On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1862 ... July 17, 2019

On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution

John Riddell

Under the headline "Why Kautsky was right," Eric Blanc wrote:

"Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils."

When I read these words, my mind went back to a day 40 years earlier when this formulation was hurled at me by members of Canada’s security police. They used it as justification for their illegal disruption and harassment directed against me and fellow members of the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL).

To be sure, Eric Blanc is a firm defender of the legality and legitimacy of socialist groups, including those who draw inspiration from the 1917 Russian revolution and the writings of V.I. Lenin. He will also be the first to agree that the hundreds of political groups worldwide that draw inspiration from Lenin represent a broad gamut of political strategies, including a great many that accept his thesis as a preference that,... were it possible, "the path to anticapitalist rupture in conditions of political democracy [passes] through the election of a workers’ party to government."

However, the charge of a "strategy of insurrection" has a life of its own. It lies very close to the standard accusation of seditious intent made by rightist security police around the world against socialist movements. This charge arouses concern among many working people who rightly prize democratic and electoral rights. Clarity is all the more important given that some twentieth-century socialist revolutions in Russia and elsewhere brought to power Stalinist regimes hostile to workers’ democracy and sometimes murderously repressive toward dissidents, real or imagined.

Replying to Eric Blanc, Mike Taber has convincingly challenged the concept that Lenin ever advanced such an "insurrectionist strategy." Lars Lih has demonstrated that no such notion is found in Bolshevik policy in 1917. We are left, however, with the question of how to respond to such charges, whether raised by pro-capitalist forces or, on occasion, by anti-Leninist currents in the labour movement.

With that in mind, let us return to my exchange with police spokespersons in an Ontario Commission of Inquiry forty years ago.

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