Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Review: A People's History of the Russian Revolution-Neil Faulkner-Pluto Press-£11.50-2017.

Neil Faulkner's book was one of many books released in time for the celebration the centenary of the Russian revolution in 2017. A large number of new books broke no new ground and contained little new research. Unfortunately, Faulkner's book was one of these.

The book gives the reader only a basic account of the Russian revolution. Faulkner, a former member of the Psuedo Left, group SWP(Socialist Workers Party), maintains the SWP's viewpoint that after the first workers' state succumbed to Stalinism a state capitalist regime appeared.

This viewpoint is not an orthodox Marxist one. Leon Trotsky wrote extensively on the betrayal of the Russian revolution by Stalin. In his most famous of works on Stalinism he wrote :

"We often seek salvation from unfamiliar phenomena in familiar terms. An attempt has been made to conceal the enigma of the Soviet regime by calling it "state capitalism." This term has the advantage that nobody knows exactly what it means. The term "state capitalism" originally arose to designate all the phenomena which arise when a bourgeois state takes direct charge of the means of transport or industrial enterprises. The very necessity of such measures is one of the signs that the productive forces have outgrown capitalism and are bringing it to a partial self-negation in practice. But the outworn system, along with its elements of self-negation, continues to exist as a capitalist system.

But if a socialist government is still necessary for the preservation and development of the planned economy, the question is all the more important, upon whom the present Soviet government relies, and in what measure the socialist character of its policy is guaranteed. At the 11th Party Congress in March 1922, Lenin, in practically bidding farewell to the party, addressed these words to the commanding group: History knows transformations of all sorts. To rely upon conviction, devotion and other excellent spiritual qualities – that is not to be taken seriously in politics." Being determines consciousness. During the last fifteen years, the government has changed its social composition even more deeply than its ideas. Since of all the strata of Soviet society, the bureaucracy has best solved its own social problem and is fully content with the existing situation, it has ceased to offer any subjective guarantee whatever of the socialist direction of its policy. It continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat. This saving fear is nourished and supported by the illegal party of Bolshevik-Leninists, which is the most conscious expression of the socialist tendencies opposing that bourgeois reaction with which the Thermidorian bureaucracy is completely saturated. 

As a conscious political force, the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.[1]

While he debunks several myths and outright lies surrounding Vladimir Lenin, he opposes one of Lenin's most important contribution to the success of the revolution that is the development of a revolutionary party. Like many radicals, Faulkner is hostile to the conception of such a party.

It was one of the reasons he broke with the SWP in 2010. He describes the revolutionary party as "small organisation run by a self-appointed 'vanguard' that seeks to insert itself into a mass movement in order to grow parasitically like a tic".[2]

He then talks about when he left the SWP, since 2010, I have formed many new and rewarding political friendships, and these have contributed, I believe, to a richer, more nuanced understanding of the Russian Revolution. Not least, the degeneration of the British Left over the last two or three decades- which is a generic process, not something restricted to the SWP-has given me a clearer understanding that the masses build revolutionary parties themselves in a struggle; that is, they do not arise from voluntarism, from acts of will by self-appointed revolutionary 'vanguards'; they do not arise from what has sometimes has been called 'the primitive accumulation of cadre. Revolutionaries should organise, but they should never proclaim themselves to be the party".[3] I might add that the SWP only pays lip service to the concept of the revolutionary party and exhibits similar economism that Lenin fought against.[4]

As mentioned earlier, there is no original research in Faulkner's book. It does not offer any new significant interpretation of the revolution as it developed. Relying on Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution is not enough for an established historian. Given the size of the subject, it is extraordinary that the bibliography is only two and one-half pages, and most of that consists of books by and about Lenin and Trotsky. No letters, newspapers or interviews or personal accounts are cited. For a people's history, it is light on people.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the book is that it contains no analysis of the rise of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification. Contained within this school is a sub-genre which seeks to bury the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky under a new set of lies and calumny.

The representatives of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification—from the Stalinist military historian Dmitry Volkogonov to the British historians Ian Thatcher, Geoffrey Swain and Robert Service have through their books sought to lie, distort and produce the same Stalinist lies from previous anti-Marxist historiography. The purpose of these attacks are to deny the younger generation access to the views, analyses and perspectives of Leon Trotsky.

One of the leading proponents of the Post-Soviet School of Historical Falsification is Robert Service. Service in 2009 said, “There is life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick did not quite do its job-killing him off, I hope I have managed it.”  Robert Service London, October 2009.

Service has not accomplished his job, which is no thanks to Faulkner. Outside of the Marxists of the World Socialist Website, not a single political tendency calling itself Trotskyist has presented a consistent body of work that attacks Service and his friends in the Post Soviet School of Falsification. Given the crude political level of this “school”, it is not a difficult thing to do as the Marxist writer David North said of Service’s biogeography of Trotsky it “is a crude and offensive book, produced without respect for the most minimal standards of scholarship. Service’s “research,” if one wishes to call it that, has been conducted in bad faith. His Trotsky is not history, but, rather, an exercise in character assassination. Service is not content to distort and falsify Trotsky’s political deeds and ideas. Frequently descending to the level of a grocery store tabloid, Service attempts to splatter filth on Trotsky’s personal life. Among his favourite devices is to refer to “rumours” about Trotsky’s intimate relations, without even bothering to identify the rumour’s source, let alone substantiate its credibility.[5]

To conclude, as I said before, Faulkner's book is a basic history of the Russian revolution and contains nothing in it that would merit a recommendation. It is hoped that Faulkner’s next book on the Russian revolution is a better one that takes on the Post Soviet School of Falsification. I will not hold my breath.

[1] The Revolution Betrayed-Chapter 9-Social Relations-in the Soviet Union-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch09.htm#ch09-1
[2] http://socialistreview.org.uk/425/peoples-history-russian-revolution
[3] A Peoples History of the Russian Revolution. Neil Faulkner. Pluto 2017
[4] See-What Is To Be Done?Burning Questions of Our Movement-https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iv.htm
[5] In The Service of Historical Falsification: A Review of Robert Service's Trotsky
By David North-11 November 2009- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2009/11/serv-n11.html