I see that my article (Weekly Worker no. 396) has produced some debate. Circumstances have excluded my replying until now and space excludes answering every point.
Phil Kent (letters no. 398) argues that Lenin's "preferred model was for an open, legal, public organisation." Looking at the 21 conditions for entry into the Communist International we find a somewhat different position. The parties adhering to the Comintern were "obliged everywhere to create a parallel illegal organisation which at the decisive moment will help the Party to do its duty to the revolution." Needless to say, this illegal organisation would be the real controlling body, as it would have to be made up of trusted communists and its members could only be appointed from above. Open, legal, public? Closed, illegal and secret would be a better description. And supporters of Bolshevism attack Bakunin for his secrecy!
Kent argues that anarchists are not in favour of centralism, but rather seek a federal system. True, but federalism exists to co-ordinate joint activity and so anarchism does emphasise "the need for disciplined unity in action" but this unity is not imposed from above. It comes from below. He argues that anarchism raises "individualistic concerns of the various elements - with the concomitant risk of encouraging narrow interests against universal ones." The Bolsheviks partly justified their undermining of workers' democracy precisely in these terms. By pure co-incidence, the "universal" interests happened to coincide with the needs of Bolshevik power. Kent fails to understand that the centralised structures he stresses raises narrow interests over universal ones -- those of the handful of people at the centre who have real power.
He argues that anarchism will be "built exclusively from the bottom up, as if the most underprivileged, desperate sections of society actually had all the answers." Anarchists argue for a mass, working class revolution. If working class people do not have "all the answers" then who does? If socialism is not built from below, by the working class, then who builds it from above? Clearly the party. In this Kent echoes Lenin, who argued for "From above as well as from below" and that "renunciation of pressure also from above is anarchism." In summary: "Pressure from below is pressure by the citizens on the revolutionary government. Pressure from above is pressure by the revolutionary government on the citizens."
As the experience of Bolshevism in power showed, "from above" was far more powerful. Indeed, it soon became party dictatorship, with the Bolsheviks arguing explicitly that democracy would mean the defeat of the revolution. This is best seen from March 1923, when the Central Committee summed up the lessons of the Revolution and stated that "the party of the Bolsheviks proved able to stand out fearlessly against the vacillations within its own class, vacillations which, with the slightest weakness in the vanguard, could turn into an unprecedented defeat for the proletariat." Vacillations, of course, are expressed by democracy. Little wonder the statement rejects it: "The dictatorship of the working class finds its expression in the dictatorship of the party."
This position, I stress, was being argued by all the leading Bolsheviks from at least 1919. Zinoviev argued it during the discussion on the Party at the Second Congress of the Comintern. Trotsky and Lenin did not disagree (quite the reverse!). Even after the rise of Stalin, the need for party dictatorship was stressed (the 1927 Platform of the Joint Opposition argued for "the Leninist principle, inviolable for every Bolshevik, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be realised only through the dictatorship of the party").
And Kent argues that Anarchists "do not try to build unity around the majority, but expect a revolutionary elite, taught principally by harsh experience, to force the majority into action"!
Does the working class have "all the answers"? Perhaps not, but they have more answers than a self-perpetuating elite who justify their power because the working class makes what it considers mistakes!
He finishes by arguing that the "Bolshevik programme was democratic." In that case, why did they reject democracy at every turn? The Bolshevik programme, for example, called upon the creation of a Constituent Assembly. It was called and then disbanded as it did not have a Bolshevik majority. The same thing happened with soviets in the spring of 1918 (and the committees in the army as well as the factory committees). Kent argues that "it is true that under the impact of the White terror democracy collapsed." Yet, this destruction of democracy occurred before the start of the Civil War. However, as this is a common argument, I will ignore that slight problem and address its logic.
To refute it, I need only quote Trotsky. In 1937, he argued that the "leaders of the CNT . . . explained their open betrayal of the theory of anarchism by the pressure of 'exceptional circumstances' . . . Naturally, civil war is not a peaceful and ordinary but an 'exceptional circumstance.' Every serious revolutionary organisation, however, prepares precisely for 'exceptional circumstances.'" If Kent's argument was factually correct (and let me stress that it is not) then it is a damning indictment of Leninism. Not that Trotsky was in favour of democracy during a revolution. In the same year he was talking about the "objective necessity" of the "revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party." Indeed, the "revolutionary party (vanguard) which renounces its own dictatorship surrenders the masses to the counter-revolution."
Kent echoes this position by stating that the CPGB "think the Bolsheviks were right to try and hang on to power in the hope of the revolution spreading, which offered the only real hope of a civilised outcome." I thought it was the working class which was meant to have power under socialism? And he opens the door to party dictatorship over the working class by his comments. This was the logic of Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev, after all. And Kent wants us to believe that Bolshevism is "democratic"!
Eddie Ford's article (no. 398) on Bakunin was truly terrible. The usual quoting of Bakunin from his pre-anarchist days (perhaps we can discredit Fascism by quoting Mussolini when he was a Marxist?). The usual quoting of anti-Bakunin "authorities" as if they were objective. And, of course, the usual disgraceful selective quoting from Bakunin's works. Space excludes a detailed reply to his distorted account of Bakunin's letters to Richards and Nechayev. I will just urge the reader to consult those letters and see for themselves how Ford distorts their message. Compare, for example, his comment that Bakunin thought that "'official power' (i.e., one which is accountable) is abhorrent, but 'unofficial power' is OK" with Bakunin's statement that his group "acts on the people only by the natural personal influence of its members who are not invested with any power."
Ford argues that "in comrade McKay's article, we have echoes of Bakunin and his flat rejection of 'the authority of the majority over the minority' (i.e., democracy)" and yet does not answer the questions I raised. Until you do no one will take you seriously. Here is another one. From Ford's comments, I take it he supports the actions of the anti-war minority in the SPD's Riechstag faction in 1914? Rather than denounce the war and vote against war credits, they followed the "democratic will of the majority" and voted for them. Were they right to betray the working class and socialism? If not, why not?
Ford ends by stating: "In our view our anarchist comrades should also reconsider their dogmatic and essentially elitist rejection of democracy. Far from representing a barrier to genuine self-liberation - which must be the act of the majority - democracy is our main weapon against capitalism, bureaucracy and counterrevolution."
Tell that to the Bolsheviks! They rejected democracy repeatedly when the majority rejected them. Rather than submit themselves to the "authority of the majority," they raised the dictatorship of the party to an ideological truism. Yet he calls Anarchists elitists! Nor does he explain how working with others as equals is "elitist." And accepting the decisions of a majority before you know what they are is the true dogma.
And what kind of "democracy" do you have in mind? As indicated in my original article, anarchists argue for working class self-management of the class struggle and revolution. Workers councils organised and run from below, based on assemblies who elect mandated and recallable delegates. It implies collective decision making and co-ordination of common affairs. It also means rejecting what Bakunin called "the authoritarian conception of discipline" which "always signifies despotism on the one hand and blind automatic submission to authority on the other." Rather, we must organise a new kind of discipline, which is "voluntary and intelligently understood" and "necessary whenever a greater number of individuals undertake any kind of collective work or action." This is "simply the voluntary and considered co-ordination of all individual efforts for a common purpose . . In such a system, power, properly speaking, no longer exists. Power is diffused to the collectivity and becomes the true expression of the liberty of everyone, the faithful and sincere realisation of the will of all . . . this is the only true discipline, the discipline necessary for the organisation of freedom. " In other words, self-management.
Rather than "control" authority, we must abolish it and manage our own affairs directly and collectively (because those in authority will have the effective power, not those "controlling" them). It seems ironic to call anarchists elitists when, in practice, "democracy" under both capitalism and "socialism" means running a society from the top-down by a handful of individuals who claim to know what the majority wants. Is a society where the decisions that affect millions are made by 19 people of the central committee "democratic"? If so, no wonder more and more people are embracing anarchism.