Was Lenin Actually For Democracy?

Among Marxist circles In recent years, there has been a re-evaluation of Lenin as wanting to construct a democratic party organization but because of war-time circumstances, had to create a top-down hierarchical organization. Of course, this points to something positive, since the radical left is advocating for democracy instead of the short flirtation with authoritarianism after the collapse of Occupy. But this rehabilitation is itself troubling because it simply is not true: for all of Lenin’s libertarian writings before the revolution, none of the proposals were actually carried out and instead a regression happened.

It’s Not Democracy If We Lose: The 1917 Election

If there was an obvious point where the Bolsheviks could have implemented full democracy, it was after the 1917 Russian elections. In the first free and fair elections since taking power, the Bolsheviks overwhelmingly lost the vote to other left parties. Instead of stepping down, they threw out the results and justified it on the grounds that the true power was with the worker’s councils. Unfortunately, that power was quickly broken apart as well.

Lenin and Worker’s Control

It is worth remembering that, independent of the Bolsheviks, worker takeovers were spreading throughout Russia. In a detailed history by Maurice Brinton, it shows how Lenin attempted to suppress much of what was happening right from the beginning.

While political maneuvering to break self-management were occurring earlier, the first full attempt at repression occurred in early November 1917, when Lenin published the “Draft Decree on Workers’ Control.” In it he outlined that if enterprises were designated “of importance to the State” they would then be “answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property.

To be considered such an enterprise it would either be involved in defense or “in any way connected with the production of articles necessary for the existence of the masses of the population.” That is, almost any workplace could be taken over.

In fact, the decree was so odious it was resisted by the workers: the decree failed to pass because of resistance. After a two week stalemate, the Bolsheviks had agreed to a “compromise” where the workplaces could be given orders by a “Regional Council of Workers’ Control,” which-surprise!-was appointed by the Bolsheviks. This occurred on Novemebr 14th, all but ending worker’s control in Russia.

But, the Civil War!

The biggest defense for all this is the Russian Civil War, which, as an existential threat, necessitated brutal repression. Between the war and Lenin’s death then is the tragic rise of Stalin, who supposedly ruined everything. Let’s leave aside whether secret police, torture and forced labor are justified in war-time conditions, what this history shows is that workers control in Russia was ended a month before any signs of war (December being when the Volunteer Whites were formed).

Even later pre-Stalin propaganda justified the November repression for efficiency’s sake, it’s impossible to argue that these were done for the war when no signs of war were even close to present.

We need to accept that there is no rehabilitating Lenin or Leninism, he set out to subordinate the workers as soon as he could.

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New Atheism Can’t Tell Where Religion Ends And Power Begins

Looking back, Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, was almost written to offend New Atheists. In it, he not only defends religious tolerance and co-existence but also absurdly advocates for repressing atheists since, by his logic, its impossible for someone to be moral without believing in some higher power.

While he was definitively wrong about the lock-up-all-the-atheists part, he was right when he wrote that the problem isn’t religion per se; it’s power-struggles between religious institutions, at that time between the Catholic and Anglican Church. This was pointed out close to 400 years ago but still has not occurred to the so called New Atheism movement.

One example is he contentious topic of Islam and terror: major studies carried out by the University of Chicago found that “[m]ore than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation” and that it is carried out by other religions and secularists alike. The problem then is military occupation, not that any particular religion exists. Had the US invaded Mexico and Brazil instead of Iraq and Afghanistan; we might be talking about Christian extremism and “Christian terror” today.

But this is even more problematic when dealing with something virtually no one thinks were caused by religion, like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. No one that is, except for proponents of New Atheism.

For instance, Sam Harris posted on twitter that the “only salient difference between the groups is religious” and that “calling the divide “political” just confuses matters.” Even Dawkins, who is generally less strident then the rest, made some ham-fisted point that:

Yes, of course the troubles in Northern Ireland are political. There really has been economic and political oppression of one group by another, and it goes back centuries. There really are genuine grievances and injustices, and these seem to have little to do with religion; except that…without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge.

Yes, because if we used the names Group 1 and Group 2 instead of Protestants and Catholics it would have really made a difference over the distribution of power.

The point is, contrary to what New Atheists claim, very rarely is there true conflict between religious groups independent of other conflicts. The problem is powers using religion to legitimize themselves, not religion itself.