I was having a little chat with Roodis today, for some reason the prospect of voting in our managers came about, and he snapped back saying something along the lines of "but you're a communist you don't like the idea of voting".
Jeez where to start with something like that?
I suppose I could sum up what the immediate aim of the communist revolution with the democractisation of the economy, that would be a good way to phrase it.
I'll fill in with some background history first. Modern bourgeois (capitalist) society emerged from the backwardness of feudalism with the gathering wealth and power of the then middle classes, mostly traders and the like (for a more detailed account of the historic circumstances of the bourgeoisie see the Manefesto of the Communist Party), during the colonial expansion they built up huge amounts of wealth, eventually causing massive conflict with the then ruling class, typically the monarchies. The classic example being the French Revolution, although England was the first country to have the bourgeoisie establish themselves as the ruling class, the monarchy survived, but lost it's powers.
The rising power of the bourgeoisie, fueled by the African slave trade and then the industrial revolution smashed all other classes into what we refer to as the proletariat, the class which has no ownership of the means of production and who's only ability to live is to work for the bourgeoisie.
This was a stark difference to feudal times, when people would often own their own tools, the rising of the bourgeoisie caused this productive property to become useless next to their industrial bases. People were gradually forced off the land, and into the factories, toiling for 16 hour days.
By about 1900 in all Western countries, traces of the old feudal classes were gone and we were left with a situation of two completely polarised classes existing in society.
The class who owns all productive property, like factories, shops, etc everything the human race needs to exist were in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the capitalists. The other class, the workers, the proletariat, owned none of this property and had to work for the capitalists in order to survive.
All well and good you say? Well yes, I suppose so, the bourgeoisie were an extremely revolutionary class at the time. But in the early 1800s many socialists had been discovering the exploitation that is inherent to the system, this was easy to spot thanks to the industrial revolution.
Capitalists brought in these new machines to produce more goods faster and faster, yet the workers saw no benefit from this, they were still in factories for 16 hours a day receiving a wage just enough to keep them coming back the next day.
Karl Marx was the first person to draw up a scientific theory on this, the Labour Theory of Value, which described the process of how the workers were being exploited, and where profits come from (something that even baffled Adam Smith). Profits are the unpaid wages that the capitalist never bothered to pay the workers. The workers produce more and more goods, but the capitalist pockets the surplus regardless.
Karl Marx outlined a number of key points on how bourgeois society would evolve, capital would concentrate into fewer and fewer hands, bigger companies would consume smaller ones, and push their former owners into the proletariat. Describes the world just like today doesn't it? On the news today I saw small businesses up in arms over the increasing power of Tesco. Marx predicted all of this 160 years ago. That's not all he predicted, how about globalisation? Yup he predicated that too. Capitalism doesn't care about nations, it just cares about getting the cheapest labour, if it means going to a child sweatshop in Thailand to manufacture, that's where it goes. Outsourcing, another thing he predicated!
Lower wages = higher profits.
This is the titanic never-ending struggle between workers and capitalists, the fundamental breaking point that no other society in the world has had before. Two polarised classes with utterly different objectives.
So what's the communist revolution about? What's it do and how?
The communist revolution would be the resolution of the profit-wage battle. The capitalists have a huge soft-spot - they're absolutely not needed for human society to produce, evolve or function. They themselves typically do nothing labour-intensive, they hire workers to manage their businesses on the nitty-gritty level.
The communist revolution is the overthrow of this parasitic class, it's the seizure of all of their productive property and putting it under control of the workers. I spoke just recently about the TUC and the Venezuelan revolution, that's workers power in action, that's factories being managed democratically, by electing their own managers, the workers controlling every aspect of production.
Marx called this the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the rule of society by all working people (instead of the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie).
Rosa Luxemburg (The Russian Revolution - Democracy and Dictatorship):
This dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. This dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class — that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people.
V. I. Lenin (The State and Revolution - The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State):
The dictatorship of the proletariat [...] with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags.
What Lenin outlined from the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune, the first workers' government in history. There are four main conditions:
1) All public officials to be elected and with the right to recall (that is that they can be changed immediately when they longer represent the interests of those who elected them).
2) No public official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker. Marx said that "social being determines consciousness", in other words the way you live determine the way you think. One of the main causes for reformism amongst labour movement leaders is precisely the inflated salaries they receive as members of the government, or even trade union top officials. They therefore think that capitalism is "not so bad" after all.
3) No standing army, but general arming of the people.
4) Over a period of time everyone would participate in the tasks of running the economy and the state.
So what happened with the Russian Revolution then? (From Marxist.com).
Even a superficial analysis of these conditions will immediately lead us to the conclusion that none of them applied in the old Soviet Union. But why? In the first years of the Revolution, Lenin and the other leaders of the revolution struggled to establish what was probably the most democratic regime which has ever existed. The soviets (workers' and peasants' councils) were running the state and the economy and everyone was allowed to participate in them. All political parties were allowed to participate in soviet elections and debates and put forward their ideas. It is a little known fact that the first Soviet government was in fact a coalition between the Bolshevik party and the Left Social Revolutionaries.
Within the Communist Party there was the widest of democracies. During the discussion of the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement with Germany there were at least three different fractions within the Communist Party with different opinions. One of them, the Left Communists, headed by Bukharin, even published for a while a daily paper, "The Communist", opposing Lenin's position on the issue, (imagine members of the Labour Party publishing a newspaper attacking Blair, they'd be kicked out instantly)! So, how could such a democratic regime become a dictatorship?
Lenin, in State and Revolution also deals with the questions of the economic preconditions for the establishment of socialism. The democratic planning of the economy can only be established if you have the economic and material basis to produce plenty for all. As soon as there is scarcity of the basic goods, inevitably, there must be someone to control in an authoritarian way, the distribution of these scarce goods. In short, in Russia in 1917 the material conditions for socialism did not exist.
So why did the Bolsheviks organize the revolution in Russia then? Their perspective was never building socialism in Russia in isolation. They saw the Russian revolution as the beginning of the European revolution. They thought that the taking of power by the workers in Russia would lead to a wave of revolutionary struggle all over Europe. Workers' power in Europe would provide the material means for a fast development of backward Russia. And in fact, the Russian revolution opened the way for a massive revolutionary wave in Europe. There was the 1918-19 German revolution with the Munich Soviet Republic, the Slovakian Soviet Republic, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Spanish revolutionary general strike, factory occupations in Italy and in general mass movements of the working class all over the continent. But unfortunately, all these revolutions were stamped out by military intervention.
The were various reasons for these defeats, but to summarize it, the labour movement was still very much under the influence of the social democratic reformist leaders, and the Communists had not had time to organize properly and made a number of fatal mistakes in this period. So, in this way, the Russian revolution became isolated in a backward, mainly peasant country, ruined by the First World War. If that was not enough, immediately they were sucked into a vicious civil war, in which the counter-revolution with the support of 21 foreign armies (including Great Britain, France, the United States and Poland amoung others) of intervention tried to overthrow the young soviet republic, at one point the entire country apart from Moscow and Saint Petersburg were under control of the imperialists.
Finally the Red Army won the civil war but at a very high cost. Not only the economy was completely destroyed and the masses were starving, but also the cream of the cream of revolutionary communist cadres had been killed over these difficult years. One of the preconditions for workers' democracy is precisely a general shortening of the working week, in order to allow all working people time enough to raise their level of education and to participate in politics and the running of society. In Russia we actually had a longer working week and very bad conditions in general. Participation in the soviets slowly dropped and a layer of officials started to emerge which slowly started to push the normal workers out of politics and discourage participation.
One of the first to warn against the danger of bureaucratization was actually Lenin in his last writings, which were suppressed by Stalin for many years. But even under these extremely difficult conditions it was not easy for the Stalinist bureaucracy to firmly establish a grip on power. There was a very big opposition in the ranks and the leadership of the Communist Party. In fact, the bureaucracy had to physically eliminate most of the party in order to succeed. If you take the Central Committee of the party in 1917, the revolutionary leaders who carried out the October revolution, by 1940 there was only one survivor apart from Stalin. Most of the others had been shot dead by Stalin, died in prisons and labour camps, some were missing and a few had died of old age. Thousands of honest and loyal Communists were killed or died in the concentration camps. The person who waged the most comprehensive opposition against the rise of bureaucracy was Trotsky, who with Lenin had led the October Revolution and later organized the Red Army.
Once the Stalinist monstrosity had taken control of the Soviet Union, it's fate was sealed, it had two options before it 1) the workers overthrow the bureaucracy and bring the economy under their control, or 2) the bureaucracy seeing the workers moving against them plunder the state of all it's property and become capitalists. The workers failed to react in time, the planned economy was destroyed almost overnight, the anarchism of the market was now in place sending hundreds of millions of workers in the Soviet Union into total poverty, the economy shrank nearly 70%.
The communist revolution results in democracy. It takes the means of mental production out of the hands of the capitalists and put's it into the people asa whole, what's the point in voting if you can only choose between a few capitalists? What's the point if you can't recall them if they're not doing what you want? How can you get a balanced viewpoint when all the the media obviously is owned by capitalists? In the US the mass-media is controlled by just 5 companies.
If you read the first constitution of the RSFSR, it guarantees to workers all the tools they need to produce media themselves, print-presses the lot, imagine how flexible this can be with tools we have today like the internet? The productive base of bourgeois society now is mind-blowing compared to back then, especially compared with the Russia of 1917, a country comparable to Pakistan, what we could achieve would be really phenomenal. I mean just think about it, going from the backward country that it was in 1917, to world super power in just two and a half decades. It took Britain about twenty five decades! Why? Despite the imperialists and Stalinists wiping out any hope of socialism, they had gotten rid of the parasitic capitalists, no longer was the economy based on the anarchy of the market, it was based - loosely on the needs of society as a whole.