How did the bolsheviks take state power?

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Anarcho
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Jan 7 2019 21:02

Dyjbas wrote:

The question for Lenin, as for other revolutionaries, was how does the working class take power.

Actually, the question for Lenin was always how did the Bolsheviks take power. Which is precisely what did happen and the source of many of the problems facing the revolution, not to mention a cause of much of its degeneration.

Dyjbas wrote:

Rather than fetishise one way of getting there, the Bolsheviks were at different points considering different routes - at one point it may have been the party winning over a Constituent Assembly, at another the soviets taking power, and at yet another, the factory committees taking power. In the course of 1917, the party settled on the soviets being the answer - "it became clear that these soviets, which had originated as instruments for use in the struggle for power, must inevitably be transformed into the instruments for the wielding of power."

The soviets were always seen as simply a means to party power, not a means for working class people to run society. And, really, quoting Bukharin who was at this time -- like all leading Bolsheviks -- an advocate of party dictatorship?

Dyjbas wrote:

After 1918 Lenin was not one to shy away from opportunism, but the process in which the Bolsheviks settled the question of workers' power was rather that of learning from the self-activity of the class conscious masses, who became increasingly disillusioned with parliamentary politics.

Or he realised that in a country with around 80% of the population peasants, the Bolsheviks would never gain a majority in the Constituent Assembly?

Dyjbas wrote:

And since we're playing the game of who said what, here's some quotes that challenge the "Lenin was just a power hungry putschist who did not want the working class in power" narrative.

Lenin equated party power and class power, fooling himself -- and others -- that Bolshevik power meant the working class was in power. When the two came into conflict (a few months after October), the Bolsheviks imposed their dictatorship over the masses. By early 1919 -- at the latest -- the need for party dictatorship was party orthodoxy, This did not stop him or other Bolsheviks prattling about the working class being "in power,"

Dyjbas wrote:

Lenin argues for the right of recall:

But only when he thought his party would benefit -- as soon as recall was being used to replace Bolsheviks, well, then it was a case of party dictatorship...

Dyjbas wrote:

Would it be a problem if it was the anarchists who had a majority on the soviets instead of the Bolsheviks? Would anarchists gaining a majority on the soviets also mean the soviets had been "taken over"?

No, as the soviets would not have been marginalised by a party government (an executive) above the soviets -- the same executive Lenin had argued would not be created during the summer of 1917 but then immediately created in October...

I'm surprised to be readng these comments, given how much better informed we are now to the realities of Bolshevik rule.

ajjohnstone
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Jan 7 2019 23:07

As I said, Dyjbas, the Bolsheviks talked the talk. But I think we are aware of the separation of formal constitutions from on-the-ground practice.

The Congress (which met twice-yearly) was supposed to control both the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Many would say it was the reverse.

Recall Marx’s admonition.

Quote:

"Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production."

In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

(As an aside, I appreciate the lack of rancour and the maintenance of civility on this thread, something that was very much missing from another website on much the same topic)

Spikymike
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Jan 8 2019 10:13

I'd just observe that in 1917 the equation of working class power with party power was a common understanding within Social Democracy in all its tendencies and accepted by much of the politicised working class in Europe. It's rejection was to be a slow process as a result of experience both positive and negative at high points in the class struggle ( such as in Russia 1917, Germany 1918 Spain 1936 and elsewhere across the globe) and appears to be a lesson that has to be re-learnt within the ebb and flow of the struggle today. There are many small political tendencies today from across the anarchist marxist divide that have learnt that lesson but they often end up arguing at cross purposes when seeking to justify current differences on the basis of their claimed historical antecedents.

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Ugg
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Jan 10 2019 01:55

But if the soviets had mandated, recallable delegates how were the Bolsheviks able to turn them into authoritarian institutions without being recalled or their decisions rejected?

Take for example the IWW. The IWW's highest body is the General Executive Board. It's voted into power by the membership once yearly and all its decisions must be voted on by referendum.

Let's say the General Executive Board (GEB) decide tomorrow that they want to turn the IWW into a dictatorship so that they no longer have to submit proposals to referendum.

In my view there's only 2 ways for this to work:

1. The membership of the IWW votes in favour of this proposal, either by accident or because they supported the idea of a dictatorship at that time.

2. The GEB has some way of coercing people to vote in favour turning the IWW into a dictatorship or alternatively just forcing the members to ratify all their decisions. Maybe the GEB could blackmail, threaten or create their own secret police or military to repress members. In this case the GEB would already be secretly functioning as some sort of miniature state that they could use to take over the IWW.

If neither of these things happen I don't see how the GEB could make themselves dictators. The membership could just vote against their proposals and ignore the proposals that the GEB tried to enact by decree. Maybe the membership would also elect another GEB if the previous one was refusing to do what they were elected to do.

so if the soviets functioned according to principles that are at all similar to those of an organization like the IWW how were they able to be taken over almost overnight, like in the article Anarcho linked?

"Lenin had stressed the need for "working bodies" and the fusion of legislative and executive bodies yet the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets elected a new Central Executive Committee (VTsIK, with 101 members) and created the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom, with 16 members). As the latter acted as the executive of the soviet executive, Lenin's promises in The State and Revolution did not last the night. Worse, a mere four days later the Sovnarkom unilaterally give itself legislative power simply by issuing a decree to this effect. This was not only the opposite of the example given by the Paris Commune but also made clear the party's pre-eminence over the
soviets." - https://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/state-revolution-theory-practice

I don't really know who Ron Tabor is but I think what he says about the soviets makes a lot of sense to me in his article "Historical and Political Background, the February Revolution and the Soviets":

"In the second place, from an anarchist and libertarian socialist point of view, the soviets were by no means ideal. Specifically, they were hierarchical organizations. It is certainly true that they were nowhere nearly as hierarchical as were the organs of the Tsarist state or even the organizational structures of the socialist parties, but they were not models of libertarian organization either. They generally consisted of three layers. At the bottom were the delegates elected by the rank and file workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants, along with huge numbers of observers who came and went, observing and participating in the proceedings for varying periods of time. Above them were members of the soviets’ executive committees, who were usually not elected at all but were chosen by the various socialist parties and groups to represent them (according to an agreed-upon quota) on the committees. Moreover, these EC’s often comprised large numbers of people, at times, as many as 100. As a result, the EC’s selected still smaller committees ("permanent bureaus"), often comprising a mere handful of individuals, which carried on the day-to-day work of the soviets. For their part, the sessions of the soviets have been described by various observers as virtually permanent and extremely chaotic mass meetings, essentially rallies attended by large numbers (as many as several thousand) of workers, soldiers, sailors, and peasants who flowed in and out over time, during which they were harangued by, and applauded or jeered at, orators representing the various socialist organizations, and voted on, by voice vote or by a show of hands, various motions and resolutions put to them. The meetings of the soviet were not, in other words, sessions of calm, carefully deliberating bodies operating according to democratic rules of procedure. "- https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ron-tabor-historical-and-political-background-the-february-revolution-and-the-soviets#toc7

Does anyone know how differently the soviets functioned before the 1918 Constitution was written? I might be misreading it but after looking through it a few times it doesn't seem much more democratic than a regular bourgeois parliament, and in some ways is perhaps even worse. Here's a link https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1918_Constitution_(Fundamental_Law)_of_the_RSFSR

1.The only officials that are voted into power that regular people are able to recall are the deputies. These deputies must elect a Central Executive Committee and are subservient to all higher level officials.

These deputies don't seem to have any power over higher officials such as a meeting of deputies being able to recall a representative from a soviet or whatever.

I can't tell if I'm confused though and that maybe people elected deputies to local soviets, who then elected "representatives" to higher soviets, and therefore at meetings would be able to recall representatives or something.

2. Voting for Representatives to the All Russian Congress of Soviets seems to be fairly close to voting for a representative in a election in western countries today.

You are a part of a very large electoral district often with tens of thousands of people and periodically you will vote in an election for your representative. I don't see anything stating that people can recall them.

Even if there is a way to recall them that I missed I think me trying to get a by-election going in my electoral district is a lot harder than say a delegate reporting back to my council and then everyone at the end of the meeting voting for the same or a new delegate to go back to meet with other councils' delegates.

3. These Representatives only have to meet twice a year and the rest of the time the system is ran by the Central Executive Committee and the Committee of People's Commisars that they appoint into power.

The representatives can call another meeting in the interim if more than 1/3 of the population vote in favour of it, which seems like a difficult thing to coordinate even if the majority of people would support an interim meeting.

The Central Executive Committee is elected by the All Russian Congress is vaguely "responsible" to the All Russian Congress. I can't really tell if the All Russian Congress has the ability to remove members from the Central Executive Committee whenever they meet.

It seems like these Executive Bodies had a lot of power and everyone was expected to do whatever they said in the interim between meetings of the All Russian Congress.

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Auld-bod
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Jan 10 2019 12:25

Ugg #35

‘But if the soviets had mandated, recallable delegates how were the Bolsheviks able to turn them into authoritarian institutions without being recalled or their decisions rejected?’

This question confuses the form a grouping takes with the political content of the group. One does not necessarily determine the other.

‘So if the soviets functioned according to principles that are at all similar to those of an organization like the IWW how were they able to be taken over almost overnight, like in the article Anarcho linked?’

The soviets were thrown up by a series of events and were a political mixed bag.

There was not a single unifying principle under which the soviets operated - unless it is generalised ‘all power to the soviets’, etc. The confusion/uncertainty of many Russian workers on how the achieve their goals, allowed the disciplined Bolsheviks to offer leadership. (Would make the workers confusion in the UK over BREXIT look like perfect clarity.)

The form, ideas and actions of a group, are evolved by the nature of the problems confronted by the organisation. (How else can we explain the recent split in the Anarchist Federation?)

Mike Harman
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Jan 10 2019 15:22

Take for example the IWW. The IWW's highest body is the General Executive Board. It's voted into power by the membership once yearly and all its decisions must be voted on by referendum.

Let's say the General Executive Board (GEB) decide tomorrow that they want to turn the IWW into a dictatorship so that they no longer have to submit proposals to referendum.

1. The membership of the IWW votes in favour of this proposal, either by accident or because they supported the idea of a dictatorship at that time.

2. The GEB has some way of coercing people to vote in favour turning the IWW into a dictatorship or alternatively just forcing the members to ratify all their decisions. Maybe the GEB could blackmail, threaten or create their own secret police or military to repress members. In this case the GEB would already be secretly functioning as some sort of miniature state that they could use to take over the IWW.

In the case of the IWW, who has control of the official website, e-mail address, social media, mailing lists etc., any print media? If the GEB or people aligned with them did, then they could take control of those, issue statements, use them to dox people who opposed etc.

They might not be able to force opposing IWW members to do anything directly, but they would have control of 'the IWW' in terms of its public facing infrastructure and maybe some private infrastructure. They might also be able to continue to attract new members not familiar with what's going on and who don't have a firm grasp of organisational structures. And the only way to reverse this would be to wrest back control of them or split. It's not only the formal organisational structure of a group that determines where power lies but also informal roles taken on, and distribution of responsibility and knowledge.

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Craftwork
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Jan 10 2019 21:26

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Ugg
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Jan 14 2019 22:39

Mike Harman wrote:

In the case of the IWW, who has control of the official website, e-mail address, social media, mailing lists etc., any print media? If the GEB or people aligned with them did, then they could take control of those, issue statements, use them to dox people who opposed etc.
>
They might not be able to force opposing IWW members to do anything directly, but they would have control of 'the IWW' in terms of its public facing infrastructure and maybe some private infrastructure. They might also be able to continue to attract new members not familiar with what's going on and who don't have a firm grasp of organisational structures. And the only way to reverse this would be to wrest back control of them or split. It's not only the formal organisational structure of a group that determines where power lies but also informal roles taken on, and distribution of responsibility and knowledge.

Yeah, you're right; I hadn't thought of that. However I still feel there's an important difference between the GEB being able to misuse funds or take over the website domain vs. having the ability to transform the IWW from an organization where all proposals must be voted on by referendum into one where the membership aren't allowed to vote on those proposals.

Maybe the IWW isn't the best example because it isn't a federated system of councils made up of mandated, recallable delegates.

Since reading your post I've been thinking about the fact that even if you did have a council system of mandated, recallable delegates a delegate could still mislead their own council by lying about the way they personally voted or the result of a vote (ie. a delegate saying a proposal that was rejected by all the other councils actually received unanimous support or something).

But in order to do this delegates would need to:

1. Doctor public voting records, meeting minutes and keep their members away from any reports about the decision in the free press.

2. Prevent other delegates and people from within their council (for example if councils send delegates to represent the positions of those in the minority and assistants to take minutes) who attended the delegate meetings from contradicting their story.

3. Deal with delegates and people from other councils finding out about them misinforming their council and then contacting them.

Finally even if corrupt delegates can bypass all these safeguards, or convince people that everyone else is lying, their councils STILL retain their ability to recall their delegate in my view so long as they are committed to it (and aren't coerced into abandoning this principle). This means that at some point in the future if they do find out their delegate was corrupt they should still have the ability to change their delegate.

As I said before I'm pretty sure that the soviets and the parties for the most part didn't operate under the principle of "mandated, recallable delegates"? I don't think that people were able to just change their delegate at the next meeting or were able to reject decisions But if I'm mistaken about this I'm not sure what else you could have done. Not only then were the soviets democratic you also had:

1. A huge amount of participation of the masses in the revolution. Maurice Brinton in the book "The Bolsheviks and workers' control" that you recommended me points out that the amount of participation by the working class was probably unique in its history.

2. Tremendous support for at least somewhat libertarian ideas like "All power to the soviets" and "Factories to the workers, Land to the Peasants". I've read that a key reason why the Bolsheviks were so popular was because they were perceived as being more committed to those principles than the other parties.

3. Once the Bolsheviks started doing things people didn't like there were tons of people who took action to try to get them out of power both through the soviets and outside of them.

It just seems hopeless that if none of this was enough to prevent the Bolsheviks from just turning the soviets overnight into more and more authoritarian institutions and keeping them that way for 74 years.

auld-bod wrote:

This question confuses the form a grouping takes with the political content of the group. One does not necessarily determine the other.

Aren't both important though?

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Jan 16 2019 12:16

Ugg #39

The form an organisation takes and the politics contained is important.

As Mike Harman #37 suggests, the actual operation/practice may not always mesh with the theoretical basis. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some years ago there was an anarchist organisation where some important office holders bunked off, and the organisation regenerated itself, when other comrades simply stepped into the vacancies until a conference could be organised which could endorse their action.

Beware of modelling the revolution - all the models of utopias I know of - Plato’s Republic, etc., are based on the idea that people can be moulded into some kind of perfection - any time this has been attempted it ends in living hells.

Looking back over the history of failed revolutions can be depressing. Thing is, no one is in control of history and our present state shows that many people are very dissatisfied with the status quo. We really have no choice than to believe that the working class will overcome its fear and take matters into their own hands (eventually).

meerov21
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Jan 16 2019 16:20

Ugg But if the soviets had mandated, recallable delegates how were the Bolsheviks able to turn them into authoritarian institutions without being recalled or their decisions rejected?

Oh man! I love your questions. How? Oh Yeah, just the Bolsheviks forbade workers to recall the delegates- the-Bolsheviks, ahahaha)))... like in Petrograd: the left s-r note that was done in January 1918, 2 months after the so-called "October revolution".

The fact is that a couple of months after October, the mood of the workers began to turn against the Bolsheviks. And it was happening fast because the economic catastrophe was becoming more and more pronounced.

In the spring and summer of 1918 the workers of the biggest factories began to withdraw deputies-the-Bolsheviks across all the country. In response, the Bolsheviks:

a) prohibited the re-election of some Soviets
b) falsified the elections to the Soviets (like in Petrograd in the spring or summer)
c) dispersed non-Bolshevik Soviets, if the workers still elect them (Samara, Tambov, Izhevsk)
d) dispersed election meetings, strikes and demonstrations of workers (Yaroslavl),
e) has closed the opposition press,
f) made an armed attacks against the opposition groups (anarchists, social revolutionaries-maximalists in Moscow and Samara and Izhevsk)
g) ...or have completely banned the activities of opposition parties (June 14, 1918 Mensheviks and SR were banned).

There are some details here:

https://libcom.org/forums/history/paradoxes-working-class-russia-ussr-16012019

P.S.
If you read in my (Russian) language, you can read the documents, where it is said about it, in the book: Pavlov,D.B. “The workers' opposition movement in Bolshevik Russia. 1918 " http://communism21.org/books/%D0%A0%D0%B0%D0%B1%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%B5%20%D0%BE%D0%BF%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B5%20%D0%B4%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5%20%D0%B2%20%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%88%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9%20%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8%201918%20%D0%B3.pdf

meerov21
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Jan 16 2019 20:50

Auld-bod There was not a single unifying principle under which the soviets operated - unless it is generalised ‘all power to the soviets’, etc. The confusion/uncertainty of many Russian workers on how the achieve their goals, allowed the disciplined Bolsheviks to offer leadership.

" to offer leadership" ----------ahahah man!!! O, I love it. They "offered their leadership to the Soviets" in 1918 in much the same way as all dictatorships did wink They simply killed or dispersed, or arrested opponents. All these documents are published today. I wrote the details above. Moreover, the Bolsheviks also destroyed in 1918 new, alternative Councils - so called "Assemblies of commissioner factories and plants", which quickly spread to all industrial centers. https://libcom.org/forums/history/paradoxes-working-class-russia-ussr-16012019

P.S. Sorry, I forgot to say one more thing. In 1918, the Soviets acted on the principle that 1 worker's vote weighed as much as 5 votes of peasants. Those 5 peasants in the elections to the Soviets, equated to 1 worker. Even this fact alone forces one to say that there has never been any "Power of the soviets" at list as a single structure. Keep in mind that among the peasants the Bolsheviks were less popular than among the workers. The so-called "Congresses of the Soviets", held in 1918, were based on this ultra-discriminatory principle. Now add to this all those countless violent acts, falsifications, dispersals of the Soviets, prohibitions of critics, prohibitions of the opposition, attacks on anarchists etc, in order to understand what kind of "Soviet power" after Lenin's victory we are talking about. Already in April 1918, a prominent anarchist Andrei Andreev declared that the power of the Bolsheviks was reactionary shit.

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Jan 23 2019 02:09

I'm sorry if I'm not making sense.It just seems like a circle to me where the Bolshevik party attained state power because they already had the state power to shut down soviets, ban other parties, oppress the masses and so on.

My understanding is that both the soviets and Bolsheviks at the very least had some undemocratic aspects to their organizations which allowed them to become more authoritarian. But I also feel like some people say the soviets were ultra-democratic but got taken over anyway.

But if I'm wrong and the soviets were basically an anarchist federation did the Bolshevik power come from:

A. The fact that it was a hierarchical organization that was willing to use force and its members were loyal to the Bolshevik party, NOT soviet democracy?

B. There was a "dictatorship of the majority" situation where people who voted in the Bolsheviks were in some way okay with what their leaders were doing?

C. The fact that they gained a majority within the soviets and therefore they were viewed as paradoxically having the democratic right to centralize and destroy soviet democracy?

If it's "A" or "B" it makes perfect sense to me why the Bolsheviks were able to take over. This would mean that basically a violent oppressive group bullied everyone into doing what they wanted.

However if its "C" I'm having trouble understanding how exactly that happened if:

1. The soviet system was set up so that people were able to easily go to the next council meeting or call an emergency one to instantly change their delegates and reverse any decision.

2. People believed that councils were the ultimate authority and so no delegate should be able to decree that they are shutting them down, getting rid of instant recall, imprisoning people they disagree with even if they did win a majority.

Maybe it was confusion or something where people thought that for example decrees the Committee of People's Comissars made were actually democratically approved by the masses in their soviets or something?