Critique of Pannekoek’s Lenin as Philosopher by Internationalisme, 1948
"....The Russian Revolution reserves a chair in ancient history for Kautsky...." and in Philosophy for Harper.
Following the various criticisms we made of Harper's philosophy, we now want to show that the political standpoint that he derives from his philosophy in actual practice takes him away from revolutionary positions (our initial aim was not to make a profound philosophical study, but simply to show that while all of Harper's criticisms of so-called mechanistic materialism are based on a correct, if somewhat schematic, exposition of the problem of human knowledge and praxis, their practical political application leads him into vulgar mechanistic standpoint as well) ,
1) The Russian revolution, in its philosophical manifestations (the critique of idealism) was entirely an expression of bourgeois materialist thought ... thoroughly conditioned by the necessities of the Russian milieu.
2) Russia, from an economic point of view colonized by foreign capital, needed to ally itself with the revolution of the proletariat. Therefore, Harper adds,
"Lenin...had to rely on the working class, and because his fight had to be implacable and radical, he espoused the most radical ideology of the Western proletariat fighting world-capitalism, viz Marxism. Since, however, the Russian revolution showed a mixture of two characters, middle-class revolution in its immediate aims, proletarian revolution in its active forces, the appropriate bolshevist theory too had to present two characters, middle-class materialism in its basic philosophy, proletarian evolutionism in its doctrine of class fight." (Lenin as Philosopher, Merlin Press, p.96)
And from there Harper goes on to characterize the conceptions of Lenin and his friends as a typically Russian form of Marxism except, perhaps, for Plekhanov, whom Harper sees as the most western kind of Marxist, though by no means completely free of bourgeois materialism.
If it is really possible for a bourgeois movement to rely on "a revolutionary movement of the proletariat fighting world capitalism" (Harper), and if the result of this fight has been the establishment of a bureaucracy as a ruling class that has stolen the fruits of the international proletarian revolution, then the door is open to the conclusion reached by James Burnham.
According to Burnham, the techno-bureaucracy has established its power in a struggle against the old capitalist form of society, and it has done this by relying on a working class movement. From this point of view, socialism is just a utopia.
It's no accident that Harper's conclusions are the same as Burnham's. The only difference is that Harper ‘believes' in socialism whereas Burnham ‘believes' that socialism is a utopia. But they both share the same critical method, one which is quite foreign to the revolutionary method.
Harper -- who joined the Communist International, who formed the Dutch Communist Party, who participated in the CI in the crucial years of the revolution, who helped mobilize the proletariat of Europe in the defense of this "counter-revolutionary Russian state" -- explains himself thus:
"if it had been known at the time..." (ie. Lenin's Materialism and Empiriocriticism), "one could have predicted..." (the degeneration of the Russian revolution and of Bolshevism into a state capitalism supporting itself on the working class).
We can reply to Harper that a number of ‘enlightened' Marxists did predict this, and arrived at the same conclusions as Harper about the Russian revolution well before he did. We can, for example, cite the case of Karl Kautsky.
Karl Kautsky's position on the Russian revolution was given a broad public through the extensive debate that took place between him, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg (1915-1918, Lenin: Against the Stream; Socialism and War; Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism; State and Revolution; The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Kautsky: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. 1921, Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution. 1922, Kautsky: Rosa Luxemburg and Bolshevism).
From the series of articles by Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Bolshevism, published in Belgium, in French in 1922, one can see how similar Kautsky's conclusions are to those of Harper.
"...And this book (Luxemburg's Russian Revolution) puts us (Kautsky) in the paradoxical position of being compelled to defend the Bolsheviks against more than one of Rosa Luxemburg's accusations". (Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Bolshevism).
What Kautsky does is to defend the ‘errors' of the Bolsheviks (which Luxemburg criticizes in her pamphlet) by portraying them as logical consequences of the bourgeois revolution in Russia; by showing that the Bolsheviks could only carry out what the Russian milieu destined them to, namely, the bourgeois revolution.
To give a few examples: Rosa criticized the Bolshevik slogans and policies concerning the dividing up of the land by the small peasants. She felt that this would lead to all sorts of difficulties and advocated the immediate collectivization of land. Lenin had already responded to such arguments when Kautsky made them from a different starting point (cf. the chapter ‘Subserviency to the Bourgeoisie in the Guise of "Economic" Analysis', in The Proletarian Revolution and. the Renegade Kautsky).
"...There is no doubt that this (the dividing up of the land) constitutes a powerful obstacle to the progress of socialism in Russia. But this was something that was impossible to prevent: one can only say that it could have been carried out in a more rational manner than the Bolsheviks did it. This is precisely the proof that Russia is essentially at the stage of the bourgeois revolution. This is why the Bolsheviks' bourgeois agrarian reforms will outlive the Bolsheviks, whereas they themselves have had to recognize that the socialist measures they took are incapable of lasting and have in fact been prejudicial..."
Of course, Kautsky's mighty arguments were totally invalidated by that other ‘socialist' Stalin, who collectivized the land and ‘socialized' industry when the revolution had already been strangled to death.
And here is along sample of Kautsky's views on the development of Marxism in Russia. It is strangely reminiscent of Harper's dialectic (see ‘The Russian Revolution' chapter in Lenin As Philosopher).
"...As with the French, the Russian revolutionaries inherited from the reactionaries this belief in the exemplary importance of their nation over the other nations...
"...When Marxism reached Russia from the decaying west, it had to fight very energetically against this illusion, and demonstrate that the social revolution could only come out of a highly developed capitalism. The revolution that Russia was heading towards would necessarily be, first of all, a bourgeois revolution on the model of the ones that had taken place in the west, But as time went by, this conception seemed restrictive and paralyzing to the more impatient Marxist elements, especially after 1905, when the Russian proletariat fought so triumphantly and stirred the enthusiasm of the whole European proletariat. From then on, the most radical Russian Marxists developed a particular nuance of Marxism. That part of Marxism which made socialism depend on economic conditions, on the advanced development of industrial capitalism, more and more faded away from their eyes. Now Marxism as a theory of the class struggle was increasingly emphasized, Moreover, it was seen simply in terms of the struggle for political power by any means, divorced from its material base. With this way of approaching the question, the Russian proletariat ended up being seen as an extraordinary being, the model for the proletariat of the entire world. And the proletarians of other countries began to believe it -- to praise the Russian proletariat as the guide for the whole international proletariat in the struggle for socialism. It's not difficult to explain this. The west had the bourgeois revolutions behind it and the proletarian revolutions in front of it. But the latter required a strength which hadn't yet been achieved anywhere. Thus, in the west, we find ourselves in an intermediate stage between two revolutionary epochs, and this puts the patience of the advanced elements to a hard test.
"Russia, on the other hand, was so backward that it still had the bourgeois revolution and the overthrow of absolutism in front of it.
"This task didn't require the proletariat to be as strong as it would have to be to carry out the exclusive conquest of working class power in the west. Thus the Russian revolution took place sooner that the revolution in the west. It was essentially a bourgeois revolution, but this didn't become clear for some time, because the bourgeois classes in Russia today were much weaker that they were in France at the end of the 18th century. If one neglected the economic base, if one looked only at the class struggle and the relative strength of the proletariat, it could for a time really seem as though the Russian proletariat was superior to the proletariat of western Europe and was determined to be its guide..." (Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Bolshevism).
In a more philosophical way, Harper reiterates Kautsky's arguments one by one.
Kautsky puts forward two opposing conceptions of socialism:
1) In the first, socialism can only be realized on the basis of advanced capitalism (Kautsky's position, and that of the Mensheviks. This position was also used by the German social democrats, including Noske, in order to criticize the Russian revolution. It's a conception which in fact led to the adoption of state capitalist measures, supported by a ‘part of the masses', against the revolutionary proletariat).
2) In the second, "the struggle for political power, by any means, divorced from its economic base", would allow socialism to be built even in Russia (this is Kautsky's version of the Bolsheviks' position).
In fact, Lenin and Trotsky said: the bourgeois revolution in Russia can only be made through the insurrection of the proletariat. Since the insurrection of the proletariat has an objective tendency to develop on an international scale, we can, given the level of the development of the productive forces on a world scale, hope that this Russian insurrection will provoke a world-wide movement.
From the point of view of the development of the productive forces in Russia alone, the Russian revolution would be a bourgeois one; but the realization of socialism was possible if the revolution broke out on a world scale. Lenin and Trotsky, as well as Rosa Luxemburg, thought that the level of development of the productive forces on a world scale not only made socialism possible -- they made it a necessity. They all agreed that capitalism had reached its epoch of "(world) wars and revolutions". They only disagreed about the economic causes of this situation. For socialism to be possible, the Russian revolution could not remain isolated.
Alongside the Mensheviks, Kautsky replied that Lenin and Trotsky saw the revolution as a ‘voluntarist' affair, the mere seizure of power through a Bolshevik putsch. They even compared Bolshevism with Blanquism.
All these ‘enlightened' Marxists and socialists are precisely the ones Harper seems to cite as an example, as those who ‘issued Marxist warnings', who were against ‘the international workers' movement being led by the Russians' -- people like Kautsky:
"...that Lenin did not understand Marxism as the theory of proletarian revolution, that he did not understand capitalism, bourgeoisie, proletariat in their highest modern development was shown strikingly when from Russia, by means of the Third International, the world revolution was to be started, and the advice and warnings of Western Marxists were entirely disregarded" (Lenin As Philosopher, p.98).
All of them with Kautsky to the fore reproach Bolsheviks for not taking into account the backward state of the economy. In reality, from1905 onwards, Trotsky had a masterful response to all these "honest family heads" as Lenin called them. He showed how, on the one hand, the advanced level of industrial concentration in Russia, and, on the other hand, its backward social situation (the delay in the bourgeois revolution), ensured that Russia would be in a constantly revolutionary state; and this revolution would be proletarian, or it would be nothing.
Harper, building his theory and his philosophical critique on Kautsky's theory and historico-economic critique, says that owing to the backward state of the Russian economy, to the inevitability of the bourgeois revolution in Russia on the economic level, the philosophy of the Russian revolution had to carry on the first phase of Marx's thought, ie, the Feuerbachian, revolutionary bourgeois democratic phase: "religion is the opium of the people" (the critique of religion). It was thus natural that Lenin and his friends didn't attain the second phase of Marxist philosophy, the revolutionary proletarian dialectical phase: "social existence determines consciousness". (Harper forgets to point out -- even though it's impossible for him not to have known this -- that the main struggle of the Bolsheviks before 1918 was directed against all the social democratic currents to their right, both the governmental and the centrist factions; and that this battle was waged on a very broad scale, through the whole European press and pamphlets in many languages, whereas Materialism and Empiriocriticism was only known to a wider Russian public much later, was translated into German quite a bit later, into French even later still, and was very little read outside Russia. One feels justified in asking whether the spirit of Materialism and Empiriocriticism was contained in these articles and pamphlets. Harper doesn't attempt to prove this, and with good reason). Anyway, Harper, like Kautsky, concludes from all this that despite the voluntarist conception of class struggle held by Lenin and Trotsky, who wanted to "make the Russian proletariat the orchestral conductor of the world revolution..." the revolution was doomed to be philosophically bourgeois, since Lenin and his friends had adopted a Feuerbachian bourgeois materialist philosophy (Marx phase one).
These ideas bring Harper and Kautsky together in their critique of the Russian revolution -- both in their approach to the fundamentals of the problem, and in the way they both accuse the Bolsheviks of wanting to direct the world revolution from the Kremlin.
But there is more. In his philosophical expose Harper argues that Engels wasn't a dialectical materialist, that his conceptions of knowledge were still profoundly marked by the natural sciences and bourgeois materialism. To verify this theory you would have to examine the writings of Engels in detail, which. Harper doesn't do. Mondolfo, on the other hand, in an important work on dialectical materialism seems to want to demonstrate the opposite, which proves that this isn't a new quarrel. Whatever the case, I think that new generations can often observe in those who preceded them what have noted in Lenin or Engels, who - made a critique of the philosophies of their time on the basis of the same level of scientific knowledge, and were often far too schematic in their approaches. But the real point is to study their general attitude, not simply their philosophical position -- to see whether, in their general activity, they situated themselves on the terrain of praxis, of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach.
In this what Sydney Hook says about the work of Lenin in his Understanding Marx is much closer to reality:
"What is strange is that Lenin seems not to notice the incompatibility between, on the one hand, his political activism and the reciprocal dynamic philosophy of action of What Is To Be Done, and, on the other hand, the absolutely mechanistic theory of knowledge which he defends so violently in Materialism and Empirio-criticism. Here he follows Engels word for word in his statement that "sensations are the copies, the photographs, the reflection, the mirror image of things", and that mind is not an active factor in knowledge. He seems to believe that if one argues for the participation of mind as an active factor in knowledge, conditioned by the nervous system and the entire history of the past, it must follow that the mind creates everything that exists, including its own brain. That would be idealism in its most characteristic form, and idealism means religion and belief in God.
"But the passage from the first to the second proposition is the most obvious non sequitur one could imagine. In reality, in the interest of his conception of Marxism as the theory and practice of the social revolution, Lenin had to admit that consciousness is an active business, a process in which matter, culture and mind react reciprocally on each other, and that the sensations don't constitute knowledge but are a part of the material worked upon by knowledge.
"This is the position Marx takes in his Theses on Feuerbach and in The German Ideology. Whoever sees the sensations as exact copies of the external world, themselves leading to knowledge, cannot avoid fatalism and mechanism. In Lenin's political writings, rather than his technical writings, one finds no trace of this Lockean dualist epistemology. His What Is To Be Done, as we have seen, contains a frank acceptance of the active role of class knowledge in the social process. It's in his practical writings dealing with the concrete problems of agitation, revolution and reconstruction that you find the real philosophy of Lenin...." (Understanding Marx, Sydney Hook, p.57-8).
The clearest testimony to what Sydney Hook says, putting Harper alongside Plekhanov and Kautsky, is something Trotsky wrote in My Life. Speaking about Plekhanov, he says, "His strength was being undermined by the very thing that was giving strength to Lenin -- the approach of the revolution ... He was Marxian propagandist and polemist-in-chief, but not a revolutionary politician of the proletariat. The nearer the shadow of the revolution crept the more evident it became that Plekhanov was losing ground..."
We can see now that what's original in Harper isn't his philosophical thesis (which is, on the contrary, a statement of position following on from many others), but above all the conclusion he draws from it.
This is a fatalistic conclusion, lust like Kautsky's. In his pamphlet Rosa Luxemburg and Bolshevism Kautsky cites a phrase written to him by Engels in a personal letter:
"...the real, and not the illusory ends of a revolution are always realized by this revolution later on".
This is what Kautsky tries to demonstrate in his pamphlet, and this is what Harper argues for (to those who want to follow him in his conclusions) in Lenin As Philosopher. Having fought against the bourgeois materialism of Lenin and Engels, he comes to the most vulgarly mechanistic conclusion about the Russian revolution, portraying it as a ‘fatal product', a ‘real and not illusory end'. The Russian revolution produced what it had to produce -- it was all inscribed in Materialism and Empiriocriticism and in the economic conditions of Russia; the world proletariat was simply used as an ideological cover for all this. What's more, Pannekoek goes on to argue that the new class in power in Russia quite naturally took up Leninism's mode of thinking, its bourgeois materialism, in their struggle against the established bourgeois strata, who on the philosophical level had fallen back into religious cretinism, mysticism and idealism, and had become conservative and reactionary. This new, fresh philosophy, this new state capitalist class of intellectuals and technicians, find their raison d'être in Materialism and Empiriocriticism and Stalinism, and are rising in all countries...Thus we have the equation: Marx phase one = Lenin's Materialism = Stalin!
Without knowing Harper's work, Burnham has understood this equation very well -- just as the anarchists have been repeating it for ages without understanding it. It''s obvious that Harper doesn't say this quite so brutally, but the fact that he opens the door to all Burnham's bourgeois and anarchist conclusions is enough to show the underlying flaw in Lenin As Philosopher.
Finally, when he comes to draw the ‘pure' proletarian lessons of the Russian revolution (I would point out that the language of Harper and Kautsky always talks about the ‘Russian revolution' and not the ‘October revolution', which is quite a significant distinction), Harper separates the action of the Russian working class from the ‘bourgeois' influence of the Bolsheviks, and ends up saying that it is the generalized strikes and soviets (or councils) ‘in themselves' which produced the Russian revolution and which bring us the following positive lessons:
1) the proletariat must detach itself ideologically from bourgeois influence ‘man by man'
2) it must gradually learn, on its own, how to manage the factories and organize production
3) generalized strikes and the councils are the exclusive weapons of the proletariat.
This conclusion is a refined type of reformism, and what's more, is totally anti-dialectical.
Even if it were realizable, this ‘man by man' detachment from bourgeois ideology would postpone socialism for centuries. It turns the Marxist doctrine into a beautiful fairytale for the childish workers, to give them the courage to face up to life. If every man had to be detached from the ruling ideology of bourgeois society on an individual basis, then Marxism becomes no more than an idea -- an eternally valid idea, but no more. In reality, it's the working class as a whole which detaches itself in certain historic conditions, when it's thrown with particular violence against the old system. Socialism can't be realized ‘man by man', as the old reformists used to believe, arguing that you had first to reform men before you could reform society. In fact the two can't be separated: society changes when humanity enters into movement not ‘man by man', but ‘as one man', when it finds itself in particular historic conditions.
The fact that Harper repeats the old reformist refrains in a seemingly new form, allows him, under a philosophical-dialectical verbiage to gloss over the real problems of the Russian revolution, to dismiss its fundamental contributions as no more than reasons of the Russian state. We refer to Lenin's position against the war and Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution.
Oh yes, Messrs. Kautsky and Harper, you may sometimes hit the mark in a purely negative critique of the philosophical or economic theories of Lenin and Trotsky, but that in no way means that you have reached a revolutionary position. In their political positions during the crucial, insurrectionary phase of the Russian revolution, it was Lenin and Trotsky who were the true Marxist revolutionaries.
It's not enough, twenty years after the battle, and having yourself participated in the front line, to philosophically conclude that all this had to end up in the Stalinist state. You also have to ask how and why Lenin and Trotsky could base themselves on the international workers' movement, and prove to us that Stalinism was the inevitable product of this movement.
Harper, just like Kautsky, is incapable of answering these questions, because in their political positions, in the face of the bourgeoisie, in an imperialist war, or a phase of revolution, they lack the concepts that would allow them to approach these problems. They may know Lenin ‘as philosopher' or as a ‘head of state', but they don't know Lenin as a revolutionary Marxist, the real face of Lenin, when he fought against the imperialist war, or the real face of Trotsky, when he fought against the mechanistic concept of an ‘inevitable' capitalist development for Russia. They don't know the real face of October, which aren't just the mass strikes or the soviets. Lenin wasn't attached to the soviets in an absolute way, as Harper is, because he believed that the forms of proletarian power emerged spontaneously out of the struggle. In that I think that Lenin was also more Marxist, because he wasn't attached to soviets, unions, or parliamentarian ism (even if he was mistaken) in a definitive manner, but according to whether they were appropriate to the class struggle at a given time.
On the other hand, Harper's quasi-theological attachment to the councils now leads him to a position of advocating a form of workers' co-management under capitalism, as a kind of apprenticeship in socialism. But it's not the role of revolutionaries to advocate this kind of apprenticeship. Together with the ‘man by man' theory of socialism, this kind of apprenticeship would condemn humanity to eternal slavery and alienation, with or without councils, with or without ‘council communists' and their schemes for apprentice ship under the capitalist regime -- a vulgar reformist-conception which is simply the other side of Kautskyian coin.
As for the ‘struggle of the workers themselves', with its ‘appropriate' means -- strikes, etc -- we have seen the results. It comes close to the ‘strike-cultivating' theories of the Trotskyists and anarchists, with their latter-day versions of the old ‘trade unionist' and ‘economist' traditions which Lenin attacked so violently in What Is To Be Done. This means that the anti-union position of the council communists, correct in a purely negative sense, is no less false ‘in itself', because the unions are replaced by their younger brothers, the soviets, and play the same role, as though the content could be changed by changing the name. One no longer calls the party the party or unions, unions, but one replaces them by the same organizations that have the same functions but a different name. If one were to call cats ‘Raminagrobis' they would still have the same anatomy and the same place in the world. But for some they would have become a myth, and it's a curious thing that there are ‘dialectical' philosophers and materialists whose point of view is so narrow that they try to convince us that their world of mythological constructions, a world in which ‘raminagrobis' have replaced cats, really is a new world.
Thus: in the old world, Kautsky was a vulgar reformist, whereas, in the new world, Trotskyists, anarchists and council communists are ‘authentic revolutionaries'. In fact they are even more grossly reformist than the great theoretician of reformism, Kautsky.
The fact that Harper takes up the classical arguments of bourgeois reformism, both Menshevik and Kautskyist (and, more recently ‘Burnhamite'), against the Russian revolution, should not surprise us too much. Instead of trying to draw the real lessons of the revolutionary epoch as a Marxist would (and as Marx and Engels did, for example, with regard to the Paris Commune), Harper tries to condemn the Russian revolution ‘en bloc', as well as the Bolshevism that was linked to it (just as Blanquism and Proudhonism were linked to the Paris Commune).
If, instead of trying to condemn the Bolsheviks as being ‘appropriate to the Russian milieu', Harper had asked himself about the level of thought reached by the left of social democracy which all of us come out of, he would have reached very different conclusions in his book. He would have seen that this level of thought (even amongst those who were the most developed in dialectics) was insufficient for solving certain of the problems posed by the Russian revolution, especially the problem of party and state. On the eve of the Russian revolution, no Marxist had a very precise understanding of these problems, and for good reasons.
We insist that at all levels of knowledge -‑ philosophical, economic, and political - the Bolsheviks in 1917 were amongst the most advanced revolutionaries in the whole world, and this was to a large extent thanks to the presence of Lenin and Trotsky.
If subsequent events seem, to contradict this, it's not because their intellectual development was appropriate to the ‘Russian milieu', but because of the general level of the international workers' movement; and this poses philosophical problems which Harper hasn't even tried to raise.
 ICC note: In a future issue of International Review, we will see how one of Harper's best disciples, Canne-Meyer, ended up, albeit with regret and sadness, at the same conclusion as Burnham about socialism being a utopia. Fundamentally, with a great deal more blather, this was the conclusion also reached by the Socialisme ou Barbarie group and its mentor, Chalieu-Castoriadis-Cardan.
 Note from the original text: Against the Harper/Kautsky thesis on a ‘specifically Russian milieu', we can cite Marx's Theses on Feuerbach: "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed are products of other circumstances and that the educator needs educating. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, of which one is superior to society....The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice".