In Defence of Bolshevism, the new book from Workers' Liberty, had its launch at a lively meeting in central London on 12 October. Edited by Sean Matgamna, the collection of texts by American Trotskyist Max Shachtman represents one of the greatest polemics in the Marxist tradition. It is the defence of a revolutionary socialist consciousness being developed in the working class as the irreplaceable pre-condition for the self- emancipation of the working class.
Crucially, it describes the only type of party fit for the purpose of seeding, nurturing and growing this consciousness in the working class, the only party which so far in history succeeded in doing that, the Bolshevik party. There were no other parties of the working class like the Bolsheviks. These were workers who were as energetic and fearless in their thinking as they were in their organising, like the beating of a rough piece of metal into a sharp sword, so were the culture of the Bolshevik workers when hammering out political ideas. No passive acceptance of ideas and strategies handed down from above. No authority other than the strength of an idea subjected to the hammering of argument and discussion by workers rooted in the struggles of the class. The highest levels of democracy were the oxygen for this furnace and that was the central quality of the Bolsheviks in their party and the central aim of the workers state they would create. This is how existing labour movements could be transformed.
But this Bolshevism became isolated. In Germany, it did not take root in time to stop the German Social Democratic Party collapsing into supporting it’s own ruling class entering the World War One, which in turn resulted in the absence of a Bolshevik party to lead the German revolutions of 1918 and 1923. The Russian revolution was left isolated, and with the exhaustion and dispersal of the working class by invasion and civil war, so the Bolshevik culture unravelled and with it, the sovereign democratic rule of the soviets (workers’ councils). By the late 1920s, the Stalinist counter-revolution was preceding with its pulverising of every last vestige of the workers’ state and the Bolshevik culture that was its lifeblood.
Everything that the real Bolshevism stood for was isolated then destroyed, and this in every part of the world where, the now Stalinist Comintern, had control over the communist parties. The communist parties were now transformed into machines for shredding the revolutionary culture of the international working class. Shachtman understood that to the tremendous pressures of capitalism was now added the terrors of Stalinism.
In these circumstances, the tiny isolated Trotskyist groups became prone to a model of the revolutionary party that was promoted by the Zinoviev tendency in the Comintern, a blanket of symbols to hide the growing Stalinist counterrevolution — a blanket to smother any democratic, independent working class politics. The post-war Trotskyist movement became schooled in this “Zinovievism”, and it’ mythology of the Bolsheviks as a large, tightly-organised “machine” in the hands of some appointed “great Man’.
The post war history of the revolutionary left has been a ‘toy-town’ version of this model, like over-wound clockwork toys, the tiny sects, spin crazily around the working class, isolating themselves from the revolutionary work of transforming the existing labour movements. An infantile disorder. With this book, Workers’ Liberty continues the precious and urgent work of uniting a new generation of militants with the ideas, the energy, spirit and fearlessness of the highest level of human self-emancipation yet achieved in history — the Bolsheviks!