Louis Proyect wrote a bit on how the Iskra and Pravda worked and how the notions about them from many current left groups is more stuck in a romanticized idea about them, then in reality:
Premier issue of Pravda
For most aspiring vanguard party builders, the Bolshevik Party serves as a kind of gold standard worthy of emulation, even if the actual historical experience of that party remains far removed from contemporary versions of that history which tend to project back into the early 1900s patterns of behavior that Lenin would have never recognized.
Perhaps nothing is more essential to the task of building a new “Bolshevik” type party than a newspaper that will promulgate the party “program”. When James P. Cannon returned from Moscow in 1928, he resolved to create a new communist party that would be true to Lenin’s vision. Nothing was more necessary in that process than creating a newspaper based on a revolutionary program. Wasting no time, Cannon launched the Militant. That newspaper was seen as in the tradition of the Bolshevik press but the actual living history of the Bolshevik press had little to do with Cannon’s idealized version. As is so often the case, idealized versions of Bolshevik history can get the contemporary left in all sorts of trouble.
There are only two newspapers that can be considered the equivalent of the Militant in Bolshevik history, but neither of them turned out to be much of an equivalent—for better or for worse.
The first of the two is Iskra, the paper that consumed Lenin’s attention in “What is to be Done”. If you’ve ever read this article that was written in the heat of battle and that Lenin considered outpaced by events not five years after it was written, you might assume that the newspaper advocated by Lenin materialized following the 1903 conference where Lenin put forward his proposal.
In fact, Lenin’s proposal was defeated and Iskra remained under the control of his Menshevik opponents: Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Potresov and Martov; with strong support from Trotsky. Furthermore, the paper was published for only two years.
One interesting side-note on this. In his open letter Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board, Lenin reserved the right of a minority to express its views in a manner that is utterly at odds with our modern understanding of how to build a Leninist party: “Every circle, even of Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, is entitled, on joining the Party, to demand the opportunity to express and advocate its views.” Rabocheye Dyelo was, of course, the journal of the Economist tendency. Keep in mind, however, that Lenin wrote this article in 1903, long before the idea of a homogenous revolutionary party organized around the thoughts of Trotsky, Mao or Stalin had calcified.
Following the unsuccessful bid to establish Iskra as a revolutionary tribune, the next major attempt at publishing a Bolshevik newspaper in Czarist Russia was made in 1912 with the launching of Pravda, the same name as the ghastly official newspaper of the USSR years later.
Most of what will follow at this point is based on the article “Lenin and Pravda: 1912-1914” by R.C. Elwood that appeared in the June 1972 Slavic Review. I knew nothing about Elwood before reading this article, but was impressed enough to persuade me to put his “Reconsidering the Russian Revolution”, a collection of articles, on my “to-read list”, as well as his biography of Inessa Armand.
In 1910 when the Mensheviks approached Lenin, who was living in exile in Western Europe at the time, about the possibility of launching a legal worker’s daily, he was cool to the idea. He felt that a legal paper would foster the illusion that change could come through evolutionary means.
The Mensheviks managed to persuade the Bolsheviks who were still based in Russia to go ahead with such a newspaper, agreeing that it should be a true workers newspaper written by the workers themselves free from the factional disputes of the illegal émigré press. Lenin was persuaded to endorse the formation of a legal newspaper after he decided that the elections for the Fourth Duma allowed revolutionaries to exploit legal openings to make their case.
The first issue of Pravda appeared on April 22, 1912. Most of the articles were contributed to this new daily by Russian workers in more or less the same spirit as many online publications today, especially those that report directly from the fields of struggle. The paper was a big success initially, selling 40,000 to 60,000 copies of each issue in April and May. This was a period when workers were mobilized to protest the killing of gold miners at Lena on April 4th and eager to read a paper published in their own interests.
Despite this initial success, Lenin was not pleased. Pravda was far too conciliatory toward the Mensheviks. Stalin, who would ultimately gain a reputation as a factional thug, wrote an article that must have annoyed Lenin to no end. Titled “Our Aims”, it called for “unity at all costs”.
When Lenin submitted articles that ran contrary to this spirit, the editors routinely deleted passages that they found offensive. Lenin wrote them in complaint: “Why does Pravda persistently and systematically strike out any mention of the Liquidators both from my articles and from those of other colleagues?” Not only did the editors cut his articles, they occasionally rejected them completely. Lenin complained again: “To write ‘for the wastebasket’, that is, articles to be thrown out, is not very enjoyable.”
Despite heavy pressure from Lenin, the editorial board failed to publish articles that drew clear class lines for the upcoming Duma elections. Lenin might have been the nominal leader of the Bolshevik Party but Pravda enjoyed a kind of independence that no “Leninist” paper would think possible. Indeed, if Lenin had his way, that independence would have to be sacrificed in the name of the revolution. The point being made here is not that Pravda was the kind of newspaper that we should aspire to today but that the Bolshevik Party was not the well-oiled machine that so many people speaking in its name today would have us believe. It was a lot messier affair, reflecting no doubt the contradictions of the political situation in Russia.
Lenin grew even angrier when he learned that Pravda was publishing Bogdanov’s articles. He wrote Maxim Gorky, who had put up the funding for the paper, that Bogdanov’s articles were “the same old Machism-Idealism concealed in such a way that … the stupid editors of Pravda could not understand them.”
Matters came to a head on December 15, 1913 when 11 Menshevik deputies from the Fourth Duma voted to merge their newspaper with Pravda. Being too much for Lenin to accept, he called a high-level meeting to resolve what he saw as a crisis even if the unity-minded members of the two factions of the Russian social democracy saw otherwise. He managed to push through a reorganization of the editorial board that resulted in Iakov Sverdlov being named chief editor.
Before Sverdlov had a chance to purge the Mensheviks, he was arrested. The paper suffered from other problems besides its inability to educate its readers about the dead-end of the kind of gradualism that was being promoted by the Cadets and implicitly supported by the Mensheviks. The paper’s leading contributors were always being arrested. The paper might have been legal but the Czarist cops thought nothing of illegally jailing its writers and editors.
In 1913, the repression escalated. On July 5th, the cops closed it down. But one week later it reemerged as Rabochaia Pravda. In 1914, Kamenev assumed editorial leadership, thus guaranteeing that the paper would at last reflect the thinking of the Central Committee. The paper did make big gains under Kamenev’s direction, reaching a circulation of 130,000 on its second anniversary. Just as Pravda was coming into its own as the definitive voice of the Russian social democracy, it was closed down for good in July 8, 1914.
Three years later, the paper began publishing again under the editorial co-direction of Kamenev and Stalin, advocating a policy of “pressuring” Kerensky for reform (not unlike the policy some leftists pursue with respect to Obama today) and advocating the continuation of the war on “revolutionary defensive” terms. At the March conference of the Bolshevik Party, Stalin advised unity with the Mensheviks. Writing from exile, Lenin began submitting articles to Pravda once again and as before they ended up in the wastebasket.
So except for the one year that Kamenev edited Pravda in 1914, you might make the case that a Bolshevik newspaper was more of an idea than a reality. The irony is that its vicissitudes were a reflection of the strength of the movement overall. The Russian social democracy reflected massive social formations in motion that were never operating at the same tempo or with the same immediate goals until October 1917.
Lenin was frustrated much of the time because he was dealing with people who were reflecting the relative backwardness of the social layers they emerged from or that they were responding to. It was a little bit like herding cats, as they put it, but these cats numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The modern-day self-declared Bolsheviks do not have to bother with such distractions because they do not emerge out of a mass movement but out of the minds of small groups of people inspired by Lenin’s party but not fully understanding it. They think that by launching a newspaper modeled after a Bolshevik newspaper that never really existed in the real world they will be able to unleash forces through the power of their words that will ultimately transform the world.
Unfortunately, the class struggle does not move in a straight line and least of all in compliance with the directives of an ideologically purified newspaper. Without being too precise about this, I would propose that a newspaper might usefully follow the example of Pravda at least in one respect. In 1912 this newspaper was made up primarily of articles written by workers themselves. In the age of the Internet and in a period of deepening social crisis, something very much in the same spirit is urgently needed.
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An interesting article,I suppose the first part of it could be read alongside Lenin's piece on the disagreements and problems with the publishing of articles that they faced with "Iskra": "How the Spark (Iskra) was nearly extinguished".
[FONT=Times New Roman]Very interesting, thanks. But not to surprising if Lenin’s writing from the period are read first hand. He spent his entire life fighting the editorial boards of the ‘socialist’ papers.[/FONT]
The same, by the way, could be said about the "disciplined vanguard idea":
As Service notes, "a disciplined hierarchy of command stretching down from the regional committees to party cells" had "never existed in Bolshevik history." In the heady days of the revolution, when the party was flooded by new members, Bolshevik party life was the exact opposite of that usually considered (by both opponents and supporters of Bolshevism) as it normal mode of operation. "Anarchist attitudes to higher authority," he argues, "were the rule of the day" and "no Bolshevik leader in his right mind could have contemplated a regular insistence upon rigid standards of hierarchical control and discipline unless he had abandoned all hope of establishing a mass socialist party." This meant that "in the Russia of 1917 it was the easiest thing in the world for lower party bodies to rebut the demands and pleas by higher authority." He stresses that "[s]uburb and town committees . . . often refused to go along with official policies . . . they also . . . sometimes took it into their heads to engage in active obstruction." [Op. Cit., p. 80, p. 62 p. 56 and p. 60]
This worked both ways, of course. Town committees did "snub their nose at lower-echelon viewpoints in the time before the next election. Try as hard as they might, suburb committees and ordinary cells could meanwhile do little to rectify matters beyond telling their own representative on their town committee to speak on their behalf. Or, if this too failed, they could resort to disruptive tactics by criticising it in public and refusing it all collaboration." [Op. Cit., pp. 52-3] Even by early 1918, the Bolshevik party bore little resemblance to the "democratic centralist" model desires by Lenin:
"The image of a disciplined hierarchy of party committees was therefore but a thin, artificial veneer which was used by Bolshevik leaders to cover up the cracked surface of the real picture underneath. Cells and suburb committees saw no reason to kow-tow to town committees; nor did town committees feel under compulsion to show any greater respect to their provincial and regional committees than before." [Op. Cit., p. 74]
It is this insubordination, this local autonomy and action in spite of central orders which explains the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Rather than a highly centralised and disciplined body of "professional" revolutionaries, the party saw a "significant change . . . within the membership of the party at local level . . . From the time of the February revolution requirements for party membership had been all but suspended, and now Bolshevik ranks swelled with impetuous recruits who knew next to nothing about Marxism and who were united by little more than overwhelming impatience for revolutionary action." [Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution, p. 41]
This mass of new members (many of whom were peasants who had just recently joined the industrial workforce) had a radicalising effect on the party's policies and structures. As even Leninist commentators argue, it was this influx of members who allowed Lenin to gain support for his radical revision of party aims in April. However, in spite of this radicalisation of the party base, the party machine still was at odds with the desires of the party. As Trotsky acknowledged, the situation "called for resolute confrontation of the sluggish Party machine with masses and ideas in motion." He stressed that "the masses were incomparably more revolutionary than the Party, which in turn was more revolutionary than its committeemen." Ironically, given the role Trotsky usually gave the party, he admits that "[w]ithout Lenin, no one had known what to make of the unprecedented situation." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 301, p. 305 and p. 297]
[FONT="Fixedsys"]History is not like some individual person which uses men to achieve its ends. History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends. - Karl Marx.
Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. - Friedrich Engels.
I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever. - Albert Einstein.[/FONT]
It was kinda interesting, but basically this strikes me as a piece of historical curiosity, long on minutae from almost 100 years ago but short on how this idealization of the RSDP press gets contemporary leninist groups in trouble. I realize this is targeted towards groups for whom selling newspapers is a big deal, but as an outsider I was left wondering precisely what the myths were that are so in need of correcting.
additionally, the author's prescription that the workers write the articles for the myriad of leninist newspapers rings hollow on a number of fronts. First, they don't come out on whether this alternative format ultimately "worked" for the Bolsheviks. Second, if workers want a worker's newspaper, why would they feel compelled to write for one weekly of an organization built on "the minds of small groups of people inspired by Lenin’s party" rather than another? Third, the author offers absolutely no way to go about doing this except for boilerplates about the age of the internet.
de un Rojo Amanecer
la vida que vendrá.
Any small grouplet that tries to act as if it were a mass party and function like one are at best fools and at worst con artists. That most certainly applies to editorial policy for its newspaper.
A small propaganda organization with little or no support in the working class had better have a highly political paper based on a firm political program, if it aspires to ever be anything more than a sect. Winning the masses to its banner is inevitably a difficult and laborious process, and is unlikely to be doable on an amateurish basis.
It is much better off with a high level of organization and discipline that might be inappropriate for a truly *mass* party like say the Bolsheviks in 1917.
While a very common idea amongst the far left, it is also wrong or at best a half-truth.
In reality the RSDLP already had mass proportions before. In 1906 for example they had over 100.000 members. This size fluctuated heavily in relation with the tsarist repression, but it was clear that the Bolsheviks had the respect and support of a huge part of the rather tiny Russian proletariat long before 1917.
In fact, if we look to a western example, such as the SPD, we see over a million members. Mind you that Lenin considered himself part of the "Marxist center" long after Kautsky betrayed it! The RSDPL then was a project to emulate the SPD under Russian conditions.
While this is surely a thorny matter for much of the far left which has romanticized the happenings in Russia as being in a vacuum for so long, there is quite a bit of research that supports this view. Not at least Lars Lih's Lenin Rediscovered - "What Is To be Done?" in context published in 2006.
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The Bolsheviks became a mass party, and the majority party of the working class, during the 1905 Revolution, during which the people of the Tsarist Empire tried to overthrow the Tsar. And in December 1905, the Bolsheviks led an armed uprising in Moscow which attempted to do just that.
Before 1905, they were a tiny underground organization mostly made up of intellectuals, who had pretty much lost all their original support in the working class due to the rise of the "Zubatovshchina" and Father Gapon and other reactionary movements sponsored by the Tsarist police. Just as true for the Mensheviks as well.
The only workers party with mass membership and support was the Jewish Bund, who were partially immunized from this problem due to the notorious anti-Semitism of the Tsarist regime.
1905 changed everything, and most certainly changed what the proper organizational and newspaper policies for the revolutionary movement should be.
So yes, I'll agree with Q's suggestions, as soon as whatever tendency he supports can lead a revolution, attempt to overthrow a government, and become the mass working class party of his country. Not before.
What you need is a revolutionary party with a revolutionary program. Trotsky's Transitional Program is a good start, but it was written more than half a century ago and definitely needs updating here and there.
"Shibboleths," i.e. whatever slogan is most popular this week, is exactly what needs to be avoided. The political program has to relate directly to what is going on *right now,* and provide the bridge, the transition, to the struggle for the only possible solution to all the otherwise unsolvable crises descending on the human race like a ton of bricks, namely socialism.
If anything else, the CPGB's Draft Program is too shallow for the "left reform" suggestions the comrades rejected.
"A new centrist project does not have to repeat these mistakes. Nobody in this topic is advocating a carbon copy of the Second International (which again was only partly centrist)." (Tjis, class-struggle anarchist)
"A centrist strategy is based on patience, and building a movement or party or party-movement through deploying various instruments, which I think should include: workplace organising, housing struggles [...] and social services [...] and a range of other activities such as sports and culture. These are recruitment and retention tools that allow for a platform for political education." (Tim Cornelis, left-communist)
Besides that you contradict yourself in the first two sentences ("we need to avoid the popular slogan of the week" versus "the program has to relate what is happening right now"), it is also problematical."Shibboleths," i.e. whatever slogan is most popular this week, is exactly what needs to be avoided. The political program has to relate directly to what is going on *right now,* and provide the bridge, the transition, to the struggle for the only possible solution to all the otherwise unsolvable crises descending on the human race like a ton of bricks, namely socialism.
A communist programme is not about being "popular" or "connecting to the mass consciousness". A communist programme states what is objectively needed to get from where we are today, to working class power and towards the transformation to communism after that. Communists then set out to win the working class to this programme, not vice versa.
The problem with the conception of the "programme of the week" is that you never get to present your full programme. I once asked someone like you what was the real programme he stood for. After some insisting on the issue he replied something along the lines of "our programme is the communist manifesto, the critique of the Gotha programme, the theses of the first four congresses of the Comintern, the Trainsitional Programme,..." and the list went on.
It is obvious that this idea of programme is hardly very practical in that you don't walk up to your typical militant worker and say "well, this library here is our programme, read it now and get convinced by our ideas!". This is the reason why we only see "bullet point" "programmes" (or "demands") at the end of many articles of such organisations.
The problem runs deeper though. Because you have to be an expert before you can understand the "programme", this fundamentally disarms workers and exactly empowers the self-proclaimed "leaders" on the left, as only they know which part of the programme is applicable when. This type of programmatic conception is therefore fundamentally sectarian and encourages rigidity in ideas (and therefore an intolerance against differing views, as this would undermine the position of the allknowing leadership).
On a different level your conception of the "programme of the week" is also problematic as it attaches to the current consciousness of the workers. This is not a strength, but a weakness as the current consciousness is nearly always sectional, economic and non-political. To then attach to this consciousness you go down the economist path, by thinking that if only we "struggle" enough for our pay rises and shorter working hours, political conclusions will follow.
Even stronger: Once workers do radicalise and take political conclusions, the economistic programme-of-the-week is instantly out of date and instead of offering a way forwards, you are too busy keeping in pace with where the workers consciousness is at the time. A tailist method in other words.
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I think it's worth noting that Lenin himself said that what the Bolsheviks did with and around newspapers was unique to the conditions they dealt with:
"The necessity to concentrate all forces on establishing a regularly appearing and regularly delivered organ arises out of the peculiar situation of Russian Social-Democracy as compared with that of Social-Democracy in other European countries and with that of the old Russian revolutionary parties. Apart from newspapers, the workers of Germany, France etc. have numerous other means for the public manifestation of their activity, for organising the movement -- parliamentary activity, election agitation, public meetings, participation in local public bodies (rural and urban), the open conduct of trade unions (professional, guild), etc., etc. In place of all that, yes, all of that, we must be served -- until we have won political liberty -- by a revolutionary newspaper, without which no broad organisation of the working-class movement is possible."
"Getting a job, finding a mate, having a place to live, finding a creative outlet. Life is a war of attrition. You have to stay active on all fronts. It's one thing after another. I've tried to control a chaotic universe. And it's a losing battle. But I can't let go. I've tried, but I can't." - Harvey Pekar
To unpack this a bit for you, the program has to have *answers* to what is happening *right now,* but those have to be *real* answers, not just whatever the popular slogan of the week happens to be, the most popular one of our current moment being "tax the rich."
As you yourself formalistically put it below.
My concept of the program of the week is more or less the kind outlined in Trotsky's 1938 Transitional Program, naturally with quite a bit of updating, but no fundamental changes. I assume you are familiar with this document, if not, you should be.
Which aspect, which particular slogan out of it, one emphasizes depends on the immediate situation,and indeed is best judged on the basis of experience, by experienced leaders, provided that they are revolutionary leaders. Listening closely of course to what the workers themselves are thinking.
The real program one stands for, if summed up into a single sentence, is for the seizure of state power by the working class from the capitalist class.
But this has to be applied to living concrete reality of *right now.*Well then, we return to the start of the topic: The role of our media. The purpose of the media, among other things, is exactly to act as a bridge between what is happening right now and the (objective) programme.Which aspect, which particular slogan out of it, one emphasizes depends on the immediate situation,and indeed is best judged on the basis of experience, by experienced leaders, provided that they are revolutionary leaders. Listening closely of course to what the workers themselves are thinking.
I disagree by the way that such media should only be run in a top-down direction, by "experienced leaders" as you say. Workers media should act in such a way that workers bring up their own relevant topics, which then get deepened out theoretically. What for example is a communist political response to the shootings in Norway? I'm sure you could have a nice debate about that, with many different viewpoints. The point is that such different viewpoints not only educate in themselves, but also urge readers (that is, in potentiality, all workers) to start thinking for themselves and comment in the paper if they want to (or tv station, etc.). Within this continuous process of debate and contemplation, tested against real life experiences (dare I say a dialectical process?), the programme gets explained in all its details, whenever applicable, making it the property of the class movement in the process. But the programme itself barely if ever needs change exactly because it limits itself to objective tasks necessary for working class revolution.
In fact, the party itself represents the "actuality of the programme", in everything it does as an organisation. The role of communists in this process is not so much to be infallible "leaders" of the class, but much more to facilitate political thinking among workers, support workers struggle. You could compare it to what a sports coach does: We can "train" the class, but only the class as a collective can score the goal.
Actually it's about destroying the capitalist state and replacing it with our class hegemony. Not to be pedantic about it, but this is an important difference.The real program one stands for, if summed up into a single sentence, is for the seizure of state power by the working class from the capitalist class.
Last edited by Q; 26th July 2011 at 00:50.
You were undialectical because you couldn't see that paying attention to what is going on *right now* and avoiding the popular slogan of the week aren't contradictory, but are two sides of the same coin.
Dialectics-wise, an example of Rule Three, Unity of Opposites. Your statement I critiqued was a classic example of undialectical formalism.
By the way, I find it interesting for you to hold up Pravda in this period as a wonderful example of proletarian spontaneity. There was indeed a party leader who had been appointed by Lenin to ride herd over it and make sure that it was the kind of paper he wanted. Didn't always keep quite as tight control over it as Lenin might have wanted.
The name of said leader was that famous proletarian democrat, J. Dzhugashvili, better known as Stalin.
By the way, if you check State and Revolution, you will discover that your formula, whatever its merits, is further than mine from his. Mine by the way I'm not really defending, I tossed it out pretty hastily, maybe it needs some work.
At one point he defines a workers' state as a "bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie." Now just what do you think he meant by that?
I tried to post this before but my post count wasn't high enough. I hope comrades read my comments in the blogpost.