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The PSU (1960 – 1989): Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel.

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Review: Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel. La Découverte. 2016.

Following the rise of Spain’s Podemos there has been great interest on the left in the creation of new parties or changed forms of organisation that try to resolve the difficulties, electoral and political, of social democracy. This is not without precedent. The Parti Socialiste Unifié, PSU, (See Wikipedia entry, in English and in French) was created in 1960 in the middle of one of French socialism’s greatest crises, its inability to stand for Algerian independence and failure to stand up to de Gaulle and the creation, his mould, of the 5th Republic in 1959. The PSU became one of the most significant new left parties of the 1960s and 1970s with an impact across the European left. Apart from its anti-colonialism, it promoted ecological politics, feminism, ideas of participative democracy, and, above all, autogestion, self-management, which have resonance today,

In Quand la gauche se réinventait (When the left reinvented itself) Bernard Ravenel offer the first comprehensive history of the PSU. This is a difficult task. The party was far from a leftist groupuscule whose life can be summed up in account of a few ideologues and their battles. Founded with 30,000 members, they won two Parliamentary deputies in 1962, and 4 in 1967. In 1968, after participating in the May events, the PSU candidate, Michel Rocard (1930 – 2016) received 3,61% in the June Presidential elections. Throughout its existence the party had many local councillors, often in the hundreds. At its height in 1970 it counted 350 workplace branches and had strong links with the – then – radical socialist Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CFDT). One of its central motifs, self-management (autogestion) became popular on the French left, and was formally adopted by the Parti Socialiste in the mid-70s, occupying a major place during that decade in debates and policy formation. This was part of a broad international move towards backing workers’ control.

Bernard Ravenel describes the PSU as a “chaudron”, cauldron, whose brew nourished several generations of the socialist left. But Quand la gauche se réinventait is more than an account of that inspiring party in which people found their bearings. He aims to transmit the memory of their struggles to future generations, to create a bridge between them, and to help enrich present-day critical left thinking (“pensée critique”).

The legacy of the PSU is extensive. After fierce internal disputes Rocard, and many others, left the party and joined the Parti Socialiste in 1974 to become a leader of what some call the “deuxième gauche (second left). In a celebrated speech at the Nantes PS congress, 1977, Rocard attempted to distinguish “two lefts”. The First was centralist, standing for the authority of the State. It was ‘Jacobin’ and even nationalist. The Second stood for decentralisation, dispersed authority, civil society and support for a plurality of oppressed minorities. In practice market friendly policies and modernisation became the hallmark of the Second left. As Ravenel observes, this meant that self-management was – as it did for the Socialist Party in office – mere “varnish”. (1)

Erudite Hamster.

An “erudite hamster”, as less than friendly observers called him, Rocard was to become a Socialist Prime Minister under Mitterrand’s second Presidency in 1988 until 1991. He created the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (RMI), a universal social security payment in a system that had hitherto been contribution based, leaving people at the end of a certain time with no money at all. But apart from this important measure Rocard is probably more remembered for reconciliation with the market than for radicalism. (2)

After Rocard’s mid-70s departure, along with his supporters and many others, the PSU had continued with diminishing fortunes. Their membership crept below 10,000. The party’s presidential candidate in 1981, Huguette Bouchardeau (1,1%) in 1983 entered the Mauroy government under François Mitterrand with responsibilities for ecology. Her participation in a cabinet committed to fiscal cut backs effectively marked the end of the PSU. It formally split in 1989. Some members joined the French Greens (les Verts), others the group (Alliance Rouge et Verte, AREV) which became Les Alternatifs, who now form part of part of the Front de Gauche, Ensemble. Former PSU activists have participated in range of movements, continuing to take up green issues, the defence of immigrants, and feminism.

Foundation 1960.

These are the bare bones of the history of the PSU. If the party is known at all on the English speaking left it is for its role in defending the cause of Algerian independence. Bernard Ravenel begins Quand La Gauche se réinventait by marking out the wider background to the groups that formed the party. It may come as a surprise to many outside France to learn that during the 1950s a variety of substantial groups – and not the tiny Trotskyist movement or the even smaller Socialisme ou Barbarie, – had opposed both Stalinism and the rightward moving French socialists of Guy Mollet’s SFIO (with the historically interesting name, Section française de l’international ouvrière).

These groups, which numbered around 20, 000 supporters, owed much to the attempts to create a ‘Third Force’ on the post-war French left, neither Stalinist nor social democratic. Others came along with the left-leaning reformist, and anti-colonial Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Others, such as the sociologist Pierre Naville, the activist Yvan Craipeau, and the novelist Colette Audry, had been figures in the French Trotskyist movement wearied by its incessant quarrels and ineffectiveness.

Engaged in the fight for Algerian national liberation the PSU participated in the often-violent battle against the putschists who tried to maintain French Algeria. It is a measure of the honesty of Ravenel’s book that he does not fail to mention that many Communist students stood should to shoulder with them in demonstrations against the racist attempt to retain colonial rule (Pages 52 – 53).

Algerian independence in 1962 appeared to leave the PSU without a defining mission. But the party soon found a new role. This was not simply opposing De Gaulle’s Presidential referendum in 1962 but in laying down a new approach on the left.

The Counter-Plan.

In broad terms one might say that this had been dominated by two stands. The first, symbolised in the figure of Léon Blum considered that the French republic was basically healthy, the carrier of a long emancipatory history. If the left might pursue a long-term strategy of conquering power by mass activity, it could exercise power within this given framework. In the 1960s this stand meant, however, concentrating on the effects of De Gaulle’s ‘coup d’état’, to return to full republican democracy. The other strategy, at the heart of the line of the Parti Communiste français (PCF) was to consider that “monopoly capitalism” had fused with state power. An essentially healthy proletariat was both held down by capitalism, and formed for an historical leading role within production. Without the restraints of capitalism, freed under conditions of what the Communists would later call “advanced democracy”, and nationalisation, the working class, organised in unity within its allied union structures the CGT, and its party would create socialism. The political agency of socialism was therefore ‘given’, it was up to its political expression, the PCF, to conquer to the state and set it free. (4)

The PSU, critical Marxists, open a wide range of left thinking, inspired partly by writers such as Serge Mallet, looked to new forces within the working class who had begun to raise demands relating to the more immediate control of production. Around the ‘Front Socialiste’ the party supported workers’ struggles (such as the 1963 miners’ strike). But they developed wider ambitions, elaborating a “counter-plan” in 1964. At a time when indicative planning was still practised they offered an alternative to the French planning system based on democratic participation. As Ravel observes, this as the first time in the country that a socialist group proposed to develop planning, of investment and consumption, under democratic control as a form of transition to socialism. He writes, “le contre-plan veut ouvrir une voie démocratique at donc pacifique au socialisme..” The counter-plan wished to open the way to a democratic and thus peaceful transition to socialism. (Page 82)

This perspective, elaborated by PSU strategist Gilles Martinet (a former Resistance member and ex-Communist), offered an alternative to the “republican” reliance on a politically reformed state, and the PCF view that the workers needed to channel their demands through the CGT, and the Party. As the Party developed, particularly after 1968, the idea emerged of passing from such worker and popular “control” to the full-blown self-management (autogestion) of production and distribution. There was also a sketch supporting political decentralisation. For many of us, this thread of ideas, which Ravenel outlines with great clarity amidst the often-complex debates – not to mention critiques – that followed, remains one of the PSU’s enduring contributions to the left.

Badiou and the Armed Struggle.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is no less acute in its description of May 68 and the effects this had on the PSU. The leftist Trainspotter will rejoice in the accounts of the factional battles that ensued after the évévenements. One aspect has drawn the attention of reviewers: Alain Badiou’s support for preparing for armed struggle, with mass participation in the conquest of power (Page 202) More fundamentally in the early 1970s the PSU endured a prolonged confrontation between those who supported changing the organisation into a Leninist vanguard party (‘avant-garde” in French) and those continued to believe in a broad democratic socialist structure. Ravenel describes the latter in terms of a Gramscian vision of the party as a “collective intellectual” (Page 214).

These disputes ended with some ‘Leninists’ resigning and joining the group to be known as Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Another group, which included the future Green theorist, Alain Lipietz went on to found the grandly titled Organisation communiste gauche ouvrière et paysanne, GOP. Other ‘Marxist-Leninists’ were excluded. Rocard, and the more openly ‘reformist’ currents, made their excuses and left. Martinet had already quit for the Socialists in 1972.

Activists from the PSU were involved in all the central struggles of the 1970s. These included Lip (1973, the celebrated occupation of a Watch factory which was then run as a co-operative), Lazarc (protests against the military’s expropriation of peasant land) feminist campaigns (abortion), and the early battles against Nuclear Power. In 1975 they supported the Portuguese Revolution, and the (similar to PSU) ‘centrist’ Movimento de Esquerda Socialista (MES) efforts to establish workers’ power and popular control. Ravenel personally participated in on-the-spot links. Relations with the CFDT, cited above, continued, helped by the common Christian radical origins of many of their members, although they did not become close. The federation’s leader, Edmond Maire early expressed the view that he had no wish to become for the PSU what the CGT was the PCF. (5)

Critical of the Common Programme of the parliamentary left (PCF,  PS, and then the Radicaux de gauche (1972), from its signing to its break up (1977), the continuity PSU remained apart from the mainstream. The Party also had important differences with one group of backers of autogestion inside the Parti Socialiste. The faction, CERES, best known for its leader Jean-Pierre Chevènement, preferred a legislative and nationalised to a grass-roots framework. It was only a commentator on the processes which dominated this alliance up till Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Yet it could be said that through such activists, and the presence of former members inside the Socialist Party, its influence continued to be felt within both movements and the institutional French left.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is not a history that deals with the alleged turn of intellectuals against the left during the 1970s. According to what one might call the New Left Review version of history, which treats of academics, ideologues, and the media, rather than activists, leads many to believe that the country underwent a profound ‘anti-totalitarian’ moment during the decade. Ravenel describes the more humble task of achieving political power for the democratic socialist left. He cites extensive documentation, including the PSU paper, Tribune Socialiste, and interviews with those involved. That the transformation of that left was never achieved by the PSU – Ravenel describes his book as a history of the vanquished (vancus) – should not detract from their achievements. He is not afraid to reveal one of the less savoury sides of their work. Following a degree of reconciliation with the Algerian one-party state, in 1970 they received a ‘loan’ (never to be repaid) for finance of the (modest but comfortable) Headquarters. These good graces of Houari Boumediene were not publicly trumpeted (Page 189)

Revolutionary Reformism.

Ravenel is thus transparently a trustworthy and welcome guide to some of the most important experiences on the 20th century French left. For him the dream of “reformisme révolutionnaire” was never achieved. Was this because of a change in the social landscape, the basis of the political environment? Ravenel concludes that the PSU was unable to realise its ambitions and programmes which were tailored to the transformation of “industrial society”. This time had gone, replaced by an increasingly “post-industrial” world. Referring to theorists of the ‘new working class’ amongst others in 1981 André Gorz announced the fatal decline of a motivated skilled working class that wanted control of production and had the means to do. (Adieux au prolétariat. 1981) This claim certainly had an impact on the way PSU activists thought. But, citing from own experience of these warm and open people, as the defeats of the 1980s accumulated against them, and their initial ‘critical support’ for Mitterrand evaporated, for all that their legacy remains a vibrant source of hope.

(1) Page 135. Les Gauches Françaises. Jacques Julliard. Flammarion. 2012. Alain Bergounioux Gérard Grundberg as well as Ravenel remind us that a whole series of future leading Socialist party politicians, from Alain Savary, Jean Poperen to another future PM (1992 – 1993), Pierre Béregovoy passed from the PSU to the Socialists (in their case beginning with the re-alignments in the FGDS (1967). Pages 141 – 145. Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2007.
(2) Michel Rocard, le président empêché. Jonathan Bouchet-Peterson. Libération. 27.16. 2016
(3) Pages 35 – 42. The Parti socialist autonome (PSA) a split from the Socialists, counted 8,500 members, the Union de la gauche socialiste (UFS), a Christian leftist organisation had 8,000, and a dissident Communist faction, the Tribune du communisme, had several hundred. These groups had a long and complex history, including relations with another force which would join with the PSU, the supporters of the reformist Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Socialisme ou Barbarie was virulently hostile to the alliance with the latter. See. Maille. R.(Alberto Véga) : Mendès-France et le nouveau réformisme. Socialisme ou Barbarie. No 29. December 1959/February 1960. This followed a long history of hostility to this non-communist radical left, principally the result of their attachment to taking part in elections.
(4) See Page 125. Léon Blum. Pierre Birnbaum Seuil. 2016. On the PCF’s concepts see Le Communisme une passion française. Marc Lazar. Perrin. 2005.
(5) The CFDT vision of socialism as self-management and its relations the PSU is dealt with in La Deuxième gauche H.Hamon. P.Rotman. Editions Ramsay 1984. They describe the specific effects of the key events, such as the 1973 Assises du socialisme, and the intimate links between PSU members and the union federation. The CFDT identified itself increasingly as “reformist” formally abandoned all reference to socialism the Congrès de Strasbourg 1988, but retained a reference to autogestion.

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and,  Le Parti socialiste unifié (PSU), un parti germe pour l’autogestion. Patrick Silberstein.

Le PSU, une comète dans le ciel de la gauche : quelques leçons pour aujourd’hui, À propos de Bernard Ravenel, Quand la gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un parti visionnaire. Gustave Massiah


Written by Andrew Coates

October 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

23 Responses

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  1. “More fundamentally in the early 1970s the PSU endured a prolonged confrontation between those who supported changing the organisation into a Leninist vanguard party (‘avant-garde” in French) and those continued to believe in a broad democratic socialist structure. Ravenel describes the latter in terms of a Gramscian vision of the party as a “collective intellectual” (Page 214).”

    Many people forget that Gramsci considered himself a Leninist to the day that he died. Also, I have no idea what a “broad democratic socialist structure” is. Is there a “narrow democratic socialist structure”?

    Of course there were Trotskyists (and Maoists) in the early ’70s who wanted to build “combat parties” based on militaristic lines as codified in the 1920 Comintern Congress’s “Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution.” The idea was bad then and even worse later. But that structure didn’t reflect how the Bolsheviks were organized for most of their existence, as a party faction or an independent party. Lenin wanted the Marxist party to be a “collective intellectual” too.


    October 27, 2016 at 6:01 am

  2. That is what he says.

    I agree that it lacks clarity, but then the PSU lacked clarity on the issue not to mention a whole generation of British Eurocommunists who took Gramsci to be a democrat in the way that they wished him to be.

    WIth respect to his own reference, I am not aware that the French left during that period displayed much interest in Gramsci.

    As a review, which deals with what an author writes, I also reproduce his comment on “post-industrial society”, another term I would disagree with.

    However I would have thought on one issue it is clear: broad democratic structures have as their premise a party based on democrats – which excludes those Leninist “combat” parties.

    Andrew Coates

    October 27, 2016 at 10:31 am

  3. “Is there a ‘narrow democratic socialist structure’?”

    Yes. It’s called “Leninism.”


    October 27, 2016 at 3:37 pm

  4. Do “narrow” and “democratic” go together? Only if “narrow” means “having very specific firm political principles.” In which case the early SPD was “Leninist” too.

    I don’t mean to be pedantic but words do have specific meanings, or at least should have them.

    And Andrew’s right — in practice Eurocommunism was the words of Gramsci covering up the theory of Bernstein.


    October 27, 2016 at 11:22 pm

  5. (And yes I know there were Left Eurocommunists, like Poulantzas, but their political strategy was less than coherent.)


    October 27, 2016 at 11:23 pm

  6. Believe it or not jschulman, I was a great admirer of Poulantzas, beginning from when I was in the IMG (I was never a Trotskyist).

    As a political strategist, an amateur political strategist though one with a better grasp of reality than New Left Review either in its ‘Trotskyist’ phase, Anderson’s Watchtower after the Fall of Communism ponderings, or the present Ali/ Susan Watkins pro-Brexit pro-populist one, Poulantzas did stress the importance of self-management (of a version of it) and democracy.

    I have read a lot Nicos Poulantzas, many times and even saw him speak in the mid-70s.

    Apart from other texts I have a copy of L’État, le pouvoir, le socialisme, Paris, PUF, 1978 which I refer to often.

    Andrew Coates

    October 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

  7. Poulantazas’s political strategy circa 1978 always struck me as a more vague version of what Ralph Miliband lays out in the last chapter of “Marxism and Politics.” The problem with both is that they really don’t stress the need to win over the rank and file of the armed forces well in advance of attempting to form a government that actually intends to expropriate the expropriators, and neither one makes it clear that given “globalized” capitalism, unless power is taken on a continental scale, a workers’ democracy in a single country — certainly a European country — will be strangled by economic sanctions very quickly. There won’t even be the need to send in bourgeois armies to overthrow the socialist government.

    Trotskyists often don’t get this either, given that they often believe that the “chain of national revolutions” idea from the early Comintern is still feasible. But that didn’t even work when there were millions of Marxist workers in Europe. The likelihood that it could work now is even smaller.


    October 28, 2016 at 10:56 pm

  8. That is roughly what Perry Anderson said in Arguments in English Marxism.

    Andrew Coates

    October 29, 2016 at 10:26 am

  9. Leninist parties don’t have more than 1 tendency which is why they aren’t broad parties.


    October 30, 2016 at 5:55 am

  10. Leaving the term “Leninism” aside there were always different strains within Bolshevism, both as a faction of the RSDLP and as a party in power. A party containing both Kamanev and Kollontai and everyone in-between is a “broad Marxist party” to coin a phrase.


    October 30, 2016 at 7:13 am

  11. Bolshevism’s “narrowness” was expressed mainly in its attitude to “non-Bolshevism” after October 1917…


    October 30, 2016 at 12:08 pm

  12. There was no “narrowness” towards “non-Bolshevism” until after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the ensuing assassination attempts on Lenin.


    October 30, 2016 at 4:58 pm

  13. Hmmm… Just two of many possible examples: the Mensheviks’ paper Rabochaya gazeta was first suppressed in November 1917. The SRs’ Delo naroda was suppressed in January 1918. Both these occurrences took place before Brest-Litovsk.


    October 30, 2016 at 5:41 pm

  14. I’m curious what your sources are. In the weeks after October 25th 1917, the Bolshevik (and then Bolshevik/Left SR) government had essentially no means to implement its policies other than the power and cogency of its political agitation. It inherited no functioning state apparatus. The Red Army was officially inaugurated on February 20th, but at first it could be built into an actual army only by persuasion and agitation.

    By the way, the first attempt at armed overthrow of the Soviet government was set in motion on October 31st, by General Krasnov, leading a body of cossacks. It was defeated by two Bolsheviks smuggling themselves into the cossack barracks at 3 am and arguing with the soldiers for five hours until they finally persuaded them to stay neutral and wait and see.

    The next day, Bolsheviks were able to arrest Krasnov. They released him as soon as he gave his word of honor not to attempt counter-revolution again. The freed Krasnov immediately headed for the south in order to mobilize a counter-revolutionary army there! The Red Terror was inaugurated only following the Left SRs’ assassination of the German ambassador (designed to provoke renewed war with Germany) and abortive insurrection of July 1918; the assassination by SRs of the Bolsheviks Volodarsky (June 1918) and Uritsky (August 1918), and their attempt to assassinate Lenin on August 30th 1918.


    October 31, 2016 at 2:03 am

  15. There’s quite an interesting and detailed account of the process of suppression of inconvenient papers from November 1917 onwards in Иван Кузнецов, История отечественной журналистики (1917-2000) (2016) which is on Google books at the moment. The section entitled “Декрет о печати. Закрытие оппозиционной прессы” describes the measures taken and the protests which ensued. Of course, the initial attempts at closing down papers were often circumvented, but as the Bolsheviks got their repressive apparatus into some kind of usable shape they became more effective.

    On Rabochaya gazeta see also item 4 in http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/sie/14366/РАБОЧАЯ and for Delo naroda: http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/bse/83299/Дело


    October 31, 2016 at 2:15 pm

  16. “… there were always different strains within Bolshevism, both as a faction of the RSDLP and as a party in power.”

    Right, which is why Bolshevism and Leninism aren’t the same thing.

    “A party containing both Kamanev and Kollontai and everyone in-between is a ‘broad Marxist party’ to coin a phrase.”

    And in power, the Bolshevik RSDLP became the RCP. Kollontai and her Workers’ Opposition was politically shut down in 1921 with the ban on factions and Kamenev was executed in the 1930s.

    Francis is correct that the timing of Bolshevik suppression of rival left-wing tendencies began before the Brest-Litovsk treaty.

    Left SR assassination attempts on Lenin and before that Count Mirbach were a direct response to the Bolsheviks’ anti-democratic measures which included stacking the fifth congress of soviets with bogus delegates (see Rabinowitch’s Bolsheviks in Power for more detail). The Bolsheviks also tried very hard to exclude the Left SRs from having any role in the early Cheka; initially there were unsuccessful in this but that changed once the Bolsheviks decided to eliminate the Left SRs entirely in summer of 1918. The Bolsheviks also overturned the results of 19/30 provincial soviet elections in spring of 1918 when the workers elected Menshevik instead of Bolshevik majorities.

    The experiment in Soviet democracy lasted about six months and the Bolsheviks put a stop to it once it started yielding results they didn’t like.


    October 31, 2016 at 3:26 pm

  17. I agree that the ban on factions in 1921 was a very bad idea. But there’s something that’s not being acknowledged here.

    People talk about the Russian civil war as if it began in 1918. In fact the civil war started with the attack of Krasnov’s Cossacks on October 28-29, or at the least the beginning of the operations of Alexeev’s Volunteer Army and Kaledin’s Don Cossacks in December 1917. Allied military intervention against the revolution arguably began with British political and (attempted) military support for Kornilov’s attempted coup in September 1917; certainly, the British secret service was supporting efforts to organize White military forces and paying for industrial sabotage operations from the end of October.

    You can understand why the Bolsheviks might be worried about electoral losses just as the civil war was beginning. No doubt they thought that their removal from power would lead to a White victory, and given what the Whites were doing in neighboring Finland by 1918, there was plenty to be afraid of. And from what I’ve read the Menshevik revival was also connected to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

    As to Rabinowitch’s book. It’s not as good as his previous book on Bolshevism but it’s worth studying. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets that met in mid-March 1918 and was dominated by the Bolsheviks with 814 of 1,172 delegates and ratified the Brest-Litovsk treaty. Rabinowitch says that only fourteen Bolshevik delegates had their credentials challenged, and neither “during the congress nor after did the Left SRs or Left Communists question the congress’s legitimacy.”

    Only later, in July, did the Left SRs turn to terror and assassinate Mirbach, which understandably led to their repression by the Bolsheviks. It was only sensible.

    If I sound too orthodox here, I also believe that it should have been clear by 1924 that the European socialist revolution wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I wish the Bolsheviks had abdicated power and headed for the hills (so to speak), letting some other party figure out how to properly manage the Russian economy, overturning the decision to turn the Communist Parties into militaristic “combat parties,” and avoiding both the possibility of the Stalinist social order and the political degeneration of the Communist International. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20.


    October 31, 2016 at 10:40 pm

  18. The actions of the Bolsheviks after October 1917 were entirely reasonable and rational in the light of the situation they found themselves in, and of their political assumptions. Exactly the same can be said of the actions of their opponents, both among the non-Bolshevik socialists, and more widely, among the whites, nationalists, separatists or whatever. Russia’s descent into civil war is all perfectly understandable, and was largely the result of actions by people who imagined they were doing the right thing, or at least that they were doing the necessary thing. Everyone acted as the desperate political and economic situation seemed to demand, and the social order which emerged was the logical outcome of all that struggle. The only puzzling thing is why some people, particularly from the Trotskyist tradition, are so understanding of all the actions the Bolsheviks took after October 1917 but are so hostile to the social order (“Stalinism”) which resulted from those actions.


    November 1, 2016 at 12:57 am

  19. jschulman: “Rabinowitch says that only fourteen Bolshevik delegates had their credentials challenged, and neither ‘during the congress nor after did the Left SRs or Left Communists question the congress’s legitimacy.'”

    True. The problem is you are talking about the fourth congress of soviets and I am talking about the fifth congress of soviets. The Bolsheviks resorted to stacking the fifth congress with bogus delegates because the fifth congress was going to have strong representation from peasant soviets which meant that a Bolshevik majority was at best uncertain and in fact unlikely. In a country where more than 80% of the population lived in rural areas, any genuinely democratic government’s political complexion would depend heavily on the leanings of the peasantry and they were overwhelmingly for the SRs and especially Left SRs. So the Bolsheviks gave themselves extra bogus delegates from trade union organizations, red army units, and so forth to artificially guarantee their majority. The Left SRs launched an armed struggle at the fifth congress once they realized that the Bolsheviks removed any possibility of a peaceful transfer of power from one soviet party to another.

    Francis: “The only puzzling thing is why some people, particularly from the Trotskyist tradition, are so understanding of all the actions the Bolsheviks took after October 1917 but are so hostile to the social order (‘Stalinism’) which resulted from those actions.”

    Because some people have invested so much of their political identity in a blinkered view of Lenin and the Bolsheviks whose every move — right or wrong — was in the final analysis justified by good intentions, objective circumstances, and alleged (actually bogus) fealty to Marxist orthodoxy. Their hostility to the social order that emerged from the Bolshevik victory they supported at any price (including the destruction of soviet democracy) is buyer’s remorse.


    November 1, 2016 at 8:28 pm

  20. OK, the assassination of Mirbach happened *during* the Fifth Congress. You think this was a good idea? And it was done by *two Left SR members of the Cheka falsely claiming Dzerzhinsky’s authority.*

    The Left SRs had been plotting for at least three months, behind the back of the government and against the overwhelming will of the Fourth Congress of Soviets, to provoke a renewed German attack on Soviet Russia. Rabinowitch himself provides enough evidence.

    When Rabinowitch discusses Bolshevik “fabrication” at the Fifth Congress he admits that it’s based on “circumstantial evidence” and a “nagging question” over how the Bolsheviks retained a majority.

    He’s an excellent historian but this just isn’t good enough.


    November 1, 2016 at 10:25 pm

  21. One thing worth remembering is that the Soviet system was one of indirect representation. In order to pack a high-level congress, it was necessary to rig the composition of lower-level bodies. If that had been done successfully, then the right sort of delegates could attend the high-level congress with all their credentials in order. The decree of 14 June 1918 excluding the Mensheviks and SRs from the VTsIK and inviting lower-level bodies to follow suit is one example of how this was done.


    November 3, 2016 at 11:45 am

  22. I agree that the soviet system wasn’t all that Marxists thought it was — or thought it would be — and it was much less like the Paris Commune, even early on, than in the picture that Lenin repeatedly painted.


    November 3, 2016 at 8:02 pm

  23. “In order to pack a high-level congress, it was necessary to rig the composition of lower-level bodies. If that had been done successfully, then the right sort of delegates could attend the high-level congress with all their credentials in order.”

    Credentials to the fifth congress were given to delegates from trade unions, Red Army units, and other essentially paper organizations controlled by the Bolsheviks. The Left SRs on the credentials committee objected to many of the delegates but their objections could only be carried with Bolshevik support since they were only 50% of the committee and obviously they didn’t get that support.


    November 4, 2016 at 3:43 pm

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