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Freedom and revolution

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Freedom and revolution

Freedom & Revolution

In 1922 Emma Goldman complained Soviet Russia, had become the modern

socialist Lourdes, to which the blind and the lame, the deaf and the dumb

were flocking for miraculous cures(1). The Russian Revolution was the first

occasion where decades of revolutionary ideas could be applied to real life.

What was theory was now practice. The struggle between the two concepts of

revolution - the statist-centralist and the libertarian federalist - moved

from the realm of the abstract to the concrete.

The question thrown up by the October revolution is fundamental. Once

capitalism has been defeated, how is communism to be achieved? While there

are certainly faults to be found with aspects of the anarchist movement, at

least it cannot be criticised for getting the basics wrong. Anarchists have

consistently argued that freedom and democracy are not optional extras.

Rather they form part of the conditions necessary for the growth of


What is socialism?

How does one create a communist society? The answer lies in our conception

of socialism. What is meant by 'socialism'? The classic definition is that

of society run according to the dictum from each according to his/her

ability, to each according to his/her needs. To anarchists, material

equality is one dimension to socialism, but there is another of equal

importance, that of freedom.

The world has enough wealth to provide for all our material comforts.

Socialism seeks to liberate people from the constant worries about mortgages

or landlords, the rising cost of living and the numerous other issues,

trivial yet vital that grind us down in our daily life. What's more,

socialism must also give us the power to control our own lives, power to

take control of our own destinies.

For our entire lives, from school to the workplace, we are forced to obey

somebody else's order, treated like children or bits of machinery. Human

beings have great potential but for most of us, only in a socialist society,

will this potential be realised.

So though socialism is about material equality it is also about freedom.

Furthermore it is impossible to maintain one without the other. As long as

power is distributed unequally, a section of society will continue to have

privileges leading to material advantage. Ultimately society will again be

divided into classes, into those who have and those who have not.

Furthermore the experience of those attempts to manage the economy through

an undemocratic centralised state has also shown that it is unfeasible to

manage and control a complex system without democracy and accountability.

The revolution must achieve a number of things. It must defeat the ruling

class, removing from them their economic and political dominance. In place

of the bosses, the working class must in every sphere of activity make the

decisions that ultimately affect them; in factories, communities, schools,

universities, newspapers, television and film studios.

This is the sort of society that is worth fighting for. However it not the

sort of society that can be achieved through the dictatorship of a minority

over the majority. Even some Marxists such as Rosa Luxembourg recognised

this. She said, Socialist practice demands a total spiritual transformation

in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule. Social

instincts in place of egoistic ones, mass initiative in place of inertia,

idealism which overcomes all suffering, etc. etc.... The only way to a

rebirth is the school of public life itself, the broadest and the most

unlimited democracy, and public opinion. It is rule by terror which


The questions that face us are: what does revolution mean? Once capitalism

has been overthrown how is society to be run? Who will control the

factories, how will production be managed? How will the population be fed,

how will the economy be organised? And finally, how will the revolution be

defended against opposition and its survival ensured? If communism is to

become a reality, answers must be found.

1.Who's in charge?...running the revolution.

On midnight 25/26th of October, the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC),

following the directions of the Petrograd Soviet (workers council), started

the confused process of seizing the Winter Palace where Kerensky's cabinet

was in session. The October Revolution had taken place. In contrast to the

dramatic portrayal of the storming of the winter place by the Soviet film

maker Eisenstien, there was practically no opposition to the take-over and

hardly any bloodshed. Sergei Mstislavskii, a leader of the Left SR's

(peasant-based party which briefly entered a coalition with the Bolsheviks)

describes being woken up on the morning of the 25th by the cheerful tapping

of rifles.... 'Gird up your loins boss. There's a smell of gunpowder in the

city..' Actually, the city did not smell of gunpowder; power lay in the

gutter, anyone could pick it up. One did not have to gird one's loins, one

needed only to stoop down and pick it up(2)

The Bolshevik Myth is that the Bolsheviks, under the logical and scientific

leadership of Lenin, guided the revolution over hurdle after hurdle. They

argue that objective circumstances forced them to make difficult but

ultimately correct decisions. Descriptions of the revolution like the

following passage are frequently found:

the the hour of crisis put aside all their indignation at the

governmental persecutions and concentrated on the task of saving the

revolution. The victory before the gates of Petrograd set free the energies

of the masses throughout the country. Peasants revolted against their

landlords, and in far-away industrial centres Soviets took power. The

decisive hour was approaching. Would there be a force capable of directing

the chaotic mass movements into one channel towards the correct aim?(3)

Here it is implied that without the Bolshevik leadership the revolution

would not have happened. The masses are portrayed as incapable of running a

new society. The creative ability of the working class to build a new

society is not present in the Leninist conception of a working class capable

of only 'trade union consciousness'. The October Revolution was not really

so much a bold stroke by the Bolsheviks under Lenin as is it was a

culmination of months of progressive social revolution throughout the

country, The ubiquitous growth of peasants and workers' committees and

soviets sapped the power from the hands of Kerensky and the bourgeois

provincial government, which surrendered without a fight as it's capacity to

govern had completely dissolved(4).

Bourgeois Democracy.

After the October Revolution, the Second Congress of Soviets elected an

interim government (the Sovnarkom), pending the holding of elections to the

Constituent Assembly. This provisional government on the 3rd of March

undertook in a solemn declaration to summon a Constituent Assembly.

Following elections the SR's had an overall majority, with the Bolsheviks

winning only 175 out of the 707 seats.

It is with the decision to call for elections to the Constituent Assembly

that the anarchists first diverged from the Bolsheviks. What lead them to

take this decision and why did anarchists oppose it?

The western model of parliamentary democracy could more accurately be

characterised as a '4-year dictatorship'. The crucial difference between

'representative' democracy and 'direct' democracy is that under the former,

voters have no part in deciding policy and are unable to recall their

representatives. Instead they have nothing more than the illusion that by

voting they are in some way able to control the political process.

Once power lay in the hands of the Soviets, the Constituent Assembly became

a redundant institution. Here was a country where control had been finally

wrenched from the ruling class and was organised in the hands of the

workers. The Bolsheviks decision to call for new elections was a step

backwards. In terms of fighting for socialism, it made no sense to be

supporting the authority of the Constituent Assembly over that of the

masses. As anarchists said shortly afterwards:

To continue the Revolution and transform it into a social revolution, the

Anarchists saw no utility in calling such an assembly, an institution

essentially political and bourgeoisie, cumbersome and sterile, an

institution which, by its very nature, placed itself 'above the social

struggles' and concerned itself only, by means of dangerous compromises,

with stopping the revolution, and even suppressing it if the

Anarchists tried to make known to the masses the uselessness of the

Constituent Assembly, and the necessity of going beyond it and replacing it

at once with economic and social organisations, if they really wanted to

begin a social revolution

.........We believe, in fact, that in a time of social revolution, what is

important for the workers is for them to organise their new life themselves,

from the bottom, and with the help of their immediate economic

organisations, and not from above, by means of an authoritarian political


The party

One of the main differences between the anarchist and the Leninist tendency

is in their differing attitudes to power and control. While both agree that

the revolution should be made by the working class, they disagree on who

hold the reigns of power afterwards. Leninists believe it is the job of the

party to exercise control of society on behalf of the ruling class and like

a parent, the party interprets what the best interests of the working class

are. In contrast, anarchists believe that it is the working class who should

run society, making and implementing decisions from the bottom up, through a

system of organisations similar to the factory committees and the soviets.

Often Leninists will counter this argument by saying, the party is made up

of the best elements, the vanguard, of the working class. Although at the

time of October the Bolsheviks were the largest working class party this was

because of what they claimed to stand for (All power to the soviets etc.).

There were still many advanced workers outside the party, so even then the

'vanguard' and the party were not identical. In the years that followed as

the party came to be increasingly composed of bureaucrats, the advanced

workers were often as not in opposition. The mistake the Leninists make is

to assume October froze the 'vanguard' in one organisation for all time.

Leninists and anarchists agree that, unlike most others in the working

class, they have both an analysis of how society works and practical

experience drawn from involvement in struggles. These are the tools needed

to effect a complete transformation of society. However anarchism and

Leninism diverge on the ability of the working class to run society. They

have differing estimations of how aware the working class are of their

revolutionary potential. Anarchists believe that it is possible to convince

the mass of the working class of our ideas. In contrast, Lenin said that

most workers are capable only of trade union consciousness. Naturally

therefore, Leninists believe that since the working class is sensible only

to its short term interests, it is vital that the Leninists are in power, in

order for the revolution to suceed.

It was this line of thinking that led the Bolsheviks to initially call for

elections to the Constituent Assembly and then, once it had been held, to

call for its dissolution, as Alexander Berkman commented in 1921;

They (the Bolsheviks) had advocated the Constituent Assembly, and only when

they were convinced they could not have a majority there, and therefore not

be able to take state power into their own hands, they suddenly decided on

the dissolution of the assembly

Lenin, in a signed Pravda article published on 22 December 1918, quoted

approvingly from Plekhanov's speech at the Second RSDRP(6) Congress in 1903;

If in a burst of enthusiasm the people elected a very good parliament...then

we ought to make it a very long parliament and if the elections have not

proved a success, then we should seek to disperse parliament not after two

years but, if possible, after two weeks.(7)

Their opposition wasn't based, unlike the anarchists, on the essentially

anti-democratic nature of the Constituent Assembly, instead it was on

whether or not the Bolsheviks were the controlling force.

In a revolutionary situation the anarchists are alone in arguing that

society should be organised from the bottom up, through a freely federated

system of workers' councils. Decisions should be taken at the lowest

possible level. Delegates are elected solely to represent the view of those

who elected them, receive no more pay than the average worker, may act as a

delegate for only a fixed amount of time and are recallable. If the working

class has the power to overthrow capitalism, it certainly is capable of

organising a socialist society afterwards.

2. Fighting the Counter Revolution

Once the capitalist power structure has been dismantled, the next immediate

issue on the revolutionaries' agenda is to ensure the defence of the

revolution ...

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