Some More Thoughts On The Cuban Revolution

Nothing I have ever written has garnered as much attention or inspired as much reaction as my earlier post on this subject. Unfortunately just about all of it was negative.  Burrowing down through all the speculation about my paternity and reproductive status of my lover, there were a few worthwhile questions and comments, which I will treat below.

Before doing so, I’d like to address the “where do you get all this shit” disbelief. It doesn’t surprise me as the various Left sects have produced and/or sanctioned a historiography of revolutionary discourse and developments which support their theoretical positions, all too often at the expense of the truth. Anarchists too are guilty, but, if you will pardon a little partisanship, considerably less so than the Leninist groupings which have created a largely fictional meta-narrative of the Russian Revolution and Lenin’s tenure as head of state. To give but one example: It is universally claimed within Bolshevik literature that Lenin had to acquiesce to the hideously concessionary terms of the Brest-Litovsk treaty because the Russian people didn’t want war.  Indeed, it is what Lenin insisted. Quite the opposite was true! If we look at the other socialist grouping and their press we find widespread support for a “revolutionary war” against Germany. Moreover, we find the same thing within the Bolshevik ranks. While the issue was being discussed by the party bosses, the Second Moscow Regional Congress of Soviets occurred in which 400 Bolsheviks participated. They voted almost unanimously in favor of a revolutionary war. The Moscow and Petrograd party bureaus also called for a cessation of negotiations:

“The Bolshevik Party was not unanimous regarding negotiations with Germany even when they were understood to mean signing a peace treaty without annexations or reparations, conducting revolutionary propaganda, and playing for time while simultaneously preparing for revolutionary war. Those who supported an immediate revolutionary war… initially dominated the party organizations in Moscow and Petrograd. The Left Communists had a majority in the Second Moscow Regional Congress of Soviets…Of the 400 members of the Bolshevik delegation…only thirteen supported Lenin’s proposal…The remaining 387 voted for revolutionary war.”

The general opposition to the treaty and support for revolutionary militancy was so great that Lenin adopted a new sales pitch and changed from supporting “peace” to requesting a “respite.” Only by cajoling enough of the membership that a break was necessary in order to launch a revolutionary war was he able to inveigle enough votes to ratify the treaty.

Nobody wanted war? It seems everybody wanted it, and it was left to Comrade What Is To Be Done Lenin to quell all that militancy in order to get his obscene peace (as fellow Bolshevik, Moises Uritsky, called it).  He even threatened to resign if the treaty was not ratified. Lenin argued that a renewal of the war with Germany would jeopardize Bolshevik power even if successful. More than one Bolshevik countered that it would be a small price to pay if the Hohenzollerns could be toppled and the workers come to power in Germany. Tragically, Lenin’s “we don’t have an army anymore and need time to form one” argument prevailed. If it hadn’t, the world might be a very different place.

The terms of the treaty were so draconian, so debilitating; so many vital resources were being transferred from the social revolution to German imperialism, that when the time came to rubber-stamp the party’s decision in the soviet, Lunarcharsky couldn’t bring himself to say “yes” and broke down. Bukharin broke party ranks and defiantly changed his vote to “no.” [1]

When the terms were announced workers and peasants rioted all over Russia. It was the first of many worker/peasant rebellions against Bolshevik rule. Yet the Leninist press continues to reproduce the fiction of mass opposition to a revolutionary war: If St. Vladimir of Smolny said it, then it must be true.

[That’s one Lenin myth down, more will fall below.]

So with this in mind, let’s take the icons in alphabetical order.

Che:

It was said that I “bashed” and “sullied” Che, took “cheap shots,” and threw whatever mud I could at a great revolutionary. The comments I made were directed to the topic of the normalization of relations and all the hand-wringing Leninists were doing about it, and at no other. I did not mention that in his motorcycle days he had been a white supremacist,[2] nor did I criticize him for attempting to reach a modus vivendi in a secret meeting with a US diplomat. In fact, I have defended his legacy against bourgeois defamation.

I admire Che, despite our differing conceptions of what the social revolution is and how to effect it. I regard him as one of our honored dead, a martyr in the greatest of all causes. He is an inspiration to millions, and to me as well. He deserves the love he’s enkindled around the world. Che is a revolutionary hero if ever there was one.

He said that true revolutionaries are guided by great feelings of love. I have on occasion found much-needed solace in this elegantly simple formulation. It is the greatest legacy any revolutionary could have.

But all that having been said, he was an ardent supporter of the dictatorship of the proletariat and opposed worker power at every turn, and as such is one of the gravediggers of the Cuban Revolution. Why is there no protest now in Cuba? Because he and his cohorts stifled proletarian militancy and made the laboring classes subordinate to a centralized, authoritarian, totalitarian state. Thus the Cuban Revolution did not emancipate the working class, it defeated it. It’s dead now, its fighting spirit long gone, and Che is one of its killers.

Additionally, Che is the originator of the dumbest revolutionary strategy yet devised: Foquismo. (Well, next to Pabloism.) Not only has it drawn militants away from productive revolutionary activity and into high-risk, no-reward fiascoes, it has become a winning formula for capital, which has adopted it as its own. Psy-op Foquismo has kept the social revolution at bay in parts of Asia, South America, and all over Africa. International capital would probably never have come up with this extraordinarily efficacious counterrevolutionary program on its own. Point your ear toward Wall Street and you can hear them say “thanks Che”!

As for where I got all this shit: I did mention Franqui’s books in the article. There is also Richard Gott’s Cuba, A New History, which deals with more than just the revolution but discusses Che at some length. And then there is the great Sam Farber. He’s written a bio of Che which I haven’t read, but there is The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered and Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960. Both are superb, particularly the latter. Every claim I made about Che can be sourced in these books.

Lastly on Che: Here are two audio presentations, including one from Farber, which are pretty good. Hats off (and you won’t hear me say this very often) to the ISO for presenting an uncharacteristically honest discussion of a celebrity Marxist.

 

Now on to the gravedigger of many a revolution: Vlady Vanguard.

i lenin[Lenin shows you the way.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenin and his followers, falsely insisting that an imminent danger of counterrevolution existed, launched a well-timed putsch on the eve of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The Bolsheviks toppled the faltering provisional government and presented their seizure of power as a fait accompli when the Congress convened. Lenin assured the outraged workers’ and peasants’ delegates, the vast majority of whom were socialists of one type or another, that this usurpation by his faction was only a temporary measure until the Constituent Assembly convened–another lie. Lenin’s dream of a party dictatorship had materialized.[3]

Accordingly, the Bolshevik vanguard, the self-appointed Vatican of socialism, immediately began implementing top-down socialism (if you will pardon the oxymoron). The Sovnarkom was soon established, with the Vicar himself at its head of course. The Vesenka quickly followed. Under these two counterrevolutionary bodies all extant forms of worker management and control were either bureaucratically subordinated, subsumed directly into the “workers’ state,” or eliminated altogether. Bottom-up socialism (if you will pardon the redundancy) was dead. Doomed now were the factory committees, the workers’ plenipotentiaries, the revolutionary zemstvos (as they had become after February) etc. The Bolsheviks would even achieve what Czarist regime had attempted and failed: the destruction of the obshchina. The mirs were a popular and quite successful form of agrarian communism, one which was even endorsed by Karl Marx.

Not content with dismantling direct, participatory forms of worker power, Lenin also targeted the workers’ councils. Within a day or two of seizing power, Lenin began shutting down soviets in which Bolsheviks did not comprise a majority or which reacted too defiantly to the putsch. The admiralty and the postal soviets were the first to go, a string of others followed. Some would just be shuttered, others would be replaced by Lenin’s “revolutionary committees,” which were appointed by the party. Thereby the workers were emancipated from having to choose their own deputies. Which was for the best as Lenin had lengthened the work day and introduced Taylorism, the workers were probably too exhausted to manage their own affairs anyway.

[Yes, Lenin lengthened the work day, not Stalin, as is often insisted by anti-Stalin Leninists.]

Predictably, these measures encountered resistance from revolutionary workers and peasants and their deputies determined to rescue the revolution from the Bolshevik dictatorship. They were introduced to The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, or the Cheka, and its penchant for extrajudicial killings. With it came the practice of taking hostages and their execution when deemed advantageous. Then Lenin launches the gulag with his “reeducation camps.” These quickly grew to overflowing with political prisoners, the great mass of them revolutionary socialists. Inevitably, Lenin outlaws the other revolutionary parties. Then comes the disgraceful practice of anathematization by false charge. Lenin’s socialist adversaries were invariably accused, rarely if ever accurately, of working in collusion with White forces. There follows the first show trials with Lenin stage-mothering from the wings. Here begins the sad, pathetic spectacle of false confession, contrition, repentance, a public appeal for clemency, expiation, and, finally, either absolution and eventual reinstatement, or one in the back of the head from the Cheka.[4]

[Yes it was Lenin who launched the gulag and initiated the barbaric show trials, not Stalin. Two more Lenin myths down.]

The counterrevolutionary horror that was Bolshevism would eventually devour itself.  Lenin’s support for Brest-Litovsk created a Left Communist opposition (not to be confused with Trotsky’s Left Opposition, which came later) who voiced their outrage in the Kommunist, which shut after Lenin told its editors they could not use a party organ to express dissent. This eliminated the chimera that was democratic centralism, but its deluded adherents formed the Decimist opposition. (Yes, that’s right, a democratic centralist party headed by the creator of the concept produced a democratic centralist opposition.) Then comes the ban on factions at the Tenth Party Congress (which Trotsky enthusiastically supported, a position which he would come to regret).  In addition to these, the Leninshchina produced a Workers’ Opposition. (Yes, that’s right folks, the workers’ state produced a workers’ opposition. Nuff said?) Then the Left Opposition and the United Opposition etc. The Bols had to resort to rigging party elections so that Lenin’s position would prevail. (No doubt the Vicar was unaware…St. Vlad would never…)[5]

[One more: Vote-rigging begins under Lenin, not Stalin.]

Then came War Communism–the worst euphemism since “marital aid” (with whose application it had much in common), the restoration of capitalism with the NEP and the opening up of the Russian economy to foreign investment, the military partnership with other revolutionary tendencies in the civil war and the subsequent double-crossing of these same allies once the war was over and Bolshevik power ensured. And then the suppression of any number of worker/sailor/peasant rebellions against the party dictatorship.[6]

Then, mercifully, Lenin dies. Good riddance. Unfortunately his successor followed the same trajectory.

Those things presented as fact above are just that, and can be verified by anyone who wishes to look for them. There is hardly a scarcity of historiography on the Russian Revolution. So to those who felt that my depiction of Lenin in the article on the Cuban Revolution was “unfair,” “wildly inaccurate,” or “malevolent,” I recommend E. H. Carr’s multi-volume history. He is in my view absurdly forgiving of Lenin, and cannot be accused of an anti-authoritarian bias. Much of what is stated above or in the original article will be vetted there. I have provided specific sources for everything else.

Moreover, when I have discussed these issues with Leninists their defense usually takes one of two forms. “He had to do that to save the revolution.” This argument, like the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” itself, staggers under the weight of its own dialectical contradictions, but it is outside the scope of this writing. The other response is to quote-mine the Lenin canon for rebuttal. I do not care what that little counterrevolutionary prick said, what he did is what matters. Lenin would adopt one position if he felt it advanced his cause and then its opposite under different circumstances. He reversed himself several times. So please, no more quotes about cooks running the state. It didn’t happen, and Lenin never intended it to happen. [7]

One of Che’s greatest contributions was the brave and canny speech he made in Algeria in which he stated that the USSR was part of the global imperial system. Indeed it was. That is Lenin’s legacy.

The history of the Russian Revolution is an anarchist parable. Somewhere Bakunin is screaming “I told you so.”

 

Now on to the megalomaniac who actually believed he solved “the riddle of history“: Karl Marx

Many Marxists simply do not know just how low Marx and Engels sank in order to rid the IWMA of Bakunin, to whom Marx was losing every argument and his standing. It wasn’t just the sordid, disgraceful charge that Bakunin was a Russian spy, it was much more personal and vicious than that, including squalid gossip about Bakunin’s relationship with his wife. Many Marxists don’t know about it because his hagiographers often omit this material from their accounts. I could cite many examples of non-Marxists who have dealt with this outrage, but instead will quote one of the few Marxists willing to address this topic honestly. This is from Otto Ruehle’s Karl Marx:

“Marx had triumphed over his despised adversary, but, not content with severing all bonds of party fraternity between himself and his rival, he had indulged his hatred further by attacking his honor. Bakunin, at least if the Congress was to be believed, had omitted to pay Marx back a 300 ruble advance for the translation of Das Kapital; and Marx, the Marx who was immersed in a thousand shady deals, and who lived his whole life on other people’s money, made this out to be a hanging offense.

“It was legitimate for him to battle for an objective policy to which he looked, to the exclusion of any other, for the liberation of the proletariat. He was within his rights to summon the International together to try to get rid of Bakunin, for Bakunin was doing all in his power to thwart him in his policy.. But for him to seek to triumph objectively through recourse to methods as shameful as blackening his adversary was a dishonorable course that did not besmirch Bakunin but did besmirch its author. We see here the fatal aspect in his character: nothing ever took priority for Marx over his self regard: not his political matters, not the workers’ movement, nor the interests of the revolution. That a gathering of international revolutionaries ready at the drop of a hat to blow private property and bourgeois morality sky high should have driven out, outlawed and expelled, on the denunciation of its leader, the most gifted, most heroic and most fascinating of its number because of some alleged infraction of the bourgeois property laws, was one of the bloodiest jests in history.”

Damn right it was! Except that neither Marx nor anybody else had a right to try to get rid of anybody. The revolution comes first, petty squabbles and personality conflicts be damned.

The IWMA had a civility rule which was designed to promote comity and solidarity within the organization. Here is Marx on the program of the Alliance:

“[Bakunin’s program] is empty chatter, a rosary of hollow ideas that try to be sensational, in short, a bland concoction devised for the sole purpose of producing a certain effect at a given moment…What a grotesque program is this hotch-potch [sic] of tired cliches…As for Bakunin himself, one of the most ignorant of beings in the matter of social theory, he suddenly looks like the founder of a sect. But the theoretical program of the Alliance is an unadorned farce.”

Does that sound like a reasoned argument? Hissy fit?  Or an attempt to discredit the man who was the best critic of Marx’ ideas?

It must be noted here that years earlier Marx and Bakunin had met and had a lengthy discussion. Afterward, Marx wrote a letter to Engels and stated that Bakunin was well-versed in economic and social theory and had a deep understanding of dialectics. On that basis, Marx asked him to translate Das Kapital into Russian. Would he have done that if Bakunin was one of the most ignorant of beings?

What was the Alliance Marx despised so? The IWMA had within its ranks non-revolutionary, non-socialist sections (whom Marx denounced in his personal correspondence but with whom he consorted shamelessly in order to expel the anarchists). Some of the revolutionaries, and not just the anarchist faction, decided to launch the Alliance within the International.

Here is the Alliance’s program. Please note Marx’ sexist comments and his scoffing at the anti-nationalism plank:

http://www.marxists.org/history/international/iwma/documents/1868/iasd-comment.htm

Whether you think they should have launched the Alliance within the IWMA without the consent of the whole body (I do not), and whether you agree with every point, is it empty chatter, a rosary of hollow ideas, a bland concoction, a hodgepodge of tired cliches, an unadorned farce? If your answer is yes, can you with a straight face call yourself a socialist? The Alliance’s program was a straightforward compendium of core socialist principles, and one which considered outside the context of the Bakunin/Marx rift would not be at all controversial. So why all the histrionics?

Please also note, as Marx did in the margin, that the Alliancers thought that he would contribute to their magazine because, apparently, at that point they still didn’t understand how vain and vindictive he was.

Marx was so convinced that his revolutionary program was the superior that he felt it acceptable to tell the most loathsome lies in order to get his way.  However one feels about Bakunin’s ideas, he didn’t deserve the calumny heaped upon him by Marx and his followers. The social revolution never had a more selfless or determined advocate than Mikhail Bakunin.

Sadly, defamation of opponents as a tactic, employed so ruthlessly by Lenin, has become a mainstay of Left politics, much to the delight of the bourgeoisie. This bitter sectarianism finds its origins in the person of Karl Marx. However important his social and economic ideas are (and they are enormously so), his strategy for moving forward and his squalid behavior in the International has been an absolute disaster for the workers’ movement. A multi-polar IWMA with Blanquists, anarchists, and Marxists might not have been able to conjure that elusive revolutionary alchemy needed to vanquish capital, but the various tendencies might have served as a check upon each other’s extremist wings, and led to a more pragmatic, inclusive approach, a mass approach with which workers could identify and which would promote revolutionary class consciousness. According to one theory of praxis, the challenge is to create a revolutionary ideology of sufficient valence that it can both spur the masses to action and adapt itself to unfolding events in order to provide useful, informed support whichever road they might take to their emancipation. That could only be achieved by the perpetual examination and reexamination of all revolutionary ideas and methods, and a willingness to apply any that could tip the scales in the favor of the rebels. The Left, such as it is presently arrayed, can offer virtually nothing of value to the risen worker.

And we have to do something about that, or history will repeat itself.

 

Socialists of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your morbidity.

 

[1] This account, including the quote, come from Yuri Felshtinsky’s Lenin and his Comrades, The Bolsheviks take over Russia. A word of caution: This is a ghastly book. Felshtinsky hates Lenin almost as much as I do and is looking for any invective he can launch at him. (No bourgeois could ever hate Lenin as much as a real socialist.) In every case events are construed in the way most unflattering to Lenin, evil designs always imputed to him. Felshtinsky believes that the Bolshevik leader was motivated by a desire for power. While there is evidence to support such an interpretation, I do not believe it to be correct, and the books suffers because of it. Additionally, it’s poorly written (or translated) and edited, giving the impression that both were done quickly and carelessly. Seldom does one encounter a book on a historical subject as shoddy as this. Nevertheless, it is well researched, and his sources for the above are official Bolshevik party and soviet records.

[2] It’s in the Motorcycle Diaries. Get over it.

[3] There are so many sources for this I don’t know where to begin, but the most unfortunate for the Bolsheviks is John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World.  They are stuck with it because Lenin wrote an introduction to one of the earliest editions, and gave it his approval. Although Reed is very sympathetic to his subject, he describes how the congress of soviets, these organs of workers’ and peasants’ power, were undermined by the putsch, and how power ended up in the hands of the Bolsheviks. It was written when Reed was still solidly in the their camp. He later came to his senses and became critical of Lenin’s policies.

[4] Vera Broido’s Lenin and the Mensheviks, The Persecution of socialists under Bolshevism and Vladimir Brovkin’s The Mensheviks after October, Socialist Opposition and the Rise of the Bolshevik Dictatorship and many more deal with these matters but the best discussion with which I am familiar of the show trials and how they came to undermine the party which staged them is Scott B. Smith’s Captives of Revolution, The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Dictatorship, which I reviewed.

[5] Memoires of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge

[6] Voline’s The Unknown Revolution

[7] Angelica Balabanova’s Impressions of Lenin. I suspect this is the best portrait of him, his strengths and weaknesses,  ever drawn.

 

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