An Invitation to a Debate
This year the Russian Revolution of 1917 is ‘memorized’ in articles and documentaries. With the February Revolution the workers and soldiers wanted to put an end to Russia’s participation in World War I. But they only succeeded in putting an end to Tsarism. Because the Provisional Government continued participation in the World War, the workers’ councils seized political power in the October revolution and the Soviet Union came into existence.
Several generations of workers all over the world have engraved in their memory that the Soviet Union was the result of a successful workers’ insurrection. Meanwhile it is broadly acknowledged among workers that the state in the Soviet Union exercised a merciless terror against the population, the workers included. This insight is being used by all bourgeois currents to thrown discredit on Marxism as a state ideology (or to cheer it, like the Stalinists and Maoists do) that, in practice, inevitably leads to ever stronger state terrorism, as was shown by the Soviet Union.
It is certainly correct to say that the Russian Communist Party, Lenin in the first place, laid claim to Marx and Engels. But what actually was the position of Marx and Engels about the State? Has the development of the Soviet Union shown that, after all, anarchists like Bakunin were right in claiming that Marx adhered to an authoritarian conception of the State? We cannot go into details on this question in this place, but refer to the article “Karl Marx and the State” (1) by David Adam (MHI, 2010). In it, Adam shows that, from his early writings to the struggle with Bakunin at the end of his life, Marx has always rejected the state as a means for the liberation of the working class.
But what about Lenin? The German revolutionary Jan Appel already demonstrated in 1927, in a largely unknown text, that Lenin deviates from the positions of Marx and Engels in his “The State and Revolution”, (2) in which he adopts the reformist idea that nationalization: the transfer of enterprise ownership into the hands of the state, means ‘socialization’. In this way, Appel argues, the state cannot ‘wither away’, as Marx and Engels aimed at but, on the contrary, has to “grow to become the biggest instrument for oppression society has ever seen.” Jan Appel subsequently sketches how, after breaking down the bourgeois state, all power can remain in the hands of the workers’ councils in economic respect as well. We refer the interested reader to Jan Appel/the G.I.C.: “Marxism and State Communism. The Withering Away of the State”. (3)
3 http://www.aaap.be/Pages/Transition-en-Marxism-And-State-Communism-1932.html Editor’s Note: A summary of Appel’s preliminary article from 1927 can be found on page 11. [or here on this blog]