Revolution or War n°16

(Biannual - October 2020)

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Debate on the Period of Transition: On State Capitalism Measures Taken by the Bolshevik Party in Russia

We publish here a response by comrade Fredo Corvo to our presentation in issue no. 13 of this journal, in October 2019, of his introduction to the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution of the ’Dutch’ GIK of the 1930s. Since then, a new English translation of this text has been published in book form and is therefore available on the Internet. The frank and direct exposition of the divergence can only help the younger generations to reappropriate the lessons and debates of the Communist Left about the transition period between capitalism and communism.

Reprint and new translation of the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.

State Capitalism: Historical Mistake or Means for proletarian Dictatorship?
A first reply to the IGCL on the ‘Fundamental Principles’

Dear comrades of the International Group of the Communist Left,

Thank you for publishing in Revolution or War no. 13 (October 2019) a greater part of my article The G.I.C. and the Economy of the Transition Period. An Introduction, not only in English, but also in Spanish and [1]. In your introductory notes, you recognize the discussion on the state of the period of transition between the Dutch and the Italian Communist Left and you exclude from a serious debate, as I have done, the ‘communizers’. At the same time these notes reveal some of your positions that cannot remain unanswered.

For the present period, you exclude “from the communist field any measure of state capitalism”. But in the same sentence you state “that capitalist measures may have been necessary for the class dictatorship in Russia”. I have no intention to remake history, and therefore I can only agree that Lenin and the majority of the Bolshevik Party thought state capitalist measures necessary. But were they? For the making of a communist future, it is important to know for sure, without ‘may be’, if state capitalist measures are a possibility. A possibility that you didn’t only leave open in your introductory notes, but as well in your recent pamphlet on the “Saving the Planet”-movements [2]. To know for sure, we have the experience in Russia that shows that “class dictatorship”, that 1) On the Period of Transition between Capitalism and Communism, ‘RoW’ no. 13. This was published in ‘A Free Retriever ’s Digest’ Vol. 3 Issue #4 October – December 2019 as well. The complete article can be read on the latter’s blog: part 1, part 2 and is available there as a downloadable pdf. At the Left-dis website our introduction is also available in German, French and Dutch. 2) IGCL, “Saving the Planet” Requires the Destruction of the Capitalist State and the Exercise of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat! (September 20 th , 2019) you rightly bring forward as the primary question, was absent in the 1920-ties. The elimination of the workers from controlling the factories, in total agreement with Lenin’s state-communist position in 1917, had already prepared the counterrevolution, by replacing the dictatorship of the proletariat (through the councils, an organization of the masses) by that of the party (a minority).

Of course this is a lesson that only could be learned after the counterrevolutionary shift of power took place. But this lesson is actually still denied by many under the cover of juggling with the words ‘economic’ and ‘political’, as you often do [yourselves]. Specially the ‘Bordigists’ defend the substitution of the power of the proletarian masses by the party as a means of ‘holding on’ till the world revolution would continue and save the ‘proletarian bastion’. The question is not whether Lenin, in contradiction to his State and the Revolution, in the 1920s saw that state capitalism was non-socialist, but whether it was indeed as you claim “a means to fight small production” or a means to maintain... the party in power, as Lenin overtly declared.

Instead of understanding class relations, you focus on ideas of that time: “Comrades may disagree with the measures taken by the Bolsheviks, but then it will be necessary to take a position on the debates of that time. Did the populists, the socialists-revolutionaries or the Mensheviks advance more appropriate, more revolutionary positions? For our part, we fully claim the positions of the Bolsheviks.” (RoW)

It is not the GIC or me who would like to make “appreciations” about Lenin or the Bolsheviks, or even to remake history, it is the game of “RoW” to defend certain positions in these historical debates. If we want to learn something from these debates, we must first understand that the Bolshevik party as a28 A Free Retriever’s Digest whole, at that time, was no longer proletarian internationalist as it was during the First World War, but had become the leading party of a state that exerted a real bourgeois dictatorship over the working class in Russia. As a bedazzled Lenin admitted in 1921:

“The machine’s slipping out of our hands. It’s like someone’s at the steering wheel, but the machine doesn’t go where he directs it to go, it goes where somebody else directs it, something illegal, unlawful, coming from God knows where, some speculator, private capitalist or whoever. The machine absolutely doesn’t go where the driver wants it to go ... Who’s leading who? I doubt very much that one can say, that the Communists run this machine. If one wants to tell the truth, then we don’t lead it, but it leads us.” [3]

State capitalism has not been the result of Russia’s isolation, but has been the consequence of a theoretical weaknesses, the crucial fault of identifying state capitalism with socialism, or with a measure on the way to socialism or world revolution. I believe men should not be judged on the basis of their ideas but on their actions and their position in the relations of production. The reverse method is idealism. Only when we consider the possibilities of regroupment and we have to draw class lines, we should recognize certain theoretical weaknesses as inevitable and within the proletarian camp. But never when we draw lessons from history. RoW, by “defending” Lenin risks losing the vital lessons that the Communist Left has drawn from state capitalism, from the class - party - state substitutionism, from the need for the future International Party to be guided by the vanguard of regions still dominated by capital, and not by that of the proletarian citadel.

You believe that the question of the state in the period of transition, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and what it means for leading production and distribution, is still an “open question”, exactly like the ICC. As far as I know, all major organizations that refer to the Communist Left, except the nearly dead ICC, defend the positions of Marx and Engels on the association of free and equal producers, and the recognition that the councils are the finally found organizational form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That your “group does not have the means today to make a clear-cut statement” is no excuse; this is a question of priority, which you hide behind a sup 3) Lenin, quoted by the GIC (1935-edition), Ch. II: The social-democratic “revision” of Marxism, e) Waged work and state communism; Lenin, ’Werke’, Volume XVIII – 2, p. 35 and 43. posed ‘political’ question. You say reading my introduction reinforces the positions of Bilan. You cite the GIC, suggesting that it is not very far from the direct democracy dear to anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. Well, you could read Lenin, quoting him out of context, and accuse him of anarchism as well: “Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people” [4]. Then you flee, being silent about the relationship between dictatorship and democracy, into the higher phases of communism, in which – the GIC agrees – democracy will be abolished with the abolition of classes and the state: “A classless society will be able to function harmoniously without the democratic mechanism”. However, the point is a different one: after the revolution, will there be democracy alongside with dictatorship, as Marx, Lenin and the GIC agree, and how about ‘the government over people’ and the ‘government over things’? The GIC is clear: ‘the government over people’ will wither away with the classes, the state, with dictatorship and with democracy as complementary aspects of the state. However, democracy as a form of ‘government over things’ will remain, according to the GIC. Certain Bordigists, and some councilists, believe that after the revolution there is only dictatorship, violence and terror, and no democracy whatsoever. I believe this is wrong, dangerous and in contradiction with Marx, Engels and Lenin. What is your position?

It is understandable that you couldn’t elaborate your positions in an introduction of one page to another introduction. I hope you find the time to continue this discussion on the state of the period of transition on the basis of what the GIC really meant. As in 1916, the revolution may be nearer than we believe. You risk to be empty-handed towards a vital question of proletarian revolution.

Fredo Corvo, January 10, 2020

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Notes:

[1. On the transition period between capitalism and communism in RG#13 (http://igcl.org/Origine-et-signification-des). The full article is available in English on the website of The Free Retriever Digest, the October-November 2019 issue.

[2"Saving the Planet" Requires the Destruction of the Capitalist State and the Exercise of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat ! (IGCL’s leaflet, September 20th 2019, http://www.igcl.org/Saving-the-Planet-Requires-the).

[3Editor’s note: the comrade takes up the quotation made at the time by the GICs. We have taken the English version of Lenin’s quotation, which may differ depending on the translation on marxist.org. It is the political report presented to the 11th Congress of the Russian CP, March 1922.