An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ) is now at version 15.1. The main part of this release is a revision of the appendix on the various oppositions within the Bolshevik party:
Were any of the Bolshevik oppositions a real alternative?
1 Were the "Left Communists" of 1918 an alternative?
2 What were the limitations of the "Workers' Opposition" of 1920?
3 What about Trotsky's "Left Opposition" in the 1920s?
4 What do these oppositions tell us about the essence of Leninism?
This appendix is part of the one on The Russian Revolution, of which the first section is a still incomplete and the rest need revision. All these were originally going to be part of section H but this was shortened considerably as it would have made that section – and so volume 2 of AFAQ – impossibly long. The aim is still to complete this appendix – but when is a moot-point. Particularly as much of what it will cover is already discussion in section H.
Which explains why an account of Leninist oppositionists exists in an Anarchist FAQ. It is part of the wider discussion of why anarchists reject Marxism (or at least mainstream Marxism, for there are minority trends which are close to anarchism – such as council communism). In addition, many myths are raised about these (and other) oppositions – particularly Trotsky’s “Left Opposition.” So it is helpful to understand clearly what it actually stood for and how Trotsky himself supported (when not introducing!) the very practices which he later denounced as “Stalinism” or pointed to as producing it, not to mention creating the social structures and social relationships upon which Stalinism grew.
As such, as well as the failure of the revolution itself, the limitations of the oppositions within Bolshevism point to its anti-socialist nature. That Trotsky could not see the state-capitalist nature of Stalinism may be not that surprising given that the structures in question were formed under him and Lenin – and he theoretically defended them at the time. Compare his 1920 book Terrorism and Communism with Stalinism and you can see why his blindness occurred. To get to the root of Stalinism means being recognising the nature of Leninism – something Trotsky could not do, for obvious reasons.
The debates of the opposition boil down to how best to secure of benevolent (party) dictatorship – which shows how far Leninism degraded the whole notion of socialism. For some – the “Workers’ Opposition” – it needed more participation by workers in industry. The “Left Opposition” did not even get that far – they thought that master-servant relations in production could be non-exploitative once a purified party was secure in its rule (dictatorship). That this had not happened after 1921 did not deter them from seeking to repeat this policy.
All in all, it is useful to cover these various oppositions for it brings out the inherently anti-socialist nature of Leninism – for even the opposition groups shared a perspective which, while recognising that things were going wrong, could not get to their root. Worse, they all shared – even the best, like the “Workers’ Group” – certain Marxist prejudices which would have produced some kind of class system under the name of socialism. True, it would not have been as terrible as Stalinism but it would have seen a new class rule the proletariat and peasantry – as Bakunin, amongst others, correctly predicted (see section H.1.1).
Finally, there is a slight revision of the sub-section “Did the rebellion involve new sailors?” of the appendix What was the Kronstadt Rebellion?. The change is simply re-arranging some references, referencing Evan Mawdsley’s article “The Baltic Fleet and the Kronstadt Mutiny” (Soviet Studies, vol. 24, no. 4) first rather than Israel Getzler’s book Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy. This is because Mawdsley presented the data on sailor recruitment dates first, so it seems fair to mention him first in AFAQ.
Suffice to say, the facts of the matter – that the majority of the rebel sailors of 1921 had been there before 1918, rising to over 90% for the sailors of the two battleships which led the revolt – remain unchanged. Getzler simply confirmed Mawdsley’s work (and referenced it). This appendix also referred to Getzler’s work as “recent research” which may have been true when it was originally written but obviously not so now. Still, the assertion by Trotsky and numerous followers that the rebels were not the sailors of 1917 is simply untrue – as shown at the time by their actions and demands and now confirmed by statistical evidence.
Of course, the Kronstadt revolt exposes the anti-socialism of Leninism just as much as its various oppositions did – it is no coincidence that the “Workers’ Opposition” volunteered to attack the rebels. That it is still a key event can be seen from the Trotskyists still scurrying around seeking to slander the uprising. To do this any source is embraced – whether written by Stalinists or Soviet archives recording the product of interrogation by the Cheka (presumably fear of “proletarian” firing squads produces only honest answers rather than the saying what the interrogators want to hear as occurs in bourgeois regimes).
While Trotskyism fortunately seems to be in a terminal decline, it is worth remembering what happened before so that their arguments can be refuted. History should be learnt from rather than repeated.
Finally, a few typos were fixed in the appendix "Reply to errors and distortions in David McNally's pamphlet 'Socialism from Below'"). These are minor so not mentioned in the “What’s New in the FAQ”