I see that Alan Johnstone has ruffled some feathers. This can be seen from the petty insults Andrew Northall hurls at him and his party. Suffice to say, these do not strengthen his case, particularly as his assertion that the SPGB is “decaying, demoralised and internally fractious” is far more applicable to the numerous Leninist sects that try to pass themselves off as ‘revolutionary’.
Northall asserts that it “is true that Marx once maintained, between 1870 and 1883, there was a possibility of a peaceful transformation of bourgeois democracy into proletarian democracy in the United States and Britain”. Yet support for universal suffrage was consistent throughout his life. From 1852: “Universal suffrage is the equivalent of political power for the working class … where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population ... Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the woring class.”
Northall screams: “Johnstone even denies the desirability of proletarian democracy!” Yet did Engels not proclaim that the “working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat”? Read asserts that the SPGB “has wrongly attached itself to the idea that bourgeois parliamentary bodies can be ‘captured’ and used as a means to revolution.” Yet, as the SPGB correctly argue, this was Marx and Engels position.
As Engels put it, “It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administrative, centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes.” I will ignore Read’s confused account of the history of parliament, to note that the SPGB, like Marx and Engels, is well aware that “history, logic and common sense tells us that when democratic means ... fail, the real powers behind these come into play.”
Nor did Lenin produce an “outstanding scientific study of the Marxist theory of the state and revolution”. Rather he confused Marx’s notion of smashing the “state machinery” with smashing the state - as Julius Martov showed in his truly outstanding critique of Lenin’s work (The state and socialist revolution). And, as Johnstone noted, Lenin’s “outstanding” work was ignored when the Bolsheviks created an executive above the soviets - which then, a few weeks later, simply decreed legislative powers for itself.
Moreover, Johnstone simply exposes how the Bolsheviks recognised “the desirability of proletarian democracy” only when the workers voted for them. When they lost popular support in early 1918, the Bolsheviks denied “proletarian democracy” by gerrymandering soviets (including the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets) to ensure a majority and disbanding, by force, any which did manage to elect non-Bolshevik majorities.
It does seem highly ironic to see Dan Read attack the constituent assembly for its “undemocratic content” when he ignores the undemocratic actions of the Bolsheviks against the soviets. Apparently, Johnston “has now completely abandoned any kind of scientific perspective in ascertaining the reasons behind the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and has instead fallen back on moral outrage”. Yes, how ‘moralistic’ it is to decry the deliberate creation of a dictatorship over the proletariat! Not to, though, suggests that for some ‘socialists’ party dictatorship is perfectly compatible with socialism, assuming the right people are in charge.
Finally, I suppose I should note I am an anarchist, not an SPGB member, and am presenting facts to aid a “scientific perspective” in the face of dubious Leninist assertions.
Number 715 here.
The CPGB, to their credit, have allowed a debate in their letters page on the soviets and Bolsheviks for a few weeks now. See the letters pages from issues 711 on.
By the way - the article I refer to is not from May, but April 1920. Some other articles from the Socialist Standard which may be of interest are this and this.