Menshevikism

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ajjohnstone
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Mar 20 2017 08:44
Menshevikism

https://www.marxists.org/archive/martov/1920/07/thesis.htm

Theses approved by the Pan-Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Mensheviks) on April 10 1920.

In 1920 when a British Labour Delegation visited Russia the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries each issued a full statement of their position. These were included in the Report of the Delegation.

The Menshevik document has now been uploaded to the internet

Noa Rodman
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Mar 24 2017 17:19

It could already be found online at archive.org

According to Boris Nikolaevskij (see ff p. 82 Меньшевики после октябрьской революции, 1990) the theses were sort of an attempt at a new party program (the old one still dated from 1903). The Bolsheviks allowed its publication but refused to provide paper, so the Mensheviks found a way around this by printing it on the back of posters. Nikolaevskij also talks a bit about the conference itself (held in Moscow). Because of difficulty in transportation of delegates, it was planned to coincide with a trade union congress (that way menshevik trade-unionists could attend at the same time the party conference).

It warns about extension of methods of oppression, though it accepts the necessity, under circumstances, of disenfranchisement of bourgeoisie. And mensheviks took part in the civil war against the Whites. It is reasonable to insist on their right of criticism/disagreement in the abstract (indeed within the bolshevik party similar concerns were voiced), but it seems that due to the logic of events a number of mensheviks finally decided to join the bolsheviks.

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jondwhite
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Mar 24 2017 20:55

I think the "logic" of accepting some oppression temporarily as "necessary" was summed up best by Martin Niemoller in the famous poem;

Quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

A lot of people seem to think this is about some ideologies posing unique or hidden dangers (e.g. fascism or Stalinism), but actually it seems to me to be about how incrementally people trade away their freedoms, in particular freedom of speech, and failing to think about the bigger picture. Mensheviks joining the Bolsheviks seem to have made this mistake and laid the groundwork for Stalin's seizure of power and themselves paid for it when he went about his purges.

Noa Rodman
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Mar 24 2017 22:34

My point was more that the Menshevik position was not practically effective (once the civil war got under way).

By the way, in the discussions among mensheviks (and with Kautsky) about the nature of soviet Russia, you find much the same "academic" questions that troubled Trotskyism.

On Menshevik's own record in power (Georgia), see Trotsky's Between Red and White. (Trotsky relies eg on a brochure of Н. Л. Мещеряков: «В меньшевистском раю». who also wrote «Легкомысленный путешественник».) All the Menshevik criticism of Bolshevism can be more or less symmetrically returned to them where they were in power.

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jondwhite
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Mar 27 2017 16:00

Which Menshevik position are you talking about? Which "academic" questions are you talking about? Which Menshevik criticism of Bolshevism are you talking about?

Noa Rodman
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Mar 27 2017 16:34

The position of favouring the CA as against soviets, of favouring parliamentary struggle as against the reality of civil war. The "academic" questions were about the nature of the revolution/soviet Russia and degeneration. The Menshevik criticism is about violations to democracy. And here's a passage from Trotsky's book on how democratically (quote unquote) the Mensheviks came to power in Georgia:

Trotsky wrote:
in April, 1918, the Trans-Caucasian Diet, composed of the very same delegates that participated in the Constituent Assembly, resolved to secede and to form an independent State. Thus, upon the fundamental question of national existence – with Soviet Russia, or apart from and against her – nobody thought of consulting the wishes of the Trans-Caucasian population; there was no mention made of referendum, plebiscite, or new elections.
....
Next, at the first impetus from outside, the Tartars, Armenians and Georgians, were split up into three states, again without being consulted.

On the very same day the Georgian section of the Diet proclaimed the independence of the Georgian Republic. Nobody consulted the workers and peasants of Georgia; they were confronted with an accomplished fact.

In the course of the subsequent nine months, the Mensheviks were busy enforcing the ‘accomplished fact’: the Communists were driven underground, relations were opened with the Turks and Germans, peace treaties were negotiated, the Germans were replaced by the English and Americans, the Mensheviks carried out their fundamental reforms, and, above all, created their praetorian armed force in the shape of the National Guards. And only after this did they venture to convene the Constituent Assembly (in May, 1919) placing before the masses the necessity of electing representatives to the parliament of an independent Georgian Republic, of which they had previously neither heard nor dreamed.

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Serge Forward
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Mar 27 2017 16:52
Trotsky wrote:
nobody thought of consulting the wishes of the Trans-Caucasian population... blah blah... Nobody consulted the workers and peasants of Georgia; they were confronted with an accomplished fact... blah blah...

Pots and kettles innit.

This comment in no way endorses Menshevism... but y'know... that bloody Trotsky eh.

Noa Rodman
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Mar 27 2017 17:08
Quote:
Pots and kettles innit.

That's what I meant about symmetrical return, though actually

Kautsky in March 1918 wrote:
about the question of the right of self-determination of the Russian neighbouring nations, ... the Bolsheviks acted not as despisers, but as defenders of democracy, above all of the general and equal suffrage. They stood here on the same ground as the other socialist parties in Russia, yes of the International.

Except the Georgian mensheviks, who, as Trotsky notes, violated that principle.

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Serge Forward
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Mar 27 2017 20:46

Fair enough.

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jondwhite
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Mar 28 2017 06:02

They might have been hypocrites but history shows the Mensheviks were proven right about the nature of the soviets and the revolution in Russia and the Bolsheviks proven wrong.

Noa Rodman
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Mar 28 2017 18:02

For Martov the "dictatorship of the proletariat organised on the basis of the soviet system" is a syndicalist idea.

If he has in mind primarily the Factory Committees, and that's my hunch, then the Bolsheviks (or for instance Bordiga) could agree with his point. Although he might also be mixing the future communist society with the transitional DotP (I don't think syndicalists recognise the necessity of a DotP).

When he advocates that:

Martov wrote:
together with the organs representing productive groups, significant through their connection with industries, a definite part may also be played by institutions of representatives elected by citizens grouped together on certain territory,

it seems that he doesn't consider the Workers' and Peasants' Soviets to be such territory-based representative institutions, which is odd as everyone knows the soviets were created for a definite territory (district, city, province).

Perhaps Martov refers to election procedures of the soviet (what the electorate should be defined as, etc.). That would be interesting to explore. But his reproach of syndicalism is simply false.