A Wave of strikes and workers’ struggles in Finland

On 11th of November Finnish postal services went on strike. The strike initially included about 9000 workers. The strike began because of an attempt to severely cut the workers wages.

It is worth pointing out that the postal services are of course owned by the state, and Finland currently has a “social-democratic” government, which pretends to be on the side of the workers.

The pay cuts were planned together by the leaders of the postal services (Posti Group) and state politicians. The supposedly “leftist” social-democrats were pushing these wage cuts.

Events like this can be severely demoralizing to the workers, because they feel like they have nobody to turn to. If the right-wing parties implement wage cuts, the workers will naturally vote for the social-democrats instead. But if the social-democrats themselves are implementing wage cuts just like the right-wing parties – then what can the workers do? Become confused, apathetic, surrender to the mercy of the capitalist corporations.

As communists it is our job to point out that social-democrats are not real leftists. They are frauds. They are mere servants of the capitalists. When push comes to shove, the social-democrats never side with the workers. They never side with workers when the going gets hard. The strikers received absolutely no help from the social-democrats in the government.

The social-democrats have shown themselves to be frauds once again, and all honest, class conscious workers must instead side with communists. Communists and some independent progressives, trade-unions and the workers themselves were the only ones supporting the strikers. Even the “Left Alliance“ Party sided with the government, not the workers.

After the strike had lasted two weeks, on 25th of November it expanded to include various other workers related to the postal services in the Post and Logistics Union (PAU). The amount of strikers reached over 10 000.

The Service Union United (PAM), Finnish Seafarers´ Union (FSU), Finnish Aviation Union (IAU), Finnish Food Workers’ Union (SEL) and Finnish Electrical Workers´ Union joined in the struggle by striking in solidarity or boycotting the postal services. They wouldn’t deliver or handle packages for them, electrical workers wouldn’t repair electrical issues for the postal service etc. Transport Workers’ Union (AKT) and The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors (JHL) also announced short strikes and other actions in solidarity.

The postal service workers announced they would strike at least until Christmas unless their demands are met. Further strikes in solidarity by other unions were promised for December.

The Industrial Union is in the middle of its own struggle against the governments’ and the capitalists’ attempts to increase work hours without increasing pay. The Industrial Union voiced its solidarity for the strikers, and announced it would also go on strike in select work places and companies starting December 9th.

 

The conclusion of the strike

The strike ended on 27th of November with a defensive victory by the workers.

The Post and Logistics Union said in their announcement:

“PAU prevented the employers attempts to significantly lower wages and implement worse labor contract terms. [The attempt to switch certain workers to worse labor terms] was prevented…”

(translated from:
https://www.pau.fi/viestinta/ajankohtaista/lakot-paattyivat-mita-neuvottelutulos-pitaa-sisallaan.html )

It was completely outrageous to try to cut wages of postal workers. They are already poorly paid, and perform demanding and necessary work. They are already understaffed and underpaid as a result of austerity, cuts and lay-offs by the government.

The government and the capitalists clearly thought the workers were completely crushed and apathetic, if they would allow this to happen. But they were wrong. The workers finally had enough, and rose up to fight for their rights. This demonstrates that there is a limit to how much the workers will tolerate!

As a further result, the minister responsible for state owned companies was forced to step down. The Social-democrats now pretend that they had nothing to do with this entire farce, and instead put all the blame on the state ownership minister. The right-wing parties in the opposition to the Social-democrats now opportunistically use this to bolster their support. But we should remember how catastrophic the policies of the previous government of the Right-wing “National Coalition”, The Center Party and the Nationalist “Finns Party” were. The previous government was a government of the 3 most right-wing parties, and their policies were even worse for the people: privatizing healthcare, increasing unpaid work hours, massive lay-offs in state owned workplaces etc.

The parties in the parliament are all the same. The only solution for thinking, honest and class conscious working people is to side with communists.

 

What can we learn about this strike?

We can clearly see the treacherousness of Social-democrats and reformists. Further, we can see that workers will defend their interests when pushed far enough.

That said, the strike was merely a defensive action. The strike succeeded in defending the workers this time, but the capitalists will restart their attack again. We shouldn’t be satisfied completely with this result. We need to work towards improving the conditions of the workers.

 

What should we do?

Our task is to use situations like these strikes to increase the level of class consciousness. Workers are conscious enough to defend their interests against capitalist wage cuts, but not yet conscious enough to split with social-democrats and reformists. We have to use situations like this to tell workers that capitalism tries to screw them over.

If in your work environment its not possible to talk about communism, you should instead just criticize capitalist corporations, corrupt social-democrat and capitalist politicians etc. and tell your co-workers how important it is to belong to a trade-union.

We have to demonstrate to workers that their interests are the polar opposite of the capitalists’ interests, and that they must break with social-democrats and reformists. Workers must stop supporting bourgeois parties and must oppose reformist leaders in trade-unions.

Strikes and protests like this are an opportunity for us to push people further to the left and to radicalize them, as well as recruit those who are already more sympathetic. It is important for communists to belong to trade-unions, and be as active in them as possible because they are a more favorable place for us communists to spread our views, and to gain and maintain solid ties with the working class.

 

Update: Prime minister resigns

In the aftermath of the strike, the Centre Party, the main government partner of the Social-democrats turned against the Social-democrats and gave a motion of no confidence to towards the prime minister.

The prime minister resigned on 3. of December.

The Finnish Communist Revolution (1918) PART 3: FAILURE OF REFORMISM

2550 -1809 8106 . N26809,137519

In the years immediately prior to the revolution, the Finnish socialists were heavily reformist. The party had always wanted to act legally and win concessions from the capitalist class. Eventually all attempts at reformism would end up in failure and in late 1917-early 1918 the party would find itself pushed to a revolutionary situation against its will by the objective conditions, the masses and the actions of the capitalist class. But before that in the period of 1916 to 1917 the social-democrats exhausted every avenue of legal reformism before ever seriously considering revolutionary action: parliamentarism, trade-unionism, demanding of concessions. Each attempt ended in failure, in the end making a violent class conflict unavoidable.

 

THE 1916 ELECTION VICTORY: Attempt at parliamentary reformism

The first grand moment for reformism was the historic election victory of 1916 where the socialists emerged as the largest party and held a parliamentary majority.

“…in the elections of 1916 the social-democratic party of Finland won (as the first workers’ party in the world) an absolute majority of parliamentary seats (103 seats out of 200). This was an enormous victory and persuaded the social-democrats to believe that under normal political conditions, when the parliament would function, laws favorable to the workers could be implemented peacefully.

Indeed, Finland unexpectedly gained such favorable conditions without any struggle from its part. In Petrograd [Russia], workers and soldiers overthrow czarism. In Finland, state of war ended and bourgeois democratic liberties were returned… Finns received the opportunity to create their own government, the senate. Governor-general Seyn and chairman of the senate Borovitinov were imprisoned and taken to Petrograd (where they were released). Stakhovich, a liberal more favorable to Finland, was appointed governor-general. It is doubtful that Finland could have expected conditions any more favorable under the Russian bourgeois republic.

Immediately after the overthrow of czardom, Finnish workers began creating first in the capital and then also in rural areas their own representative bodies, workers’ “representative assemblies” modeled after the Russian soviets… Representative assemblies (called soviets in some localities) functioned alongside local governing bodies (which had previously not been open to lower classes) and took part in administration. “(Holodkovski, The Finnish Workers’ Revolution 1918, pp.8-9)

“The party’s membership began to increase once again in 1916. One reason was the success that social-democrats got in the parliament elections… Among the important questions in the victorious elections of 1916, were the worsening food situation, and attitude towards the increasingly russified Finnish senate [the socialists wanted to give power from the senate to the Parliament, while the bourgeoisie supported the senate]. However the most important theme of the elections was the tenant-farmer question. Every party had their tenant-farmer program but the social-democrats put special emphasis on this question.”
(Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa 1), pp.181-182)

Due to obstructionism from the capitalist class and from Tsarist Russia, the social-democrats were forced into a coalition government, hindering their work:

“The social-democratic party, which had won the majority now possessed the unquestionable right to form a government. However the matter was made more difficult by the fact that the social-democratic party would have had to collaborate with bourgeois parties, which in socialist circles would have been considered betrayal of working class interests. For this reason the social-democrats announced on 23. of march their refusal to form a government, and to leave it up to bourgeois parties. Bourgeois parties were also afraid to take responsibility to form a senate. At that point the governor-general’s assistant Korff announced that unless a new senate is formed, the old Russian senate “loyal to the czar” would remain in power. This would have been intolerable. The social-democrats had to change their position on forming the senate… In their opinion, it was acceptable to form a government with representatives from the social-democratic party and the [petty-bourgeois] agrarian league, i.e. representatives from the workers’ and peasants’ parties. Again disagreements arose. The agrarian league demanded that representatives of bourgeois parties also be invited to join in the government. In this way, the social-democrats failed to avoid a coalition government.” (Holodkovski, p.9)

“Soon it became even more evident that social-democrats would not achieve much through parliamentary methods, despite their strong position in the highest government organs of Finland (half the senate seats and majority in the parliament). Bourgeois senators could rely on the chairman of the senate, the governor-general if the need arose, and his vote could at any moment grant them majority. Later [revolutionary leader and founder of the Finnish communist party] Kuusinen compared the coalition senate to a stubborn bull which was being pulled forward by its horns by the social-democrats and back by its tail by the bourgeoisie, the bull never moving at all. Additionally the Russian provisional government intervened in Finnish affairs and Finland could not resist its actions… Objective conditions did not allow social-democratic senators the opportunity to improve the position of the workers. The role of the social-democratic senators was limited to collaborating with the bourgeoisie, attempting to minimize the dissatisfaction of the population and in reality to strengthen the type of government which did not fulfill the interests of the population… The senate was stripped of its reputation before it could even do anything. But even when it did act, it didn’t win respect in the eyes of the workers but instead began receiving their scorn.”(Holodkovski, p.10)

“The social-democrats’ participation in the highest executive organ only put them in a bad light in the eyes of the workers, because the workers didn’t benefit from it.

The activity of social-democrats in the parliament proved much the same. Social-democrats only had little over half the seats. But passing changes to important laws (e.g. the constitution or reforms to taxation laws) required a two thirds majority.

The senate and parliament were the typical arena of the social-democrats’ legal activity. Legal activism is possible also in non-revolutionary situations, and therefore it was not characteristic to that time period. What was characteristic to the situation, was the ever larger non-parliamentary action by the working population. The large size of the popular movement is explained by the increased dissatisfaction of the workers, removel of the threat of repression by the authorities and the inspiring effect of the revolutionary activities of the Russian soldiers and sailors. Non-parliamentary methods corresponded to the needs of the active struggle by the people.” (Holodkovski, p.11)

The social-democrat government came to an end when the Russian Provisional Government dismantled the Finnish parliament after the social-democrats together with the agrarian league passed the Power Act, a bill for Finnish independence, making the Finnish parliament independent from Russia. The capitalists worked together with Russia to destroy the social-democrat government and to prevent this bill from being implemented. (See episode 1 of this series about the independence struggle of Finland.)

Thus due to obstructionism the social-democrats’ parliamentary hopes were frustrated. Nothing was achieved but they lost credibility in the eyes of their supporters. At the same time the capitalists were motivated to unite and campaign harder in order to combat the social-democrats in the parliament. The social-democrats no longer could inspire the same level of confidence in their voters as before. They also had a confused policy of opposing the illegal dismantling of the Finnish government by Russia, but still not boycotting the elections to create a new government. This did not help them gain support. The people thought: “what was the point of voting for them, if they would achieve nothing and the parliament would be dismantled again?”

“Social-democrats suffered a defeat in the elections of october 1-2 [1917], which surprised them. Although, the amount of social-democrat votes increased, it was 444,608 when it had been 376,030 in previous elections. [source: J. Paasivirta, Suomen itsenäisyyskysymys 1917 [Finnish independence question 1917], II, pp. 41-44]
The increase in votes of other parties was larger, e.g. the agrarian league grew by 71,6%.
[source: H. Soikkanen, kansalaissota dokumentteina, [civil war as documents] pp. 186-188]
The development of events in the summer and fall of 1917 lead to parliamentarism being seen more and more as a dissappointment by the workers. The social-democrats joining in the government (senate), any more then their parliamentary majority, did not bring significant improvements to the workers. “The people’s paper” made the following summary about the 10 year history of the single chamber parliament:

“Now ten years later we have returned to our starting point and can see that we are just as far from our goals as we were ten years ago… The task of the single chamber, most democratic parliament in the world, has been in these ten years, to sink into sand the foaming stream of progress and change, which then was unleashed by revolution.”
[source:
H. Soikkanen, p.153]

The paper explained that the workers had gone through a hard schooling. They began to understand that the strength of the working class was not in the amount of votes, but in the power and fighting capacity of their fighting class organizations. The paper emphasized that it was possible to mention achievements during this period of ten years, but all of them had been achived through non-parliamentary means. [source: H. Soikkanen, p.154]

These things were written about 2 months before the dismantling of the [Finnish] parliament [by the Russian provisional government to stifle Finnish independence]. The dismantling of the parliament destroyed the last parliamentary illusions and demonstrated the complete unreliability of bourgeois promises.” (Holodkovski, p.38)

 

“WE DEMAND”: Still hoping for peaceful reforms

Reformism suffered a severe blow after the social-democrats inability to pass any reforms during the time when they had parliamentary majority. The capitalist parties together with Russia destroyed the social-democrat majority and defeated them in elections. The social-democrats could no longer hope to pass laws and instead chose to rely on the support of the masses and directly demand concessions from the bourgeoisie:

“On December 1. when the new parliament was in session, the social-democratic leadership published their programmatic declaration “We demand”, which presented the basic demands of the workers. To combat the food shortages it urged to confiscate all food stores, to put production and trade of goods under strict control and distribute goods equally and with reasonable prices. The declaration demanded that the unemployed be given work at adequate wages. New municipal elections had to be carried out according to the newly passed law. [These would be the first municipal elections where workers had equal votes with capitalists. In the previous system, people with more property were entitled to more votes.] Officialdom is to be purged of reactionaries and made democratic. The white guard must be dismantled. The 8-hour working day must immediately be implemented. Tenant farmers and farm workers are to be made rightful owners of their homes and land… An insurence system for the elderly must be created and the tax system reformed. In questions dealing with the sovereign rights of Finland it was urged that the Power Act, accepted by the parliament on 18th of February be published and insisted on guaranteeing the internal autonomy of Finland until the question of Finnish independence has been solved in full. It was also demanded that a constitutional assembly be created and given unlimited authority in solving the country’s affairs and to accept a new constitution. Elections to the constitutional assembly were to be carried out equally among all citizens 20 years or older and decisions must be passed in the assembly with a simple majority. [source: И. И. Сюкияйнен Революционные события 1917-1918, [revolutionary events 1917-1918] pp. 286-289] (cf. Suodenjoki & Peltola, pp. 245-246)

These were the demands of Finnish social-democrats at that time. They didn’t attack the base of the capitalist system, but demanded a substantial limiting of the selfish interests of the ruling classes as well as the weakening of these classes in the government alongside a strengthening of the workers.

The bourgeois majority in the parliament refused these demands as entirely unacceptable. A week after the “We demand” declaration, it was already clear where revolutionary and non-revolutionary methods lead under similar conditions: Lenin’s tactics lead to the world historic victory of socialist revolution in Russia, but the tactics of Finnish social-democrats lead to the bourgeoisie ignoring all the demands of the Finnish working class and the electoral achievements of the social-democrats ended up being worth nothing.” (Holodkovski, pp. 41-42)

The “We Demand” document was naturally limited to simple reforms, but even those could not be achieved. The capitalist class was simply not willing to make compromises. Concessions could not be gained by begging but only by forcing the capitalists to give them!

 

THE DECEMBER 1917 GENERAL STRIKE: Workers take matters into their own hands

After attempts to pass reforms through the parliament had failed, and capitalists had refused to give them, the masses were ready to take them by force, to make life tolerable for the Finnish people. A minority of the social-democrat leaders suggested beginning a working class revolution, but majority still wanted to only pressure the capitalists to force them into concessions.

“Because the bourgeois majority in the parliament paid no heed to the workers’ demands, they began a general strike on the night of December 14. [The leading social-democratic body] The revolutionary central committee presented the strikers’ demands in a declaration titled “Working people to battle for bread and rights! Stop the presses!” (Hyvönen, p.53)

“On December 12. part of the Revolutionary Central Committee and representatives of the trade-unions held a joint meeting… Kuusinen proposed that if the parliament doesn’t satisfy the workers’ demands about the rationing of food, helping the unemployed, extending the municipal voting rights to workers etc. then the workers must take power into their own hands. Some others shared this opinion… Gylling, Pietikäinen, Visa, Väisänen and Saarikivi – opposed beginning a revolution. In their opinion the workers would not be able to keep power for long. Many thought it unlikely that the workers could handle massive nationwide problems. Majority opposed taking power. The decision to pressure the bourgeoisie and attempt to win the reforms of the “We demand”-proclamation, was passed with 18 votes against 8. To help these reforms pass even partially the social-democrats divided them into 6 separate propositions and the demands which offended the bourgeoisie the most – the demand for calling a constitutional assembly and dismantling the white guard – were dropped entirely.” (Holodkovski, pp.50-51) (Cf. E. Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti, p. 17)

This demonstrates that the leadership in late 1917 was divided into revolutionaries and reformists. The reformists constituted a solid majority of 18 against 8. The social-democrat party did everything it could, to appease the workers and begged the capitalists to grant reforms which were denied, nearly every single time. And when ever a reform was granted, it was not due to the action of the social-democrats but because the workers took matters into their own hands.

“The 4th Congress of the Finnish Trade-Union Federation met on December 12. [1917]. It pointed out that the conditions of the workers were so hopeless and unbearable, that unless the congress is ready to make radical decisions, the workers will take matters into their own hands. The food question was top most in importance… Many… deputees saw revolution as the only thing that could save the workers from starvation. Deputee Hakkinen said that unless the working class rises up to fight they will all starve to death… Deputee Pyttynen said that in Ostrobothnia the workers were eagerly waiting for the decisions of the congress and were willing to die in order to put them into effect… The deputee from Tampere said that workers of the city have decided to either win or die. Deputee Lampinen said that in many localities the workers have already began to take action, because it is better to die in battle then to do nothing and die of hunger. Some delegates said that they had been told by the workers, that unless the congress accepted radical decisions the delegates would not be welcomed back. The workers were not worried about the shortage of weapons. The delegate from Tornio said the Russian soldiers had promised they would have weapons. The delegate from Oulu also said the soldiers sided with the revolution.
[source: H. Soikkainen, pp.353-356]

The attitude of the workers was generally so firm, that there could never be a better time for revolution. However the attitude of the popular masses inspired uneasiness among some working class leaders. These leaders did not aim to overthrow the capitalists but to only pressure them and force them to accept the most important demands, in order to dissolve the revolutionary energy that had built up.

The congress of trade-union organizations published a declaration on December 13. which stated that nothing had been done in order to satisfy the demands which the trade-union delegation had made to the senate on October 20. The trade-union congress demanded that the parliament order the senate already that same day, to implement the Power Act [of Finnish sovereignty], the 8-hour working day and give parliament the right to control all of government. If this was not done, the workers would begin a general strike, the responsibility of which would fall to the bourgeoisie.”
(Holodkovski, pp.51-52)

“The general strike put forward the same demands that had been presented in the “We demand”-programme, demanded solving of the food crisis and unemployment, implementation of the power act [which guaranteed Finnish independence from capitalist Russia], fair municipal elections as well as the 8-hour working day, freeing the tenant farmers from the landlords, extending electoral rights to all citizens age 20 or older, taxing the rich and calling a constitutional assembly. The social-democratic deputies presented these demands in the parliament on behalf of the Finnish Trade-Union Federation on December 13th. The demands were read aloud by deputy Vuoristo who further appealed to the [capitalist] deputies with these words: “After the great masses have seen these demands, —it is no longer in our power to control or lead the situation—history and the minutes of the meeting will demonstrate that from our side we have attempted a peaceful solution. You have every single time refused—I wonder if you still refuse—these modest demands, which you yourselves have claimed to support, and yet have not implemented. Will you plunge our nation into catastrophe because you refuse such modest demands?” (Hyvönen, pp.60-61)

“Social-democrat Vuoristo read the declaration in parliament and emphasized it was supported by 170,000 trade-union workers, as well as all the politically organized workers, i.e. 250,000 citizens.” [source: minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I pp.98-99] (Holodkovski, p.52, )

“The general strike of 1905 had involved also the bourgeois officials and no bourgeois party had dared to oppose it. The 1917 general strike on the other hand was of a different character. It began from the atmosphere created by the October Revolution, as a revolutionary struggle of the working class and poor rural population against the bourgeoisie. In 1905 the workers had already fought against their own national bourgeoisie when it had allied with the Russian Czar to minimize the democratic parliamentary reform. But in the general strike of 1917 the workers targeted primarily the bourgeoisie of their own country and fundamentally it was nothing else then a struggle for power. The strike spread accross the country and gained right away the character of a sharp class conflict. At this stage the bourgeoisie didn’t yet feel themselves strong enough to enter into open conflict with the workers. The bourgeoisie did have a fairly extensive network of white guard organizations and it had received more then 7000 rifles from Germany along with other weapons. But the initiative was with the workers, and the strike could paralyze the entire country’s transportation, even administration. In the largest working class population centers power was in the hands of worker militias, workers’ “delegate assemblies” [soviets] or councils of working class organizations. Tens of thousands of workers and peasants joined the militias which began to declare themselves red guards. In many localities workers occupied police stations and regional government buildings, and confiscated food and weapons hidden away by the bourgeoisie. The development of the strike in this way lead to a sharpening of class antagonisms.” (Hyvönen, pp.61-62)

Revolutionary leader Yrjö Sirola described the situation in this way:

“The strike spread quickly all over the country and acquired a revolutionary character. The working class was no longer satisfied in asking for the reforms presented in the “We demand”-programme and the disarming of white guard organizations, but began demanding conquest of power. In reality, in large parts of the country (especially in cities and rural working class centers) power was already uncontestedly in the hands of revolutionary working class organizations.” (Sirola, Suomen luokkasota)
The workers take control of cities all over the country.

“…the Revolutionary central committee received messages through the telegraph and telephone from all parts of the country, demonstrating that the tide of revolution was rising ever higher and that everywhere, the workers were masters of the situation and full of fighting spirit. In Kajaani the strike committee informed that the town administration was under its control and everything was peaceful. The revolutionary committee of Tornion informed that power was in the hands of the workers and steps are being taken to solve the food crisis. In Mikkeli workers occupied the police building as well as telegraph and telephone station and forced the governor to obey the people’s demands. The mood of the workers was fierce. The workers’ revolutionary committee in Vaasa informed that the workers have occupied the regional government, sealed the rooms and posted guards, and that everything was peaceful. The workers’ soviet of Oulu telegraphed that the workers have occupied the police station, railway station, telegraph and telephone stations and regional government. Factories, shops and schools have been closed, without conflicts. Messages came from Heinola informing about the eager fighting will of the workers. Information coming from Joensuu and Jyväskylä stated that power was in the hands of the workers. Telegraphs came from Turku, Pori, Riihimäki and Ruotsinpyhtää stating that worker militias are keeping revolutionary order, confiscating weapons from the bourgeoisie and arresting the most active counter-revolutionaries. Worker organizations of Lappeenranta were carrying out inspections to discover the bourgeoisies’ hidden food stores and had already confiscated 16 tons of grain. The working people of Oulunkylä confiscated food and alcoholic beweriges from the bourgeoisie (under the law, the production and sale of alcohol was prohibited, so the bourgeoisie was breaking the law).

Here and there, worker militias had to face the white guards but gained the upper hand. The white guard of Tammisaari managed to drive the workers away from the telephone station for a while but soon the red guards took it over again. In Jyväskylä, Sortavala and Oitti the bourgeois broke the phone lines but almost everywhere the workers managed to repair them.” (Holodkovski, pp. 64-65)

“The strike spread to encompass the whole country. The industries of every city and every countryside municipality stopped work. A total of 832 enterprises participated in the strike, partial strikes were held in 112 enterprises. 10 enterprises stayed out of the strike. None of the newspapers could appear, except “The information bulletin of the workers’ revolutionary central committee” and local revolutionary committee and strike committee bulletins.

The workers saw the general strike as the beginning of a proletarian revolution and not simply a stoppage of work. All over the country they created red guard chapters. Russian troops partially helped to solve the weapon question of the red guards and worker militias. In Helsinki the workers acquired 3000 rifles from the arsenal of Vyborg shipyard (which were returned after the strike) [source: A. Taimi, Sivuja Eletystä, pp. 228-229, 231]. In Tampere the workers had 300 rifles, in Kotka 600, in Vyborg 300 etc. [source: Lehen, p.86] Workers occupied all the most important locations in the cities, took control of the media and transportation, conducted house searches in the houses of the bourgeoisie, confiscated any weapons they found and arrested the most hated counter-revolutionaries. The white guards did not dare to resist the worker’s highly unified and organized actions, apart from a few exceptions. The bourgeois authority was crippled. The bourgeois police academy… was shut down. From all municipalities, messages came announcing that power was in the hands of the workers. The working class had the opportunity to fully conquer state power, and besides, possibly without any serious resistance or bloodshed, as the events had caught the bourgeoisie off guard and it was unprepared for civil war. A revolutionary situation had arisen in the country.” (Holodkovski, pp.54-55)

The December 1917 general-strike would have been the perfect opportunity for a revolution. The capitalists were caught off-guard, they were not armed or prepared sufficiently to oppose the workers, who easily took control with very little resistance. But a revolution was not what the majority of social-democrat leaders were hoping for. They were frightened by the turn of events. The masses had simply organized without the reformist leaders and taken more bold action then their supposed leaders had wanted. The social-democratic party was now forced to consider whether to support an outright workers’ revolution or to oppose it.

 

FACTIONS INSIDE THE PARTY: Reformists, Centrists, Revolutionaries and Counter-revolutionaries.

White propaganda written in the 30s also admits that instead of advocating for revolution “The social-democrats didn’t have the courage to order a rebellion, but instead warned against individual actions and told the workers to keep united.”
(Erkki Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti, p. 15)

“At the same time as the working class was ready for revolution and rising for battle, [source: “Финляндия революция”, стр. 26.] the majority in the Revolutionary Central Committee considered revolution to be dangerous in that situation. Why did an attitude of compromise triumph in the working class leaders, while a few months later [in january 1918] a revolutionary attitude gained the upper hand despite the situation no longer being favorable? [source: Lehen, p.107]

In December 1917 the social-democratic party functioned under the prevailing understanding of class struggle. The theoretical level of the party was low, it interpreted principles of revolution and class struggle in a backward way.* According to [revolutionary leader] Yrjö Sirola, a left-wing faction, centrist faction and a right-wing faction all lived harmoniously in the party and the centrists were the leading group, with their left-kautskyite theories.** Sirola considered himself to have belonged to this group…” (Holodkovski, p. 55)

*[source: “40 лет рабочей революции в Финляндии.” “Новая и новейшая история”, 1958, No 2, стр. 125. (“40 years of the workers’ revolution in Finland.” “New and Newest History”, 1958, No 2, p. 125.)]
**[source: Предисловие Ю. Сирола к тезисам ЦК КПФ. “Пролетарская революция”, 1928, No 8 (78), стр. 168. (Y.Sirola’s preface to the theses of the Central Committee of the Finnish Communist Party. “The Proletarian Revolution”, 1928, No 8 (78), p. 168.)]

“Sirola explained that this left-wing consisted of instinctively revolutionary workers without conscious Bolshevik leadership. The left-wing faction became stronger and more active after the October Revolution. [source: “40 лет рабочей революции в Финляндии.” “Новая и новейшая история”, 1958, No 2, стр. 125. (“40 years of the workers’ revolution in Finland.” “New and Newest History”, 1958, No 2, p. 125.)]

The working class leaders of that time had no familiarity with Lenin’s theoretical works, partially due to the fact that they didn’t speak Russian, but more because they were not very interested in the Bolshevik’s struggle against opportunism or issues of the international working class movement. Here is an illustrative example. In June of 1917 at the 9th congress of the Finnish social-democratic party Bolshevik representatives Alexandra Kollontai and Jukka Rahja [a Finnish bolshevik] encouraged Finnish social-democrats to join the Zimmerwald current [which opposed the imperialist world war one]. Valpas replied that the party majority was not on the Zimmerwald side.

“The extreme right-wing of the majority is more right-wing then the famous Branting, it is almost petit-bourgeois and in the party executive committee that has been the leading tendency” and in questions of class struggle it is of the same opinion as Branting and Scheidemann [social-chauvinists and reformists] [source: Soikkanen, I, p. 94].

Kuusinen who spoke later, said: “It is true that Zimmerwalds, Scheidemanns, Thomases etc. are very vague concepts to us. If Rahja is going to question us about international politics, starting with the question of which groups are now Zimmerwaldian, then we are going to make a great many mistakes.” Rahja interjected: “You have been together with the bourgeoisie and for that reason can’t even recognize social-democrats.”

Kuusinen replied: “Yes, it is partially because of that, but also because we are so far away from those international politics… but I think its not so dangerous if we here make a decision somewhat with our ‘eyes closed’ to follow the decision of our Russian comrades and join with the Zimmerwald… We trust you. Valpas says that it would be incorrect since we are more bourgeois then the Zimmerwaldians. That is true. From what I personally know about the Zimmerwaldians I do think that they take a more extreme stance then us here in Finland.”[source: Soikkanen, I, pp. 96-97] (Holodkovski, pp.56-57)
“Before the October revolution in Russia and in the early weeks of the revolution, the stance of Finnish social-democrats was that a socialist revolution could only succeed in large western industrial countries. Three days after the Bolshevik revolution, Kuusinen said in a speech to the parliament that the question of proletarian revolution would not be solved in Finland but

“it would be settled in Europe. It also won’t be settled in Russia but in Russia, Germany, England, all of them together and possibly nearly at the same time. Unless a proletarian revolution comes from there, it won’t happen in Finland either…”
(Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I pp.56-57)

From the above statement it follows logically that the Finnish socialists didn’t feel the need to urgently prepare for a socialist revolution, until it happened in the Western countries. Because otherwise the Finnish revolution would suffer defeat, and therefore the working classes had to be prevented from taking this premature and ill-advised step. There was the danger that the revolutionary working class would turn its back on the leaders [as it later did] and would start to follow the firm supporters of revolution without delay. For this reason the more radical of the leaders had to keep up appearances and act thus, to not cause disappointment amont revolutionary workers and to not let them out of their influence, even if they didn’t truly support revolution. They had to pretend to be much more left-wing then they really were, and emphasize that they supported uncompromising class struggle and won’t collaborate with the bourgeosie. That way they kept their authority among the left-wing working class. The siltasaari [center-left] faction founded its policy on this basis. In the party congress in 1917 Kuusinen described the policy of the times in the following way:

“Personally, I would now take quite a revisionist stance. In normal circumstances I would try to support class struggle. But it probably won’t hurt to take a [public] stand that is more radical then the actual practice. That is how this party has always been. We have always given an image of ourselves to the outside, which is slightly more radical then we really are. We have had class struggle as such a dogma right from the beginning, that if someone were to speak against it, they would have been condemned by the party.”
(Minutes of the 9. congress of the Finnish social-democratic party)

To have understood the falsity of the deeply rooted dogmas of Western social-democracy would have required serious reconsideration and becoming accustomed with Lenin’s works. Those who trusted in [German revisionist leader] Kautsky’s authority had only realized the falseness of some of Kautsky’s claims after looking into that theoretical work that some Bolsheviks had given to developing the theory and practice of Marxism. Lenin’s recommendations for Finnish social-democrats to take power, and his short letter of December 11. could not contain full argumentation and therefore didn’t have a significant enough impact on the Finns.” (Holodkovski, p. 57-58)

The factions in the social-democratic party altered over time. Initially there was a struggle between the counter-revolutionary revisionist right-wing faction and the left-wing “siltasaari” faction. However in 1917 a further split emerged:

1) the firm revolutionaries, armed masses, elements of trade-unions etc. formed a revolutionary left-wing tendency but as Sirola said, without Bolshevik leadership.

2) the “siltasaari” group which consisted of many social-democrat party leaders became a center-faction. They represented a left-menshevik, left-kautskyite tendency which supported revolution in theory but not in reality, believed Finland as a small peasant country wasn’t ready for revolution.

3) the counter-revolutionaries, open revisionists and reformists formed the right-wing. The leaders of this group such as Väinö Tanner would consistently oppose working class revolution throughout the civil war, would eventually denounce socialism and form the basis of modern Finnish social-democracy.

The social-democrat leaders saw the december general-strike would lead to a working class revolution which they saw as premature and inadvisable. Therefore they began aiming to end the strike and still wanted pushthe capitalists to grant concessions and appease the workers to prevent a revolution.

“The Revolutionary Central Committee [i.e social-democrat leadership] was being pressured from the right and the left. The majority of the social-democratic parliamentary group was nervous about the revolutionary character of the December general strike, and after receiving information that the strike had in some locations lead to bloodshed, it called its members away from Revolutionary Central Committee leaving only three members who it authorized to act in favor of ending the strike.
[source: “Explanation of the minutes of the 10. (extraordinary) congress of the Finnish social-democratic party held in Helsinki 25-27. December 1917”, by Anton Huotari as secretary, p.10]
The view of the workers’ militias was the opposite. On the evening of 15. December their representatives arrived at the meeting demanding firmer actions: disarming the white guards and taking power. If the meeting refused to do this, the workers would do it themselves. The Revolutionary Central Committee promised to give its answer by 8 o’clock the next morning. The meeting did not have time to discuss the matter because many of its members had to be in session of the parliament.

In the parliament the social-democrats tried for the last time to persuade the bourgeosie to realize that it was essential to grant at least some of the workers’ demands… In his speech to the parliament Kuusinen said:

“I am of the view that there could be unrest tomorrow, unless we who seek to calm down the workers, can finally demonstrate some real results from this parliament… We at least see it as beneficial if we could peacefully get over this critical period.”
(Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I pp.56-57)

“Valpas said in his speech that “The revolutionary movement has until now only taken the form of a strike movement” [source: Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I pp.56-57] and let it be understood that the situation could change as early as tomorrow, unless the parliament give the workers real results. The leadership of the strike did not consider itself capable of controlling the forces who demanded firm action…

After finally realizing the seriousness of the situation the bourgeosie agreed to some concessions. Alkio [from the petit-bourgeois Agrarian league] made the proposition that

“…the parliament would at least temporarily begin wielding that authority which had previously belonged to the Czar and grand duke.” [i.e. the Power Act would partially be implemented at least temporarily, making Finland a sovereign republic]
(Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917, I p. 220)

The social-democrats proposed that the parliament be made permanently and not temporarily the highest authority. The secretariat of the parliament proposed in the name of the bourgeos parliamentary group that the highest authority be given to the senate. Alkio’s proposal was accepted with 127 votes in favor, 68 against. Afterwards the parliament accepted the 8-hour working day and the municipal election reform.” (Holodkovski, p. 58-59)

The white guard propaganda book Svinhufvud and the independence senate also admits these facts. The author quotes from the same speech by Kuusinen on page 23.
“After the parliament session on night of December 16. the Revolutionary Central Committee continued its meeting, where the proposition of the workers’ militias “to take power” was discussed. The previous night the council of worker organizations had also joined in with this proposition. Finally at 5 o’clock in the morning it was decided with 14 votes against 11 to take power in the hands of the workers… Sirola was tasked with drafting the call to revolution. But soon some who had sided with revolution changed their minds and the whole vote was dropped.” (Holodkovski, p. 60)

White guard propaganda also confirms this saying:

“After a heated discussion the meeting decided with 14 votes against 11 to begin a revolution the next day… The fateful hour for our fatherland had not struck yet however. Before dawn some members of the central committee who had supported revolution changed their mind and the decision was dropped.” (Räikkönen, p. 24)

“On the morning of 16. December there appeared a declaration of the Revolutionary Central Committee which had been written before the call to revolution had been cancelled. It descibed the 8-hour working day and municipal reform by the parliament as entirely insufficient.” (Holodkovski, p. 60)

The declaration read:

“That is all! And even that, after many twists and turns. But it cannot satisfy the workers. It cannot. It will not be allowed. Not even a word has been spoken about solving the food crisis, not to even mention actions being taken. No action has been taken to combat unemployment. The lords of the parliament naturally don’t want to free the tenant-farmers. They oppose democratization of the state machine. They firmly close their pocket books from effective taxation. They do not wish to remove obstacles from voting rights, they abhore calling a constitutional assembly. They don’t plan to give up their butcher [white] guards. But they must be forced. Power has so far been wielded only by the bourgeoisie. It must now be taken into the hands of the workers. The strike must be continued, the bourgeois state machine must be taken under working class supervision, railroads etc. transportation and communication must be taken under the control of the workers, the bourgeoisie must be disarmed, its sabotage activity and armed resistance must be crushed, the worker guards must enforce revolutionary order, in the regions power belongs to local soviets and committees. The highest ruling body is the workers’ Revolutionary Central Committee. May everyone know their task. May everyone fulfill their duty. This way the revolutionary workers fight for their rights, to win bread.” (H. Soikkanen, kansalaissota dokumentteina p. 245)

“The declaration which emphasized that the demands which lead to the general strike were not even close to being satisfied, and therefore it was necessary to take even firmer actions, proved to be in stark contrast with the Revolutionary Central Committee’s actual policy. The majority of the central committee actually took the opinion that it was best to be satisfied with the concessions they had won, and to end the strike…

Later Sirola said about those days that setting up a proletarian dictatorship corresponded to such a degree with the hopes and wishes of the workers that if one of the leaders had had the courage to step up as the head of a workers’ government, the workers would have supported them, followed them and the revolution would have been carried out.” (Holodkovski, p. 61)

 

“RED SENATE”: The Final Reformist Utopia

The social-democrats had been lead to believe that a compromise with the capitalists could be reached. If the general-strike was ended and society returned to normal conditions, the capitalists would allow the social-democrats control of the senate. The social-democrats were not stupid enough to fully trust this proposition but still agreed to go along, as the other alternative would have been revolution.

“The leaders of the strike began negotiations with a few bourgeois representatives of the parliament about the creation of a socialist government “the legal way”, i.e. by a parliamentary decision. The bourgeois representatives implied that such a government could be formed if the strike was ended. The parliament couldn’t be pressured any further because its chairman had dissolved it for the duration of the strike. The social-democrats had opposed dissolving the parliament without success. Therefore, in order to create a social-democratic government through the parliament, the strike had to be ended. But were there any guarantees that the bourgeoisie would not betray its promise? It would have been childish to believe the promises of the bourgeoisie. The leaders of the strike understood this but still supported ending the strike. In their opinion the continuation of the strike and its escalation to a revolution could have disastrous consequences which had to be prevented. The policy of forming a socialist government through a parliamentary road was accepted, and it instantly reduced the revolutionary sentiment. Was there any need to use violence, if a red government could be created with the agreement of parliament? In light of these facts it is easy to understand the actions of the majority of Finnish working class leaders in December 1917.”
(Holodkovski, p.62)

“The Revolutionary Central Committee discussed the question of a red government and the strike on December 17. The minutes of the meeting speak of disunity… votes were divided evenly. Six members… supported social-democrat participation in government (…minutes don’t specify what this meant)… six members supported ending the strike without any further demands. No decision was reached.

A decision was accepted in the next meeting of the Revolutionary Central Committee which began at 2am December 18. and had a crucial significance. The participants of the meeting were told that the council of workers’ organizations of Helsinki unanimously support forming a workers’ government. The railway workers agree. On the other hand the majority of the social-democratic parliamentary group supports forming a red government through legal, i.e. parliamentary means… three proposals were presented: 1. forming a red government through parliamentary means, 2. forming a red government through non-parliamentary means and 3. to end the general strike without any further demands. Forming a red government through parliamentary means received 8 votes in favor… 8 members also opposed it. The vote of the chairman decided the question in favor of accepting the proposal. In the final vote the decision was accepted with 7 votes in favor, 5 against and 2 abstaining that the strike will be ended and the social-democratic parliamentary group is tasked with forming a red government through the parliament…” (Holodkovski, pp.62-63)
White guard propaganda also admits this saying:
“In the final vote it was decided at last with 7 votes in favor and 5 against – with 2 abstaining from voting –, that the strike will be ended and “the parliamentary group will be given the task to form a red government through the parliament”. By promising the frenzied masses a “red senate” it was possible to calm things down.” (Räikkönen, p. 27)

Meanwhile the proletarian and rural masses waited for developments.

“The local committees and soviets awaited at their telephones around the clock for revolutionary orders from the central leadership. They anxiously waited for instructions.

In such a situation, news began to spread that the Revolutionary Central Committee had decided to end the strike. To the workers this seemed at first to be unbelievable and monstrous. They didn’t believe it. In some places the telegraph which called for ending the strike, was seen as a provocation. [source: L. Letonmäki, Den finska socialdemokratin och revolutionen, p.7]

In Tampere the workers thought the members of their committee who announced the ending of the strike, were traitors who had been bribed by the bourgeoisie. When the members of the committee tried to defend themselves in a mass meeting, they were prevented from speaking with shouts of “down!”, “out!”, “traitors!”” (Holodkovski, p.65)

“Even after the news turned out to be true, hundreds of workers refused at first to obey the order to end the strike. From all corners of the country came confused and angry questions about why the strike should end… In Kotka, Lahti and Loviisa the workers rose up almost unanimously to oppose ending the strike. Those supporting the order of the Revolutionary Central Committee were pulled down from podiums. The workers of Kotka and Kymenlaakso voiced the slogan “Power to the workers”, “We must declare a proletarian dictatorship” and promised to mobilize and thousand men.[source: Punakaarti rintamalla. Luokkasodan muistoja, p.106]

The workers of Karjaa declared in their meeting that they don’t accept ending the strike because the results achived are insufficient, and said the measures outlined in the “We demand” proclamation absolutely had to be fulfilled. The workers of Karkkila unanimously accepted the following statement: “We don’t accept the decision of the Revolutionary Central Commitee. We must uncompromisingly hold on to the demands we put forward at the beginning of the strike; for that reason such a government must be created that will implement the Power Act, bring the tenant-farmer question to an acceptable conclusion etc. Also the regional and municipal governments must be taken in the workers’ hands. Forces must remain mobilized until working conditions and the food situation have been organized according to the new regime.”
[source: “Suurlakkotiedonantoja” [“general strike information bulletins”] n:o 1, 19.XI.1917.]

Similar decision was made by the workers of Lohja. News arrived in Helsinki that the decision to end the strike had caused unrest among the workers and meetings were held in several places. Those who supported ending the strike were accused of being traitors.” [source: И. И. Сюкияйнен, p. 129] (Holodkovski, p.66)

The masses had been ready for revolution. All they lacked as Sirola and Kuusinen later said, was Bolshevik leadership, which did not exist in Finland at the time.

The Revolutionary Central Committee published a declaration on 18. December titled “Class struggle without the general strike” which stated that:
“The bourgeosie’s black powergrab [attempt to build military dictatorship] has been defeated… power will be given to the hands of the parliament, and laws about municical democracy and 8-hour working day have been passed… Part of the parliament bourgeoisie have made emergency promises. They’ve promised improvements to the food policy. They have also promised to recognize and implement the ‘power act’ as a basis for democracy… They have also promised their support for freeing the tenant-farmers and other important demands… Their promises are not worth much however, unless the workers standby as a firm observing guardian, ready to attack if betrayal of the promises is discovered…” (H. Soikkanen, pp. 248-250)
The capitalists’ attempt to build a dictatorship will be discussed in a later episode.

“The [social-democrat] declaration [to end the strike] clearly demonstrates that they set as goals of the working class movement only those types of reforms and demands which did not directly attack the foundations of the capitalist system.” (Holodkovski, p. 67)

“The workers’ executive committee of Helsinki declared on 19. of December that: “Because a red senate has been formed and the general organized workers’ meetings… have today decided to end the strike, the workers’ executive committee of Helsinki informs that the strike is considered to be over by 2 p.m.” …words about the formation of a red senate do not reflect any reality: the senate was only being planned. However, for a few days this illusion was seen as a realistic possibility. The newspaper “The Worker” published advice from the workers to the red senate. The planned members of the red senate… held a meeting to plan the government’s program… The senate question ended exactly as Sirola had thought. It was childish to imagine in that situation that the bourgeois majority would have handed over the reigns of power to the social-democrats… the proposal for a red senate received only 80 votes. A 100 votes supported the bourgeois senate, Svinhufvud as its leader.” (Holodkovski, pp. 70-71)
A white guard author writes:
“On December 19. the workers’ executive committee finally declared the strike to be over, because a red senate had been formed. However this did not happen…” (Räikkönen, p. 27)

In this way all the attempts at peaceful reform failed. The capitalists did not grant any meaningful concessions or share power with the workers. The conditions still remained absolutely miserable in the country: long working days despite some industries officially accepting 8-hour working days on paper, and this obviously did not extend to farm workers, rural house servants or tenant-farmers, there was still no land reform, no ruling single chamber parliament, wages were too low to compete with inflation and black market prices of necessities and according to government estimates one quarter of the population was threatened by famine. See episode 2 of this series about the conditions of the people before the revolution.

The absolute failure of reformism to change the miserable conditions kept pushing the masses towards real revolutionary struggle. At the same time, now frightened by the unrest of the december general-strike and the strength of the masses, the capitalists began to rapidly arm themselves, to build a dictatorship and to prepare to crush the workers if they attempted to rise up and improve their lives.

SOURCES:

Holodkovski, Suomen Työväenvallankumous 1918

Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa 1)

J. Paasivirta, Suomen itsenäisyyskysymys 1917

H. Soikkanen, kansalaissota dokumentteina
И. И. Сюкияйнен Революционные события 1917-1918

Me vaadimme https://mltheory.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/me-vaadimme-julistus.pdf
E. Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenäisyyssenaatti

Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918

Minutes of the 2. Finnish diet 1917

Sirola, Suomen luokkasota

A. Taimi, Sivuja Eletystä

“Финляндия революция”

Tuure Lehen, Punaisten ja Valkoisten Sota

“40 лет рабочей революции в Финляндии.” “Новая и новейшая история”, 1958, No 2, стр. 125.

Предисловие Ю. Сирола к тезисам ЦК КПФ. “Пролетарская революция”, 1928, No 8 (78), стр. 168.
Minutes of the 9. congress of the Finnish social-democratic party

Explanation of the minutes of the 10. (extraordinary) congress of the Finnish social-democratic party held in Helsinki 25-27. December 1917

L. Letonmäki, Den finska socialdemokratin och revolutionen

“Suurlakkotiedonantoja”

Punakaarti rintamalla: Luokkasodan muistoja, ed. J. Lehtosaari

 

Was Lenin a State-capitalist? (The NEP explained)

Every now and then one hears the claim that “Lenin was a state-capitalist, Lenin didn’t support socialism, but state-capitalism.” What is this based on? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

This confusion stems from an incorrect understanding of Lenin’s writings, the early soviet policies of “war-communism” and the so-called NEP or “New Economic Policy”.

Lenin of course, was a communist. He wanted Socialism and communism.

In the early 1920s Lenin argued strongly in favor of building socialism and said it was no longer a matter of the distant future, but something viable that could be built during the immediately following years:

Socialism is no longer a matter of the distant futureno matter how many difficulties it may entail, we shall all―not in one day, but in the course of several years―all of us together fulfil it whatever happens so that NEP Russia will become socialist Russia
~Lenin, “Speech At A Plenary Session Of The Moscow Soviet Nov. 20, 1922”

But what about the NEP? What was it? Lenin even mentions the NEP in the quote above.

The NEP, or “New Economy Policy” was a transition policy from capitalism to socialism. During the NEP the proletariat had conquered state power, and large industry was mostly nationalized into the hands of the state. However, it wasn’t socialism yet particularly because the agricultural sector was still mostly in private hands, hence why Lenin calls it “state-capitalism”. It would have been inaccurate to call it socialism, it was the preparation for socialism.

This is what Lenin said in 1923:

Infinitely stereotyped, for instance, is the argument they learned by rote during the development of West-European Social-Democracy, namely, that we are not yet ripe for socialism, but as certain “learned” gentleman among them put it, the objective economic premises for socialism do not exist in our country… “The development of the productive forces of Russia has not yet attained the level that makes socialism possible.” All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course, Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is decisive criterion of our revolution… You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country by the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving toward socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary historical sequence of events are impermissible or impossible?”
~Lenin, “Our Revolution” (1923)

Once again Lenin reiterates that it is feasable and necessary to implement measures of proletarian state-control, which is not socialism, but a step towards it:

“Under no circumstances can the party of the proletariat set itself the aim of “introducing” socialism in a country of small peasants so long as the overwhelming majority of the population has not come to realise the need for a socialist revolution.

But only bourgeois sophists, hiding behind “near-Marxist” catchwords, can deduce from this truth a justification of the policy of post poning immediate revolutionary measures, the time for which is fully ripe; measures which have been frequently resorted to during the war by a number of bourgeois states… the nationalisation of the land, of all the banks and capitalist syndicates, or, at least, the immediate establishment of the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, etc., over them… which are only steps towards socialism, and which are perfectly feasible economically.”
~Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution (1917)

Lenin also realized that in order to transition to socialism it was necessary to create a collective agriculture sector. He said in 1923, talking about agricultural co-operatives:

As a matter of fact, the political power of the Soviet over all large-scale means of production, the power in the state in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat, etc, …is not this all that is necessary in order from the co-operatives – from the co-operatives alone, which we formerly treated as huckstering, and which, from a certain aspect, we have the right to treat as such now, under the new economic policy – is not this all that is necessary in order to build a complete socialist society? This is not yet the building of socialist society but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for this building.”
~Lenin, “On Cooperation” (1923)

Lenin’s opponents claimed that Lenin was going backwards and betraying socialism by advocating development on state-capitalist lines. Lenin reminded them of what he said already in 1917:

“[S]ocialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly… no revolt can bring about socialism unless the economic conditions for socialism are ripe… state-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate rungs.”
~Lenin, “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it” (1917)

Now it should be clear that he says state-capitalism is a material preparation for socialism i.e. the means of production have been highly centralized so it is relatively easy for a dictatorship of the proletariat to take them over. Of course Lenin is also talking about the context of his own time. Russia was a semi-feudal country, meaning that they had some industry in the cities, while most of the country was under developed countryside, dominated by small scale peasant production. This is why Lenin said, that it would be preferable and useful, if the country wasn’t semi-feudal, but state-capitalist. That would allow for faster development, building up of industry, electricity etc.

He points to the example of Germany which transitioned from feudalism to state-capitalism. He argued, this would be useful for Russia, if it was under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“In the first place economically state capitalism is immeasurably superior to our present economic system.

In the second place there is nothing terrible in it for the Soviet power, for the Soviet state is a state in which the power of the workers and the poor is assured. . . .

To make things even clearer, let us first of all take the most concrete example of state capitalism. Everybody knows what this example is. It is Germany. Here we have “the last word” in modern large-scale capitalist engineering and planned organisation, subordinated to Junker-bourgeois imperialism. Cross out the words in italics, and in place of the militarist, Junker, bourgeois, imperialist state put also a state, but of a different social type, of a different class content—a Soviet state, that is, a proletarian state, and you will have the sum total of the conditions necessary for socialism.

Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries).”
~Lenin, The Tax in Kind (The Significance Of The New Policy And Its Conditions)

Marx and Engels supported the idea that a socialist revolution should be carried out as soon as possible without waiting for capitalism to develop “on its own” and destroy the peasantry. Lenin’s policy of worker-peasant alliance, developing of agricultural co-operatives and using state-capitalism as a transition from semi-feudalism and undeveloped capitalism to socialism is in accordance with Marx and Engels.

“We, of course, are decidedly on the side of the small peasant; we shall do everything at all permissible to make his lot more bearable, to facilitate his transition to the co-operative should he decide to do so, and even to make it possible for him to remain on his small holding for a protracted length of time to think the matter over, should he still be unable to bring himself to this decision. We do this not only because we consider the small peasant living by his own labor as virtually belonging to us, but also in the direct interest of the Party. The greater the number of peasants whom we can save from being actually hurled down into the proletariat, whom we can win to our side while they are still peasants, the more quickly and easily the social transformation will be accomplished. It will serve us nought to wait with this transformation until capitalist production has developed everywhere to its utmost consequences, until the last small handicraftsman and the last small peasant have fallen victim to capitalist large-scale production.” ~Engels, The Peasant Question in France and Germany

Marx and Engels said that all means of productions should be nationalized. But the soviets quickly realized, that it is impossible to nationalize all the small means of productions, especially the thousands and thousands of small peasant farms. In our modern day, this is not necessarily a problem, but for countries in those days it was a serious problem. So Lenin proposed setting up of agricultural co-operatives, which would help transition the small peasant farms to socialism.

So Lenin did not support state-capitalism ruled by the bourgeois. He didn’t support bourgeois rule at all, but he realized that it would be inaccurate to call the NEP socialism, so he called it state-capitalism, ruled by the proletariat.

But why did Lenin’s opponents accuse him of retreating backwards (they never had socialism before)? That is because the left-opposition wanted to continue their previous war time policy of “war-communism”. It has communism in the name, but that doesn’t mean it was actually socialist or communist. War-communism was a system of direct grain confiscation, meaning that all the surplus food produced by the peasantry, would be taken at a fixed price, and given to the cities and the army. This was a necessary war time policy, but it wasn’t socialism and it was unpopular among the peasants. Therefore, when the civil war ended, war-communism was also ended.

Unlike war-communism, the NEP allowed a limited grain market, with price controls. Lenin admitted, that in some ways this was a retreat, but a necessary one.

So lets recap. The NEP meant:

  • ending of war communism
  • rebuilding after the war
  • large trade in the hands of the state, but allowing a limited grain market to stimulate grain production
  • developing industry in the hands of the proletarian state
  • developing a collective agricultural sector

=setting up the necessary economic foundations for building socialism

 

SOURCES:
Lenin, The Tax in Kind (The Significance Of The New Policy And Its Conditions) (1921)
Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it (1917)
Lenin, “On Cooperation” (1923)
Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution (1917)
Lenin, “Our Revolution” (1923)
Lenin, “Speech At A Plenary Session Of The Moscow Soviet Nov. 20, 1922”
Engels, “The Peasant Question in France and Germany“

 

vladimir_lenin_and_the_people_by_vladimirseyer-d78uy0c.jpg

Brief History of the October Revolution

The October Revolution is an extremely important event in world history. It was the first successful workers revolution. But how did it all happen? This is a brief overview of the complicated history of the October Revolution.

The Russian Empire was a totalitarian police state ruled by an absolute monarchy. The country was very backward economically and culturally. Average life expectancy in Russia was about 35 years. Only about 20% of the population knew how to read. The workers and peasants lived horrible lives, without the 8 hour working day, minimum wage laws or basic work safety regulations. There were many large strikes and protests but it was not uncommon that the police would shoot at the demonstrations and kill the strikers.

Despite how big the country was, there was a constant shortage of farm land and also constant famine. This is because most land belonged to the wealthy landlords and rich peasants. Because of technological backwardness, only the softest and most fertile soil could be used, this severely limited the amount of available farm land.
In 1898 the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party is created. Among its founders are people like Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov. This was a marxist party, that wanted to overthrow the monarchy and bring about socialism. However during the course of the struggle there is a lot of disagreement about when this goal is to be implemented and how. In 1903 there emerges a split in the party: two factions emerge: the Mensheviks led by Martov and the Bolsheviks led by Lenin.

During the years, although Lenin and many others first anticipated the two groups could merge again, the split ends up worsening and the two factions become separate parties: Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Mensheviks) and Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks).

The main differences between the groups were the following:

1. The Bolsheviks wanted an organizationally united party of serious revolutionaries while the Mensheviks wanted a more loose reformist type party.

2. Both parties agreed that the next course of action was to overthrow the monarchy and carry out the so-called “bourgeois-democratic revolution”. This would make Russia a capitalist parliamentary democracy. However the Mensheviks argued that the class to lead the revolution was the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class. The bourgeois class served this function in the French Revolution. The Bolsheviks disagreed, they thought the capitalists couldn’t be trusted to carry out the democratic revolution, they were weaker then in France, they allied with the monarchy and feared the workers and peasants. In fact, the Bolshevik leader Lenin argued that the Russian proletariat was much stronger and more developed then the French proletariat of the late 1700s and therefore should lead the democratic revolution, and not merely support it.

3. Lastly, the Mensheviks didn’t think Russia was ready for Socialism, in their opinion the workers could never take power in Russia until after a long time of capitalist and parliamentary development. Even though the debate about workers revolution and socialism would only come about fully later, this attitude relates to the Menshevik position that the workers shouldn’t lead the democratic revolution, but only support the capitalist class against the monarchy.

In 1905 there is an attempt at the democratic revolution. There are massive protests all over the country, mutinies in the army and the people organize public meetings called “soviets” or councils, which would get together and discuss what to do. The revolution eventually fails. It won some democratic liberties from the Tsar, but those liberties would be constantly under attack by the monarchy afterwards. This revolution is seen as a dress-rehearsal for the later revolution.

In 1914 World War 1 begins, and launches Russia into chaos. The economy is ruined by the war, there is a shortage of food and large amounts of the population are drafted to fight in the war. The war is seen by many people, especially the socialist, as an unjust imperialist conquest, where millions of poor and working class people from different countries had to die for the profits and wealth of the capitalist and monarchist governments of their countries.

The attitude towards the war ends up splitting the international socialist movement. The so-called “2nd international working men’s association”. Many parties initially opposed the war, but then chose to support their own government in it, to protect their country from the other imperialist powers. Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and other revolutionaries saw this as treachery. Surely, if everyone only supports their own imperialist government in an imperialist war, it doesn’t do anything to stop the war. They called for “turning the imperialist war to a class war”, friendship between the workers of the various countries, and unity against the capitalist governments of all warring countries. This led to the splitting of the international.

In February 1917 the Russian monarchy is overthrown. This leads to the creation of the Russian Provisional Government, consisting of the capitalist Cadet party, the Socialist-Revolutionary party or SR and the Mensheviks.

The Bolsheviks initially gave “conditional support” for the Provisional Government, meaning they supported it to the degree that it carried out the democratic reforms and other policies demanded by the population. However it soon became very evident the Provisional Government was a failure.

The Provisional government refused to carry out land-reform. It was necessary to prevent famine and reduce the land shortage, but it would have meant going against the power of the landlords.

The Provisional government also refused to impose stricter regulations on trading and the economy. This would have been necessary to prevent economic disaster, but it would have meant going against the capitalists who greatly profited from the war and the chaos.

Lastly, the Provisional government supported the war. They advocated a “war to a finish”, meaning until they won. It became evident that Russia was losing the war, however the Provisional government was still committed to fulfill the treaties and agreements with their allies in World War 1.

Clearly, supposed democratic government, with a quite a few self-proclaimed socialists in it should act in this way. The Bolsheviks were quick to point out that the Provisional government acts exactly like the Tsarist government, which also sided with the landlords, capitalists and started the imperialist war. The Provisional government was continuing Tsarist policy.

In April 1917, Vladimir Lenin returns to Russia from exile and puts forward his “april theses”, political proposals which call for the overthrow of the Provisional government.

The Bolsheviks put forward their slogans:

“Down with the provisional government”

“Down with the capitalist ministers”

“Factories for the workers, land to the peasants, end to the imperialist war,”

“Peace, Bread & Land”


In June the capital city, Petrograd (now called St. Petersburg) has municipal elections. Bolsheviks achieve a massive victory, growing from essentially nothing to one of the biggest parties. The so-called “defencist bloc” still gets the majority. This bloc consisted of the SR-party and mensheviks. Defencism, meant that they supported the war effort. Biggest loser of the election was the Cadet party, which achieved only 15% of the vote and lost its power as the biggest party.


On July 1
, Russia launches an offensive on the front, this is known as the “kerensky offensive” or the “July offensive.” The war was going badly and casualties were mounting for Russia, the blood-thirstyness of the imperialists and the Provisional government were very evident.

On July 3-4, there is a massive demonstration in Petrograd, of hundreds of thousands of people. Among the demonstrators are armed soldiers who have come from the front to demand change and revolution. The Bolsheviks urge caution and say that the demonstration should be peaceful and organized. They oppose bringing weapons to the demonstration and say that they are not yet strong enough for a revolution. The workers and soldiers decide to bring weapons despite the advice of the Bolsheviks but the Bolsheviks still take part in the demonstrations to lend support to the workers.

The workers and soldiers carry Bolshevik slogans “end the war”, “peace, bread and land”. There is a government crack down against the demonstrators. Machine guns shoot in the crowd, leaving countless dead. The Bolsheviks are now seen as a serious threat by the government. A warrant is issued for Lenin’s arrest, he is forced into hiding. Bolshevik newspaper Pravda is banned, their printing plant and party offices are destroyed. This period of reppression is known as the “July Days”. The Provisional government restores the death penalty on the front, against soldiers who disobey orders.

The Bolsheviks lose a lot of their forces, and many of their important resources. They begin publishing their newspapers under new names to avoid censorship. Despite all their difficulties the workers now support them more then ever, the Provisional government is exposed as a supporter of the capitalist elite and the imperialists. The Provisional government starts forming stronger ties with the old capitalist party, the Cadets to make up for the support they’ve lost from the workers.

In August, there is an attempted coup against the Provisional government, called the “Kornilov Affair”. Kornilov was a Whige Guard general in the Russian army, who wanted to institute military dictatorship and strong rule of law, to stop the chaos in Russia. In other words, complete counter-revolution, end to the demonstrations, end to democracy, end to the working class movement.

The railway workers strike and don’t transport his troops, and the workers and soldiers of Petrograd form armed Red Guard units and take up the defense of Petrograd against Kornilov. Kornilov’s coup ends in failure.
After the overthrow of the monarchy formation of soviets had begun again in all large cities, but for the time being their leadership would be predominantly menshevik.

In September the Bolsheviks gain the majority in the Petrograd Soviet and soon after in the soviets of Moscow and other large cities. The Soviets already carry out many important functions in the cities as the Russian government is incapable of doing so. The Soviets even organized the defense of Petrograd. As the economy is in ruins and the war effort is failing more people turn towards the Soviets.

The 6th Bolshevik party congress had agreed that they should carry out an armed revolution. In October the Petrograd Soviet creates a Military Revolutionary Committee. These special bodies are formed all over the country connected with each soviet in each city. The Menshevik and SR minorities in the soviets opposed revolution, but the SR party splits. The “left-SR” group sides with the Bolsheviks.

The Bolshevik soldiers organization takes over the garrison. On October 24 the Military Revolutionary Committee occupies the telegraph, the telephone and other important buildings. The cruiser Aurora, which is controlled by Bolshevik sailors, fires a shot to signal the beginning of the revolution. The workers and soldiers storm the winter palace. The same evening there is a congress of Soviets, where delegates arrive from all over the country. This congress elects the new Russian government, elected by the soviets of workers and soldiers, the Soviet Government. The October Revolution has taken power.

This would lead to a civil war where the Capitalists try to rescue their power. Where 14 capitalist governments including the USA, Great Britain, France, Japan, Poland and many others invaded Soviet Russia to destroy the Soviet government. But they failed, and the soviet union was created.

The significance of the October Revolution cannot be overstated. It showed that a revolution by the ordinary people is possible. It showed that capitalism in the end, is incapable of solving its internal contradictions. Despite getting moderate leftists into the government, the policy was as imperialist, profit driven and anti-popular as before. The moderate leftists didn’t improve capitalism, they were used by capitalism. Only revolution stopped Russia’s involvement in the World War, carried out land reform and dealt with the crisis of unregulated capitalism, and began the process of building a new economic model which would serve the needs and interests of the people, not profits.

russian-revolution-1917-granger1-840x472

Basic description of Vanguardism & Democratic Centralism

Marxism-Leninism seeks revolution through organizing the working class & its reserve forces into a vanguard which acts as a front line & general staff of the revolution. This can be achieved through democratic centralism which combines the effectiveness of unity & discipline with democracy. Marxism-Leninism rejects loose disunited organizations & movements without leadership. Marxism-Leninism advocates leadership through example & guidance, by the most politically conscious members of the working class. If the party’s policies, tactics and positions are correct it will succeed in rallying support around it and to revolution.

VANGUARDISM


Spontaneity

Some people still idealize spontaneity and spontaneous grassroots movements. But such movements never lead to successful revolution. You need a popular mass movement, but you also need leadership and clear political goals. Without political consciousness these mass movements wither away and die and nothing changes, we’ve seen movements like this come and go a million times. Some people want to limit our movement to aimless protests with no clear goals, no agreement on principles and no organizational unity or capacity to bring change. Spontaneous popular movements that arise are good, but they are not enough. They create an opportunity for the Vanguard to introduce political consciousness, political goals, ideology and leadership.

Revolution is difficult, and anyone who is even remotely serious should realize that spontaneity alone is not enough.

“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”
~LENIN, What Is To Be Done? (Chapter 1)

“…to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.”
~LENIN, What Is To Be Done? (Chapter 2)

Spontaneous protest actions by the people present an opportunity to build a real revolutionary movement. But some groups, especially anarchists and liberals, romanticize these spontaneous movements like Occupy Wall St. or Black Lives Matter. They think that any clear goals or ideology will ruin a good spontaneous grassroots movement, but this is a mistake. The problem with these movements is precisely that they are only spontaneous without any clear plans to facilitate change, or they are overtaken by liberals who romanticize just such aimless spontaneity.

“There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology,… the fundamental error… bowing to spontaneity… failure to understand that the spontaneity of the masses demands a high degree of consciousness from us… The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses… the more widespread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organisational work…”
~LENIN, What Is To Be Done? (Chapter 2)

“…no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable organization of leaders that maintains continuity… the wider the masses spontaneously drawn into the struggle… the more urgent the need of such an organization, and the more solid this organization must be” ~LENIN, What Is To Be Done? (Chapter 4)
Role of the Party

“The Party is the leader, the vanguard of the proletariat”
~LENIN, Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin
The vanguard party has a special role. While anyone can join a trade union, or vote in bourgeois elections, only the most active and class-conscious workers join the revolutionary party.

Trade Unions almost exclusively focus on short term economic demandsm, not on long term political demands. Reformist election campaigns focus on trying to fix capitalism, a system that can’t be fixed. But the vanguard party seeks to overthrow the entire capitalist system. It combines economic and political demands, and has the necessary political knowledge to see that the system must be overthrown.

“The Party must regard itself not as an appendage of the parliamentary electoral machinery… and not as a gratuitous supplement to the trade unions… but as the highest form of class association of the proletariat, the function of which is to lead all the other forms of proletarian organisations, from the trade unions to the Party’s group in parliament… The Party, and especially its leading elements, must thoroughly master the revolutionary theory of Marxism, which is inseparably connected with revolutionary practice.”
~STALIN, The Prospects of the Communist Party of Germany and the Question of Bolshevisation
The party consists of the advanced sections of the poor and working people. They are the vanguard.

 

“The Party must be, first of all, the advanced detachment of the working class. The Party must absorb all the best elements of the working class, their experience, their revolutionary spirit, their selfless devotion to the cause of the proletariat. But in order that it may really be the armed detachment, the Party must be armed with revolutionary theory, with a knowledge of the laws of the movement, with a knowledge of the laws of revolution… ”
~STALIN, The Foundations of Leninism (Chapter VIII)

 

The Vanguard can’t win without the People

The vanguard can’t ever win alone. The good thing about the vanguard, is that it is politically conscious, but the bad thing about the vanguard, is that it is small. By definition the most advanced section of the working class is only a minority of the working class, and it cannot overthrow capitalism on its own. It must show the way, leading by example, and win the trust of the wide masses of the people to support it, and carry out the revolution. The revolution is not carried out by the vanguard, but by the people.

“Victory cannot be won with the vanguard alone…The immediate task that confronts the class-conscious vanguard of the international labour movement, i.e., the Communist parties… is to be able to lead the broad masses (now, for the most part, slumbering, apathetic, bound by routine, inert and dormant) to their new position, or, rather, to be able to lead not only their own party, but also these masses, in their approach, their transition to the new position.”
~LENIN, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder (Chapter 10)

“The point here is not that the vanguard should realise the impossibility of preserving the old regime and the inevitability of its overthrow. The point is that the masses, the millions should understand this inevitability and display their readiness to support the vanguard. But the masses can understand this only from their own experience. The task is to enable the vast masses to realise from their own experience the inevitability of the overthrow of the old regime, to promote such methods of struggle and forms of organisations as will make it easer for the masses to realise from experience the correctness of the revolutionary slogans.”
~STALIN, The Foundations of Leninism (Chapter VII)

The vanguard can only hope to guide the masses to revolution, if the ideas the party puts forward truly appeal to the masses and truly serve their interests. Winning the trust and support of the people is not easy, it only comes through hard work of educating the people and serving their interests. But it is absolutely necessary.

“…the Party would cease to be a party… if the Party turned in on itself and became divorced from the non-Party masses. The Party cannot lead the class if it is not connected with the non-Party masses, if there is no bond between the Party and the non-Party masses, if these masses do not accept its leadership, if the Party enjoys no moral and political credit among the masses.”
~STALIN, The Foundations of Leninism (Chapter VIII)

 

DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM

The organizational principle of democratic centralism is closely linked with the idea of Vanguardism, which arises from Marx’s concept of class consciousness. The debate around democratic centralism often boils down to the question of the role of a party member. Opponents of Leninism argued that anyone who supported socialism, should be able to sign up as a party member. In their mind, party members should not be oligated into anything, the party should be as big as possible, and it could tolerate different kinds of views.

1. Active revolutionaries:

In Lenin’s view the party needed active revolutionaries, not passive supporters. Hence a party member should belong to one of the party organizations and work in it. This separates a revolutionary party from a reformist party. A revolutionary party has no need for members who are nothing but voters, or names on a paper. These are sympathizers, supporters, not party members. Being a supporter is fine, but it is not enough.
2. Agreement on core principles:

In Lenin’s view a member of the party also needs to be someone who not only supports the idea of socialism, but actually upholds the principles and policy of the party. A Leninist party supports the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, and those who don’t agree with these core beliefs can’t be members of a Leninist party.

A party with mutually exclusive views about its fundamental beliefs will either be disunited or will lack any clear principle. This can work for a bourgeois party, or a party aimed only at winning some election seats, or passing small reforms, but it won’t work for a revolutionary marxist party. A revolution requires unity and trust.

3. Real unity:

The Leninist party functions based on “freedom of speech & unity of action”. This means that decisions are made democratically but they are binding on everyone. A member of the party is obligated to follow the decisions of the majority. When voluntarily joining the party, members agree to this principle. The same rules and decisions of the party are binding on all members, not only those who choose to follow them.

“Parties belonging to the Communist International must be organised on the principle of democratic centralism.”
~Terms of Admission into Communist International

“The discipline and organisation which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are very easily acquired by the proletariat… Mortal fear … and utter failure to understand its importance as an organising factor are characteristic of the ways of thinking which reflect the petty-bourgeois mode of life and which give rise to the … aristocratic anarchism, as I would call it. This aristocratic anarchism is particularly characteristic of the Russian nihilist. He thinks of the Party organisation as a monstrous “factory”; he regards the subordination of the part to the whole and of the minority to the majority as “serfdom”… division of labour under the direction of a centre evokes from him a tragi-comical outcry against transforming people into “cogs and wheels”… mention of the organisational Rules of the Party calls forth a contemptuous grimace and the disdainful remark … that one could very well dispense with Rules altogether.”
~LENIN, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (Part Q)
4. Against Factionalism:
In 1921 in the 10th Bolshevik party congress Lenin proposed the so-called “ban on factions” which was accepted. In practice this means that the party won’t tolerate any more or less permanent factional or opposition groupings, that work against the majority of the party or put forward a political line that goes against the rest of the party. Having such interal factions is obviously very harmful for a party as it divides members into competing cliques. According to democratic centralism, members of the party are obligated to go along with the decision of the majority, or they will have to leave.

“All class-conscious workers must clearly realise that factionalism of any kind is harmful and impermissible, for no matter how members of individual groups may desire to safeguard Party unity, factionalism in practice inevitably leads to the weakening of team-work and to… attempts by the enemies… to use it for counter-revolutionary purposes…”
~LENIN, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) (Part IV)

 

Role of disagreement

The issue of unity naturally raises the question of disagreement. The party is not only based on unity, but also democracy and freedom of debate. In fact, real unity is only possible via agreement, it cannot be forced.

So, if party members 1) agree with the principles of the party 2) agree to follow the democratic decisions of the party, and 3) don’t take part in factional activity, then what is the role of disagreement?

Issues are decided democratically, with freedom of debate. Everyone will be able to say what they want to say. That doesn’t mean their proposition will be accepted, but they will have a chance to present it. Questions also won’t be decided for all time. The party’s principles will remain, but the practical policy will have to change constantly. The composition of the leadership will also change. This means that questions of the party’s political line will be raised again and will have to be decided again because the situation will change.

When deciding big political questions its important that everyone has the chance to speak. If the party is very split on a question the problem won’t be solved by a narrow majority trying to silence the minority. It is important that enough time is given for discussion to take place fully before a decision is made. Real unity can’t be forced and without democracy the party leadership will lose touch with the membership and make wrong decisions.

There will always remain people who don’t agree with the majority, and this is normal. Nobody agrees with everyone else on every single thing. Disagreement is allowed within the conifines of the party rules. As long as members don’t break party discipline or engage in factionalism, they can disagree, and when the time comes for a new decision and new vote, they can argue for their side just like everyone else.

“…an important, serious and extremely responsible task: really to apply the principles of democratic centralism in Party organisation, to work tirelessly to make the local organisations the principal organisational units of the Party in fact, and not merely in name, and to see to it that all the higher-standing bodies are elected, accountable, and subject to recall.”

“…there must be complete unity of action… Action by the proletariat must be united… But beyond the bounds of unity of action there must be the broadest and freest discussion and condemnation of all steps, decisions and tendencies that we regard as harmful. Only through such discussions, resolutions and protests can the real public opinion of our Party be formed. Only on this condition shall we be a real Party, always able to express its opinion, and finding the right way to convert a definitely formed opinion into the decisions…”
~LENIN, Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (Part VIII)

“Democratic centralization in the Communist Party organization must be a real synthesis, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. This fusion can be achieved only on the basis of constant common activity, constant common struggle of the entire Party organization… enemies… assert that the Communist Party… is trying rule over the revolutionary proletariat. Such an assertion is a lie … the centralization of the organization, i. e., the aim to create a strong leadership, cannot be successful if its achievement is sought on the basis of formal democracy. The necessary preliminary conditions are the development and maintenance of living associations and mutual relations within the Party between the directing organs and members, as well as between the Party and the masses of the proletariat outside the Party.
(Principles of Party Organization, adopted by the 3rd Congress of the Comintern)

“Precise operation of democratic centralism in the Party as demanded by our Party statutes, unconditional electiveness of Party organs, the right to put forward and to withdraw candidates, the secret ballot and freedom of criticism and self-criticism…”
~STALIN, Mastering Bolshevism

“…democratic centralist method… is a mass-line method. First democracy, then centralism; coming from the masses, returning to the masses; the unity of the leadership and the masses… Both inside and outside the Party there must be a full democratic life, which means conscientiously putting democratic centralism into effect.”
~MAO TSE-TUNG, Talk At An Enlarged Working Conference Convened By The Central Committee Of The Communist Party Of China

Party work

“…we must affirm anew the discipline of the Party, namely:

(1) the individual is subordinate to the organization;

(2) the minority is subordinate to the majority;

(3) the lower level is subordinate to the higher level; and

(4) the entire membership is subordinate to the central Committee.”
~Mao Tse Tung, The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War
In parties based on democratic centralism party bodies are elected. A democratic centralist party typically has one centralized leadership.

This can take a number of different forms:

Typically a communist party has local organizations, a Central Committee and a Politburo.

The communist party has a collective leadership. It has a Chairman and other high ranking positions, but none of them can decide on their own.

The C.C. is elected by a congress. The congresses are held at given intervals, for example every few years. In the congresses local organizations send representatives with right to vote who then elect the leadership of the party, the C. C. and political executive committee aka. the politburo.

The C. C. usually contains a relatively large amount of people. Somewhere around 20 is not unusual. The Politburo is smaller, consisting of the chairman and some other high ranking C. C. members. The job of the Politburo is to manage the every day affairs of the party and it has a lot of power but at the same time it’s accountable and aswerable to the C. C. The politburo is basically a smaller group of leaders who meet often and make quick decisions on immediate tasks. The C. C. is a bigger group that meets less often, maybe only a few times a year and decides broader questions of the party’s political, ideological and tatical line. The C. C. decides and the politburo implements the decisions.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

LENIN, What Is To Be Done?

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/

LENIN, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder
http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/LWC20.html

LENIN, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1904/onestep/index.htm

LENIN, Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/rucong/index.htm

LENIN, Terms of Admission into Communist International

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm

LENIN, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/10thcong/index.htm

LENIN, Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/jan/25.htm

Principles of Party Organization, adopted by the 3rd Congress of the Comintern

http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/PPO21.html

MAO, The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_10.htm

MAO, Talk At An Enlarged Working Conference Convened By The Central Committee Of The Communist Party Of China
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-8/mswv8_62.htm

STALIN, The Foundations of Leninism
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/foundations-leninism/index.htm

STALIN, The Prospects of the Communist Party of Germany and the Question of Bolshevisation
http://marx2mao.com/Stalin/PCPG25.html
STALIN, Mastering Bolshevism
http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/MB37.html

 

Further reading:
PEKING REVIEW: A Discussion on Party Democratic Centralism
https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1971/PR1971-43a.htm

LENIN, Two Tactics
https://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/feb/14.htm

LENIN, The Reorganisation of the Party
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/reorg/i.htm#v10pp65-029

lenin speech4

On the Alleged Forgery of ”Lenin’s Testament”

(Thoughts regarding V.A. Sakharov’s article)

I have previously talked about some of the myths surrounding the collection of documents known as ”Lenin’s testament” or more accurately Lenin’s Letter to the Congress. We know Leon Trotsky distorted the whole meaning of these documents in order to use them as a political weapon against Stalin, his rival, and this is still a favorite pastime of Trotskyists to this day. They rarely stop to analyse the deeper meaning of the documents and focus on quoting and repeating ad nauseam a couple of select lines critical of Joseph Stalin.


In this article I won’t be going into the meaning or context behind those well-known passages (”Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General” etc.) instead I will give my personal opinion on a controversial topic that has recently been on my mind – the alleged forgery of Lenin’s letters. My interest was sparked initially by V. A. Sakharov’s article published in English as The Forgery of the ‘Lenin Testament’ (1997).

How could it be?

At first the mere thought of the letters being forged seems too incredible. Afterall nobody doubted their authenticity at the time. Even Stalin rather then contesting their authenticity chose to apologize to Lenin and admit his rudeness publicly. However certain facts that have come to light raise some questions.


Sakharov divides the letter documents into two categories:


1) the texts and articles provably written by Lenin himself for instance the articles Better fewer, but better (January-March 1923) and On Cooperation (Jan 4-6 1923)

2) the texts which cannot be proven to have been written by Lenin. These are basically the later dictated additions to the letter. Curiously its precisely these few additions that cannot be proven to have come from Lenin’s pen which are also the ones critical of Stalin.

What is the evidence?

At this point everyone should be wondering about the evidence. The unfortunate fact is (as is often the case with controversial historical topics) that we might never know for absolute certain but here are the things we do know: the dictations are not signed by Lenin. Their authenticity could be verified by the diary of his secretariat but this is typically not the case, the diary was partially incomplete and filled retro-actively. On top of that the personal papers of Lenin’s doctors often outright contradict the alleged dates of the dictations, some of which are dated at times when Lenin’s doctors explicitly say he was not working with his secretaries or dictating anything.


While this does not prove the dictations to be forgeries it casts serious doubt on their authenticity. This taken with the fact that they are strikingly dissimilar to Lenin’s own writings both stylistically and in content and character I personally cannot anymore believe them to be authentic. Previously I held the view that the change in style and content to be the result of Lenin’s illness, that he was dying. However I no longer believe that to be the case.

The Argument

So what exactly do the forged segments say? They are critical of Stalin of course, questioning his ability to handle responsibility and his moral character, calling him rude etc., One might argue that surely if the supporters of Trotsky and Zinoviev had forged the documents then surely they would have been even more critical of Stalin? That is not necessarily the case. If you were trying to forge a Lenin document then what would you do? There were virtually no ideological or political differences or disagreements between Lenin and Stalin.


That leaves few options: questioning Stalin’s capabilities, referring to his rudeness (Zinoviev knew about the incident between Stalin & Krupskaya and even later tried exploiting it for political gain though this was promptly put an end to by Krupskaya and Maria Ulyanova), and criticizing Stalin’s practical work rather then theoretical or ideological position. Coincidentally (?) this is precisely what the dictated (forged?) segments exhibit. The seemingly illogical and uncharacteristic dictated addition on Stalin’s rudeness, a section questioning his capabilities to handle power and lastly the letters relating to Stalin’s, Orjonikidze’s and Dzershinsky’s handling of the war effort in Georgia.


Needless to say it would have been uncharacteristic for Lenin to criticize someone behind their back or conspire. Also taking matters personally and being offended or holding grudges would have been equally unlike him. In short, on top of being of unverified authenticity the dictated sections read like someone trying to attack others in Lenin’s name – pretending to be Lenin and doing a pretty bad job at it!

Footnotes:

The Forgery of the ‘Lenin Testament’” by V. A. Sakharov
http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv7n1/LenTest.htm

On the Relations between Lenin and Stalin” by Maria Ulyanova http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv8n1/lenstal.htm


mels

Lenin On Socialism In One Country

Here will be quotes from Lenin arguing in favor of Socialism in One Country, or the idea that any country, even a poor or less developed one can build Socialism — even on it’s own if need be. I will be updating this list as I find more. I will also be writing an article on the concept of ‘Final Victory’ of Socialism (not to be confused with ‘complete socialist society‘) and what that means in this connection.

A United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is the state form of the unification and freedom of nations which we associate with socialism—about the total disappearance of the state, including the democratic. As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of a United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in a single country is impossible

Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world—the capitalist world

free union of nations in socialism is impossible without a more or less prolonged and stubborn struggle of the socialist republics against the backward states.”
~Lenin,
“On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” (1915)

The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under the commodity production system. From this, it follows irrefutably that Socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time.”
~Lenin,
“The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution” (1916)

“I know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever and even call themselves Socialists, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries. They do not suspect that by speaking in this way they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.”

~Lenin, “Speech delivered at a joint meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet, 14th May 1918”

“…when we are told that the victory of socialism is possible only on a world scale, we regard this merely as an attempt, a particularly hopeless attempt, on the part of the bourgeoisie and its voluntary and involuntary supporters to distort the irrefutable truth.”
~Lenin, “Speech to the Third All-Russia Congress of Soviets” (1918)

“We have achieved this objective in one country, and this confronts us with a second task. Since Soviet power has been established, since the bourgeoisie has been overthrown in one country, the second task is to wage the struggle on a world scale, on a different plane, the struggle of the proletarian state surrounded by capitalist states.

This situation is an entirely novel and difficult one.

On the other hand, since the rule of the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, the main task is to organise the development of the country.”

~Lenin, “The Achievements and Difficulties of the Soviet Government” (1919)


“Socialism is no longer a matter of the distant future, or an abstract picture, or an icon. We still retain our old bad opinion of icons. We have dragged socialism into everyday life, and here we must find our way. This is the task of our day, the task of our epoch. Permit me to conclude by expressing the conviction that, difficult as this task may be, new as it may be compared with our previous task, and no matter how many difficulties it may entail, we shall all—not in one day, but in the course of several years—all of us together fulfil it whatever happens so that
NEP Russia will become socialist Russia
~Lenin,
“Speech At A Plenary Session Of The Moscow Soviet Nov. 20, 1922”

As a matter of fact, the political power of the Soviet over all large-scale means of production, the power in the state in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat, etc, …is not this all that is necessary in order from the co-operatives – from the co-operatives alone, which we formerly treated as huckstering, and which, from a certain aspect, we have the right to treat as such now, under the new economic policy – is not this all that is necessary in order to build a complete socialist society? This is not yet the building of socialist society but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for this building.
~Lenin,
“On Cooperation” (1923)

Infinitely stereotyped, for instance, is the argument they learned by rote during the development of West-European Social-Democracy, namely, that we are not yet ripe for socialism, but as certain “learned” gentleman among them put it, the objective economic premises for socialism do not exist in our country. Does it not occur to any of them to ask: what about the people that found itself in a revolutionary situation such as that created during the first imperialist war? Might it not, influenced by the hopelessness of its situation, fling itself into a struggle that would offer it at least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual?


“The development of the productive forces of Russia has not yet attained the level that makes socialism possible.” All the heroes of the Second International, including, of course, Sukhanov, beat the drums about this proposition. They keep harping on this incontrovertible proposition in a thousand different keys, and think that it is decisive criterion of our revolution…


You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country by the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then
start moving toward socialism? Where, in what books, have you read that such variations of the customary historical sequence of events are impermissible or impossible?”
~Lenin,
“Our Revolution” (1923)

1916-00