My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Europe's Three-Stage Revolution. Part I

The years 1917 to 1921 have often been seen as comprising a revolutionary moment for Europe, evaluated either sympathetically (see William A. Pelz's chapter 6) or negatively (Anthony Read's book concentrates just on 1919, a little oddly).

We tend now to think of leftist revolution as meaning the more or less rapid nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, and the introduction of a 'plan of production'. However, this 'economistic' reading of revolution wasn't terribly prominent in the post-Great War era.

[Digression - Until the late 1920s, it was the Right who were most vocally in the vanguard of calls for planning and rationalisation, posited in terms of Taylorism, Fordism, and general Americanisation. A.J.P. Taylor entertainingly exaggerated a kernel of truth when he wrote that at the onset of the 1929 Depression:

Planned economy was no part of classical Socialism. Marx, for instance, assumed that supply and demand, the law of the market, would continue to work under Socialism; only private profit would be eliminated. Soviet Russia had been operating a market economy and a gold currency since the end of the civil war. The first Five Year Plan, launched in 1928, had not yet made an impact on western minds. The New Deal had not yet appeared on the horizon. Keynesian economics were still in conception. Only fascist Italy claimed, however falsely, to have a planned economy.
{A. J. P. Taylor, ‘Confusion on the Left’ (1960) in his Politicians, Socialism and Historians (New York: Stein & Day, 1979), p. 188.}]

Back to the post-world war era, what was considered important - certainly in central and eastern Europe - was the consolidation of democratic revolution. This was problematic because the 'permanent state' - the army, judiciary, civil service, police, big business and agriculture, much of the press, and opinion formers in academia - were still shot through with pre-war vintage monarchists, militarists, anti-democrats, and reactionaries of every kidney.

Socialists, who were generally the overseers of democratic transformation in the defeated countries, were in a quandary. They were massively stronger than they had been pre-war, but still in elected parliaments they could expect no more than about 45 percent of seats at the maximum; somewhere in the mid-30s percent was more usual.

Socialists could seek to re-structure the old permanent state, by mobilising the spontaneously arisen 'workers councils' to intimidate, and at a pinch replace, the old administration. This was the 'Bolshevik' model. However, most felt that this aggressive strategy would simply rally most of the country - the businessmen, professionals, armed forces, farmers, shopkeepers, master-artisans, churchly faithful, and so on, who made up the majority of the population - against the Left. The result would be bloody civil war and defeat of the Left.

The alternative was to cut a deal with the old administration, leaving it in place and allowing the army etc to crush minority radical leftists, in return for their respecting democratic constitutionalism. This was the choice of the Majority Social Democrats in Germany. Perhaps this might have worked - there was considerable if incomplete progress in re-shaping the Prussian state police over the 1920s, for example - had not the 1929 depression  hit. As it was, the old reactionary state apparatus was still in place, unreconciled at heart, and only too happy to help the Nazis into power in order to crush democracy and the Left.

The 'Centrist' socialist option was limited mobilisation of the 'workers' councils' as a counterweight to the permanent state, and as a protection for democratic constitutionalism, without seeking to provoke a head-on collision with the the non-proletarian classes. This was fairly effectively carried out by the SPÖ in Austria (and was probably the favoured option for most socialist rank and filers across continental Europe). However, as a tendency it was ground to dust between the mill stones of the Comintern and the moderate Social Democracy, and thusly isolated it was insufficient in the end to hold back the tide of reaction.

It's hard to see how the 'Bolshevik strategy' in the post-war era, more or less anywhere west of the Soviet Federation, could have led to other than bloody social civil war and reaction triumphant.

The victory of Bolshevism in Russia itself certainly broke the counter-revolution, but at the cost of a one-party dictatorship presiding over a devastated country, with an elite cut off from the mass of the population, regarding it with hostile suspicion, and with a militarised mind-set. Even dis-regarding this, since 1917 'Leninism' had rejected democratic constitutionalism for 'social civil war' and the coercive 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. It was hardly likely to have preserved democratic forms wherever it came to power.

But the Social Democratic strategy was not much better in practice. It left the 'permanent state' intact, able and ready to cut the throat of democracy later on. Admittedly, the 'permanent state' had suffered a permanent diminution of authority, but this turned out for the worse, because they felt it necessary to ally with populist and fanatical fascist mass-movements.

So, how was the 'permanent state' eventually tackled in Europe? That'll be for the next post.

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