Romancing the Revolution: The Myth of Soviet Democracy and the British Left

Romancing the Revolution: The Myth of Soviet Democracy and the British Left

Over two decades have passed since the collapse of the USSR, yet the words "Soviet Union" still carry significant weight in the collective memory of millions. But how often do we consider the true meaning of the term "Soviet"? Drawing extensively on left-wing press archives, Romancing the Revolution traces the reactions of the British Left to the idealized concept of Soviet democracy. Focusing on the turbulent period after the 1917 Russian Revolution, author Ian Bullock examines the impact of the myth of Soviet democracy: the belief that Russia was embarking on a brave experiment in a form of popular government more genuine and advanced than even the best forms of parliamentarism. Romancing the Revolution uncovers the imprint of this myth on left-wing organizations and their publications, ranging from those that presented themselves as "British Bolsheviks"—the British Socialist party and The Call, the Socialist Labour party's The Socialist, Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers' Dreadnought—to the much more equivocal Labour Leader and The New Statesmen.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Cover 1
Contents 8
Acknowledgements 12
List of Abbreviations 14
Timeline: MAY 1916 to JANUARY 1925 15
Introduction 24
1 Well-Prepared Ground: The British Left on the Eve of the Russian Revolution 38
The Main Constituents of the British Left 38
Radical Plebeian Democracy in British Socialism 42
Shop Stewards, Syndicalism, and Guild Socialism 50
De Leonism and the Socialist Labour Party 55
2 Initial Responses to the Russian Revolution: The British Left in 1917 and the Leeds “Soviet” Convention 62
The “Marvellous Revolution” 62
The Origins of the Leeds Convention: Anticipations and Preparations 66
The Convention Meets 70
The “Soviet” Resolution 72
Reactions to Leeds 76
Trying to Make British Soviets Work 79
3 The Bolsheviks and the British Left: The October Revolution and the Suppression of the Constituent Assembly 88
The “Unknown” Bolsheviks Begin to Register 88
The Bolsheviks Take Power 93
How the British Left Reacted to the October Revolution 94
The Crucial Turning Point: The Suppression of the Constituent Assembly 97
The Suppression of the Assembly: Immediate Reactions 101
The Labour Party Conferences of 1918: Litvinov Versus Kerensky 109
Snowden’s Early Optimism 112
“Replacing” the Constituent Assembly: Retrospective Justifications 113
4 The Myth Established: The Positive View of Soviet Democracy 120
“The Superiority of the Soviet” 120
The Reality of Soviets — as Seen by Supporters and Sympathetic Observers 128
Labour Leader and “an Experiment Which Mankind Truly Needs” 135
Allowing the Bolsheviks a “Run for Their Money”: The New Statesman, 1918–1921 137
5 Polarized Social-Democrats: Denunciation and Debate 146
The National Socialist Party, Justice, and the “Anti-Bolshevik Campaign” 146
Parliamentarism and Trade Unionism: The 1919 Debate in The Call 156
6 Equivocal Reformists: The Independent Labour Party, the Guild Socialists, and the Reaction to Kautsky 168
ILP Critics: Giving the Bolsheviks Some Benefit of the Doubt 168
Conflicts in the National Guilds League 174
The “Aunt Sally of the Third International” 183
7 The Dictatorship of the Proletariat 190
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Soviet Democracy 190
The Temporary Nature of the Dictatorship 198
The Revolutionary Party and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 200
Defenders of Dictatorship 204
8 The Independent Labour Party and the Third International: A Crucial Test for Belief in Soviet Democracy 210
Which International? 210
Third International Support in the ILP in Early 1920 215
The 1920 ILP Conference 219
Reports from Russia 221
The Left Wing of the ILP and the 1921 Conference 226
9 “An Infantile Disorder”: Communist Unity and the Brief Life of the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) 236
The Khaki Election of 1918 236
Waiting for the Soviets: The “True Believers” of the Workers’ Socialist Federation 238
“Left” and “Right” Communists 241
The “Leading English Communist” 243
“A Wrecking Policy” and the Failure of the “Appeal to Caesar” 248
“Left-Wing” Communism: Wary Shop Stewards Remain Aloof 250
Gorter Rejects Lenin’s Criticism 252
The Short but Eventful Life of the CP (BSTI) 254
10 British Bolsheviks?: The Socialist Labour Party 266
Some Limits of slp Sectarianism 266
Parliament and the Labour Party 275
The Communist Unity Group and the “Unity Gag”: The SLP Declines to Unite 277
The Third International and the 21 Conditions 278
The SLP and the Soviets: A Changing Emphasis 281
The Revival of De Leonism: The “Industrial Republic” and the WIIU 283
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and “Civilised” Conflict 285
The Nature of the Revolution and the Role of the Revolutionary Party 292
11 Pankhurst’s Dreadnought and the (Original) Fourth International: “Left Communism” and Soviet Democracy 296
The Dreadnought Before Pankhurst’s Expulsion 296
Pankhurst’s Expulsion, “Freedom of Discussion,” and the Dreadnought Reprieved 300
Perceptions of Russian Reality: The Beginning of the Change 304
The Original Fourth International and the Communist Workers’ Party 305
The Role of the Soviets in the Coming Revolution 310
The Nature of Soviet Democracy 315
The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution: “Right-Wing” Communists Abandon Soviet Democracy 319
The Spread of Soviets and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 323
12 The Early British Communist Party: Soviet Democracy Deferred and Redefined 328
The First Step to Socialism: A Labour Government 328
Redefinition Begins: Democracy . . . or Ergatocracy? 330
The Role of the Soviets: Zinoviev’s “Theses” 331
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat: From Class to Party 333
“Bolshevization” and Democratic Centralism 335
Desertions from the Left 339
Soviet Democracy Deferred 343
Soviet Democracy Depoliticized 344
13 Endings and Conclusions 354
Kronstadt and the “Collapse” of Communism 354
The Decline of Left-Wing Alternatives in Britain 359
The Demise of Solidarity and The Guild Socialist 361
The End of The Socialist and the Sinking of the Workers’ Dreadnought 363
Justice and the Ending of the SDF-BSP Tradition 366
The Beginning of the End of Labour Leader: Snowden Versus Mrs. Glasier 367
The End of Labour Leader 371
Attitudes Towards Leadership and the Cult of Lenin 373
Conclusions 380
Notes 388
Bibliography 422
Index 430
A 430
B 430
C 430
D 431
E 431
F 432
G 432
H 432
I 432
J 433
K 433
L 433
M 434
N 434
O 435
P 435
Q 435
R 435
S 436
T 437
U 437
V 437
W 437
Y 438
Z 438