Voice of Revolutionary Students

Sunday, March 22, 2009


We publish this article which orginally appeared on the REVOLUTIONARY PRAXIS site has contribution to mutual understanding and emulation rather than competition between Socialist Anarchists and Marxists.

We do not agree completely with this article on the question of socialism in one country and world revolution because we do not accept the Trotskyist posing of this question as an either/or in an undialectical manner which has more in common with Soren Kierkegaard than with materialist dialectics.

The world revolution will always be a process where some national developments proceed others and not be simultaneous, and communism and socialism should not be confounded has the latter proceeds the former.

The confict between interests of State and Proletarian revolution continues in the modern world with Castro and Chavez putting their state interests before support of the FARC in Colombia.

We feel however this article poses questions which are highly relevant to building Anarchist and Marxist Leninist Maoist unity of action in the new Global space of class struggle.


Modern anarchists frequently criticise Marxists for vanguard elitism, and Marxists are critical of the utopianism of anarchists. But these questions are not the central issue that divides revolutionary politics. Rather the main issue is whether revolution and the transition to communism can be conceived in national or international terms. Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’ is problematic and ultimately utopian because its approach is abstracted from the question of weather it is possible to build socialism in one country. Indeed, implicitly, ‘State and Revolution’ seems to suggest that Soviet democracy will be sufficient for establishing a national dictatorship of the proletariat that can facilitate the realisation of a stateless and classless communist society.(1) Whilst the anarchist Alexander Berkman is of the opinion that the spontaneous creativity of the Russian workers and peasants was sufficient to realise anarchism in national terms, and only the actions of the Bolsheviks thwarted this possibility.(2) Furthermore Berkman’s one-sided emphasis on the virtues of spontaneity leads him to contrast peace to the necessary task of developing the struggle for world revolution.(3) In other words anarchists, just like Marxists and Bolsheviks, can be inclined to uphold illusions in the national conception of the realisation of their revolutionary aims. But what has to be understood is that both Marxism and anarchism are utopian and ultimately reactionary if they limit their aspirations to a national terrain and propagate a version of ‘communism in one country’.

The tragic nature of the split between Marxists and anarchists within the First International concerning issues about the nature of the post-capitalist society is that both protagonists were committed to a strategy of world proletarian revolution. Bakunin (possibly even more so than Marx) outlined with great clarity the reasons why a single nation state could not realise communism. He argued that the realisation of the principles of equality, solidarity, and justice required a world revolution, and on this basis a world federation of anarchist and communist societies could be developed. For if revolution was limited to a nation state the impulses would still be powerful to enough to limit the revolution to a political character, and this would mean economic exploitation would re-emerge on the basis of the domination of a new bureaucratic class. Indeed Bakunin’s analysis is very similar to Bukharin and the Left Communists who maintained that if the October revolution did not quickly become part of a world proletarian revolution then the Soviet state would undergo an opportunist degeneration that would result in the domination of a new ruling class.(4) Rosa Luxemburg had similar concerns to those of the Left Communists.

Obviously the anarchist and revolutionary Marxist approach to the question of world revolution was not identical. Bakunin’s strategy was based upon how to reconcile reality with ethical principles such as equality. Whilst Bukharin outlined the economic, political, and strategic reasons why class antagonisms could not be overcome at a national level and only the immediate struggle for world revolution could facilitate the realisation of communism. But both were united in trying to establish an international and universal basis for how they considered specific questions and their necessary answers. This similarity between Bakunin and Bukharin could be objected to, and it could be maintained that their aims were still radically different. Bakunin aimed to establish a stateless society and Bukharin wanted to strengthen and expand the dictatorship of the proletariat. Certainly these differences were and are a matter of ongoing theoretical and political dispute, but Bakunin and Bukharin were aware that political processes can only have an emancipatory dimension if they acquire an international context.

This point can be located more precisely within history. Firstly, both Marx and Bakunin were united by their support for the Paris Commune. Neither of them repudiated their different views about the nature of post-capitalist society, and Marx actually considered the Paris Commune to be an important indication of what the dictatorship of the proletariat could be like. In contrast Bakunin maintained that the Commune showed the potential to be a stateless and anarchist society. But what united them was their perspective that the Paris Commune could and should be an inspiration for the international class struggle against capitalism. The strategic task of world revolution united Marx and Bakunin despite their many differences. Secondly, both Marx and Bakunin were critical of the ‘state socialism’ of the followers of Lassalle. The ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, which proclaimed the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was based upon the criticism of the reformist Lassellean formulation of the ‘peoples state’. Bakunin also showed that Lasselle’s approach and perspective was reformist and reactionary, but he then connected support for the ‘peoples state’ to adherence to the dictatorship of the proletariat!(5)

In other words, continually on crucial political questions, such as the Paris Commune and the programme of emerging German Social Democracy, there is essential agreement between Marx and Bakunin. However, the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat obscures this real and principled level of agreement. Similarly, in contemporary terms, revolutionary Marxists and anarchists could be united against the modern adherents to Lasselle’s state socialism, who are represented by the Socialist Alliance, which has a nationalist, reformist, and state capitalist adherence to the welfare state, or the most recent form of the ‘Peoples State’. But, once again, the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat obscures this level of agreement between revolutionary Marxists and anarchists against modern forms of reformism.

Ironically it is idealist to be for or against the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat or a stateless society because it is not possible to anticipate the historical future in rigid and predictive terms. Objectively we do not know the economic and political conditions of any possible future revolution, and these conditions will define and shape the nature of the society that is emerging from capitalism. Subjectively what is necessary is that the creativity of the working class and peasantry will decide as much as possible that the emerging post-capitalist society will be democratic, accountable, and participatory. But this means it must be up to the working class and peasantry to decide whether a state will still be in existence. So the role of Marxists and anarchists will be to influence but not impose their preferences onto the working class and peasantry. Marx was aware that political sectarianism, authoritarianism and utopianism go together when the working class is not yet able to change history in accordance with its class interests.(6) Consequently, elite sects attempt to dictate to the working class as to what should constitute its aims and aspirations. The debate about the validity of the dictatorship of the proletariat is an expression of this subjective, idealist and utopian reasoning by both contemporary Marxists and anarchists. They tell the working class that you should be for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat, and so they impose their views and therefore repudiate the real role of revolutionary leadership, which is the strategic necessity to inspire and develop confidence within the working class for world revolution.

The task of world revolution is not an idealist and sectarian imposition onto the working class because the exploitative nature of capitalism as global indicates the material content and necessity of international class struggle by the working class against the bourgeoisie. To limit struggle to obtaining reforms upon a national terrain is what is essentially unrealistic because it does not challenge the basis of the exploitative power of capital, which is international and expressed by the domination of the transnationals. If (and it is an historically big if) increasingly coherent and co-ordinated struggle for world revolution starts to develop then the creative content of this struggle will be the objective and subjective basis to evaluate the continuing validity of the perspective of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or, as Marx argued at the time of the Paris Commune, it will be actual historical development that establishes what is possible and necessary and what is reactionary and utopian. Hence it was the Paris Commune which showed that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat was both more principled and realistic than the ‘peoples state’ of Lassalle. But what will be the outcome of contemporary world revolution? This question is presently unanswerable, and in fact is still an irrelevant question because the real problem is how do we develop the struggle for world revolution. Nevertheless it does facilitate theoretical clarification to contribute further to the debate for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat. This question will be evaluated in the next section.


Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune, and the ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, contributed immensely towards showing the transitional necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’ summarised the views of Marx and Engels and outlined why the epoch of imperialism established the need to smash the bourgeois state and develop a new proletarian state. But possibly Lenin’s most influential and important article about why a national dictatorship of the proletariat needed to be developed after proletarian revolution was outlined in his 1915 article:

‘Slogan for a United States of Europe’.(7) Lenin argues that the slogan for a United States of Europe is reactionary and utopian if it is being suggested that it be formed as a new bourgeois democratic bloc because its imperialist content remains. But Lenin goes further and suggests that the uneven economic and political development of imperialism will lead to the establishment of the national dictatorship of the proletariat. The need to oppose internal and external counterrevolution and the furtherance of the world revolution requires the strengthening of the national dictatorship of the proletariat:

"A United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is the state form of the unification and freedom of nations which we associate with socialism - until the time when the complete victory of communism brings about the total disappearance of the state, including the democratic. As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of a United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in a single country is impossible, and it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others.

Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world - the capitalist world - attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states. The political form of a society wherein the proletariat is victorious in overthrowing the bourgeoisie will be a democratic republic, which will more and more concentrate the forces of the proletariat of a given nation or nations, in the struggle against states that have not yet gone over to socialism. The abolition of classes is impossible without a dictatorship of the oppressed class, of the proletariat. A free union of nations in socialism is impossible without a more or less prolonged and stubborn struggle of the socialist republics against the backward states."(8)

Lenin’s approach seems to be compatible with a world revolutionary perspective. On the one hand he indicates that uneven development could lead to a situation in which proletarian revolution is nationally located, but this national dictatorship of the proletariat will act as a base of world revolution and become the objective basis to advance international revolution. On the other hand Lenin seems to suggest that the national dictatorship of the proletariat can build socialism in one country without the necessity of developing world revolution.(Lenin’s comments were obviously utilised by the Stalinists in order to justify the building of ‘socialism in one country’ by the national dictatorship of the proletariat.) The question that is left unresolved is which aspect is primary, the building of socialism in one country or the development of world revolution? Indeed, it could be argued that if establishing the national dictatorship of the proletariat is the priority task (as the outcome of the law of uneven development) then it will be up to this nationally located base of world revolution to decide the tempo and development of expanding proletarian revolution. The problem that could then arise is what if the interests of the national dictatorship of the proletariat start to conflict with the requirements of world revolution. Lenin’s strategy of developing a national base of world revolution does not seem to anticipate the problems of a contradiction between the interests of the national and international, but this contradiction did develop at the time of the Brest Litovsk treaty, which is evaluated later on.

In contrast to Lenin’s strategic ambiguity Bakunin had argued that the nation and state were the negation of emancipation and so retaining them in the form of the national dictatorship of the proletariat could not overcome the problem of domination and impulses towards imperialist expansion rather than enhancing international emancipation: "Thus I come to the conclusion: He who wants to join with us in the establishment of freedom, justice, and peace, he who wants the triumph of humanity, and the full and complete emancipation of the masses of the people, should also aim toward the destruction of all States and the establishment upon their ruins of a Universal Federation of Free Associations of all the countries in the world."(9) What then of the Paris Commune, was this not an example of the national dictatorship of the proletariat? Bakunin’s reply was that the Paris Commune could not sustain itself as a national entity, and so the logic of the Commune was to establish the international possibilities of human emancipation: "The boundaries of the proletarian fatherland have broadened to the extent of embracing now the proletariat of the whole world. This of course is just the opposite of the bourgeois fatherland. The declarations of the Paris Commune are in this respect highly characteristic, and the sympathies shown now by the French proletariat, even favouring a Federation based upon emancipated labor and collective ownership of the means of production, ignoring in this case national differences and State boundaries - these sympathies and active tendencies, I say, prove that as far as the French proletariat is concerned, State patriotism is all in the past."(10) It was precisely because the Commune united the particular and universal in the possibility for the liberation of humanity that meant the French and Prussian bourgeoisie were united in counterrevolutionary action to suppress the Commune.(11)

Lenin could argue that it was because the Commune did not consistently and sufficiently develop the national dictatorship of the proletariat the result was that counterrevolution became more likely and possible. Only when the national dictatorship of the proletariat is consolidated is it possible to establish the objective basis to facilitate developing the confidence and capacity of the world proletariat to struggle for world revolution. So we seem to be a stalemate point, in that Bakunin and Lenin are putting forward equally plausible and yet contradictory and opposed viewpoints. But what about when the national dictatorship of the proletariat (Soviet Russia) was put to the test concerning the question of world revolution: what does this clarify in relation to the strategic questions of the Lenin-Bakunin debate?

In his article ‘Left-Wing Childishness and the Petty Bourgeois Mentality’ Lenin replied to left-wing critics of the Brest Litovsk treaty with German imperialism.(12) Lenin argued that the Left Communists put an emphasis upon revolutionary phraseology rather than establishing the objective criteria of the balance of class forces, which showed that revolutionary conflict with German imperialism was not possible. The world revolution was not yet maturing, and the Russian workers and peasants wanted peace: "It is in our interest to do all that is possible, to take advantage of the slightest opportunity to postpone the decisive battle until the moment (or until after the moment) the revolutionary workers contingents have united in a single great international army."(13) Hence it was necessary to strengthen and defend the national dictatorship of the proletariat as the basis to facilitate the struggle for world revolution: "It is precisely in the interests of "strengthening the connection" with international socialism that we are in duty bound to defend our socialist fatherland. Those who treat frivolously the defence of the country in which the proletariat has already achieved victory are the ones who destroy the connection with international socialism."(14)

Lenin’s rejection of the immediate perspective of developing world revolution means that he has to establish an alternative conception of strengthening the national dictatorship of the proletariat through building the material productive forces for socialism. He considers that state capitalism is the policy that represents this task of building socialism in one country: "It has not occurred to them that state capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic. If in approximately six months time state capitalism became established in our Republic, this would be a great success and a sure guarantee that within a year socialism will have gained a permanent firm hold and wll have become invincible in our country."(15) What Bukharin does not seem to understand is that the national political power of the proletariat can develop state capitalism and the material conditions for socialism: "But Bukharin went astray because he did not go deep enough into the specific features of the situation in Russia at the present time - an exceptional situation when we, the Russian proletariat, are in advance of any Britain or Germany as regards our political order, as regards the strength of the workers political power, but are behind the most backward West-European country as regards organising a good state capitalism, as regards our level of culture and the degree of material and productive preparedness for the "introduction" of socialism."(16)

But in order to develop state capitalism it is necessary to overcome the anarchic and disorganising nature of the small commodity production of the peasant producers.(17) In other words the state capitalist road to socialism in one country requires war communism. For the only apparent national alternative to state capitalism is accommodation to petty bourgeois capitalism. So Lenin is prepared to compromise with large scale capitalists who cooperate with Soviet power in developing the productive forces, but he is intransigent that peasant discontent must be dealt with ruthlessly.(18) Lenin has posed two choices: revolutionary war against German imperialism or civil war against sections of the peasantry in relation to the task of the national organisation of state capitalism as the basis for socialism: "When the working class has learned how to defend the state system against the anarchy of small ownership, when it has learned to organise large scale production on a national scale, along state capitalist lines, it will hold, if I may use the expression, all the trump cards, and the consolidation of socialism will be assured."(19) In other words state capitalism is the means of struggle against the petty bourgeois or peasant economy and the basis for establishing communism in national terms: "This hard work, the work of learning practically how to build up large-scale production, is the guarantee that the class conscious workers in Russia are carrying on the struggle against small proprietary disintegration and disorganisation, against petty-bourgeois indiscipline - the guarantee of the victory of communism."(20) In contrast the approach of the Left Communists is defined as utopian, confused, and primarily outdated: "Bukharin regards the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship from the point of view of the past and not of the future."(21)

Lenin is concerned about the contradiction between the political and economic, in that the national dictatorship of the proletariat represents the political power of the working class but the economy is primarily of a petty bourgeois commodity character. But because he has rejected the immediate strategic task of developing world revolution, and instead puts an emphasis upon the national building of state capitalism, means that the only policy option seems to be that of moving towards war communism, or rigid and centralised control of the economy and forced requisitions of grain from the peasantry. Thus in the name of rejecting the supposed idealism of not signing the Brest Litovsk treaty, has meant that Lenin upholds the illusion of state capitalism, or the view that workers control of production can be made compatible with compromise with the bourgeoisie about the organisation of developing the productive forces. In practice this means the workers state is actively promoting policies that subordinate the working class to the state bureaucracy and managerial economic elite within the relations of production. Furthermore, the mass of the peasantry are alienated by measures that supposedly enhance the state capitalist and socialist development of the economy.

Lenin defends his approach in the internationalist terms of developing and strengthening the national base of the world revolution, but what is actually shown in reality is that the national dictatorship of the proletariat is a contradiction in terms. For the maintenance of the national integrity of the workers state is an idealist illusion. This means the national workers state becomes a new type of dominating and alienating state with the potential power to dominate the producers within the relations of production. Furthermore, this bureaucratic state upholds its ‘own’ socialism and rejects the necessity to develop world revolution. Unfortunately, Bukharin and the Left Communists never sustained the internationalist logic of their critique of the signing of the Brest Litovsk treaty because they became the most ardent supporters of war communism and the related illusion that socialism can be built on a national basis. Hence the Left Communists of 1918 became left Leninists rather than maintaining their Left Communism. They forgot their 1918 view that there is no national base of world revolution and instead there is only a constant and simultaneous struggle for world revolution. But the work of Bakunin, and the 1918 Left Communists, shows that there is a contradiction between nation and socialism and only world revolution can realise human emancipation.

Obviously it is entirely possible that national revolutions could occur before generalised international revolution. But the major task will be not to consolidate a national dictatorship of the proletariat but rather to further world revolution. It is in this context that the question of for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat needs to be analysed and evaluated. Consequently any anarchist who maintains that it is necessary to elevate the local above the international is also expressing an opportunist and utopian conception of the transition to communism. The necessity of world revolution is what enriches and represents the content of the possibility to create a consistent post-capitalist and classless society

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