RE: in defense of lenin
Quote:First of all, the Soviet Union was basically a capitalist system. The first thing that Lenin and Trotsky did when they took power in October 1917, remember, was to destroy all of the forms of socialist initiative that had developed in Russia since the start of the Russian Revolution in February 1917 [the Russian Tsar was overthrown by popular revolution in February 1917; Lenin's Bolshevik Party took over eight months later in a military coup]. Just now I was talking about workers and communities participating in decisionmaking- the first thing the Bolsheviks did was to destroy that, totally. They destroyed the factory councils, they undermined the soviets [elected local governing bodies], they eliminated the Constituent Assembly [democratically elected parliament initially dominated by a rival socialist group, which was to govern Russia but was dispersed by Bolshevik troops in January 1918]. In fact, they dismantled every form of popular organization in Russia and set up a command economy with wages and profits, on sort of a centralized state-capitalist model.  So on the one hand, the example you're referring to is just the extreme opposite of what I was talking about, not the same.
- "Understanding Power", Noam Chomsky, pg. 141
 On Lenin's and Trotsky's destruction of socialist initiatives in Russia and their guiding philosophies, see chapter 7 of U.P. and its footnote 3; and footnote 21 of this chapter.
Quote:One of the issues which has devastated a substantial portion of the left in recent years, and caused enormous triumphalism elsewhere, is the alleged fact that there's been this great battle between socialism and capitalism in the twentieth century, and in the end capitalism won and socialism lost-and the reason we know that socialism lost is because the Soviet Union disintegrated. So you have big cover stories in The Nation about "The End of Socialism," and you have socialists who all their lives considered themselves anti-Stalinist saying, "Yes, it's true, socialism has lost because Russia failed."  I mean, even to raise questions about this is something you're not supposed to do in our culture, but let's try it. Suppose you ask a simple question: namely, why do people like the editors at The Nation say that "socialism" failed, why don't they say that "democracy" failed?-and the proof that "democracy" failed is, look what happened to Eastern Europe. After all, those countries also called themselves "democratic"-in fact, they called themselves "People's Democracies," real advanced forms of democracy. So why don't we conclude that "democracy" failed, not just that "socialism" failed? Well, I haven't seen any articles anywhere saying, "Look, democracy failed, let's forget about democracy." And it's obvious why: the fact that they called themselves democratic doesn't mean that they were democratic. Pretty obvious, right?
Okay, then in what sense did socialism fail? I mean, it's true that the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe called themselves "socialist"-but they also called themselves "democratic." Were they socialist? Well, you can argue about what socialism is, but there are some ideas that are sort of at the core of it, like workers' control over production, elimination of wage labor, things like that. Did those countries have any of those things? They weren't even a thought there. Again, in the pre-Bolshevik part of the Russian Revolution, there were socialist initiatives-but they were crushed instantly after the Bolsheviks took power, like within months. In fact, just as the moves towards democracy in Russia were instantly destroyed, the moves towards socialism were equally instantly destroyed. The Bolshevik takeover was a coup-and that was perfectly well understood at the time, in fact. So if you look in the mainstream of the Marxist movement, Lenin's takeover was regarded as counter-revolutionary; if you look at independent leftists like Bertrand Russell, it was instantly obvious to them; to the libertarian left, it was a truism. 
But that truism has been driven out of people's heads over the years, as part of a whole prolonged effort to discredit the very idea of socialism by associating it with Soviet totalitarianism. And obviously that effort has been extremely successful-that's why people can tell themselves that socialism failed when they look at what happened to the Soviet Union, and not even see the slightest thing odd about it. And that's been a very valuable propaganda triumph for elites in the West-because it's made it very easy to undercut moves towards real changes in the social system here by saying, "Well, that's socialism-and look what it leads to."
Okay, hopefully with the fall of the Soviet Union we can at least begin to get past that barrier, and start recovering an understanding of what socialism could really stand for.
- "Understanding Power", Noam Chomsky, pg. 145-146
For contemporaneous criticism of the Bolsheviks by leftists, see for example, Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961 (original 1918)(sympathetic and fraternal, but incisive, critique of Bolshevism written in prison). An excerpt (pp. 62, 71):
To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come the correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people....The whole mass of the people must take part in [economic and social life]. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals. Public control is indispensably necessary. Otherwise the exchange of experiences remains only within the closed circle of the officials of the new regime. Corruption becomes inevitable. Socialism in life demands a complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule.
Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, London: Allen and Unwin, 1962 (original 1920)(written after an invited, month-long official tour of Soviet Russia). An excerpt (pp. 9-10, 26-29):
By far the most important aspect of the Russian Revolution is as an attempt to realize socialism. I believe that socialism is necessary to the world, and believe that the heroism of Russia has fired men's hopes in a way which was essential to the realization of socialism in the future....But the method which Moscow aims at establishing socialism is a pioneer method, rough and dangerous, too heroic to count the cost of the opposition it arouses. I do not believe that by this method a stable or desirable form of socialism can be established....
When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian [i.e. highly specialized] sense. He means the "class-conscious" part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party. He includes people by no means proletarian (such as Lenin and Chicherin) who have the right opinions, and he excludes such wage earners as have not the right opinions, whom he classifies as lackeys of the bourgeoisie....Opposition is crushed without mercy, and without shrinking from the methods of the Tsarist police, many of whom are still employed at their old work....Bolshevism is internally aristocratic and externally militant. The Communists...are practically the sole possessors of power, and they enjoy innumerable advantages in consequence.
M. Sergven [probably a pseudonym for the Russian anarcho-syndicalist Gregory Maksimov], "Paths of Revolution," in Libertarian Analysis, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1970, pp. 9-12 [originally published in Voln'nyi Golos Truda (The Free Voice of Labor), Moscow, September 16, 1918, pp. 1-2]. An excerpt:
[T]he proletariat is gradually being enserfed by the state. It is 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....We do not mean to say that...the Bolshevik party had 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 Revolution...threw itself into the arms of the old tyrant, centralized power, which is squeezing out its life's breath. We were too unorganized, too weak, and so we have allowed this to happen.
Emma Goldman, "Afterword to My Disillusionment in Russia," in Alix Kates Shulman, ed., Red Emma Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches By Emma Goldman, New York: Vintage, 1972, pp. 337-358 (original 1923)(written after two years of living in Soviet Russia). An excerpt (pp. 340, 343, 353-354):
For several months following October [the Bolsheviks] suffered the popular forces to manifest themselves, the people carrying the Revolution into ever-widening channels. But as soon as the Communist Party felt itself sufficiently strong in the government saddle, it began to limit the scope of popular activity. All the succeeding acts of the Bolsheviki, all their following policies, changes of policies, their compromises and retreats, their methods of suppression and persecution, their terrorism and extermination of all other political views -- all were but the means to an end: the retaining of the State power in the hands of the Communist Party. Indeed, the Bolsheviki themselves (in Russia) made no secret of it....
True Communism was never attempted in Russia, unless one considers thirty-three categories of pay, different food rations, privileges to some and indifference to the great mass as Communism. In the early period of the Revolution it was comparatively easy for the Communist Party to possess itself of power. All the revolutionary elements, carried away by the ultra-revolutionary promises of the Bolsheviki, helped the latter to power. Once in possession of the State the Communists began their process of elimination. All the political parties and groups which refused to submit to the new dictatorship had to go. First the Anarchists and Left Social Revolutionists, then the Mensheviki and other opponents from the Right, and finally everybody who dared aspire to an opinion of his own. Similar was the fate of all independent organizations. They were either subordinated to the needs of the new State or destroyed altogether, as were the Soviets, the trade unions and the coöperatives -- three great factors for the realization of the hopes of the Revolution. . . .
It is not only Bolshevism, Marxism, and Governmentalism which are fatal to revolution as well as to all vital human progress. The main cause of the defeat of the Russian Revolution lies much deeper. It is to be found in the whole Socialist conception of revolution itself. The dominant, almost general, idea of revolution -- particularly the Socialist idea -- is that revolution is a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class, the capitalist class. It is the conception of a purely physical change, and as such it involves only political scene shifting and institutional rearrangements. Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the "dictatorship of the proletariat" -- or by that of its "advance guard," the Communist Party; Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People's Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a labourer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice. And with a few minor alterations it is also the idea of revolution held by all other Socialist parties. This conception is inherently and fatally false. Revolution is indeed a violent process. But if it is to result only in a change of dictatorship, in a shifting of names and political personalities, then it is hardly worth while....It is at once the great failure and the great tragedy of the Russian Revolution that it attempted (in leadership of the ruling political party) to change only institutions and conditions, while ignoring entirely the human and social values involved in the Revolution.
For a much earlier critique of Leninist organizational principles, see Rosa Luxemburg, Leninism or Marxism?, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961 (original 1904). An excerpt (p. 102):
If we assume the viewpoint claimed as his own by Lenin and we fear the influence of intellectuals in the proletarian movement, we can conceive of no greater danger to the Russian party than Lenin's plan of organization. Nothing will more surely enslave a young labor movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power than this bureaucratic strait jacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated by a Central Committee. On the other hand, there is no more effective guarantee against opportunist intrigue and personal ambition than the independent revolutionary action of the proletariat, as a result of which the workers acquire the sense of political responsibility and self-reliance. What is today only a phantom haunting Lenin's imagination may become reality tomorrow.
For a classic discussion of the reactionary character of the Bolshevik takeover by a participant in the events, see Voline [i.e. Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eichenbaum], The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921, Detroit: Black & Red, 1974 (original 1947).
Quote:First of all, maybe nothing's gone wrong. You could argue that we haven't been ready for it yet - but there was also a period when we weren't ready for ending slavery either; when conditions, including subjective conditions, were such that abolition just wasn't in the cards. So one could argue that conditions today are such that we need the degree of hierarchy and domination that exists in totalitarian institutions like capitalist enterprises, just in order to satisfy our needs - or else a "dictatorship of the proletariat," or some other authoritarian structure like that. I mean, I don't believe a word of it - but the point is, the justification for any kind of power system has to be argued and proven to people before it has any claim to legitimacy. And those arguments haven't been made out in this case.
If you look at what's actually happened to the various efforts at libertarian socialism that have taken place around the world, the concentration of force and violence present in those situations has just been such that certain outcomes were virtually guaranteed, and consequently all incipient efforts at cooperative workers' control, say, have simply been crushed. There have in fact been efforts in this direction for hundreds of years-the problem is, they regularly get destroyed. And often they're destroyed by force.
The Bolsheviks [political party that seized power during the Russian Revolution and later became the Communist Party] are a perfect example. In the stages leading up to the Bolshevik coup in October 1917, there were incipient socialist institutions developing in Russia-workers' councils, collectives, things like that [i.e. after a popular revolution first toppled the Tsar in February 1917]. And they survived to an extent once the Bolsheviks took over-but not for very long; Lenin and Trotsky pretty much eliminated them as they consolidated their power. I mean, you can argue about the justification for eliminating them, but the fact is that the socialist initiatives were pretty quickly eliminated.
Now, people who want to justify it say, "The Bolsheviks had to do it"- that's the standard justification: Lenin and Trotsky had to do it, because of the contingencies of the civil war, for survival, there wouldn't have been food otherwise, this and that. Well, obviously the question there is, was that true? To answer that, you've got to look at the historical facts: I don't think it was true. In fact, I think the incipient socialist structures in Russia were dismantled before the really dire conditions arose. Alright, here you get into a question where you don't want to be too cavalier about it-it's a question of historical fact, and of what the people were like, what they were thinking and so on, and you've got to find out what the answer is, you can't just guess. But from reading their own writings, my feeling is that Lenin and Trotsky knew what they were doing, it was conscious and understandable, and they even had a theory behind it, both a moral theory and a socioeconomic theory. 
First of all, as orthodox Marxists, they didn't really believe that a socialist revolution was possible in Russia, because Russia was just a peasant backwater: it wasn't the kind of advanced industrial society where in their view the coming socialist revolution was supposed to happen. So when the Bolsheviks got power, they were hoping to carry out kind of a holding action and wait for "the iron laws of history" to grind out the revolution in Germany, where it was supposed to happen by historical necessity, and then Russia would continue to be a backwater, but it would then develop with German help. 
Well, it didn't end up happening in Germany: there was a revolution, in January 1919, but it was wiped out, and the German working class was suppressed. So at that point, Lenin and Trotsky were stuck holding the bag and they basically ended up trying to run a peasant society by violence: since Russia was such a deeply impoverished Third World society, they thought it was necessary just to beat the people into development. So they took steps to turn the workers into what they called a "labor army," under control of a "maximal leader," who was going to force the country to industrialize under what they themselves referred to as "state-capitalism."  Their hope was that this would carry Russia over the early stages of capitalism and industrialization, until it reached a point of material development where then the iron laws of history would start to work as the Master said they were going to, and socialism would finally be achieved [i.e. Karl Marx theorized that history progresses according to natural "laws," and that the advanced stages of capitalism will inevitably lead to socialism].
So there was a theory behind their actions, and in fact a moral principle namely, it will be better for people in the long run if we do this. But what they did, I think, was to set the framework for a totalitarian system, which of course Stalin then accelerated.
- "Understanding Power", Noam Chomsky, pg. 2241-226
 For Lenin's and Trotsky's thoughts on how Russia should be developed, see for example, Vladimir Lenin, "The Immediate Tasks of the Proletariat Government" (originally published April 28, 1918), in Vladimir Lenin, Selected Works, Moscow: Cooperative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U.S.S.R., 1935, Vol. VII, pp. 313-350. An excerpt (pp. 342-344; emphasis in original):
But be that as it may, unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labour processes that are based on large-scale machine industry....The revolution has only just broken the oldest, most durable and heaviest fetters to which the masses were compelled to submit. That was yesterday. But today the same revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process....And our task, the task of the Communist Party, which is the class conscious expression of the strivings of the exploited for emancipation, is to appreciate this change, to understand that it is necessary, to take the lead of the exhausted masses who are wearily seeking a way out and lead them along the true path, along the path of labour discipline, along the path of co-ordinating the task of holding meetings and discussing the conditions of labour with the task of unquestioningly obeying the will of the Soviet leader, of the dictator, during work time.
For a discussion by Trotsky of the need for "militarization of labor" and "labor armies," see Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky, London: New Park, 1975 (original 1920), ch. VII.
For Lenin's pronouncements on the need for "state capitalism," see for example, Vladimir Lenin, "'Left Wing' Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality" (originally published May 5, 1918), in Vladimir Lenin, Selected Works, Moscow: Cooperative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U.S.S.R., 1935, Vol. VII, pp. 351-378. An excerpt (pp. 365-366; emphasis in original):
While the revolution in Germany is slow in "coming forth," our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it. Our task is to do this even more thoroughly than Peter [the Great] hastened the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, and he did not hesitate to use barbarous methods in fighting against barbarism.
Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution, Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1978, p. 484 (Lenin remarked in October 1921: "aided by the enthusiasm engendered by the great revolution, and on the basis of personal interest, personal incentive and business principles, we must first set to work in this small-peasant country to build solid gangways to socialism by way of state capitalism").
On the incipient socialist structures in Russia and the Bolsheviks' dismantling of them as they consolidated control, see for example, Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, 1917 to 1921: the State and Counter-Revolution, London: Solidarity, 1970, especially pp. 1-49. This study gives a detailed chronology of the development of popular structures in Russia after the initial February 1917 revolution, then describes the Bolsheviks' rapid steps to undermine and destroy them after they gained political power in October 1917 (citing extensively to contemporaneous Bolshevik Party sources). The detail and quantity of evidence in this short book defy quotation here; however, the author summarizes some of his findings as follows (pp. ix-x):
Between March and October the Bolsheviks supported the growth of the Factory Committees, only to turn viciously against them in the last few weeks of 1917, seeking to incorporate them into the new union structure, the better to emasculate them. This process...was to play an important role in preventing the rapidly growing challenge to capitalist relations of production from coming to a head. Instead the Bolsheviks canalised the energies released between March and October into a successful onslaught against the political power of the bourgeoisie (and against the property relations on which that power was based).
At this level the revolution was "successful." But the Bolsheviks were also "successful" in restoring "law and order" in industry -- a law and order that reconsolidated the authoritarian relations in production, which for a brief period had been seriously shaken. Importantly, the author notes that (p. 35):
It is above all essential to stress that the Bolshevik policy in relation to the [Factory] Committees and to the unions which we have documented in some detail was being put forward twelve months before the murder of Karl Liebknecht and of Rosa Luxemburg [in January 1919] -- i.e. before the irrevocable failure of the German revolution, an event usually taken as "justifying" many of the measures taken by the Russian rulers.
Similarly, many of the Bolsheviks' measures to disempower the incipient socialist structures and avert genuine workers' control; to suppress and liquidate left-libertarian political parties and publications; and to reintroduce wages and otherwise begin the "restoration of capitalist management of industry" were implemented well before the beginning of large-scale civil war and the Western powers' intervention in Russia on May 15, 1918 (pp. 15-46). In this context, note the timing of Lenin's pronouncements, quoted above in this footnote, concerning the necessity for "unquestioning submission" to the Bolshevik Party and its "dictatorial methods." Brinton adds that the Civil War, which peaked in August 1918, then "immensely accelerated the process of economic centralisation" (p. 46).
Furthermore, it bears emphasis that the theoretical foundations which motivated the Bolsheviks' actions once they gained power also long predated these dire conditions. See for example, Vladimir Lenin, "What Is To Be Done?," in V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961 (original 1901-1902), Vol. 5. An excerpt (pp. 384-385):
Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is -- either bourgeois or socialist ideology....There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology...; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism...and trade-unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.
Brinton adds (p. 12): "Nowhere in Lenin's writings is workers' control ever equated with fundamental decision-taking (i.e. with the initiation of decisions) relating to production." He also quotes Lenin's view in his most libertarian work, State and Revolution, that (p. 24): "We want the socialist revolution with human nature as it is now, with human nature that cannot dispense with subordination, control and managers" (emphasis added).
For a description of the origins and development of workers' organizations in Russia before the Bolshevik takeover, discussing the period between 1905 and October 1917, see Peter Rachleff, "Soviets and Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution," Radical America, Vol. 8, No. 6, November-December 1974, pp. 78-114. An excerpt (pp. 84-87, 89-90):
Beginning October 10 , factories in St. Petersburg began sending delegates to meetings of what was to become the Soviet [i.e. workers' assembly]....Within three days there were 226 delegates representing 96 factories and workshops....The Soviet, at first performing no other task than organizing and leading the strike, changed itself over the course of several days into a general organ of the working class in the capital....Similar organizations appeared amidst strikes in all the urban areas of European Russia (and in some larger villages as well). Between forty and fifty came into existence in October. Although most functioned only for a short time, their importance should not be underestimated. This was the first experience of direct representation for most of those involved. No political party dominated the soviets....The soviets were created from below by workers, peasants, and soldiers, and reflected their desires....[T]he Tsar turned to full-scale repression to quell all disturbances....They were militarily crushed by the end of 1905, and the Russian working class suffered a defeat that would demoralize and disorganize it for almost a decade....
[In 1914 there was] a real rebirth of the Russian working-class movement....May Day saw half a million people demonstrating in the streets....In early July of 1914 a meeting of workers from the Putilov metal works, called to support a strike in the Baku oil fields, was brutally suppressed by the police. A general strike was the immediate response made by the St. Petersburg working class, and within four days 110,000 were out on strike. Two days later, the Bolsheviks, who had experienced a rebirth in popularity since their lowest point in late 1913, called for an end to the strike. However the striking workers, exhibiting the independence that had been their tradition, paid no attention to them. Instead, they built barricades and engaged in pitched battles with the Cossacks....
The beginning of 1917 saw the armed forces seething with revolt....Demonstrations, which were virtually bread riots, spread throughout [Petrograd, then the capital of Russia]. The troops who had crushed similar demonstrations in 1905 refused to put down the uprising, and many joined in. By the end of the month, after three days of spontaneous demonstrations and a general strike, Petrograd was in the hands of the working class....The revolution spread throughout Russia. Peasants seized the land; discipline in the army collapsed; sailors seized their ships in the Kronstadt harbor on the Baltic Coast and took over that city; the soviet form of organization reappeared, first in industrial areas, then among soldiers, sailors, and peasants. A Provisional Government came to power when the Tsar abdicated. Made up of members of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy...they failed to come up with solutions to the problems experienced by the bulk of the population, both workers and peasants.
The article then describes the workers' organizations -- the soviets and factory councils (pp. 90, 92-96):
The soviets, which had sprung up across the country, were viewed as the legitimate government by the workers, peasants, and soldiers, who came to them with their problems....[Power within the soviets] still remained in the hands of the Executive Committee[s]. This had been the case from the start, and it continued to be the case throughout the spring and summer of 1917....[S]oon the [Petrograd] Soviet itself became nothing but an open forum where workers and soldiers could come together, air their views, meet others like themselves, and keep their constituencies informed about what was going on. It did offer people who had been politically voiceless a chance to speak out. But it did not represent the power of the working class....No more than the Provisional Government can the soviets of 1917 be considered instruments of working-class power. Moreover, the existing trade unions also confronted the workers as a power separate from them and over them, a power which hindered them rather than helped them in their attempts to solve their pressing problems....
The real activity was represented by an incredible proliferation of factory committees, organs consisting of and controlled by the workers within each factory. It was through these committees that most of the workers sought to solve their problems. Whereas the soviets were primarily concerned with political issues, e.g., the structure of the government and the question of the continuation of the war [i.e. World War I], the factory committees initially dealt solely with the problems of continuing production within their factories....
Such committees appeared in every industrial center throughout European Russia. The membership of a committee always consisted solely of workers who still worked in the factory. Most important decisions would be made by a general assembly of all the workers in the factory. The committees were utilized by the workers in the early months of the revolution to present series of demands, and in some instances to begin to act to realize those demands. Paul Avrich describes the functioning of some factory committees in the first months of the uprising: "From the outset, the workers' committees did not limit their demands to higher wages and shorter hours, though these were at the top of every list; what they wanted in addition to material benefits, was a voice in management. On March 4, for example, the workers of the Skorokhod Shoe Factory in Petrograd did, to be sure, call upon their superiors to grant them an eight-hour day and a wage increase, including double pay for overtime work; but they also demanded official recognition of their factory committee and its right to control the hiring and firing of labor. In the Petrograd Radiotelegraph Factory, a workers' committee was organized expressly to 'work out rules and norms for the internal life of the factory,' while other factory committees were elected chiefly to control the activities of the directors, engineers, and foremen. Overnight, incipient forms of 'workers' control' over production and distribution appeared in the large enterprises of Petrograd."
Even before the Bolsheviks took over, they began to limit the power of these popularly-based organizations (pp. 104-108):
By October...councils of factory committees existed in many parts of Russia....Conferences of local factory committees in Petrograd and Moscow in late September and early October reaffirmed the necessity of proceeding with their role in production -- managing the entire production process -- and in developing better methods of coordination. A short time later, the first "All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees" was convened....Members of the Bolshevik Party made up 62% of the delegates and were the dominant force. By now, the Party was in firm control of the recently created Central Council of Factory Committees, and used it for its own purposes....The Bolsheviks at this conference succeeded in passing a resolution creating a national organizational structure for the committees. However, this structure explicitly limited the factory committees to activity within the sphere of production, and suggested a method of struggle which embodied a rigid division of activities....The non-Bolshevik delegates -- and the workers they represented -- did not reject this new plan. Few realized the necessity of directly uniting the "economic" and "political" aspects of the class struggle. The Bolsheviks, now on the verge of seizing state power, began laying the foundations for the consolidation of their control over the working class. No longer did they encourage increased activity by the factory committees. Most workers and their committees accepted this about-face, believing that the new strategy was only temporary and that once the Bolshevik Party had captured "political power" they would be given free reign in the economic sphere.
Shortly thereafter, the Bolsheviks successfully seized state power, replacing the Provisional Government with their tightly-controlled soviets. The initial effect on the workers was tremendous. They believed that this new revolution gave them the green light to expand their activities, to expropriate the remaining capitalists, and to establish strong structures of coordination....Out of this burst of activity came the first attempt of the factory committees to create a national organization of their own, independent of all parties and institutions. Such an organization posed an implicit threat to the new Bolshevik State....The Bolsheviks, seeking to strengthen their position, realized that they had to destroy the factory committees. They now had available to them the means to do so -- something which the Provisional Government had lacked. By controlling the soviets, the Bolsheviks controlled the troops. Their domination of the regional and national councils of the factory committees gave them the power to isolate and destroy any factory committee, e.g., by denying it raw materials. Lenin wasted little time in trying to take control of the situation. On November 3, he published his "Draft Decree on Workers' Control" in Pravda, stating that "the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees are legally binding upon the owners of enterprises," but that they could be "annulled by trade unions and congresses." Moreover, "in all enterprises of state importance" all delegates elected to exercise workers' control were to be "answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property...."
[T]he power now resting in the hands of the Bolshevik State gave it the ability to go ahead with the dismantling of the power of the factory committees. Isaac Deutscher describes how the trade unions were used to emasculate the committees before the end of the year: "The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the factory committees. The unions came out against the attempt of the factory committees to form a national organization of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned all-Russian Congress of factory committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the committees....The unions now became the main channels through which the government was assuming control over industry." There were to be future rebellions against the new state, for example Kronstadt in 1921 [where anti-Bolshevik sailors were massacred by Trotsky's Red Army] and Makhno's peasant movement in the Ukraine [which governed the area along anarchist principles beginning in November 1918 and defeated an invasion by the Western powers, then was crushed by the Bolsheviks' Red Army in late 1920]. However, they were labeled "counterrevolutionary" by the Government press and viciously suppressed. The total power of the Bolshevik State over all aspects of social and economic life was now consolidated and the working class were relegated to living under the same powerless situation they had experienced prior to 1917.
See also, Voline [i.e. Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eichenbaum], The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921, Detroit: Black & Red, 1974 (original 1947)(classic history of the popular revolution in Russia and the subsequent Bolshevik coup, detailing the Bolsheviks' systematic destruction of the popular institutions and their repression of the genuine revolutionary developments; written by a libertarian socialist participant in the events from October 1917); Robert V. Daniels, "The State and Revolution: A Case Study in the Genesis and Transformation of Communist Ideology," The American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1953, pp. 22-43 (on Lenin's "intellectual deviation" to the left during 1917; documenting in particular how Lenin's famous polemic State and Revolution "is a work conforming neither to Lenin's previous thought nor to his subsequent practice").
For criticism of the Bolsheviks' actions by left-wing critics at the time, see chapter 5 of U.P. and its footnote 21.
"...If the rhetoric is essential to the philosophy, then there is something wrong with the philosophy. Your massive intellect should be able to describe your philosophy without continually referring to your special rhetoric..."
- Yael The Great