National Situation

CPI(M) support for Pranab Mukherjee, dissidence, and the Marxist Idea of Working Class Democracy

CPI(M) support for Pranab Mukherjee, dissidence, and the Marxist Idea of Working Class Democracy

Soma Marik and Kunal Chattopadhyay


The crisis and restructuring of international communism has finally caught up with sections of the Indian left, even if in a limited form. The CPI(M)’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the post of President of India resulted in a greatly erroneous version of democratic centralism to be flouted, and in political debates of a principled nature being raised. Regardless of specific areas of agreement with Prasenjit Bose, the JNU SFI leadership, and others, including Dr. Asok Mitra, these are fundamental points that need to be underscored. And we propose to not merely underscore but to elaborate on these.

When Prasenjit Bose’s comments were posted in Pragoti, a website formerly pro-CPI(M) but now clearly supportive of the internal critics, they drew a huge amount of discussion, some of which was abusive and tended toward posing ad hominems in the direction of Bose. The nub of the accusations was that by making his criticisms public he had betrayed the party (and by implication the class). We want to discuss, in the light of the history of Classical Marxism, the question of principles and party disciplines, and the notion of democratic centralism. We will next discuss the political-programmatic issues involved – both the CPI(M) leadership’s position and the position of its critics within the party.

Marx, Engels and Inner-Party Discipline vs. Democracy:

For Marx and Engels, the idea of building a revolutionary party was linked to the precise nature of their political project. They were not communists advocating a revolutionary party. Rather, they were democrats who came to the conclusion that a struggle for consistent democracy would mean communism, and that only the proletariat could act as the universal class capable of leading that struggle. This had major implications for organizational structure and the nature of democracy both within revolutionary parties and within the class as a whole

Marx and Engels insisted, many times in their lives, that the fundamental political principle which was the minimum acceptable to them, was that of the self-emancipation of the working class. On several occasions, they wrote about this phrase in unambigouous terms. Perhaps two instances will suffice. In 1864, when drafting the preamble to the Rules of the International Working Men’s Association (First International), Marx wrote,

Considering, That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves;[1]

And again, in 1878, reacting to three German Social Democrats who had written that German socialism was, in a too one–sided manner, a working class movement. The party needed an influx of educated and propertied supporters who alone were fit to represent the party in the Reichstag.[2] Taking up this claim and their further comment about the need to altogether avoid revolution in favour of reform, Marx and Engels criticized these authors as successors of the petty–bourgeois democrats of the 1848 revolution, who had no place in a workers’ party and concluded:


“At the founding of the International we expressedly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. Hence we cannot cooperate with men who say openly that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves, and must first be emancipated from above by philanthropic members of the upper and lower middle classes.”[3]

So at different points of their careers they were willing to be in the same party with various kinds of people, but not with those who rejected the politics of working class self emancipation

Marx’s party building ideas were founded on this basic political principle.

The League of the Just was the proletarian offshoot of an earlier republican organisation, the Outlaws’ League. Both in ideology and in organisational concept, the new league, formed in 1836, could be called Babouvist.[4] Under the influence of Parisian secret societies the League of the Just participated in the insurrection of 12th May, 1839. After its defeat, some of the leaders like Karl Schapper, Heinrich Bauer and Joseph Moll set up a unit in London. But while the London group soon renounced conspiracy and insurrection, Wilhelm Weitling in the continent developed a communist theory which still emphasized putsches and dictatorships. In 1845, this led to a sharp clash between Weitling and his former followers. The London leaders emphasized internationalism, the unity of communists and democrats, and strict non-violence.[5] The first two points brought them and Marx close. The idea of pure non-violence divided them. By the end of 1846 or early 1847, the London based leaders of the League of the Just had rejected not only Weitling’s outlook but also the French utopian Communist Eteinne Cabet’s plan for founding a Communist colony[6]. This rejection of Cabet brought the League closer to Marx and Engels. In January 1847, Moll was sent to Brussels to invite Marx, Engels, Wolff and others to join the League. This group had, throughout 1846, “published a series of pamphlets, partly printed, partly lithographed, in which we mercilessly criticised the hotchpotch of the Franco-English socialism or communism and German philosophy, which formed the secret doctrine of the “League “ at the time.“[7] Marx was hesitant about joining the League because of his reservations about its politics, but Moll made him overcame these hesitations, by arguing that Marx could expect to best influence the League members if he was a member himself.[8] In the summer of 1847, the first League Congress took place in London. Here it changed its name to Communist League.

The history of the League of the Just shows that the artisan communists like Schapper and Moll, having abandoned ultra-leftism, had adopted a more purely propagandistic approach than Marx ever did.[9] Throughout 1847, there was an intensive discussion on the programme and organisational perspectives of the League. Two Congresses were held and at least four draft programmes were written, two by Engels, one by Moses Hess, and one possibly by Schapper.[10] The Second Congress of the League, held in late 1847, endorsed the standpoint of Marx and Engels and authorized Marx to write the final text in the name of the League. This indicates, on one hand, that genuinely democratic consultations went on, and on the other hand, eventually Marx had certainly established his ideological domination, for he would hardly have been given a carte blanche to write what otherwise would have been a compromise requiring scrutiny by a committee. At the same time, a formal organisational control was maintained, as existing documents show.[11] The League itself had a definite organisational structure, and certain norms regarding practice. In August, sometime after joining the League, Marx and his friends launched a Workers’ Educational Society in Brussels. This structure was used everywhere by the League to organise the broad masses of non – communist workers. The Rules of the League, the Address of the First Congress and the single issue of the journal, Kommunistische Zeitschrift show the general acceptance of proletarian democracy in party building theory.[12]

In 1864, after a gap of some twelve years, Marx joined a political party – or a united front of sorts. This was the International Working Men’s Association or (as later known) the First International. In a letter to Engels, he staged point blank that he was opposed to a hyper-centralised body. He wrote to Engels that he had managed to persuade the majority to throw out the super-centralism and put in much more simple rules. He also wrote that

It was very difficult to frame the thing so that our view [Engels and Marx] should appear in a form acceptable from the present standpoint of the workers' movement. In a few weeks the same people will be holding meetings for the franchise with Bright and Cobden. It will takes time before the re-awakened movement allows the old boldness of speech. It will be necessary to be fortiter in re, suaviter in modo [bold in matter, mild in manner]. [13] In other words, while this was not the full communist programme of 1848 this was the minimum they could agree with. This has both organisational and political implications. Politically, we see that the minimum Marx would accept was the following:


That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule;

That the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor — that is, the source of life — lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence;

That the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means;

That all efforts aiming at the great end hitherto failed from the want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labor in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries;

That the emancipation of labor is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries;

That the present revival of the working classes in the most industrious countries of Europe, while it raises a new hope, gives solemn warning against a relapse into the old errors, and calls for the immediate combination of the still disconnected movements;

For these reasons —

The International Working Men's Association has been founded.[14]

Throughout the history of the International, the free interplay of many views was common. Since it is only the final conflict with Bakunin that is broght out, and that in a distorted manner, let us note a couple of points briefly. Bakunin had created his personally contolled international body, and wanted to infiltrate the loosely organised International. When his proposal was turned down, he pretended to dissolve the International Alliance that he had created, and sought admission locally. The General Council, including Marx, fell into this simple trap, and allowed the Trojan horse in.[15] That Bakunin had never dissolved the secret organisation was a major charge against him in 1872 at the Hague Congress of the International. That the charge was true can be proved by acknowledgements from his own partisans, like Charles Perron or James Guillaume.[16] By infiltrating and by creating a parallel and secret body within an independent and democratic International, he was undermining the organisation. By recruiting into the Alliance while using the International as a front, he was violating the democratic rights of the International and its members. What is equally important is that Bakunin’s own organisation was to be an “invisible dictatorship”--- as dictatorial as he wanted organisations that he was infiltrating to be loose and chaotic. Arthur Mendel says, “One could not imagine a more rigidly centralised, authoritarian revolutionary organisation than the one Bakunin proposed.” [17]

Inside the IWA, when Bakunin came into conflict with the members of the Romance Federation (French-speaking Switzerland), it was he who proposed, at the Basel Congress, that the General Council should have the right to suspend existing sections, and that it should be more authoritative.[18] This shows that it was Bakunin who was clashing with all sorts of members of the International, rather than Marx violating democracy, and further that it was at Bakunin’s proposal that the powers of the General Council were extended in the way that the majority would ultimately use against Bakunin.

       Another, related issue is Marx’s opposition to anarchism. A scrutiny of the documents leading up to the split show that anarchism was never the real political issue. When Bakunin did create an “anarchist” programme, Marx opposed it politically.[19] But he was not opposed to anarchists remaining inside the IWA. He was opposed to any one political–ideological current being proclaimed as the official ideology of the International. He was equally opposed to the transformation of the International into specifically “Marxist” organisation, as he wrote in his letter to his supporter, Paul Lafargue in 18 April, 1870.[20] He believed that theoretical clarification should keep pace with political experience.

The major conflict at the Hague Congress was over “political action”. For the anarchists, building proletarian parties and fighting politically was taboo. It had to be an immediate revolutionary (insurrectionary) struggle. And Bakunin was fighting also tpo prevent the organisation from having any central leadership. Total centralism for his group. Total chaos for mass organisations. This was his goal, so that it would be possible to infiltrate and take over. At the Hague Congress, the Bakuninists did not debate the specifics of the Council’s powers. They did not point out which aspects were undemocratic. They called simply for the abolition of the Council, so that no binding decisions could be taken or implemented, however democratically. By this time, Bakunin had shifted from a strategy of conquest from within to a strategy of split at any cost. Till mid-July 1872, Bakunin was trying for a takeover. The first version of the new plan was to boycott the Hague Congress. This was what his Italian adherents then did. But eventually realising that more supporters might be picked up by going to The Hague and precipitating a split there, such a line was adopted. On 14 August, Bakunin drafted a programme for a Slavic section that he founded, which stated that it was anarchist, and implied that the International had to be made an anarchist organisation. This was of course contrary to the rules, and it implies that in his mind, if not in actuality, Bakunin had already split. By 31 August, Bakunin even wrote a letter where the post split task was defined – to hold a rival Congress at Saint-Imier.[21]

       At the Hague Congress, Bakunin and Guillaume were expelled for belonging to the Alliance in violation of the rules of the International. This expulsion proves, not Marx’s authoritarianism, but the necessity of discipline as a component part of democracy in any working class organisation even at the international level.

But how tight should discipline be? Marx and Engels did not interpret workers’ democracy to mean all-inclusive blocs. In 1882, the reformists and the revolutionaries in the French Parti Ouvrier split. Writing to Bernstein (1882), Engels welcomed the split, agreeing with Lafargue that the reformist majority was not a party because it had no actual programme. Generalising from this split he even wrote that every workers’ party of a big country could develop only through internal struggle. He considered the split to be inevitable and good.[22]

       The insistence on programmatic clarity, once class independence, and a general spread of socialist ideas had been achieved, was even more pronounced in the German case. In Germany two working class parties had been formed by the late 1860s. The ADAV had survived the death of Lassalle and the initial crisis after it. Meanwhile Johann Philipp Becker had organised branches of the International which later joined hands with dissident Lassalleans and the Arebeiterbildungsvereine (Workers’ Educational Association) led by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht to establish the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) in 1869 (often called the Eisenachers). Marx and Engels supported this party despite their frequent criticism of Liebknecht. However, they reacted sharply when a merger of the Social Democratic Labour Party was proposed with the ADAV --- they felt that united action could have been achieved without a party unity that made a great many ideological compromises with Lassalleanism. When this unity was accomplished at the Gotha unity Congress (1875), Marx wrote, that if it was impossible to advance beyond the Eisenach programme they should have simply made an agreement about common action.[23] Though the idea of the dictatorship of an individual within the party was dropped, the domination of the parliamentary representatives was still there partly as a strategy to cope with the anti-socialist law. A historian of this party has shown that this model was chosen consciously in opposition to any attempt to build an underground party structure.[24] If this enabled the party to avoid prosecution and the secret society mentality, it was at the cost of party democracy.                 

       Engels in his letter to Bebel wrote even more sharply that a new programme was a public banner by which the world judges a party and hence the retreat was harmful.[25] During the twelve year period of the anti-socialist law, they were unable to develop this criticism further till 1890. But in 1891 at the time of programme revision, Engels published Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and got Bernstein to write a sharp critique of Lassalle’s politics. Once the socialist outlook had spread within the class vanguard they considered it retrograde to dilute it in the name of proletarian democracy.

On the question of inner party democracy, the standpoint of Marx and Engels can be explained in the following terms: they supported the broadest democracy within the party, but also called for discipline. Their attitude to various events in the history of the German Party shows this. In 1879, the Reichstag (Parliamentary) fraction of the party permitted one of the deputies, Max Kayser, to vote for a tax proposal of Bismarck. Marx and Engels condemned this as a betrayal of party discipline as well as socialist principle. They considered that the programme of the party was binding on parliamentary representatives. In the Circular Letter (written to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke and others) they also supported Hirsch, a party journalist, who had criticised Kayser and opposed the attempt of the Reichstag fraction to control the new party journal, Socialdemokrat, through an editorial commission which they called a censorship commission. The letter leaves one in no doubt about their hostility to what they considered an attempt by the leadership to escape rank and file control. Finally in the same letter, having criticised Hochberg, Bernstein and Schramm, for putting forward a petty bourgeois line reminiscent of ‘True’ Socialism they wrote: “In a country as petty bourgeois as Germany, there is certainly some justification for such ideas. But only outside the Social Democratic Workers’ Party.”[26]

       Finally, in 1890-91, Engels made a number of comments regarding inner party democracy. In an oft-quoted letter to Sorge (9, August, 1890) he said: “the party is so big that absolute freedom of debate inside it is a necessity… The greatest party in the realm cannot exist without all shades of opinion in it making themselves fully felt “.[27] A little after this, Engels had Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme published. An irate party leadership wanted to impose a censorship on Neue Zeit, their theoretical paper, edited by Kautsky. This shocked Engels who wrote to Kautsky that such a proposal whether in memory of the fraction’s dictatorship during the anti-socialist law or in imitation of the kind of organisation that Schweitzer had built was unacceptable.[28]

Concerning mass organisations, their position was even more blunt. . In a letter to the Lassallean leader, J.B.von Schweitzer, Marx wrote that :

“a centralist  organisation, suitable as it is for secret societies and sect movements, contradicts the nature of the trade unions... (in Germany) where the worker is regulated bureaucratically… the main thing is to teach him to walk by himself”.[29]

In the International, Marx and Engels wanted to push the working class movement in a communist direction, but only to the extent that the workers could relate to communist theory, developed out of the political practice of earlier generations of workers, on the basis of their actual experience of struggle. For this, they considered it necessary to develop a radicalised trade union movement, which should pass from purely bread and butter issues to political action.[30]

       However, this did not imply that the task of the Communists was to present trade unions with an ultimatum of accepting communist programme or face sectarian denunciations. The IWA showed how Marx was prepared to move step by step to combine trade unions with political organisations. Indeed the Reform League, and the political activism of the English unions in general resulted substantially from Marx’s endeavours.[31] In the long run, Marx saw his task as promoting the activist elements in the trade union wing to build a political party. Regarding the relationship between the Communist party and the trade union their idea was quite consistent with the principle of proletarian democracy. The task was neither just to win votes nor to get some recruits. Marx and Engels emphasized on bringing as many unionists as possible close to the general political standpoint of the party. Engels specified the dialectics of the union-party relationship in an article praising the German SPD. “A great advantage to the German movement is that the trades organisation works hand in hand with the political organisation. The immediate advantage offered by the trades organisation draw many an otherwise indifferent man into the political movement, while the community of political action holds together, and assures mutual support to the otherwise isolated Trades Unions”.[32] So the leading role of the political wing depended on its ability to provide the guidance to the trade unions. This is a difficult political task, steering between Scylla of party–controlled unionism, (forerunner to the Stalinist Red Unionism), and the Charybdys of “trade union neutrality”, by which reformist unionists in the next generation meant the withdrawal of support to socialists.[33]

In 1891, about 20,000 miners in the Ruhr area came out on strike, against the opinion of the SPD leadership, which felt that the government might use this as a plea to reintroduce some kind of Anti-Socialist Law. The party press criticised the miners publicly, at a time when they were subjected to massive repression including the use of the army. Engels felt that even if the assessment of the party was correct, it had no right to dictate the course of a class movement by “a rigid discipline of a sect”. To Kautsky, he wrote that “every new group of workers will be driven toward us in the course of unwise, necessarily unsuccessful but, under the circumstance inevitable strikes of angry passion ….”[34]


Lenin and Party Democracy and Discipline:

Stalinists and Cold War rightists have united in presenting Lenin as an ultra-disciplinarian and Stalin’s forerunner. The Russian Revolution of 1917 posed the most serious challenge till now to international capitalism. The rise of the soviets and factory committees put forward the possibility of a democratic system that far surpassed anything that existed in most capitalist countries then, or later.[35] Studies of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, likewise, have suggested that it was an extraordinary party, with tremendous levels of rank and file initiative and internal democracy combined with a deep revolutionary commitment.[36] This has however not deterred self-styled sovietologists and Marxologists from saying that Bolshevism was fundamentally authoritarian, and that it led ineluctably to Stalinism.  The flip side of the coin of course is the existence, even now, in India, of self-proclaimed communists or Leninists who claim that despite some petty mistakes here and there, Stalin was not one of history’s major tyrants and a counter-revolutionary who destroyed the revolution, but a continuator of Leninism. Since both Stalinists and anti-communists often draw a straight line from Lenin’s What Is To Be done? to the coming of the one-party state, three moments need to be discussed when such claims are made. One is of course the coming of the one-party state. Did it happen because of a pre-existing Bolshevik ideology and commitment? Leonard Schapiro, for example, in his The Origins of Communist Autocracy, wrote that he was writing the “story of how a group of determined men seized power for themselves in Russia in 1917, and kept others from sharing it.”[37] Even leftists in times of retreat accept variants of this. Though attempts have been repeatedly made to present the picture of October as a democratic revolution, and also a picture of the civil war and imperialist intervention that forced the regime into a siege mentality, preconceived hostility has resulted in a textbook approach that denies the role of the civil war, or of White Terror. A second moment, indeed, the “original sin” of Leninism, is presented by numerous Authorities. This is the very foundation of Leninism. According to what Lars Lih calls the textbook version, this version sees What Is To Be Done (hereafter WITBD) as the central Bolshevik text, and reads the message of the book as one according to which Lenin was suspicious about working class movements (identified with “spontaneity”) and wanted to impose tight party control on the movement. The academic backing is provided by the following pieces of evidence: the contemporary criticisms of Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, the critical comments by Vladimir Akimov, a delegate to the Second Party Congress who wrote an obscure piece revived in the late 1960s, and certain passages of WITBD. The third moment s a totally distorted picture of 1917 itself. Here, I call as my witness Charles Bettelheim, one time darling of Maoists. , in his major work on soviet history he emphatically rejects class dictatorship. He is willing to have the party feel the pulse of the class.  But the party cannot submit its policies to democratic control by the class. That we are not exaggerating will be clear from the statement quoted below:  “The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat means that the proletariat sets itself up as the ruling class and this cannot be done through organs of the soviet type, which are mass organisations, or through state organs exclusively derived from these. The constitution of the proletariat as ruling class is necessarily effected   through an apparatus that is specifically proletariat in ideology and aims, and in the role of leadership and unification that it plays in relation to the masses. ‘In other words, through a proletarian party that plays this leading role, politically and ideologically, and plays it, too, in relation to the machinery of state issuing from the mass organisation.”[38]

                Had Bettelheim stopped even at this point, a tortuous explanation of the passage might have   been made out to bolster a claim that he was not really opposed to workers’ democracy, but merely emphasized the need for a vanguard party, though the idea of an ‘apparatus that is specifically proletarian in ideology and aims’ without reference to actual social composition is bad enough. But later in the same book, Bettelheim grasps the nettle firmly by both hands:  “The definition of the proletarian revolutionary line can ...  not be left to a mere  “majority vote “whether in a popular or workers’ assembly, in a party congress, or in a meeting of the party’s Central Committee. Experience shows that, faced with a profoundly new situation, it is usually only a minority that finds the correct path, even in an experienced proletarian party.”[39]

            The implications of these arguments are devastating.  Had there been any truth in them one would have to conclude that humankind faces only a bleak future -- between the horrors of late capitalism and the perpetual terrorism of Stalin and his heirs, including Pol Pot. Correct line by a minority is to be imposed if need be!! And the class itself will forever remain putty in the hands of party leaders – bureaucrats, self-proclaimed professional revolutionaries, people mostly originating outside the working class, sometimes with a leavening of a few workers successfully corrupted by the bosses.


But let us go back to Lenin.

Since two passages in WITBD are taken as the core of his centralism, it is necessary to understand the entire book in its proper context. Lenin would write later that it was a polemical book. Karl Radek, a communist leader important in the Russian Party after 1917, though originally a Polish Marxist, wrote after Lenin’s death that in 1921, when a proposal had been made to translate and republish the book Chto Delat? (WITBD), Lenin objected, urging at least good commentaries ‘in order to avoid false application’.[40] Yet bourgeois scholarship has repeatedly failed to do this. A text, it seems, is a text that requires no context. Who was Lenin polemicising against?  What had they written? What, for example, was the difference between “the straightforward R.M.” and the “weathercock Krichevskiis and Martynovs”? Why worry about such minute details, when one simply needs to know that Lenin had an “unspoken assumption” that the “majority of the population is actually or potentially reactionary”, and an unspoken conclusion, “that democracy leads to reaction”. [41] Or, as Leopold Haimson, a scholar closely connected to the documentation of Menshevik sources located in the USA, was to write, implicit in WITBD “was not merely a lack of faith in the capacity of the labor movement to grow to consciousness by its own resources, but also a basic distrust in the ability of any man to outgrow his ‘spontaneous’ elemental impulses, and to act in accord with the dictates of his ‘consciousness’ without the guidance, and the restraint, of the party and its organizations.”[42] With our divine knowledge of Lenin’s implicit ideas and psychoanalytic instruments that lay bare his inside, why do we need to bother examining the precise arguments to which he was responding, or to relate WITBD with his writings just before and just after it? Such examinations may confuse the reader by making her or him think that Lenin might (shudder) have held democratic views.

What did it mean, for Lenin to proclaim that he was a Marxist? In early 20th century? It was not enough to declare adherence to Marx. Even Russian populists did that. It meant an allegiance to what was seen as the Marxist revolutionary politics of his era – the politics of Kautsky and theErfurt programme, and a resolute opposition to Bernsteinian revisionism. . In the twentieth century, after the Russian Revolution, the idea of what bolshevism was (though the idea may have been distorted in subsequent decades) inspired countless communists across the world. In the same way, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the SPD was the principal inspiration for revolutionary socialists across the world. Today, authors often quote approvingly the letter of a rightwing socialist, Ignaz Auer, to Bernstein: “My Dear Ede, one doesn’t formally decide to do what you ask… one does it. Our whole activity… was the activity of a Social Democratic reforming party.”[43] No doubt, there is good reason today, after the betrayal of 1914, after the supine surrender to Hitler in 1933, and after the total integration in bourgeois politics after World War II, to look at even the earlier history of the SPD with a degree of skepticism. But if we look at it from the standpoint of Russian radicals of the period under discussions, they could see the vicious efforts being made, even after the collapse of Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist laws, to silence the SPD. Or, they could see how the vast masses of workers actually did treat the SPD as their party.

Lars Lih in his Lenin Rediscovered, argues that Kautsky’s commentary on the Erfurt programme, and his book Parliamentarism, were profoundly influential, and the latter work brought together the logic behind what the Russians called the strategy of hegemony of the proletariat in the democratic revolution. Kautsky argued that while the working class would arrive at socialism through its own experience, left to itself, it could take a long time. Social Democracy, that is, a political strategy based on the ideas of Marx and Engels, had to merge with the working class movement. Social Democracy was needed, and would be heeded. It would be heeded because it was bringing, in Lih’s formulation, good news for the proletariat. Kautsky’s argument was that originally, socialism and the worker movement were separate, but the birth of revolutionary socialism or Marxism changed that. Lih argues that the Erfurtian socialists displayed a set of features: an explicit acknowledgement if three sources of authority – the party, the programme, and Kautsky’s writings; a commitment to the concept of merger mentioned previously; a definition of Social Democracy’s mission as spreading the good news of the world-historical mission of the proletariat; an ambition of building a class-based political party, which would be disciplined, yet democratic, organized on a national plane, an insistence on the priority of achieving political freedoms, an expectation that the party would eventually lead the entire people (i.e., a commitment to a strategy of achieving proletarian hegemony). Finally, Erfurtianism, meant a commitment to internationalism. Lih then proceeds, in a meticulously written chapter, to use this checklist and examine Lenin’s early writings.

What Lih does, and this is something done independently, in different forms, by Paul Le Blanc (in his book Lenin and the Rvolutionary Party as well as in his anthology of Lenin’s writings) and by Soma marik, is to establish that inthe entire period leadng up to 1901-2, Lenin consistently expressed what Lih calls Erfurtian views (Marik and Le Blanc do not use the term).

There are distinct stages in the history of the growth of the Social Democratic movement in Russia and its transformation into a well-knit party. In the early 1890s, the handful of Social Democrats had focused on recruiting individual workers into study circles. The movement was by necessity underground because of the repressive nature of the autocracy. When the class struggle began to intensify in the mid-1890s,  social democrats, including Lenin, made a turn—generalized throughout the movement by the publication of the widely circulated tract On Agitation, written by Arkady Kremer and with a foreword by Julius Martov—toward agitation around workers’ immediate economic demands. At this stage, the circles remained entirely local in orientation, organized independently of each other, with no national organization or publications. Some of the younger social democrats in this period began to overestimate the importance of the economic struggle and to downplay the importance of organizing the working class for a political struggle against the autocracy. Eventually, a trend developed that tried to systematically theorize this limitation itself as the right strategy. In 1899, a tract called the Credo was circulated in social-democratic circles. Written by E.D. Kuskova, the document expressed sympathy with the reformist gradualism of Eduard Bernstein in Germany and argued that instead of fighting for revolution, Russian socialists should have a much more modest goal. As she wrote:


“Any talk about an independent worker political party is in essence nothing more than the product of the transfer of alien tasks, alien results, onto our soil. … For the Russian Marxist there is only one conclusion:  participation by helping the economic struggle of the proletariat, and participation in liberal oppositional activity.”[44]

This argument, that the economic struggle was the only one worth waging for the workers, and that at most they should provide the economic struggle itself a political colour (i.e.,  pressure group politics, as opposed to revolutionary politics) was what the orthodox Marxists termed ‘Economism’, or in Lenin’s hands at least, tred-iunionism (I follow Lih here). By this was meant, not doing trade union work, but seeking to restrict politics to the politics of trade unions. Accusing anyone of seeking to implement the programme of the Credo was about the most serious accusation Lenin could make, against anyone.

A classic statement of the economists’ view was expressed in the newspaper Rabochaia mysl: “What sort of struggle is it desirable for the workers to conduct? Isn’t the desirable struggle the only one which they are able to conduct in present circumstances?”[45] This statement was nothing if not reminiscent of Bernstein’s statement that the movement was “everything” and the final goal “nothing.” No wonder Lenin and his co-thinkers considered economism the Russian variant of Bernstein’s revisionism.

Lenin’s response to the publication of the Credo, which he wrote while he was in Siberian exile (he had been arrested in 1895 and was released in the summer of 1900), was swift. His article, signed by seventeen other exiled socialists, argued, that the assertion about the Russian working class not having put forward political aims revealed ignorance about the Russian revolutionary movement. Lenin was particularly incensed, because populists criticized the Marxists for ignoring the political struggle, and the orthodox Marxists always rejected this populist charge. Now here were people claiming to be Social Democrats and putting forward just the kind of non-revolutionary programme the populists accused Marxists of having. Lenin argued that accepting the programme of the Credo would be tantamount to the political suicide of Russian Social Democracy. A point to remember, when reading those articles of Lenin, is that at that stage, for all its hesitations and nebulous formulations, Russian Liberalism still seemed a revolutionary force. So if the working class struggle was restricted to economic issues, it would become the tail of Liberals or populists, and lose the independent and potentially leading role in the struggle against the autocracy.

Not long after the emergence of economism, social struggles began to take on a more political character, which gave urgency to the ideological conflict over economic versus political struggle. The student movement picked up steam, as did government repression against it. Workers joined some of the student demonstrations. They also began organizing May Day protests, including one that led to a general strike in Kharkov in 1900. In Petersburg in May 1901, workers of the Obukhov defense works engaged in running street battles with the police and Cossacks, then barricaded themselves inside the plant. Thirty thousand students participated in the general strike in the winter of 1901–02. In Moscow, a demonstration called to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the ending of serfdom brought out thousands of workers who clashed with Cossacks. A November 1902 railway strike in Rostov on Don turned into a citywide general strike.[46] It was in this atmosphere that Iskra was launched. Two groups came together in the project – the founders of Russian Social Democracy, led by George Plekhanov, Pavel Akselrod and Vera Zasulich, and a younger group, recently arrived in emigration, represented by Lenin, Martov, and Aleksander Potresov.

. In political battles where a number of groups, whether claiming to be factions of the same party (as in Russia in the period under discussion) or to be rival parties (as in India within the far left today) fight for hegemony, very often, groups who are close, but have separate existence because of secondary differences, can have extremely sharp polemics. In many such cases, attempts are made to establish that the rival group’s seemingly slight difference is actually the beginning of a massive slide into opportunism, sectarianism, or some other error. Lenin emerges, from Lih’s account, as a very able polemicist in this tradition. This is not something very new. He has always been treated as a polemical author, constantly firing off shots at opponents. It is possible to look at other phases of party and Russian history to see him doing similar things. Thus, when the struggle was to save the underground party (and with it, the revolutionary programme) in opposition to the proposals of currents in the party who wanted to accept the police-controlled “legality” after 1907, Lenin can be found engaged in the same kind of polemics. There too, he attacked not just the liquidators, as those who proposed a legal party were called, but also the “conciliators”, i.e., those who stressed the need for an underground party, but had a somewhat different attitude about the legal structures, including the trade unions. The so-called conciliators included Trotsky, as well as a large number of Bolshevik activists who at times (e.g., the 1910 Central Committee Plenum) sided with Trotsky. And so, Lenin often hurled thunderbolts at Trotsky far stronger than those he was directing towards the liquidators, who were being in any case massively defeated among the practical workers.[47] So, there exists a need to study each case, not as a general Leninist political strategy, but as a specific reaction by Lenin to a specific conflict.

Along with the myth of Lenin’s skepticism about the revolutionary potential of the working class, there had grown up, of necessity, a myth about the “worker-phile” attitude of the “Economists”. Lih brings to light the exact articles in dispute, and shows that the economists wanted to avoid the struggle for democracy, and in some cases firmly rejected the Erfurtian model. Lih provides a translation of an editorial from the “Economist” paper Rabochaia mysl, No.1, October 1897, so that readers can read it for themselves. The editorial rejects the view that the working class struggle has any historic mission, of bringing socialism, not within a few days or years, but for the future. Instead, it asserts: “Let the workers conduct their struggle, knowing that they are not fighting for just some kind of future generation but for themselves and their children – let them remember that every victory, every foot of ground taken from the enemy, is one more step in the ladder leading to their personal well-being.” [48] Evidently, the author of the editorial was clearly opposing the line stretching from Marx to Kautsky to Lenin, about the task of the working class being to become the “national class” (Marx’s formulation in the Communist Manifesto), about the fusion of communist theory with the working class, and about the historic mission of the working class. The editorial, as Lih shows, was actually written by an intellectual, and does not reflect any “authentic” working class voice as against intelligentsia impositions by orthodox Marxists. And so, we are led to the conclusion, that the author of the editorial was advising workers – do not bother yourselves about profound missions, about a socialist future that only later generations will see, but try and get little bits of concession. Combatting this attitude, not controlling workers, was what Lenin was concerned about.

Because Rabochee dyelo was Erfurtian, so the dispute between Iskra and this paper was not over fundamental principles, but tactics. It was in course of this tactical dispute that Boris Krichevskii wrote an article in Rabochee dyelo where he introduced the concept of stikhiinost. I follow Lih in retaining the Russian original. It is forever claimed, if never proved, that Lenin was violently opposed to spontaneity, and condemned it for its bourgeois tendencies, demanding control from above through a tight, disciplined, small organization. Stikhiinost is the word usually translated as spontaneity.  So what was Krichevskii talking about and what was Lenin responding to? Krichevskii was writing about political explosions such as the worker demonstrations in 1901 in support of the students, attacking Iskra from the left, claiming that Rabochee dyelo had a better response to the movement under discussion. Krichevskii had seized on an earlier article by Lenin, where Lenin talked about a stikhiinyi explosion, that is, an elemental, unplanned, sudden and powerful event.  Indeed, this is a passage to which very few authors have paid attention (for obvious reasons) ,since Lenin was writing that  “it is fully possible and historically much more likely that the autocracy will fall under the pressure of one of those stikhiinyi explosions…. But no political party, unless it falls into adventurism, can base its activity solely in the expectation of such explosions….”.[49] Lenin was arguing that Iskra had been working according to a plan, while Rabochee dyelo tended to jump from event to event, banking on elemental upsurges. The dispute was not one over whether the working class should be controlled, but whether party building should base itself on hopes for sudden explosions. Krichevskii accused Iskra of overestimating a large, purposive, aware, well-organized proletariat. In that case, of course, it is difficult to understand why Krichevskii also accused Iskra of being a conspirator.


When Lenin wrote WITBD, therefore, issues like stikhiinost, and konspiratsiia, were forced on him, rather than his having chosen these issues as a matter of core values.  Rabochee dyelo had an agreement with Iskra, which it was violating. Lenin was using the existing Rabochee dyelo articles to prove his point. So he had to follow Krichevksii’s usage. He argued that if Krichevskii’s proposal was taken seriously it would lead to denying any need for active Social Democratic leadership. Lenin’s aim, in putting forward these arguments, was not to present a novel proposition, but to argue that his opponents were rejecting a widely accepted Social Democratic position. Nowhere in WITBD does Lenin express a worry that spontaneous working class struggles would lead to bourgeois politics, and therefore the working class must be bound tightly to party dictation. Instead, what we find, if we read WITBD as a whole, instead of zooming in on a couple of passages quoted around a thousand times, is Lenin assuming that the working class is rational, and arguing that the task of Social Democracy is to put across the socialist message to the working class movement, because if it is done properly, they will accept it, and will fuse with the socialist theory.

Lih makes a strong case for treating “conspiracy” and “professional revolutionary” also in a different way. The Russian word konspiratsiia, translated baldly into English as conspiracy, has a major problem. Konspiratsiia involved successful underground work. People living in democratic countries where they can have the luxury of a party office with a Red Flag fluttering boldly often do not realize what basic principles of party work in Tsarist Russia, or in Bismarckian Germany, could be like. Lack of skill in konspiratsiia would result in disaster for the party organization, with its members arrested and links with the workers broken. Obviously, success in konspiratsiia meant keeping secrecy from the police, and to this extent it overlapped with conspiracy. But the RSDLP defined itself from the outset against the Narodnaia Volia strategy of conspiracy against the Tsar. Not secret plots against hateed rulers, but awareness raising and formation of purposivenes among the working class were the Social Democratic strategy. Lenin is presenting a case, in WITBD, of how to combine konspiratsiia with the expansion of participation.  Regardless of the efficacy of his proposal, it is clear that he was trying to work out the tactics that would make possible a mass movement even under Tsarist autocracy.


The professional revolutionary, likewise appears not as the intelligentsia activist cut off from the workers, but someone who is not an amateur. In Lih’s translation, it is a revolutionary by trade, that is, someone who treats it seriously, as a full time work. The shift by Lih is a legitimate one, yet one which even scholars with a knowledge of Russian had not thought of. Even in WITBD, Lenin talks about professiia, professional’nye soiuzy (trade unions) and so on quite often. Looking at the underground work metaphorically as a trade, he implies that the revolutionary needs a set of skills. While a professional revolutionary could at times be thought of as something akin to a professional soldier, the term revolutionary by trade does not carry the same connotation. In addition, Lenin nowhere implies that non-workers cannot be revolutionaries by trade. Indeed, his whole point was that workers must be made revolutionaries by trade. The revolutionary by trade was one who knew konspiratsiia, and one who knew the value of division of labour. However, Lih treats the term as one almost accidentally used by Lenin, as a result of reading a passage in an opponent’s writing. Even if this was indeed the origin if the term, Lenin had more serious aims. As Marik has argued, he wanted to ensure that workers could become full-time revolutionaries.[50]

Lih traces the Iskra ideas about organization (indeed the norms developing within Russian Social Democrats generally), including centralism, discipline, development of political skills, opposition to conspiratorialism cut off from worker milieus, konspiratsiia, division of labour, and the inapplicability of real democracy and transparency in the underground conditions. He argues that the ideal organization presented by Lenin in WITBD (not the real Iskra organization) was a summing up of the logical culminations of those norms. But these norms were seen as a specifically Russian application, in underground conditions, of the SPD norms, and not any “party of a new type”. It is here that one could argue with Lih. He is correct, if he is talking about the Iskra period. But the revolution of 1905, the next period of underground, all led to the Bolsheviks developing ideas about a revolutionary party somewhat different from what the SPD had been even as a normative role model.

But Lih is certainly correct in arguing that WITBD shows a working class desiring better socialist propaganda, and an organization being needed so that the revolutionaries on the ground could achieve their desired goal of taking to the masses the good news of socialism. Also, WITBD emerges as a much more limited purpose text than is often imagined, or pretended, by many critics for whom it is the core of the myth of Lenin’s anti-democratic attitude. Perhaps the best revelation is the one where Lih shows Rosa Luxemburg excoriating Lenin for ignoring mass struggles, based on unsigned articles in the Iskra written, unbeknownst to her, by Lenin.

Bringing Consciousness from Outside:

This has often been a major issue in storms over Chto Delat? The working class can, Lenin is supposed to have said, arrive only at trade union consciousness. The socialist consciousness was developed by the intelligentsia, and has to be injected into the working class from outside. Practically every historian who has tilted at the windmill of Lenin’s elitism has cited the concerned passage. Few have bothered to examine the fact that Lenin was actually quoting Karl Kautsky, who, according to their myth, was a democratic socialist very different from Lenin. Kautsky, moreover, was presenting his explanation of the programme of the Austrian Social Democratic party. Of course, this does not solve the problem. Perhaps Kautsky too was elitist. I suggest that Lenin was less elitist than Kautsky’s formulation implies. A careful reading of Chto Delat?, even in existing translations, rather than the new one prepared with explanations by Lih, will show several elements. First, the use of the inside-outside counterposition in Lenin’s hand means something different. He argues that the worker, to become revolutionary, cannot see everything purely from inside the factory and immediate surroundings. Second, Lenin, in his own discussion following the Kautsky quotation, injects an important qualification. Certainly, Lenin did write that :

“The doctrine of socialism grew out of those philosophical, historical, and economic theories that were worked out by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intelligentsia.”[51]  

Despite Lih’s admiration for Lenin, in the chapter entitled Scandalous Passages, he is compelled to admit that taken by itself the passage does show a move away from Lenin’s Erfurtianism. This leads to a view socialist doctrines grew up separately from the working class, that is, only non-workers could develop socialism, when we combine this with the other assertion that:

“The history of all countries bears witness that exclusively with its own forces the worker class is in a condition to work out only a tred-iunionist awareness, that is, a conviction of the need to unite in unions, to carry on a struggle with the owners, to strive for the promulgation by the government of this or that law that is necessary for the workers and so on.” [52] 


However, Lenin moved away from this, a few pages later, when he said that workers such as Proudhon and Weitling participated in the development of socialist ideology. He remarked that they did so not as workers but as theoreticians.  If this distinction means anything at all, it means that Lenin is actually contradicting the view that the intelligentsia is representative of the propertied class. There can be worker intelligentsia as well. And it is as theoreticians of socialism that we need to see any one of them, whether Marx or Kautsky, or Proudhon and Weitling. Moreover,  Lenin’s comment, ‘the doctrine .. grew out of’, suggests he was talking about those who have been called Utopian Socialists. In this sense, of course, the comment can be made to fit what Lih calls the merger narrative (the Marxist argument that theoretical socialism and the living working class movements merged with the rise of revolutionary, proletarian socialism or Marxism).      


Lenin’s whole thrust is to argue that the working class is ready to absorb socialist theory enthusiastically, and is only prevented by intellectuals who wish to restrict the working class to purely economic issues. Later in the same book, Lenin qualifies the point still further, arguing that in fact the working class does indeed gravitate toward socialist consciousness, but that it does not do so in an ideological vacuum. Bourgeois ideology, older, more prepared, with an ample supply of writers as well as funds, is able to spread confusion, and that is why it is essential to organize for revolutionary socialist propaganda. Those sections of the class that do spontaneously gravitate toward socialist politics before others must be organized together to exercise more influence over their fellow workers who are still influenced more by bourgeois ideology.

If we have spent such an amount of space for WITBD, that is because it is so systematically misread. For all Stalinist party leaders, it is the idea of socialist consciousness coming from outside that matters, so that the history of class struggle is turned to wise decisions by the Party (or errors by “renegades”) .

Democratic Centralism Under Lenin:

The most interesting fact about democratic centralism is that the term was coined by Mensheviks, who opposed it to Lenin’s so-called ruthless centralism. But Lenin did not only accept it but explained what he understood by it.

In WITBD already he stresses that a real democratic working class party had to be open unless it functioned under absolutist conditions.

The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a kind different from the organisation of the workers designed for this struggle. The workers’ organisation must in the first place be a trade union organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public as conditions will allow (here, and further on, of course, I refer only to absolutist Russia). On the other hand, the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession (for which reason I speak of the organisation of revolutionaries, meaning revolutionary Social-Democrats). In view of this common characteristic of the members of such an organisation, all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced. Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret as possible. [53] Be it noted, he stresses that his prescriptions for underground functioning are for Russia – not even for Germany which had only fragmented democracy.

 By 1905-7 the situation had changed. There had emerged a mass organisation of a unique type. Out of a general strike and the need to coorsdinate work while keeping the class enemy paralysed, workers elected the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers Deputies. On 15 October, 226 representatives from 96 factories and workshops and 5 trade unions were present. On 17 October, the body named itself the Soviet Rabochikh Deputatov (Council of workers’ Deputies).[54] It was this example that inspired the setting up of Soviets elsewhere, in Moscow, Odessa, Novorossiisk, Donets, etc. There were also few instances of Soldiers’ Councils and Peasants’ Councils.

                 The Soviet emerged in fulfilment of an objective need for an organization that would represent peoples’ authority, an organization that would be flexible enough to encompass hundreds of thousands of workers of various factories, varying age-groups, diverse viewpoints, different level of skills and earnings, without imposing on them so much organizational restraint that this newly won cohesion would break down. . The powers of the Soviets lay in the fact that the deputies were elected and that they could function publicly without gaining legal sanction from the State. This set them off from the parties, despite the fact that party activists could be, and usually were, workers or professional revolutionaries dedicated to workers’ struggles. As Trotsky, at the age of twenty-six the great mass leader of the 1905 revolution, put it on the basis of his own experience:

“Prior to the Soviet we find among the industrial workers a multitude of organizations… But these were organizations within the proletariat, and their immediate aim was to achieve influence over the masses. The Soviet was, from the start, the organization of the proletariat, and its aim was the struggle for revolutionary power”.[55]

A section of the Bolsheviks were sceptical about the Soviets. Lenin’s close activist Krassikov called it a non-party Zubatovite committee.[56] Lenin opposed this stance. He also opposed the position of those Bolsheviks at the Bolshevik Congress who called for tight organisations. Even the sympathetic Krupskaya recorded in her memoirs that the committeemen were conservative, opposed to inner party democracy and undesirous of changes.[57] Lenin, from abroad, could see the need to change party tactics[58], to become more flexible, and get rid of the prerogatives of the committeemen and induct more youth, and more workers in the committees.[59] The period when a pre-revolutionary crisis opens up is the period when a revolutionary party has the opportunity to become a mass party. Failure to ensure this transformation is as serious as any attempt to build a mass party when conditions do not permit it. At the Third Congress, Lenin and Bogdanov proposed that workers should be taken into the party at all levels in large numbers.[60] The delegate Gradov (Kamenev) accused Lenin of demagogically raising the question of the relationship between workers and intelligentsia.[61] Reports by Leskov, Filippov and Krassikov made it obvious that workers were not being drawn into the party. One delegate, Mikhailov, even accused in disgust that “the requirements for the intelligentsia are very low, and for the workers they are extremely high”.[62]

        Significantly, Mensheviks, no less than the Bolsheviks, were dependent on the work of the professional revolutionaries. But the Mensheviks saw no special role for them. Lenin, by contrast, viewed the professional revolutionaries and the party machine as a means of increasing the activity of the class vanguard. But their work could succeed only if the gates of the party were opened in revolutionary times. Once a programme and basic tactics were worked out, and an organizational structure set up, mass recruitment was deemed necessary, especially during a rising tide of class struggles.[63] Lenin urged repeatedly in favour of this transition. Events pressed in the same direction. As a result, party cells grew rapidly in factories.[64] Bolshevik recruitment grew at about the same pace as the Menshevik recruitment, and with, on average, a more proletarian and younger composition. Between early 1906 and 1907, both factions had grown massively.[65]

Inner party democracy was an area where Lenin learnt from experience. The Mensheviks, having ousted the Bolsheviks from the leading structures, had been ignoring calls for a fresh party congress.

The Third (purely Bolshevik) Congress had already adopted the stance that elections, and autonomy of local committees vis-a-vis the Central Committee, should be the norm. The new rules adopted at the Congress gave local organizations autonomy in matters relating to their area of activity (Article 6) and the right to issue party literature in their own names (Article 7).[66] In St. Petersburg, the new structure was that of an elected conference, due to meet at least twice a month. It was to be elected twice a year, and in turn it was to elect the party committee. Large numbers of members were drawn in the decision making process. For example, the St. Petersburg party decided to boycott the First Duma by 1168 to 926 votes.[67] Lenin even recommended referenda in case of important political questions.[68] The Bolshevik activist Pyatnitsky recollected a similar widespread application of democracy in Moscow.[69] On the question of the party press, Lenin stressed that here there could be no question of a mechanical “rule of the majority over the minority....”[70]

In November 1905, the Mensheviks held a conference. This was followed by a Bolshevik Conference, (12-17 December). The two groups then set up a United Central Committee, with three Bolsheviks and three Mensheviks. Both groups, as well as the new Central Committee, now called for the reorganization of the party on the principle of democratic centralism.[71] At the Fourth (unity) Congress of the RSDRP, the Menshevik majority brought in a set of resolutions constituting the democratic centralist principles, viewed as a democratic norm of functioning.[72]

The stress is heavily on the rights of minorities, but with an important proviso, that the opposition must be a loyal opposition. The concept of a ‘loyal’ opposition was, however, carefully defined to avoid abuse of power. The ideological disputes had to go along with organisational unity, that is, the opposition could not hinder the work of the party. This was further clarified on one occasion, when the Central Committee sent a circular laying down the limits of public criticism. Lenin objected to the circular, saying that it had defined unity of action too broadly, but freedom of criticism too narrowly. He argued that the principles to be adhered were autonomy for local organisations, as well as democratic centralism. This implied “universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action”.[73]  In other words, even after a decision was taken, there could be criticism, but no obstruction to the carrying out of the decision, unless the decision itself was changed. Apart from Lenin’s broad definition of the freedom to criticise, the kind of broadening of the rights of members that he was urging could be understood by looking at this act itself. He was publicly challenging the Central Committee. He wrote that the before adopting such a resolution, the C.C. should have discussed the matter in the party.[74] Subsequently, he was to put forward the view that if a real mass party had to be built, rather than a sect, then different lines had to exist, and their open clash had to be viewed as normal.[75] From this conception, he also concluded that like-minded groups had the right to form factions.[76] (horrors. Shiver me timbers).

          Lenin also emphasized that a party wishing to be the class vanguard had to inform the whole class about its activities, about inner party debates. Responding to the charge of factionalism brought by the Socialist Revolutionaries, he said that a mass party had to inform the masses “as to which leaders and which organisations of the party are pursuing this or that line”.[77] He also pointed out in an essay of 1907, defending the development of the professional revolutionaries, that due to the development of their network, between 1903 and 1907 the RSDRP had been able to give the public information about the inner party situation, and to build a democratic legal organization with representative Congress when the situation permitted.[78]

During the ebb of the revolution, Lenin still counten anced differences of view in the party even as he excoritated wrong views politically. Thus, the expulsion of Bogdanov from the Bolshevik faction was effected as a necessary internal matter of the faction. A meeting of the “Extended Editorial Board of Proletariat” was called in June 1909. The Proletariat was the factional paper of the Bolsheviks, and a meeting of the extended editorial board meant in reality a camouflaged meeting of the Bolshevik central leadership. This meeting dissociated Bolshevism from Bogdanov’s political line, and expelled Bogdanov from the Bolshevik faction. It is useful to look at Lenin’s justification of this action.

“In our Party Bolshevism is represented by Bolshevik section  [meaning faction – S.M.]. But a section is not a party. A party can contain a whole gamut of opinions …the extremes of which may be sharply contradictory…that is not the case within a section. A section in a party is a group of like-minded persons formed for the purpose primarily of influencing the party acceptance for their principles in the purest possible form. For this, real unanimity of opinion is necessary. The different standards we set for party unity and sectional unity must be grasped by everyone ….”[79]

Bolshevism in 1917:

We propose to restrict our examples here to two or three cases, in place of the far greater number that can be adduced, since this essay is becoming unduly elongated. At the time of the March Conference, a three-way struggle ensued. The rightwing, led by Voitinsky, wanted unconditional unity with the Mensheviks. The centre, led by Stalin, wanted unification based on the political standpoint of Zimmerwald and Kienthal (i.e., a compromise anti-war stand that had temporarily united a revolutionary minority and a Kautskyite majority, but that had been criticised as inadequate by Lenin and the other émigré Bolsheviks, who along with Polish left-wingers like Karl Radek and others had formed a separate Zimmerwald Left). Finally, the left, led by people like Molotov and Zalutsky opposed such attempts at unification. Lenin’s arrival, while the March-April conference was still continuing, had the effect of dropping a bombshell on the party. He even felt that a clean break required breaking with “old Bolshevism”, and creating “a proletarian Communist Party” whose “elements have already been created by the best adherents of Bolshevism”[80]   At this time, within the leadership (broadly defined) Lenin had only a few supporters. Alexandra Kollontai was his firmest supporter, while Nikolai Bukharin, when he returned to Russia a little later, would also support Lenin. In the Central Committee, and in the Petersburg Committee, Lenin found few supporters.[81]

Lenin’s response was swift. He was aware that a leadership couldn't be built up overnight. So he had no aim of rejecting the Bolshevik party. But he recognised that a conservative inertia had set in in its upper layers, and decided to overcome that by appealing to the party ranks. Beginning with the publication of the April Theses, he launched an open campaign. He could do this with some confidence because while the official programme of the party called for a democratic revolution, Bolsheviks tactics had highlighted class independence. His action showed that Lenin’s conception of democratic centralism did not involve any consideration of subservience to the hierarchy, or any “central committee solidarity”, when fundamental issues were involved. It also showed that there existed several trends within Bolshevism. As it has been argued, “Against the old Bolsheviks Lenin found support in.... the worker - Bolsheviks.... [who were revolutionary but] lacked the theoretical resources to defend their position.”[82]

At the Seventh All Russian conference (24-29 April), while a sizeable block, led by Kamenev and Rykov, fought for old Bolshevism,[83]the crucial resolution ‘On the Current Moment’ won with 71 votes for 39 against and 8 abstentions.[84] But on the question of splitting from the Zimmerwald movement Lenin stood isolated.[85]The critical attitude that he had taken to Old Bolshevism had to be toned down. Finally, in the nine member Central Committee elected by the Conference, there were three firm Leninists (Lenin, Sverdlov and Smilga), two supporters of Lenin with qualifications (Stalin and Zinoviev) and four forming the right wing (Kamemev, Nogin, Miliutin and Fedorov).[86]

Unless we are prepared to degenerate to utter cultism, we must admit that if Lenin had such rights, other members must have had, or should have had, such rights.

That they enjoyed such rights is seen clearly in the incidents of June. In June, when a debate took place over whether to organise a public demonstration calling for an end to the provisional Government, the decision was not taken by the Central Committee alone, which would have been technically legitimate, but by a large gathering which included members of the Central Committee, the Petersburg Committee, the Military Organisation, representatives from the trade union and factory committee level party cells. It was this meeting that noted the mood of the masses in favour of a demonstration by a vote of 58 for, 37 against and 52 abstention, and declared that a demonstration would take place, if necessary defying the Soviet (47 for, 42 against, 80 abstention).[87]Facing a ban on the demonstration by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, five members of the Central Committee had to meet on an emergency basis and call off the demonstration with Zinoviev, Kamenev and Nogin voting for calling off and Lenin and Sverdlov abstaining.[88] The party ranks responded by adopting resolutions condemning the Central Committee.[89] Lenin, in a speech before the Petersburg Committee, June 11, 1917, which had become radical due to recomposition in April, said:


“The Central Committee does not want to force your decision. Your right, the right to protest against the actions of the Central Committee, is a legitimate one, and your decision must be a free one.”[90]

The right of the minority was not a mere formal right. A series of events highlight the effective nature of this right. A few cases can be mentioned. At the April Conference, Lenin and Kamenev were co-reporters in the discussion on general policy (reporters get an extended time and the right to speak a second time at the summing up). The personnel composition of party organs included diverse trends. Thus, the new Central Committee, elected by the Sixth Congress, created a new editorial board for Pravda, the members being Stalin, Sokolnikov and Miliutin.[91] And when, at a critical moment, the Central Committee called on party members to stop collaborating with Maxim Gorky’s paper, Novaia Zhizn, six party members who did collaborate with it wrote to the Central Committee:

“We consider it inappropriate that the CC should take decisions determining the political conduct of this or that group of party members in matters directly concerning them and on which they are better informed without consulting such party members in advance.”[92]

Similarly, when a pseudo-democratic body, known as the Council of the Republic, was created through assigning blocs of seats to different kinds of organisations, the decision on whether to boycott it or not was not taken by the Central Committee alone. Trotsky, for the boycott, had a majority of one in the Central Committee. But a meeting of the party group at the Democratic Conference, (called to create an institutional basis for the Kerensky regime), decided in favour of entering the Council by 77 votes to 50. The Central Committee accepted this verdict.[93]

So, right up to the eve of the October uprising, there remained a substantial minority that had a radically different conception of the tasks of the party, and this minority was associated with the highest party bodies. It was never excluded from the executive organs in the name of centralism. At the sixth Congress of the party, out of twenty-one members elected to the Central Committee, the current associated with Kamenev had several members — Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rykov, Nogin and Miliutin.[94] Several days before the insurrection, a Political Bureau was elected (for the first time) to carry out day to day leadership tasks. It included Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Sokolnikov, Bubnov, Kamenev and Zinoviev. [95]The last two were determined opponents of the insurrection, and even Stalin felt that Lenin’s and Kamenev’ lines could be reconciled.[96]

The collapse of inner party democracy—how logical a consequence of Leninism?

But, we will be told at this point, Lenin changed his position later. We want to present the situation below. Throughout 1918-1921, the Bolsheviks and the new born Soviet power were facing an in tolerable situation. There was a civil war, backed by imperialism. And apart from small sections of the Mensheviks and Anarchists, all political parties clearly refused to accept Soviet power and took up arms. The Socialist Revolutionaries, who have found many passionate sympathisers, were notorious for both terrorist activities and cooperation with the right wing – not just after but before October 1917.

Lenon, in his theoretical writings, was still insisting on the need to widen democracy. Thus,

"Kautsky has not understood at all the difference between bourgeois parliamentarism, which combines democracy (not for the people) with bureaucracy (against the people), and proletarian democracy, which will take immediate steps to cut bureaucracy down to the roots, and which will be able to carry these measure through to the end, to the complete abolition of bureaucracy, to the introduction of complete democracy for the people."[97]

At worst, one can argue that thre was a flaw of omission in The State and Revolution. Lenin's account of representative democracy can be criticised for being silent on the question of plurality, rival programmes within the workers' state, and on the distinction between counter-revolution and opposition.

Another criticism of Lenin that can be made is that in the article 'Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power' (October 1917), he said that since the revolution of 1905:

"Russia has been governed by 130,000 Landowners [opposing 150,000,000 people] .... yet we are told that the 240,000 members of the Bolshevik Party will not be able to govern Russia....(through, together with the supporters) we....already have a "state apparatus" of one million people...."[98]


Here, the talk was chiefly of how the Bolsheviks could govern. By taking only of the Bolsheviks and their supporters, the role of the Soviet, and its relationship with parties, was obscured.

Overall, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet government they headed, had inherited a major economic crisis. Moreover, this crisis, accentuating sharply even before October 1917, had so intensified the class struggles that the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution did not have to await October. Bourgeois counter-revolution began from the moment the February revolution started consolidating gains of soldiers of workers. Bolsheviks, left Mensheviks, other internationalist Social Democrats, left and centrist SRs. etc., were denied passage to Russia. Many, like Lenin, had to return through Germany, taking advantage of Ludendorff's hopes of peace in the East through a left-wing victory in Russia. Others, like Trotsky, were arrested by the “allies” as they tried to make their way back to Russia via allied countries.[99] From the beginning, this was an international class war. Lenin and Trotsky both made this point. Thus, Trotsky wrote: "The workers' government will from the start be faced with the task of uniting its forces with those of the socialist proletariat".[100] The imperialist powers were not slow in replying to the Bolsheviks. Paleologue and Buchanan, the French and English ambassadors respectively, made repeated demands to the liberals for the suppression of the Bolsheviks. Buchanan was one of the major props behind Kornilov.[101] The Allied military missions also tried to treat the Russian army separately from the unreliable government.[102] The allies put pressure not only on the rightwing parties, but also on the Mensheviks and SRs, whose rejection of a government of all the socialist parties, based on the Soviets, stemmed in part from this pressure.[103]

It is clearly beyond the scope of the present study to offer a detailed summary of the civil war.[104] But it is important to keep the chronology of the civil war in mind. Within three days of the October Insurrection, rightwing forces were being assisted by moderate Socialists in an attempted coup d'etat having far less democratic basis than the Soviet insurrection. Within six weeks, White forces were being organised in South Eastern Russia.[105] Both the Entente and the Germans egged on the Ukraine against the Soviet regime.[106] In Georgia, a Menshevik regime was formed, and it got Entente support.[107] In February 1918, the Volunteer Army left the Don to move on the Kuban. After the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Germans imposed a puppet ruler in the Ukraine, the Hetman Skoropadsky. They also occupied Latvia and Estonia. Finnish independence, confirmed by the Bolsheviks, was followed by a bloody civil war waged by the Whites.

The Finnish Civil war gave a lesson in democracy to the Bolsheviks. When the Finnish socialists won a majority (103 out of 200) seats to the Sejm, Kerensky had dissolved it. Following October, a Council of People's Delegates had been proclaimed in Finland. This revolution was smashed by rightwing armed forces, led by Mannerheim, and militarily under the guidance of Germans led by General Von der Goltz. The defeat of the revolution was followed by mass murder. Some 23,000 Reds were killed.[108] In Helsinki, the Whites made workers' wives and children walk in front of their troops as they recaptured the city street by street. One hundred of them died. In Tavastehus 10,000 prisoners were interned and many subsequently massacred. In Kummen 500 were shot after the battle.[109] "In Lahti in one day some 200 women were shot with explosive bullets."[110] in Viipuri 600 Red Guards were lined up in three rows and machine gunned to death.[111] 8380 captured Reds were killed illegally.[112] 265 'legal executions' were based on 'illegal charges'. [113] 11,783 prisoners out of the 80,000 or so, died due to lack of food, sanitation, living space etc.[114]

As in Finland, so in Russia, too, the counter-revolution was actively aided by both imperialist camps. The German ambassador, Count Mirbach, on arriving in Moscow, met a number of members of the Imperial Family.[115] Bruce Lockhart, a British officer, was in contact with Alexiev, Kornilov and Denikin. By April 1918, the Entente had come to the conclusion that they would have to invade Russia and overthrow the Bolsheviks.[116] In April 1918, the British and the Japanese seized Vladivostok. By the end of 1918, there were 73,000 Japanese troops in Siberia.[117] In all, in course of the civil war the Soviet regime faced the armies of 14 countries, who at different points supported Kolchak in the East, Yudenich's thrust for Petrograd in the North, and Denikin and the Cossacks' drive to Moscow from the South. By 1919, over 200,000 Allied troops were ranged against the Red forces.[118]

 White Terror was a brutal anti poor peasant, anti-worker, and anti-communist policy. The aim of the officers was not to establish parliamentary democracy, but a dictatorship. White ruled territories were either run as military despotisms, or were given in charge of discredited bureaucrats of the Tsarist era. White Terror was massive; half of an entire captured regiment was shot dead, after being forced to dig their own graves, for being communists.[119] Two orders of Karsnov and Kaledin showed the class nature of White Terror :

Order No. 2428: It is forbidden to arrest workers. The orders are to hang or shoot them.

Order No. 2431: The orders are to hang all arrested workers in the street. The bodies are to be exhibited for three days.[120]

Under these strains, Bolshevik commitment to democracy creaked, bent, and ultimately broke. There was no doubt whatsoever among the Bolsheviks that survival of a workers' government in Russia depended on the spread of the revolution. Even Stalin could summarize the difference between Lenin on one hand and Zinoviev and Kamenev on the other over the October revolution in these words: "There are two Lines here: one steers for the victory of the revolution and relies on Europe, the second has no faith in the revolution and reckons on being only an opposition."[121] E.H.Carr concludes that the European revolution's proximity was the factor "on which the confident calculations....of every Bolshevik of any account, had been based."[122]

European revolution was no chimera in this period. It began with the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. It continued with the fall of Tsarism. A naval revolt and a general strike in November 1918 overthrew the German Kaiser. Prince Max of Baden tried to assume a regency. But workers and soldiers set up Councils. Revolution had already descended on the streets of Vienna, Budapest and Prague. In Bulgaria, Tsar Ferdinand abdicated, and Stamboulisky, the peasant leader who had just been liberated from jail, got control over the government. Victor Serge writes: "From the Scheldt to the Volga the councils of workers' and soldiers' deputies - the Soviets - are the real masters of the hour."[123]In March, 1919, a Soviet government took power in Hungary. In the same year, massive labour unrest shook Britain. For two years massive class struggles convulsed Italy, until a fascist counter - revolution brought Mussolini it power.[124]It was on the basis of these struggles, unprecedented in scope, that the attempts were launched to build a Soviet Europe. By 1920, the Communist International counted in its ranks powerful parties in Italy, Czechoslovakia, France, Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany, Norway and Yugoslavia.

In January 1919, provocations had resulted in an untimely rising and the beheading of the KPD leadership. But the revolutionary wave was still very strong. "All power to the Councils", and "Dictatorship of the proletariat" became a watch word of the European working class - for the first and last time in history. As Otto Bauer, an Austrian Social Democratic leader who worked hard to prevent the socialist revolution, explained, the Austrian proletariat (to give one example), "considered the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be possible."[125] An eyewitness wrote that "An ever widening circle saw in the Workers' and Soldiers' councils, based on the Russian Soviet model, the future structure of representation in Germany."[126]

Eventually, this world revolution was defeated. In 1921, Soviet Russia stood as the isolated, solitary, advanced outpost of a failed revolutionary wave. Counter-revolution was unable to conquer it. But its crisis became acute. The fate of Soviet democracy in Russia was settled as much in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest or Turin, as in Russia. But Soviet democracy was not murdered by Leninism. Robert Abrams' study of the local Soviets shows that in the period 1918-1921, local Soviets were able to displace the old political elite, and create a new political culture with a high degree of input from the lower classes.[127]

In the local Soviets, as late as 1921, the communists were not mostly predominant. In volost executive committees, non-party members predominated. In district city executives, communists were in a slight majority. The advantage of being an organized party was that at the upper level, in the provincial city and congress executive committees, the communists had superiority. However, it has also been noted that the party grew from 24,000 in early 1917 to over ten times by July-August. So even the induction of communists in the Soviets shows the rise of a new layer of administrators. In 1919, the only year for which such statistics are available, only 12.5% of the district city executive committees could be considered old Bolsheviks. In the provincial city executive committees in the same years, about 50% were old Bolsheviks.[128] The proportion of old Bolsheviks in the uezd congress executive committees, in fact, declined from 12.2% in 1919 to 7.6% in 1921.[129]

But as Soviets collapsed due to Civil War and the dispersal of the proletariat non-elected 'revolutionary committees' or expanded party committees, replaced them in many places.[130]Thus, non-elected, unrepresentative bodies began to be set up. With the elected, militant workers being replaced, functionaries now became more important. By the end of 1920, there were 5,880,000 such functionaries, and less than 2 million industrial workers.[131] In Vyatka, Stalin found that out of 4766 members of the staff of the Soviet authorities, 4467 were former Tsarist officials.[132]

Victor Serge spelled out the change with precision and clarity:

"With the disappearance of political debates between parties representing different social interests through the various shades of their opinion, Soviet institutions, beginning with the local Soviets and ending with the Vee - Tsik and the Council of People's Commissars, manned solely by communists, now function in a Vacuum : since all the decisions are taken by the party, all they can do is give them the official rubberstamp."[133]


The last bastion of workers' democracy had been the Bolshevik party itself. After October, the pre-October divisions continued to exist, with Zinoviev, Kamenev, Ryazanov, Lunacharsky and others opposing Lenin, Trotsky and Sverdlov. There was no talk of imposing a unity by fiat. Kamenev's group insisted on defying the C. C. resolution and tried to put together an alliance with the socialist parties. They opposed the hard line advocated by Lenin, Sverdlov and Trotsky. At this, ten members of the C. C. demanded that the minority must abide by the accepted line and support a Soviet government. The CC minority thereupon offered to resign from the CC in order to retain their right to go to the people with their own views.[134] However, they did not have to resign in the end. This shows that the C. C. discipline was not unnecessarily rigid.

Several Peoples' Commissars also resigned, and Commissar for Labour, A. G. Shlyapnikov expressed his support for those commissars.[135] Ryazanov, Kamenev and Larin, in a letter to the CC, said that "we do not consider out disagreements with the CC to be a breach of the party rules ... we consider that it is totally inadmissible to create a special regime for particular party members .…[136] Another leading activist, S. A. Lozovsky, objecting strongly to the insistence on retaining Lenin and Trotsky in the Sovnarkom, wrote :

"I cannot, in the name of the party discipline, submit to the cult of personal worship and stale political conciliation with all socialist parties who agree to our basic demands, upon the inclusion of this or that individual in the ministry...."[137]

The conflict that arose over the Brest-Litovsk treaty is another well known case.[138] On 8th January, 1918, at a meeting of the Central Committee members with other leading activists, three lines were put forward. Lenin urged that peace terms be accepted. Trotsky called for disbanding the army, proclaiming the end of the war, but not signing such an insulting peace. Finally, Bukharin called for a revolutionary war. Bukharin's position received 32 votes, Trotsky got 16 votes and Lenin 15 votes.[139]

A Special Conference, which met on 21 January, failed to take any clear stand. In the C. C., Lenin aligned with Trotsky to block Bukharin. On 29 January, Trotsky broke off negotiations, declaring that Russia would not sign the annexationist peace, but was terminating the War.[140]

The Germans responded by ending the armistice and invading Russia.[141] Inside the party, the result was a crisis with the Central Committee first approving the action of the delegation at Brest Litovsk,[142] and then defeating both a call for Revolutionary War[143]  and a proposal for signing the peace.[144] Ultimately, on 18th February, Trotsky and his supporters partially sided with Lenin, arguing that if revolutionary war was launched, it would lead to a split in the party, which they could not risk under the circumstances. The proposal for immediate acceptance of German terms war adopted with 7 votes in favour, 4 against, and 4 abstentions.[145]

The C. C. minutes reveal a tremendous tension. The prospect of split was freely discussed. Yet, it is worth noting how the party acted to heal the wounds. Party unity was indeed considered a vital necessity. But that was not interpreted to mean that disputes should be condemned. Such an issue, as war and peace (and the very existence, possibly, of the revolution) was debated with considerable publicity, including a Special Conference. Trotsky, who had some degree of agreement with the war faction, ultimately ensured their defeat, because he knew that if revolutionary war was waged, the party would split immediately, and Lenin's faction might even have to be arrested if they opposed a revolutionary war while war was actually being fought.[146]

Once Lenin's line was assured a victory, his most irreconcilable opponents tendered their resignations from the C.C. and from Sovnarkom. The response of Lenin and Trotsky was to propose forms of collaboration that allowed maximum flexibility to the minority while retaining them within the party. Lenin called for a guarantee that statements would be published in Pravda reflecting the standpoint of the minority. Trotsky's resolution, adopted unanimously, asked the members to "remain members of the leading party body, retaining the right to campaign freely against the decision adopted by the C.C." This meant that the CC members were given the right to publicly differentiate themselves from the official stand of the party on this contentious issue. Similarly, Krestinsky's resolution on the six Peoples' Commissars who submitted resignations asked them to carry on other work, without feeling bound by cabinet solidarity on the question of the Brest-Litovsk Peace. This was adopted unanimously.[147]

It is by obscuring these details that later Stalinist historiography presented a fiction about Trotskyite-Bukharinist counter-revolutionary activity stretching back to Brest Litovsk.

The Eighth Party Conference of 2-4 December, 1919, held at the height of the Civil War tightened party discipline. One of the conference resolutions dealt with discipline. Resolutions of party centres were to be "implemented rapidly and accurately", while failure to do so was to be counted as a "party crime."[148] Party fractions in non-party institutions were declared entirely subordinated to the party. Fraction members had to vote unanimously in meetings of the non-party organisations.[149] This meant that whereas in the past, party fractions had debated issues and even changed positions, now only smaller, official bodies, like the C.C. would direct them.

Until 1923, attempts were made to seriously ensure the authority of the Party Congress. Congresses were held annually from 1917 to 1923. Delegates were more or less freely elected before 1923. There was open discussion and free criticism of the party leadership. Commissions of various kinds were set up, with representation from different trends. In each Congress, standing rules enabled any group of a stipulated minimum (usually 40) number of delegates to present counter reports.[150] Final resolutions showed the result of tough bargaining. In short, the Congress reflected the normal cut and thrust of democratic party functioning..

Throughout the period between October 1917 and 1921, the party had different factions. The usual "right" and "left" terms are somewhat inadequate. The factions included those who stressed institutions of popular, participatory democracy (often called the "left"), those who stressed traditional civil liberties and democratic rights (often identified as the "right") and those who turned expediency into theory. The composition of the different trends changed from time to time, though some people, like Kollontai, Osinskii, Preobrazhenskii, etc. remained "left" consistently, while Zinoviev, Stalin, Molotov remained equally consistently among those who stood for political manipulations (Zinoviev would become left only in 1925-6, partly under pressure of the Leningrad proletariat), and Ryazanov was a more or less consistent "right" ist and Lenin and Trotsky, in important respects, had identifications with the "left".[151] But Lenin was also capable to stiff action against oppositions, especially in 1921-22, while Trotsky in the same period emerged as a major theorist of the domination of the party, and of the C. C. [152]

At the Ninth Congress Lenin was accused of "vertical centralism", and a faction came into existence, calling for Democratic Centralism. Among its chief spokespersons were Osinskii. Bubnov, Sapronov   and V.M. Smirnov. The Workers' Opposition came into existence in 1919. It was formed round an opposition to the party line on the trade union question. At the November 1920 conference of the Moscow Party organisation, 124 out of the 278 delegates expressed support for the thesis of the workers' opposition.[153] Lenin's prestige and organizational manipulations by Zinoviev and Stalin, were major factors in the ultimate defeat of this opposition. But meanwhile, this opposition was able to publicly air its view in various ways. Alexander Shlyapnikov's 'theses' were published in the party's organ.[154] Alexandra Kollontai wrote a more elaborate and extremely powerful pamphlet, The Workers' Opposition. It was published in an edition of 250,000 copies.[155] At the 9th Party Conference, the Left wing demanded, and got, more inner party democratic rights.[156] The party zealously sought to keep intact its rights. This went on till 1920-21. The Ninth Congress had seen Trotsky presenting theses for the militarization of labour. There was a growing challenge to this, resulting, eventually, in several platforms being presented. Alexandra Kollontai drew applause at the Ninth Conference, when she asked Zinoviev what sort of freedom of criticism would be allowed and that party comrades must know whether criticism of party policies would result in their being sent off to a warm climate to eat peaches.[157] The dig was about an attempt by Zinoviev to get rid of Angelica Balabanoff from Moscow, to Central Asia for her critical stand.[158]

It was in 1921, at the 10th Party Congress, held amidst the tragic Kronstadt revolt, which combined worker-peasant anger with white guard manipulation,  that the final blow fell. All opposition was banned. And inner party factions were banned.

A resolution was adopted 'On Party Unity'. It denounced factions and factionalism. It went on to say that "The Congress orders the immediate dissolution ... of all groups that have been formed on the basis of some platform or other ...."[159] The final clause of this resolution, kept hidden from the party, empowered the C.C. to expel even C.C. members from the party, [160] thereby violating utterly the sovereignty of the party Congress. The decisions thus taken in haste, and in fear of counter-revolution, were to be of tremendous significance. The conjunctural issues were uppermost in Lenin's mind.[161] But the resultant decisions were not conjunctural. Lenin's definition of 'factionalism' as 'the formation of group with separate platforms striving to a certain degree to segregate and create their own group discipline"[162] raise an important question. Had he himself not sought to do the same, off and on since 1903? In 1908-9, he had even expelled Bogdanov from the Bolshevik faction, arguing that a party could be a broader organization, but a faction had to be restrictive, because it implied a specific platform. In a mass party, with hundreds of thousands of members, sharp differences could be properly articulated only if factions were permitted. The very premise of banning opposition parties who recognized Soviet power, and of factions in the communist party itself, was substitutionism. The party's line decided by the C.C. and approved the Congress, was deemed to be the proletarian line. The vast masses outside the party were by definition, prone to petty-bourgeois wavering. In the name of a hierarchy of knowledge, the self-activity of the working class was reined in. The proletariat itself was viewed as never conscious enough (unless it agreed with the party line) to rule a country or progress to a classless society.

This was done, as we said, under exceptional circumstances. We say this, not to argue that Lenin was right, but to argue that one must keep in mind the specific circumstances. Even in 1921, Lenin was unwilling to take the position that this should be the rule for all time to come. Commenting on the formation of factions in course of internal debates, Lenin said, “It is, of course, quite permissible (specially before a congress) for various groups to form blocs (and also go vote-chasing).”[163] And even after proposing a restriction on factions, Lenin tried to draw a line. When one delegate proposed an amendment which would have turned this into a permanent ban on factions, Lenin criticised the proposed amendment as “excessive” and “impracticable”. He argued that if there were “fundamental disagreements” when the delegates were elected to the next congress, “the elections may have to be based on platforms”.[164]

With all his caveats, Lenin was still wrong, as was Trotsky, who took several years to acknowledge that the decisions of 1921 had been positively bad. But why did Lenin take this position? It is usually argued that Lenin’s main target was Shlyapnikov. The Left were certainly a part of his target. But he was more concerned about capitalist restoration. It should be noted that Lenin did not call for such ban on factions in the Communist International, which was considered a single world party divided into national sections. Indeed, the Workers’ Opposition appealed against the Soviet Party to the Communist International.  The ban on factions was meant to address a danger specific to the Bolsheviks being a ruling party under certain extremely negative conditions, and it was inextricably tied to the contemporaneous implementation of the New Economic Policy. More than the Left, the ban targeted the Right, that is, the forces connected to the old state apparatus of Tsarist Russia and of capitalism, which were coming back to try and swamp the politics of revolution. So, the ban on factions was a self-consciously limited and specifically local compromise to Lenin’s mind, and not at all the expression of any kind of principle. It is a serious mistake to regard it otherwise. The fact that the ban on factions helped lead to Stalinism does not make it into an “original sin” by Lenin. And as for those who today try to use that “ban” to talk about bans on factions in communist parties as a matter of principle, they represent bureaucratic powers, forces originating in petty bourgeois milieu that try to control working class organisations in their narrow interests, not the interests of the working class and its historic mission of proletarian socialist revolution.

Inner Party Democracy Today:

Most of what we have related is easily available, as we have tried to show, by looking at the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Once we are able to get rid of the historical errors, the appeals to authority based on distorted history, the issues become simpler. It is no longer a case of slapping down 50 volumes of Marx-Engels or 45 volumes of Lenin. It is a matter of using basic Marxist ideas about a proletarian revolution and a revolutionary party, and putting it in today’s context. In a bourgeois democracy, however truncated, the revolutionary working class party has to be a democratic party. This means many things. In the first place this means that working within bourgeois democracy, the revolutionary working class party has to be more democratic than the bourgeois parties, not less. The relationship between the party, which incorporates only a small section of the working class under no-revolutionary circumstances, and a minority even in revolutionary times, and the class as a whole, through its many organisations, has to be democratically structured. In India, even if we accept the claims of the CPI(M) that it is a revolutionary party (and to be blunt, we do not do so) we would have to note the existence of a wide range of left parties – Stalinist, no-Stalinist, Maoist, and so on. There also exist a large number of trade unions, incorporating large masses of workers, ranging from radical but non-party, such as the NTUI, or on a small scale like the Jyoti Karamchari Mandal of Vadodara, to unions more or less closely attached to various left parties  -- CITU, AITUC, UTUC, AICCTU, etc as well as unions close to bourgeois parties, beginning with the INTUC.

The practice of the CPI(M) has historically been one of building a tight party. Members have been told that bourgeois media always lies. So members are to read only party papers (nowadays also see TV channels that support the party) and believe them. This is in the long run untenable, since party members and members of mass organisations do live in the real world. The burden has fallen especially on party members, who are de facto asked to behave, even though we live in a bourgeois democracy where the media openly discuss all kinds of issues, as though it is still the deepest underground.

In a big party, whether one considers it revolutionary or not, there are bound to be different trends, different approaches to the changing reality. If this party claims to be a working class party, it has the obligation to explain to workers what these differences are. The argument that openly discussing these will also inform the bourgeoisie is not a serious objection. Clearly, one is not talking here of setting the date for the insurrection. The bourgeoisie has numerous ways of being informed about debates in workers parties, in any case. There had never been a revolutionary movement not infiltrated by the ruling class. Secrecy in the end helps only to keep the working class in the dark. Unless of course one goes back to the days of absolute secrecy, oath taking, execution of those who violate the oath, and so on. All that would have no space in a bourgeois democracy, and the more extreme forms should have no space in working class politics under any circumstance.

In the present case, the debate was whether or not to support pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister in UPA-II, when he stood for the post of President of india. Nobody disputed that the post of president is a relatively unimportant one in India. But in the current scenario, when no party commands a stable majority, the President might play an important role after 2014. So should the left parties have voted for Mukherjee or not? This was a real debate over tactics. The political issues will be discussed, as we stated earlier, in a separate essay. But the debate itself should have been conducted openly. The working class constituency of the CPI(M) had the right to be informed about the different opinions, the lines of argument, and the party, if it claimed to be a proletarian revolutionary party, had the duty, of ensuring that the working class was so informed. If this is not done, then we end up assuming that the mass of workers are forever ignorant louts, who, if they know what is good for them, should unquestioningly follow the revolutionary party. The only way out of this is the development and extension of working class democracy. In the given case, this means, if the CPI(M) was serious about being a revolutionary working class party, it should stop driving out those of its comrades who disagreed with the party decision, and instead open a real, comradely debate over the dispute, and do so in the open party press, not some closed door meetings.



Extract from the Resolution of the Fourth international The Dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist democracy[165]

IX. In response to dogmas of Stalinist origin

The ideology of the ruling bureaucracy has been and remains essentially pragmatic. But a certain number of theories and dogmas underpin this ideology and they have an internal coherence which is contradictory with revolutionary Marxist theory. This ideology of the bureaucracy - of which the key idea is the rule of the single party acting in the name of the working class - although not always explicitly formulated can be synthesised as follows:

a) That the "leading party" or even its "leading nucleus" (the "Leninist Central Committee") has a monopoly of political consciousness at the highest level, if not a monopoly of knowledge at least at the level of the social sciences, and is therefore guaranteed political infallibility ("the party is always right").

b) That the working class, and even more the toiling masses in general, are too backward politically, too much under the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology and "imperialist propaganda," too much inclined to prefer immediate material advantages as against long-term historical interests, for any direct exercise of state power by democratically elected workers’ councils to be tolerable from the point of view of "the interests of socialism." Genuine workers’ democracy would entail the risk of an increasing series of, harmful, "objectively counter-revolutionary" decisions, which would open the road to the restoration of capitalism or at the very least gravely damage and retard the process of building socialism.

c) That therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat can be exercised only by the "leading party of the proletariat," i.e., that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the party, either representing an essentially passive working class, or actively basing itself on the "class struggle of the masses," who are nevertheless considered unworthy, unwilling, or incapable of directly exercising state power through institutionalised organs of power.

d) That since the party, and that party alone, represents the interests of the working class, which are considered homogeneous in all situations and on all issues, the "leading party" itself must be essentially monolithic. Any opposition tendency necessarily reflects alien class pressures and alien class interests in one form or another (the struggle between "two lines" is always a "struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie inside the party," the Maoists conclude). Monolithic control of all spheres of social life by the single party is the logical outcome of these concepts. Direct party control must be established overall sectors of "civil society."

e) A further underlying assumption is that of an intensification of the class struggle in the period of building socialism (although this assumption alone does not necessarily lead to the same conclusion, if it is not combined with the previous ones). From that assumption is deduced the increasing danger of restoration of bourgeois power even long after private property in the means of production has been abolished, and irrespective of the level of development of the productive forces. The threat of bourgeois restoration is often portrayed as a mechanical outcome of the victory of bourgeois ideology in this or that social, political, cultural, or even scientific field. In view of the extreme power thereby attributed to bourgeois ideas, the use of repression against those who are said to objectively represent these ideas becomes a corollary of the argument.

All these assumptions and dogmas are unscientific from a general Marxist point of view and are untenable in the light of real historical experience of the class struggle during and after the overthrow of capitalist rule in the USSR and other countries. Again and again, they have shown themselves to be harmful to the defence of the proletariat’s class interests and an obstacle to a successful struggle against the remnants of the bourgeoisie and of bourgeois ideology.

But inasmuch as they had become nearly universally accepted dogmas by the CPs in Stalin’s time and undoubtedly have an inner consistency - reflecting the material interests of the bureaucracy as a social layer and an apology for its dictatorial rule - they have never been explicitly and thoroughly criticised and rejected by a CP since then. These concepts continue to linger on, at least partially, in the ideology of many leaders and cadres of the CPs and SPs, i.e., of the bureaucracies of the labour movement. They continue to constitute a conceptual source for justification of various forms of curtailment of democratic rights of the toiling masses.

It should be noted that organisations ’other than those inspired by Stalinism put forward similar conceptions in this regard, justifying at least partially similar practices in their own ranks. This makes it all the more necessary to stress that all this is absolutely contrary to the teaching of Lenin and Trotsky, not to mention Marx and Engels, and of our historical movement. A clear and coherent refutation of these conceptions and of the practices which they motivate, is therefore indispensable to the defence of our programme of socialist democracy.

First: the idea of a homogenous working class exclusively represented by a single party is contradicted by all historical experience and by any Marxist analysis of the concrete growth and development of the contemporary proletariat, both under capitalism and after the overthrow of capitalism. At most, one could defend the thesis that the revolutionary vanguard party alone programmatically defends the long-term historical interests of the proletariat, and its immediate overall class interests as opposed to sectoral interests of national, regional, local, special sectors or skill, over-privileged, etc., interests. But even in that case, a dialectical-materialist approach, as opposed to a mechanical-idealist one, would immediately add that only insofar as the party actually conquers political leadership over the majority of the workers can one speak of a real, as opposed to a simply ideal (literary) integration of immediate and long-term, of sectoral and class interests having been achieved in practice, with the possibilities for errors much reduced. Furthermore, this in no way excludes that on particular questions this party can be wrong.

In fact, there is a definite, objectively determined stratification of the working class and of the development of working class consciousness. There is likewise at the very least a tension between the struggle for immediate interests and the historical goals of the labour movement (for example the contradiction between immediate consumption and long-term investment in a workers state). Precisely these contradictions, rooted in the legacy of uneven development of bourgeois society, are among the main theoretical justifications for the need of a revolutionary vanguard workers’ party, as opposed to a simple "all-inclusive" union of all wage-earners in a single organisation. But this again implies that one cannot deny that different parties, with different orientations and different ways of approaching the class struggle between capital and labour and the relations between capital and labour and the relations between immediate demands and historical goals, can arise and have arisen within the working class and do genuinely represent sectors of the working class (be it purely sectoral interests, privileged sectors, results of ideological pressures of alien class forces, etc.).

Nor can it be excluded that several revolutionary parties might arise in a single country, whose differences might not be settled by a fusion before the revolution, a situation which would lead to the need to seek to form a more or less tightly knit front of these parties that would try to determine their political action in common.

Second: a revolutionary party with a democratic internal life does have a tremendous advantage in the field of correct analysis of socio-economic and political developments and of correct elaboration of tactical and strategic answers to such developments, for it can base itself on the body of scientific socialism, Marxism, which synthesises and generalises all past experiences of the class struggle as a whole. This programmatic framework for its current political elaboration makes it much less likely than any other tendency of the labour movement, or any unorganised sector of the working class, to reach wrong conclusions, premature generalisations, and one-sided and impressionistic reactions to unforeseen developments, to make concessions to ideological and political pressures of alien class forces, to engage in unprincipled political compromises, etc.

However there are no infallible parties. There are no infallible party leaderships, or individual party leaders, party majorities, "Leninist central committees," etc. The Marxist programme is never a definitely achieved one. No new situation can be comprehensively analysed in reference to historical precedents. Social reality is constantly undergoing changes. New and unforeseen developments regularly occur at historical turning points. The phenomenon of imperialism after Engels’s death was not analysed by Marx and Engels. The delay of the proletarian revolution in the advanced imperialist countries was not foreseen by the Bolsheviks. The bureaucratic degeneration of the first workers state was not incorporated in Lenin’s theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The emergence after World War II of many workers states (albeit with bureaucratic deformations from the start) following revolutionary mass struggles not led by revolutionary Marxist leaderships (Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam) was not foreseen by Trotsky, etc. No complete, ready-made answer for new phenomena can be found in the works of the classics or in the existing programme.

Furthermore, new problems will arise in the course of the building of socialism, problems for which the revolutionary Marxist programme provides only a general framework of reference but no automatic source of correct answers. The struggle for correct answers to such new problems implies a constant interaction between theoretical-political analysis and discussions and revolutionary class practice, the final word being spoken by practical experience. Under such circumstances, any restriction of free political and theoretical debate spilling over to a restriction of free political mass activity of the proletariat, i.e., any restriction of socialist democracy, will constitute an obstacle to the revolutionary party itself arriving at correct policies. It is therefore not only theoretically wrong but practically ineffective and harmful from the point of view of successfully advancing on the road of building socialism.

One of the gravest consequences of a monolithic one-party system, of the absence of a plurality of political groups, tendencies, and parties, and of administrative restrictions being imposed on free political and ideological debate, is the impediments such a system erects on the road to rapidly correcting mistakes which can be committed by the government of a workers state. Mistakes committed by such a government, like mistakes committed by the majority of the working class, its various layers, and different political groupings, are by and large unavoidable in the process of building a classless, socialist society. A rapid correction of these mistakes, however, is possible in a climate of free political debate, free access of opposition groupings to mass media, large-scale political awareness and involvement in political life by the masses, and control by the masses over government and state activity at all levels.

The absence of all these correctives under a system of monolithic one-party government makes the rectification of grave mistakes all the more difficult. The very dogma of party infallibility on which the Stalinist system rests puts a heavy premium both on the denial of mistakes in party policies (search for self-justification and for scapegoats) and on the attempt to postpone even implicit corrections as long as possible. The objective costs of such a system in terms of economic losses, of unnecessary, i.e., objectively avoidable sacrifices imposed upon the toiling masses, of political defeats in relation to class enemies, and of political disorientation and demoralisation of the proletariat, are indeed staggering, as is shown by the history of the Soviet Union since 1928. To give just one example: the obstinate clinging to erroneous agricultural policies even on detailed questions such as purchasing prices for certain agricultural products by Stalin and his henchmen after the catastrophe caused by the forced collectivisation of agriculture - which can of course be explained in terms of the specific social interests of the Soviet bureaucracy at that time - has wreaked havoc with the food supply of the Soviet people for more than a generation. Its negative consequences have not been eliminated to this day, nearly fifty years later. Such a catastrophe would have been impossible had there been free political debate over alternative economic and agricultural policies in the USSR.

Third: the idea that restricting the democratic rights of the proletariat is in any way conducive to a gradual "education" of an allegedly "backward" mass of toilers is blatantly absurd. One cannot learn to swim except by going into the water. There is no way masses can learn to raise the level of their political awareness other than by engaging in political activity and learning from the experience of such activity. There is no way they can learn from mistakes other than by having the right to commit them. Paternalistic prejudices about the alleged "backwardness" of the masses generally hide a conservative petty-bourgeois fear of mass activity, which has nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism. The bureaucracy is in deadly fear of socialist democracy, not for "programmatic" reasons, but because that form of government is incompatible with its material privileges, not to say its power. Marxists favour the fullest possible flowering of socialist democracy because they are convinced that any restriction of political mass activity, on the pretext that the masses would make too many mistakes, can only lead to increasing political apathy among the workers, i.e., to paradoxically reinforcing the very situation which is said to be the problem.

Fourth: under conditions of full-scale socialisation of the means of production and the social surplus product, any long-term monopoly of the exercise of political power in the hands of a minority - even if it is a revolutionary party beginning with the purest of revolutionary motivations - runs a strong risk of stimulating objective tendencies toward bureaucratisation. Under such socio-economic conditions whoever controls the state administration thereby controls the social surplus product and its distribution. Given the fact that economic inequalities will still exist at the outset, particularly but not only in the economically backward workers states, this can become a source of corruption and of the growth of material privileges and social differentiation. "The conquest of power changes not only the relations of the proletariat to other classes, but also its own inner structure. The wielding of power becomes the speciality of a definite social group, which is the more impatient to solve its own ’social problem’ the higher its opinion of its own mission." (Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 102.)

Thus, there is an objective need for real control over decision making to rest in the hands of the proletariat as a class, with unlimited possibilities to denounce pilferage, waste, and illegal appropriation and misuse of resources at all levels, including the highest ones. No such democratic mass control is possible without opposition tendencies, groups, and parties having full freedom of action, propaganda, and agitation, as well as full access to the mass media, as long as they are not engaged in armed struggle to overthrow workers’ power.

Likewise, during the transition period between capitalism and socialism, and even in the first phase of communism, it is unavoidable that forms of social division of labour will survive, as well as forms of labour organisation and labour processes totally or partially inherited from capitalism, that do not enable a full development of all the creative talents of the producers. These handicaps cannot be neutralised by indoctrination, moral exhortation, or periodic "mass criticism campaigns" as the Maoists contend, and still less by mystifying expedients like having cadres or leaders work a few days a month or a week as manual labourers. These objective obstacles on the road to the gradual emergence of truly socialist relations of production can be prevented from becoming powerful sources of material privileges only if the mass of the producers (in the first place those likely to be the most exploited, the manual workers) are placed in conditions such that they can exercise real political and social power over any functionally privileged layer. The radical reduction of the work day, the fullest soviet democracy, and full educational opportunities for rapidly raising the cultural level of all workers are the key conditions for attaining this goal.

To protect itself against the professional risks of power, the revolutionary party will have to reject its members accumulating positions in the state apparatus and positions in the leadership of the party.

The present conditions in the bureaucratised workers states, which make the problem of advancing proletarian democracy difficult, would of course be altered qualitatively if (or when) either of the two following developments occur, or even more if they occur together: (1) A socialist revolution in one or more industrially advanced capitalist countries. Such a revolution would itself give enormous impulsion to the struggle for democratic rights throughout the world and would immediately open the possibility of increasing productivity on an immense scale, eliminating the scarcities that are the root cause of the entrenchment of a parasitic bureaucracy, as explained above. (2) A political revolution in the bureaucratically deformed or degenerated workers states, particularly in the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. This would likewise signify an upsurge of proletarian democracy with colossal repercussions internationally, besides putting an end to the bureaucratic caste and its concept of building "socialism in one country".

Following a political revolution, common economic planning among all the workers states would become realisable, thus assuring a leap forward in productivity that would help remove the economic basis of parasitic bureaucratism.

Finally, it is true that there is no automatic correlation or simultaneity between the abolition of capitalist state power and private property in the means of production and the disappearance of privileges in the field of personal wealth, cultural heritage, and ideological influence, not to speak of the disappearance of all elements of commodity production. Long after bourgeois state power has been overthrown and capitalist property abolished, remnants of petty commodity production and the survival of elements of a money economy will continue to create a framework in which primitive accumulation of capital can still reappear, especially if the level of development of the productive forces is still insufficient to guarantee the automatic appearance and consolidation of genuine socialist relations of production. Likewise, elements of social and economic inequality survive under such circumstances long after the bourgeoisie has lost its positions as a ruling class politically and economically; the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies, customs, habits, cultural values, etc., will linger on in relatively large spheres of social life and broad layers of society.

But it is completely wrong to draw from this undeniable fact (which is, incidentally, one of the main reasons why state power of the working class is indispensable in order to prevent these "islands of bourgeois influence" from becoming bases for the restoration of capitalism) the conclusion that administrative repression of bourgeois ideology is a necessary condition for the building of a socialist society. On the contrary, historical experience confirms the total ineffectiveness of administrative struggles against reactionary and petty-bourgeois ideologies. In fact, in the long run, such methods even strengthen the hold of these ideologies and place the great mass of the proletariat in the position of being ideologically disarmed before them, because of lack of experience with genuine political struggles and ideological debates and the lack of credibility of official "state doctrines”.

The only effective way to eliminate the influence of these ideologies upon the mass of the toilers lies in:

a) The expropriation, along with all major means of production, of printing shops, radios, television channels, that is, the liberation of the media that is capable of massively spreading ideas from the material grip of big business;

b) The creation of objective conditions under which these ideologies lose the material roots of their reproduction.

c) The waging of a relentless struggle against these ideologies in the field of ideology and politics itself, which can however attain its full success only under conditions of open debate and open confrontation, i.e. freedom for the defenders of reactionary ideologies to defend their ideas, freedom of ideological and cultural pluralism, as long as they do not go over to acts of violence against workers’ power.

Only those who have neither confidence in the superiority of Marxist and materialist ideas nor confidence in the proletariat and the toiling masses, can shrink from open ideological confrontation with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once the capitalist class is disarmed and expropriated, once their members have access to the mass media only in relation to their numbers, there is no reason to fear a constant, free and frank exchange of ideas. This confrontation is the only means through which the working class can educate itself ideologically and successfully free itself from the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas. The validity of Marxism will fully assert itself.

Any monopoly position accorded to Marxism (not to speak of a particular interpretation of Marxism) in the ideological-cultural field through administrative and repressive measures by the state can lead only to debasing Marxism itself from a critical and revolutionary science, as a weapon for the emancipation of the proletariat and the building of a classless society, into a sterile and repulsive state doctrine or state religion, with a constantly declining attractive power among the toiling masses and especially the youth. This is apparent today in the USSR, where the monopoly position accorded to "official Marxism" masks a real poverty of creative Marxist thought in all areas. Marxism, which is critical thought par excellence, can flourish only in an atmosphere of full freedom of discussion and constant confrontation with other currents of thought, i.e. in an atmosphere of full ideological and cultural pluralism.



[1] Provisional Rules of the Association,

[2] Quoted in K.Marx and F.Engels, ‘Circular Letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Wilhelm Bracke and Others’ in Karl Marx and Frederck Engels, Collected Wroks, Moscow etc, [hereafter cited as MECW], vol 24,  p. 264.

[3] Ibid: p. 269.

[4] This organisational concept has also been called Jacobin, or Jacobin-Blanquist. In the 1830s it could not be called Blanquist.

[5] Minutes of the dispute between Weitling and Kriege on one side, and Schapper and others on the other, have been published in H. Forder, M.Hundt, J.Kandel and S.Lewiowa (eds), Der Bunde der Kommunisten: Dokumente und Materialien, 1836-49, Berlin, 1970. There is no complete English translation but relevant extracts are cited in B. Nicolaievsky and O.Maenchen–Helfen; Karl Marx : Man and Fighter,

Harmondsworth, 1976, pp. 119-21, and A. Gilbert, Marx’s Politics, Oxford, 1981, pp. 67-73.

[6] P. Annenkov, Reminiscences of Marx and Engels, Moscow, 1956, p.152.

[7] See MECW: 17, p.79.

[8] Ibid, p.80.                   

[9] At the time of his debate with Weitling, Schapper argued that society was not yet ripe for communism, so a whole period of education was necessary. “Kriege’s talk is a mirror for me. That is just how I talked ten or eight years ago, yes, even six years ago (i.e., at the time of the May 1839 uprising – S.M./K.C.). But now…. I must entirely agree with what the reactionaries say: “People are not yet ripe”…. A truth is never knocked into heads with rifle butts.”, Bund der Kommunisten, Bd. 1, p.220.

[10] F.Engels, ‘Draft of Communist Confession of Faith’, MECW: 6, pp. 96-103; and ‘Principles of Communism’, ibid., pp. 341-57. For the draft by Hess see A.Cornu and W. Monke (eds.) Moses Hess, Philosophische und Sozialistische schriften 1837-1850 , Berlin, 1961, pp. 336-66. The draft attributed to Schapper was an unsigned leading article in Kommunistische Zeitschrift, reproduced in D.B. Ryazanoff, ed., The Communist Manifesto, Calcutta, 1972, pp. 290-96.

[11] See the letter from the members of the Central Authority quoted in Ryazanoff, p21.

[12] See MECW: 6, pp.589-600 for the Address, especially p. 598 for its repudiation of “barrack-room communism.” For the Rules, see ibid., pp. 585-88. The whole issue of the journal is reproduced in D.B. Ryazanoff, ed, Communist Manifesto.

[13] To Frederick Engels in Manchester, November 4, 1864 ,

[14] General Rules, October 1864, Written: between October 21 and 27, 1864; First published: in The Bee-Hive Newspaper, November 12, 1864, and in the pamphlet Address and Provisional Rules of the Working Men's International Association ..., London, November 1864.


[15] Arthur Lehning presents Bakunin’s self-image as absolutely true. A. Lehning (ed); Archives Bakounine, vol.1, Leiden, 1961. Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, London, 1980, p. 318, recognises that the Bakuninsts were continuing the work of creating a parallel organisation inside the International, but claims that this was legitimate because the Alliance itself had always so claimed (pp. 304, 307-314). This is to say that the resolution of the General Council, rejecting dual membership, (Documents of the First International : The General Council of the First International, Minutes,  vol.III, 1868 -1870, Moscow, 1964, p. 54, and K.Marx, ‘The International Working Men’s Association and the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy’ in MECW: 21, pp. 34-6) was invalid, while the claims of an organisation that was at that time outside the International, and that got in by a fraud, was democratic and legitimate.

[16] For Perron’s testimony see E.H. Carr, Michael Bakunin, New York, 1975, p. 365. For that of Guillaume, see, H. Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution – IV , New York, 1990, pp. 281-2.

[17] The quotation is from A.P. Mendel, Michael Bakunin: Roots of Apocalypse, New York, 1981, p. 306. For his authoritarian organisations, see also A. Kelly, Mikhail Bakunin, Oxford, 1982, pp. 243-5, and passim.

[18] Quoted in H.Draper, KMTR – IV, p. 277 for the proposal. See also pp. 293-4 for a very revealing letter to Herzen.

[19] For an instance of his attempt to create an anarchist organisation inside the International, see the programme of the Slavic section, cited in H. Draper KMTR – IV, pp. 286-7. For Marx and Engels on the right of ideological anarchists to remain within the International, see MECW: 44, Moscow, 1989, pp. 309-10, 346.

[20] MECW: 43, p. 485.

[21] H. Draper, KMTR – IV, pp. 286-291.

[22] Kalr marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, n.d., [hereafter cited as MESC], pp. 352-53. See also Engels-Lafargue Correspondence, vol. 1, Moscow, 1959, pp. 108-9.

[23] K.Marx, ‘Letter to Wilhelm Bracke’, in MECW : 24, p. 78.

[24] For the foregoing see R. Morgan, The German Social Democrats and the First International, Cambridge, 1965, A. Bebel, My Life , Westport, Connecticut, 1983, V.L.Lidtke, The Outlawed Party, Princeton, 1966, especially pp. 97-99, and F. L. Carsten, ‘The Arbeiterbildungsvereine and the foundation of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in 1869’ , English Historical Review,  April 1992, pp. 361-377.

[25] MECW : 24 p. 72.

[26] MECW : 24, pp. 259-62, 268.

[27] Marx Engels Werke [German works, hereafter cited as MEW] : Bd, 37, Berlin, 1967, p. 440.

[28] Ibid., Bd., 38, Berlin 1968, p. 41.

[29] Ibid., vol., 43, pp. 134.

[30] F. Engels, ’Trades Unions’, in ibid: 24, pp. 385-6.

[31]H. Collins and C. Abramsky; Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement, London, 1965., Chapter 5. See further V.L. Allen, ‘The Centenary of the British Trade Union Congress, 1868-1968, in Socialist Register 1968, , accessed on 8.10.2006. The National Reform League was set up in 1865 largely at the initiative of the General Council of the International, and there was a considerable overlap in the leadership. The period between the formation of the National Reform League in February, 1865 and the passing of the Reform Act in the summer of 1867 was characterized by organized agitations and mass demonstrations with undertones of class disaffection. An address issued by the League in May 1865 stated that "The Working Classes in our Country, the producers of its wealth, are in a degraded and humiliating position . . . the men who have fought her battles, manned her ships, tilled her soil, built up her manufactures, trade and commerce . . . are denied the most essential privileges of citizens. . . ." At one conference jointly sponsored by the League and trade unions, it was resolved that unless the working class was enfranchised it would be necessary to consider calling a general strike. This was the high point of class radicalization under the inspiration of the International.


[32] F. Engels, ‘The Workingmen of Europe in 1877’, in MECW: 24, pp. 210-11.

[33] However, Marx’s belief in the need for political action and the politicisation of the trade unions did not lead him to propose that “the political party of the proletariat must define the economic tasks and lead the trade union organisation itself” (A. Lozovsky, Marx and the Trade Unions. Calcutta, 1975, p.25). Such a definition would concede too much power to the party, power which it need not actually gain through democratic processes, and to retain which it must become authoritarian. Indeed, Lozovsky’s definition, originally written in 1933, reads more like a defence of contemporary Stalinist practice. For the attitude of post-Marx social democrats and trade unionists, see C.E. Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905-17:The Development of the Great Schism, Cambridge, Mass, 1955, p.11.

[34] MEW , Bd., 38. p. 87. See also his letter to Bebel in ibid., p. 95.

[35] There exist a mass of studies. The interested reader can see David Mandel, The Petrograd Workers and the Fall of the Old Regime, London: Macmillan, 1983, David Mandel, The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power, London: Macmillan, 1984; R.G. Suny, ‘Toward a Social History of the October Revolution’ , American Historical Review, Vol. 88, No.1, pp. 31-52, 1983.

[36] See for example Paul Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1989. For a very recent study, see Soma Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy, New Delhi: Aakar Books, 2008.

[37] L. Schapiro, The Origins of the Communist Autocracy, London, Bell and Sons, 1956, p.v.

[38]             C. Bettelheim, Class Struggle in the USSR, First period 1917 - 1923 . Hassocks, 1977, p. 109.

[39]             Ibid, p. 414

[40] K. Radek, ‘On Lenin’, International Socialist Review, vol. 34, no.10, November 1973, p. 29.

[41] Richard Pipes, ‘The Origins of Bolshevism’ , in R. Pipes (Ed.), Revolutionary Russia, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1968, p. 49.

[42] Leopold H. Haimson, The Russian Marxists and the Origins of ­Bolshevism, Boston: Beacon Press, 1966, pp. 138–39. (First published 1955 by Harvard University Press).

[43] E. Bernstein, ‘Ignaz Auer, der Fuhrer, Freund und berater’, Sozialistiche Monatshefte, 1907, I, pp. 845-6.

[44] Kuskova cited in Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? in Context, Brill, 2005, pp. 235-6. For English translation of the Credo, see Neil Harding, (Ed), Marxism in Russia: Key Documents 1879-1906, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 250-3, and V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, [hereafter LCW] vol.4, Moscow, 1977, pp.171-4.

[45] Quoted in N. Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought: Theory and Practice in the Democratic and Socialist Revolutions, New York, Humanities Press, 1983, p.150

[46] See on this Tony Cliff, Lenin: Building the Party, Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2005, pp. 82–84

[47] See Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Marxism of Leon Trotsky, Calcutta, Progressive Publishers, 2006.

[48] Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, p.278.

[49] V.I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 5th edition, volume 5, p.13.

[50] See S. Marik, Reinterpreting the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy, Aakar Books, 2008, pp. 239-41.

[51] Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, p. 652.

[52] Ibid., p. 650.

[54]  O. Anweiler, The Soviets, New York, 1974, p.46

[55] L. Trotsky , 1905, Harmondsworth, 1971.p.266

[56] V. S. Voitinskii, Godu pobedi porazhenii, Moscow, 1923, quoted in J. L. H. Keep, The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia, London, 1963, p. 230.

[57]N. K. Krupskaia; Memories of Lenin, Moscow, 1959, pp 124-126.

[58] LCW: 34, p. 296; V.I.Lenin, ‘New Tasks and New Forces’ in LCW: 8, pp. 146, 218-219.

[59] Ibid: 10, pp. 29, 32, 33; ibid: 8, pp. 145-146; V.I.Lenin, ‘Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) in ibid: 33, Moscow, 1980, p. 307.

[60] V.I.Lenin, ‘Draft Resolution on the Relations between Workers and the Intellectuals within the  Social-Democratic Organisations’ in ibid: 8, pp. 409-410.

[61] Tretii s”ezd RSDRP, Moscow, 1959, p. 255.

[62] Ibid, pp. 265, 267, 335, 362.

[63] LCW: 10, p. 31.

[64] Tretii s”ezd RSDRP, pp. 547-553.

[65] At the Fourth Party Congress in April 1906 it was, Bolsheviks 13,000, Mensheviks-----18,000, according to D. Lane., The Roots of Russian Communism, pp. 12-13. Another estimate was that for 1907, which gave the Bolsheviks 46, 143 and the Mensheviks 38, 174 members, according to P. Broue, Le Parti Bolchevique, Paris 1963, p.36. Ernest Mandel questions this set of figures, as well as other similar high figures, suggesting that they included members of party-dominated trade unions, sickness benefit associations etc. see his letter to P. Le Blanc, in P. Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, p. 126. However, such workers did consider themselves to be Social Democrats, as it was shown by their role in the period of reaction from the second half of 1907.

[66] R.C.Elwood ed. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party 1898-October, 1917, Toronto, 1974. (This is vol.1, of R.H. McNeal, General Editor, Resolutions And Decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) p. 57.

[67] V.I. Lenin, ‘Reorganisation and the End of the Split in St. Petersburg’, in LCW: 12, Moscow, 1977, p. 396; V.I. Lenin, ‘To All Working Men and Women of the City of St. Petersburg and Vicinity’ in ibid: 10, p. 127.

[68] V.I. Lenin, ‘The Social Democrats and the Elections in St. Petersburg’, in Ibid, 11, Moscow , 1978, p. 434.

[69] O.Pyatnitsky, Memoirs of a Bolshevik, Allahabad , n.d., pp. 91-92.

[70] V.I. Lenin , ‘Party Organisation and Party Literature’,in LCW : 10, p. 46.

[71] R.C. Elwood , ed., The RSDLP, pp. 83, 87, 91.

[72] See for a Stalinist transformation of this concept into a dictatorial monolithism, J. Peters, The Communist Party: A Manual on Organisation, New York, 1935, p.23. see R.C.Elwood ed. , The RSDRP , p. 94 for the unity congress resolution.

[73] V.I. Lenin, ‘Freedom to Criticise and Unity of Action’ in ibid, pp. 442-3.

[74] Ibid., p. 443.

[75] V.I. Lenin, ‘But who are the Judges?’ in ibid,13, p.159.

[76] Ibid., p. 323. See also G.Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, London 1983,  pp. 143, 148-51. For an account of the Bolshevik faction after unification.

[77] LCW: 13, p. 159.

[78] Ibid., p. 103.

[79] LCW : 15, p. 430. For a Bogdanovist statement of principle, see R.V.Daniels, A Documentary History Of Communism , vol. 1, New York , 1962, pp. 62-63. It should be noted that while for polemical purposes (to discredit the Marxist credentials of Bogdanov) Lenin went to great lengths to prove that this philosophical “errors” were major issues, he was not expelled from the faction for his philosophy, but his politics.

[80] LCW:  24, pp. 45, 50, 40.

[81] See A. L. Sidorov (eds), Velikaia Oktiabrskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Revolyutsiia : Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1957, vol.2 pp.15-16

[82] L.Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1966, vol.1, p.306

[83]Sed’maia (Aprel’skaia) Vserossiskaia Konferentsiia RSDRP (Bolshevikov) Moscow, 1958, pp.50, 106.

[84] Ibid., p.373.

[85] Ibid, p.372.

[86] Ibid.p.228

[87]P.F.Kudelli, ed., Pervyi Legalnyi Peterburgskii komitet Bolshevikov v 1917g, Moscow, 1927,p.157.

[88] Ibid, P.158, See Pravda, 10 June, for the Central Committee statement.

[89] A.Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution. Indianapolis, 1968, passim.

[90] LCW: 25, p.81

[91] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, Minutes of the Central Committee of the Russia Social Democratic Labour party (Bolsheviks), August 1917 — February 1918, London, 1974, translated by Anne Bone, with additional notes by T. Cliff, p.10.

[92] Ibid., p,41, For the CC’s revised decision, see p.38.

[93] Ibid, p, 67.

[94] M.Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin, London, 1980, p.153. Zinoviev had by then clearly come down on Kamenev’s side.

[95] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, pp.88-89, Incidentally, this body, like the Military Centre created on October 16, did not provide any real leadership. That was done by those who led openly, in the Soviet.

[96] See ibid., p112. See also Rabochii Put (the name under which Pravda was then being published) 20 October, 1917.

[97] LCW.: 25, p. 486.

[98] LCW : 26, p. 111.

[99] For Lenin's return to Russia, see LCW 24, pp. 27 - 9. For Trotsky's internment, see L.Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth 1975, pp. 29 – 94. See A. F. Kerensky, The Crucifixion of Liberty, London 1934, pp. 235 - 94, for an attempt, as late as 1934, to portray Lenin as a German agent. See further Sir G. Buchanan, My Mission to Russia, London, 1923, vol. 2, p.121 for the complicity of Miliukov and Buchanan himself in Trotsky's internment.

[100] L. Trotsky, 1905, p. 333.

[101] Buchanan My Mission to Russia, especially vol. 2, pp. 159 - 63, and pp. 11, 119.

[102] Sir Alfred Knox, With the Russian Army 1914 - 1917, London, 1921, vol 2, for his ties with Kornilov.

[103] Cf I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, Oxford, 1976, pp. 347 - 8.

[104] For a short summary, see D. Footman, Civil War in Russia, London, 1961.

[105] On the volunteer Army, see G. A. Brinkley, The Volunteer Army and Allied Intervention in South Russia, 1917 - 1921, South Bend, Indiana, 1966; P. Kenez, Civil War in South Russia, 1918, Berkley, 1971.

[106] See T. Hunczak (ed ), The Ukraine, 1917 - 1921 : A study in Revolution, Cambridge, Mass., 1977.

[107] See F. Kazemzadeh, Struggle for the Transcaucasus, 1917 - 1922, New York, 1951.

[108] A. F. Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917 - 1918, Minneapolis, 1980, p. 522.

[109] V. Serge., Year One of the Russian Revolution, London, 1992, p. 187.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Ibid.

[112] A. F. Upton The Finnish Revolution 1917 - 1918, p. 519.

[113] Ibid., p. 521.

[114] Ibid. Serge Year One, p. 187 writes that there were 70,000 Soldiers.

[115] E. Mandel, October 1917, Coup d'etat or Social Revolution? Montreuil, 1992, p. 22.

[116] R. H. Bruce Lockhart, Memoirs of a British Agent, London, and New York, 1933, pp. 253 - 4, 265, 273, 283 - 5.

[117] W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory, New York, 1989, p. 99.

[118] Ibid., p. 198.

[119] A Whiteguard report, quoted by E. Mandel, October 1917: Coup d' etat or Social Revolution?, p. 23.

[120] V. Serge, Year One ... p.331.

[121] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, p.104.

[122] E. H.Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 3, Harmondsworth, 1966, p. 69. These were not, as Robin Blackburn, Fin de Siecle: Socialism after the crash’, New Left Review, 185, January -February 1991, p. 24, claims, later justifications of the original, Bolshevik seizure of power.

[123] V. Serge, Year One ...p. 319.

[124] For Germany, see C. Harman, Germany: The Lost Revolution, London, 1982. For the rise of councils in Germany, Italy, and Britain, see D. Gluckstein, The Western Soviets. For a general survey, see T. Cliff, Lenin, vol. 3, and vol. 4, London, 1978 and 1979 respectively.

[125] O. Bauer, The Austrian Revolution, London, 1925, p. 9.

[126] H. N. Brailsford, Across the Blockade, New York, 1991, p. 140.

[127] R. Abrams, 'Political Recruitment and Local Government: The Local Soviets of the RSFSR : 1918- 21, Soviets Studies, vol. 19, No. 4, April, 1968.

[128] M. Vladimirsky, Sovety ispolkomy i s’ezdy Sovetov: Materialy k izucheniiu srtoeniya i devatelrosti organov mestriogo upravleniya, vol. 1, Moscow, 1920, p. 7.

[129] Ibid., and R. Abrams, 'Political Recruitment and Local Government, p.576, Citing other surveys.

[130] Out of a total of 6000,000 workers who joined the Red Army, 180,000 were killed. 3 million workers lost their jobs. M.Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System, London, 1985, p.212.

[131] T. Cliff, Lenin, Vol.3, p.158.

[132] J. Stalin, Works, Vol.4, Moscow, 1953, p.220.

[133] V.Serge, Year One ... p. 265-6

[134] See, The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution.  pp.  129, 138-40, 140-41.

[135] Ibid.,  pp.  141-2.

[136] Ibid.  ,  p. 147.

[137] Quoted in N. Allen (ed), Leon Trotsky:  The Challenge of the Left Opposition  (1923 - 25), New York, 1975, p. 236.

[138] For a detailed history of the Breast -Litovsk negotiation see J. W. Wheeler-Bennet, Brest-Litovsk:The Forgotten Peace, London, 1939.

[139] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution,  p. 173.

[140] J. W. Wheeler-Bennett Brest-Litovsk., pp. 227-8.

[141] I. Deutscher, The Prophet  Armed, pp. 382- 3.

[142] J.W. Wheeler-Bennett, Brest-Litovsk., p. 237.

[143] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, p. 202.

[144] Ibid., pp. 204-5.

[145] Ibid., pp.  218 - 19, 223.

[146] See, e.g., I . Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, pp. 389-92.  Deutscher suggests that fears of a repetition of the internal blood-letting of the French Revolution that had taken place during the Revolutionary wars guided Trotsky.

[147] The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution, pp. 236-7, for Lenin's and Trotsky's statements and resolution, p. 232 for Krestinsky's resolution, and p. 236 for the unanimous adoption of the resolution.

[148] Ibid.  , p. 96.

[149] Ibid. , pp. 47-8.

[150] Ibid. , p. 8. The exceptions were the 7th Congress and the 9th Conference, at which it was decided that any ten delegates could do so. See Deviataia Konferentsia RKP (b) Sentiabr' 1920 goda, Protokoly, Moscow, 1972, p. 3.

[151] At the 11th Congress, which Lenin was too ill to attend regularly he called for a slogan that was in tune with the concerns of the Workers' Opposition, while Stalin and Zinoviev favoured a greater turn to the peasants. see e.g. , Odinnadtsatii  S'ezd RKP (b),  pp. 380-410, for the speech of Zinoviev.

[152] See his speech to the 10th Congress, in Desyatii S'ezd RKP (b) Mart, 1921, goda, Stenograficheskii  Otchet, Moscow, 1963. pp. 350-1, (full text, 349- 359).

[153] R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution : Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia, Cambridge, Mass., 1960, p. 138.

[154] Pravda, January, 1921.   

[155] LCW:  32, p. 256, However, Kollontai, speaking to the Tenth Congress said that in fact only 1500 copies had been printed and that with difficulty,  Desyatii S'ezd RKP (b) p. 103. Anti-communist historians systematically ignore the civil war conditions. Thus D. W. Lovell, From Marx to Lenin, p. 185-6 ridicules “defenders of the Soviet regime” for their defence of communist violence or their attempts to explain that violence. But he has not a sentence on the tremendous level of rightwing violence. He hides these forces under the softer term 'opposition'. L. Schapiro, The Origin is likewise remarkable for the absence of any systematic account of the  Civil War.

[156] R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, p. 117.

[157] Deviataia konferentsiia RKP ( b), p. 188.

[158] A. Balabanoff, My life as a Rebel, New York, 1968, p.238 -9. On Kollontai and the Workers Opposition, see B. Farnsworth, Alexandra Kollontai: Socialism, Feminism and the Bolshevik revolution, Standard, 1980, pp. 12 - 248.

[159] Ibid., p. 121.

[160] Ibid

[161] LCW : 32, pp. 168 - 195, see also, ibid., pp. 241 , 254.

[162] Ibid., pp. 248.

[163] Ibid., p 52.

[164] Ibid., p.261.