Refuting Council Communist On Vanguardism

This short essay will be debunking @workers.council on the vanguard party which you can read here. I’ll try to go easy on him, but this essay is just awful so it will be hard. Let’s begin. The first thing our dialectical master says is:

The Leninist concept of a “vanguard party” does a disservice to the working class and to the revolution. It elevates elites to the position of rulers of the proletariat under the guise of the “enlightened” proletarians leading other proletarians. This sows the seeds for the type of bureaucratic oligarchy that ruled the USSR.

This is a totally absurd and just plain wrong claim. The vanguard party does in no way a disservice to the working class. Members of the vangaurd party are not to be treated any better than those of the regular working class. Now, in the USSR, the majority of the population were peasants, and therefore the party could not just allow the peasants to have control of the factories and means of production because they would’ve run them into the ground, hence the need for former bureaucrats to join the party and run things for the Bolsheviks also had limited knowledge on how to run a country. The USSR was not an oligarchy, it was simply democratic centralism at work [1]. The reason it fell to revisionism was due to their adherence to industrial style economic planning, not because they were evil. The next claim given is,

Vanguardism also implies that the proletariat cannot fully achieve class consciousness through class struggle. Workers’ councils have been shown to, by escalating class struggle, spread class consciousness among the proletariat, whereas vanguard parties lead the proletariat to revolution prematurely, when communists are still a minority. This means that most proletarians will not be able to wield power in their own class interests, and that some will actively resist socialism. The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be achieved under such conditions. It can only be achieved, in fact, when every segment of the proletariat is aware of its own class interests and imposed those interests onto their workplaces and communities through workers’ councils.

This claim is so erroneous I don’t even know where to begin. Firstly, vangaurdism does not at all suggest that the proletariat cannot achieve class consciousness on its own, I have no idea where the author gets that impression. What vanguardism does assert is that once the proletarians have achieved class consciousness, they have no way of doing anything about it unless there is a party dedicated to serving their interests and overthrowing the bourgeoisie. There simply being a minority of proletarians in the USSR and China does not suggest that that is inherent to all vanguard parties. Revolution happens not where the workers are the most oppressed and consciousness, but where the capitalists are the weakest; that’s why all revolutions have happened in the third world, even if you consider Rojava a council communist type revolution they still are in the third world and did not have a majority proletariat. Next, the author claims that a proletarian dictatorship is not possible unless every single person is a worker and understands their interests, however this is false. Let’s take the USSR as an example. They were a true dictatorship of the proletariat but they were not a majority proletarian. This can also be understood by taking an example of the United States in the 1860s. In the 1860s, the United States had an economic system known as industrial capitalism, however there were more slaves working than industrial workers, so how can this be? It was because the dominant mode of production was being driven by industrial capital, just as in the USSR the dominant mode of production was being drive by the proletarians [2]. Next, the author claims,

During the revolution, those with political power in vanguard parties have their interests as proletarians superseded by their interest in keeping power.  This could lead them to betray other proletarian movements and prioritize not the success of the revolution itself, but the success of their own party.  The Bolsheviks exemplified these behaviors, crushing other proletarian uprisings such as the Kronstadt Rebellion and the Makhnovite Revolution, and keeping power away from some sections of the proletariat by forbidding non-Bolsheviks from participation in the Soviets.

For the first claim known as planners’ preference, our author provides absolutely no evidence aside from cherry picked examples of the USSR crushing uprisings. However, rather than just dismissing his claim on the basis of no evidence, let’s see whether or not the USSR really planned the economy for its citizens. For this, I will be stealing the State Capitalist section from my USSR page

Firstly, among the most important accomplishments of the Soviet economy was the abolition of unemployment. Not only did the Soviet Union provide jobs for all, but work was considered a social obligation, of such importance that it was enshrined in the constitution. The 1936 constitution stipulated that “citizens of the USSR have the right to work, that is, are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance with quantity and quality.” On the other hand, making a living through means other than work was prohibited. Therefore deriving an income from rent, profits, speculation or the black market (social parasitism) was illegal [2]. Something that further benefited the people of the USSR was the fact that finding a job was easy, because labor was usually in short supply. Due to this, employees had a high degree of bargaining power on the job, with obvious benefits in job security, and management paying close attention to employee satisfaction [3].

Another way the average soviet citizen was from Article 41 of the 1977 constitution which capped the workweek at 41 hours. Workers on night shift worked seven hours but received full (eight-hour) shift pay. Workers employed at dangerous jobs (such as mining) or where sustained alertness was critical (such as physicians) worked six or seven-hour shifts, but received full time pay. Overtime work was prohibited except under special circumstances [2]. Also, from the 1960s, employees received an average of one month vacation time for nearly all jobs [4]. All Soviet citizens were also provided a retirement income, men at the age of 60, and women at the age of 55 [5]. The right to a pension (as well as disability benefits) was guaranteed by the Soviet constitution (Article 43), rather than being revocable and subject to the interests of politicians bought off by capitalists. The right to housing was guaranteed under a the constitutional provision (Article 44). Urban housing space, however, was cramped, about half of what it was in Austria and West Germany. The reasons were poor construction of infrastructure in Tsarist times, the massive destruction of housing during World War II, and Soviet emphasis on heavy industry. Prior to the October Revolution, inadequate urban housing was built for ordinary people. After the revolution, new housing was built, but the housing stock remained insufficient. Housing draws heavily on capital, which the government needed urgently for the construction of industry. In addition, Nazi invaders destroyed 1/3 to 1/2 of all Soviet dwellings during the Second World War [6].

When it comes to the health and well being of citizens, The Soviet Union placed greater stress on healthcare than their capitalist competitors did. No other country had more physicians per capita or more hospital beds per capita than the USSR. In 1977, the Soviet Union had 35 doctors and 212 hospital beds per 10,000 compared to 18 doctors and 63 hospital beds in the United States [2]. Most important, healthcare was free. The fact that US citizens had to pay for their healthcare was considered extremely barbaric in the Soviet Union, and Soviet citizens “often questioned US tourists quite incredulously on this point” [6]. Education through university was also free, and stipends were available for post-secondary students, adequate to pay for textbooks, room and board, and other expenses [2 & 6].

If planners’ preference was true, and the “Soviet Elites” just disregarded their citizens needs in favor of their own, as a capitalist disregards their workers’ needs in favor of their own, then why would any of what has been discussed in this section be true? Why would living standards have risen so greatly in the USSR on top of all the benefits offered to workers and citizens? It simply wouldn’t have, which makes it clear that when there is a true proletarian dictatorship, such as the USSR, the people have the power and are able to use that power for their own benefit.

As for the times which the USSR crushed the Kronstadt Rebellion and the Makhnovite Revolution, the reason for them doing so was to preserve the interests of the proletarian state in the USSR and to make sure that no counter revolutionaries tried to take over Russia and overthrow Stalin [7]. The last claim made by @workers.councils is,

“After the revolution, the leaders of the vanguard party will leave the proletariat to become members of a new ruling class.  This is what Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and other high-ranking Bolsheviks did.  If someone works only for a state and doesn’t take part in production, they cannot be said to be a proletarian.  And if the supposed “proletarian party” is organized at the highest level by non-proletarian bureaucrats, how could it ever hope to advance the class interests of the proletariat?”

For anyone who is at all familiar with Marxist theory, this makes no sense. The only way one can leave the working class is if their relation to the means of production changes, and given that state planners controlled the means of production alongside the workers via trade unions [8] would this not mean that all workers in the USSR were no longer proletariat and were members of the new ruling class? Of course not. And aside from the humor in him calling Trotsky a high ranking official in the USSR given most of the claims he’s making here came directly from trotsky [9], our author is wrong to assert that the Bolsheviks did not have the same interests as the working class given what I explained above of everything they did to better the lives of the working class, especially given that members like Stalin had little more benefits than the average worker [10] and even tried to leave the part four times because he did not want to bare the troubles of being a state official [11].

References:

  1. https://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/government/index.htm
  2. Szymanski, A. “Is the Red Flag Flying? The Political Economy of the Soviet Union Today” (1979)
  3. Kotz, David M. “Socialism and Global Neoliberal Capitalism” (2003)
  4. Keeran, R. and Kenny, Thomas. “Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union,” (2004)
  5. Lerouge, H. “How the October Revolution and the Soviet Union contributed to the labour movement in Western Europe, and more particularly in Belgium” (2010)
  6. Sherman, Howard J. “The Soviet Economy, Little, Brown and Company” (1969)
  7. https://espressostalinist.com/the-real-stalin-series/opposition/
  8. Costello, M. “Workers’ Participation in The Soviet Union” 
  9. https://espressostalinist.com/marxism-leninism-versus-revisionism/trotskyism/
  10. Ludwig, Emil. “Stalin.” (1942)
  11. Alexandrov, G. F. “Joseph Stalin; a Short Biography.” (1947)
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