The discussion of the original article by Draper can be tabled here for a future post.
Draper raises a critical issue, one that was absolutely vital to the generation of the early Marx. His generation was struggling with the paradoxes of the ‘bourgeois’ revolution and the brilliant idea of championing the proletariat as the resolution of ‘socialism from below’ (to oversimplify perhaps). But the idea was perhaps too theoretical, and certainly wasn’t honored by Lenin. This will be denied, disguised, as endless effort goes into confusing the Marxist cadre, and keeping them that way.
The issue won’t go away: if Lenin talked revolution from below and did revolution from above then we are going to hem and haw if we are asked to explain the ‘theory’.
Maybe the theory was incomplete, or misunderstood.
Let us look at a successful revolution: the American, a bourgeois revolution, perhaps, but it had its proletarians, of a kind, or at least agraian homesteaders, poised between proletariat and petit bourgeoisie. The revolution, accomplished before the rise of industrial capitalism is never mentioned by its revolutionaries who are nonetheless of a spectrum of classes: it is a revolution from above by the settler celebrities like Washington and Jefferson (who wasn’t even clear about slavery) and a revolution from below on the part of the gestating American ‘demos’. Both of this sectors helped each other out. The first created a republic, and the second brought democracy from below. Ominous double seedings took place, and we see the whole tragedy of democratic downfall in the machinations of Hamilton, et al.: the coming birth of the Gilded Age before its time…
We see where the problem lies: a proletarian revolution is likely to be impotent, or never happen. What marxist can point to an engaged proletariat, anywhere…? At best we see proletariats being manipulated from above. There are exceptions, brief, and powerful, but the left is ‘waiting for the proletariat’, and like Godot, waiting still. The resolution lies in a judicious dialectical synthesis between revolution from above and revolution from below. Revolution from above is a question of adopting principles of communism, equality, and democratic potential. Principles can save the revolution from above from elite corruption, maybe, done right. Behind what he said, that is what Lenin did, and not very well. He was too undemocratic. His tactics were a betrayal, even as they rediscovered the key.
The issue is therefore a degree for revolution from above by committed communists, and revolution from below as this energizes a mass movement. It is worth asking where Lenin went wrong here: not hard to find. What were they thinking crosses one’s mind looking at the orgy of sadism let loose by Bolshevik secret police tactics and deliberate terror. How did the Russian exemplar degenerate so swiftly to that set of tactics. It had nothing to do with democratic revolution, communist revolution, but something to do with the Russian background, I suspect. The American revolution was no bed of roses, but it did accomplish a result. A variant of that legacy applied to communism, socialism from above and from below, can leave aside the pathology of bolshevism for a relatively more benign set of lessons form the early modern, and the climax of democratic revolutions in the ear of the French Revolution. It is perhaps the Jacobin analogy that
seeds the confusion. A look at the admittely bourgois American revolution might suggest a better dialectical mix.
The question, what were they thinking, has a number of answers, one of them the lesson of the Paris Commune, whose outcome was so savage in its retribution from the authoriies that the left learned a lesson of savage retaliation and explict terror to prevent a recurrence of a lost moment.
There is a lot of other stuff in Draper’s essay. Later…