: Reassessments of 1917. (there's google preview, and there are even some photos)

--

To repeat my argument against the ICC, it goes something like this:

The ICC position is that the party should not take power. Given that the soviets are organs of state-power, therefore (following the ICC's logic) party-members should refrain from standing candidates in mass assembly elections for delegates to a soviet. Because even if they abandon all allegiance to the party (in favour of allegiance to their direct electoral consituents), the fact remains that the party will have members who are state administrators. What is the worse, the party should not even tell its members who are "state-adminstrators" to act according to party principle! Hence, the party should refrain from standing in elections for a soviet.

To say that the soviets (as state organs) are under control of the mass assemblies, could just mean that the mass assembly elected delegates to a soviet. But that would be quite a resticted interpretation of direct democracy. Surely the ICC position is that mass assemblies should also discuss and set out a policy for the soviets (whom they elected) to implement. In other words, the mass assemblies should discuss government policy and supervise that their desired measures are being correctly implemented by the soviets. But given that the party should not seek to control the state (or even indirectly set out policy), so, for the ICC to be consistent, the party should also refrain from discussion in the mass assemblies.

 

Alf
nope

Party members, communists, "disdain to hide their views". They will generally be the most militant and far-seeing members of the assemblies. When the movement of the class is in the ascendant, they may well be the majority of the delegates elected to the soviet. But that doesn't mean that they now have power over the soviet. The movement may go into temporary retreat, and the communists are no longer in a majority. Do they try to hold on to control of the soviet like the Bolsheviks did, convinced that they were now the governing party? Or do they abide by the principle of delegates being subject to recall by the assemblies?

d-man
Alf wrote:Party members,

Alf wrote:
Party members, communists, "disdain to hide their views". They will generally be the most militant and far-seeing members of the assemblies. When the movement of the class is in the ascendant, they may well be the majority of the delegates elected to the soviet. But that doesn't mean that they now have power over the soviet.

Of course they do, since as elected delegates they are the soviet itself. They act as state adminstrators. In that capacity, and not as party-member, they certainly exercise power. The party may well disassiocate itself from what its own members do in the soviet, but the fact remains that its own members are engaged in managing the transitional state (and since, according to the ICC, the party must not even discipline them, the party will all the more become under their influence, and thus 'statified' - precisely the danger which the ICC sought to avoid). But perhaps your point was that the communists in the soviet do not have power over the electorate (i.e., the mass assemblies which elected them)? But that is a problem which does not relate to the party's own position vis-a-vis the state. It can arise even if your condition is fulfilled that the party should have no control over its own members that are delegated to a soviet (the Rabinowitch article discusses such a case).

 

Alf
second part

I dont think you answered the second part of the question. The issue is really posed once the majority in 'power' become a minority. The fact that the Bolsheviks held onto power even after they could no longer maintain a real majority in the soviets could only be possible because they could call on forces of repression and administration that were outside the control of the soviets. This was made more feasible because of the strength of parliamentary type conceptions within the workers' movement at the time. But in hindsight we should be clearer that soviets do not function in the same way as bourgeois parliaments.

d-man
Alf wrote:The fact that the

Alf wrote:
The fact that the Bolsheviks held onto power even after they could no longer maintain a real majority in the soviets could only be possible because they could call on forces of repression and administration that were outside the control of the soviets.

You meant to say outside the control of the mass assemblies (i.e. the electorate, and not the soviets, which are the elected bodies), since the soviet's proper task is to control the "forces of repression" (red army guards) and administration.

Ok, so the problem posed is the situation when a soviet holds onto power even after it could no longer maintain a real majority.

I'll mention 2 potential explanations for how this situation could arise:

- it arose because the soviet delegates (the ones who are party-members) could mobilise the party's own – and not the state's – resources to "fix" elections in their favour. This doesn't seek to find the problem in the party's access to the state. "Fixing" here sounds too ominous, it could just be that the party gave the resources to carry out propaganda among the electorate to persuade them to vote in the party's candidates. Non-party candidates obviously would have no such resources to carry out propaganda.

- it arose because the soviets came to function as bourgeois parliaments, by which we can understand for example non-recallable delegates. This second explanation also leaves the party more or less free of the blame.

We cannot get to the bottom of the problem, without looking into the methods through which soviet delegates were (re-)elected by the electorate/mass assemblies. What percentage of the electorate is enough to trigger a recall? At what intervals is a general election held (eg 3 months)? How do candidates present themselves to the electorate (by party list, individually)? etc. This may surprise you, but an election is organised. There was set up an election commission (whose composition needs to be decided), setting a date for the mass assembly to gather (which classes can be member of a MA?), counting the vote, etc. All this takes resources. Sure, things differed from soviet to soviet, it was arbitrary in a sense, but that doesn't mean it is unimportant. On the contrary. How do you prevent gerry-mandering? Kautsky's argument was that the soviet system is open to these abuses, perhaps even more than bourgeois democracy. Notice that he does not put the blame on the party.

 

 

 

Demogorgon
An attempt to clarify the actual point under discussion

I think the point we are trying to make by rejecting the idea of the "party taking power" is this.

 At no time can the party substitute itself for mass action of the working class which is organised through the assemblies, councils, etc. This doesn't mean we reject the party acting in those arenas, far from it. Organised action by communists is essential for the revolution.

But the party itself is not an instrument of class power. It cannot, under any circumstances take direct, unmediated control of the instruments of class rule, like the militias, etc. These must remain under the control of the mass of workers, organised in mass organs.

For us, the role of the party is similar to how the Bolsheviks functioned in the early days of the revolution: as a means for concentrating class consciousness into a critical mass that could then impulse the rest of the class to push forward their struggles both materially and ideologically. It does not impose its positions by material force but through the force of its arguments.

The moment one group of workers (however organised) permanently monopolises the use of force and uses it to impose its will on another, we recreate the basis for exploitation. Obviously, on occasion, the majority will impose its will on the minority through votes for particular courses of action, but this is not a permanent state of affairs. The workers can always change their minds with a new vote.

This position is predicated, ultimately, on our belief that consciousness is a product of the working class as a whole and that the party is an expression of this general consciousness, in its most advanced and organised form. But the party itself is only an intermediate phase in the development of this general consciousness which will ultimately be generalised throughout the class.

Although the Bolsheviks' action in the revolution began this way, they quickly reverted to a social democratic vision, which saw the party as an instrument of power acting on behalf of the class. This then justified (in their eyes) actions to "correct" recalcitrant soviets that elected the "wrong" delegates. We completely reject this vision. Although undertaken to defend the Revolution - and also to impose some order on the complete chaos that was engulfing the Russian economy in early 1918 - this set an extremely dangerous course that ultimate devoured the Revolution.

To move this discussion forward, it is absolutely essential for comrades to take position on this question: where the mass organs (assemblies, councils, etc.) disagree with the party (or appointed delegates), whose views take precedence? For us, decision making power must always, without equivocation, reside with the masses. The party will, no doubt, often disagree with the assembles and will often be right to do so but it must not, under any circumstances, attempt to impose its views by material force.

Without clarity on where we stand on this essential principle, it's pointless getting bogged down in detail about how this or that particular historic organ functioned.

d-man
Demogorgon wrote:At no time

Demogorgon wrote:
At no time can the party substitute itself for mass action of the working class which is organised through the assemblies, councils, etc. This doesn't mean we reject the party acting in those arenas, far from it. Organised action by communists is essential for the revolution.

But the party itself is not an instrument of class power. It cannot, under any circumstances take direct, unmediated control of the instruments of class rule, like the militias, etc. These must remain under the control of the mass of workers, organised in mass organs.

I think you are not distinguishing between mass assemblies and councils.

Mass assemblies elect a soviet (which in turn further elects its own executive committee). A soviet is a representative organ, and it is a state organ. The soviet has contol over instruments like the militia, that is its proper task. And since you have no problem that party-members can be elected to a soviet, the party de fact will have members who are state-administrators. The problem is when a soviet "substitutes" itself for its electorate (i.e. the mass assemblies). This problem can arise even without the party having any control over its members in the soviet. Again, see the Rabinowitch article how the local party committee had no control over (its own members in) the First City (a Petrograd district) soviet, yet the masses felt that the soviet did not respond to its wishes. Faced with this problem (of unresponsive soviet to its electorate), you perhaps propose that the party should call its members in the soviet to step down. However, that requires the party to directly control (its own members in) the soviets. You see, by (falsely) putting such a great blame on the party for fostering the soviet's subsitutionism, you implicitly also suppose it still has such a great control (over a state-organ like the soviet) to solve it (i.e. by recalling its own members, when the electorate itself can no longer do it).

Demogorgon
Quote:I think you are not

Quote:
I think you are not distinguishing between mass assemblies and councils. Mass assemblies elect a soviet (which in turn further elects its own executive committee).

I understand the distinction fine. The point is that they are both class organs with their base in the masses. The councils are a method of unifying the joint action of the assemblies, a means of coordinating between them.

Quote:
The soviet has contol over instruments like the militia, that is its proper task.

And the soviet is controlled by the assemblies, which control the actions its delegates and can recall them at any point if they choose to do so.

Quote:
And since you have no problem that party-members can be elected to a soviet, the party de fact will have members who are state-administrators.

Agreed.

Quote:
The problem is when a soviet "substitutes" itself for its electorate (i.e. the mass assemblies). This problem can arise even without the party having any control over its members in the soviet.

Also agreed.

Quote:
Faced with this problem (of unresponsive soviet to its electorate), you perhaps propose that the party should call its members in the soviet to step down. However, that requires the party to directly control (its own members in) the soviets.

No. The general assemblies call for their delegates to step down. The party has no say whatsoever in who is a delegate in the soviets. Every delegate is a delegate from the assembly and has responsibility to that assembly, whether they are a party member or not.

Let us say an assembly has decided to outlaw peanuts and instructs its delegate to vote to enforce this. The delegate is a party member and party policy is that peanuts are essential to the revolution and we need more of them. The delegate must either vote to outlaw peanuts ... or resign as a delegate.

Quote:
You see, by (falsely) putting such a great blame on the party for fostering the soviet's subsitutionism, you implicitly also suppose it still has such a great control (over a state-organ like the soviet) to solve it (i.e. by recalling its own members, when the electorate itself can no longer do it).

Why can the "electorate" itself no longer do it? In the Russian Revolution, the point was reached when the party did have complete control over the Soviets, as well as direct control of the militias and the Red Army. They did reject attempts by the electorate to vote them out and even disbanded some councils that attempted to do so. Your abstract example does not, therefore, answer the question of what the party should do in those circumstances. It avoids that question by rejecting the premise: the party holding power (which the Bolsheviks did).

The party is (supposedly) the most advanced fraction of the working class. It defends the principles of the revolution above all else, even where this would appear to contradict its own immediate interests (Lenin called for "All Power To The Soviets" at a time when the Bolsheviks had no influence in them at all).

You are, of course, correct that the undermining of Soviet democracy could happen without the party's involvement at all. The councils could have declined with other political forces at the helm. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Bolsheviks refused to give up power was because assemblies were now electing Menshevik and even conservative delegates and the Bolsheviks feared that if these forces seized power, the result would be direct counter-revolution and mass execution of Bolsheviks and the most class conscious workers.

This would have been, no doubt, disastrous for the revolution. What they failed to realise was that, by undermining soviet "democracy" themselves, they ended up doing the counter-revolutionaries work for them.

d-man
reply to Demogorgon

Demogorgon wrote:

Quote:
Faced with this problem (of unresponsive soviet to its electorate), you perhaps propose that the party should call its members in the soviet to step down. However, that requires the party to directly control (its own members in) the soviets.

No. The general assemblies call for their delegates to step down. The party has no say whatsoever in who is a delegate in the soviets. Every delegate is a delegate from the assembly and has responsibility to that assembly, whether they are a party member or not.

Let us say an assembly has decided to outlaw peanuts and instructs its delegate to vote to enforce this. The delegate is a party member and party policy is that peanuts are essential to the revolution and we need more of them. The delegate must either vote to outlaw peanuts ... or resign as a delegate.

 

I mean faced with the problem that the soviet no longer responds to its electorate, then what should the party do? I thought that perhaps you would propose that the party should discipline its members in the soviet (like expel them from the party). But you seem to reject this proposal. However, even you accepted it, this will not solve the problem, since they will retain their seat in the soviet, because they can claim that their legitimacy came from the electorate (though it is no longer a true reflection by then), and not from the party. In history of labour movement a reformist that won a seat somewhere would dismiss the discipline which his socialist party tried to impose on him, by making reference to his direct electoral mandate. And if the party expelled them, fine, they would continue to govern without party membership. Did not the Menshevik-leader Martov face this problem with regard to various reformist Menshevik party-members taking up posts in the Provisional government (and post-1917 anti-bolshevik governments)?

 

Demogorgon wrote:

Quote:
You see, by (falsely) putting such a great blame on the party for fostering the soviet's subsitutionism, you implicitly also suppose it still has such a great control (over a state-organ like the soviet) to solve it (i.e. by recalling its own members, when the electorate itself can no longer do it).

Why can the "electorate" itself no longer do it? In the Russian Revolution, the point was reached when the party did have complete control over the Soviets, as well as direct control of the militias and the Red Army. They did reject attempts by the electorate to vote them out and even disbanded some councils that attempted to do so. Your abstract example does not, therefore, answer the question of what the party should do in those circumstances. It avoids that question by rejecting the premise: the party holding power (which the Bolsheviks did).

A soviet's linkages to factory workers could be disrupted because keeping such linkages requires personnel (which the soviet lacks). Reports and agitation among consituents take a back-seat due to the huge amount of work. 

I can also imagine it is possible that a higher soviet disbands lower soviets (that have hostile opposition in them), simply because a higher (central) soviet can order a lower (local) soviet on the ground of effectiveness. And a soviet can decide on when assemblies should be called together. (yes, even grass-roots assemblies require organisation). 

In the example of Rabinowitch the soviet chose to respond to growing popular dissatisfaction by organising a workers' conference (representing in total some 25,000 "working citizens") held between 25 May - 5 June 1918. Maybe the soviet succeeds in woeing/tricking their electorate by making promises, so that they prevent recall elections? And, after all, the rules are not very determined on when and how to hold elections.

I can imagine that the soviet delegates did not have time to attend their own plenary soviet meetings.

Perhaps the soviet personnel (due to incomptenece), or better yet a few on its executive committee, manage and decide things on the spot, without a real plan, without ideology.

And even if a soviet's contacts to workers was fine and the soviet delegates could be recalled every day (an example of which your 2006 article mentions), would a mere change of personnel solve the existing material problems?  

d-man
Older thread on this

Older thread on this theme:

http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/d-man/4301/stalin-internal-party-democracy

 

d-man
I think the ICC could agree

I think the ICC could agree with the way that I posed the problem, namely: soviets (ie the state) can become unresponsive to their electorate (ie the proletariat), even without this necessarily being the result of an evil substitutionist party.

This is what the ICC wrote on the Occupy movement:

Quote:
In this sense, the desire to make sure everyone felt included is perfectly understandable. However, in reality, the insistence on operating on a consensus model prevented the movement from moving beyond its limitations by blocking the necessary confrontation of ideas and perspectives that would allow the movement to break out of its isolation in the park. In the absence of being able to take any real decisions, to respond to the immediate needs of the movement—by neglecting to develop an executive organ—the GAs very quickly fell under the influence of the various working groups and committees, many of them dominated by the very professional activists they originally feared. In a way, the insistence on making every decision based on consensus ensured that no real decisions could be made and that the various “parts” (working groups, committees, etc.) would begin to substitute themselves for the “whole” (the GA). Thus, the GAs’ fear of exclusion allowed substitutionism to creep in through the back door—a situation that ultimately led to numerous distortions of the GAs’ sovereignty.

...

As this movement shows, the development of a real executive organ cannot be avoided if the movement wants to advance beyond a very elementary stage. How can tactical decisions be made in the heat of the struggle? How can the GAs maintain their sovereignty over whatever committees and organs will be necessary? These are the vital questions that must be taken-up. 

Of course, it is also true that an executive organ cannot be proclaimed ex nihilio. An executive organ that does [not] rest on the basis of the widest discussion and the broadest exchange of ideas between all participants would be at best a total farce and at worst another avenue for substitutions to creep in through the back door. An executive organ can only function as a concretization of the vitality of the GAs—it cannot substitute itself for them.

(I had to correct the text by adding in the "not"!)

 

The ICC merely poses the "vital question": how to avoid that executive organs (like soviets) subsitute themselves for the assemblies? But it does not answer the question (besides perhaps blame the consensus model of "discussion" in the assemblies). It just stresses that executive organs "cannot" substitute themselves for the assemblies. But they in fact do. So if this is a real problem, if this is the correct way to describe this, then how to avoid it?

One possible solution would be to immediately publish the minutes of the meetings of the executive organs. To make the meetings of the soviets open to attendance of the general public. This is a basic democratic demand. For example even Varoufakis's project Diem25 proposes that the executive's meetings be videostreamed live.

Did the soviets in Russia publish their minutes? In the example of Rabinowitch, the soviet did not want to publish the minutes of the workers' conference.

All the "details" (how elections are held, etc.) of the actual functioning of soviets need study.

If it is correct to speak of a danger of substitutionism by the soviets (and perhaps it is not correct, since as executive organs they in a sense must be substitutionist, they are given the task to lead and govern), then the ICC should address that danger seriously. Merely saying that the party should not become guilty of it, is but a vague guideline (which even Stalin would agree with, as I quoted him on the older thread).

 

Alf
soviets can also degenerate

We would not disagree that soviets can degenerate and end up as part of the bourgeois state. Part of this process would no doubt involve them becoming detached from the base assemblies. But I don't think this is the issue here. The problem is one of the relationship between party and soviets (or base assemblies, for that matter), ultimately betwen party and class. 

d-man
Since soviets are state

Since soviets are state organs,

soviets becoming detached from base assemblies =

transitional state becoming detached from the proletariat.

 

You claim that the problem is that of the relationship between party and class. But this involves their relation to the state. How does the party substitutes itself for the class? By taking over control over the soviets (ie the state) from the base assemblies. So to address your problem of how the party takes control over the soviets, we must address how the base assemblies lose control over the soviets.

Your admonition that the party should not take over the soviets (ie the state), would prevent the party from becoming "statefied"/bureaucratised (and thus save its beautiful soul), but it would still leave the problem that the soviet organs (ie the state) become detached from the proletariat. And on that you remain silent.

I will repost the relevant quotes from Stalin again:

Stalin in 1923 wrote:
Our Party comrades work in this [state] apparatus, and the situation—I might say the atmosphere—in this bureaucratic apparatus is such that it helps to bureaucratise our Party workers and our Party organisations.

...

I must say that our [party] organisations are still paying little attention to the task of drawing non-Party workers into our Soviets. Take, for example, the elections to the Moscow Soviet that are being held now. I consider that one of the big defects in these elections is that too few non-Party people are being elected. It is said that there exists a decision of the organisation to the effect that at least a certain number, a certain percentage, etc., of non-Party people are to be elected; but I see that, in fact, a far smaller number is being elected. It is said that the masses are eager to elect only Communists. I have my doubts about that, comrades. I think that unless we show a certain degree of confidence in the non-Party people they may answer by becoming very distrustful of our organisations. This confidence in the non-Party people is absolutely necessary, comrades. Communists must be induced to withdraw their candidatures. Speeches must not be delivered urging the election only of Communists; non-Party people must be encouraged, they must be drawn into the work of administering the state.

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1923/12/02.htm

Stalin in 1924 wrote:
People often say that we have a “dictatorship of the Party.” Someone will say: I am for the dictatorship of the Party. I recall that the expression figured in one of our congress resolutions, in fact, I believe, in a resolution of the Twelfth Congress. This, of course, was an oversight. Apparently, some comrades think that ours is a dictatorship of the Party, not of the working class. But that is sheer nonsense, comrades. If that contention were right, then Lenin was wrong, for he taught us that the Soviets implement the dictatorship, while the Party guides the Soviets. Then Lenin was wrong, for he spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat, not of the dictatorship of the Party. If the contention about “dictatorship of the Party” were correct, there would be no need for the Soviets, there would have been no point in Lenin, at the Eleventh Congress, speaking of the necessity to draw a “distinction between Party and Soviet organs.” But from what quarter, and how, has this nonsense penetrated into our Party? It is the result of the passion for the “Party principle,” which does so much harm precisely to the Party principle, without quotation marks. It is the result of a disregard for questions of theory, of the habit of putting forward slogans without considering them properly beforehand, for very little thought is required to realise the utter absurdity of substituting the dictatorship of the Party for the dictatorship of the class. Does it need proof that this absurdity may well give rise to confusion and misunderstanding in the Party?

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/06/17.htm

 

Alf
saving our souls

Your admonition that the party should not take over the soviets (ie the state), would prevent the party from becoming "statefied"/bureaucratised (and thus save its beautiful soul), but it would still leave the problem that the soviet organs (ie the state) become detached from the proletariat. And on that you remain silent.

If the party isn't clear about its role, if it thinks its task is to hold power on behalf of the class, how will it fight in the various levels of the soviet structure, from base assemblies to central congresses, against tendencies towards autonomisation? 

The ICC has never maintained that the problem is substitutionism on its own. On the contrary, our view is that the transitional state, which is an organ which regroups the whole transitional society with the exception of the former ruling class, will have a 'natural' tendency towards autonomisation. And that even the best working class organisations can be recuperated, turned against the class. The pressures coming from the old world, whether ideological, military or economic, will constantly threaten the unitary organs of the class - assemblies, councils, etc - in this sense. But still they will be the best terrain for the development of class consciousness and the role of any future communist political organisation will be to struggle in these bodies to make sure that they guard against these dangers. 

 

d-man
councils versus councils

If we take just the councils (not the base assemblies, who elect and recall the council delegates), the danger is that they, as state organs, can become detached. I know that of course you recognise and indeed stress that problem, as did Lenin himself. But what does your proposal to "struggle in these bodies to make sure that they guard against these dangers" mean? Those bodies (the councils) are themselves state organs, so to struggle in them, can mean that we struggle within the existing transitional state (ie within the councils).

 

Or if it is hopeless to do that, it means you argue for the creation of new, responsive councils, and thus a new, truely responsive transitional state power. And then we have a civil war between the old detached council-based transitional state and a new undetached council-based transitional state.

Alf
The problem here is that we

The problem here is that we don't seem to agree about the meaning of the term 'state'. Perhaps we should start another thread where we go back to The Origins.....

d-man
The soviets are organs of

The soviets are organs of state power (the Central Executive Committee of the congress of soviets was the highest body). The base assemblies(/electorate) on the other hand are not state organs, but they should be involved in the adminstration of the state, meaning they can be elected themselves into the councils, and they participate in the execution of state policy, and they discuss the formulation of state policy.

I already said that the state is a vague term. But we regard today's parliament to be a state organ, although there is further the government, and then there's the administrations, "deep state", etc.

d-man
online book about the

online book about the soviets: The Soviets of Worker's and Soldiers' Deputies on the Eve of the October Revolution. (March-October 1917)

"The surviving records contain very little information about the way the deputies to the Petrograd Soviet were elected, either at the factories or among the troops."

petey
the pictures are great finds

the pictures are great finds and the discussion very helpful.

KT
To Be Continued....

Agree with Petey – the pix are great and the discussion stimulating.

How good it is to talk about the ‘problems’ of a future in which the working class has taken control, but has yet to establish a global, communistic society of humanity.  Maybe our children or grand-children, will participate in this process...

It was one of the things that endeared me to the ICC. In its very first internationally centralised publication, when you might have thought it was busy ‘recruiting’ with activist articles,  it began a polemic on the period of transition between capitalism and communism (as well assessments of aspects of the world situation and the present tasks of revolutionaries, of course). One of these articles – Problems of the Period of Transition (April 1975) - appears as part of the present ‘collection’ on 1917 which inspired this discussion.

http://en.internationalism.org/international-review/197504/188/problems-period-transition-april-1975

This article – and others in the ensuing 40 years – IMO develop some valuable insights into the nature of the revolution which we all want to see, the kind of society we envisage will follow and, crucially, what lies between the two. With this in mind...:

D-Man wrote: “The soviets are organs of state power (the Central Executive Committee of the congress of soviets was the highest body). The base assemblies(/electorate) on the other hand are not state organs, but they should be involved in the administration of the state, meaning they can be elected themselves into the councils, and they participate in the execution of state policy, and they discuss the formulation of state policy.
I already said that the state is a vague term. But we regard today's parliament to be a state organ, although there is further the government, and then there's the administrations, "deep state", etc.

Comrades have already responded to the somewhat woolly proposition that “base assemblies ... can be elected themselves into councils”.

But two further questions are raised here:

a) The difference between the state in the Period of Transition and ‘today’s state’ – or any previous state in history for that matter.

b) The centralised nature of the proletarian dictatorship

A) The clearly defined similarities and evident, crucial differences between the state in the Period of Transition between capitalism and communism and other states known to us that is developed in the articles cited above should inoculate us from making superficial comparisons between, say, Parliamentary Democracy, and tomorrow’s transitional state.

Permit a long quote:

“Previous transitional states were ‘merely’ the transfer of power from one ruling class to another; the continuity was greater than the rupture. There still existed a ruling, exploitative minority and a productive, subjugated, majority.

“The state of the period of transition has a certain number of differences from previous states:

-- for the first time in history, it is not the state of an exploiting minority for the oppression of the majority, but is on the contrary the state of the majority of exploited and non-exploiting classes against the old ruling minority.
-- it is not the emanation of a stable society and relations of production, but on the contrary of a society whose permanent characteristic is a constant transformation on a greater scale than anything else in history
-- it cannot identify itself with any economically dominant class because there is no such class in the period of transition
-- in contrast to states in past societies, the transitional state does not have a monopoly of arms. For all these reasons marxists have talked about a ‘semi-state’ when referring to the organ which will arise in the transition period

On the other hand, this state still retains a number of the characteristics of past states. In particular, it will still be the guardian of the status quo, the task of which will be to codify, legalize, and sanction an already existing economic order, to give it a legal force which has to be acknowledged by every member of society. In this sense the state remains a fundamentally conservative organ which will tend:

-- not to favourise social transformation but to act against it
-- to maintain the conditions on which its own life depends: the division of society into classes
-- to detach itself from society, to impose itself on society and perpetuate its own existence and its own privileges
-- to bind its existence to the coercion and violence which it will of necessity use during the period of transition, and to try to maintain this method of regulating social relations

 

This is why from the beginning marxists have always considered the state of the period of transition to be a ‘necessary scourge’ whose ‘worst sides’ the proletariat will have to ‘lop off as much as possible’.

(Draft resolution on the state in the period of transition , IR 11, http://en.internationalism.org/node/4093)

In short, we cannot talk of, must guard against, the notion of 'a workers' state.' If workers' organs necessilly participate in the running of the transitional state, they must also, Janus like, ensure the 'withering away' of this state; must maintain a poliitically conscious control over it. The progress of the revolution will in part be measured by the degree to which the proletairat abolishes both itself (by integrating the rest of humanity into itself) and the state in the period of transition.

B) The centralised nature of the workers’ councils and the future society.

To be developed in another post.

KT

d-man
KT wrote:Comrades have

KT wrote:
Comrades have already responded to the somewhat woolly proposition that “base assemblies ... can be elected themselves into councils”.

I don't know what you mean. It's just a fact that the labouring masses select delegates to a council. What is woolly is how this was actually done. And comrades have not engaged with that (which I explain partly because there is little actual info available). But clearly it does matter (eg Cleishbotam on an old libcom thread made an appeal to historians to do a study exactly on this). We already know election procedure mattered for Lenin with regard to the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly. From the book I linked (which seems quite ignored in Western historiography) it appears that from the start in February the way that soviets were elected, the way that their executive committees were elected, etc. were all matters of struggle.