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