Could the Bolsheviks remain democratic through the RCW?

One of the debates that I've seen about the Bolsheviks is about how much of their degeneration into authoritarianism and brutality was a result of their pre-existing ideology, and how much of it was due to the brutalization of the RCW. I've seen some people argue that degeneration was inevitable regardless of who took power, and if it wasn't the Bolsheviks, it would have been someone else creating a dictatorship, but I've also seen arguments that it was the decisions made by the Bolsheviks that were responsible for the authoritarianism, and that they were unnecessary or counterproductive, and that the "brutality of the Civil War" is just an excuse by the Leninists to justify their actions.

Which begs the question, were the Bolsheviks measures really necessary? Were things like War Communism, the creation of the Cheka, and the suppression of the other parties really necessary for the survival of the Bolsheviks? Because I personally can believe that they were understandable decisions, in light of the actors involved and the civil war, but did they really ensure the survival of the Bolsheviks, or could they have made less authoritarian decisions and still survived the civil war?

(Ditto for any other faction, or a coalition of all the socialist parties.)

I mean, to quote Victor Serge on the necessity of the Cheka:
Since the first massacres of Red prisoners by the Whites, the murders of Volodarsky and Uritsky and the attempt against Lenin (in the summer of 1918), the custom of arresting and, often, executing hostages had become generalized and legal. Already the Cheka, which made mass arrests of suspects, was tending to settle their fate independently, under formal control of the Party, but in reality without anybody's knowledge. The Party endeavoured to head it with incorruptible men like the former convict Dzerzhinsky, a sincere idealist, ruthless but chivalrous, with the emaciated profile of an Inquisitor: tall forehead, bony nose, untidy goatee, and an expression of weariness and austerity. But the Party had few men of this stamp and many Chekas. I believe that the formation of the Chekas was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918 when plots, blockades, and interventions made them lose their heads. All evidence indicates that revolutionary tribunals, functioning in the light of day and admitting the right of defense, would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it necessary to revert to the procedures of the Inquisition?"
- From the Wikipedia article on the Cheka (Emphasis mine)
 
One of the debates that I've seen about the Bolsheviks is about how much of their degeneration into authoritarianism and brutality was a result of their pre-existing ideology, and how much of it was due to the brutalization of the RCW. I've seen some people argue that degeneration was inevitable regardless of who took power, and if it wasn't the Bolsheviks, it would have been someone else creating a dictatorship, but I've also seen arguments that it was the decisions made by the Bolsheviks that were responsible for the authoritarianism, and that they were unnecessary or counterproductive, and that the "brutality of the Civil War" is just an excuse by the Leninists to justify their actions.

Which begs the question, were the Bolsheviks measures really necessary? Were things like War Communism, the creation of the Cheka, and the suppression of the other parties really necessary for the survival of the Bolsheviks? Because I personally can believe that they were understandable decisions, in light of the actors involved and the civil war, but did they really ensure the survival of the Bolsheviks, or could they have made less authoritarian decisions and still survived the civil war?

(Ditto for any other faction, or a coalition of all the socialist parties.)

I mean, to quote Victor Serge on the necessity of the Cheka:

- From the Wikipedia article on the Cheka (Emphasis mine)
If you look at the personalities involved, no the RCW didn't guarantee it but the bloodthirsty people involved and the inherent violence of declaring entire sections of society as irredeemable enemies, centralizing all power, and denial of human nature really made mass oppression the most likely outcome.

Admittedly, had Tsar Nicholas II and the imperial government not been so incompetent, corrupt, and arrogant I doubt the conditions for such a revolution would've existed.
 
What do you mean by "democratic?" The Bolshevik party was always a liberal bourgeois institution in that it took over pre-existing geographic councils of bourgeois-nationalists, and the pre-existing state formations of bureaucracy, and repressed proletarian councils (or more properly "coopted" them.)

Do you mean the Bolshevik party's internal democracy? The Bolshevik party was never not internally democratic, decisions were formed by the dominance of the majority position, as gauged by party leaders calling regional power brokers. That the committees determined who the majority was and then all voted in line with the majority (generally) doesn't make them undemocratic.

Do you mean factory democracy? Before or after the council members fled to the countryside to eat, or demanded the restoration of capitalism in the capitals in order to be able to eat?

Democracy means a lot of things, particularly 1917-1936. Do you want a Duma with multiple bourgeois parties? Do you want a Central Soviet of Bourgeois Intellectuals comprised of multiple parties? Do you want the affiliation of councils of workers upwards towards governance by committee vote necessary to represent decisions at the level of their requirement?

Because I hate to tell you if you're a left-com or workerist, the last was ever present just like a parliament represents the real interests of voters through elected representatives.

yours,
Sam R.
 
Could you explain more what you mean about the Bolsheviks being liberal bourgeois, and about the soviet councils? Sorry, because I don't entirely understand what you're talking about, I suspect we have very different understandings of what happened.

When I say "Democratic," ideally, what I mean is for there to be competitive multi-party elections to the soviets with freedom of the press and assembly after the RCW (and the factory committees being the sole ones in control of production, in the factories that still exist after the brutal depopulation of the cities.)

I know it's not going to be easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, since I've read about the total economic collapse of the country during the civil war, and I have seen the statistics on how quickly cities like Moscow and Petrograd depopulated, as well as the Left SRs rising up over Brest-Litovsk. But what I'm asking is how necessary were the autocratic measures the Bolsheviks took? Were steps like the forced grain requisition, one-man management, creating the Cheka, suppressing newspapers, and banning parties really necessary for the Bolsheviks to survive the war, or could they have done away with them and still won? Because as I understand it, they were never really the underdogs of the war, and that actions by people like Lenin and Trotsky actually may have made the civil war worse for themselves (by pissing off the moderate socialists/Czechoslovak legion).

(And I'm talking about the Bolsheviks here, but would the same circumstances apply to a pan-socialist coalition seizing power if Red October was delayed, as outlined here by David T?)
 
One of the debates that I've seen about the Bolsheviks is about how much of their degeneration into authoritarianism and brutality was a result of their pre-existing ideology, and how much of it was due to the brutalization of the RCW. I've seen some people argue that degeneration was inevitable regardless of who took power, and if it wasn't the Bolsheviks, it would have been someone else creating a dictatorship, but I've also seen arguments that it was the decisions made by the Bolsheviks that were responsible for the authoritarianism, and that they were unnecessary or counterproductive, and that the "brutality of the Civil War" is just an excuse by the Leninists to justify their actions.

Which begs the question, were the Bolsheviks measures really necessary? Were things like War Communism, the creation of the Cheka, and the suppression of the other parties really necessary for the survival of the Bolsheviks? Because I personally can believe that they were understandable decisions, in light of the actors involved and the civil war, but did they really ensure the survival of the Bolsheviks, or could they have made less authoritarian decisions and still survived the civil war?

(Ditto for any other faction, or a coalition of all the socialist parties.)

I mean, to quote Victor Serge on the necessity of the Cheka:

- From the Wikipedia article on the Cheka (Emphasis mine)
I don't think it was the ideology or the civil war that made the post-war bolsheviks so brutal, I think it was ww1 itself: the people coming back from the front were now used to a live of violence and destruction of "the enemy" and those who stayed back had become used to a way of doing politics made of propaganda and special powers and they were going to bring these as their contribution in the creation of post-war russia regardless of who won the civil war.
Only countries that won the war and weren't devoured by economic and political instability after it (bsclly just the US, France and the UK) managed to survive the irruption of the masses radicalized by the war
 
Could you explain more what you mean about the Bolsheviks being liberal bourgeois, and about the soviet councils? Sorry, because I don't entirely understand what you're talking about, I suspect we have very different understandings of what happened.
There are multiple "Soviets" operating inside the Russian empire in October. The key one is geographic meetings of regional bourgeois party elites, claiming power from a national-democratic constituency and the capacity to make moral claims. This is the "petrograd" soviet. These soviets, with Bolshevik influence, seize the bureaucratic apparatus of the former Imperial state largely intact in October. In Leningrad it is the Lenin-fraction of Bolsheviks. In Moscow it is an all party affair.

Running a council of bourgeois experts claiming state power on the right to think better than others is a pretty liberal-bourgeois position. It is liberal in that it values the consciousness of individual representatives. It is bourgeois in that it forms a state not directly comprised of proletarians. Lenin was aware of the tightrope he was trying to make his party walk. In this sense the geographic soviets were a non-Duma duma.
When I say "Democratic," ideally, what I mean is for there to be competitive multi-party elections to the soviets with freedom of the press and assembly after the RCW (and the factory committees being the sole ones in control of production, in the factories that still exist after the brutal depopulation of the cities.)
In Hungary in 1956 the factory councils out manoeuvered the geographic councils fairly quickly. In Russia in 1919 it was the opposite. The ~real~ period of Dual power is not the period where a soviet comprised of bourgeois and intellectuals faces off against a state that wishes a duma. It is the period where factory councils and geographic councils face off.
I know it's not going to be easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, since I've read about the total economic collapse of the country during the civil war, and I have seen the statistics on how quickly cities like Moscow and Petrograd depopulated, as well as the Left SRs rising up over Brest-Litovsk. But what I'm asking is how necessary were the autocratic measures the Bolsheviks took?
Absolutely necessary: the bolshevik party would have lost control. Absolutely necessary: any party which maintained control would have taken those steps, including any party *replacing* the Bolshevik party and succeeding.
Were steps like the forced grain requisition, one-man management, creating the Cheka, suppressing newspapers, and banning parties really necessary for the Bolsheviks to survive the war, or could they have done away with them and still won? Because as I understand it, they were never really the underdogs of the war, and that actions by people like Lenin and Trotsky actually may have made the civil war worse for themselves (by pissing off the moderate socialists/Czechoslovak legion).
Remember that the Bolshevik Party under Lenin's influence views the structure of revolutionary politics as recohering the entire russian centrists and lefts under bolshevik party control. They don't view the creation of stable antagonisms between power holders as key (cf: late 18th century UK parliaments), they view as setting on fire heretics and forcing conversion as god's work (cf: Lord Protector Cromwell). They were really necessary for the Bolshevik party. And as we saw previously for winning the civil war, such was really necessary to win the civil war. Had the Bolshevik party failed in this regard, the Lenin sub-fraction's Petrograd coup would have displaced the majority position in order to implement the agenda that would have ensured the survival of "the state" as such. Yes I *did* just say that about Kronstadt.
(And I'm talking about the Bolsheviks here, but would the same circumstances apply to a pan-socialist coalition seizing power if Red October was delayed, as outlined here by David T?)
Yes I *did* just say that about Kronstadt.

A left-SR coup / all-party workers coup "gets sucked into the same Scissors Crisis" timeline is deliciously bathetic drama that is over-determined by the removal of tithe, tax and rent in the countryside, and by the internal market imbalance over desired consumption goods for peasants.

Is the civil war overdetermined in favour of the bourgeois side who claims to rule for workers? I really fucking doubt it. Most civil wars fail for the side claiming to rule on behalf of workers.

yours,
Sam R.
 
the creation of the Cheka, and the suppression of the other parties
Oh yes, they were necessary, the one thing that didn't plague the Bolsheviks during the civil war was infighting and factionalism, they were united in their purpose to defend the October revolution, nobody in the red faction really knew what the October revolution stood for in the absence of a strong central authority which defined what the resolution was and enforced it through the checkists. The Bolsheviks were clear in the their program:

1. All power to the Soviets (which they hijacked before) in opposition to other bodies claiming sovereign authority in erstwhile Russian Empire.

2. Land reform (which they went back on with food requisition)

3. Peace ( end of participation in great war so that they can fight the civil war)

4. Bread ( I don't know what they meant by it but whatever food remained went to the red army)

Like the Reds knew what their programs were and they justified their brutality with these programs.

What common program did the whites have? Oppose what the Bolsheviks stood for.


Were things like War Communism
Well yes, but were there excesses, yes. One fact everyone forgets, Russian civil war was fought alongside the railways for the control of the railway lines and one of the objective of war communism was, red army's control of railways. As for grain requisition.....well...if you didn't the whites might. It's simple as that.

In a way the brutality of the civil war was product of the war but let's not forget who started the war, the Bolsheviks themselves, if they were democratic they would have respected the mandate of the election and not be fascists and try to take power by force. That's why I say the means of capturing state power by Marxist leninists and fascists is the same only their platform differs in words.
 
I don't think it was the ideology or the civil war that made the post-war bolsheviks so brutal, I think it was ww1 itself: the people coming back from the front were now used to a live of violence and destruction of "the enemy" and those who stayed back had become used to a way of doing politics made of propaganda and special powers and they were going to bring these as their contribution in the creation of post-war russia regardless of who won the civil war.
Only countries that won the war and weren't devoured by economic and political instability after it (bsclly just the US, France and the UK) managed to survive the irruption of the masses radicalized by the war
The USSR from 1922 to 1929 was pretty OK place to live, sure heavy Industry was "Nationalized" (in practice it was run independently of the government on market commercial considerations by a bunch of technocrats who organized their factories with other factories into horizontal and vertical combines and trusts), retail trade and agriculture was in the hands of private capital and the country was making great progress and any issues during the NEP was primarily because of the civil war, there were debates within the party of the duration of the NEP and should it be curtailed or be liberalized further.

What changed the USSR into a paranoid dictatorship that practiced the soft core version of war communism was:

1. The Victory of Stalin: He initially started off as pro NEP and stood against the hardline communists within the party but after he disposed off the leadership of this wing, he began to use their supporters to attack the right faction of the CPSU to gain power and rest is history. NEP ended, 5 years plans were initiated using the experience gained from war communism, the plans set up heavy industrial base that helped create the military Industrial complex which in turn modernized the red army, in a way Stalin's Industrialization was war communism done right.
The Industrialization created fissures within the system as the system suddenly took in massive numbers of new elites and middle class folks who could not get ahead because of the old guard, this in turn created conspiracy and instability which in turn caused the big Mustache to just purge everyone he doubted.

2. End of NEP: NEP was a decent economic policy, it was basically a compromise solution in a deeply agrarian society. While the benefits of NEP on soviet agriculture was well known the achievements of soviet industry under NEP, is not that well emphasized. Restoration of Industrial capacity to 1914 levels was done in just 5 years and by 1929 Industrial production in many sectors had exceeded pre war levels.
But NEP had one serious problem, while agriculture produced more and more surplus, there was not much industrial capacity to trade the goods there was no fertilizers, no tractors or other inputs nor did the soviet Industry produce enough consumer goods. This resulted in food procurement crises from time to time. NEP would have worked in an environment where Industrialization has taken place to an extent that the manufacturing becomes the major sector of the economy around which the economic system if organized. NEP was implemented at a time when the national economy was centered around agriculture.

3. Nature of Soviet Industrialization: From 1929 to 1952 the entire economy was rebuilt around heavy industrial base which was used to build the red army and the fleet and the air force. The soviet leadership realized the need for a formidable military to defend their country from a unstable neighborhood in the east and the emerging situation in the west which created a feeling of being encircled and rightfully saw the need to develop strong military which needed a heavy industrial base and other requirements such as a health care system, a education system, research and development etc etc meaning the entire production system was built around the needs of the military, it is basically a more refined version of war communism, with a benefit of hindsight.
 
Well then, was there anything that the different socialist parties (not just the Bolsheviks) could have done before the October Revolution that would have prevented a degeneration into autocracy then? Or was it inevitable no matter what?
 
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