“Workers’ power” cannot be identified or equated with the power of the Party – as it repeatedly was by the Bolsheviks. In the words of Rosa Luxemburg, workers’ power must be implemented
“by the class, not by a minority, managing things in the name of the class. It must emanate from the active involvement of the masses, remain under their direct influence, be submitted to control by the entire population, result from the increasing political awareness of the people”.
As for the concept of “taking power” it cannot mean a semi-military putsch, carried out by a minority, as it obviously does for so many who still seem to be living in the Petrograd of 1917. Nor can it only mean the defence – however necessary – of what the working class has won against attempts by the bourgeoisie to win it back. What “taking power” really implies is that the vast majority of the working class at last realizes its ability to manage both production and society – and organizes to this end.
An analysis of the Russian Revolution shows that in allowing a specific group, separate from the workers themselves, to take over the function of managing production, the working class loses all possibility of even controlling the means of producing wealth. The separation of productive labour from the means of production results in an exploiting society. Moreover, when institutions such as the Soviets could no longer be influenced by ordinary workers, the regime could no longer be called a soviet regime. By no stretch of the imagination could it still be taken to reflect the interests of the working class. The basic question: who manages production after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? should therefore now become the centre of any serious discussion about socialism. Today the old equation (liquidation of the bourgeoisie = workers’ state) popularized by countless Leninists, Stalinists and Trotskyists is just not good enough.
“The Bolshevik Party was torn by a contradiction which helps explain its attitude before and after 1917. Its strength lay in the advanced workers who supported it. There is no doubt that this support was at times widespread and genuine. But these workers could not control the Party. The leadership was firmly in the hands of professional revolutionaries. In a sense this was inevitable. A clandestine press and the dissemination of propaganda could only be kept going regularly by militants constantly on the move and at times compelled to seek refuge overseas. A worker could only become a Bolshevik cadre on condition he ceased work and placed himself at the disposal of the Party, which would then send him on special missions, to this or that town. The apparatus of the Party was in the hands of revolutionary specialists. The contradiction was that the real living forces that provided the strength of the Party could not control it. As an institution, the Party totally eluded control by the Russian working class. The problems encountered by the Russian Revolution after 1917 did not bring about this contradiction, they only served to exacerbate it. The attitude of the Party in 1917 and after are products of its history. This is what rendered so futile most of the attempts made within the Party by various oppositions between 1918 and 1921. They failed to perceive that a given ideological premise (the preordained hegemony of the Party) led necessarily to certain conclusions in practice.
But even this is probably not taking the analysis far enough. At an even deeper level the very conception of this kind of organization and this kind of relationship to the mass movement reflect the unrecognized influence of bourgeois ideology, even on the minds of those who were relentlessly seeking to overthrow bourgeois society. The concept that society must necessarily be divided into “leaders” and “led”, the notion that there are some born to rule while others cannot really develop beyond a certain stage have from time immemorial been the tacit assumptions of every ruling class in history. For even the Bolsheviks to accept them shows how correct Marx was when he proclaimed that “the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of its ruling class”. Confronted with an “efficient”, tightly-knit organization of this kind, built on ideas of this kind, it is scarcely surprising that the emerging Factory Committees were unable to carry the Revolution to completion.
The final difficulty confronting the Committees was inherent in the Committee Movement itself. Although certain individuals showed extraordinary lucidity, and although the Committee Movement represents the highest manifestation of the class struggle achieved in 1917, the movement as a whole was unable to understand what was happening to it and to offer any serious resistance. It did not succeed in generalizing its experience and the record it left is, unfortunately, very fragmentary. Unable to proclaim its own objectives (workers’ self-management) in clear and positive terms, it was inevitable that others would step into the vacuum. With the bourgeoisie in full disintegration, and the working class as yet insufficiently strong or conscious to impose its own solutions to the problems tearing society apart, the triumphs of Bolshevism and of the bureaucracy were both inevitable.”
“This return to the historical roots of the controversy is not motivated by an addiction to archivism or by a partiality for the esoteric. The revolutionary movement in Britain – unlike that in several European countries – has never been much concerned with theory, preferring on the whole an empirical, “suck-it-and-see” kind of approach. This may at times have helped it avoid becoming bogged down in the swamps of metaphysical speculation but the overhead costs – in terms of clarity and consistency – have been heavy. Without a clear understanding of objectives and of the forces (including ideological forces) impeding advance – in short without a sense of history – the revolutionary struggle tends to become “all movement and no direction”. Without clear perspectives, revolutionaries tend to fall into traps – or be diverted into blind alleys – which, with a little knowledge of their own past, they could easily have avoided.”
This is an excellent talk to listen to in conjunction with the book. While Marx didn’t completely praise capitalism, there was indeed an element of the impossibility for the foundation for socialism to be built without the productive powers of capitalism. Federici turns this around by illuminating the experiences of women, outcasts, peasants, and their revolts against capitalism’s development to show that there were, in fact, alternative paths and that capitalism was not in any way a “progressive” force for the majority of people living in feudal times (and even in these times, owing to the fact that so-called primitive accumulation is not a thing of the past). Highly recommended.:
Intro to ‘Caliban and the Witch’
“This show presents an audiobook-ish experience, based on a talk by Silvia Federici about her book ‘Caliban and the Witch’. This book talks about how the development of capitalism is deeply entwined with processes of accumulation which needs to mold and domesticate the bodies of women in specific ways. The politics of reproduction at stake in this historical study is still very much at work today, and this book provides an invaluable background to developing struggles around reproduction and care today.
A must for anyone interested in the connections between capitalism, gender and colonialism.
We recorded this in May 2013 in Vienna at the launch of the german translation of this book, published by Mandelbaum Verlag.”