Fascinating. First issue of the newspaper started by Margaret Sanger in 1914, “The Woman Rebel.” The masthead reads, “No Gods No Masters.”
“The aim of this paper will be to stimulate working women to think for themselves and to build up a conscious fighting character.
” … It is also the aim of this paper to circulate among those women who work in prostitution; to voice their wrongs; to expose the police persecution which hovers over them and to give free expression to their thoughts, hopes and opinions.
“And at all times the WOMAN REBEL will strenuously advocate economic emancipation.
” … Superstition; blind following; unthinking obedience on the part of working women; together with the pretence, hypocrisy and sham morality of the women of the middle class have been the greatest obstacles in the obtaining of woman’s freedom.
|—||Lucy Parsons (Oct 1886)|
Not My Comrades
Apparently credit belongs to Suzy X. thatsucia.tumblr.com
Hot off the press! Long-awaited and much-needed reprinting of the only-existing full biography on Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, one of the most important revolutionary socialists in U.S. history.
Is the government preparing to replace (or augment) its racist domestic “war on terror” with a “war on anarchists”???
FBI agents and local police who are part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force raided multiple houses in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle this morning—but it’s still unclear what the authorities were looking for, exactly.
No arrests were made in the raids and the warrants for the searches are sealed, which means they’re not public record. The most the FBI will say is the raids are part of an “ongoing violent crime investigation.” They issued grand jury subpoenas to individuals in all three cities.
However, the Oregonian talked with the owner of one of the three homes in NE Portland who said the FBI may have been seeking a group of “anarchists” who lived there a year ago and ran an info booth at Last Thursday. In Portland, the three houses raided were 4820 NE 31st Ave, 7129 NE 8th Ave, and 6846 N. Greenwich. It’s not clear whether this is related, but earlier this month, police raided the home of Occupy Mayday protesters in Seattle.
KGW has some shots of the agents in the raid. It’s a pretty heavy duty squad:
This is a clear example of one of the controversial issues about Portland being a part of JTTF. The FBI can work with police to raid Portlanders’ houses, but then not make public any information about it… except maybe include some details in a bare-bones report about their involvement down the line. Until then, we’re in the dark.
I maintain that the relationship between the anarchist and socialist movements is somewhat akin to the relationship between the Democratic and Republican parties (I won’t say which is which). Both of these latter parties represent differing worldviews, but nonetheless together ultimately embody the class enemy of working people. Bipartisanship between these parties ever only results in more effective attacks on the working class in the interests of capital.
Anarchists and socialists represent differing worldviews, but nonetheless each stand as class enemies of the capitalists. Thus, the pursuit of bipartisanship around immediate tactical struggles is always in the best interest of those fighting against the capitalist system. We have far more that unites us than separates us.
Many young people today, repulsed by the militarized, exploitative, oppressive reality of our society, are drawn towards anarchist politics. To be sure, this is a positive development. Any step that people take in the direction away from a wholehearted acceptance of the ruling ideas and assumptions of our capitalist society is something to be supported.
However, as we all know, the matter does not end there. For after one decides to try to affect social change and enters the activist foray, it becomes clear that there are a number of anti-capitalist or non-capitalist ideas out there. Sometimes these ideas seem to overlap in their goals and methods; but it is also clear that they just as often diverge. In the end, one must figure out which ideology best seems able to achieve the kind of social change one has in mind.
As a revolutionary socialist, I want to offer a broad analysis explaining the class origins and basis of anarchism — the primary anti-capitalist alternative to that of socialism — and the drawbacks that inevitably flow from this reality. Specifically, my contention is that anarchist thought is the ideal expression of the social position of the various middle class(es) of history. Oppressed by the ruling class, yet unable to replace the ruling class’ political dominance with that of its own, the middle class finds itself in a state of eternal rebellion against seemingly alien powers representing other classes’ interests.
A quick word to avoid confusion. Oftentimes on the left, the term “middle class” is used as a sort of flip pejorative against a competing ideology. In many of these instance, such usage of the term is less born of an actual historical analysis of an opposing set of ideas, but rather as a simple means to end an unpleasant conversation. This is not how I employ the term. In this article, the term “middle class” is exclusively meant to describe those social layers of a given society that stand between or outside of the primary classes. By primary classes I mean those socioeconomic groups of people that wield palpable weight over the entirety of that society (either “from above” or “from below”, actively or potentially), owing to their integral position within the dominant relations of economic production of that society (i.e., the way society is organized so as to meet its needs and physically reproduce itself).
Moreover, my aim in attempting a critical analysis of anarchism is not to discount the important efforts of many of today’s activists who identify as anarchist, nor ignore the important historical contributions of the anarchist movement to the fight against oppression and exploitation. Neither am I attempting to claim that anarchism has never been espoused by working-class people — even large groups of working-class people.
Nonetheless, a scientific attempt at understanding the material basis of an ideology cannot rest exclusively on what class or group of people may support it at a given moment. For instance, if in a moment of political reaction a group of workers come to support the anti-union ideology of their bosses, this does not mean that we must abandon the notion that this ideology is objectively an expression and product of the capitalist class. The true indication of an ideology’s social counterpart in the material world is not who happens to espouse it, but rather whose interests it embodies; whose actual conditions of existence it is an ideal expression of.
To begin with, what is anarchism? Though there are myriad different strands of anarchism — many of which would be loath to admit kinship with each other — there is a commonality to them all. In essence, this commonality is a basic rejection of the state (i.e., government) and an opposition (at least in theory) to ‘hierarchy’ in the broadest sense; that is, to the authority exerted by one person or group over another.
In the words of the popular contemporary anarchist writer, Cindy Milstein, anarchism “stands for the absence of both domination (mastery or control over another) and hierarchy (ranked power relations of dominance and subordination,” and that “[f]rom its beginnings, anarchism’s core aspiration has been to root out and eradicate all coercive, hierarchical social relations and dream up and establish consensual, egalitarian ones in every instance” (http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/lex_anarchism_master.pdf).
Further, anarchists argue that the state is categorically destructive of all revolutionary ends, and that the exercise of official authority can never but ultimately result in the unqualified extension of human misery, servility, and oppression. “All power corrupts.” Socialists — and in particular, Marxists — on the other hand, hold a different view. Socialists maintain that a limited form of government or state can, nay must, be wielded by the organized working-class in its majority in order to secure its triumph over its masters, the capitalist class. This is the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in Marx.
Much like pacifists view violence as an inherently evil phenomenon to be avoided at all costs, so too do anarchists place a taboo on the state. But what, in the final analysis, is the state if not the perfect expression of organized violence? What is government but the institutions of control and domination made to serve the interest of one part of society imposing its will on the rest of society? The laws, the police, the courts, the politicians, etc., are all instruments of state control backed up by violence or the threat of violence.
Indeed, there are many parallels between the logic of pacifism and the logic of anarchism on this score. Violence, like the state, is a social phenomenon. However, it is primarily a tool to achieve some desired end. Whether it is the ruling class of one country militarily invading another, a police battalion attacking a protest, or a group of slaves rising up to slay their masters, violence is merely the physical imposition of one will (either individually or as a group) over another.
For Marxists, this is the essence of class struggle. The interests of the various social and economic classes of a given society clashing. By definition, the interests of various classes in a society are ultimately mutually exclusive. This was true of the slaves and plantation-owners, the peasants and the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie and the landed nobility, and presently, the workers and the capitalists. As long as one part of society is differentiated from all others owing primarily to its exclusive ownership of the wealth and resources of that society, this class antagonism is manifest.
The state in any epoch has ever been either the creation or the instrument of precisely the most socially and economically dominant class of people. It is the means by which this latter class reinforces its dominance. To all other classes, this state presents itself as an alien body over which they have no control and which exists to repress them.
However, it cannot be said, as the anarchists do, that all states are universally repressive. To the ruling class wielding the state, the state seems no more divorced from their interests than does the gun in the hand of its wielder. To the modern capitalist class, the state is a refined and responsive tool which serves its needs quite effectively. Even between competing sections of the capitalist class, the state is always “their” state, regardless of which particular fraction of capital, or which capitalist party, happens to be at the helm of the state at a given moment.
See, this gets me so steamed. Whether it’s conservative, Democrat Party hangers-on (like MoveOn.org) or ‘ultra-left’ adventurists (like Black Bloc), there is a shared anti-democratic approach to organizing that seeks to bypass or subvert accountability to the processes of open decision-making by communities and activists in order to impose one’s own narrow view on the movement.
In this case, by actively undermining accountability to collectively-made decisions by community activists, Black Bloc does a tremendous disservice to us all. Not only is it thoroughly authoritarian to try to take over a protest via aggressive march tactics (rather than patiently winning people to your viewpoint through democratic organizing), but it also throws the door wide open for any fool with a black ski mask (let alone police infiltrators) to destroy the movement under the banner of non-cooperation with — and unaccountability to — community organizers of a given action.
Moreover, I find it ironic that certain anarchists are so quick to derisively denounce as ‘protest police’ anyone who tries to prevent them from undemocratically highjacking an action. I wonder what these anarchists would do if someone suddenly appeared at one of their “Anti-Capitalist” marches and tried to unfurl a pro-Democratic Party banner at the front of the march, or tried to raise a phalanx of “state socialist” placards at the lead of the procession. We all know that in such a situation these people would unceremoniously dispense with any talk of “protest police” and proceed immediately to removing or otherwise preventing the offenders from taking over their action. (Indeed, this writer has been on more than one occassion attacked for even the simple act of diffidently passing out socialist literature in the midst of such anarchist-organized marches).
I say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t denounce authoritarianism and the lack of democracy when it suits you, just to turn around and practice these exact same things when it doesn’t. Well, I suppose one literally can do that, but it only serves to undermine your credibility and influence among genuine activists, communities, and oppressed and working-class people.
THE MAY 1 demonstration in Chicago represented the hope and future of our struggles and movements. But it also raised challenges and questions we need to grapple with for our struggle to move forward. The actions of a small group of protesters could have undermined the success of the demonstration—and put fellow protesters, including many undocumented immigrants, at risk of arrest or worse.
Occupy activists joined with immigrant rights and trade union activists to organize a May Day march and rally for the 99 percent. Organizing meetings held at Occupy Chicago’s space discussed and voted on the character of the action, its theme, its demands and many other issues. An estimated 2,000 participated in the march and rally, even though it was held during work hours. Among those participating were workers who occupied their workplace, families fighting eviction and foreclosures, immigrant workers unjustly fired because of the E-Verify program, warehouse workers organizing for union recognition, workers who have been on strike, undocumented students and youth who have risked deportation to demand legalization, hotel workers fighting for a just contract, African Americans organizing to demand justice for family members murdered by Chicago police …
AS THE march progressed from the Near West Side toward Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago, masked Black Bloc activists and others who believed the march was too conservative—ignoring the appeals of march organizers—moved to the front of the demonstration, bypassing the lead banner, a contingent of disabled participants and a security line made up of union, immigrant rights, Occupy and faith-based activists.
Firecrackers thrown by some people landed among the marchers. From chants of “The workers united will never be defeated” and “¡ICE escucha! Estamos en la lucha,” the chant at the front of the march became “Fuck the police.”
Fortunately, the police didn’t attack the demonstration, and no one was injured. But there are a number of issues flowing from this experience that warrant further discussion.
I suppose it’s ironic that the very same people who call themselves “anti-authoritarians” participate in the most authoritarian activity at the end of the day — for really, what is more undemocratic than a handful of unaccountable, provocational, self-appointed “activist shock troops”, clad in black anonymity, and carrying out geurilla-war-style actions that will have massive repercussions for the vast majority of the rest of the movement activists who are not participants in (or even privy to) such violent actions?
This is a perfect embodiment of the pernicious notion developed by the 19th century anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, of “the invisible dictatorship,” which would comprise those self-selected anarchists acting as the unelected, unaccountable leaders of the movement. (As if one could be “anti-government” by simply constructing a sort of unacknowledged ’secret government’ bereft of the open, democratic formalities that characterize the traditional state).
MAY DAY—the international workers’ holiday with its origins in the struggles of the U.S. labor movement more than a century ago—was marked by demonstrations and events in cities around the country this year.
The biggest single demonstration was in New York City, where as many as 30,000 people came out to a rally and march to Wall Street. But there were other actions in New York—and in cities around the country, people came together in their hundreds and thousands, surpassing the expectations of organizers in a number of cases.
This year was the largest mobilization for May Day since the hey day of the immigrant rights mega-marches starting in 2006. Immigrant rights and labor groups were in the thick of the organizing, but so were activists from the Occupy movement of last fall, who looked to May 1 as an opportunity to reassert the message of the 99 percent against the greed, power and corruption of the 1 percent.
That the Occupy movement, like many other struggles before it, looked to May Day as a celebration of solidarity is a signal of the depths of the radicalization. Whatever the size of the demonstrations, they represented an attempt to connect the organizing of today to the rich history of working-class struggle in the U.S.
Of course, May Day was preceded by calls for a general strike of the U.S. working class and mass, nationwide consumer boycotts, but few people expected anything like that to happen. Almost everywhere, activists were happy to report stronger-than-expected turnouts for marches and rallies.
Predictably, the corporate media focused on confrontations between police and demonstrators in a handful of cities. Unfortunately, as has become increasingly clear over this year, a section of the Occupy movement has drifted toward a strategy that seeks a face-off with police and the threat of mass arrest, even when there is no potential of mobilizing the much wider layers of support that the Occupy struggle enjoyed last fall at its height.
The May Day demonstrations this year show the potential for taking new steps forward—crucially, with the renewed connections between unions, immigrant rights organizations and Occupy. The question for activists now has to be how we can deepen these ties and take new steps to broaden participation in the effort to build a left alternative to the world of the 1 percent.
What the fuck, people! Why do some people — generally associated with anarchist politics — feel the need to constantly pursue these types of idiotic actions? If you really want to see the dismantling of corporate power, why don’t you and your 12 friends put down the metal pipes, walk away from the window, and set about trying to actually organize broad actions with masses of people?
I mean, what really is accomplished by a handful of anarcho-fools setting about to terrorize the workers and customers of a local Starbucks, many of whom (including the exploited baristas inside) will not know what the fuck is even going on, by smashing a window that Starbucks will simply quickly replace?!
I’m really, really losing my patience with such childish, selfish, egocentric, elitist, undemocratic, and adventurist actions. Seriously. Such isolated actions carried out by a tiny handful of unaccountable anarchists do way more harm than good to the cause of winning masses of people to join the struggle against corporate power & for workers’ rights.
Time was, anarchists could simply look askance at a Starbucks’ big greedy oppression-symbolizing window and it’d shatter out of sheer terror. But in the age-old battle between anarchists and Starbucks, the coffeemaker appears to have gained the upper hand.
Saturday night, a group of a few dozen anarchists who’d been attending a nearby anarchist book fair marched on an East Village Starbucks, all hopped up on mate, shitty zines and Deleuze. It was time for a classic Starbucks smashing!
But they were foiled by Starbucks’ advanced anarchist-repelling window technology. The New York Daily News reports:
“Patrons at Astor Place coffee shop dashed underneath tables as metal pipe-wielding protesters attempted to shatter its floor-to-ceiling Plexiglas windows during a Saturday night riot, police and workers said.
“Luckily, the unbreakable panes prevented injuries, one barista said.”
Three protesters were arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct and being so 2009. Haven’t you been reading The New York Times, anarchists? The only people who drink at Starbucks in New York City anymore are construction workers, college students and tourists. Any respectable coffee shop-smashing snob would demolish a Blue Bottle Coffee.
In any unequal, class-divided society, authority can’t simply be “abolished.”
ON ONE level, anarchists and Marxists want the same thing—in the words of Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, a society “without bosses or gendarmes [cops].” But there are some fundamental differences between the two. This article focuses on just one: the question of authority.
… For anarchists, force, authority and hierarchy—the state—are the cause of class inequality. Abolition of authority is their watchword.
For Marxists, the state is a byproduct of class antagonism—and can only disappear when class antagonisms disappear.
Marx expressed this most clearly:
What all socialists understand by anarchy is this: once the aim of the proletarian movement, the abolition of classes, has been attained, the power of the state, which serves to keep the great majority of producers under the yoke of a numerically small exploiting minority, disappears, and the functions of government are transformed into simple administrative functions.”
Karl Marx spent much of his political life fighting against the “state-socialist” conception of social change.
(This is also why, incidentally, the great American revolutionary anarchist-socialist, Lucy Parsons, insisted on referring to Marx as an “anarchist” in all of her writings and speeches).
The more democratic the state, which consists of the armed workers, and which is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word, the more rapidly does the state begins to wither away altogether.
I am able here to only reprint part of the debate between myself and servile-masses-arise, but it is interesting nonetheless, even if taken in media res.
Lenin and Trotsky had frantically managed to position themselves as ‘leaders’ by October, yes, but that doesn’t mean that their tactics precipitated the revolution. Read Trotsky’s “history of the Russian revolution” where he admits this openly : He writes: “‘The soldiers lagged behind the shop committees. The committees lagged behind the masses … The party also lagged behind the revolutionary dynamic - an organisation which had the least right to lag, especially in a time of revolution … The most revolutionary party which human history until this time had ever known was nevertheless caught unawares by the events of history. It reconstructed itself in the fires, and straightened out its ranks under the onslaught of events. The masses at the turning point were a hundred times to the left of the extreme left party” The Bolsheviks actually OPPOSED the Petrograd strikes in February, urging workers to wait till mayday and were rightfully ignored. Trotsky admits that the Bolsheviks had no role in instigating the revolution, why can’t you?
The October coup merely replaced one bourgeois government with another. The article you link to describes the set up of what Lenin called ‘workers control’, but in practice it was anything but [the article being referenced here on “Lenin and workers’ control” can be found on this blog at http://joanofmark.blogspot.com/2010/12/english-translation-of-lenin-and.html]. Yes, workers had voted for them in large numbers late in 1917 (they were the party promising most workers power after all), but as early as 1918 these promises were being exposed as opportunistic lies. No land was to be given to the peasants. Workers found that they were banned from going on strike, they were not allowed to form independent trade unions or elect whoever they chose to the Soviets.
Let me ask you this: if the Soviet system as set up by the Bolsheviks in 1917 was so democratic, what happened when they failed to elect Bolsheviks? What happened when Mensheviks and SRs won majorities, as they did in Tula, Kostroma, Briansk, and many many other industrial centres in 1918? They were ALL disbanded by FORCE. There’s your Bolshevik ‘democracy’.
As Volin wrote in ‘the voice of Labour in 1917’, “‘Once their power has been consolidated and legalised, the Bolsheviks, as state socialists, that is as men who believe in centralised and authoritarian leadership - will start running the life of the country and of the people from the top. Your soviets … will gradually become simple tools of the central government … You will soon see the inauguration of an authoritarian political and state apparatus that will crush all opposition with an iron fist… “All power to the soviets” will become “all power to the leaders of the Party”
History proved him 100% right.
First of all, let me say that I sympathize with your clear antipathy to authoritarianism and oppression, which I share. However, I think your reading of the Russian revolution and the behavior of the Bolshevik Party is misguided and incorrect.
You claim that the Bolsheviks did not instigate the revolution and intimate that the only role they played between February and October was to ”position” themselves as leaders. I will not contest that the Bolsheviks weren’t the “instigators” the revolution; that the whole thing was simply orchestrated by the Party, No genuine mass revolution in history has been this way. However, the Bolsheviks did play a very important role in the whole period leading up to February 1917, and certainly between February and October.
Maybe the fact that Trotsky did not join the Bolshevik Party until the summer of 1917 explains his ignorance on the pre-October role of the Bolsheviks. Or maybe it’s just Trotsky’s penchant for the dramatic and grandiose, sweeping views of events that make him miss the trees for the forest, so to speak.
In any event, here’s Trotsky’s full view of the revolution, in which he enumerates the necessary factors leading to its ultimate success:
“1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes—the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.
2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.
3. The revolutionary character of the peasant question.
4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nations.
5. The significant weight of the proletariat.
To these organic preconditions we must add certain conjunctural conditions of the highest importance.
6. The revolution of 1905 was a great school, or in Lenin’s words, the ‘dress rehearsal’ of the revolution of 1917. The soviets, as the irreplaceable organizational form of the proletarian united front in the revolution, were created or the first time in the year 1905.
7. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility and thereby prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.
But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the revolution. For this victory one condition more was needed:
8. The Bolshevik Party.” (Quoted in Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Trotsky: 1929-1940 (Oxford University Press, London, 1970), pp.184-185.)
Trotsky maintained that the spontaneous outpouring of the masses in the form of strikes, mutinies, and peasant rebellions, was a phenomenon that no party could merely conjur up single-handedly. But without the presence of a mass revolutionary party, this inchoate uprising would have been stifled under the forces of the bourgeoisie — the Cadet Party, the Mensheviks, the SRs, or even the remnants of the monarchists.
This point is quite irrefutable, as even anarchist authors admit that there simply was no alternative organization — be it anarchist or otherwise — that was positioned in 1917 to actually forcefully overthrow the bourgeois government and organize the workers and soldiers in such a way as to ensure the supremacy of the Soviets.
Moving beyond Trotsky, the fact of the matter is that the Bolsheviks were incredibly active in agitating and encouraging the development of class-consciousness and workers’ self-organization between 1905 and 1917. When many of the anarchists in Russia in 1914 supported their own government during the outbreak of WWI (for instance, Peter Kropotkin), the Bolsheviks stood nearly alone in organizing the most class-conscious workers to oppose the imperialist war and actually call for the defeat of their own government, so as to hasten the possibility of its revolutionary overthrow.
Likewise in August 1917, when General Kornilov threatened to lead a right-wing coup to bring back the monarchy, it was the Bolsheviks who led the arming of the working-class of Petrograd in preparation for a fight against Kornilov. Having thus been armed, the workers of Petrograd were then in a position to impose their will on the bourgeois Constituent Assembly come October.
Finally, beyond the “leaders” like Lenin, Trotsky, etc., there were thousands of working-class Bolsheviks and sympathizers constantly organizing amongst their co-workers in the factories and cities. Attempts to write these brave revolutionaries out of the history of the revolution is quite unforgiveable.
For instance, in August 1915, the Bolshevik Petrograd Committee called for a general strike, the creation of a people’s militia, armed attacks on police headquarters, confiscation of essential foodstuffs, organization of a soviet of workers’ deputies, and recruitment of the soldiers and officers into a general strike. Although these demands were well ahead of the masses’ political consciousness, they were almost a blueprint for what was to come eighteen months later. (Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, The February Revolution: Petrograd 1917 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 111).
Another example: Bolsheviks organized a strike to defend Baltic Bolshevik sailors on trial. It started on October 26, 1916, and lasted for three days, with 80,000 out on the final day. At first, the Tsar responded by locking out workers. He then backed down and removed the threat of the death penalty. This victory, during wartime, showed the Bolsheviks the influence they now had. With events like this in mind, the Bolsheviks reestablished a Russian Bureau of the Central Committee when three comrades who had been in exile were sneaked back into the country. Soon, all the socialist groups began to speak of impending revolution in their propaganda. (E. N. Burdzhalov, Russia’s Second Revolution: The February 1917 Uprising in Petrograd (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987),53).
And, as regards the start of the revolution on February 23rd of 1917, International Women’s Day: “[That morning] women workers at five textile plants walked out and headed to nearby factories to call out other workers, in the Petrograd tradition. Why these women? They were among the few textile workers who participated in strikes during the war. The day before, they had met with some Bolsheviks for a study group on the meaning of International Women’s Day.” (http://isreview.org/issues/75/feat-february1917.shtml)
You state that “The October coup merely replaced one bourgeois government with another.” Maybe we have very different ideas of what constitutes a “bourgeois goverment”? Are you implying that the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were a type of bourgeois government? On what basis?
If the Bolsheviks wanted a bourgeois government, why did they outlaw parties that precisely wanted to get rid of the Soviets (i.e., workers’ power) and bring back the bourgeois government in the form of the Constituent Assembly? This explains the on-again-off-again war between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks/SRs. These latter two parties explicitly were opposed to workers’ control of production and society. They wanted to establish a fully capitalist government and society ruled by Russia’s bourgeoise. They were quite explicit about this, actually.
From wikipedia: “On 7 May 1918 the Eighth Party Council of the Socialist Revolutionary Party convened in Moscow and decided to start an uprising against the Bolsheviks with the goal of reconvening the Constituent Assembly. While preparations were under way, the Czechoslovak Legions [allied with the bourgeois-monarchist White Army durign the Civil War] overthrew Bolshevik rule in Siberia, Urals and the Volga region in late May-early June 1918 and the center of SR activity shifted there. “
It is actually interesting because between 1917 and 1919, the Soviet government led by the Bolsheviks would repeatedly ban the Mensheviks/SRs when they took up arms against the Soviets, only to then lift the ban and allow free and open agitation for these latter parties as soon as they would summarily renounce their violent counter-revolutionary actions.
Let me just say here as an aside that I am not a pacifist. I am not against the use of “FORCE” (as use put it in all capitals). Indeed, I have no problem with a succesful workers’ revolution actually radically limiting the freedoms of the bourgeoisie and its parties. For instance, in the U.S. this would mean that FOX News, etc., would be shut down by FORCE and the capitalist Democratic and Republican Parties would be banned from participating in any workers’ government, by FORCE.
It is necessary to limit the freedom of the bourgeoisie in order to expand the freedom of the working class, in the same way that it is necessary to expropriate the bourgeoisie and abolish their existence as a class in order to win the total emancipation of the working-class and the subsequent abolition of classes altogether.
You claim that by 1918, “no land was to be given to the peasants. Workers found that they were banned from going on strike, they were not allowed to form independent trade unions or elect whoever they chose to the Soviets.” I don’t know where you get this from. Trade unions were legal and independent of the Soviet government well into the 1920s. In fact the Tenth Party Congress of the now-renamed Communist Party in 1922, specifically debated this question at length and decided overwhelmingly that trade unions in Russia must remain independent of the state and be free to strike, organize against the government, negotiate over pay, etc. This is all a matter of public record.
I believe it wasn’t until 1928 or so that independent unions and strikes were completely banned by the government (by this time, of course, Stalin had already completely risen to power by crushing the skulls of the majority of the original Bolshevik Party. including most of its “leaders” as well as its working-class base).
Finally, you quote Volin from “The Voice of Labor”, in 1917, in which he predicts the eventual authoritarianism of the Bolshevik-Communist Party. This is quite interesting especially because it was under the first few years of rule of the Bolshevik-dominated Soviets that the anarchist-affiliated ”Voice of Labor” was enabled to circulate more freely than it had been able to in the countries of its origin (the U.S. and Canada).
Indeed, Volin was even a supporter of the Soviet government until 1919. As libcom.org describes it, during this early stretch of ”comparative freedom in Russia, when other social movements beside the Bolsheviki still enjoyed opportunity to spread their ideas through their own publications and at public meetings, Volin was constantly busy in many fields. He took part in the work of the Soviet Department for Public Education and Enlightenment of the People, first in Voronezh and later in Kharkov.” (http://libcom.org/book/export/html/31261)
Of course, Volin’s prediction that the mass, emancipatory Bolshevik-led revolution would ultimately turn into its authoritarian opposite was not unique to him, before or since. Virtually the entirety of the bourgeois world was screaming this refrain during the months and years leading up to and following the Russian revolution.
Aside from the capitalist press, however, most of the international anarchist movement continued to support the Soviet government in Russia at least up until 1921. In fact, Emma Goldman famously commented in 1922, after she had turned from an ardent support to an opponent of the Bolsheviks, that she felt “quite alone” and “cut off” from the rest of the anarchist and socialist left because of her position. It was really only much later, after the rise of Stalin, and after the bourgeoisie of the world had popularized the notion that Stalin’s crimes originated in the very project of the Bolshevik Party itself, that the broad left began picking up this refrain as ‘common sense.’
Even after Kronstadt, most of the best, working-class anarchist revolutionaries of the world understood the position the Bolsheviks were in and supported their efforts at sustaining workers’ power in the most unfavorable of conditions. When Emma Goldman accepted large sums of cash as payment for a series of anti-Bolshevik articles she wrote for various capitalist newspapers in the U.S. in the wake of the Kronstadt affair, the American anarchist Lucy Parsons called her a ”traitor” and characterized her articles as ”a rehash of the supercilious vapourings of capitalist reporters.” (http://joanofmark.blogspot.com/2011/09/lucy-parsons-more-dangerous-than.html)
The famous anarcho-syndicalist, William “Big Bill” Haywood had this to say of Goldman’s praise for the Ukranian anarchist Nestor Mahkno in his fight against the Bolsheviks:
“The “anarchist” Mahkno is mentioned by Emma Goldman as a friend and sending food to Kropotkin. In a diary of Fedora-Gianko, the wife of Mahkno, are recorded facts and dates to show that these marauders were guilty of arson, train-wrecking, murder, robbery, all committed against the Soviet Government. By them workers were killed, villages destroyed, bridges blown up, wrecks caused by wild engines turned loose against approaching trains until Mahkno was driven from the country. This kind of work against the Soviet Government meets with the approval of Miss Goldman. Her heart was never with the Bolshevik revolution. Compelled to leave the United States, she came to Russia as there was no other place to which she could go. Friends have not cut her off; she has excommunicated herself.” (http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/periodicals/communist_review/1922/04/emma_goldman.htm)
In conclusion, it’s important to go back to the beginning and separate out the essential from the non-essential in what ultimately became of the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik Party. No greater source than the Bolsheviks themselves likewise predicted the downfall of the revolution as far as back as 1917 (and arguably as far as back as 1904). However, for them, their prediction wasn’t born of a mystical belief that any form of organization or party must necessarily lead to pure evil, but rather that without the spread of the revolution internationally, a proletarian revolution would be doomed to failure in Russia, owing to the backward and underdeveloped economic position of their society, coupled with the fact that the majority of Russian society was still composed of a rural, isolated, peasant class.
Unfortunately, the revolution did not spread, Russia was subject to an economic blockade and military intervention carried out by all of the largest imperialist nations of the world, and Russia’s isolated, undeveloped economy was left in complete tatters and decay. In such a situation of societal breakdown, a new class led by a strongman, Stalin, was able to impose his rule on a society in disarray. The revolution had failed. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had, unfortunately, been proven 100% correct in their prediction.
Despite this failure, however, the Russian revolution and the work of the Bolshevik Party provide us to this day with a wealth of information that we can draw on and learn from in our efforts to once again see the rise and triumph of the working class over the horrors of capitalism.
As the German revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg put it shortly before her untimely death:
“The Russian Revolution is the mightiest event of the World War.…
Whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness and consistency in an historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which western social democracy lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honor of international socialism.…
Everything that happens in Russia is comprehensible and represents an inevitable chain of causes and effects, the starting point and end term of which are: the failure of the German proletariat and the occupation of Russia by German imperialism. It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy…
The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity forced upon them by these fatal circumstances…and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.…
What is in order is to distinguish the essential from the non-essential, the kernel from the accidental excrescences in the policies of the Bolsheviks.…
It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: ‘I have dared!’
This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. In this sense theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and the practical placing of the problem of the realization of socialism, and having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labor in the entire world. In Russia the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to ‘bolshevism.’” (http://marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch08.htm)
I asked Socialismartnature if they minded me blogging a conversation we’ve been having and she/he agreed, I thought maybe others might want to contribute.
The discussion was prompted by this post in which I attack Lenin’s ‘left wing communism; an infantile disorder’. Socialistmartnature…
The strongest argument that can be made as to why all radical activists should study the life and works of Lucy Parsons is that the FBI wants you to know nothing about her.
Lucy Parsons died in 1942, at the age of 89, in a house-fire in Chicago — the city in which she lived most of her life. The ashes had hardly cooled before the Chicago police raided the remains of her home, confiscated all 3,000 volumes of literature and writings on “sex, socialism, and anarchy,” which constituted her personal library, and turned it over to the FBI. Tragically, and despite her comrades’ repeated inquiries, this treasure trove of revolutionary material was never again to see the light of day.
Indeed, the Chicago police had ample reason to want to bury Parsons’ legacy as quickly as possible. In their own words, she was “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” For virtually the entirety of the last 40 years of her life, the Chicago police tried to bar her from making any public speeches, and routinely arrested her for the ‘crime’ of handing out revolutionary pamphlets on the street. Famed labor historian Studs Terkel even noted how rare of a privilege it was to hear Parsons address a large audience in her later years, owing to the constant police harassment.
Overlooked by History
Partially because so much of her own writings were ‘disappeared’ by the government, and partially because she was a revolutionary woman of color speaking out against the injustices of a capitalist society run by white men, Lucy Parsons is one of the least known of the major figures in the history of revolutionary socialism in the U.S. Much like her long-time comrades and friends, Eugene Debs, William “Big Bill” Haywood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Lucy Parsons made a tremendous contribution to the birth of America’s turn-of-the-century, revolutionary working-class movement; a movement which continues to this day to shape the character of class struggle and revolutionary politics in this country.
Historian Robin Kelley argues that Lucy Parsons was not only “the most prominent black woman radical of the late nineteenth century,” but was also “one of the brightest lights in the history of revolutionary socialism.” Historian John McClendon writes that she is notable for being the “first black activist to associate with the revolutionary left in America.”
More often than not, however, if Lucy Parsons is mentioned as an historical figure, she is noted merely as the “wife of Albert Parsons,” a man who had gained international notoriety after he was executed in 1887 by the state of Illinois for his revolutionary activities.
Unfortunately, this slight extends beyond solely ‘mainstream’ historians, including supposedly left-wing intellectuals as well. For instance, in the 1960s, the feminist editors of Radcliffe College’s three-volume work, Notable American Women, decided to leave Parsons out of their study on the grounds that she was “largely propelled by her husband’s fate” and was a “pathetic figure, living in the past and crying injustice” after her husband’s execution.
Even contemporaries of Lucy Parsons, such as the popular anarchist-feminist Emma Goldman (with whom Lucy Parsons became a life-long political opponent), accused Parsons of being an otherwise unimportant opportunist who simply rode upon the cape of her husband’s martyrdom, describing her as nothing more than one of those wives of “anarchists who marry women who are millions of miles removed from their ideas.”
None of this, however, is to diminish the historical importance of Albert Parsons and the events leading up to his execution; and while it is true that Lucy Parsons spent much of her life addressing the crime that was her husband’s murder at the hands of the capitalist state, nonetheless, her political activity and impact on history extend far beyond the scope of that single tragedy. In fact, the work that she lent her energies to in the years following Albert’s execution are of equal (if not greater) importance than anything he had been able to add to the fight for workers’ emancipation in the course of a life that was sadly cut short.