He is, of course, an archenemy of Capitalism, but he certainly isn’t a Stalinist – he abhors what happened in Russia and China, and he only mentions Trotsky in passing.
So, where exactly does he actually stand? What is his recipe for bringing about the demise of Capitalism?
He is well aware of his responsibility in this regard, and he clearly proves conclusively that Social Democratic regulations, imposed from above, upon a still Capitalist Economic System will inevitably fail to effect such a transition. He makes it absolutely clear that, in his opinion, an alternative to Capitalism involving Workers’ Ownership and Control of the means of Production, Distribution and Exchange is vital. He even relates what happened in Russia, during the Revolution, with a certain relish, when immediately after the taking of power by force and the Congress of Soviets, the Stock Exchange was closed forever, and the stock documents ripped up as so much waste paper, and the Banks occupied. The Soviets – Workers’ Councils, everywhere and in every possible context took control.
Yet Wolff doesn’t call upon the organisation of parties to fight for such a Revolution – which is exactly what was necessary in both Russia and China!
What he does concentrate upon are Workers’ Cooperatives, such as the Cooperative Wholesale Society as established in my own City of Manchester, which grew to be enormous, and even sponsored Labour candidates in British General Elections, and describes in detail the major such Cooperative, currently in existence, in the Basque Region in Northern Spain.
Now, as a supporter of that sort of organisation in Britain, myself, he clearly has a point,
But, exactly how these should inter-relate isn’t clear, and the British experience was that the supporters of Cooperative Organisations, left the question of the switch to Socialism entirely to the Social Democratic Labour Party, which in spite of its courageous effort following the Second World War, in the end failed completely, and all its gains are now dismantled.
What is clear is that no matter how things started in the Russian Revolution, they were soon emasculated by an emerging bureaucracy within the hierarchies of the national Soviet System, with the crucial reins in the hands of Stalin and his cronies.
And, as Lenin and later the Trotskyists insisted, Socialism could not be established in a single country, as the Capitalist Ruling classes across the globe would work tirelessly to isolate and undermine any state which managed to remove Capitalism entirely.
Yet, in the flux of Revolution, as was related by John Read in his book, Ten Days that Shook the World - the natural and crucial initial functioning of the Soviets was clear to see. The Smolny Institute (home of the Congress of Soviets) was thronged with many delegates from Soviets all over Russia. And, a constant stream of messengers from these far-flung Soviets, were constantly being validated. What they were carrying were updates and mandates as to how their delegates had to vote, along with replacement credentials for newly appointed representatives to replace current ones who had lost the confidence of the majority of representatives back home in their Soviet.
These messengers, almost invariably, had the new delegates accompanying them. Instant Recall & Replacement was the rule: no waiting for another General Election.
Clearly, the credentials of the messengers were crucial, and these people were invariably Bolshevik Party members, or someone else who both the sending Soviet itself, and the officers of the Congress, could trust.
This gathering at Smolny was for every single Soviet across the country, and all shades of opinion were represented there. But, as always the Social Democratic organisations were invariably dominated by educated middle class delegates, while the majority of Soviets were not so dominated. Discussions at the Congress were across the whole range of approaches.
But, in the midst of a crucial debate, Lenin was able to announce that the Winter Palace had been taken and the whole of the Provisional Government arrested. The whole atmosphere in the Congress changed. The general reaction was rejoicing, but the Social Democrats denounced it as a Coup by the Bolsheviks, and withdrew en masse from the Congress.
The mood of the Congress, however was clear, and fell silent as Lenin, now elected leader of the Congress, approached the rostrum and announced, “We shall now construct the Socialist Order!”