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Review of Maurice Brinton’s “The Bolsheviks and Worker Control” October 23, 2011

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 The document has become a standard anarchist text on the subject of workers control during the early days of the Russian Revolution. It makes all the usual arguments that the Bolsheviks were always an elitist vanguard expropriating the democracy of the workers.  The long drawn out ‘crisis of Marxism’ that Trotsky spoke of in 1940 continues. Today its main result is a debasement of Marxism to an anti-capitalist exchange theory that we have referred to many times in Class Struggle as the basis of the WSF theory/program of ‘market socialism’. Another effect of the crisis of Marxism is to give anarchism a new lease of life among young people who swallow bourgeois lies about Marxism. Thus the ‘Leninist Party’ is portrayed as a ‘dictatorship’ over the workers. What Brinton’s article reveals is that his charge of Leninist party ‘conspiracy’ is nothing other than a defense of bourgeois democracy against workers democracy.

In his Introduction to this document Brinton states:

“Two possible situations come to mind. In one the working class (the collective producer) takes all the fundamental decisions. It does so directly, through organisms of its own choice with which it identifies itself completely or which it feels it can totally dominate (Factory Committees, Workers’ Councils, etc.). These bodies, composed of elected and revocable delegates probably federate on a regional and national basis. They decide (allowing the maximum possible autonomy for local units) what to produce, how to produce it. at what cost to produce it, at whose cost to produce it. The other possible situation is one in which these fundamental decisions are taken ‘elsewhere’. ‘from the outside’, i.e. by the State, by the Party, or by some other organism without deep and direct roots in the productive process itself. The ‘separation of the producers from the means of production’ (the basis of all class society) is maintained. The oppressive effects of this type of arrangement soon manifest themselves. This happens whatever the revolutionary good intentions of the agency in question, and whatever provisions it may (or may not) make for policy decisions to be submitted from time to time for ratification or amendment.”

Here Brinton is setting up an abstract template of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of workers control.

‘From below’ is good and ‘from above’ is bad. Notice how he builds an anti-party anti-state state ideology into the definition. Party and the state are ‘outside’ alien institutions which are separated from the working class. They do not have “deep and direct roots in the production process itself”, but instead separate the workers from the ‘means of production’.  Notice too that this separation does not mean ‘exploitation’ by the party or the state but ‘oppression’. I suppose that’s because the party is not located at the ‘point of production’ so we have to be thankful for that!

 1917

Brinton gives us a running account of events year by year. In June 1917 at a conference of Petrograd Factory Committees he comments on Lenin’s position on workers control at that time.

“Lenin’s address to the Conference contained a hint of things to come. He explained that workers’ control meant “that the majority of workers should enter all responsible institutions and that the administration should render an account of its actions to the most authoritative workers’ organizations”. (13)Under ‘workers’ control’ Lenin clearly envisaged an ‘administration’ other than the workers themselves.”

Brinton seems to think that ‘authority’ cannot be delegated by workers if it is in a party or state. Yet he quotes with approval a resolution passed by the conference that states in part: “for a proletarian majority in all institutions having executive power”.

He also quotes Lenin producing a draft [!] for a new Party program on ‘workers democracy’ in the previous month [May]:

The Party fights for a more democratic workers’ and peasants’ republic, in which the police and standing army will be completely abolished and replaced by the universally armed people, by a universal militia. All official persons will not only be elected but also subject to recall at any time upon the demand of a majority of the electors. All official persons, without exception, will be paid at a rate not exceeding the average wage of a competent worker”.

Here Brinton introduces another little preconception and snide remark:

“At the same time Lenin calls for the “unconditional participation [my emphasis] of the workers in the control of the affairs of the trusts” – which could be brought about “by a decree requiring but a single day to draft”. (8) The concept that ‘workers participation’ should be introduced by legislative means (i.e. from above) clearly has a illustrious ancestry.”

For Brinton, it seems that workers are too stupid to be able to delegate ‘authority’ in a party or a state to ‘legislate’ (i.e. from above) without losing control of the party or the state. 

Brinton then moves on to look at the unions and the struggle for control inside them.

“On the one hand the unions were the auxiliaries of the political parties, which utilized them for recruiting purposes and as a mass to be maneuvered.  On the other hand the union movement, reborn in a sense after February 1917, was pushed forward by the more educated workers: the leadership of the various unions reflected the predominance of a sort of intellectual elite, favorable at first to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, but later won over, in varying proportions, to the Bolsheviks.

It is important to realize that from the beginning of the Revolution the unions were tightly controlled by political organizations, which used them to solicit support for their various actions. This explains the ease with which the Party was able – at a later date – to manipulate the unions. It also helps one understand the fact that the unions (and their problems) were often to prove the battleground on which political differences between the Party leaders were again and again to be fought out.

Taken in conjunction with the fact that the Party’s whole previous development (including its tightly centralized structure and hierarchical organizational conceptions) had tended to separate it from the working class, one can understand how heavily the cards were stacked against any autonomous expression or even voicing of working class aspirations. In a sense these found a freer expression in the Soviets than in either the Party or the trade unions.”

So unions were politicized. If the Bolsheviks didn’t fight to win control this would leave the Mensheviks (reformists) or SRs (petty bourgeois peasantry) in control. What to do? Fight for ‘autonomy’!  But from what?  From class!  Why?  Because the party is centralized and hierarchical it cannot represent a class. 

But these are scare words that patronize workers as led by the nose first by reformists and liberals and then by revolutionaries. Too bad workers are so easily led. Repeat after me, Party bad, Union good. How come workers don’t get the message? OK let’s see if things go better in the soviets where the parties are not so firmly established.

Meanwhile before things got out of hand completely the Second Congress of Factory Committees resolved to pay 0.25% of their wages to support the ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. Surely this was a mistake, due to the undue influence of that Bolshevik hierarchical party? What was going on?

“The Conference resolved that 1/4% of the wages of all workers represented should go to support a ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’, thus made financially independent of the unions. (23) Rank and file supporters of the Factory Committees viewed the setting up of this ‘Central Soviet’ with mixed feelings. On the one hand they sensed the need for co-ordination. On the other hand they wanted this co-ordination to be carried out from below, by themselves. Many were suspicious of the motives of the Bolsheviks, on whose initiative the ‘Central Soviet’ had been bureaucratically set up. The Bolshevik Skrypnik spoke of the difficulties of the Central Soviet of Factory Committees, attributing them “in part to the workers themselves’. Factory Committees had been reluctant to free their members for work in the Centre”. Some of the Committees “refrained from participation in the Central Soviet because of Bolshevik predominance in it”. (24) V. M. Levin, another Bolshevik, was to complain that the workers “didn’t distinguish between the conception of control and the conception of taking possession”.

In other words the majority supported funding the Central Soviet, but some (“many”) expressed doubt about the role of the Bolsheviks who had “bureaucratically” set up the soviet.  Once again, the stupid workers pay for something that was bureaucratically set up by the Bolsheviks. What were they thinking? 

When the Bolshevik, Levin, ventures to suggest that some members of factory committees were jealous in guarding their “possession” of the factories, and that they were uneasy about handing over this new property right and sending members to help administer this property right at the center! In other words the center stood for subordinating the factory committees to a centralizing of all factories, and this ran into the petty bourgeois concept of the factory committees being all powerful on their own factory floor!

We might call this conception of factory committees ‘workshop parochialism’, or more generously, ‘socialism in one factory’.

Brinton does not make this connection. When he wrote the pamphlet in 1975 the question of factory occupations and the question of coordination between factories, regions and nations (the world!), was barely on the agenda. Today is certainly is, in Latin America at least. In the factory occupations in Argentina for example, there is a tendency for factory committees to also be ‘cooperatives’ that are actually made up of workers as individual shareholders. And inside these factory committees are reformists that advise workers to use the law to protect their ‘cooperatives’, and revolutionaries  that call on workers to fight for real workers control by expropriating capitalist property in the name of the working class.

But back to Russia. The question of how socialism in single factories and farms might be made to work everywhere is suggested, vaguely, by an anarcho-syndicalist publication on August 25, 1917.

“Golos Truda, in a famous article headed ‘Questions of the Hour‘, wrote: “We say to the Russian workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionists: above all, continue the revolution. Continue to organize yourselves solidly and to unite your new organizations: your communes, your unions, your committees, your soviets. Continue, with firmness and perseverance, always and everywhere to participate more and more extensively and more and more effectively in the economic life of the country, continue to take into your hands, that is into the hands of your organizations, all the raw materials and all the instruments indispensable to your labor. Continue the Revolution. Do not hesitate to face the solution of the burning questions of the present. Create everywhere the necessary organizations to achieve these solutions. Peasants, take the land and put it at the disposal of your committees. Workers, proceed to put in the hands of and at the disposal of your own social organizations – everywhere on the spot – the mines and the subsoil, the enterprises and the establishments of all sorts, the works and factories, the workshops and the machines”. A little later, issue No. 15 of the same paper urged its readers to “begin immediately to organize the social and economic life of the country on new bases. Then a sort of ‘dictatorship of labor’ will begin to be achieved, easily and in a natural manner. And the people would learn, little by little, to do it”

Notice that while you are grabbing your factory or farm there is no talk of coordination, of the central soviet, of any organized workers’ or peasants’ militias or peoples’ army. The “organizations” are all of the same weight.  Somehow they are going to ‘self-administrate’. Workers and peasants, but…no soldiers! This is at the same time that General Kornilov is marching on Petrograd to smash, not workers’ autonomy, but … the soviet! Why? Because the soviet has proven that it is not only organizing a centralized working class led peasant revolution and military mutiny, but is the general staff of that enemy class insurrection.  And the Petrograd soviet proves that it is the general staff because it organizes a centralized, armed rout of Kornilov.  Not by autonomous, decentralized, non-hierarchical methods. No, by planning a defense that involves sending messengers to the soldiers’ soviets, propagandists to win Kornilov’s troops, and by sheer coordination and centralism telegraphing messages and organizing the railway workers to re-route the enemy troops in the wrong direction. When Kornilov found that he troops were deserting him he gave up.

Brinton has left out a little bit of history [quite a large chunk if you read Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution] here, all to do with the centralized, coordinated and hierarchical ‘top-down’ central soviet of Petrograd making the defeat of the counter-revolution possible.

But each factory and farm that the anarcho-syndicalists had occupied could now live another day and “the people would learn, little by little”.  Just as well some other people at the center learned a hell of a lot in one hell of a hurry!

Part of that rapid learning curve at the center was the planning of the insurrection by the Bolsheviks who had won a majority for “all power to the soviets” in the … soviets. The actual seizure of power was the result of a conspiracy by the Military Revolutionary Committee led by Trotsky (not as Stalin would have it, himself). Like all military campaigns, the authority to make the battle plan was in the hands of a few experts, linked by a chain of command to the most loyal elements of the armed forces such as the sailors of the Kronstadt fortress. The insurrection was as a result of this secret, centralized planning and coordination of the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers soviets already won over to the revolution, victorious and almost bloodless.

Meanwhile Lenin’s mind is racing ahead. While writing The State and Revolution which was rudely interrupted by the revolution, Lenin was also thinking of how the revolution would survive the first rough months and years. In ‘Can the Bolsheviks retain State power?‘ published on October 1 just before the insurrection, Lenin states:“When we say workers’ control, always associating that slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and always putting it after the latter, we thereby make plain what state we have in mind… If it is a proletarian state we are referring to (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat) then workers’ control can become a national, all-embracing, omnipresent, extremely precise and extremely scrupulous accounting of the production and distribution of goods”.

Brinton thinks that these passages are very revealing of the top-down state dictatorship of the party in the making.

“In the same pamphlet Lenin defines the type of ‘socialist apparatus’ (or framework) within which the function of accountancy (workers’ control) will be exercised. “Without big banks socialism would be impossible of realization. The big banks are a ‘stable apparatus’ we need for the realization of socialism and which we shall take from capitalism ready made. Our problem here is only to lop away that which capitalistically disfigures this otherwise excellent apparatus and to make it still bigger, still more democratic, still more comprehensive…” “A single huge state bank, with branches in every rural district and in every factory – that will already be nine-tenths of a socialist apparatus. According to Lenin this type of apparatus would allow “general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods”, and would be “something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society”.

Brinton comments; “No one disputes the importance of keeping reliable records but Lenin’s identification of workers’ control in a ‘workers’ state’, with the function of accountancy (i.e. checking the implementation of decisions taken by others) is extremely revealing. Nowhere in Lenin’s writings is workers’ control ever equated with fundamental decision-taking (i.e. with the initiation of decisions) relating to production (how much to produce, how to produce it, at what cost, at whose cost, etc.).” [Reviewer’s emphasis]

Well of course not. The soviets have taken over as the representative organizations of the workers. The soviets have taken power and now are the basis of the state. The dictatorship of the proletariat is exercised through the soviets. Here the planned socialist economy will take shape. The factory committees never coordinated anything before, during or after the revolution, and preferred their autonomous ‘socialism-in-one-factory-or-farm’ everywhere. They were admirably suited to their basic duty– to administer and control their factory or farm production according to the overall plan. Why, once a plan is underway should factory committees have any say in whether they fulfill it or not – especially since the economy is almost wrecked by war and headed for a civil war?*

Brinton semi-recognizes these problems in a back handed way.

“Other writings by Lenin in this period reiterate that one of the functions of workers’ control is to prevent sabotage by the higher bureaucrats and functionaries.“As for the higher employees… we shall have to treat them as we treat the capitalists – roughly. They, like the capitalists, wiill offer resistance… we may succeed with the help of workers’ control in rendering such resistance impossible”. (36)

He goes on: “Lenin’s notions of workers’ control (as a means of preventing lock-outs) and his repeated demands for the ‘opening of the books’ (as a means of preventing economic sabotage) referred both to the immediate situation, and to the months which were to follow the revolution. He envisaged a period during which, in a workers’ state, the bourgeoisie would still retain the formal ownership and effective management of most of the productive apparatus. The new state, in Lenin’s estimation, would not be able immediately to take over the running of industry. There would be a transitional period during which the capitalists would be coerced into co-operation. ‘Workers’ control’ was seen as the instrument of this coercion.”

Brinton still can’t see it. He is so enraged by the party conspiracy of the Bolsheviks to impose a party dictatorship on the workers, he overlooks that what is going on is a class war in which the vast majority of workers are fulfilling their various tasks, authorized by the soviets. The factory committees are not rendered powerless by this, but able to exercise their power at the point of production in fulfilling their assigned tasks. In other words we have a semi-militarization of industry in which the factory committees are the workers brigades on the front line of production in the overall battle plan of the transition to a socialist economy. And Brinton is still moaning about book-keeping!

To prove the Bolshevik conspiracy that he his hunting out, Brinton writes:

“As already pointed out, the Bolsheviks at this stage still supported the Factory Committees. They saw them as “the battering ram that would deal blows to capitalism, organs of class struggle created by the working class on its own ground”. (38) They also saw in the slogan of ‘workers control’ a means of undermining Menshevik influence in the unions. But the Bolsheviks were being “carried along by a movement which was in many respects embarrassing to them but which, as a main driving force of the revolution, they could not fail to endorse”. (39)  During the middle of 1917 Bolshevik support for the Factory Committees was such that the Mensheviks were to accuse them of ‘abandoning’ Marxism in favor of anarchism. “Actually Lenin and his followers remained firm upholders of the Marxist conception of the centralised state. Their immediate objective, however, was not yet to set up the centralised proletarian dictatorship, but to decentralise as much as possible the bourgeois state and the bourgeois economy. This was a necessary condition for the success of the revolution. In the economic field therefore, the Factory Committee, the organ on the spot, rather than the trade union was the most potent and deadly instrument of upheaval. Thus the trade unions were relegated to the background…” (4) [Pankratova]

Did Brinton want the revolution to fail?  Note 39 is a quote from EH Carr, a bourgeois professor of history and an acknowledged authority on…what? That the Bolsheviks had planned a top down revolution and were ‘embarrassed’ by the bottom up groundswell? The only embarrassment here surely, is that Carr can be taken at his word by a libertarian socialist. The reason is that they share the same anti-Bolshevik prejudice. The only time the Bolsheviks were embarrassed was when they were lagging behind the workers, something Lenin commented on frequently.

The quote from Pankratova states the obvious. How could the Bolsheviks take power and form a dictatorship of the proletariat without the proletariat?

You can only think it strange that the Bolsheviks first tried to promote the Factory Committees, and then seize power, if you think that they were planning to manipulate not only the Factory Committees but the Soviet majorities in a cynical exercise of substituting of party for class. Where were the workers while this maneuver was going on? These same workers, who ran rings around Kornilov and were voting for the seizure of power in the soviets, were simultaneously blind to their status as the puppets of Lenin and Trotsky etc. Who has an interest in promoting the ridiculous view that Lenin and the party necessarily rode roughshod over workers democracy? Only the bourgeoisie who promote their brand of democracy, one man-one vote! No wonder the organizers of the Kronstadt rebellion wanted to return to the ‘constituent assembly’.

Brinton concludes with a flourish

“This is perhaps the most explicit statement of why the Bolsheviks at this stage supported workers’ control and its organizational vehicle, the Factory Committees. Today only the ignorant or those willing to be deceived can still kid themselves into believing that proletarian power, at the point of production was ever a fundamental tenet or objective of Bolshevism.” Yeah right.

The ‘point of production’ is a romantic conception of the shop floor, abstracted from ‘production, distribution and exchange’ which has to be taken as a whole, not only in Russia and the other socialist republics that made up the USSR, but most immediately in Europe, where socialist revolution would have created a continental division of labor capable of meeting the needs of all European and Asian workers and thus overcoming the ‘scarcity’ which was the root cause of the degeneration of the revolution in Russia.

This brings us to the seizure of power – another supposed top-down stunt behind the backs of the masses.

In this second part of the review of Brinton’s pamphlet covering 1917 we see the theory and practice of anarcho-syndicalism in opposition to the dictatorship of the proletariat put to the test of events and failing that test.

The All Russian Conference of Factory Committees – October 17-22 was convened by Novy Put, an anarcho-syndicalist paper.

“According to later Bolshevik sources, of the 137 delegates attending the Conference there were 86 Bolsheviks, 22 Social-Revolutionaries, 11 anarcho-syndicalists, 8 Mensheviks, 6 ‘maximalists’ and 4 ‘non-party.”

On the eve of the revolution Brinton points to the importance that the factory committees had in Lenin’s thinking:

“Lenin at this stage saw the tremendous importance of the Factory Committees… as a means of helping the Bolshevik Party to seize power. According to Ordzhonikidze he asserted “we must shift the centre of gravity to the Factory Committees. The Factory Committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan and instead of saying ‘All Power to the Soviets’ we must say ‘All Power to the Factory Committees'”.

Yet at the same time factories committees must be centralized:

“A resolution was passed at the Conference proclaiming that “workers’ control – within the limits assigned to it by the Conference – was only possible under the political and economic rule of the working class”. It warned against ‘isolated’ and ‘disorganised’ activities and pointed out that “the seizure of factories by the workers and their operation for personal profit was incompatible with the aims of the proletariat”.

On October 25 the Provisional Government was overthrown. On the next day at the Second All Russian Congress of Soviets the Bolsheviks proclaimed:

“The Revolution has been victorious. All power has passed to the Soviets… New laws will he proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers’ problems. One of the most important will deal with workers’ control of production and with the return of industry to normal conditions. Strikes and demonstrations are harmful in Petrograd. We ask you to put an end to all strikes on economic and political issues, to resume work and to carry it out in a perfectly orderly manner… Every man to his place. The best way to support the Soviet Government these days is to carry on with one’s job”.  Without apparently batting an eyelid Pankratova could write that “the first day of workers’ power was ushered in by this call to work and to the edification of the new kind of factory”.

Clearly the revolution was the work of the workers organized in soviets, but also in factory committees. The importance of keeping production going under workers control would be a responsibility of such factory committees but under the centralized laws of the Soviet government. The prospect of central state control over the factory committees is the problem for Brinton.  He documents the development of the laws governing worker control which follow. He approves of Lenin’s first draft on workers control published on November 3 because it recognizes what the workers have already achieved themselves.

The “publication in Pravda of Lenin’s ‘Draft Decree on Workers’ Control’ provided for the “introduction of workers’ control of the production, warehousing, purchase and sale of all products and raw materials in all industrial, commercial, banking, agricultural and other enterprises employing a total of not less than five workers and employees – or with a turnover of not less than 10,000 rubles per annum”. Workers’ control was to be “carried out by all the workers and employees in a given enterprise, either directly if the enterprise is small enough to permit it, or through delegates to be immediately elected at mass meetings. Elected delegates were to ‘have access to all books and documents and to all warehouses and stocks of material, instruments and products, without exception”.

Great, already done, says Brinton, only to then condemn the following provisions:

“Point 5: “the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees were legally binding upon the owners of enterprises but that they could be “annulled by trade unions and congresses” (our emphasis). This was exactly the fate that was to befall the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees: the trade unions proved to be the main medium through which the Bolsheviks sought to break the autonomous power of the Factory Committees.”

“Point 6: that “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”

“Point 7: Enterprises “of importance to the State” were defined – and this has a familiar tone for all revolutionaries – as “all enterprises working for defence purposes, or in any way connected with the production of articles necessary for the existence of the masses of the population”.

Brinton complains:

“In other words practically any enterprise could be declared by the new Russian State as “of importance to the State”. The delegates from such an enterprise (elected to exercise workers’ control) were now made answerable to a higher authority. Moreover if the trade unions (already fairly bureaucratized) could ‘annul’ the decisions of rank-and-file delegates, what real power in production had the rank-and-file? The Decree on Workers’ Control was soon proved, in practice, not to be worth the paper it was written on.”

So the new workers state must not attempt to coordinate and discipline the working class other than by following the decisions taken at the level of factories (not to mention the farms, military, post-office etc).  Here the direct democracy of the workplace is the universal panacea to the authoritarian state and the bureaucratized unions. What, then, of the role of workers in electing delegates to soviets and officials to unions? It seems these are not within the scope of workers democracy because they, state and unions, are by definition alien to workers control. Workers therefore confine their democratic decision making to the workplace.  In which case how would those decisions be coordinated into an overall plan for a socialist economy?

These questions were central to the debates on Lenin’s draft document on worker control.

“…Lozovski, a Bolshevik trade unionist, was to write: “To us, it seemed that the basic control units should only act within limits rigorously determined by higher organs of control. But the comrades who were for the decentralisation of workers control were pressing for the independence and autonomy of these lower organs, because they felt that the masses themselves would incarnate the principle of control”.  Lozovski believed that “the lower organs of control must confine their activities within the limits set by the instructions of the proposed All-Russian Council of Workers Control. We must say it quite clearly and categorically, so that workers in various enterprises don’t go away with the idea that the factories belong to them”.

A compromise position was arrived at:

“Milyutin, who presented the revised decree …explained somewhat apologetically that “life overtook us” and that it had become urgently necessary to “unite into one solid state apparatus the workers control which was being operated on the spot”. “Legislation on workers’ control which should logically have fitted into the framework of an economic plan had had to precede legislation on the plan itself”.  There could be no clearer recognition of the tremendous pressures from below and of the difficulties the Bolsheviks were experiencing in their attempts to canalise them… The new decree started with the ingenious statement that: “In the interests of a planned regulation of the national economy” the new Government “recognised the authority of workers’ control throughout the economy”. But there had to be a firm hierarchy of control organs. Factory Committees would be “allowed” to remain the control organ of each individual enterprise. But each Committee was to be responsible to a “Regional Council of Workers’ Control”, subordinated in turn to an “All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control”. (58) The composition of these higher organs was decided by the Party…For instance the All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control was to consist of 21 ‘representatives’: 5 from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, 5 from the Executive of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, 5 from the Association of Engineers and Technicians, 2 from the Association of Agronomists, 2 from the Petrograd Trade Union Council, 1 from each All-Russian Trade Union Federation numbering fewer than 100,000 members (2 for Federations of over this number)… and 5 from the All-Russian Council of Factory Committees! The Factory Committees often under anarcho-syndicalist influence had been well and truly ‘cut down to size’.”

The reason, says Brinton, was the antagonism between the centralized party apparatus and the democratic national federation of factory committees.  He quotes Deutscher on the Bolshevik position:

“anarchic characteristics of the Committees made themselves felt: every Factory Committee aspired to have the last and final say on all matters affecting the factory, its output, its stocks of raw material, its conditions of work, etc., and paid little or no attention to the needs of industry as a whole” . Yet in the very next sentence Deutscher points out that “a few weeks after the upheaval (the October revolution) the Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organization, which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. 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 firmly 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”.

Brinton seems to think that the national organization of factory committees would somehow represent an adequate basis for national economic planning. Deutscher however is clear that the federation of factories would be a virtual ‘economic dictatorship’ i.e. impose the economic decisions of the factories for the whole of Russia as a parallel structure to the soviet state.

Brinton claims this is why the Soviet state prevented a federation from forming to coordinate the national economy:

“Some comments are called for in relation to these developments. The disorganization created by the war and by the resistance of the employing class (manifested as sabotage or desertion of their enterprises) clearly made it imperative to minimize and if possible eliminate unnecessary struggles, between Factory Committees, such as struggles for scanty fuel or raw materials. There was clearly a need to co-ordinate the activity of the Committees on a vast scale, a need of which many who had been most active in the Committee movement were well aware. The point at issue is not that a functional differentiation was found necessary between the various organs of working class power (Soviets, Factory Committees, etc.) or that a definition was sought as to what were local tasks and what were regional or national tasks. The modalities of such a differentiation could have been – and probably would have been – -determined by the proposed Congress of Facttory Committees. The important thing is that a hierarchical pattern of differentiation was externally elaborated and imposed, by an agency other than the producers themselves.”

For Brinton a Congress of Factory Committees had it not been stopped by the imposition of the ‘hierarchical’ All-Russian Council of Workers Control, could have overcome the local, parochial interests of the factories, farms and post offices and arrived at a national planned economy. Thus, at the first meeting of the Council:

“Zhivotov, spokesman of the Factory Committee movement, declared: “In the Factory Committees we elaborate instructions which come from below, with a view to seeing how they can be applied to industry as a whole. These are the instructions of the work shop, of life itself. They are the only instructions that can have real meaning. They show what the Factory Committees are capable of, and should therefore come to the forefront in discussions of workers’ control”. The Factory Committees felt that “control was the task of the committee in each establishment. The committees of each town should then meet… and later establish co-ordination on a regional basis”.

In December with the formation of the Vesenka (Supreme Economic Council) the All-Russian Council of Workers Control, in which the Factory Committees were already buried, was put to rest. It became one of many organs that underwent a transition from “workers control to the Supreme Council of National Economy”.  Brinton sums up what he sees as:

…a process which leads, within a short period of 4 years, from the tremendous upsurge of the Factory Committee movement (a movement which both implicitly and explicitly sought to alter the relations of production) to the establishment of unquestioned domination by a monolithic and bureaucratic agency (the Party) over all aspects of economic and political life. This agency not being based on production, its rule could only epitomise the continued limitation of the authority of the workers in the productive process. This necessarily implied the perpetuation of hierarchical relations within production itself, and therefore the perpetuation of class society.

Incredibly what is missing from this analysis is the seizure of state power and the formation of a Soviet state representing the workers organized in Soviets. The Bolshevik Party is referred to a “bureaucratic agency…not based on production”.  Counterposed to this “bureaucratic agency” imposed on “production” is the “authority of the workers in the productive process”. But what is that “authority” in isolation of the Soviet state? The Party that wins the support of the workers, poor peasants and soldiers in the Soviets now lacks “authority” and instead imposes a “rule” over workers and a “perpetuation of class society”! How can a Party which represents the revolutionary majority that overthrows the ruling class and creates a workers government now “perpetuate class society” over the workers? Let us see how Brinton’s arrives at this conclusion.

“…The problem can be envisaged in yet another way. The setting up of the Vesenka represents a partial fusion – in a position of economic authority – of trade union officials, Party stalwarts and ‘experts’ nominated by the ‘workers’ state’. But these are not three social categories ‘representing the workers’. They were three social categories which were already assuming managerial functions – i.e. were already dominating the workers in production. Because of their own antecedent history each of these groups was, for different reasons, already some-what remote from the working class. Their fusion was to enhance this separation. The result is that from 1918 on, the new State (although officially described as a ‘workers’ state’ or a ‘soviet republic’ – and although by and large supported by the mass of the working class during the Civil War) was not in fact an institution managed by the working class.”

Brinton states that the Vesenka is the creation of the ‘workers state’. The trade union “officials”, Party “stalwarts” and “experts” appointed by the state don’t represent the workers because they are already “managers…dominating the workers in production”.  The state cannot supply such ‘managers’ because they are drawn from “social categories” “remote from the working class”.  He thinks Workers Committees alone should have the authority to appoint managers. But this is a utopian position contradicted in the very next sentence. If the state managers are so “remote” from the workers, then what can be said of former Tsarist officers recruited to the Red Army to fight the Civil War which Brinton claims was “by and large supported by the mass of the working class.”

Despite the urgent overwhelming task of organizing the wrecked economy and fighting a civil war, notwithstanding the support of the working class, Brinton persists in claiming that the Soviet state usurped and trampled on the “authority” of the factory committees. He may as well say that the Red Army trampled on the democratic rights of the rank and file to elect their officers and debate military strategy! In fact he does so  later in his pamphlet.

Here we have the utopia of the parallel syndicalist state versus the dictatorship of the proletariat.

To be continued for years 1918-1920.

Footnotes in Brinton

Review originally published in Class Struggle 78, 79, 2008.

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