Stalin on internal party democracy

13 posts / 0 new
Last post
d-man
Stalin on internal party democracy
Printer-friendly version

Stalin's response to Sapronov was based on his earlier speech:

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

I don't know if Stalin is right to attribute to Sapronov the simplistic belief that a change of officers (Party pedants) will help, in a way that's not what interest me.  I cite the passage that to me is a good explanation for the party's problems:

"The first cause is that our Party organisations have not yet rid themselves, or have still not altogether rid themselves, of certain survivals of the war period, a period that has passed, but has left in the minds of our responsible workers vestiges of the military regime in the Party. I think that these survivals find expression in the view that our Party is not an independently acting organism, not an independently acting, militant organisation of the proletariat, but something in the nature of a system of institutions, something in the nature of a complex of institutions in which there are officials of lower rank and officials of higher rank. That, comrades, is a profoundly mistaken view that has nothing in common with Marxism; that view is a survival that we have inherited from the war period, when we militarised the Party, when the question of the independent activity of the mass of the Party membership had necessarily to be shifted into the background and military orders were of decisive importance. I do not remember that this view was ever definitely expressed; nevertheless, it, or elements of it, still influences our work. Comrades, we must combat such views with all our might, for they are a very real danger and create favourable conditions for the distortion in practice of the essentially correct line of our Party.

The second cause is that our state apparatus, which is bureaucratic to a considerable degree, exerts a certain amount of pressure on the Party and the Party workers. In 1917, when we were forging ahead, towards October, we imagined that we would have a Commune, a free association of working people, that we would put an end to bureaucracy in government institutions, and that it would be possible, if not in the immediate period, then within two or three short periods, to transform the state into a free association of working people. Practice has shown, however, that this is still an ideal which is a long way off, that to rid the state of the elements of bureaucracy, to transform Soviet society into a free association of working people, the people must have a high level of culture, peace conditions must be fully guaranteed all around us so as to remove the necessity of maintaining a large standing army, which entails heavy expenditure and cumbersome administrative departments, the very existence of which leaves its impress upon all the other state institutions. Our state apparatus is bureaucratic to a considerable degree, and it will remain so for a long time to come. Our Party comrades work in this 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."

Stalin basically says that the party is becoming intigrated into the state. It's similar to Lenin's analogy regarding the state apparatus: being in the driverseat of a car, but somebody else seems to be doing the steering. I think it's fair to say that there was no easy way out of the situation the bolsheviks found themselves in.

 

 

Alf
Stalin-Sapranov

 It does seem that Stalin's position is similar to Lenin's but then Stalin was able to adopt whatever position seemed to serve his interests. The problem wih getting a clear view of this debate is that unless we know exactly what Sapranov was saying and the context in which he was saying it, we can get deceived by appearances.  I agree that there was no easy way out for the Bolsheviks, but historically Stalin and Sapranov represent two diametrically opposed trajectories: Stalin towards a complete identification with the state, Sapranov towards the work of an illegal fraction increasingly opposed to the state machine as such.  

d-man
party-proletariat-state

Yes, the meaning of Stalin's remarks without knowing Sapronov's side in the polemic can be deceiving. Also, I correct myself on Ossinsky, who indeed was a decist early on. I think Stalin was right that there were 'objective' difficulties that couldn't be resolved by freedom to recall, right to criticism, to factions, etc. but of course this difficult situation was not a good argument against Sapronov's position. I guess Stalin was stalling time by putting problems on the long track, but the interesting topic it raises is the question of the relation of the party to the state. A relevant quote from Stalin, this one made in the Summer of 1924:

'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? '

 

Kind of eye-opening how well Stalin was aware of what was happening.

A.Simpleton
Stalin / Sapranov : 'deceived by appearances'

Surely we can never know for sure : 'exactly what Sapranov was saying and the context in which he was saying it '

Equally we can never know for sure what was in Stalin's mind when he wrote or said this that or the other .

I happen to agree with the deduction that Stalin was adept at ' adopting whatever position seemed to serve his interests ' : the opportunist whom a dying Lenin warned Bukharin to be wary of .

Stalin does as Stalin says ? I think not .

*****

" We must substitute the weapon of criticism with the criticism of weapons "

And now - quite frankly - I will bow out of this forum as gracefully as is possible : it would take me more years than I have left to read every archive on this particular subject .

But it seems to me that those of Trotskyist leaning , with the best of intentions perhaps bring the dialectic spiral down with one tool : the weapon of criticism .

Workers of the World ! ......er......Unite ! wasn't it ? 

 

 

mikail firtinaci
Stalin acting machivellian

Well, to call for "internal party democracy" and more "criticism from below" was in fact a kind of deadly tactic of stalin used properly over time. In fact when he called for "criticism from below" this "below" was nothing more than lower ranks of careerist bureaucracy that entered the party massively when the revolution was in retreat and was quite indefferent to the question of workers' power except a rhetoric. Stalin used this mass of careerists to clear the party from "old guard" in massive purges. Criticism quickly became gossiping etc. That is how "democracy" worked in acuality in Russia.

Also in 1924, already the soviets were merely representing the party. They were already dying out becoming part of state apparatus.

d-man
party-soviets-state

mikail firtinaci wrote:

Well, to call for "internal party democracy" and more "criticism from below" was in fact a kind of deadly tactic of stalin used properly over time. In fact when he called for "criticism from below" this "below" was nothing more than lower ranks of careerist bureaucracy that entered the party massively when the revolution was in retreat and was quite indefferent to the question of workers' power except a rhetoric. Stalin used this mass of careerists to clear the party from "old guard" in massive purges. Criticism quickly became gossiping etc. That is how "democracy" worked in acuality in Russia.

Also in 1924, already the soviets were merely representing the party. They were already dying out becoming part of state apparatus.

  I agree that the lower ranks were bad. It's maybe difficult to accept that they were even worse than Stalin and the top of the party, who for all their opportunism, still had some ideological direction. It's not only Stalin who created the mess; the fact that he could use the situation (yes, for his advantage, but this is only a detail) was because the mass base of the party, even the proletariat itself, had stopped their activity (I think Trotsky somewhere writes how people after a certain amount of time become indifferent to being involved in politics, i.e. the affairs of their own workers state). Stalin could still with the defeat of the opposition in 1923, recognise this problem and call to reverse the trend, at least in words:

 

Stalin wrote:
Seventhly, work must be intensified among the non-Party workers. This is another means of improving the internal Party situation, of increasing the activity of the Party membership. I must say that our 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. We shall gain by this and in return receive the reciprocal confidence of the non-Party people in our organisations. The elections in Moscow are an example of the degree to which our organisations are beginning to isolate themselves within their Party shell instead of enlarging their field of activity and, step by step, rallying the non-Party people around themselves.

This raises the topic of the relation of party to soviets and to state. What should have been done? Withdraw all or most of the party members from the state? Withdraw them from the soviets? When the party ideally collects many of the best workers, why shouldn't the party be involved with the state? If the party members don't govern the state that means the soviets should do it instead, but would they have proved to be less prone to opportunism, degeneration, etc? If they would, what should the party's role be then? Maybe it would have indeed been best to dissolve most of the party if not entirely, but the mensheviks and even the bolsheviks thought, that the soviets on their own would not have been better able to control the state because they lacked the necessary cultural level. The attention should not be stuck on the person of Stalin, because this evades the problem of revolutionary class education. Evidently the bolsheviks failed here. Even if they would withdraw from the state, the issue remains how should the party ensure that the soviets learn how to control the state? This is the main problem even when in a majority of central countries there would be dictatorship of the proletariat.

<a href="http://www.marxists.org/archive/rakovsky/1928/08/prodanger.htm">Rakovsky</a> wrote:
Up to the present we have witnessed a great number of cases where the spirit of initiative of the working class has become weakened and declined almost to the level of political reaction. But these examples became apparent to us, as much here as abroad, during a period when the proletariat was battling still for the conquest of political power.

We could not have a previous example of the decline of proletarian ardour in a period when it already had power, for the simple reason that, in history, our case is the first where the working class has retained power for such a time. Up till now, we have known what could happen to the proletariat, that is, the vacillations of spirit which occur when it is an oppressed and exploited class; but it is only now that we can evaluate on the basis of fact, the changes of its mental state when it takes over the control.

kinglear
educating the educators

d-man said: The attention should not be stuck on the person of Stalin, because this evades the problem of revolutionary class education. Evidently the bolsheviks failed here. Even if they would withdraw from the state, the issue remains how should the party ensure that the soviets learn how to control the state? This is the main problem...

What exactly is 'revolutionary class education'? I think I know what 'class consciousness' is, vaguely, and link it closely with 'solidarity'. But the idea of 'revolutionary class education' upsets me and I'm not sure why. Were the Bolsheviks supposed to dish this out? If so, where did they get it from in the first place: I mean who educated them? And then the idea that the party should somehow teach the soviets how to control the state...well if the party already knew how to control the state, why didn't they do it, why would they give the job to some other organization? Part of the trouble here is that the party quickly identified itself with the existing state even though Lenin had gone to great lengths in State and Revolution' to point out that this is precisely what it shouldn't do! The relationship between the proletariats' dictatorship and the semi-state it rules over in the beginning is going to be very delicate. We will all have to tread carefully else we'll fuck it all up again as happened in Russia first time round. The class - including the workers' councils, and the revolutionary party(s) - is going to have to discover (learn) how to exercise it's dictatorship over what's left of the capitalist state, in the process of doing it. Fortunately we do have some guidelines about what not to do, left over from 1917 .

mikail firtinaci
I think

I think kinglear is spot on. But I am also partially in agreement with d-man too especially when says the issue was not only about the personality of Stalin. In Stalin the bureaucracy might have find its personality and cult. But what gave birth to it in the first place?

I can not answer this question as easily as some anarchists do by saying that "if you take the state authority to yourself that is what happens": The Russian revolution strarting from the early days of the october was so tragic that it gave birth to outcomes that even its subjects did not foresee beforehand. All the turning points in the history of the revolution antagonised various groups and parties to fight to death. Brest made L-SR's to revolt and soon they had to choose either to join Bolsheviks or the SR's on the other side. Same goes with a lot of anarchists. Also inside the party civil war posed a lot of similar dire situations that forced various tendencies to either side with the statist tendencies of the party or rebel  vainly. Many of these names are not recorded by history. Recently I am working on the history of the party in a locality and I learned that many promiment figures in the left-communist opposition of1918 had been forced to side with the state against the thread of whites. Some local leaders of the left joined even the cheka for instance. And as the party and various members were stained with more blood the weight of criticism became even more unbearable and difficult to accept. People like Miasnikov are certainly among unique exceptions. Nevertheless the situation came into a point that even giving up the power could lead an equally disastrous bloodshed. This is a tragedy for a communist. So it is not surprising to see those anectodes about suicides among the party members..

My personal conclusions are this - and I know that they are not very clever or don't include golden keys but-:

1- The main problem was and always is the international revolution. If the world revolution could have come, if the german proletariat could step up at the time, then this tragedy might not be at all.

2- Revolutionaries MUST NEVER involve in killing -excluding the situations like civil war. What I mean is institutions like the cheka. Communists should never in principle build independent police organisations or involve in terror whatever the consequences may be. You start with killing outright counter-revolutionaries and end up with killing your comrades. I think Martov was 100 % right when he criticized the policy of retreating from death penalty. You can retreat from many things but the death penalty is not something you can retreat to, it leads direct betrayal.

3- Party must never create institutions like Sovnarkom that are independent from the soviets. The intention was probably very naive but after the L-SR's left, the sovnarkom felt on to the hands of the Bolsheviks. And I tend to think that the graduall statification of the executive power of the soviets in the form of sovnarkom had a huge role in binding bolsheviks to the state. I am not sure -and I know it is stupid to play "what if" games in history- but if the executive power could have been more tightly attached to the Central Executive Committee of soviets, the things may have been slightly different; maybe not in terms of the fate of the revolution but at least for the bolshevik party.

4- And I think the ICC is just right to point out that the party must not try to or must not have the authority to change the state positions or responcibilities of its members who are elected by soviets to those positions by other party members. This is abviously a key.

d-man
Rakovsky

kinglear wrote:
What exactly is 'revolutionary class education'? I think I know what 'class consciousness' is, vaguely, and link it closely with 'solidarity'. But the idea of 'revolutionary class education' upsets me and I'm not sure why. Were the Bolsheviks supposed to dish this out? If so, where did they get it from in the first place: I mean who educated them? And then the idea that the party should somehow teach the soviets how to control the state...well if the party already knew how to control the state, why didn't they do it, why would they give the job to some other organization?Part of the trouble here is that the party quickly identified itself with the existing state even though Lenin had gone to great lengths in State and Revolution' to point out that this is precisely what it shouldn't do! The relationship between the proletariats' dictatorship and the semi-state it rules over in the beginning is going to be very delicate. We will all have to tread carefully else we'll fuck it all up again as happened in Russia first time round. The class - including the workers' councils, and the revolutionary party(s) - is going to have to discover (learn) how to exercise it's dictatorship over what's left of the capitalist state, in the process of doing it. Fortunately we do have some guidelines about what not to do, left over from 1917 .

I borrowed the term from Rakovsky's text. Yes, the Bolsheviks were supposed to dish this out, but failed, probably because as you say, they weren't educated themselves; Stalin complains about this in fact, namely that some party units were wholly illiterate and politically and culturally backward. If the party shouldn't even teach (or guide) the soviets in how to control the state, I don't know what the reason is for their existence as a political party. Rakovsky, like you, is complaining that this slogan of education has remained a mere platitude. But at least Rakovsky sees that this as a problem. If the bolsheviks knew, they would have controlled the state themselves (of course not exclusivly), I see no problem with that, unlike the ICC, who think the party shouldn't come near the state. If I understand it correctly, this position would leave only one role for the party during the dictatorship of the proletariat and that is to guide the soviets in administrating the state, so I wonder if any theoretical progress has been made beyond telling the soviets to be, careful? Or that the class will learn in the process of doing it?

Mikhail wrote:
And as the party and various members were stained with more blood the weight of criticism became even more unbearable and difficult to accept. People like Miasnikov are certainly among unique exceptions.Nevertheless the situation came into a point that even giving up the power could lead an equally disastrous bloodshed. This is a tragedy for a communist. So it is not surprising to see those anectodes about suicides among the party members..

Yes, there were also some dramatic films after the collapse of SU about this. Personally I like more the soviet era movies like At home among strangers, strangers at home...

Quote:
Revolutionaries MUST NEVER involve in killing -excluding the situations like civil war. What I mean is institutions like the cheka. Communists should never in principle build independent police organisations or involve in terror whatever the consequences may be. You start with killing outright counter-revolutionaries and end up with killing your comrades.

It is often said that terror belongs to the nature of revolution, that revolutions are not made with rose water or silk gloves, and that this has ever been so.

It is, indeed, a peculiar revolutionism which asserts that what has always been must ever be so. Moreover, it is not true that there never were revolutions without terror. The great French Revolution began in 1789, but the terror did not come until September 1792, and only as a consequence of war. Not the revolution but war brought about the terror as well as the dictatorship. Revolutions resort to terror only when they are driven to civil war.

(Kautsky)

Quote:
I think Martov was 100 % right when he criticized the policy of retreating from death penalty.

This is just FYI, but here are Martov's letters (btw his estimation of Kronstadt rebellion is much like the bolsheviks').

I agree, there are no golden keys, but there's still to much optimism I think with these negative guidelines, because, to put it in an often quoted line:

 “It is more difficult to re-educate the people in the love of liberty than to conquer it”.

 

kinglear
teaching and learning

Education is a funny business. The dominant and thus bourgeois view of how it works is that teachers initiate learners into already existing forms of knowledge. But the proletarian revolution is not a form of knowledge (we haven't done it yet) and presumably never will be, because it'll be ongoing.So nobody can be initiated into it, or taught how to do it. There is also the fact that learners don't always learn what teachers teach, but something contrary eg. what an ineffective way of going on it is, to have somebody standing out front telling you what you should know and what you ought to think.

However. Another view of learning is that it is largely experiential. We learn from experience - a large meeting of striking workers discuss their aims, and through reflection on this afterwards gains are made for understandings and consciousness. (This may be part of the ICC's appreciation of the sort of 'underground' development of consciousness taking place out of sight, as it were.) I think this experiential view of learning matches Luxemburg's understanding, when she talks of mass strikes, and of ripples and waves of fructifying understandings, spreading throughout those involved. I can't quote exactly, but she's talking about the sudden development of class consciousness, even among those who may be illiterate and culturally deficient, up till that point. (Stalin obviously couldn't understand this, being such a smart chap himself and clearly over-educated in the bourgeois forms of knowledge.)

Not long ago,a young Spanish worker was quoted by the ICC saying that what he'd got from a strike meeting was not to be afraid of struggle. Now an experienced revolutionary, or a teacher could have told him that, but would he have understood? I think not. There are some types of 'knowledge' that come only from experience. Some things can't be taught, and class consciousness is one. The revolutionary party learns from the class ie. the way in which the Bolsheviks only realized late in the day that the soviets were the discovered form of the proletariats' dictatorship. They learned from the class. What they gave back to the class was: All power to the Soviets! This is a good example of 'revolutionary education' in action.

The emancipation of the working class, including the party, is the job of the whole class. How to do it is learned in the process of doing it, and mistakes will be made. But no one can teach us, or educate us in advance - because no one actually 'knows' as yet. We learn from experience.

d-man
Nobody Knows It Better
kinglear
d-man's poster

wow! d-man is really onto something here. I wish I was artistic.

d-man
King Lear

It's from a modern artist. In this short article he writes how King Lear was performed during Stalinism.

Can't find Rakovsky's source for that last line (from Babeuf), those Russians of course had a better knowledge of the French revolution than the French historians themselves.

Quote:
Since the fatal Thermidorian reaction patricians and royalists have managed to lead the people towards the counter-goal, towards common unhappiness. The people have now reached the apex of this revolutionary period. Its position there is too unnatural, too horrible. It is time that it came to an end. Its up to the advocate of the true people, to the enemy of the gilded people, to teach 24 million oppressed how to counter-react, how one can revolutionize after having de-revolutionized, how there exist no forces, however formidable they might appear, that can prevent the arrival at the true goal, the only equitable goal, at society’s goal, at common happiness.

...

Eternally persuaded that nothing great can be done without the People, I believe that in order to do anything with them its always necessary to tell them everything, ceaselessly show them what must be done, and we should fear less the inconveniences of the publicity from which politics profits, than count on the advantages of the colossal force that always undoes politics...we must calculate all the strength that is lost by leaving opinion apathetic, without aliment or object, and all that we gain in activating it, in enlightening it, in showing it a goal.