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The Role Of Bolshevik Ideology In The Birth Of The Bureaucracy

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(This article was first published in Socialism ou Barbarie#35(1964),as an introduction to Alexandra Kollantai's The Workers Oppostion,but it can stand alone as a refutation of the standard Leninist/Trotskyist claim that the Soviet Union only degenerated post 1924 i.e after Lenin's death,and as such has been published in pamphlet form by a number of groups.)

We are happy to present to our readers the first translation into French of Alexandra Kollontai's pamphlet The Workers' Opposition in Russia. This pamphlet was published in Moscow at the beginning of 1921, during the violent controversy that preceded the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik party. This Congress was to close discussion forever on this controversy as well as on all the others.

People have not finished talking about the Russian Revolution, its problems, its degeneration, and about the regime it ultimately produced. And how could one? Of all the revolts of the working class, the Russian Revolution was the only victorious one. And of all the working class's failures, it was the most thoroughgoing and the most revealing.

The crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871 and of the Budapest uprising in 1956 teach us that insurgent workers encounter immensely difficult organisational and political problems, that an insurrection can find itself isolated, that the ruling classes will not hesitate to employ any kind of violence or barbarian savagery when their power is at stake. The Russian Revolution, however, obliges us to reflect not only on the conditions for a proletarian victory but also on the content and the possible fate of such a victory, on its consolidation and development, on the seeds of a failure whose import infinitely surpasses the victory of the troops of the Versaillese, of Franco's army, or of Khrushchev's tanks.

Since it crushed the White armies and yet succumbed to a bureaucracy it had itself generated, the Russian Revolution puts us face to face with problems of a different order from those involving a study of the tactics and methods of an armed insurrection or a correct analysis of the relation of forces at a given moment. It obliges us to reflect on the nature of the power of labouring people and on what we mean by socialism. Culminating in a regime in which economic concentration, the totalitarian power of the rulers, and the exploitation of the labouring population have been pushed to the limit, and producing to an extreme degree the centralisation of capital and its fusion with the State, in its outcome this revolution presents us with what has been and in certain respects still remains the most highly developed and the "purest" form of a modern exploitative society.

Embodying Marxism for the first time in history-only to make us see immediately in this incarnation a monstrous disfiguration of it-the Russian Revolution allows us to understand more about Marxism than what Marxism itself has been able to help us to understand about the Revolution. The regime the Revolution produced has become the touchstone for all current ideas, not only those of classical Marxism, ofcourse, but just as much those of the bourgeois ideologies. This regime has proved the ruination of Marxism through its very realisation and has proved the triumph of the deepest layers of these other ideologies through its very refutations of them. Even as this regime has expanded to embrace a third of the globe, has been challenged by workers' revolts against it over the past ten years, has attempted to reform itself, and has now split into two opposing poles, the Russian and the Chinese, it has not ceased to raise questions of the most pressing importance and to act as the clearest as well as the most enigmatic indicator of world history. The world we live in, reflect in, and act in was launched on its present course by the workers and Bolsheviks of Petrograd in October 1917.

Among the innumerable questions raised by the fate of the Russian Revolution, two form the poles around which we may organise all the others.

The first question is, What kind of society was produced by the degeneration of the revolution? (What is the nature and the dynamic of this regime? What is the Russian bureaucracy? What is its relation to capitalism and to the proletariat? What is its place in history? What are its present problems?) This question has already been discussed on several occasions in S. ou B and will be again.

The second question is, How can a workers' revolution give birth to a bureaucracy, and how did this occur in Russia? We have examined this question in its theoretical form,but so far we have said little from the concrete historical point of view. Indeed, there is an almost insurmountable obstacle to a close study of this particularly obscure period extending from October 1917 to March 1921, during which the fate of the revolution was played out. The question of most concern to us is, in effect, the following: To what extent did the Russian workers try to take upon themselves the direction of society, the management of production, the regulation of the economy, and the orientation of political life? What was their conscious awareness of these problems, the character of their autonomous activity? What was their attitude toward the Bolshevik party, toward the nascent bureaucracy? Now, we should point out that it is not workers who write history. It is always the others. And these others, whoever they may be, have a historical existence only insofar as the masses are passive, or active simply to support them, and this is precisely what "the others" will tell us at every opportunity. Most of the time these others will not even possess eyes to see and ears to hear the gestures and utterances that express people's autonomous activity. In the best of instances, they will sing the praises of this activity so long as it miraculously coincides with their own line, but they will radically condemn it, and impute to it the basest motives, as soon as it strays therefrom. Thus Trotsky describes in grandiose terms the anonymous workers of Petrograd moving ahead of the Bolshevik party or mobilising themselves during the Civil War, but later on he was to characterise the Kronstadt rebels as "stool pigeons" and "hirelings of the French High Command." They lack the categories of thought-the brain cells, we might dare say-necessary to understand, or even to record, this activity as it really occurs: to them, an activity that is not instituted, that has neither boss nor program, has no status; it is not even clearly perceivable, except perhaps in the mode of "disorder" and "troubles." The autonomous activity of the masses belongs by definition




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