Thursday, April 17, 2008

Joseph Stalin, Democratic Centralism, Vanguard, Party, Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Finished reading Stalin's "Foundations of Leninism". It isn't a long book and it's not particularly hard to read. What to say about the writings of a mass murderer? Remarkably, the book avoids what we generally think of as 'Stalinism' until the chapter on "The Party" and the chapter on "Style in Work", which are the last two chapters. In it the man argues for absolute obedience to the Party, the necessity of the Party expelling people who deviate from its official opinions, the Party as rightfully being the final authority in society, and the Party itself as constituting the 'vanguard of the Proletariat'. 'Style and Work' contains intimations of what was happening at the time by recommending Party members to do their work with ideological zeal combined with ruthless 'American efficiency'. 'American efficiency' is a direct quote.

If you read this book not knowing what was going on in Soviet Russia at the time you might not know that a famine had been created in the Ukraine, that it in turn was the product of forced collectivization of agricultural, which lead to many people being arrested and either sent to gulags or executed. Might not know that Stalin had ordered the arrest, show trials, and executions of early Bolsheviks who helped to organize the Revolution but who dissented against Stalin, with dissent in this case consisting at times of saying the wrong thing to Stalin in a conversation. Leading to arrest and execution.

So if you look directly at the ideas contained in the little book, knowing that they cover up the bloody truth about what was going on in Soviet Russia at the time, how do they stand up?

Want to focus on vanguard, dictatorship of the Proletariat, Party, Vanguard Party, and Democratic Centralism, as well as the inevitable consequence of Democratic Centralism.

He defines the Vanguard of the working class first as being basically the politicized and conscious workers, not necessarily part of a Party. If this is a definition of what a vanguard is a better definition might be 'movement', and the possibility allowed that multiple movements based on different political ideologies and may exist pushing for radical social change. But there's only the vanguard in his opinion.

"Dictatorship of the Proletariat", as described by him is the hegemony of the working class over society, manifested through the creation of alternative structures of government. Hegemony means having other classes excluded from power. Alternative structure in this sense means something similar to what anarchists advocate in the form of councils, with councils of councils, and a broad kind of distribution of these things. Seen as the real form of both working class and future organization.

Unlike other people, Stalin defines 'Dictatorship' as 'Dictatorship', without trying to play linguistic games. He quotes Lenin to the effect that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat should have unlimited power over society. If you're going to have a revolution against someone or something it follows that for a period of time the people who you made the revolution against shouldn't have the same sorts of power that the people who the revolution was for have, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be checks and balances on what the revolutionary organization can do to people. Even in a revolution people have basic rights that shouldn't be infringed upon, and there should be some way for people who have had those rights violated to experience redress from the people in charge. Then, though, it wouldn't be so much a dictatorship, which is a good thing. The question comes up too about how and when the dictatorship of the proletariat will wither away, leaving a society where you don't have to partially disenfranchise some people and partially exalt others. This is extremely important in relation to Stalin because he defines the Soviet state as being a transition to communism through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and defines the Party as necessary during it, stating that after the job of social transformation is finished that both Party and Dictatorship will wither away.

Which brings up the idea of the Party, which is at least honest in saying that the Party constitutes the leadership of his socialist society. The thing about Stalin's conception of the Party is that it duplicates functions that would be part of the normal organization of things through different councils or Soviets, the Soviets being in turn the form of government that the non-Dictatorship based Communist society would be based on. He gives examples of lesser organizations, like trade unions, educational organizations, parliamentary groups, cooperatives, particular factory and workplace groups, and talks about the need to organize them so that in some way there's some sort of unity behind them. Brushing over the fact that trade unions are put on the same level as educational organizations, the concept leads to the undermining of independent organizations before socialism, and to a duplication of power in socialist society that's very dangerous. Basically, the question is why in a socialist society there should be two forms of organization, the Soviets and the Party, and why the Party as such shouldn't be nationalized, becoming part of the Soviet or council structure of decision making and implementation, in other words not being a Party anymore but something else.

An example of this would have to do with, say, educational organizations, where people want to establish some kind of basic unity about what they plan on doing. Something like this would get funding from the Soviet, and so be paid for by society. If the work of establishing points of unity in these organizations through a higher organization that they're members of is so important , why can't the process be opened up to people in general, making the system transparent? Why have what essentially is a private organization that's not directly accountable to people make decisions that have to do with public business? If it's public business, why not integrate the decision making body into the structure of the public council, Soviet, whatever you want to call it as some sort of working group that people can put in their two cents about?

If the Party is so important as a body that thinks about where society is and where society should be going, as well as establishing policy, shouldn't those functions be the concern of society in general? If there's going to be a debate about the fundamental nature of society shouldn't it be integrated into a public process where people can discuss it themselves and register their votes or opinions about where society should be headed? Stalin describes the Party as having different congresses on different levels to decided on different aspects of policy that in turn will be implemented through non-Party organizations through the leadership of Party people in these organizations....shouldn't this process be opened up and the leadership shifted from a shadowy informal style to something concrete and formal, connected to the democratic organs of public decision making and implementation?

Which goes to the role of Democratic Centralism in the decision making of the Party. Democratic Centralism means that people meet for congresses, elect officers, select a party platform, and then are bound by the decisions of the people who they elected, who can make decisions about policy without any sort of feedback from the Party members, who should therefore submit and not complain once something comes down from on high about what they should do. Stalin argues that all bodies that make decisions and carry them out are bound by the decisions of some people, but Democratic Centralism takes away most of the necessary discussions needed to truly come to a consensus on things in a democratic manner. It also establishes the Party Line.

The Party Line wasn't always a part of the Bolshevik Party but was introduced by Lenin and his cronies after Alexandr Bogdanov, who was pretty much the strongest party member actually living in Russia and doing underground work at this time, challenged him for leadership. Lenin, living in exile, defeated the challenge and decreed that from that time on there'd be much less debate about policy issues on lower levels, which was great for Lenin because he was on the top.

Democratic Centralism empowers small groups of leaders who become increasingly immune to criticism and who eventually end up being perpetually elected to office, dominating the Party through now legal means.

The final stage of where Democratic Centralism, the Party as conceived by Stalin, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as conceived by Stalin, and the Vanguard as conceived by Stalin, is going or could go is one man rule in the form of a dictator who has seized control of the Party and who defines himself as the leader of the Revolution and therefore of socialist society itself.

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