Marxists often accuse anarchists of failing to place the quotations and actions of, say, the Bolsheviks into the circumstances which generated them. By this they mean that Bolshevik authoritarianism can be explained purely in terms of the massive problems facing them (i.e. the rigours of the Civil War, the economic collapse and chaos in Russia and so on). We will simply summarise the anarchist reply by noting that this argument has three major problems with it.
Firstly, there is the problem that Bolshevik authoritarianism started before the start of the Civil War and, moreover, intensified after its end. As such, the Civil War cannot be blamed.
The second problem is simply that Lenin continually stressed that civil war and economic chaos was inevitable during a revolution. If Leninist politics cannot handle the inevitable then they are to be avoided. Equally, if Leninists blame what they should know is inevitable for the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution it would suggest their understanding of what revolution entails is deeply flawed.
The last problem is simply that the Bolsheviks did not care. As Samuel Farber notes, “there is no evidence indicating that Lenin or any of the mainstream Bolshevik leaders lamented the loss of workers’ control or of democracy in the soviets, or at least referred to these losses as a retreat, as Lenin declared with the replacement of War Communism by NEP in 1921. In fact . . . the very opposite is the case.” [Before Stalinism, p. 44]
Hence the continuation (indeed, intensification) of Bolshevik authoritarianism after their victory in the civil war. To argue, therefore, that “social context” explains the politics and actions of the Bolsheviks seems incredulous.