Hattingh, “Kronstadt Rebellion 90 Years On: Reasserting democracy from below” (2011) [South African Labour Bulletin]

Shawn Hattingh, 2011, “Kronstadt Rebellion 90 Years On: Reasserting democracy from below,” South African Labour Bulletin, volume 32, number 5, August/September 2011, pp.50-52

A number of Left groupings recently came together and formed the Democratic Left Front, which espouses a democracy from below. In a lesson from history Shawn Hattingh goes back to visit the Kronstadt rebellion in Russia in 1921, where sailors came out to defend worker self-governance against the Lenin/ Trotsky Bolshevik state — and were brutally suppressed. This was part of a larger pattern of repression, in which the Bolsheviks, enamoured of vanguardist ideas, and reliant on the state — an authoritarian structure that concentrates power in the hands of a small ruling class — created, not a democratic socialist society, but a one-party system, based on forced labour and state-capitalism. The Soviet model, exemplified by the Stalin period, is widely discredited, but the roots of its brutality lie in large part in the policies of the Lenin/ Trotsky years. The only way a socialist society could have been created in Russia, or anywhere else, was by workers and peasants themselves, based on worker self-management and direct democracy through organs of self-governance – in other words an anarchist-communist society. All these features proved completely incompatible with Bolshevism. People wanting to build democratic socialism need to be aware that the state itself is neither an ally of the popular classes nor an institution they can use. The masses need to build counterpower, outside and against the state and capital, to create a new society. We need to put faith in workers and the poor to bring genuine socialism about and the task of revolutionaries is to encourage this, not substitute for it. The Kronstadt anniversary points to the importance of rediscovering a democratic form of socialism: anarchism, which defends socialism-from-below, but rejects Bolshevism in favour of self-management and direct, council democracy.

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