Debate on the Bolsheviks & the Vanguard Party

The Case For ......

Dick Curlewis has attacked the Labor Review for its article in issue 423 entitled The Bolshevik Revolution did not create a Totalitarian State" by Paul La Blanc.

Firstly a minor point I am accused of distorting theory in supporting the concept of the Vanguard party. In fact the author of the article Paul La Blanc relies upon the Leninist theory of the party. Dick surely means that he opposes the theory rather than the accusation he actually makes that La Blanc and I distort the theory..

In Labor Review No. 21 1 wrote a short article entitled "Emancipation of the Working class - Does it require a Vanguard?" where I set out the reasoning behind the Leninist ( rather than the Stalinist ) conception of the party. Not one word of this has Dick referred to which is surprising given his assertion that the working class does not need a Vanguard Party. I do not require Dick to "look at my sources" as he demands of me, but to merely address the arguments actually put on the very subject that he is writing about. This failure makes it difficult to reply to his assertion that the class does not need a Vanguard Party, when no argument is put save the experience at one depot in the Melbourne Tram strike of 1990. What exactly the "great lesson" that is to be learnt from this localised "council" of Tram workers at this single depot is not clear. What is clear is that this "council" was never able to extend itself to even one other depot, that it was unable to effect the outcome of the strike and that it was powerless to prevent the Union leadership settling the strike as they did.. It's complete disappearance soon after the strike was over shows that the workers can and do spontaneously organise themselves,but that once the immediate cause for their action has passed the vast majority retire to private existence leaving little trace of the "council' they had created. As the article in Labor Review No 21 pointed out, one of the reasons that the party is necessary is so that any valuable experience that a section of the class goes through can be extended to broader layers of workers and that any lessons learnt can be part of the permanent understanding of all the militant workers through the medium of the party long after the strike has ended. Dick's alternative to a party can be seen in the Brunswick depot where nothing remains but the fond memories of a few individuals like Dick.

If there is any unique about a council formed during the heat of a strike and there isn't, Dick has yet to tell us what it is, apart from saying that it showed us how to make contact with other workers and the community. As this process is part and parcel of every serious strikeDick has still to address the Leninist arguments for a Vanguard Party.

Dick's second major point "that the result of the Bolshevik Government did answer to it". Dick should be asking what were -the pressures in the Soviet Union that the Bolsheviks faced in the early years of the revolution, were all Bolsheviks equally responsible for the totalitarian regime of the 1930's or was there an alternative programme to that of Stalin . Dick considers none of these questions. His ideas do not explain why the Stalin totalitarian regime executed virtually all of Lenin's associates in the Moscow Trial frameups of 1936 and 1938 and caused the death and imprisonment of thousands and thousands of loyal Communist Party members who opposed with their lives the destruction of the Soviets and working class power in the U.S.S.R. The most resolute fighters were the Left Opposition formed in 1923. They never gave up the fight and died fighting.

Of this titanic struggle which raged for years Dick says nothing. Dick is content to lump victim and oppressor together and to take Joseph Stalin at his word that he (Stalin) was the legitimate continuation of V.I.Lenin. Even Dick must know that one of Lenin's last political acts was to form an alliance with Trotsky to fight Stalin and the emerging bureaucracy that Stalin represented. Further more, Stalin though he claimed to be the continuation of the regime headed by Lenin completely overturned the most basic bolshevik positions on internationalism, the right to self determination, workers democracy and social equality ( Stalin called the demand for wage equality petty bourgeois)... Stalin made , alliances with bourgeois forces the so called popular front) and ended the long tradition of free debate in the party. To equate these contending forces as bolshevik is to echo the identical argument of the new right that bolshevism, and Stalinism are the same thing. Such an argument ignores the actual struggle that took place in the U.S.S.R. and the economic and political context in which it took place.

Instead we are given a series of unrelated thoughts for which no evidence is given.

The poverty of the historical argument with its bald assertions and lack of any stated context is well suited to the present day remedy advanced by Dick which boils down to the limited and temporary experiences at one depot in l990. Whose lessons Dick seems unable to spell out. Spontaneous Organisation such as emerged in the Brunswick depot is a vital part of any real movement in the working class but as the Tram strike of 1990 has proved yet again it is no substitute for a disciplined party of the working class capable of continuing the struggle beyond the life of the strike itself .

Chris Gaffney