when did the counter revolution in russia begin and end

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lem_
when did the counter revolution in russia begin and end
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i was thinking that it would be pernicious, even if not exactly WRONG, to say that the purges were part of a counter revolution, and not simply teh form capital took after communism had been defeated.

 

what do you think comrades?

LBird
Pernicious?

lem_ wrote:

i was thinking that it would be pernicious, even if not exactly WRONG, to say that the purges were part of a counter revolution, and not simply teh form capital took after communism had been defeated.

 

what do you think comrades?

If I was going to be 'pernicious' to Leninist ideology, lem_, I'd say that 1917 was a bourgeois (and not a proletarian) revolution, so 'communism' was never 'defeated', because it had never existed, in the sense of a proletarian majority themselves running production.

So, the 'purges' were merely a (brutal and later) part of the stabilisation process which the new ruling class employed to firmly establish their rule, and to remove any lingering hopes of the pre-1917 generation.

Alf
counter-revolution

We in the ICC think October 1917 was a proletarian revolution, but of course that's a whole discussion in itself. The bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia was a process which eventually overwhelmed the working class, the soviets, and the Bolshevik party. You can see signs of it right away, given that the erroneous idea of the time was that  the party which had a majority in the soviets 'forms the government', a parliamentary conception of soviet power. This amde it very difficult for the party to distinguish itself from the state. There were of course some crucial moments on the way - the militarisation of labour and the emasculation of the soviets during the civil war, the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt, the banning of fractions in the party at the same time, the declaration of socialism in one country in 24/25 and the elimination of all opposition tedencies from the party in 27. That was basically the last nail in the coffin, so the purges of the 30s were simply the consolidation of the counter-revolution. But it was still significant that the Stalinist regime had to destroy all the old Bolsheviks and utterly distort the memory of 1917. 

Stalinism was also part of a world-wide counter-revolution which included fascism and anti-fascism and which was geared towards mobilisation for a second imperialist world war. 

LBird
A revolution never 'countered'?

Alf wrote:
The bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia was a process which eventually overwhelmed the working class, the soviets, and the Bolshevik party.

This is, of course, the 'standard' pro-Lenin, pro-Trotsky, version of the events of 1917.

Put simply, the argument is that:

'there was a proletarian revolution, and it was destroyed by material conditions which compelled many regrettable political acts by the Bolsheviks (who were separate from Stalin)'.

The alternative argument is that:

'there was a bourgeois revolution, and the later political acts of the Bolsheviks (represented by the Stalinists) flowed necessarily from that fact'.

Alf wrote:
We in the ICC think October 1917 was a proletarian revolution, but of course that's a whole discussion in itself.
[my bold]

It's not just 'a' but 'the' 'whole discussion'. One's position on that question determines everything else, Alf.

Leo
I think this is quite

I think this is quite inaccurate LBird. Considering October 1917 is not necessarily a pro-Lenin and pro-Trotsky position. This was the position of the German left communists at the time, as it was the position of the Workers' Group around Myasnikov - heck this was the position of even some anarchists. There are still anarchists who think October 1917 was a genuine revolution hijacked by the Bolsheviks.

The opinion that October was a bourgeois revolution emerged later, it was put forward by some currents coming from the German left. The main criticism of this position has been that it reeks of menshevism and stageism, and I personally tend to agree with that.

Nor is whether October was a proletarian revolution or not the question. There are many different questions. Even if it was proletarian, was the Bolshevik Party revolutionary? Was some parts of it revolutionary? If the answer to either question is yes, when did the rot in the party begin and when did it take over the whole body?

I've met many a left communist, for instance, including former as well as current members of the ICC, according to whom the suppression of the Kronstadt was the definite end of the revolution and signalled the victory of the counter-revolution. Alf seems to think that the elimination of all opposition tedencies from the party in 27 was the last nail in the coffin. I personally think that the declaration of socialism in one country in 1924 was the definite end, since it formally proclaimed the Russian state to be a capitalist nation-state, the CPSU as its ruling party and the Comintern as its foreign agency. This may seem to be a insignificant discussion, because the exact date of the counter-revolution isn't really important yet it does point to a deeper discussion: what is or main criteria for declaring a revolution dead? Armed conflict between the state and proletarians? Openly abandoning the communist program? Or the completetion of the political elimination of revolutionary tendencies?

I can think of many other debates on the counter-revolution in Russia, of course, aside from whether October 1917 was proletarian or not.

LBird
What is a 'proletarian revolution'?

Leo wrote:
The opinion that October was a bourgeois revolution emerged later, it was put forward by some currents coming from the German left. The main criticism of this position has been that it reeks of menshevism and stageism, and I personally tend to agree with that.

That's fair enough, Leo. You think that the revolution was proletarian.

I'm merely pointing out that other Marxists think that it wasn't. Including me.

So, I think that my earlier post is not 'quite inaccurate'.

LBird wrote:
Put simply, the argument is that:

'there was a proletarian revolution, and it was destroyed by material conditions which compelled many regrettable political acts by the Bolsheviks (who were separate from Stalin)'.

The alternative argument is that:

'there was a bourgeois revolution, and the later political acts of the Bolsheviks (represented by the Stalinists) flowed necessarily from that fact'.

The best way to carry the discussion forward (for the world proletariat, if not for those who look to Bolshevism) is to examine what we mean by 'proletarian revolution'.

If one defines 'proletarian revolution' to be 'a revolution carried out by the class conscious majority of proletarians' (ie. following Marx, that the emancipation of the class must be the act of the class itself), then clearly 1917 was not a 'proletarian revolution'.

Firstly, the proletariat was a very minor class (the peasantry was the vast majority);

Secondly, the proletariat did not contain a Communist majority, even within itself (never mind a majority within the entire society).

If one wants to define a 'proletarian revolution' in different terms, and then go on to use that definition to show that 1917 was a 'proletarian revolution', that's fair enough; but the definition should be exposed for all to consider, prior to making a decision about the substantive question.

As you rightly say, Leo, there are many other questions, but I still think that this issue is 'a' (if not 'the') central one.

Fred
Leo gives: " openly

Leo gives: " openly abandoning of the communist program" as an example of how we'd know a revolution was dead. But at the risk of sounding silly I'm left wondering what exactly the communist program is?  Is it written down anywhere?  I know we've got: "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need..." and that sounds lovely.  But what the heck does it really mean in practice, and anyway, how do we set about instituting such a paradise?  A number of comrades seemingly think the revolutionary wave which began in 1917 eventually ushered in nothing more revolutionary than "social democracy"; and that this was because the working class didn't really know what it was doing, where it was going, or what it wanted to start to achieve.  The Bolsheviks hardly tried to do anything communist, but seized control of the bourgeois state, and used it for their own purposes whilst waiting for the German proletariat to solve the problem of what to do next.  Luxembourg and Liebknecht among others, knew that what was happening in Russia was not the answer, but didn't seem to know either what the class should do next in Germany and were murdered while thinking about it.  

 

Are we any better off today?  If revolutionary  uprisings were sparked off next week, and spread internationally,  what would act to stop the class from doing the sort of thing advocated by Bilan and comrade Mitchell all those years ago, as a vital factor in the period of transition.  and replacing money with work vouchers and the like, and thus favoring the return of capitalism through the bathroom window having unceremoniously kicked it out through the front door?  

 

So don't  we need a considered "communist program" of some kind, in advance of seizing power?  

Alf
October

Fred - in your previous post you already seem to be saying that the Russian revolution brought us the lesson that we "can't just take hold of the bourgeois state and wield it for our own purposes", as Engels put it. Does this mean that you are one of the comrades who "think the revolutionary wave which began in 1917 eventually ushered in nothing more revolutionary than "social democracy"; and that this was because the working class didn't really know what it was doing, where it was going, or what it wanted to start to achieve.  The Bolsheviks hardly tried to do anything communist, but seized control of the bourgeois state, and used it for their own purposes whilst waiting for the German proletariat to solve the problem of what to do next"

But this isn't how Bilan, or the ICC, see it. The lesson about not seizing control of the bourgeois state comes from 1871, the Paris Commune. The lesson from Russia was that even if you do create a new kind of state in place of the old one, it can still turn agaist you.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fred
Having lost my first reply

Having lost my first reply I'll try again!   Yes Alf I do think that the outcome of the revolutionary wave was Social Democracy, eventually  leading to fascism. But it also provided us a collection of vital lessons.  Perhaps the one you point out "that even if you do create a new kind of state it can still turn against you," is significant; but did the Bolsheviks try to create a new kind of state anyway?  

 

But it I think the main lesson is that we need to know what we're doing and where we want to go.  Rosa said the question could only be posed in Russia.  But when it was posed in Germany it hardly received a better answer, did it?  Next time round we'll need to be much better prepared and perhaps have "the communist program" referred to by Leo at hand to help us?  

Fred
When Rosa said "the question

When Rosa said "the question could only be posed in Russia..."  what exactly is the question?  And when Leo talks about "the communist program" what exactly is it?  

 

 

Alf
State and Revolution

The most important issue regarding the communist programme in 1917 was the necessity to smash the bourgeois state and replace it with a new kind of state, controlled by the working class. Lenin wrote State and Revolution in order to clear a path through the fog created by social democracy which had progressively lost touch with the marxist understanding of the state. So unless we agree with liberals and anarchists who say that Lenin only wrote this to bamboozle the masses and take power into his own hands, then yes the Bolsheviks did initially make the heroic attempt to create a new kind of state.

https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201212/5385/communism-agenda-history-part-2-lenins-state-and-revolution-striking

LBird
State equals counterrevolution?

Alf wrote:
Lenin wrote State and Revolution ... So unless we agree with liberals and anarchists who say that Lenin only wrote this to bamboozle the masses and take power into his own hands...
[my bold]

Well, Alf, given Lenin's earlier writings (on class and consciousness) and later practice (Bolshevik state policies), even for Marxists it's an arguable viewpoint!

lem_
i do think that Alf's (as is

i do think that Alf's (as is usual) position is the stronger one.

without sinking into pragmatics, if the working class have a very to fairly limited time frame, then we probably ought to pin some 'sainthood' onto the bolsheviks - if possible.

 

may reply more later...

 

edited to add that "it reeks of menshevism and stageism" you guys really need a glossary. i can find my way - but i've been talking with you for years ha :-)

Fred
Lenin as bamboozler

LBird wrote:

Alf wrote:
Lenin wrote State and Revolution ... So unless we agree with liberals and anarchists who say that Lenin only wrote this to bamboozle the masses and take power into his own hands...
[my bold]

Well, Alf, given Lenin's earlier writings (on class and consciousness) and later practice (Bolshevik state policies), even for Marxists it's an arguable viewpoint!

iIr may be "arguable" LBird but what would be the point?   For Lenin 1917 fell between his earlier writings and later Bolshevik mistakes with regard to state policies.  It could be argued  that at this point in his revolutionary existence  (or life as a bamboozler )  he attained his zenith  as a communist revolutionary (or bamboozler)  in breaking with the 2nd. International  and in seeing clearly if only briefly the massive achievement of the class in forming Soviets and assailing the bourgeois state. He must have thought it all a great threat to his  bamboozling plans.  D'you think he confessed  his fears to Trotsky, Kamenev and the others - or just to Stalin who caught on quickly and became his heir?  

 

 I think  Solzynishtin (excuse the spelling) made money from writing novels about Lenin-as-Bamboozler.  But then Solzynishtin was a committed bourgeois and wanted to discredit Lenin  in the eyes of the world. How better to discredit a communist revolutionary than by making out he was, after all, merely a self-seeking bourgeois himself!    What I dont understand, friend and comrade LBird,  is why you  so dislike Lenin and find comfort in seeing the Russian revolution as bourgeois, for sake of argument.  If it is for sake of argument? 

LBird
The Bamboozlist faction (CPSU)

Fred wrote:
What I dont understand, friend and comrade LBird, is why you so dislike Lenin and find comfort in seeing the Russian revolution as bourgeois, for sake of argument. If it is for sake of argument?

I've had to learn to tread carefully here on this site, Fred, for fear of awakening the ferocious pro-Leninists!

I've already been allowed by the ICC (very graciously) to make my views on 'Lenin and the Bolsheviks' known very clearly on earlier threads, and I don't want to antagonise comrades for the sake of it. I just couldn't resist teasing Alf. My apologies to all, if I've caused offence or anger.

Leo
"That's fair enough, Leo. You

"That's fair enough, Leo. You think that the revolution was proletarian.

I'm merely pointing out that other Marxists think that it wasn't. Including me."

Sure, of course. I'm not saying that marxists can't think the Russian Revolution was bourgeois. I think they would be mistaken, but I wouldn't say they aren't marxists because they do so.

"The best way to carry the discussion forward (for the world proletariat, if not for those who look to Bolshevism) is to examine what we mean by 'proletarian revolution'.

If one defines 'proletarian revolution' to be 'a revolution carried out by the class conscious majority of proletarians' (ie. following Marx, that the emancipation of the class must be the act of the class itself), then clearly 1917 was not a 'proletarian revolution'."

I disagree, based on the same definition.

"Firstly, the proletariat was a very minor class (the peasantry was the vast majority);"

The proletariat wasn't the biggest class in Russia as a whole, it might be argued. Yet it wasn't a minor class in Moscow, Petrograd and other cities, it was in fact the major class. Can the proletariat in the cities not make a revolution just because there is a countryside in the country? By this approach, one can't claim to defend the idea of a world revolution but a Western revolution.

"Secondly, the proletariat did not contain a Communist majority, even within itself (never mind a majority within the entire society)."

Didn't it? By October there was a communist majority in the Soviets which is, in my opinion, the place to look at if we are inquiring on whether the proletariat had a communist majority or not.

"Leo gives: " openly abandoning of the communist program" as an example of how we'd know a revolution was dead. But at the risk of sounding silly I'm left wondering what exactly the communist program is?"

What I'd mean wasd quite simply the world revolution but I'm happy that my comment lead to a different and very interesting discussion.

LBird
A 'Minority Method' is not Marxist

Leo wrote:
Can the proletariat in the cities not make a revolution just because there is a countryside in the country? By this approach, one can't claim to defend the idea of a world revolution but a Western revolution.
[my bold]

When? Now? 1917? 1848? Or 2114?

The proletariat have to be the vast majority on this planet, and the proletariat has to be class conscious.

Any other conception leads to a minority of humans directing the majority. That is essentially anti-Marx, and pro-Lenin.

I'm not a Leninist, Leo. I have no time for 'party consciousness', 'professional revolutionaries', 'cadres' or 'peasant-based revolutions'.

'By this approach', the time is not yet ripe. I'm not a voluntarist.

We need the objective conditions of the proletariat being the vast majority across the entire planet, and that proletariat has to both consciously want Communism, and be prepared to act for itself to bring it to fruition.

If that means the answer is '2114', so be it.

KT
It's not entirely about majorities...

L Bird wrote: “The proletariat have to be the vast majority on this planet, and the proletariat has to be class conscious. Any other conception leads to a minority of humans directing the majority. That is essentially anti-Marx, and pro-Lenin.”

I think other interpretations of Marxism are possible and necessary.

1)     It’s not, fundamentally, a question of majorities and minorities even if it is true that the exploiting class is a small minority and the exploited is the vast majority. But the proletariat, the working class, is more than merely the exploited, which includes lumpens, small peasants, artisans, the dispossessed, the ‘declasse’ elements etc.

The working class is the revolutionary class of capitalism not merely because of numeric factors but because of its position in the process of capitalist production - as the producer class - which can’t escape its own exploitation without freeing all humanity from this scourge.

 

2)      While it’s indeed true that the working class must develop its historic consciousness of itself as a unique and historic class with a specific goal (an end to exploitation which we call communism), this is not a finished process and, indeed, is one only honed in and through the struggle. Thus class consciousness, revolutionary consciousness and communist consciousness are all linked, but are not the same thing and correspond to different moments, IMO.

It is precisely the notion of a unified, homogenous working class perfectly conscious of every aspect of communism before it attempts a global revolution that is idealist, anti-marxist.

Finally and briefly, though it can be developed further (and there are many texts on this site which do so), this discussion began in relation to Russia 1917. The notion that the small proletariat in this vast, relatively backward country could have any say in the sparking of a global revolution is by no means ridiculous in theory or in practice.

To quote from the intervention of an ICC sympathiser in a Libcom discussion:

In Russia in 1914, there were ‘officially’ only 2,900,000 industrial workers (and millions of agricultural workers – often confused with ‘the peasantry’ from which they had emerged after decades under capitalist social relations).

“Nonetheless, this combative urban proletariat (the number of strikes rose from 892 in 1908 to 3,574 in 1914) was concentrated in some of the most modern factories and facilities in the world (built courtesy of international finance – particularly from France which in 1906 ‘loaned’ the Tsarist state 2,250 million francs – ‘the largest loan yet made in the history of mankind’ according to the then Russian Prime Minister).

“Nearly 50% of these workers toiled in factories of over 1000 employees. With over 40,000 workers, Putilov was the biggest factory in the world. In a backward country (nonetheless ranked 5th in the world in terms of output in 1917), workers operated the essential nerve centres: coal ,oil and textile production, transport (the trans-Siberian railway, completed in 1905, gave Russia more rail-miles in any other country bar the US – Trotsky got his figures wrong on this aspect) and communication (the telegraph and telephone companies; the press and print operations). As Marxism has long pointed out, it’s not only the consciousness and organisation of the workers that gives them their potential power – it’s their central place in the process of capitalist production.

“This theory of the revolutionary role of the proletariat that was Marxism – the first translation of Das Capital was into Russian – was already well-established in the country (as also was a strong anarchist tradition). It produced a minority social democratic party which, especially after 1903, had as its main focus the spreading of this theory away from the students and intellectuals amongst whom it had first found favour directly into the ranks of the growing working class itself.

“The self-organisation of the workers that expressed itself in the formation of workers, soldiers and sailors councils (Soviets) both in 1905 and 1917 drew on centuries of rural self government (albeit within the framework of an absolutist state) - the Mir (see posts above) from which the workers had only recently emerged. Under crumbling Tsarist absolutism, with a feeble, subservient bourgeoisie, there was little bourgeois democratic mystification – unions had been banned until 1906 and there was no tradition of parliamentary democracy. Despite their numerical weakness, the class consciousness of the Russian proletarians was not overly burdened with decades of reformist illusions. This in no way implies that workers didn’t struggle to improve their existence under capitalism – as we’ve seen above, there was a rising curve of defensive yet political strikes. Yet the fact that between 1908 and 1914 there was roughly 40% inflation while wages only rose 8% meant that every strike not only brought workers directly up against the state, but that a complete overturning of the existing order increasingly presented itself as the only solution to their predicament. Then there were the terrible privations of the 1914 war...

“In short, whatever label you care to put on it (proletarian, bourgeois, peasant or any mixture) the numerical weakness of the working class in Russia did not prevent it from being the main lever of revolution in Russia in 1917, or the fact that its seizure of power was a source of immense inspiration of workers around the world.

“If some of the backward specificities of Russia actually aided a seizure of power by the Soviets and the Bolshevik Party in tandem, the fundamental conditions which produced this phenomenon existed in every major metropole on the planet, as the following years of international, often insurrectionary struggles showed.....”

 

LBird
Sad news

KT wrote:
It is precisely the notion of a unified, homogenous working class perfectly conscious of every aspect of communism before it attempts a global revolution that is idealist, anti-marxist.

As opposed to "the notion of a unified, homogenous party perfectly conscious of every aspect of communism before it attempts a global revolution" being 'materialist, pro-marxist'?

We've had the entire 20th century to work this out, KT. Leninism hasn't worked, either in Russia or in the form of literally hundreds (if not thousands) of Leninist/Trotskyist sects throughout the world, with their focus on 'the lessons of 1917' and their 'Central Committees' and 'democratic centralism'.

Workers won't be taken in, anymore. There are too many of us who've tried it, and found it useless for developing our confidence. Criticism and dissent is required, not 'party loyalty'.

KT wrote:
The notion that the small proletariat in this vast, relatively backward country could have any say in the sparking of a global revolution is by no means ridiculous in theory or in practice.

Perhaps this was an acceptable punt in 1917, but no-one believes it now. The western working classes were not capable of taking power, and the rest of the working classes did not then exist.

It is 'ridiculous in theory and practice', unfortunately, comrade.

KT
Sad Approach

KT wrote:

“It is precisely the notion of a unified, homogenous working class perfectly conscious of every aspect of communism before it attempts a global revolution that is idealist, anti-marxist.”

L Bird Replied: “As opposed to ‘the notion of a unified, homogenous party perfectly conscious of every aspect of communism before it attempts a global revolution" being 'materialist, pro-marxist'?

Who is making this “as opposed to”, this false opposition? Not me, or the ICC or the Left Communists of the past 80 or so years. And the truth is, such a false opposition (which no-one but you is making) does not help our discussion progress.

L Bird said: (of the period in 1917-1928): “The western working classes were not capable of taking power, and the rest of the working classes did not then exist.”

I would argue

a)     there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution. 

b)     The argument that the working class outside Europe in this period “did not then exist” is an empirical nonsense. 

jk1921
Conflations

KT wrote:

a)     there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution. 

I'd agree, but this is where materialism gets tricky and this is borne out by the trajectory of left communism in the ensuing decades, where the kind of stageism that Leo mentioned became popular along with various forms of materialist determinism that were ostensibly supposed to be made in the name of anti-determinist versions of Marxism, i.e. the Russian Revolution could only have been bourgeois, because only bourgeois tasks were on the historical agenda at the time. Council communism coming full circle to Menshevist/Kautskyite positions, etc. 

Still, if the working class failed to take power, we have to explain why it failed to do so. We always seem to fall back on some kind of ideological explanation for this (as did the first generation of left communists), enthrallment to democracy etc. But then, in a sort of infinite regress, this only begs the question of why these ideological forces "worked" in a given historical context. It then becomes very tempting to fall back on materialist determinism again--the ideology worked because it fit the given conditions.  Its this kind of reasonsing, then, that seems to lead to conflating things like "failed to carry the revolution through" with "could not have carried it through." These kinds of conflations, confusions, etc. are rampant in the history of Marxism. They are a real theoretical problem that needs to be confronted.

LBird
Empirical doesn't mean meaningful

KT wrote:
I would argue

a) there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution.

b) The argument that the working class outside Europe in this period “did not then exist” is an empirical nonsense.

On point a), see A. Simpleton's quote about the lack of political development and consciousness of the German working class of 1919, on the other thread;

On point b), are you suggesting that a 'working class of 5% of the population, the rest being peasants' constitutes 'existence', in the context of our discussion? To my mind, it doesn't exist in any meaningful political sense.

But, if the conversation is going to reduce itself to the assertion that the presence of any workers constitutes meaningful existence, then I'll restate my factual position.

The working class outside Europe in this period did not exist.

If KT is minded to point to some minor examples which carry no social, political or economic weight, then the discussion becomes pointless.

Leo
"When? Now? 1917? 1848? Or

"When? Now? 1917? 1848? Or 2114?"

In 1917, now and in 2114 though I don't think world revolution was possible in 1848.

"The proletariat have to be the vast majority on this planet"

But this is a different subject - we are talking about countries, not the planet. Can the proletariat in a country make a revolution as a part of the world revolution even if it isn't in the vast majority in that given country? I think this is what we are discussing.

"and the proletariat has to be class conscious."

According to Marx, humanity starts an effort and finishes it by obtaining full consciousness of it. And the Russian proletariat was as class conscious as any working class can be in 1917.Seriously, I can't think of many examples of a more class conscious proletariat.

"Any other conception leads to a minority of humans directing the majority. That is essentially anti-Marx, and pro-Lenin."

I don't think Lenin had a conception for a minority directing the majority. This might well have been the practice him and his party ended up conducting and justifying but I don't think that was how he thought things would turn out or how he wanted things to turn out.

"I'm not a Leninist, Leo."

Neither am I.

"I have no time for 'party consciousness', 'professional revolutionaries', 'cadres' or 'peasant-based revolutions'.",

To my knowledge, no one is talking about any of these subjects - certainly I'm not. In any case I don't see how any of these concepts relate to the subject. At the beginning of the 1900s, Lenin borrowed the conception of party-consciousness or socialist consciousness vs. what was called trade-union consciousness from Kautsky. This wasn't a line which he kept defending or applied much during WW1. Professional revolutionaries was a quick yet mistaken solution to the problem of time and it turned out that even for the Bolsheviks, it was the militants who worked who did the best contribution rather than the ones who were paid by the party because, as it turns out, a communist organization needs its militants to be in the workplace. Cadres simply means a serious militant and is not just Lenin's or a Leninist concept. I don't think Lenin described the Russian Revolution as a peasant-based revolution. It was, quite clearly and plainly not a peasant-based revolution and the Bolsheviks ended up not getting along well with the actual peasant movement (the Makhnovists).

"'By this approach', the time is not yet ripe. I'm not a voluntarist."

There were, of course, those who said the time is not yet ripe, we're not voluntarists to the Russian workers in 1917. As it turned out, neither history nor the workers themselves treated such people very kindly.

"We need the objective conditions of the proletariat being the vast majority across the entire planet, and that proletariat has to both consciously want Communism, and be prepared to act for itself to bring it to fruition.

If that means the answer is '2114', so be it."

I wouldn't recommend telling workers who are rising up not do so and that they have to wait for 2114.

As I said, I think this approach is very similar to Menshevism and other forms of stageism although I doubt these currents are your historical referances.

In reality, so long as the world we live in is capitalist, so long as there is a world market, and a working class in every country - which was the case one hundred years ago and is the case now - it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if the workers are the 5% of the country or 95% of the country when it comes to whether there can be a revolution or not. Workers live in cities, not the countryside and the center of the power of the bourgeoisie and the state is in the cities as well. If the working class can overthrow the bourgeoisie in the cities, it can become the master of the whole country, no matter how isolated it is in the cities. It doesn't matter if there is a single city and the rest of the country is dominated by the peasantry because it's that city which rules the country anyway. And it doesn't matter because, fundamentally, a revolution in this or that country is a part of an international revolutionary wave or it is nothing and the workers of the said country will rise or fall with the workers of the whole world anyway. The peasantry didn't doom the October Revolution and even if there were no peasants in Russia, even if the whole country was made up of workers, the final outcome wouldn't be different.

LBird
Stuck in the same old groove

Leo wrote:
It doesn't matter if the workers are the 5% of the country or 95% of the country when it comes to whether there can be a revolution or not. Workers live in cities, not the countryside and the center of the power of the bourgeoisie and the state is in the cities as well. If the working class can overthrow the bourgeoisie in the cities, it can become the master of the whole country, no matter how isolated it is in the cities. It doesn't matter if there is a single city and the rest of the country is dominated by the peasantry because it's that city which rules the country anyway.

I don't recognise any of this as 'Marxism' or 'Communism', Leo. To me, it reads of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

No democracy, minority in command, 'power' as the determinant of 'right', no appreciation of the lack of socio-economic development, no demand for widespread consciousness and support for our views...

As Communists, we should have learnt by now that this conception didn't work in practice in Russia in 1917, and hasn't worked in theory either, in recruiting workers to our ideas throughout the 20th century.

IMO, the reason we are still an irrelevant minority is because of the ideas that you express in that quote.

Perhaps given our terribly slow development, our not learning from history, perhaps 2114 is far too optimistic...

MH
ideological?

jk1921 wrote:

Still, if the working class failed to take power, we have to explain why it failed to do so. We always seem to fall back on some kind of ideological explanation for this (as did the first generation of left communists), enthrallment to democracy etc. But then, in a sort of infinite regress, this only begs the question of why these ideological forces "worked" in a given historical context.

JK, I don’t think it’s fair to say the ICC falls back on ‘ideological explanations’ for the failure of the revolutionary wave 1917-23. In fact this sounds a little bit to me like one of LBird’s famous ‘straw man’ arguments…

If you read this article for instance,

https://en.internationalism.org/node/3623        

the reasons for the failure of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 are shown clearly as rooted not just in ‘ideological’ factors (incomprehension of the new conditions for the class struggle created by the sudden entry of capitalism into decadence, etc.) but the objective conditions created by the war, with its division of the proletariat into ‘victorious’ and ‘defeated’ countries which prevented a unification of the struggles, and – not least of course – constituted a huge blood-letting for the proletariat, a draining of its physical forces.

LBird
Ideas from the swamp?

MH wrote:
In fact this sounds a little bit to me like one of LBird’s famous ‘straw man’ arguments…

At least my 'straw men' provide some much needed 'stiffening' for the 'formless mud' of the ICC's present stance!

Together we can build this Communist hut, comrades!

MH
are you sure?

LBird wrote:

But, if the conversation is going to reduce itself to the assertion that the presence of any workers constitutes meaningful existence, then I'll restate my factual position.

The working class outside Europe in this period did not exist.

If KT is minded to point to some minor examples which carry no social, political or economic weight, then the discussion becomes pointless.

Are you really sure you want to defend this? No qualifiers at all? No clarification to avoid misunderstanding? That of course you forgot to mention the existence of the vast industrial proletariat of North America, along with its massive struggles during the 1917-23 revolutionary wave (Seattle, Winnipeg General Strikes, steelworkers’, miners’ and railroad workers’ strikes, etc?). Or, come to think of it, the struggles of the workers in South America (Sao Paulo Commune 1917, ‘Tragic Week in Argentina 1919). Or, then again, the mass strike in Australia in 1917, the unprecedented strike wave in Japan in 1918, the massive struggles of the Chinese proletariat (Canton general strike 1925, Shanghai Commune 1927)…  No? 

Given your previous claims to identify with the council communist movement this betrays either a woeful ignorance of the history of the workers’ movement or a wilful separation from it.

 

LBird
Round in circles, again?

MH wrote:
Given your previous claims to identify with the council communist movement this betrays either a woeful ignorance of the history of the workers’ movement or a wilful separation from it.

Well, if you can't be arsed to put my 'declaration' in the context of this thread (and originally I said 'western', not 'European', which was another invention), I'll take that as a compliment to my 'woeful ignorance'.

jk1921
Straw-Man?

MH wrote:

jk1921 wrote:

Still, if the working class failed to take power, we have to explain why it failed to do so. We always seem to fall back on some kind of ideological explanation for this (as did the first generation of left communists), enthrallment to democracy etc. But then, in a sort of infinite regress, this only begs the question of why these ideological forces "worked" in a given historical context.

JK, I don’t think it’s fair to say the ICC falls back on ‘ideological explanations’ for the failure of the revolutionary wave 1917-23. In fact this sounds a little bit to me like one of LBird’s famous ‘straw man’ arguments…

If you read this article for instance,

https://en.internationalism.org/node/3623        

the reasons for the failure of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 are shown clearly as rooted not just in ‘ideological’ factors (incomprehension of the new conditions for the class struggle created by the sudden entry of capitalism into decadence, etc.) but the objective conditions created by the war, with its division of the proletariat into ‘victorious’ and ‘defeated’ countries which prevented a unification of the struggles, and – not least of course – constituted a huge blood-letting for the proletariat, a draining of its physical forces.

I never mentioned the ICC MH, so in this sense your refutation of my "straw-man" argument is itself a bit of a straw-man. But the resort to ideological explanations for the failure of the revolutionary wave is rampant in the history of left communism. It was the entire thrust of Gorter and Pannekoek's work--the "spiritual attachment" to democracy. Of course, this eventually proved unsatisfactory and later council communists started to go in for more "materialist" explanations for why the revolutionary wave failed. Moreover, even Gorter and Pannekoek's work begged the question of why there was such a "spiritual attachment" to democracy--something which Michels had actually taken up earlier in his explorations of the bureaucratic nature of Social Democracy.

But, if the ICC thinks the objective conditions of the war were the reason for the failure of the wave, then does it agree with LBird that the revolution was not "objectively" possible in 1917-1923? Of course, its not even entirely clear that the division of the world into "victorious" and "defeated" countries is really an objective condition.

Still, this misses the real thrust of what I was trying to say, that regardless of the role of ideology in an historical event, there tends to be a need/temptation to go one step deeper to explain why the ideology "worked," and thus resort to some kind of objective-material argument. In a sense, you kind of proved my point above. The real reason for the failure of the revolutionary wave was the war. Therefore, in a sense, its not even right to say it "failed." It simply could not have ended otherwise. The proletariat could not do anything about the war. It had no agency to change that. History is its own justification. There are no counter-factual alternate realities, etc. What happened was what only could have happened, etc.

My point in opening this up was to try to delve deeper into the distinction KT made between "the revolution failed" and "the revolution was not objectively possible."

jk1921
Even...

LBird wrote:

MH wrote:
In fact this sounds a little bit to me like one of LBird’s famous ‘straw man’ arguments…

At least my 'straw men' provide some much needed 'stiffening' for the 'formless mud' of the ICC's present stance!

Together we can build this Communist hut, comrades!

So even my straw-men arguments are defective when judged in the light of your own? 

Good to know......

Fred
KT wrote Quote:    there is a

KT wrote

Quote:
    there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution.
 

 The class failed in its attempt to take power.  Is this true?  Did it even  try to take power in any country other than Russia?  Did it fully understand that, if the revolution was to succeed, it had to take power? We know that now. Did they consciously know that then?  So you could argue that while it was capable in terms of numbers of making the revolution, as a fully conscious material force it wasn't up to it, and didn't know what its duty was.  It was "not capable" because not sufficiently aware.  It didn't "fail" because it never got as far as trying.  

 

 

LBird
Faith not science

Fred wrote:
Did it fully understand that, if the revolution was to succeed, it had to take power? We know that now. Did they consciously know that then?
[my bold]

I think that it's not true that 'we know that now'.

The proletariat, even 100 years later, does not know that 'it had to take power'.

That's why I argue that the proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed even now, never mind then.

The Leninist/Troskyist 'belief' that the proletariat 'took power' in Russia in 1917, or was capable of this in Germany in 1919, is based upon 'faith', not on any socially-objective attempt by the proletariat now to try to understand its own history and (lack of) development.

The sooner we collectively wake to that reality, the better, for us all, comrades.

jk1921
Material Forces

Fred wrote:

KT wrote

Quote:
    there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution.
 

 The class failed in its attempt to take power.  Is this true?  Did it even  try to take power in any country other than Russia?  Did it fully understand that, if the revolution was to succeed, it had to take power? We know that now. Did they consciously know that then?  So you could argue that while it was capable in terms of numbers of making the revolution, as a fully conscious material force it wasn't up to it, and didn't know what its duty was.  It was "not capable" because not sufficiently aware.  It didn't "fail" because it never got as far as trying.  

Here Fred does something I didn't anticipate. Rather than blame the failure of the revolution on some ideological gambit, he seems to want to broaden the definition of what counts as a "material force" to incluce the proletariat's consciousness itself. He then decides this was not sufficiently developed in 1917-1928 and therefore the revolution was not objectively possible (and therefore its not even accurate to say it "failed"). Do I have that right?

But, this still begs the question of why consciousness was not sufficiently developed? There seems to be an entire level of analysis missing. In the end though, if we are going to continue to claim to be materialists we have to specify those things that are material forces and those that are not. What kinds of things are determinants and what things are determined? What are causes and what are effects? If we can't come up with some consistent criteria for these things, we risk slipping into incoherence and losing any analytical power materialism is supposed to provide. "Everything is determined by everything else" might sound like some powerful dialectical logic, but it seems ultimately meaningless if we were to attempt to actually apply it concretely.

jk1921
Hold On

LBird wrote:

The Leninist/Troskyist 'belief' that the proletariat 'took power' in Russia in 1917, or was capable of this in Germany in 1919, is based upon 'faith', not on any socially-objective attempt by the proletariat now to try to understand its own history and (lack of) development.

The sooner we collectively wake to that reality, the better, for us all, comrades.

Hold on a minute. So Leninists and Trotskysists are actually sincere people who had faith in the proletartiat to take power on their own and not scheming, power hungry, mad men that exploited the proletariat for their own political ends? I am confused.

LBird
Confused

jk1921 wrote:

LBird wrote:

The Leninist/Troskyist 'belief' that the proletariat 'took power' in Russia in 1917, or was capable of this in Germany in 1919, is based upon 'faith', not on any socially-objective attempt by the proletariat now to try to understand its own history and (lack of) development.

The sooner we collectively wake to that reality, the better, for us all, comrades.

Hold on a minute. So Leninists and Trotskysists are actually sincere people who had faith in the proletartiat to take power on their own and not scheming, power hungry, mad men that exploited the proletariat for their own political ends? I am confused.

As ever, eh, jk?

jk1921
I don't get what you mean, so

I don't get what you mean, so I guess, yes.

LBird
The usual

jk1921 wrote:

I don't get what you mean, so I guess, yes.

Why must the suggestion of following an erroneous philosophy equal "scheming, power hungry, mad men that exploited the proletariat for their own political ends", in your mind?

jk1921
It doesn't. What does it mean

It doesn't. What does it mean in yours? I honestly can't tell. Are you softening on Leninists?

Fred
jk wrote:Here Fred does

jk wrote:
Here Fred does something I didn't anticipate. Rather than blame the failure of the revolution on some ideological gambit, he seems to want to broaden the definition of what counts as a "material force" to incluce the proletariat's consciousness itself. He then decides this was not sufficiently developed in 1917-1928 and therefore the revolution was not objectively possible (and therefore its not even accurate to say it "failed"). Do I have that right?

Yes jk, you have that right. I have been trying to make the point for some time that the proletariat's consciousness should be seen as part of material reality. But LBird keeps saying that rocks don't talk. So we go nowhere. And as to why this consciousness wasn't developed enough in 1917- 28 ..well, an analogy. As humans we have to learn to walk, then run, then jump etc. A three year old doesn't have the physical ability of a five year old. The consciousness of the proletariat matures slowly, even in high powered learning situations like the 1st. Revolutionary wave. We know a lot more now about what the class should have done at that time, than the class and its revolutionaries knew themselves - including Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky et al. We know we need the Party before the revolt; we know that the party doesn't substitute itself for the class and that nobody seizes power of the bourgeois state etc. These are hard won lessons not matters of faith. The class is probably more mature now than it was in 1917. But can that be "proved"?

jk1921
Good Case

Fred wrote:
jk wrote:
Here Fred does something I didn't anticipate. Rather than blame the failure of the revolution on some ideological gambit, he seems to want to broaden the definition of what counts as a "material force" to incluce the proletariat's consciousness itself. He then decides this was not sufficiently developed in 1917-1928 and therefore the revolution was not objectively possible (and therefore its not even accurate to say it "failed"). Do I have that right?
Yes jk, you have that right. I have been trying to make the point for some time that the proletariat's consciousness should be seen as part of material reality. But LBird keeps saying that rocks don't talk. So we go nowhere. And as to why this consciousness wasn't developed enough in 1917- 28 ..well, an analogy. As humans we have to learn to walk, then run, then jump etc. A three year old doesn't have the physical ability of a five year old. The consciousness of the proletariat matures slowly, even in high powered learning situations like the 1st. Revolutionary wave. We know a lot more now about what the class should have done at that time, than the class and its revolutionaries knew themselves - including Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky et al. We know we need the Party before the revolt; we know that the party doesn't substitute itself for the class and that nobody seizes power of the bourgeois state etc. These are hard won lessons not matters of faith. The class is probably more mature now than it was in 1917. But can that be "proved"?

You make a strong case here Fred, but I think a conclusion of what you are saying is that the revolution really wasn't possible in 1917-1928. I don't think the ICC will agree with that. That doesn't mean you are wrong of course. It would be good to explore this further......

LBird
Baffled

jk1921 wrote:

It doesn't. What does it mean in yours? I honestly can't tell. Are you softening on Leninists?

I've tried to engage with you, several times, jk, and I confess that I'm baffled as to how to proceed any further in a discussion with you.

LBird
Material

Fred wrote:
Yes jk, you have that right. I have been trying to make the point for some time that the proletariat's consciousness should be seen as part of material reality. But LBird keeps saying that rocks don't talk.

The problem, Fred, is that the claim that "the proletariat's consciousness should be seen as part of material reality" means either everything or nothing.

To argue that the seat of 'consciousness' is the brain isn't to argue that 'consciousness' is the brain. That is, in some sense you're right to say what you say, but in another you're mistaken. That's the subtlety to be explored.

jk1921
Set me Straight?

LBird wrote:

jk1921 wrote:

It doesn't. What does it mean in yours? I honestly can't tell. Are you softening on Leninists?

I've tried to engage with you, several times, jk, and I confess that I'm baffled as to how to proceed any further in a discussion with you.

You could start by explaining in more detail your opinion on Leninists. Are they misguided tragic figures following a mistaken philosophy or are they objectively anti-revolutionary state capitalists bent on manipulating the proletariat to their own ends? I am sorry if you think this is putting words in your mouth--maybe it is--but you know that this is the council communist rub on Leninists in broad terms and you say you are a council communist. Do you agree or not? I'll concede it is possible I may have misinterpreted your stance previously--so set me straight.

jk1921
Agree

LBird wrote:

The problem, Fred, is that the claim that "the proletariat's consciousness should be seen as part of material reality" means either everything or nothing.

I'll agree with you here.

LBird wrote:

To argue that the seat of 'consciousness' is the brain isn't to argue that 'consciousness' is the brain. That is, in some sense you're right to say what you say, but in another you're mistaken. That's the subtlety to be explored.

Here it sounds like you are itching to demonstrate your knowledge of the arcane ecclesiastical controversies of late nineteenth century materialist epistemology. Anyone who is not initiated in this literature most certainly has little idea what you are talking about, which is probably why Fred can't fathom what you mean about "not talking to rocks."

LBird
Hands off approach

jk1921 wrote:
Are they misguided tragic figures following a mistaken philosophy or are they objectively anti-revolutionary state capitalists bent on manipulating the proletariat to their own ends?

Are these mutually exclusive options?

jk1921 wrote:
I am sorry if you think this is putting words in your mouth--maybe it is...

Yeah, perhaps it is...

You seem to have firm opinions, jk, and who I am to disabuse you of them?

If nothing else, at least my failing explanations are confirming your opinions. That's OK by me, comrade.

LBird
Arcane, or just hidden?

jk1921 wrote:
Here it sounds like you are itching to demonstrate your knowledge of the arcane ecclesiastical controversies of late nineteenth century materialist epistemology. Anyone who is not initiated in this literature most certainly has little idea what you are talking about...

This is very ironic, considering that you most certainly are 'initiated in this literature'.

That's why you hold the opinions you do, on science and its method, for example. I've tried very hard to introduce and explain these issues, to any here who are interested, but I seem to be a poor teacher.

This 'controversy' is most certainly a 'live' one for all Marxists. I'd argue that the erroneous philosophical path that 'Communists' have taken, since Engels, is the source of many of our failings. Unless we address these 'not-so-arcane' issues, we're doomed to repeat the 20th century, IMO.

jk1921
Not really

LBird wrote:

Are these mutually exclusive options?

I think they might be.

LBird wrote:

You seem to have firm opinions, jk, and who I am to disabuse you of them?

If nothing else, at least my failing explanations are confirming your opinions. That's OK by me, comrade.

Not really. If you have followed recent exchanges I have been involved with on this fourm, you'd see that I am full of self-doubt and questioning to the point where I might justly be criticized for elevating doubt and skeptcism to ends in themselves.

jk1921
Why care?

LBird wrote:

This is very ironic, considering that you most certainly are 'initiated in this literature'.

Why is this ironic? Just because I've had the misfortune of reading just enough of this stuff at one point in time to vaguely recognize the context of what you are talking about doesn't mean we can expect everyone else to be able to relate to these debates in the way of the initiated.

LBird wrote:

This 'controversy' is most certainly a 'live' one for all Marxists. I'd argue that the erroneous philosophical path that 'Communists' have taken, since Engels, is the source of many of our failings. Unless we address these 'not-so-arcane' issues, we're doomed to repeat the 20th century, IMO.

The controversy over the right relationship between materialist ontology and epistemology may or may not be of burning importance to the fate of Marxism. Certainly, there is controversy over this assertion. Pannekoek most certainly thought so, which is why he spent a chunk of time in the late 1930s examining the controversies of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century philosophy in order to show why Lenin's flawed appropriation of "middle class" materialism foreshadowed to the fate of the Russian Revolution. But the Gauche Communiste de France (GCF) disagreed feeling Pannekoek had made a mountain out of a molehill, transforming Lenin's philosophical mistakes into a global explanation for the failure of the revolutionary wave. (I forget if Pannekoek went after Engels or not. I suspect he didn't) The real forces of importance had little to do with an obscure book Lenin wrote in 1908 (09?).

That said, the controversy is certainly not "live" in the sense of there being any burning debate on these questions in what is left of the revolutionary movement today. Its mostly a dead issue--rightly or wrongly. If its so important, and again I am not saying it isn't, how do we go about making this stuff accessible beyond the cloisters of the philosophically sophisticated? Why should people care about it?

LBird
Critical thinking is frowned upon

jk1921 wrote:
Why should people care about it?

You're right, they should just get on with their real lives. Why ask questions, when the answers are already known?

MH
two arguments?

JK, you seem to be making two main arguments here:

  1. There is a tendency within left communism to “resort” to ideological explanations for the failure of the revolutionary wave and

  2. There is a tendency within Marxism, including left communism, which tries to prove that the outcomes of the class struggle (defeat of the revolutionary wave etc) could not have been any different.

Is this fair?

On the first, to keep this as brief as possible, while I pointed to objective as well as subjective factors in the ICC’s analysis, the fundamental reason why the proletariat has not been successful in meeting its various ‘appointments with history’ since 1914, is not the objective conditions (although these have certainly undermined the potential for victory at certain points, eg. the bloodletting of the first world war) but its lack of confidence in itself as an exploited but revolutionary class that can destroy capitalism, faced with the seeming impossibility of creating a new society. Is this an ‘ideological factor’? If it is surely it’s a fundamental one – the factor - as it goes to the roots of the proletariat’s existence as an exploited class in capitalist society and its struggle to develop its self-confidence. I’m not pretending this is the answer to everything, but hopefully it helps put the discussion on a fruitful basis (I think it also starts to respond to some of Fred’s interesting arguments but I’d like to come back to these).

As for the charge of determinism, I don’t think what I said about the objective factors in the defeat of the revolutionary wave proves your point because I did not argue (and do not believe) that these factors made defeat inevitable, that it could not have ended any other way. And I don’t believe the ICC does either. So if there is indeed a tendency towards determinism being revealed in this discussion then I think it needs stronger evidence.

(btw have you seen the interesting “counter-factual alternate realities” posited by the ICC for 20th century history in this very relevant article…?)

I think the fact that the success of the proletariat’s struggle to discover its self-confidence is by no means determined in advance is at the root of many of the recent debates on this forum and the differences expressed about the existence of subterranean maturation of consciousness, the potential positive and negative effects of decomposition and all the difficulties the proletariat faces in struggling today...

Alf
criteria for the conferences

Reflecting on an earlier part of this thread, Leo in his reply to LBird said that there can be marxists who see the October revolution as bourgeois. This is true at one level: Pannekoek in the 1930s is an obvious example. But we also have to see the historical context for the evolution of Pannekok's position at that time - a period of terrible defeat in which there was a strong tendency among revolutionaries to lose sight of the vast importance of what they had themselves been through, not least the Russian revolution which they had initially welcomed and defended as a proletarian experience of unprecedented significance. And this loss of confidence was often leading the same revolutionaries to conclude that the political organisation of revolutionaries, the party, was not only not a necessary element of the proletarian revolution, but an obstacle to it.

This was largely the reason that one of the criteria for taking part in the conferences of the communist left at the end of the 70s was the recognition of the proletarian nature of the October revolution and the Bolshevik party. This did not imply that the groups taking part now considered the councilists as being outside the revolutionary movement, or that henceforward there was no point in discussing with them. But since a long term but specific aim of the conferences was to work towards the formation of a proletarian political party, it would not have made sense to include political currents which openly repudiated the need for such a party.    

I'll try to contribute on this discussion about consciousness and material factors another time. But I strongly support MH's last post

MH
in response to Fred

jk1921 wrote:

Fred wrote:

KT wrote

Quote:
    there is a big difference between saying that the working class in western Europe failed in its attempt to “take power” , to make a revolution between 1917-1928, and the alleged 'fact' that it was “not capable” of making such a revolution.
 

 The class failed in its attempt to take power.  Is this true?  Did it even  try to take power in any country other than Russia?  Did it fully understand that, if the revolution was to succeed, it had to take power? We know that now. Did they consciously know that then?  So you could argue that while it was capable in terms of numbers of making the revolution, as a fully conscious material force it wasn't up to it, and didn't know what its duty was.  It was "not capable" because not sufficiently aware.  It didn't "fail" because it never got as far as trying.  

Here Fred does something I didn't anticipate. Rather than blame the failure of the revolution on some ideological gambit, he seems to want to broaden the definition of what counts as a "material force" to incluce the proletariat's consciousness itself. He then decides this was not sufficiently developed in 1917-1928 and therefore the revolution was not objectively possible (and therefore its not even accurate to say it "failed"). Do I have that right?

But, this still begs the question of why consciousness was not sufficiently developed? There seems to be an entire level of analysis missing. In the end though, if we are going to continue to claim to be materialists we have to specify those things that are material forces and those that are not. What kinds of things are determinants and what things are determined? What are causes and what are effects? If we can't come up with some consistent criteria for these things, we risk slipping into incoherence and losing any analytical power materialism is supposed to provide. "Everything is determined by everything else" might sound like some powerful dialectical logic, but it seems ultimately meaningless if we were to attempt to actually apply it concretely.

I want to respond firstly to Fred’s constructive line of argument and then comment on the response to it so far from jk to see where it gets us.

Firstly, on the empirical level, we have to affirm that the proletariat did indeed attempt to seize power in countries outside Russia. We can and should analyse the political weaknesses involved in these attempts (premature insurrections, failure to understand the centrality of the role of the workers’ councils, confusions about the role of the social democrats, etc), but council republics were proclaimed in November 1918 in German cities like Bremen, then later we have the seizure of power in Bavaria and in Hungary, so it was certainly not just in Russia. And we should also consider those struggles where the proletariat for at least a short time took control of, and exercised power in, cities or regions like Sao Paulo in 1917, Seattle and Winnipeg in 1919, the Shanghai-Canton-Hong Kong general strike in 1925, and the Shanghai Commune of 1927. We can certainly agree with Fred that the proletariat was not “sufficiently” aware of the need to take power, but despite all the weaknesses of these struggles I don’t think we are led to the conclusion that the proletariat was simply not capable of successfully overthrowing capitalism.

Whether Fred is arguing that the revolution was therefore objectively impossible due to the absence of this understanding, as JK reasonably suggests, is not clear. From my previous post on this thread it should be clear that I do not believe this is a correct conclusion;  revolution was objectively possible in 1917 but that doesn’t mean the conditions for its success were altogether favourable…

But Fred’s underlying argument – that the proletariat’s consciousness is itself a material force – is surely the correct starting point for this discussion; after all this is a restatement of Marx’s own understanding. JK’s question is a key one to answer: “why was consciousness not sufficiently developed?”

I would say, there were a number of material reasons why the revolutionary wave failed, some of which were related to objective factors such as the sheer losses the proletariat suffered in the war, and some of which were more related to subjective factors such as the difficulty in assimilating the lessons of the sudden change in period; which in turn help to explain illusions in democracy, attachment to the trade unions, etc.

But I also agree with JK that there is a need to explain the attachment of the proletariat to democracy, which goes deeper than illusions in 19th century parliamentary democracy. I’m sure the ICC has explored this in more depth somewhere, and I’m also sure Bordiga in particular explored this question, if someone can help me out…?

ernie
One reason why the democratic

One reason why the democratic illusions have lasted so long in the heartlands is because capitalism has been able to provide a basic standard of living. It may be very meagre and getting less, especially in the more peripheral countries of the heartlands. Also what is the alternative? If you see no way out of capitalism it's democratic form appears to be the most appealing. The strong hold of democratic lllusions is integrally related to the crushing weight of the counter-revolution. This weight was reinforced even more by the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the "victory" of democracy.

Even before the victory of the counter-revolution, demoracy had a very powerful weight in the heartlands. The idea that the working class could somehow make a place for itself in capitalist society, could accomodate itself was extremely powerful. After WW1 the bourgeoisie made a serious effort to reinforce this idea, for example in Britain building council housing in order to provide a "home for heros", also at the ideological level they contrasted the bloody chaos of the civil war in Russia with stability in the West. Following the horror and exhaustion of WW1 the idea of revolution and civil war was not appealing to many workers who simply wanted to "get on with life" and were exhausted. In Germany by 23 the much of the proletariat was exhausted by the sheer difficulty of getting food etc due to the inflation, and 4 years of constantly being beaten back by the state.

There is much more to the ideological hold of democracy over the class which has deep roots in the nature of capitalism itself. I think the text by Bordiga that MH is referring to is The Democratic Principle: (http://marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1922/democratic-principle.htm) which is fundamental to any in-depth discussion of the weight of democracy.

The key to the proletariat's ability to overcome the weight of democracy is its consciousness of its alternative thus the central importance of the politization of the class.

 

LBird
Anti-democracy is anti-humanity

ernie wrote:
...democratic illusions...  Also what is the alternative? ...democratic lllusions ... the crushing weight of the counter-revolution. ... and the "victory" of democracy.

Even before the victory of the counter-revolution, demoracy had a very powerful weight in the heartlands. ... ideological hold of democracy over the class ...

The key to the proletariat's ability to overcome the weight of democracy is its consciousness ...

Without 'democracy', Communism is meaningless.

Whilst any strand of Communism adhers to an 'anti-democratic' principle, it is doomed.

This is the lesson of the 20th century, and it is still yet to be learned, if ernie's post has any weight amongst Communists. I say this because I suspect that ernie's ideas have more purchase amongst 'Communists' than mine do.

This 'anti-democratic' principle is the source of the isolation of so-called 'Communism' from the world proletariat.

Leo
Democracy is the ideology,

Democracy is the ideology, world-view and war cry of the bourgeoisie.

http://www.sinistra.net/lib/upt/compro/liqe/liqemcicee.html

LBird
Democracy or despotism?

Leo wrote:

Democracy is the ideology, world-view and war cry of the bourgeoisie.

A handy slogan and ideology for Bolsheviks!

Saves consulting the proletariat itself, on its own opinions!

Leo
"Democracy or despotism?" A

"Democracy or despotism?"  A handy slogan and ideology of the world bourgeoisie. Democracy is despotism.

"A handy slogan and ideology for Bolsheviks!"

The Bolsheviks who were democratic centralists.

 

Demogorgon
The argument about

The argument about "democracy" is at cross-purposes. When the ICC talks about democratic illusions, we are talking primarily about parliamentary democracy and certain democratic ideologies that underpin it. We are not proposing despotism as an alternative!

Anyway, I've been thinking about the whole question of democracy recently, so here are some thoughts. Hope they help.

Communist society, in our vision would be characterised very generally by:

  • Structures of power from the ground up - the absolute sovereignty of mass assemblies of workers over all delegated structures (Factory Commitees, Soviets, etc.) - the "party" is not part of the structure of power.
  • All delegated offices responsible to the body that delegated them; all positions immediately revocable by said body; no office to receive compensation beyond what would normally be expected for a skilled worker.
  • Decisions to be reached by consensus where possible, by majority voting where consensus is not possible.
  • The widest possible freedom of expression with debates and discussions in all levels of working class organisation from the assemblies to the central, co-ordinating bodies with no opinions censured. Political parties represent "organised opinion" within the class but have no special privileges otherwise. Any group of workers with shared positions can organise to propagate their positions within the class.
  • Access to the means of intellectual production for all workers, both educational and propagandist. Workers control the press, the internet, etc.

This is what Lenin and Trotsky meant with regard to their differentation between bourgeois and proletarian democracy, with the former being characterised by the dominance of the executive over the assembly, the control of the press in the hands of the ruling class (embodied by private capitalists or the executive itself), limited accountability of delegates to the masses, etc.

Obviously the term "democracy" can itself be criticised in some respects. In a class society, the idea of "the people" (i.e. Demos) obscures the reality of class rule. Formal equality (1 person, 1 vote) disguises the imbalance of power in the wage-labour relationship, not to mention the political expression this finds in the access to power that the bourgeoisie have (parliamentary lobying, press influence, etc.).

The ideology of "democratic equality" is also related to certain ideological precipitates in common thinking. For example, the conception of all ideas being equally valid - they are clearly not! Astrology is bunkum. This does not mean, however, that individuals who hold "invalid" ideas would have no voice or shouldn't be treated with respect (see above). But the ultimate aim of debate within the class is to enable it to collectively cast off such invalid ideas and advance its collective understanding of reality.

The idea of equality finds its material base in the equivalence of labour time which is the foundation of exchange. This equivalence, the domination of the quantitative over the qualitative, is at the heart of capitalist social relationships and is enforced ever more exactly in the labour and exchange process. The progressive aspects of capitalism (better rights for women, racial equality, democracy itself, etc.) have their roots in this radical aspect of wage labour. It is also, of course, the root of the dehumanisation of capitalism even in its most liberal form - and the exploitative nature of capitalism, the extraction of labour, and the necessity to maintain class dominance forms a counter-tendency in the form of prejudice, racism, etc. The increase of formal rights for oppressed groups (e.g. the abolition of apartheid in South Africa) while accompanied by increasing degradation (the condition of black people in SA is now actually worse! A similar contradiction can be seen in the US with the situation of most blacks declining under the regime of the first black President) of those same groups is a sign of the historic crisis at the heart of the wage-labour relationship and the progressive exhaustion of its radical components.

The proletariat has its own reasons to oppose such prejudices, of course, related to the express need to build solidarity and confidence as widely as possible across the class. These relationships are not built upon exchange of equivalents, but are the impulse of collective production and mutual interdependence. In that sense, they are the historical consequences of the evolution of wage-labour and exchange. At the same time, they provide the means to go beyond it and pose the question of a new realm of freedom.

LBird
Centralism denies democracy

Leo wrote:
The Bolsheviks who were democratic centralists.

Yeah, quite.

This means 'non-democrats'. The term 'democratic' in this phrase 'democratic centralism' is padding, for the consumption of fools who don't study history, both of '1917' and of all the Leninist/Trotskist sects since.

Workers have been innoculated against the phrase 'democratic centralism' by experience. There is no democracy within Leninist-style parties, because of the underpinning idea that workers can't develop as a class, and need the leadership of a 'party'. Every worker who joins these parties later leaves, because they soon realise that they don't control the party. If a Central Committee of 50 votes for one policy, then 5,000 members can't overturn it. The notion of a 'directing CC' must be broken. The CC is a permanent faction, against which other positions are condemned as 'factional'.

Why the hell the ICC is still defending the indefensible beats me.

I won't labour the point any further, because I said all this before, so if other posters want to remain Bolsheviks, that's fine by me.

LBird
Power, the central question

Demogorgon wrote:
The argument about "democracy" is at cross-purposes. When the ICC talks about democratic illusions, we are talking primarily about parliamentary democracy and certain democratic ideologies that underpin it. We are not proposing despotism as an alternative!

Anyway, I've been thinking about the whole question of democracy recently, so here are some thoughts. Hope they help.

Communist society, in our vision would be characterised very generally by:

  • Structures of power from the ground up - the absolute sovereignty of mass assemblies of workers over all delegated structures (Factory Commitees, Soviets, etc.) - the "party" is not part of the structure of power.

Simple question, Demogorgon, which I've asked before:

Who controls the keys to the armouries?

The answer to this must be 'the class', not 'the party'.

To accept this, means in effect to accept that the class can disband any of its parties.

Power must lie with the class, not with a party.

 

KT
As Pannekoek wrote....

Posted in agreement with Ernie, Leo and Demogorgon:

“When the new revolution broke out in 1917, the soviets were once again constructed, this time as organs of proletarian power. With the German November Revolution the proletariat took political control of the country and provided the second historical example of proletarian State power. It was in the Russian example, however, that the political forms and principles the proletariat needs to achieve socialism were most clearly presented. These are the principles of communism as opposed to those of social democracy.

“The first principle is that of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx repeatedly maintained that the proletariat, immediately after taking power, must establish its dictatorship. By dictatorship he meant workers power to the exclusion of the other classes. This assertion provoked many protests: justice prohibits such a dictatorship, which privileges certain groups above others which are denied their rights, and instead requires democracy and equality before the law for everyone. But this is not at all the case: each class understands justice and rights to mean what is good or bad for it; the exploiter complains of injustice when he is put to work...

“The democratic principle was the first display of the emergence of the class consciousness of the working class, which did not yet dare to say: I was nothing, but I want to be everything. If the community of all the workers wants to rule and make all the decisions about public affairs, and to be responsible for everything, then will I have to hear about "natural" or heaven-sent rights from all the criminals, thieves, pickpockets, all those who eat at the expense of their fellow men, the war profiteers, black market speculators, landowners, moneylenders, rentiers, all those who live off the labor of others without doing any work themselves? If it is true that each person has a natural right to participate in politics, it is no less true that the whole world has a natural right to live and not to die from hunger. And, if to assure the latter, the former must be curtailed, then no one should feel that their democratic sensibilities have been violated.”

Anton Pannekoek: Social Democracy and Communism (1919) Chapt 5: Proletarian Democracy, or the Council System

http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1927/sdc.htm#h5

LBird
Own goal, by the Bolshevik defender...

KT wrote:
Posted in agreement with Ernie, Leo and Demogorgon: ...

Except, that it doesn't agree with them. It mentions soviets (ie. workers' councils), proletariat, class and workers' power;

no mention of party, professional revolutionaries, or workers being 'naturally' too thick to run their own affairs without the 'guidance' of a Bolshevik-style party headed by a Central Committee based upon the myth of 'democratic centralism'.

Plus, this was written in 1919, before Pannekoek and many others started to really understand the true developments in the 'Soviet Union'.

There was never any workers' democracy in the 'Soviet Union'. That's why Stalin's later methods worked so easily: they'd been used from the start.

Of course, 'material conditions' were really in charge... the rocks made the Bolsheviks do as they were told....

MH
new thread?

I wonder if we need a new thread to take up the question of democracy? Or are we all done for the moment on objective and subjective conditions for revolution, 'material forces', determinist tendencies...?

Thanks to ernie for the Bordiga reference:

The use of certain terms in the exposition of the problems of communism very often engenders ambiguities because of the different meanings these terms may be given. Such is the case with the words democracy and democratic. In its statements of principle, Marxist communism presents itself as a critique and a negation of democracy; yet communists often defend the democratic character of proletarian organizations (the state system of workers' councils, trade unions and the party) and the application of democracy within them. There is certainly no contradiction in this, and no objection can be made to the use of the dilemma, "either bourgeois democracy or proletarian democracy" as a perfect equivalent to the formula "bourgeois democracy or proletarian dictatorship".

The Marxist critique of the postulates of bourgeois democracy is in fact based on the definition of the class character of modern society. It demonstrates the theoretical inconsistency and the practical deception of a system which pretends to reconcile political equality with the division of society into social classes determined by the nature of the mode of production.

Political freedom and equality, which, according to the theory of liberalism, are expressed in the right to vote, have no meaning except on a basis that excludes inequality of fundamental economic conditions. For this reason we communists accept their application within the class organizations of the proletariat and contend that they should function democratically."

Demogorgon
"Simple question, Demogorgon,

"Simple question, Demogorgon, which I've asked before: Who controls the keys to the armouries?"

Actually, you haven't used quite that phrase before, but that's just my inner pedant.

In any case, I will give the same answer that I've given a hundred times before: the class.

LBird
Class will determine Party, not the other way round

Demogorgon wrote:
In any case, I will give the same answer that I've given a hundred times before: the class.

So why should we accept Lenin's views that consciousness can't be developed within the proletariat, by the proletariat itself?

If the class has the guns, its consciousness will prevail. No need for disciplined parties, professional revolutionaries, infallible Central Committees, cadres, 'democratic centralism', etc.

Demogorgon
"So why should we accept

"So why should we accept Lenin's views that consciousness can't be developed within the proletariat, by the proletariat itself?"

Ah, yet another strawman argument! Firstly, no-one in the ICC does accept this position! It is in complete opposition to our position on class consciousness as we have repeatedly and endlessly stated both in our publications and on this forum. If you think we have said this then I challenge you to prove it.

Secondly, Lenin's position on this is actually far more nuanced than most think. Hal Draper demolished this falsification of Lenin's view more than 20 years ago.

"If the class has the guns, its consciousness will prevail. No need for disciplined parties, professional revolutionaries, infallible Central Committees, cadres, 'democratic centralism', etc."

Errrrm, what? The capacity to fire an AK-47 without shooting yourself or a comrade does not automatically translate into class consciousness. Every man and his dog had a gun in Russia in 1917 and beyond, as many workers were also demobbed soldiers. In fact, this was part of the problem. Many of the early CHEKA units were organised, not by the state, but were local initiatives: some under the control of local soviets but many simply gangs who appointed themselves and were little more than bandits using that name.

A significant element of early state formation was the effort to bring the local "commissions" under state control. Dzerzhinkski issued countless decrees trying to reign in the mass arrests, taking of hostages for ransom, summary executions that were carried out on local initiatives. As Serge points out in Year One of the Russian Revolution: "[Zinoviev] pointed to the dangerous vices and pretensions of certain Commissions who were tending to substitute themselves for the local authorities. A tendency towards a dictatorship of the Extraordinary Commissions was becoming visible. He emphasized sharply how necessary it was to punish corrupted commissars with the severest rigour. ... Peters, one of the heads of the Vee-Cheka, protested in the same month at ‘the undesirable forms that the system of terror was assuming in the provinces’ (Izvestia, 29 October). A dispute arose over. the respective spheres of competence of the Commissariat for the Interior and the Chekas. There can be no doubt that a large number of abuses were committed. The running of the prisons, in this epoch of famine, epidemics and an extreme hardening of personal behaviour, was simply detestable (and provoked several interventions in the press from influential Communists)".

The Red Terror wasn't simply a matter of the evil Bolsheviks asserting themselves against the mass of the class, even if they had called for Terror. Much of the Terror was carried on outside of their direct control. This is not to absolve the Bolsheviks for their collossal error in initiating the Terror, but the pitifully crude dichotomy of "Bolshevik - bad, worker - good" is simply false.

Oh, and to avoid any misunderstandings, the ICC is against Red Terror.

LBird
Marx or Lenin?

LBird, post #6, wrote:
The best way to carry the discussion forward (for the world proletariat, if not for those who look to Bolshevism) is to examine what we mean by 'proletarian revolution'.

If one defines 'proletarian revolution' to be 'a revolution carried out by the class conscious majority of proletarians' (ie. following Marx, that the emancipation of the class must be the act of the class itself), then clearly 1917 was not a 'proletarian revolution'.

Firstly, the proletariat was a very minor class (the peasantry was the vast majority);

Secondly, the proletariat did not contain a Communist majority, even within itself (never mind a majority within the entire society).

If one wants to define a 'proletarian revolution' in different terms, and then go on to use that definition to show that 1917 was a 'proletarian revolution', that's fair enough; but the definition should be exposed for all to consider, prior to making a decision about the substantive question.

The best way to resolve these issues, is for the ICC to give an official answer to this question, which I posed earlier, but to which I did not receive a reply.

Just what constitutes a 'proletarian revolution'?

LBird
On power, as usual

Demogorgon wrote:
"So why should we accept Lenin's views that consciousness can't be developed within the proletariat, by the proletariat itself?"

Ah, yet another strawman argument! Firstly, no-one in the ICC does accept this position! It is in complete opposition to our position on class consciousness as we have repeatedly and endlessly stated both in our publications and on this forum. If you think we have said this then I challenge you to prove it.

Secondly, Lenin's position on this is actually far more nuanced than most think. Hal Draper demolished this falsification of Lenin's view more than 20 years ago.

"If the class has the guns, its consciousness will prevail. No need for disciplined parties, professional revolutionaries, infallible Central Committees, cadres, 'democratic centralism', etc."

Errrrm, what? The capacity to fire an AK-47 without shooting yourself or a comrade does not automatically translate into class consciousness.

Demogorgon, you (and the other defenders of Lenin) don't seem to realise that my questions are theoretical questions, aimed precisely at testing your commitment to the view that 'workers can develop their own consciousness' and so don't require a party to bring that in for them.

And the issue of 'who controls the weapons' is a question about this power relationship, not one of historical considerations or 'individual bandits' being armed.

What's more, your answer to the 'AK-47' question denies the view that workers will have the 'class consciousness'.

This is what separates my philosophical and political views from yours.

I'm trying to bring out the central issue which has bedevilled the workers' movement throughout the 20th century. Whilst 'Communists' hang on to the view that they, and not the wider working class, will institute Communism, then all Communists will remain irrelevant.

The test of this is one's view on the power relationships involved between party and class.

In my view, the class will disband any party it sees fit to, or alter its constitution, or remove 'leaders' it identifies as a threat, or ban any policies it decides to.

This makes clear where 'power lies'; ie. power lies in the class organs, not parties.

Parties will have no more than advisory roles in the run up to a revolution. It's the task of Communists to develop the proletariat, but if the proletariat does not have this necessary class consciousness before the revolution, then we will have failed. Communists are not tasked with carrying out the act of revolution. If we Communists are not in the vast majority, the revolution will have failed. It can't be rescued by a minority armed with 'party consciousness'. The class must be Communist.

This philosophical issue is what separates Leninists from Marxists.

baboon
A timely reminder from Demo

A timely reminder from Demo about Hal Draper's important deconstruction of the myths perpetrated against Lenin and "What is to be Done" - and I would also recommend in this respect parts one and two of the ICC's texts on this website "Have we become Leninists?"  Along with Draper, I think it important to situate WITBD in the situation of Russia in the early 1900's, conditions of illegality and spies everywhere, with Lenin insisting that this text wasn't a programmatic recipe, a bible,  but a response to a concrete historical situation of a "young and immature workers' movement" in which the stick was "bent" against economism.. It is also a defence of revolutionary organisation, undertaken by the ICC some time later, against the Menshevik-like "circle spirit".

As Draper says: "What is typical about contemporary Leninology is that it ignores Lenin's clarifications in favour of a purely demonological exegisis". If we were to be kind to L. Bird, if we were to give him the benefit of the doubt, we could say that this is exactly what he is doing.

LBird
Lessons not yet learned by Leninists

baboon wrote:
As Draper says: "What is typical about contemporary Leninology is that it ignores Lenin's clarifications in favour of a purely demonological exegisis". If we were to be kind to L. Bird, if we were to give him the benefit of the doubt, we could say that this is exactly what he is doing.

This is precisely the problem, baboon. You see this as a (faulty) exercise in exegesis. It's as if everything is about 'scriptural authority', and the 'correct' party-line on reading the words of the gods.

Most workers also use their experience in parallel with reading books on philosophy and history. And the overwhelming lesson for workers in the 20th century was that 'exegesis', on the part of both pro- and anti-Leninists, didn't give us a clear answer. I've been in a Leninist organisation, as have all my friends with an interest in political activity: SWP, Militant, Workers' Power, CPGB, even the bloody WRP. And others which were tiny and I've forgotten.

One lesson we all seem to have learned is that 'parties' with a 'Central Committee' using an organisational method called 'democratic centralism' and 'cadres' are actually damaging to workers' self-confidence and thus development and future organisation.

That's why these regimes act as 'revolving doors': they pull in workers who have by their own thoughts and efforts started to reject capitalism, and have started to look to 'Communists' and 'Marxists' for answers. But they find Leninist/Trotskyist parties which by their methods question the ability of the worker to run society. When I questioned the lack of any real democracy (like the right to elect district organisers), I was fobbed off with talk of the CC having the overview of the entire party and knowing better than me. From my point of view, it was their job to try to persuade me, but if they couldn't, then I told them what was the corrrect thing to do. It always baffles me that these parties say that they are trying to recruit the 'best elements' of the class, and then think that they know better than those recruited.

Simple arithmetic: if the party recruits 10 workers, those workers know better than a 5 person CC. The new 10 can overturn the CC's policies. The 10 can remove the CC and institute new policies.

If any "workers' political organisation" doesn't accept this simple arithmetic, then they have something to hide: usually, the party and its CC thinks it knows better than the new recruits.

This isn't 'exegesis', comrades, it's "workers' self-development". That's why workers reject Leninist norms. Those norms are not Marxist, and Russia in 1917 provides no lessons for current workers in the 21st century.

Alf
Left of capital

Perhaps we need a discussiion with you LBird about what we mean by the left of capital. The group you were in was a bourgeois group. One of the reasons it's bourgeois is that they are incapable of defending Lenin's position on imperialist war in 1914, which applies to all wars today. The SWP, CPGB, etc are recruiting sergeants for war. To call them 'Leninist', as the anarchists constantly do, is a way of obscuring their class nature

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