Sunday, November 18, 2012

Katkov, Germany money and Lenin, in Rabinowitch

Despite Rabinowitch's claim that "Lenin seems to have known of the German money [surreptitiously expended by the German government during WWI to foment internal instability within Russia by funding dissident groups, such as the Bolsheviks, among others]," there is absolutely zero evidence to substantiate this claim. Rabinowitch cites the work of Katkov on this score. Katkov presents zero evidence that Lenin was ever aware of money from the German government being funneled to the Bolsheviks, nor that he willingly accepted money from the German government. See comment from Alexander Dallin on Katkov piece, as well as links below. At most, the Bolsheviks openly accepted monetary donations from the German SPD, which was a part of the German government, but never from the Kaiser, the German secret police, or any other such nonsense. Also, while it is possible that the Bolsheviks may have received money from opaque sources that were in fact, unbeknownst to them, agents of the German government, there is no evidence documenting either (a) how much money this amounted to and whether it was a significant sum or not, or (b) that the Bolsheviks were aware of this source.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Notes on Lenin, the Russian civil war, red terror, "The Black Book," and prostitution (literal & figurative)
- [Makes mention that part of War Communism was that "strikers could be shot," which itself is a quite ambiguous statement. The citation for this is: Nicolas Werth, "Histoire de l'Union Soviétique de Lénine à Staline," 1995. Co-author of Black Book of Communism (see below). It's not exactly clear what this is in reference to or what exactly this is based on ... ]
- After reading Werth's "Histoire," I could find absolutely no mention of strikers being shot. It certainly covers a lot of other people being shot by the Cheka during the civil war (i.e., Whites, SRs, kulaks, etc, i.e., the enemy forces). But the only thing I could find that even comes close to this in the book was the following sentence, which appears in a section dealing with the repression of War Communism: "The unions, many of which were not obedient to the Bolsheviks (railway, postal workers, typographers, employees, etc.), were either dissolved or reduced to the role of a 'transmission belt.'" (Presses Universitaires de France, 1995, p. 20)
- Leaving aside the question of the veracity of this statement there is certainly a world of difference between the supposed dissolution of unions hostile to the Bolsheviks and/or Soviet government, on the one hand, and a policy of shooting workers who go on strike, on the other.
The Black Book of Communism: ""It is quite clear that preparations are being made for a White Guard uprising in Nizhni Novgorod," wrote Lenin in a telegram on 9 August 1918 to the president of the Executive Committee of the Nizhni Novgorod soviet, in response to a report about peasant protests against requisitioning. "Your first response must be to establish a dictatorial troika (i.e., you, Markin, and one other person) and introduce mass terror, shooting or deporting the hundreds of prostitutes who are causing all the soldiers to drink, all the ex-officers, etc. There is not a moment to lose; you must act resolutely, with massive reprisals. Immediate execution for anyone caught in possession of a firearm. Massive deportations of Mensheviks and other suspect elements." []
"The Black Book of Communism sets out to address: the inability and -- for a great many -- the outright refusal to recognize the unmitigated evil that communism was and is ... [it proffers an] editorial outlook which asserts that Communism, in all its historical forms, is morally equivalent to Nazism ... The clearest picture to emerge from these pages is that the history of Communism is, at its simplest, little more than the history of an all-out assault on society by a series of conspiratorial cliques. These groups have, invariably, been led by excruciatingly cruel dictators who were revoltingly drunk on their own foolish ideology and power."
- [Published by Harvard University Press, written by career anti-communist hacks and apologists for capitalism; largely influenced by work of FA Hayek - conservative economist, connected with Milton and 'Chicago School,' virulent anti-communist, yet admirer of Pinochet, even taking honorary position in Pinochet government.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Redux: A debate with an anarchist on the 1917 Russian revolution

‎"What a great moral influence strikes have, how they affect workers who see that their comrades have ceased to be slaves and, if only for the time being, have become people on an equal footing with the rich! Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the worker’s mind, thoughts of the struggle of the entire working class for emancipation from the oppression of capital. It has often happened that before a big strike the workers of a certain factory or a certain branch of industry or of a certain town knew hardly anything and scarcely ever thought about socialism; but after the strike, study circles and associations become much more widespread among them and more and wore workers become socialists." - V.I. Lenin, "On Strikes"
I posted the foregoing quote on Facebook and immediately received a comment from one of my anarchist-leaning friends that this was ironic because Lenin had "made strikes illegal in Russia starting in 1918."

The following debate enabled me to put some scattered thoughts down about the Russian revolution which I wanted to put down here as well, for posterity's sake, and because it helped me clarify my own ideas in the process. So, here's what I wrote (slightly edited):

I'm curious where you get that information from? From what I've read/heard, strikes were not completely made illegal in Russia until the late-1920s/30s. The anarchist Emma Goldman even talks about the strikes she witnessed in Moscow, Petrograd, and elsewhere when she was in Russia in 1920-1. Certainly some of these strikes were vehemently opposed by the Soviet government, for a number of reasons, but other of these strikes were settled on terms favorable to the striking workers (something which Goldman smugly extols in these writings). [See]

[Also, see this document from 1920 which summarizes Russian labor laws at that time -]

I recommend reading "Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory," by Kevin Murphy which documents the strikes, work stoppages, and job actions which occurred in one of the lagrest factories in Moscow between 1917 and the 1930s. It shows the evolving relations between the workers, the Soviet government, and the Communist Party, as the revolution decayed during the 20's and 30's.

There is no doubt that the Russian workers' government was becoming more and more corrupted throughout the period of Civil War and the 1920s (NEP, etc). Workers and peasants suffered privations, to be sure, owing to Russia's economic poverty, international isolation and economic blockade, and vicious civil war against bourgeois counter-revolution.

Nonetheless, workers and unions in Russia still maintained essential control over production until the mid-1920s or so. Here is a really good piece I translated from the original French on the question of workers' control of production in revolutionary Russia -

Also, if you're interested, here's a great piece written in 1922 by the American revolutionary and leading original member of the IWW, "Big" Bill Haywood. Haywood was then living in Russia and was working with the unions there (alongside Lenin) as part of the Soviet government. Here he responds to many of Emma Goldman's criticisms -

Before Stalin, the question of the trade unions in relation to both the working-class as a whole and the representative workers' Soviets in particular was hotly debated within the Russian Communist Party. However, the clearest statement comes from the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, which is interesting in that Lenin argues that the trade unions in Russia must remain independent of the government and must continue to act as the protectors and defenders of the workers' interests both within the workplace and, as need be, against the increasingly bureucratized government itself.

For instance, see - and
"Trade unions are not just historically necessary; they are historically inevitable as an organisation of the industrial proletariat, and, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, embrace nearly the whole of it.... It follows from what I have said that the trade unions have an extremely important part to play at every step of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what is their part? I find that it is a most unusual one, as soon as I delve into this question, which is one of the most fundamental theoretically. On the one hand, the trade unions, which take in all industrial workers, are an organisation of the ruling, dominant, governing class, which has now set up a dictatorship and is exercising coercion through the state. But it is not a state organisation; nor is it one designed for coercion, but for education. It is an organisation designed to draw in and to train; it is, in fact, a school: a school of administration, a school of economic management, a school of communism. It is a very unusual type of school, because there are no teachers or pupils; this is an extremely unusual combination of what has necessarily come down to us from capitalism, and what comes from the ranks of the advanced revolutionary detachments, which you might call the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat. To talk about the role of the trade unions without taking these truths into account is to fall straight into a number of errors." - Lenin, 1920

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Class Origin and Basis of Anarchist Ideology: A Marxist Appraisal, or, Anarchism as the ideology of middle-class alienation

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.

(NOTE: This is most certainly not to say that all people who consider themselves anarchist are necessarily middle class).

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 instances, 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" (

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Marxism, feminism, and accusations of "class reductionism"

I recently engaged in a friendly debate with someone who was arguing that Marxism is antithetical to the contemporary struggle for women’s rights because Marx was a “class reductionist” who ignored women’s oppression as something to be dealt with “after the revolution.”

I felt I would reproduce a snippet of my comments here:


I just wanted to say a quick word as someone who identities as both a Marxist and a feminist.

In fact, Marx and Engels were well ahead of their time, viz., the stuggle for women’s emancipation. Even a terse reading of some of Marx’s collected works reveal him repeatedly inveighing against women’s oppression, both in society generally, and within the labor and socialist movements. Marx fought to have women included as full and equal members — including in leadership positions — in the various movements he engaged in as against many of his (bigoted) contemporaries.

He wrote that their could be no truly revolutionary movement without mass participation of women; indeed, he makes a point of saying that one can judge the level of development of any society by looking at the degree to which women have won their social emancipation in that society.

His collaborators, Frederick Engels and August Bebel, were among the first anti-capitalists to pen books specifically analyzing the history of women’s oppression. Along with Marx, they contend that a fundamental socio-economic revolution is impossible unless premised upon the complete liberation of the female half of the population (both from class exploitation and gender oppression).

Some of the first American feminists, including Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood), Helen Keller, and Lucy Parsons, were themselves members of the American Socialist Party, and they all cite the works of Marx & Engels as a central contributor to the development of their understanding of women’s oppression and liberation.

In sum, I think it’s wrong to say that Marxism is “class reductionist” or ignores the question of women’s rights as something to be dealt with “after the revolution.” Certainly there have been those who have historically claimed the label “Marxist” who have been guilty of such distortions. But then again, the terms “feminism”, “democracy”, and even “human rights” have also been historically subject to distortions by many of their supposed proponents. Just as we need to struggle against those who have tried to turn “feminism” into a dirty word, I personally think the same is true of “Marxism.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A debate with an anarchist on the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution of 1917

I am able here to only reprint part of the debate, 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]. 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.


My Rebuttal:

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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On strategy & tactics: Neither pacifism nor violence fetishism

I don’t particularly give a damn about bourgeois or corporate property. I will shed no tear over a smashed window of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Nor will I feel bad for the owner of a police car destroyed by any group of protesters.

However, there is a difference between one’s abstract ideological sympathies, on the one hand, and the strategic application of concrete tactics in struggle, on the other. The tendency by some would-be ‘ultra-leftists’ to fetishize violence and property damage in all circumstances, is highly dogmatic, counterproductive, and ultimately undemocratic in the extreme.

In this way, the proponents of ‘propaganda of the deed’ who fetishize violence and provocative confrontation as the ’end-all, be-all’, are merely expressing the inverse of the irrational, undemocratic dogmatism of those pacifists who ceaselessly preach ‘non-violence’ in even the most revolutionary of circumstances.

I am a firm believer in the importance of mass, democratic struggle. At an early stage of the development of a struggle, this may mean nothing more than a peaceful, mass march. At another stage (for instance, see Egypt’s revolution or the 1992 L.A. Rebellion), this may mean physically attacking police, reactionary businesses, or political party offices.

The question in the end is simply one of accurately assessing the current mood and desires of the mass base of the movement and figuring out what tactic at a given juncture is best suited to both express the mood of the majority, while also seeking to push things forward as far as that majority is willing to go at that moment.

It does no good if you as an individual are ready to set up barricades in the streets and commence with a revolutionary struggle for power, if the mass of people are not. In fact, it actually tends to have a counterproductive effect, inviting mass repression by the police while also arresting or even retarding the process whereby masses of people are drawn into closer contact with and affinity for the more revolutionary-minded among their ranks.

Militancy itself is neither a talisman nor a curse to the beholder. When applied at the proper moment, it can at most be a midwife to social revolution; but when applied prematurely or in the wrong place, it can often lead to a miscarriage of the struggle.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Marx, Engels, Schweitzer and false accusations of homophobia

This is part of an ongoing research project I've been conducting on the various accusations of Marx and Engels' supposed virulent homophobia. The other two entries I've done on this topic can be viewed here and here.


I recently stumbled upon a Wikipedia entry titled "Socialism and LGBT rights." Of particular interest to me was the section, "Marx, Engels, Ulrichs and Schweitzer."

Having already dealt elsewhere with most of the fallacious criticisms raised in the section in question (see the two links at top), I wanted to address one particular argument here, which is the following [my italics]:
Known to both Ulrichs and Marx was the case of Jean Baptista von Schweitzer, an important labor organiser who had been charged with attempting to solicit a teenage boy in a park in 1862. Social democrat leader Ferdinand Lassalle defended Schweitzer on the grounds that while he personally found homosexuality to be dirty, the labor movement needed the leadership of Schweitzer too much to abandon him, and that a person's sexual tastes had "absolutely nothing to do with a man’s political character". Marx, on the other hand, suggested that Engels use this incident to smear Schweitzer: "You must arrange for a few jokes about him to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers." However, Schweitzer would go on to become President of the German Labor Union, and the first Social Democrat elected to a parliament in Europe.
The claim here is that Marx wanted homophobic jokes to be spread around about Schweitzer in order to further sully his name.

However, if one actually looks at the letter from which this quote by Marx is drawn, and investigates even cursorily the history and relationship of Schweitzer with Marx and Engels, it becomes painfully evident that the above claim is downright untrue. One can only assume that the author of the above Wikipedia entry is either horribly misinformed and ignorant, or simply has an axe to grind with Marx and/or Marxism and therefore willfully twists the facts in order to buttress his or her argument.

Unable to find the above quote by Marx online anywhere, I took a picture of the relevant page in the Marx-Engels Collected Works. For reference purposes, I also took a picture of the letter in which Engels responds to Marx (the next day), and an explanatory footnote from the Collected Works that I thought useful.

(Click on images below for expanded view).

While it is an indisputable part of the historical record that Marx and Schweitzer were bitter political enemies, there is nothing at all from these letters to suggest that Marx had a homophobic attitude towards him, or that Schweitzer's sexuality affected Marx's political assessment of him in any way.

The first thing that strikes one about Marx's letter is that it was written in 1865, a full three years after the incident in which Schweitzer had been charged with pedophilia. It makes absolutely no sense that Marx would just be brining this up to Engels as if it were a fresh scandal to be "hawked around to the various papers." The Schweitzer scandal had already been in all the papers for years before Marx wrote these words.

Second, we have no idea from the context what "jokes" Marx is talking about here, or whether or not they even relate to Schweitzer's sexuality at all (Marx makes no mention of Schweitzer's "incident" in the letter). I don't know why someone would assume that the only "jokes" Marx would have to spread around about Schweitzer would concern sex. Marx and Engels considered Schweitzer an opportunist, a sycophant, a reformist, and a fool. Certainly there wasn't a dearth of material for these two to laugh about and spread around, that would have had nothing to do with sexual matters. Further evidence of this is that in Engels' letter responding to Marx, he makes no mention of Schweitzer's sexuality, but merely comments along the lines of standing criticisms he and Marx shared of Schweitzers' political behavior and writings. This leads the honest observer to just as much assume the "jokes" are political in nature, rather than personal or sexual.

Finally, upon closer reading of Marx's letter, it is not even clear to me that the "jokes" he is asking Engels to "hawk around" even are about Schweitzer at all. Earler in the letter Marx refers to Schweitzer, but then transitions and brings up an article that Schweitzer had recently quoted, which a footnote tells us was written by someone named Karl Blind. Marx comments that Blind's article -- which had just been published 5 days previously -- was arrogant and self-aggrandizing. It is in the very next sentence that he writes: "You must arrange for a few jokes about the fellow to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers."

Judged on the basis of syntax, content, and historical knowledge, it seems much more logical that Marx is actually refering to Karl Blind here, rather than Schweitzer. The fact that Blind's article had just been published a few days prior meant that whatever "joke" Marx thinks he deserves would be "newsworthy" from the standpoint of the "various papers," since it still would have been fresh. At least it would have been much more fresh than a three-year-old sexual scandal that had already saturated the press by then.

Whatever else one thinks of Marx, Schweitzer, or the letter in question, it is self-evident that one cannot honestly draw the conclusion that homophobia has anything to do with Marx's quip. One can assume, imagine, or believe, that Marx is addressing Schweitzer's sexuality here, albeit empirically far-fetched. But one cannot present Marx's homophobia as fact here without being utterly disingenuous.

This kind of sleight-of-hand scholarship is akin to the work of Hubert Kennedy, author of an article titled, "The Queer Marx Loved to Hate." The "queer" is Schweitzer, and it is certainly a fact that he was gay. It is also a fact that Marx did come to hate him. However, it is false to insinuate -- as the title does -- that Marx hated Schweitzer because he was queer, rather than for reasons of political disagreement.

In conclusion, my intention is not to impart the idea that Marx and Engels were infallible or beyond reproach on all questions. They weren't.

But what I am opposed to is dishonesty and misinformation. I am adamantly opposed to people who have a prejudiced political view of Marx and Engels inventing various conspiracies and blemishes in an attempt to cast aspersion on the ideas of the latter two. I am against this then being passed off as scholarly work.

Let us disagree on ideological questions. Let us debate historical and theoretical concerns. But let us remain honest in our appraisal of the facts.