The Russian Revolution
by Brendan Clifford
Two interconnected events that happened 100 years ago this Fall have been affecting the course of world affairs profoundly ever since. The Russian Revolution set out to destroy Capitalism, and Britain, the main force of Capitalism in the world, awarded Palestine, which it had just conquered, to the Jews as the site of a Jewish state under British Imperial hegemony if they colonised it.
The Russian Revolution, which threatened the survival of Capitalism, was widely regarded amongst leaders of the capitalist world as being the work of an international Jewish conspiracy. That is how Winston Churchill saw it.
The deal made between the British Government and the Jewish nationalist movement about Palestine also presumed something in the nature of an international Jewish conspiracy. It is presumed that Jewry had considerable influence internationally as a nation dispersed amongst the nations, and it sought to gain that international influence for the British Empire.
Jews were deeply embedded in German life, both economically and culturally in 1914, so much so that in the British (and Home Rule Irish) war mania they were treated as Germans. The immediate purpose of the Balfour Declaration was to alienate Jews from Germany and establish a German/Jewish antagonism. In that project it was all too successful.
The Bolshevik coup d’état in Russia in October 1917 (November according to the Papist calendar that was universally adopted soon after) survived against all expectations and became a force of social revolution which destabilised Capitalism in Europe in the situation, close to anarchy, that followed the Great War and was a result of it.
European Capitalism, with its accompanying civilisation, was saved by the emergence of Fascist politics.
Fascism was pioneered in Italy during the War by Britain’s ally, Mussolini.
Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist before the war. When the European War begun in August 1914 the Italian Government declared itself neutral. It was supported in this stance by the Catholic Church and the main body of Socialists. But Mussolini, the revolutionary Socialist, combined his Socialism with irredentist Nationalism. He advocated Italian entry into the war against Austria for the purpose of expanding the state by incorporating Austrian territory south of the Alps and on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Britain supported his agitation by means of a secret Treaty (the Treaty of London, 1915) offering to incorporate these territories into the Italian state when it broke up the Austrian Empire.
The essential thing about Fascism, when it came on the scene as a saviour of Europe from the Bolshevik international socialist revolution in the crisis of 1919-20, was this combination of radical socialism with assertive nationalism.
Britain offered to Palestine to the Jews for colonisation, offering to provide them with a framework of Imperial protection, but the work of colonising a territory that was already populated, and displacing that population, had to be done by the Jews themselves.
A moderate British socialist, Richard Crossman, later criticised the Government for not doing the necessary dirty work—was it an ethnic cleansing or genocide?—as an act of Imperial power. But the Government had to think of relations with all the vast Arab majority in the Middle East and therefore it left the dirty work to the Jews themselves.
The West European and American spokesmen of the Zionist movement did not care to dwell on the harsh realities of the project. They fantasised about ingenious means by which the foundations of the Jewish State could be fitted into spaces in existing Arab society without unduly disturbing the Arabs. If the project had been left in their hands, it would never have been realised.
The energy that carried through the colonisation, and then waged terrorist war against Britain for independence, came from Eastern Europe, disrupted by the collapse of the Tsarist Empire, the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the radically disorientating effect of the Bolshevik Revolution. Movements of the east European Jewry faced up to the fact that the colonisation of Palestine would be a conquest that would be resisted by the Arab population, and they got on with it. And they were not embarrassed by the strong resemblance between realistic Zionism and Fascism. In fact, some of these groups formally adopted a fascist position. And the post-1945 Jewish State, which is mainly their achievement, is still a work in progress. It remains the state without borders, engaged in de facto expansion, and determined not to define its borders until the entire Irredenta, lost two thousand years ago, is redeemed.
The action of East European Jewry in realising the Zionist project in Palestine lent plausibility to the idea that the Bolshevik Revolution was the achievement of international Jewish conspiracy—but it wasn’t. The Jews in the Bolshevik Party would never have made the October Revolution. The Jews in the Bolshevik leadership lacked the fierce realism in pursuit of their object that was shown by the East European Zionist leaders.
In Bolshevism everything depended on Lenin. If he had not managed to get back to Russia from Switzerland, across the European battlefield, in the Spring of 1917, there would have been no Bolshevik Revolution. The Bolsheviks who came out of prison in Russia after the February revolution and re-assembled in Petrograd and Moscow as the Bolshevik Party, intended to function as an opposition within the structures of the February Revolution, which was understood to be bourgeois revolution inaugurating an era of capitalist democracy. But, when Lenin was returned to Russia by Germany, he announced that the Bolshevik policy was to overthrow the bourgeois Government of the February Revolution and establish a Communist Government which would be a dictatorship of the proletariat.
The most eminent Jew in Russia in 1917 was Trotsky, who did not acknowledge himself to be a Jew because he was an atheist. He was an internationalist revolutionary journalist and orator who repudiated Judaism. Nevertheless he was regarded as a Jew, not only by anti-semites, but by the Jewish community. Judaism was clearly something more than simply a performance of religious formalities:
“Trotsky considered himself and all-out internationalist, but he was never successful in his attempt to cast his Jewishness overboard. Much to his regret, the Judaism he spurned proved to be with him an incurable ‘disease’. He was identified as a Jew for better or worse…” (Trotsky And The Jews by Joseph Nedava, Jewish Publication Society of America 1972 (or 5732) p34).
Trotsky was the leading Jew in this situation but he was not a Bolshevik, and he did not have a party of his own. He had predicted, about ten years earlier, that when the Tsarist state fell and a bourgeois Government was established in its place, the revolutionary turmoil set off by the fall of Tsarism would not calm down under bourgeois government, but would continue until there was socialist revolution.
Lenin had not predicted that the fall of Tsarism would lead to socialist revolution, skipping over the bourgeois phase. What he had done was organise a political party for the purpose of preventing the bourgeois revolution from settling down and for carrying out a socialist revolution against it by exploiting the peasant issue.
The vast majority of the population of Russia consisted of peasants living under a landlord system. Lenin reckoned that the urban middle class who came to power in the city as the bourgeois revolution would not be able to deal with the land question in the countryside, and that therefore a worker-peasant alliance could be formed for the purpose of overthrowing the limited bourgeois regime in the cities by means of a socialist revolution that would abolish landlordism and transfer the land into peasant ownership.
But the establishment of peasant ownership would itself be a bourgeois revolution. So Lenin’s scheme was to overthrow the brittle bourgeois revolution in the cities by means of a bourgeois revolution in the country, and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat in the cities which would guide the peasantry towards Socialism.
Lenin organised for a socialist revolution that would trample over the bourgeois revolution. Trotsky predicted that something like this would happen. But Trotsky rejected absolutely the party organisation that was developed by Lenin for the purpose of making a socialist revolution. He said that what Lenin was doing was establishing a party that would act in place of the proletariat.
Implicit in Trotsky’s criticism of Lenin was the assumption that in the revolutionary situation that would come about when Tsarism fell, the proletariat would take over political power from the bourgeoisie by a kind of spontaneous class action spurred along by revolutionary oratory.
That assumption came from seeing the socialist revolution is happening in much the same way as the French Revolution had happened.
In the Summer of 1917, Lenin was expanding his disciplined Party and watching for an opportunity to strike while Trotsky heated up the unstable atmosphere with revolutionary speeches. And then it seems that Trotsky suddenly saw that this was not a replay of the French Revolution after all, and that directing the masses with speeches was not enough. He set aside his profound criticisms of Lenin’s authoritarianism, joined Lenin’s Party, and was publicly pre-eminent in the making of the Revolution both by effective speech-making and by defending Lenin’s strategy and method against the strictures of orthodox Marxism. He became the most famous revolutionary in the world and a figure of historic significance in the course of world affairs:
“Trotsky’s prominence as a Bolshevik leader… was received in Russian Jewry with mixed feelings. In the midst of total ruin, indescribable havoc, bloodshed, famine, homelessness and universal distress, Russian Jewry was confused, torn between conflicting loyalties and contradictory feelings, placed between hammer and anvil, and completely in the dark as to what the future had in store for it. Memoirists of those turbulent days reflect this state of ambivalence: ‘On the one hand the Jews of Russia were proud that Trotsky stood at the pinnacle of heroic struggle against the pogromchiks, but, on the other hand, they feared lest, if the Bolsheviks were to fail, heaven forbid, they would have to pay for Trotsky-Bronstein’…” (Nedava, p160).
The orthodox view, most comprehensively expressed by the theorist of the mass Social-Democratic Party of Germany, Karl Kautsky, said that socialism would come about through a full development of capitalism, when capitalism began to be an obstacle to the further development of the productive forces of the economy. Socialism would take over from fully developed capitalism in a society in which the working class created by capitalism and exploited by it, had become the major social class. The transition from capitalism to socialism would be democratic because it would be the action of the class that was not only the most numerous but was also, when organised, the most powerful social body.
In Russia in 1917 there were clusters of capitalist economy, and in these clusters the working class of capitalism was intensively organised, but Russia as a whole was predominantly pre-capitalist and the industrial working class was a very small percentage of the total population. The preconditions for the construction of socialism as understood by Orthodox Marxism did not exist. But a revolutionary socialist party existed, and a revolutionary situation existed, and the political representatives of the weak capitalist force in the economy were conducting a weak bourgeois state, and supporters of the overthrown Tsarist State—or, more accurately, the Tsarist state which had collapsed at the centre—were organising in the hinterland and preparing to restore the Tsarist state.
In these circumstances Lenin enacted a revolutionary socialist coup d’état against the ineffective bourgeois state, decreed that the land now belonged to the peasants who worked it, and prepared for civil war. But the civil war was not mainly fought between the Bolsheviks and supporters of bourgeois state which they had overthrown: it was fought between the Bolsheviks and the landlord forces that had been mobilising to overthrow the bourgeois state that had replaced Tsarism. The Bolshevik revolution pre-empted the Tsarist counter-revolution in its action against the bourgeois state.
The essentials of the Bolshevik policy were what would have been the policies of a competent bourgeois state, and in the Civil War with resurgent Tsarism many elements of the overthrown Bourgeois system were driven to the support of Bolshevism.
The Bolshevik Government gave the land to the peasants and made peace with Germany, having made it clear beforehand that it would do both of these things.
Its first crisis was caused by Lenin’s peace deal with Germany. The German Government had transported him from Switzerland to Finland in 1917 in return for an undertaking that, if he succeeded in seizing power, he would end the war that the Tsar had launched on Germany in 1914. But, when the moment came to make a Peace Treaty with Germany, there was strong resistance to it within the Bolshevik leadership.
Bukharin, an Old Bolshevik, more of a theorist than a politician, advocated revolutionary war against Germany in order to stir up socialist revolution in Germany. The Bolsheviks had opposed the Tsarist war, and peace propaganda had played a large part of its agitation against the Provisional Government which had continued the Tsarist war, and they had made an Armistice with Germany soon after seizing power. Trotsky, the Foreign Minister, saw that they could not now summon up the military force needed to break the Armistice and launch a revolutionary offensive with any prospect of success, but he did not want to make a Peace Treaty with Germany either. He advocated a “Neither War, Nor Peace” stance to leave the situation open while waiting for the European revolution, which most of the Bolshevik leaders were convinced was imminent, to break out. He gained a large majority against Lenin on the Central Committee for this policy.
Negotiations with Germany at Brest-Litovsk went on for about three months, until March 1918. They were conducted in public and on the Bolsheviks side they consisted largely of propaganda on the rights of nations to self-determination, and they seem to have been effective in stirring up various nationalisms in the region, particularly in the Ukraine.
The Germans eventually indicated that the relationship must be either Peace or War. Lenin got his majority on the Central Committee. A Peace Treaty was signed in March. The German Army was transferred to the Western Front for the Ludendorff offensive. And “Socialism in one country”, which became an issue of dispute within the Bolshevik leadership five or six years later, began de facto at that point. The Bolshevik State, having made a separate Peace, was not engaged in the European situation when the War ended in November 1918 and the chaos set in around Europe.
The Brest-Litovsk dispute also determined that the Bolshevik State was to be Leninist. Although Trotsky had only just joined the Party in the late Summer of 1917, his joining had something of the character of the merger of forces. He was publicly pre-eminent in the period of the seizure of power. Bolshevism was an affair of Lenin and Trotsky. But, during the long Brest-Litovsk dispute, Lenin schemed within the Party to exert pressure on the Central Committee—a thing Trotsky could not have done—and finally Trotsky abstained on a vote in order to let Lenin have his way. Thereafter there was no serious question but that Lenin’s will was to be the directing force.
Brest-Litovsk also ended the period of Coalition Government. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries had joined the Bolsheviks in October, but resigned when the Treaty with Germany was signed. Single-party Bolshevik government became the norm.
The Civil War then began. It was not fought between the Bolsheviks and forces supporting the Provisional Government which had been overthrown. It was fought between the Bolsheviks and Tsarist forces which would probably have overthrown the Provisional Government if the Bolsheviks hadn’t done so. The Western Allies intervened in support of the Tsarist reaction. This made it impossible for the bourgeoisie to act independently and many were driven to support the Bolsheviks. The Socialist/Capitalist War was submerged in the Bolshevik war of defence against feudalist reaction.
The Bolsheviks pressed ahead with socialist measures that were warranted by the necessity of mobilising all resources for the war of defence. There was a great leap forward into War Communism. The War ended in outright victory for the Bolshevik State. Lenin’s strategy of adding the cause of peasant land ownership to the proletarian revolution paid off handsomely.
The situation in Russia at the start of 1921 is described as follows in a Preface, by an English socialist observer, to the first piece of Marxist political writing that I ever read. (I had read Capital, which is not political.):
“With Socialist leaders and organisations we and our fathers have been familiar for three-quarters of a century. There has been no lack of talent and even of genius among them. The movement has produced its great theorist in Marx, its orator in Jaures, it’s powerful tacticians like Bebel, and its influential literature in Morris, Anatole France and Shaw. It bred, however, no considerable men of action, and it was left for the Russians to do what generations of Western Socialists had spent their lives in discussing. There was in this Russian achievement an almost barbaric simplicity and directness. Here were men who really believed the formulae of our theorists and the resolutions of our Congresses. What had become for us sterilised and almost respectable orthodoxy rang to their years as a trumpet call to action. The older generations had found it difficult to pardon their sincerity. The rest of us want to understand their miracle.
“The real audacity of the Bolsheviks lay in this, that they made a proletarian revolution precisely in that country which, of all portions of the civilised world, seemed the least prepared for it by its economic development. For an agrarian revolt, for the subdivision of the soil, even for the overthrow of the old governing class, Russia was certainly ready. But any spontaneous revolution, with its foundations laid in the masses of the peasantry, would have been individualistic and not communistic. The daring of the Bolsheviks lay in their belief that the minute minority of the urban working-class could, by its concentration, its greater intelligence and its relative capacity for organisation, dominate the inert peasant mass, and give to their outbreak of land-hunger the character and form of constructive proletarian revolution. The bitter struggle among Russian parties which lasted from March 1917, down to the defeat of Wrangel in November, 1920, was really an internecine competition among them for the leadership of the peasants… Many circumstances explain the success of the Bolsheviks, who proved once again in history the capacity of the town, even when its population is relatively minute, for swift and concentrated action. They also had the luck to deal with opponents who committed the supreme mistake of invoking foreign aid. But none of these advantages would have availed without an immense superiority of character…
“This book is, so far, the most typical expression of the Bolshevik temperament which the revolution has produced. Characteristically it is a polemic, and not a constructive essay. Its self-confidence, its dash, even its insolence, are a true expression of the movement. Its author bears a world-famous name. Everyone can visualise the powerful head, the singularly handsome features, the athletic figure of the man. He makes in private talks the impression of decision and definiteness. He is not rapid or expansive in speech, for everything that he says is calculated and clear cut. One has the sense that one is in the presence of abounding and disciplined vitality…”
That is from H.N. Brailsford’s Preface to the 1921 English translation of Trotsky’s Terrorism & Communism, published under the title In Defence Of Terrorism.
I was drawn into Marxist fringe politics in London in 1962 by Pat Murphy. Pat was interested in producing worthwhile socialist publications on Irish affairs and he asked me to go along with him to a discussion with a group of free-ranging Irish Marxists of various kinds. The core of the group consisted of Republicans who had taken some part in the 1956 invasion of Northern Ireland and had concluded that Republicanism needed a socialist dimension. They turned for guidance to the Connolly Association in London, which was attached to the Communist Party of Great Britain but found that it was strongly opposed to complicating pure-and-simple Anti-Partition propaganda with socialist ideology. They had gone to it because it had been denounced by the Irish Bishops. They turned from it in disillusionment to the Trotskyist movement, which was then springing up very vigorously, and they had contact with its three main forms, conducted by Gerry Healy (SLL), Tony Cliff (IS), and Ted Grant (The Week).
Our first meetings were held in the offices of The Week, in the Lighthouse building near King’s Cross Station, at the point which is now part of the 5 Guys Burger Bar.
The group also included people who had been members of the CPGB for many years, were active on its behalf in the Trade Union movement, and had come to the conclusion that its influence had become bad for working-class development. Gerry Golden was one of these. He had tried to get the Party leadership to remedy the conduct of the Party functionaries in the Trade Unions before the ballot-rigging scandal in the ETU broke, and had got himself beaten up for his persistence. He had, as I recall, been a member of the Free State Army but was tolerant of those who had been members of the IRA and had not quite left it. I don’t know if he was a Jew, as his name suggests. We had no interest in the religious aspect of things. (I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two members were practising Catholics.)
On the sidelines, though he never took part in the meetings, was the Father of Irish Trotskyism, Joe Quinn, a very thoughtful person—too thoughtful to write anything down—with whom I had many interesting conversations.
Pat Murphy was a thorough Dubliner, but was unique among Dubliners in his understanding of rural Ireland. He was comprehensively uneducated and had a unique ability to see what was going on around him and make sense of it. Like Pat, I was uneducated, but I had come straight out of peasant Ireland and was only lightly touch by urbanisation though I had been living in London for a few years
A wide range of experience was brought to bear on these discussions. As the group consisted chiefly of Trotskyists and CP members, the issue of the course of the Russian Revolution could not be set aside. Pat got a general agreement that we should go through it stage by stage to see how far we could go without disagreement, and then try to establish in the light of the facts of the situation, as far as we could discover them, what the ground of disagreement was.
The arrangement worked well for a while. There was no problem before 1922.
What was the case in 1921? The Bolshevik Party had absolute state power in a predominantly peasant society in which the peasants had been made landowners by the Bolshevik State. The industrial working class, which according to orthodox Marxism was the agent of social revolution as well as its subject, remained a very small fraction of Russian society, and the politically active working class of 1917 had been largely used up in the making of the Revolution. A new working class was being forged out of the peasantry under Bolshevik direction. There had been a kind of workers’ revolt which had been suppressed by the proletarian State representing a working-class future, there being no substantial working-class present. The expectation of most Bolshevik leaders in 1917 was that capitalist Europe was on the verge of bursting into socialist revolution, and the revolution in Russia was undertaken on the assumption that international socialist revolution would soon break out. It was widely agreed that, the Russian Revolution could not maintain itself. But a Treaty had been signed with capitalist Germany giving borders to the Russian Revolution.
What happened at the end of the World War was not European socialist revolution but something very different. In 1920 Russia invaded Poland in an attempt to break out of isolation and into European affairs. The invasion was routed by the Polish national Socialist, Joseph Pilsudski — the only European socialist with whom James Connolly had expressed long-term agreement.
The Russian proletarian revolution was isolated in Russia with the problem of building socialism in an overwhelmingly peasant—petty bourgeois—society. And Lenin suffered a disabling heart attack in 1923 and died a few months later.
Rosa Luxemburg was probably the West European Marxist closest to Lenin in revolutionary spirit: but she was strongly critical of his peasant policy as raising up an enemy of his socialist policy, of his policy of national self-determination, as being divisive of class unity, and of his disciplined and purposeful method of Party organisation as putting the Party into the face of the working-class, instead of being its representative.
In the course of 1918, she wrote in prison a pamphlet about the Russian Revolution which was published after her release in November. The first chapter was enthusiastically supportive of it. She was carried away by it. But all the following chapters repeated her pre-war criticism of Lenin’s method of organisation and his strategy of adopting aims that were properly the business of the bourgeoisie: land distribution and nationality.
She was particularly furious that during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations—
“The formula of the right of the various nationalities to determine their fate independently… was proclaimed as a special battle cry of Lenin… and it constituted the entire platform of the Bolsheviks at Brest-Litovsk.”
She said that Lenin’s obstinacy in the matter, after it had served its only useful function as a slogan for use against the Provisional Government, and the publicity it received during the months of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, was creating nations where none had existed before, and was thereby raising anti-Socialist forces. She mentioned the Ukraine particularly in this connection.
Lenin was disabled by a stroke in 1923 and died in 1924. Stalin held the Party to Lenin’s obstinate course with results that are obvious today in the Eastern region of the European Union.
The Brest-Litovsk nation-states, in their independence within the vacillating bourgeois-Imperialist system of the inter-War era, were usually represented in fiction as comic-opera states. I think particularly of the influential thrillers of Eric Ambler.
They fell within the Leninist sphere in 1945, not by Russian conquest but by the Russian defeat of Nazi Germany which had been brought to European dominance in the War that resulted from the devious British manipulation of European affairs that it would be charitable to call ‘bungling’.
The world was divided between Washington and Moscow, between Capitalism and Communism, and each was free to keep its own half an order as it saw fit. Nothing else was viable in the world at the end of Britain’s second World War in forty years. Washington kept its half an order by regularly invading and overthrowing Governments that it considered to be deviant. The first, as I recall, was Guatemala in the early 1950s.
Moscow, which had a strong political base within each of the East European states, did it without invasion—until 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia. But in 1956 Leninism, under the name of Stalinism, had been denounced by Moscow, and the myth of Leninist democracy had been invented.
A few years ago the influential do-it-yourself Internet Encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, had an entry on the B&ICO, which said that we had supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia. A reference in the Irish Times was given as proof. BICO was classified as “Stalinist” because it held that Stalin continued Lenin’s system.
What BICO did was to describe the Czech/Russian conflict as a conflict between two states that were reverting to capitalist political economy, one slightly faster than the other. We were surprised that the nation of the Good Soldier Schweik was behaving so rashly, and were inclined to assert the national principle in the situation, but we accepted the NATO/Warsaw Pact arrangement of Europe as stabilising and had no wish to precipitate the stand-off into war. It was only when the Warsaw Pact dissolved and NATO became a force of global aggression that we opposed it. In all of this we ran counter to the general Left.
The Irish Times, a Protestant Ascendancy Unionist paper that was surviving without visible means of support was trying to establish a base in nationalist Ireland by recruiting intellectually disabled Marxists to itself. If it did say what Wikipedia alleged, I assume the writing was done one of these lapsed Marxists whose dogmatic mindset, which could only understand stereotypes, had accompanied him in his metamorphosis.
The Brest-Litovsk nations were held within the region that the Red Army entered in the course of defeating the German Army and, in accordance with Lenin’s fixed idea about nationality, they were organised as nation-states within the socialist culture of the State that had broken Nazi power in Europe. Each developed a sense of its national history under Soviet tutelage operating through the substantial Communist stratum that was present in each of them, but they did not have the freedom to leave the Warsaw Pact system and join NATO, any more than states in the Western capitalist segment of the world were free to go Communist and join the Soviet alliance. That was an absolute in the condition of the world as it was during a long generation after the liberation/conquest of much of Europe by the Red Army in its resistance of the Nazi assault on Russia, which was a German assault.
If the matter had been left to the British Empire (the hegemonic Power under the Versailles/ League of Nations system), or to Germany itself, the probability is that Europe would have settled down contentedly within the Fascist system that had sprung up everywhere independently of Nazism, and that was belatedly adopted in Germany when the ultra-democracy of the Versailles system was generating chaos.
Britain facilitated the restoration of German power in the form of the Nazi State for five years before suddenly, and capriciously, deciding to make war on it in March 1939 without any serious intention of waging that war itself. Nazism flourished under British handling of it, whether by collaboration until March 1939 or a merely provocative hostility thereafter. It was broken by Russia. After the Russian victory became a virtual certainty at the end of 1943, Britain scrambled back to the Continent did take over as much ground as possible from a wilting Germany—ground that would otherwise have been liberated/conquered by Russia.
The Continent was divided more or less where the Armies met. Antagonistic world systems were developed behind the frontier lines. There was no freedom on either side for any state to go over to the other side, and any serious attempt to do so would have led to war.
(What happened in Russia after 1922 will be returned to in a future article, along with discussion of it in the group that began to call itself the Irish Communist Group.)
This article first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Irish Political Review.
Lenin died in 1924, after being unable to direct his State for more than a year. His party was the dictatorial governing power. It had defeated the landlord/Tsarist insurgency in the Civil War, and had beaten off the military intervention by the Western Democracies at the end of the World War. But the social revolution it had actually accomplished was the bourgeois revolution in the countryside.
When the Tsarist State crumbled in February-March 1917, nominal state power fell to the urban middle class. But there was a disintegration of state power rather than an inheritance of it. The middle class became the nominal ruling class unexpectedly. It did not overthrow the Tsarist State, and it was taken by surprise by its collapse. The event might be called the bourgeois revolution, but in fact the event brought with it neither a functional bourgeois State nor a bourgeois social revolution. Both remained to be accomplished.
And Lenin accomplished the main body of the bourgeois revolution as the means of establishing a socialist state. He undertook to abolish the system of large landed estates and transfer land to the tenant-farmers—whom it is customary to call peasants in this connection, so let’s call them peasants.
He accomplished the substance of the bourgeois revolution in rebellion against the middle class Provisional Government.
Something similar had happened in Ireland fourteen years earlier. There was a kind of middle-class Government-in-waiting headed by John Redmond. Its policy was to let things be until a favourable conjuncture at Westminster put it in subordinate command in Ireland. There was peasant discontent with the landlord system. The peasants had ambition to become landowners. A radical bourgeois intelligentsia—I think it is reasonable to give that name to the tendency represented by William O’Brien and Canon Sheehan—devised a scheme for the ending of landlordism, which they put to the British Government, which was then in the hands of the reforming Unionist administration under Balfour. The O’Brien//Balfour collaboration arranged for the abolition of landlord estates by means of state-subsidised peasant purchase.
The Redmondite Establishment opposed the scheme, fearing that the end of the grievance of landlordism would undermine the Home Rule movement. Balfour hoped that it might. O’Brien was certain that it would strengthen the demand for national independence.
That bourgeois revolution in the land was accomplished, against Redmondite middle class resistance, in the Southern part of the country in the course of a few years. One of the organisations active in it was the Land and Labour Association—in Marxist terms, a combination of contradictories.
Cork University set its face against this anomalous Irish bourgeois revolution, and in support of Redmond’s disregard of it, about forty years ago. The moving spirit in this, as far as I can judge as a complete outsider from academia, was the frightened mind of Professor Dermot Keogh. Keogh was on the editorial staff of the Fianna Fail daily paper, The Irish Press, in 1972. He was present at demonstrations at the British Embassy in Dublin, in response to the Bloody Sunday administrative massacre in Derry. The Embassy was burned down. Government Ministers treated this as quite a moderate response to the Derry atrocity, but Keogh was overcome with a vision of Fascism. His remedy seems to have been to devise means of suppressing thought about the North, and the War that was going on in it, by directing the academic mind into a Byzantine maze of sociology.
Cork University has recently published what—at five kilos—must be the heaviest book published since Fox’s Protestant martyrology, the Book Of Martyrs, in the 1640s. It is not about the Irish bourgeois revolution at all. It is only a poor attempt at a comprehensive account of the War of Independence. The revolution was accomplished a generation earlier. Nationalist Ireland had settled down into an orderly social structure when it voted in 1918 to have independent government.
The British decision to take no account of the Election and to govern by military power in defiance of the electorate was an incitement to social disorder. It found that very little disorder could be provoked. There was none worth mentioning during the first phase.
During the second phase—the ‘Civil War’, brought about by the insistence of the democratic British Parliament that the Irish must take an Oath to the Crown in order to become independent of it—there was a small group of unexplained killings in West Cork which the History Department of Cork University supported British Canadian Peter Hart in magnifying into religious genocide. Apart from this concoction there was a mere hint at Communist revolution in a couple of Creameries.
The bourgeois social settlement of 1903, with its Land & Labour component, held fast through all the mayhem that Britain could generate, and through the Free State terror that it left behind it.
About fifteen years after Lenin’s October Revolution, a Fascist movement was launched in nationalist Ireland by those Britain had left in command. When they lost the elections of 1932 and 1933 to De Valera’s anti-Treaty movement they concluded that things were about to fall apart. The Universities were dominated by those who had made the Treaty settlement with Britain in 1921-2. Although the Treaty had been an incitement to a degree of political disorder, they imagined that it was the basis of all bourgeois social order. And they saw De Valera as the Irish Kerensky. (Kerensky was the last head of the incompetent Russian Provisional Government that Lenin swept aside.)
They saw De Valera as a weak figurehead behind which the Communist forces were mustering in the form of the IRA. At some opportune moment he would be set aside by these. A book with the title Could Ireland Become Communist? was published by a senior Treatyite academic. The answer was that it could. But an effective counter to Communism had been found since 1917: Fascism.
Fascism, a combination of radical socialism and nationalism, had been devised by Mussolini—a revolutionary socialist who became an irredentist Italian nationalist in 1914 and helped Britain to bring Italy into the War. In the immediate post-War period he formalised this combination as a political party and imposed national order on the social elements that were flying apart. And Churchill, as a senior British Cabinet Minister, went to Rome in the late 1920s to do public homage to him as the saviour of European civilisation from Communism—and who knows but that is what he actually was?
So the Treatyite Cumann na nGaedheal, that was becoming Fine Gael, did the right Treatyite thing in 1933 by becoming Fascist.
But the Ireland that was seen by Treatyite eyes, through the prism of British political understanding, was a delusion. Bourgeois Ireland of the 1903 social revolution had settled down quickly and was essentially undisturbed by British provocations from 1914 to 1922. It was effectively hegemonic, with its Land and Labour element. It had no intention whatever of becoming Communism, but neither was it afraid of Communism. It was a secure property-owning democracy.
I grew up in it, in a family that did not own property, in the intensest period of the Cold War, and I know that there was no hysteria, and much informed understanding, of what had gone on in peasant Russia, despite the best efforts of the Bishops.
There was no fear of Communism in rural Ireland because rural Ireland had settled down within a bourgeois revolution. What Lenin swept aside in 1917 was a middle class Provisional Government which neglected to consolidate itself by enacting the bourgeois revolution that was asking to be made.
As for Dev being the Irish Kerensky—if he had been in Kerensky’s place, there would have been no Communist revolution in Russia. He knew what a bourgeois revolution was, and he had the ability to act on what he knew.
Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet on the Russian Revolution was written in a German prison, where she was confined for anti-War activities. It seems to have been written during the late Summer of 1918. She was released by what is called “the German Revolution”, which was much like the Russian Revolution of February. The Kaiser’s State collapsed under stress of the War—but in this case a war that had been forced on it. The Kaiser abdicated—and, since Britain and France were pretending that he had broken some international law and were intent on hanging him, he left Germany for Holland. A Government was formed without him, by the Social Democrats, and a Republic was reluctantly declared.
Luxemburg agitated against it as bourgeois and as having supported the War. It was a weak Government, lacking the basic organs of state. A condition of social chaos prevailed, encouraged by the victorious Allies who were changing the Armistice into unconditional surrender, and tightening the Food Blockade now that they could encircle Germany completely by occupying the Baltic.
A degree of order was maintained by groups of demobilised soldiers acting on their own authority. One of these groups put an end to Luxemburg’s democratic socialist agitation against the ineffective Social Democratic Government by killing her. The remains of her movement were later absorbed into the Leninist communist Party. Her prison pamphlet on the Russian Revolution (which was quoted last month) was unsuitable for publication by the Communist Party because of its rejection of Lenin’s policy and method. It was published by one of her colleagues around 1922, in criticism of the Party leadership, but it had little relevance to the condition of German politics at the time.
About forty years later it was made use of by the United States as Cold War propaganda against Leninism, which had come to dominance in half of the world as a result of Britain’s irresponsible and chaotic second war on Germany. An English translation was published shortly before our discussion-meetings at King’s Cross and it figured to some extent in these discussions.
Rosa Luxemburg was an advanced European intellectual of “the revolution”—Jewish and therefore of the most brilliant—in the latter days of the Hapsburg Empire. She was a systematic Marxist. So was Lenin, up to a point. Systematic Marxism similar to Luxemburg’s could easily be extracted from his writings. He admired the outstanding practitioner of systematic Marxism, Karl Kautsky, right up until the War, long after Luxemburg had become impatient with Kautsky.
But, although he was saturated with Marxist theory, and could do it as well as anybody, his driving power did not seem to be an ideal vision of “the revolution”, but a determination to destroy the political system that had executed his brother, who had been a revolutionary of the idealistic, bourgeois-romantic kind.
The Tsarist State was not a piece of incompetent backwardness left behind by history and waiting to die. It was a pioneering force of Western civilisation in Asia. It had its idealism, and its rationalists, and its practicality. Lenin therefore did not approach the task of destroying it as a mere idealist. He outflanked it in realism. He mastered Marxism as a realistic bulwark against idealistic illusions, while at the same time committing it to the realisation of its remotest ideal. He constructed a party dedicated to the realisation of that ideal, and held it to that purpose for a dozen years after the failure of the 1905 Revolution. He warded off temptations to settle for something less with his merciless analytical laying bare of opportunist and liquidationist ideals. He would not let the party make a progressive accommodation with Tsarism. He made it stand in fundamental hostility until an opportunity for fundamentalist action appeared. And, if no such opportunity appeared in his lifetime, then so be it.
Cold calculation, and slow-burning, relentless determination, of that order was beyond Rosa Luxemburg’s power to imagine.
Nietzsche—I don’t know that Lenin ever mentioned him—described the State as “the coldest of all cold monsters”. It must have seemed to Luxemburg that in Leninism the coldest of States had met its match.
I don’t recall that Luxemburg herself said anything, in April 1916, about the Easter Rising. Many of those who were of her general way of thinking either condemned it or dismissed it as being irrelevant to the course of history. Trotsky did so, as did Karl Radek. Her close political colleague, Karl Liebknecht tried, before the Rising, to expose in the German Parliament the fact that the Kaiser was conspiring with Irish rebels, arming them to make war on their King, and was allowing Casement to try to raise an anti-British Brigade from British Prisoners of War.
The passage below from Luxemburg’s pamphlet will serve to explain the framework of her understanding and to set the scene for consideration of the post-War era.
Karl Kautsky, the leading Marxist theorist of the Second International, adopted a position on the War that was intermediate between the “Government Socialists” and the anti-Government/Anti-War Socialists. After the War, when the Armistice as being manipulated into German unconditional surrender, he took a position in the Government formed by the ‘Government Socialists’, got access to the Foreign Office Archive, and published a collection of documents under the title, The War Guilt Of William Hohenzollern, i.e., the abdicated Kaiser.
And bear in mind that James Connolly, once the Socialist International reneged on its commitment to prevent war between the states by launching class war against capitalism, took a clear stand in support of Germany—a fact carefully removed from the historical record by Ruth Dudley Edwards and by all those who write Irish history in the British interest. And his support of Germany was expressed in his newspaper by translations of articles by the German Government Socialists. His opinion, similar to Casement’s but arrived at independently, was that Britain had trapped Germany into war for the purpose of destroying it as a commercial rival. And Britain, in its hour of victory in 1919, did nothing at all to falsify that opinion. (Connolly’s view will be compared with Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s in a future article.)
Here is what Luxemburg wrote in the Autumn of 1918:
“The military adventure of German imperialism under the ideological blessing of German Social Democracy did not bring about the revolution in Russia but only served to interrupt it at first, to postpone it for a while.
“Moreover, for every thinking observer, those developments are a decisive refutation of the doctrinaire theory which Kautsky shared with the Government Social-Democrats, according to which Russia, as an economically backward and predominantly agrarian land, was supposed not to be ripe for social revolution and proletarian dictatorship. This theory which regards only a bourgeois revolution as feasible in Russia, is also the theory of the opportunist wing of the Russian labour movement, the so-called Mensheviks… On this basic conception… both the Russian and German opportunists find themselves in agreement with the German Government Socialists. According to the opinions of all three, the Russian Revolution should have called a halt at the stage which German imperialism in its conduct of the war had set as its noble task, …it should have stopped with the overthrow of Czarism…
“Theoretically, this doctrine (recommended as the fruit of ‘Marxist thinking’ by …Kautsky) follows from the original ‘Marxist’ discovery that the socialist revolution is a national and, so to speak, a domestic affair in each modern country taken by itself. Of course, in the blue mists of abstract formulae, a Kautsky knows very well how to trace the world-wide economic connections of capital which make all modern countries a single integrated organism. The problems of the Russian Revolution, moreover—since it is a product of international developments plus the agrarian question—cannot possibly be solved within the limits of bourgeois society.
“Practically, the same doctrine represents an attempt to get rid of any responsibility for the course of the Russian Revolution, so far as that responsibility concerns the international, and especially the German, proletariat, and to deny the international connections of this revolution. It is not Russia’s unripeness which has been proved by the events of the war and the Russian revolution, but the unripeness of the German proletariat for the fulfilment of its historic tasks…
“The fate of the revolution in Russia depended fully upon international events. That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political far-sightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies…” (The Russian Revolution, Ann Arbour translation, 1961, Chapter 1).
The world is conceived here as an organic capitalist unity in which “the revolution” must be made in the whole in order to be able to succeed in any part. And this view is attributed to the Bolsheviks—not unfairly. But then Luxemburg is bewildered by Lenin’s insistence of frittering away the coherence of Imperial Russia by making propaganda in favour of national rights during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, and raising up nations where none existed before; and by his perverse policy of making Bolshevism an instrument of the bourgeois revolution of the peasantry in his revolutionary action against the Government of the urban bourgeoisie for the purpose of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, thereby creating a hundred budding capitalists for every established agricultural capitalist that existed before.
Capitalist-landlord Russia was ripe for Socialism. But Lenin subjected rural Russia, where the bulk of the population lay, to a process of mass bourgeoisification. Where did that leave ‘the revolution’? The more Luxemburg thought about it, the more problematical it appeared to her.
There is much in Lenin’s writing that agrees with Luxemburg’s view of the world as an integrated capitalist whole. How did he reconcile this with his advocacy of national rights? He didn’t. He adopted policies designed to undermine the Tsarist State, and then to sweep aside the ineffective urban middle class Provisional Government, to which nominal authority had fallen. He did not disable himself as a revolutionary politician by engaging in theoretical exploration in advance of the event about the problems that his means of taking power might cause him after he had taken it.
Ever since I was drawn into this kind of thing by Pat Murphy I have been wondering what political intellectuals meant when they use the word “historicist”. I have tried to get a definite meaning, but failed. A possible meaning is getting locked into a tight scheme of understanding of history as a closed system and as a consequence being unable to see the world around you. But the those who criticised historicism seemed to be locked into just such a scheme.
Southey (the poet, who was still remembered when I was young) commented that Wesley, the Methodist, sometimes seemed to be on the brink of seeing the world as it was, so to speak, but his understanding always rose up and eclipsed his sight. I could understand that. He knew what must be the case and therefore could not see what was the case.
There is no Irish history of the Irish bourgeois revolution. That is partly because of the damaging ‘Civil War’ that the British democratic state managed to inflict on nationalist Ireland when compelled to go of it, and partly because of the sponsored cultivation of neo-Redmondism during the past half-century, in response to the War that broke out in the undemocratically-governed British region of Ireland, which British propaganda made the Irish middle class feel guilty about.
(A multi-volume History Of Ireland published in the early 1970s had volumes on the 19th and 20th centuries, written by Cork University Professors Joseph Lee and John A. Murphy respectively. The 19th century volume ended before the 1903 social revolution, which Redmond’s party tried to prevent, while the 20th century volume began after the revolution was accomplished, and described the Irish social structure as conservative. The social revolution was hidden in the gap between the two.
The social structure brought about by the land revolution was certainly conservative: it conserved the arrangements that the revolution had brought about.
There is to my knowledge only one worthwhile account of that Irish social revolution. It was written by its organiser himself, William O’Brien, in his retirement. If it had been kept in print, it would, perhaps, have been sufficient. It was never reprinted, and the few comments on it by academics were dismissive. That incomparable account of how 20th century Irish society was forged became one of the moist difficult books in the world to get. I got a copy, thanks to the pioneering internet searches of Robert Burrage, a Tory who was an active member of BICO in Belfast when he lived there. (However, lack of human resources has prevented us from reproducing it so far.)
The Russian bourgeois revolution enacted by Lenin in October 1917 has been even more scantily treated than the Irish bourgeois revolution. There is little distinct awareness that it actually happened. But it did happen. And its beneficiaries defeated all-comers—aristocratic and democratic—in the Civil War and the Wars of Intervention.
Lenin set aside the incompetent bourgeois Provisional Government by undertaking to enact the peasant-bourgeois revolution. He then established a proletarian dictatorship behind his bourgeois revolution, and it survived because it could not be isolated from the bourgeois revolution which it had brought about in order to be attacked. The way to it lay through the mass of peasant landowners.
Lenin did not skip over the bourgeois revolution, as orthodox Marxists accused him of doing. He enacted the substance of the bourgeois revolution in the Russian economy. And it was this entanglement of the two revolutions that saved the proletarian dictatorship in its most vulnerable phase. There was no clear space around it through which it could be attacked.
Regarding the matter theoretically and in the long-term, Rosa Luxemburg was right. Lenin, with his peasant policy for outflanking the urban middle class, magnified the forces of bourgeois resistance to socialism. And Lenin’s response to Sukhanov’s account of the revolution was cavalier in spirit, rather than scientific: When an opportunity presents itself, you seize it and then see what can be done.
One of his favourite quotations was from the staid Weimar bourgeois, Goethe: “Theory is grey, my friend, but the eternal tree of life is green“. And what Rosa Luxemburg could not have been expected to foresee was that the messy entanglement of the two, mutually exclusive, revolutions—the socialist and the bourgeois—was what would enable the most thorough form of socialist state ever established to survive and become a world force.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Irish Political Review.
- Word of the Tsar! and the drowse malign is broken;
- The stone is rolled from the tomb, and Poland is free.
- This is the strong evangel. The guns have spoken:
- And the scribble of flame of the guns is Liberty.
- Word of the Tsar! And Russia rises to vision.
- Poland and Ireland—theirs, my lords, was an augured fate.
- The days draw in, and the ways narrow down to decision—
- Will they chaffer, and cheapen, and ruin, or yield to be great?
That was the war-mongering Home Rule intellectual, T. M. Kettle, in the Irish Independent on 21st August 1914.
The Tsar made a gesture towards the autonomy of Poland—most of which he ruled—in order to help his British allies spin the yarn about the War being for democracy and the freedom of small nations. Britain lured him away from conflict with itself in Central Asia by giving him Constantinople (Istanbul) if he could take it from the Turks, on the condition that he also took part with Britain and France in war on Germany.
Warsaw was soon liberated. But it was liberated from the Tsar, not by him.
Polish independence was the aim of a small Polish Army raised by Joseph Pilsudski in Austria, which went to war in alliance with Germany.
Pilsudski founded the Polish Socialist Party in the 1890s. This seems to have been the only Continental Socialist Party with which James Connolly had any real sense of affinity. Pilsudski set his socialist movement within Polish nationalism as Connolly set his within Irish nationalism.
Connolly went to war, for Irish national independence, against the British Imperialist component of the Entente Powers as Pilsudski went to war for Polish independence against the Tsarist component.
Kettle, who sought Imperial Home Rule, was serving in the British Army in France and was home on leave around the time of the Easter Rising. He was consulted about Connolly’s motivation by Robert Lynd (a Home Rule propagandist for the British war effort) who was writing an Introduction for a reprint of Connolly’s Labour In Irish History by the publisher, Mansell, which held the copyright. Maunsel was fanatically anti-German. The purpose of the reprint was to disparage Connolly as being out of his depth in matters of foreign policy, and as having therefore acted nonsensically. Kettle’s propaganda opinion, as related by Lynd, was that Connolly was a worthy but narrow-minded class warrior, and that his mind gave way when the Declarations of War in August 1914 were not met with international socialist revolution, and that he acted out of despair as a kind of bomb-throwing anarchist.
It would be closer to the truth to say that the coherence of Kettle’s mind gave way under the impact of Connolly’s action. He insisted on returning to the trenches, courting death, and before he died he wrote a poem about the War that was an escapist fantasy.
Pilsudski’s nationalist Socialism was rejected by the internationalist Socialists of the Marxist 2nd International, the most eminent of whom were Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.
Luxemburg, a Jew born in what became Poland, repudiated nationalism altogether as reflecting a form of society that was made obsolete by the development of international capitalism.
Lenin did not repudiate nationalism as historically outmoded. He used the Brest Litovsk negotiations with Germany in March 1918 to stir up nationalist feeling in Europe—and he was condemned sharply by Luxemburg for it. He supported nationalist movements against Imperialist states, as he increasingly described Imperialism as Finance Capitalism, which was international in tendency.
He supported, at least by implication, the formation of bourgeois nation states—the nation state being considered to be essentially a bourgeois social form. But I do not recall that he ever said much about what socialist movements should do in the burgeoning nation states implied by his propaganda.. He theorised no more than he had to, but when he had to he theorised with striking effect. (Theorising as a form of pure reason—he left that to Rosa Luxemburg.)
In the Polish state of 1919 there was a national bourgeois party led by Dmowski and a national socialist party led by Pilsudski. Although Pilsudski had acted with the German enemy in 1914, Versailles could not ostracise him. And, for as long as he lived, Pilsudski represented what was substantial in the Polish state.
In March 1918 Lenin felt obliged to make a Treaty with Germany. Elements in the Bolshevik Party, led by Bukharin, saw the making of a Treaty as the cutting off of revolutionary Russia from the revolutionary potential that arose in Central Europe with the war. Germany said it would resume its war with Russia if Russia did not make a Treaty. Bukharin said that, in that case, Russia should declare revolutionary war. If it had done so, and had hung on for eight months, who can tell what might have happened when the German Navy mutinied and German State authority melted way in early November 1918?
Bukharin had majority support in the central institutions of the Party, but he lacked the force of character to act on his convictions against Lenin. And he was not supported by Trotsky. And so “Socialism in one country” became a fact in March 1918.
(I suppose Lenin was assuming a German victory and was securing Russia against it. German victory did seem very much the probable outcome until American fighting technique and propaganda were brought to bear on the War during the Summer of 1918.)
In 1920 Lenin tried to break through into chaotic Europe by force. Poland blocked the way. And so the first battle between International Socialism and National Socialism was fought in Poland in 1920. The dispute between Pilsudski and Lenin moved from ideology to war. Pilsudski conducted a long, orderly retreat before the offensive of the Red Army, right up to the gates of Warsaw, and then launched a powerful counter-offensive which drove the Red Army back beyond its starting-point and enlarged the Polish state. And then he wrote an exuberant book about it: Year 1920.
(In 1926 Pilsudski established himself as the authority figure in the Polish State. His regime was described as “fascist”, and rightly so I think. Insofar as I could find definite meaning in the word ‘fascist’, it was a combination of nationalism and socialism.
There was considerable rancour in Weimar Germany, “democratic Germany”, over the Polish settlement. It was not until Hitler took power that Germany accepted the existence of the Polish State. But Hitler told the Germans that they must forget about the “Polish Corridor“. He made a Treaty with Poland in 1934 accepting the status quo, but with one item left for future negotiation: the Germany city of Danzig, which was close to East Russia. It was not under actual Polish authority, and held an anomalous position similar to that of mediaeval Free Cities. It was notionally under the League of Nations, but the League had no political purchase within it.
When Germany proposed to clear up that anomaly early in 1939, by attaching Danzig to East Prussia, Pilsudski was dead. He successor, Colonel Beck, was swept off his feet by the offer of a military alliance with the British and French Empires against Germany. He refused to negotiate on Danzig, though it is hard to see what Poland would have lost by its transfer to East Prussia. And, by making Poland part of a powerful military alliance against Germany, he revoked the 1934 German/Polish Treaty in fact, and gave Germany reason to act against it. And, when Germany did act, Colonel Beck got no assistance whatever from Britain or France.
Russia took back what it had lost to Pilsudski.
The Polish Guarantee was obviously a provocation of Germany with a view to getting a ‘moral’ case for another war on it.)
In the War of 1920, National Socialism confined International Socialism within a single country. Lenin was defeated by Pilsudski. But, at the same time, it vindicated his position on nationality against Rosa Luxemburg’s rejection of it as a spent force.
But the Single Country within which comprehensive socialism, in the form of a dictatorship of the proletariat, was confined was vast in size, rich in material resources, and had been developing strongly as its own cultural world for about a century.
Lenin, as far as I know, did not re-assess the situation after his defeat by Pilsudski. He carried on strengthening the State that he had constructed in Russia, weaving it into the life of Russian society, and devising ways of enabling economic development to go on within the great mass of individual owners of property that he had brought into being.
His socialist state rested on the bourgeois revolution which he had enacted in the main body of Russian society. With his New Economic Policy he enabled the new owners of the land to buy and sell in the market, while using the State to prevent, or delay, the emergence of political awareness from that activity. But he asserted repeatedly that this mass of small-scale commodity transactions would have a tendency to generate capitalism “daily and hourly”.
He did not repudiate the opinion that Communism could only be achieved through international socialist revolution—meaning socialist revolution in the countries of advanced capitalism in Europe—but neither did he desist from the practice of building it in isolated Russia.
While he was directing affairs, this conflict between theory and practice never became an issue. But, when he was disabled in 1923 and died early in 1924, it became the great issue.
This series of articles began as an account of the development of BICO from discussion meetings held around 1963 between a group of Trotskyists of IRA background, a group of ex-members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Pat Murphy, and myself. It was agreed that we should follow through the course of events in Russia in the light of a factual assessment of the situation at each turning point and see where that led us.
I had never been in any socialist organisation, nor had Pat. I had read Capital Volume 1 in Slieve Luacra and the later volumes after I went to London, and from those later volumes I got an idea of the immense resourcefulness and adaptability of capital that was quite different from the idea one got from Volume 1. The only Marxist political literature I had read was Trotsky’s Defence Of Terrorism (directed against the German Social Democrat, Karl Kautsky).
The critical thing in our discussions was what happened after Lenin, in 1923-4. Trotsky at that point made an issue of Socialism In One Country, holding it to be an impossibility. This was entirely in accordance with his theory of Permanent Revolution, published before 1917. That theory said that a bourgeois revolution would be unsustainable in Russia and would give way to socialist revolution—but also that socialist revolution would be unsustainable in Russia unless it was sustained by socialist revolution in Europe.
Lenin could be quoted in support of that view, but he had not acted on that view when there was no European revolution, and when his attempt to break through to Europe was thwarted by Pilsudski. He carried on as if he thought that Socialism in One Country was a practical possibility, and Trotsky did not dissent.
But now Lenin was gone, and those who had been carried along by the magnetic force of his will had to decide for themselves what to do.
Should the revolution be aborted, and a bourgeoisie found, and an orderly transfer of power to it be arranged? I could not find that Trotsky suggested such a thing.
His view implied that an attempt to build socialism in Russia in isolation must lead to its perversion or degeneration under the irresistible influence of the surrounding capitalist world. But what he published a few years later was not an account of the inevitable degeneration suffered by the revolution when it was persisted with after isolation made it impossible—it was Revolution Betrayed.
I had many discussions with Liam Daltun, trying to get my head around the idea that the revolution was destined to failure by international circumstances, but that it also failed, because it was betrayed by those who assumed the leadership of it. To my mind the idea that it was betrayed implied that it might have succeeded.
Would it have succeeded if Trotsky had become party leader after Lenin instead of Stalin? As I recall, Liam would not express a definite opinion one way or the other. But he could not deny that he thought it would have been better if Trotsky had become leader.
So why didn’t he? I looked into that a bit and it struck me that he did not try to take over the leadership. He acted as if he did not want to be Party leader. Lenin towards the end did what he could for him. He was the obvious heir. And Lenin tried to cast a posthumous veto against Stalin. But Trotsky refused to act in any way that would have enabled him to become leader of the party made by Lenin.
Going into this, I discovered his pre-Revolution condemnation of the Leninist Party as a dictatorially-controlled bureaucratic structure which was designed to act in place of the working class.
Going through Trotsky’s later accounts of why he did not become leader in 1924, I found much of his pre-Revolution dislike of Leninism re-surfacing as criticism of Stalinism, but with the addition of distaste for the uncouth company of the workers who were increasingly encountered in Stalin’s circles. The party Stalin made was to act in place of the working class and yet it was thick with workers who were not cultured.
Now Liam Daltun was an intellectual. He was very widely read. He took the Irish Times (which I had never seen before I met him) and a French newspaper every day, but it was evident, ardent Trotskyist that he was, that he had never gone into the detail of why Trotsky had not taken over from Lenin. What I was finding out was all news to him—as it was to me. He did not close up against it, despite Trotskyist taunts from Gerry Lawless, with whom he had a strange love/hate (or contempt) relationship. Eventually Lawless blew the group apart by becoming police informer, and I had to try to figure the thing out on my own.