The Russian Revolution: Dictatorship or Social Revolution

The Russian Revolution

By 1918, the Bolsheviks under Lenin had abolished the Constituent Assembly and were in the process of establishing their one party dictatorship, paving the way for Stalin‘s ascension to power and the end of the Russian Revolution. In the following piece, written by the Russian anarcho-syndicalist, Gregory Maksimov, he argues that what the Bolsheviks were doing, despite their claims to the contrary, was creating a state capitalist dictatorship with its own ruling class, the party bureaucrats who would now form a new class to rule over the working masses rather than leading the people to socialism.

Bolshevik Propaganda Poster

Paths of Revolution

Is ours a social revolution? There are some who argue that a social revolution presupposes a ‘final and fundamental upheaval’, while others prefer to focus their attention on the character and essence of the day-to-day revolutionary movement. But we shall not dispute whether it is the movement or the decisive upheaval that merits the name of revolution. For since the movement is linked with final goals and since both the movement and the upheaval constitute a single uninterrupted process, must we not examine them together when talking about the revolution?

In answering this question, however, we must not conclude that, simply because there has not yet been a decisive social transformation, there has therefore been no social revolution. For in order to call a revolution ‘social’, it is enough that the movement should simply be striving to bring about this definitive transformation. When the question is put this way there can be no two opinions as to whether or not our revolution is a social revolution.

Yes, our revolution is indeed a social one, for the revolutionary masses are aglow with the destruction of the class system; for a countless series of victories have been won by the workers and peasants under the banner of socialism; for our revolution has been a class war. But is it moving along the path towards socialism?

A ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, they call it. But isn’t the organization of future socialism to be founded on the liberation of humanity from class distinctions? Within the framework of this dictatorship, however, we can see that the centralization of power has begun to crystallize and grow firm, that the apparatus of the state is being consolidated by the ownership of property and even by an anti-socialist morality. Instead of hundreds of thousands of property owners there is now a single owner served by a whole bureaucratic system and a new ‘statified’ morality.

Lenin: Proletarian Discipline

The proletariat is gradually being enslaved by the state. The people are being transformed into servants over whom there has risen a new class of administrators — a new class born mainly from the womb of the so-called intelligentsia. Isn’t this merely a new class system looming on the revolutionary horizon? Hasn’t there occurred merely a regrouping of classes, a regrouping as in previous revolutions when, after the oppressed had evicted the landlords from power, the emergent middle class was able to direct the revolution towards a new class system in which power fell into its own hands?

The resemblance is all too striking. One cannot deny it. And if the elements of class inequality are as yet indistinct, it is only a matter of time before privileges will pass to the administrators. We do not mean to say that this inequality and these privileges are arbitrary, or that the Bolshevik party set out to create a new class system. But we do say that even the best intentions and aspirations must inevitably be smashed against the evils inherent in any system of centralized power.

The separation of management from labour, the division between administrators and workers flows logically from centralization. It cannot be otherwise. There are no other words to the song. The song goes like this: management implies responsibility, and can responsibility be compared with ordinary labour? Responsibility demands special rights and advantages. Such is the source of privilege and of the new anti-socialist morality. Hence we are presently moving not towards socialism but towards state capitalism.

Will state capitalism lead us to the gates of socialism? Of this we see not the least bit of evidence. Will the new government not contrive ‘artificially’ to concentrate property in its hands, as is deemed necessary from the Marxist point of view? Will it not complete the class stratification of the country, which capitalism could not accomplish ‘naturally’? And will the emergence of a single owner really ease the task of achieving socialism?

Soviet Show Trial

Arrayed against socialism are — together with thousands of former small and large property holders — thousands of administrators. And if the workers should, owing to the division of the population into two hostile classes and to the deepening of class consciousness, become a powerful revolutionary force, then it is scarcely necessary to point out that the class of administrators, wielding the powerful state apparatus, will be a far from weak opponent. The single owner and state capitalism form a new dam before the waves of our social revolution.

We anarchists and syndicalists —indeed all who believe that the liberation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves — were too poorly organized and too weak to hold the revolution on a straight course towards socialism. It goes without saying that socialism will not fall from the sky, and that only one conception of socialism is not enough. But now, in the midst of the revolution, we must lay the foundation for socialism and create the organizations for the revolutionary struggle and the economy. The plan for this foundation, in order to conform to the plan of socialist construction, must not be centralist, for, as we have already explained, socialism and centralism are antithetical.

Revolution or Dictatorship

Is it at all possible to conduct the social revolution through a centralized authority? Not even a Solomon could direct the revolutionary struggle or the economy from one centre. And if this is impossible for an intellectual, then it is even more impossible for a worker, who is so little versed in the affairs of state. The worker in a centralized state, alienated from his proper way of life, feels like a fish out of water. What he needs, rather, is an atmosphere in which the functions of management and labour are close together or even merged with each other.

The people made the revolution without orders from any centre. They tore power to shreds, scattering them over the vast revolutionary countryside, thereby confronting power with local self-rule. But that splintered and dispersed power poisoned all the soviets and committees. Dictatorship appeared again in the new garb of Executive Committees and Councils of People’s Commissars; and the Revolution not recognizing it embraced it. Not seeing the enemy, the Revolution was too sure of victory and bit by bit put power in its hands.

There was an urgent need for systematic organization and for the co-ordination of activities. The Revolution looked for this but too few elements were aware of the necessity and the possibility of federalist organization. And the Revolution not finding it, threw itself into the arms of the old tyrant, centralized power, which is squeezing out its life’s breath.

We were too disorganized and too weak and so we have allowed this to happen.

Gregory Maksimov, September 16, 1918

The Russian Revolution: After October

The October Revolution (Russia 1917)

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a chapter on the Russian Revolution. Several selections dealt with anarchist responses to the 1917 October Revolution, which marked the beginning of the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Gregory Maksimov

Soon after the October Revolution, some anarchists began to realize that rather than pushing the social revolution forward, the Bolsheviks were seeking to establish their own dictatorship, subordinating the soviets to their party organization. The Russian anarcho-syndicalist, Gregory Maksimov, therefore proclaimed in December 1917 that the anarchists “will go with the Bolsheviks no longer, for their ‘constructive’ work has begun, directed towards what we have always fought… the strengthening of the state. It is not our cause to strengthen what we have resolved to destroy. We must go to the lower classes to organize the work of the third—and perhaps the last—revolution” (Volume One, Selection 83).

Because the soviets, as “presently constituted,” were being transformed by the Bolsheviks into organs of state power, Maksimov argued that the anarchists “must work for their conversion from centres of authority and decrees into non-authoritarian centres,” linking the “autonomous organizations” of the workers together (Volume One, Selection 83). But as the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate their power, subordinating not only the soviets but also the trade unions to their “revolutionary” government, the anarcho-syndicalists began to emphasize the role of the factory committees in furthering the cause of the anarchist social revolution and in combatting both capitalism and the nascent Bolshevik dictatorship.

Meet the New Boss (Stalin & Lenin)

At their August 1918 congress, the Russian anarcho-syndicalists described the factory committee as “a fighting organizational form of the entire workers’ movement, more perfect than the soviet of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies in that it is a basic self-governing producers’ organization under the continuous and alert control of the workers… With the aid of the factory committees and their industry-wide federations, the working class will destroy both the existing economic slavery and its new form of state capitalism which is falsely labelled ‘socialism’,” which the Bolsheviks were in the process of establishing (Volume One, Selection 84).

Maksimov later wrote a damning indictment of the Bolshevik counter-revolution, The Guillotine at Work.