Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Power Question

The Spanish and Russian Revolutions

When I first got involved in "radical" politics, I quickly learned that the Spanish Revolution was the "good" revolution and the Russian Revolution was the "bad" one. While the big names of the "anti-authoritarian" left do a wonderful job of explaining the positive gains in social and property relations during the Spanish Revolution, as well as putting the acts of violence in context, they seem to agree with the Capitalists' version of history regarding the Russian Revolution.

Yes, it is easy to write off such a monumental event if Stalinism is a direct result of "Lenin's vision" and the conflict between Trotsky and Stalin was essentially a conflict of individual personalities. Only understanding the "anti-authoritarian" and Capitalist version of the events, I tended to romanticize the Spanish Revolution (which failed) and had no interest in the Russian Revolution (which succeeded). This didn't allow me to put the our historical situation in its proper context. I, no doubt along with a countless number of others, was setting myself up to expect failure. It is true that both Revolutions were extremely complicated, messy, violent, and full of contradictions; but after reading several accounts of both it is clear the class independent leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, along with the Bolsheviks' willingness to take power, pushed the Russian Revolution forward to success while the class collaborationist leadership during the Spanish Revolution, and their outright refusal to take power, led to its failure.

The "anti-authoritarian" left rightfully wants to distance themselves from the awful degeneration of Stalinism, but in doing so they forfeit the legacy of the greatest event in the history of humanity. This isn't to say the Russian Revolution is a template all subsequent Revolutions must fit into (the Revolution in Venezuela, a Revolution which I fully support, doesn't exactly fit this format), but it does mean that we can learn both positive and negative lessons from the way it was carried out, and it's eventual betrayal.

Power, Leadership, and the Working Class

Power isn't bad. Leadership isn't bad. Although both can be bad, they aren't inherently bad. Like other tools that can be used to restrict the actions of another, they need to be held directly accountable by those who they could potentially affect. Despite the hundreds of essays and books deconstructing both words to the point of them meaning whatever the so-called "expert" desires, the concepts of leadership and power are easily grasped by the average worker. There is no controversy here.

Many also recognize there is a politically advanced layer of the working class. This is an objective fact. For whatever reason, certain people have drawn certain conclusions while others haven't. This doesn't mean the advanced group is better, smarter, or anything of the sort. They do, however, have a more defined role to play. They must be on the front lines making demands Capitalism can't fulfill and simultaneously explain why these demands are only "unrealistic" within the confines of a system that allows a few people dictatorial control over all of industry. It is not their job to "make a revolution." As factory occupations, "bossnappings," and Soviets (worker councils) have shown, workers come up with all sorts of ingenious solutions for their situations. In order to coordinate and best implement these revolutionary changes, the working class needs leaders who are willing and able to take power. Again, despite the babble so many intellectuals have made a career out of spewing, this is common sense to many working people.

It appears for many on the left, largely because of the Stalinist caricature of Socialism, power and leadership have become taboo, something to be avoided. This is a recipe for failure. If our leaders aren't one hundred percent ready to take power, and use that power to implement Socialism, we are forever doomed to activist groups and autonomous movements that offer little more than book opportunities for the usual suspects within leftist circles.

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