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People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

Boris Kagarlitsky The international economic system that took shape after the collapse of the Soviet Union ...
writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 While ...
Richard Nixon, whose centenary was marked last week (born January 9, 1913), is generally regarded ...
October 30 to November 1 are days of communist festival in Punjab. Punjab, which is ...
Sixty years ago Nikita Khrushchev stunned Communist Party members around the world with a speech ...
The trial of the persons accused of participation and complicity in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination opened ...
Over the last thirty years, capital has abstracted upwards, from production to finance; its sphere ...
The U.S. strategy for withdrawal of U.S./NATO forces from Afghanistan, nearing completion of its first ...
Don’t laugh—but maybe Joe McCarthy was on to something. And the problem might be even ...

Archive for July, 2016

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume 1: The 60s-Barry Sheppard

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2016 Comments Off on The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume 1: The 60s-Barry Sheppard


July 11, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Marxist Internet Archive — In the past few years, a new movement has emerged worldwide to challenge capitalist globalization and war, particularly the war on Iraq and the unending “war on terrorism” that Washington unleashed after September 11, 2001. The young activists in this movement are becoming aware that what they are fighting is the drive by the rich capitalist countries to preserve and extend their world domination economically, politically and militarily. It has also become increasingly clear to them that the US government, with bipartisan support, intends to assert unchallenged supremacy among the advanced capitalist countries, to establish, in effect, a new empire encompassing the entire globe.

Those in the active core of this new movement are seeking to increase their understanding of the enemy they face, and are debating the strategies and tactics to use. Many of them are naturally curious about the movements of the last wave of radicalism in the Sixties, especially the anti-Vietnam-War movement, the Black struggle for civil rights and liberation, and the women’s movement. This volume looks back at that time with an eye to the future. Hopefully that past experience, both in the United States and internationally, will be of use to the new generation of fighters.

Among these activists some will come to the conclusion that it is the capitalist system itself that is the fundamental problem hindering progress, and even threatening the survival of humanity. They will want to explore alternatives, to demand that “Another world is possible!” Many will be drawn to socialism and the need for a socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism.

I believed in the Sixties, and I still believe today, that the key to achieving the socialist objective is building a mass-based revolutionary socialist party. Of course conditions are not yet ripe for such a mass revolutionary party to take hold here. However, a basis can be prepared today by socialists joining together in the nucleus of such a party. They can participate as socialist builders of mass movements such as the antiwar movement, or antiracist struggles, or union fights for worker rights. Such movements point the way toward socialism. Socialists can educate themselves about the history and lessons of the working class movement, and publish and distribute literature about current struggles, connecting them with lessons from past victories and defeats. Their knowledge and experience can be very useful within the mass movements and win others to the ideas of socialism.

This book discusses the struggle to build such a nucleus of a revolutionary socialist party, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s — a period of deep radicalization in the United States and throughout the world.

Most of today’s young activists have probably never heard of the SWP or even seen its newspaper, The Militant. They do not usually run into the SWP at protest actions because the SWP of today generally abstains or is present only to sell its literature. Of those who have encountered the SWP many probably do not have a positive impression of the party. They may see it as an inconsequential ideological sect, one which cares little about or is even hostile to the struggles that inspire these activists.

Their impression is not wrong; but that is not the whole story. The SWP in the 1960s and 1970s was an important and influential group on the American left, with a great deal to admire and with a proud tradition of working class struggle going back to the 1930s.

I was a national leader of the SWP from the 1960s though the mid-1980s. I intend to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of that history. This volume, covering the 1960s and early 1970s, will relate the mostly positive experiences of that great radicalization. A second volume, covering the years 1973-1988 will take up the decline of the radicalization, which also saw the decline and finally the degeneration of the SWP.

Of course, the situation in the world and in the US today is very different from “The Sixties.” The USSR still existed then, which had both positive and negative effects on the struggle for socialism and national liberation. On the positive side, the existence of the Soviet bloc held in check Washington’s drive to dominate the world. The USSR also gave material support to national liberation struggles, however miserly and with strings attached. But it also was led by a brutal totalitarian bureaucratic elite that crushed the workers and peasants. Its policies worldwide set back the socialist movement. The struggle against Stalinism in the US and internationally necessarily forms a major part of this book.

Today, Stalinism is discredited, and is no longer the obstacle it was. The existence of a sole superpower intent on dominating the world is the new reality we face. In this new reality, the project of building a nucleus of socialists that have as their objective the eventual formation of a mass revolutionary socialist party cannot be a repeat or replica of the SWP in “The Sixties,” which was formed by that organization’s previous history and the circumstances it faced in the radicalization of the time.

Nevertheless, there are important lessons for the present and future in the experience of the SWP that are covered in this volume and will be in the next. I hope to convey those lessons to the new generation of today.

* * * * *

I call this book a “political memoir” for two reasons. First is to distinguish it from a personal memoir or autobiography. By necessity, I have included experiences from my personal life in order to give sense to the narrative, but I haven’t tried to tell my whole life history. My personal life was not unique. I was like hundreds of thousands of young people who radicalized in the Sixties. Relating the details wouldn’t add much to understanding this aspect of my generation that hasn’t already been written.

The second reason I use the term “political memoir” is that I have not attempted to write a history of the SWP. Many aspects of that history are left out or abbreviated. However, the fact that I was a central leader of the SWP for most of this time means that telling my own political story also covers much of that history.

The book is also not a history of world and national politics and the movements in which we participated. I do provide a rough sketch of this background; otherwise my story would be unintelligible. I have also left out, in the main, the cultural changes that marked those times, except where they impinged on revolutionary politics. For example, I don’t really take up the drug culture, the attempts to set up communes, what was referred to as the counter-culture, and the changes in popular music that affected so many young people at the time. I do discuss the sexual revolution and some other cultural aspects of the Sixties, but not to the degree that these subjects would deserve in a general history of the period.

In the period I cover, the changes in political and social consciousness also brought about changes in language. In the early 1960s, for example, most Black people called themselves Negroes. But with the development of Black consciousness, the terms Black or Afro-American gained preference, and the term Negro came to be discarded as a symbol of the subservience to whites which Black people were rejecting. Writing today, I use the preferred terms Black and African American in this book, except in quotations from earlier times.

Similarly, with the rise of feminism women challenged the sexist language commonly used in the past, as illustrated in terms such as “chairman” or “mankind.” So, in this book I try to use words like “chairperson” or “humanity” except when quoting from documents or speeches of that earlier time, or when a term such as “national chairman” was a person’s official title at the time, even if the person was female.

During the anticommunist witch-hunt of the 1950s and early 1960s, it was common for party members to use pseudonyms when they wrote articles or gave speeches. This was a precaution to protect their jobs, or for similar reasons. Later in the 1960s, however, as the witch-hunt was beaten back, most people no longer felt the need to use pseudonyms. In this book I generally use real names. But I do this only for comrades who have died, who were publicly known by their real names, or who have given me permission to do so.

I use two types of notes. Numbered endnotes refer to sources and are found at the back of the volume listed by chapter. Footnotes contain material of an analytical or historical character associated with the text. I hope that the reader will find these useful, but it may be convenient to skip over them at first rather than impede the flow of the narrative.

October 2004

Karl Liebknecht 1916: ‘Down with the war; down with the government!’-Introductory note by John Riddell

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2016 Comments Off on Karl Liebknecht 1916: ‘Down with the war; down with the government!’-Introductory note by John Riddell


Karl Liebknecht addressing Berlin demonstration.
One hundred years ago, on June 28, 1916, 55,000 metalworkers in Berlin went on strike to protest the sentencing of Karl Liebknecht to two and a half years in prison. It was Germany’s first mass protest strike of World War 1. Liebknecht received mass support in Germany and beyond as the first German socialist to have voted against parliamentary allocations to pay for the government war spending. He had been arrested at an illegal May Day demonstration organized by the Spartacist League, just after calling out, “Down with the war! Down with the government!” Two days after his arrest, Liebknecht explained the goals of the May Day demonstration and the Spartacist League in the following statement at his trial.

* * * * *

Statement to the Royal Military Court

Berlin, May 3, 1916

I wish to clarify the record of what I said during the investigation of my case as follows:

— 1 —

In terms of both its historical and social character, the German government is a tool to oppress and exploit the working masses. Both its domestic and its foreign policy serve the interests of the landed aristocracy, capitalism, and imperialism. By ruthlessly pursuing global expansion and vigorously promoting the arms race, it is among the most significant forces contributing to the causes of the present war.

Together with the Austrian government, it instigated this war and thus bears the main immediate responsibility for its outbreak.

It staged this war by deceiving the masses and even parliament, as by keeping secret its ultimatum to Belgium, publishing the German justification for the war, and concealing the Tsar’s [conciliatory] telegram of 29 July 1914. It uses despicable means in attempting to maintain popular support for the war. The government conducts the war with methods that are monstrous even by comparison with previous practices….

It has made use of martial law to greatly increase the economic exploitation of the masses and the denial of their political rights. It blocks any serious political or social reform. And meanwhile the government throws out phrases about supposed equality of all parties, rejection of political or social discrimination, and a supposed ‘new orientation’ – all in an attempt to keep these masses obedient to its imperialist war policy.

Its subservience to landlord and capitalist interests has resulted in an utter failure to provide for the economic needs of the masses, leading to scandalous extortion and misery among the population.

Even today the government holds firmly to its war aim of conquest, thereby posing the main obstacle to immediate negotiations for peace on the basis of no annexations and of respect for national rights. By illegally maintaining the state of siege (censorship, etc.), it prevents the public from learning of inconvenient facts regarding its policies and blocks socialist criticism. Its system of seeming legality and sham concern for the population are thus exposed as nothing more than a cover for true violence and genuine hostility and ill-will toward the masses.

My call “Down with the government” serves to brand the totality of its policies as disastrous for the popular masses. This call also signifies that every socialist, every champion of workers’ interests is duty bound to carry out an unremitting class struggle against the government.

— 2 —

The present war is not being waged to defend the integrity of nations, the liberation of oppressed peoples, or the well-being of the population.

From the point of view of the proletariat, this war serves only to greatly increase and intensify the political oppression, economic exhaustion, and military slaughter of the working class for the benefit of capitalism and absolutism.

The working class of all countries responds to this with a single cry:

* Redouble the international class struggle against the capitalist governments and ruling classes of every country.

* Eliminate every form of oppression and exploitation.

* Bring the war to an end through a peace based on socialist principles.

This class struggle embraces everything that socialists are pledged to defend in order to serve their true fatherland, the International.

By my call “Down with the war!” I seek to express my fundamental opposition to and hatred of the present war in terms of its historical character, its overall social causes, the precise way in which it broke out, the manner in which it is conducted, and the goals that it seeks to achieve. Everyone who defends working people’s interests is obligated to take part in an international class struggle to end it.

— 3 —

As a socialist, I am fundamentally opposed both to this war and to the existing militarist system. I have always upheld the struggle against militarism as a particularly vital task – indeed, a matter of life and death – for the working class of every country (see my text, Militarism and Antimilitarism published in 1907 and the international youth conferences in Stuttgart 1907 and Copenhagen 1910). The war demands that we redouble our efforts to oppose militarism.

— 4 —

Since 1889, the First of May has been dedicated to demonstrations and education for the basic ideas of socialism and its opposition to every form of exploitation, oppression, and violation of human rights. May Day stands for the common interests of workers of all countries, a solidarity that is not negated but strengthened by war. It stands opposed to war and fratricidal slaughter and committed to peace.

The sacred duty to proclaim these principles is especially urgent for every socialist in time of war.

— 5 —

The policies I advocate are laid down by the decision of the Internationalist Socialist Congress in Stuttgart (1907), which obligated socialists in every country, if war could not be prevented, to employ every means in bringing it to a rapid conclusion and to utilize the social conditions it creates to hasten the end of the capitalist social order.

This policy is internationalist to the core. It sets down the same duty that I and others have fulfilled in Germany for socialists in the other belligerent countries with regard to their governments and ruling classes.

Carried out internationally, this policy inspires workers in each country through the example set in other lands and promotes an international class struggle against the war.

I have been among those who have publicly advocated this policy at every opportunity since the war began. In addition, to the degree possible, I and others have entered into contact with our co-thinkers in other countries. To this end we undertook trips to Belgium and the Netherlands in September 1914, wrote a Christmas letter to the Labour Leader in 1914, and held conferences in Switzerland [Zimmerwald, Kienthal], although I was unfortunately prevented by government repression from personally taking part.

— 6 —

I will stand by this policy come what may. However, it is not mine alone; it is the policy of a constantly increasing portion of the population in Germany and in other warring and neutral countries. Soon it will be the policy of the working class of every country. That is my hope and also the goal for which I am determined to strive without letup. And when that is achieved, the working class will possess the power to break the will of the present imperialist ruling classes and remake the relationships and conditions of all peoples in the interests of all.

Liebknecht, Soldier, Corps of Engineers

Translated by John Riddell. First published in a different translation in Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International, edited by John Riddell, New York: Pathfinder, 1984, pp. 454-6. Source: Dokumente und Materialien zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Berlin: Dietz, 1958, series 2, vol. 1, pp. 380-3.


Che Guevara’s political relevance today-Samuel Farber

Posted by admin On July - 21 - 2016 Comments Off on Che Guevara’s political relevance today-Samuel Farber


This is the introduction to his latest book, The Politics of Che Guevara (Haymarket Books, 2016)
Ernesto “Che” Guevara today has become a commercial T-shirt icon, but more importantly, he is an appealing symbol to legions of young rebels and revolutionaries all over the world. It is ironic that, politically, he has become less relevant in today’s Cuba than he is in other countries around the world. Nevertheless, he continues to exercise a subtle but real influence on Cuba’s political culture—not as a source of specific programmatic political or economic proposals, but as a cultural model of sacrifice and idealism. In that limited sense, the official slogan “seremos como el Che” (we shall be like Che), chanted regularly by Cuban schoolchildren, probably has a diffuse but significant influence over the popular imagination, even if most Cubans also think of Che as a failed quixotic figure.

Under Raúl Castro’s leadership, the Cuban government has been striving, albeit with setbacks and contradictions, toward a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, a form of state capitalism calling for the development of Cuban and especially foreign private enterprise while the state, under the exclusive control

of the Communist Party, retains the commanding heights of the economy, a far cry from Guevara’s proposed model of state control of the whole economy.

Che is not at all influential among the various wings of the Cuban opposition. Thus, for example, the liberal Cubans collaborating with Catholic reformists in what they hope will become a “loyal opposition” argue for ideas that run counter to Guevara’s legacy, such as creating a government that promotes private enterprise, accompanied by liberal and democratic political reforms, which the Cuban one-party state is not likely to entertain given the risks this would pose to its control.1 The nascent Cuban critical left, expressing its views on websites such as Havanatimes.org and ObservatorioCritico.info, and composed of people influenced by anarchist and/or social-democratic politics, is focusing its efforts on worker self-management and cooperatives as the road for economic democracy, an institutional arrangement that was explicitly rejected by Che Guevara.2

Che Guevara’s politics have their greatest appeal outside of Cuba. It is true that the small political groups that follow Guevara’s politics and ideology in toto have rarely attained any significance or influence, but important groups and movements that are not Guevaraist nevertheless claim to be influenced by Che beyond his mere image of the romantic and idealistic revolutionary. This is the case for people like Subcomandante Marcos (now renamed Subcomandante Galeano), the founding leader of the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in Chiapas, Mexico, attracted by Che’s call to take up arms against oppressive and corrupt governments. Even though Marcos rejected the notion of seizing political power, an idea central to Guevara’s political ideology and strategy, he took up arms against an unjust system and cited Guevara’s political ideas and practice as an inspiration. In that same spirit of insurgent rebellion, the 1968 Mexican student movement took over the Justo Sierra Auditorium at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the Autonomous National University of Mexico) and renamed it the Che Guevara Auditorium.

In a broader sense, for many rebellious young people throughout the world, Che Guevara is seen as a key leader of the Cuban Revolution—one of the most important revolutions of the twentieth century—and the only one who coherently practiced what he preached. Even more appealing to many are Che’s personal values: political honesty, egalitarianism, radicalism, and willingness to sacrifice for a cause, including his position of power in Cuba. To many of the contemporary rebels active in anticapitalist movements, Che is not only a radical, uncompromising opponent of capitalism, but—given his opposition to the traditional pro-Moscow Communist parties—also a revolutionary who shares their own ideals in pursuit of revolutionary and antibureaucratic politics. This is what makes Che’s ideas and practices important, and this study relevant, in today’s world.

This book analyzes the substantive political ideas and practices of Che Guevara from a standpoint that shares this anticapitalist, antibureaucratic sentiment. It does so, however, based on the belief that socialism and democracy are indispensable requisites to realize those aspirations. I was born and raised in Cuba and participated in the anti-Batista high school student movement of the 1950s, and have been involved in socialist politics for well over fifty years. My political roots are in the classical Marxist tradition that preceded Stalinism in the Soviet Union. Soviet Stalinism established the structural paradigm of a one-party state ruling over the whole economy, polity, and society—a paradigm that was later implemented in its multiple national variations by countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Central to my perspective is a view of socialist democracy in which institutions based on majority rule control the principal sources of economic, social, and political power at the local and national levels. To be a fully participatory democracy, socialism must be based on the self-mobilization and organization of the people, and the rule of the majority has to be complemented by minority rights and civil liberties.

I have written three books and numerous articles on Cuba based on this perspective. Che Guevara is a central part of the story of the Cuban Revolution, but his life and politics have international and theoretical repercussions that go beyond the Cuban story itself. In that sense, this study is closely related to another of my books, Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy, published in 1990.3 In that book about the decline of the Russian Revolution, I discussed the degeneration of the democratic soviets that came to power with the triumph of the 1917 October Revolution. While clearly distinguishing Leninism in power from Stalinism, I nevertheless argued that, under the great pressures of the civil war and severe economic crisis, mainstream Bolshevism changed its political character, converting the necessity of repression under civil war conditions into a virtue, thus weakening the resistance to the subsequent emergence of Stalinism. That book focused on the issue of democracy and revolution, as does this study of Che Guevara’s political thought and practice. Although of course the political background and historical conditions under which Guevara fought for his ideas were very different from those of the Russian Revolution, they also require us to consider the relationship between revolution and democracy. As will become evident in the rest of this study, while Guevara was an honest and dedicated revolutionary, he did not share Lenin’s background in classical Marxism, which assumed the democratic heritage of the radical wing of the Enlightenment, but instead grew up with the political legacy of a Stalinized Marxism. Thus, his revolutionary perspectives were irremediably undemocratic, based on a conception of socialism from above rather than below, which raises serious questions about the social and political order he would have brought about had he been successful in his efforts to spark victorious revolutions in the Congo and Bolivia.

Che’s communism4

Che Guevara became a Communist in his mid-twenties. To Che, the state was the fulcrum of change and its takeover was the goal of the socialist revolution. But he was an idiosyncratic Communist: he did not join the Communist Party and eventually became highly critical of various features of the Soviet social and political system. He was an extreme voluntarist, holding views more closely resembling Mao’s Chinese Communist politics than those of the Soviet Union. But even when he became more critical of the Soviet system after leaving the Cuban government, he upheld until the end of his life the monolithic Soviet view of socialism as a one-party state. Che was neither a libertarian nor a democrat in his theory or practice. His socialism/communism precluded any conception of autonomous workers’ and popular power, or of the political conditions necessary for the existence and survival of the institutions of popular and workers’ control such as freedom of organization for groups such as workers, Blacks, and women and civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly. For Che, the essence of socialism consisted in the absolute elimination of competition and capitalist profit, and in having the state, led by the vanguard Communist Party, control the economic life of the country in its totality. His priority, in terms of the state’s exclusive management of the economy, was to eliminate privilege and establish economic equality. His monolithic view of state socialism rejected not only the notion of workers’ control and self-management, but of individual identity, interest, and self-determination (which should not be confused with individualism as the ideology and practice of the capitalist order). In his conception of economic equality and his insistence on an exclusive dedication to the goals of society, he implicitly accepted the old Tocquevillian dichotomy of equality versus individuality.

Che Guevara and the road to power

Che Guevara’s views and practices regarding the road to power reiterate the perennial issue of the relationship between revolutionary means and ends. Che Guevara considered himself a Marxist and seriously studied the Marxist classics but was very selective of the aspects of Marxism he adopted as his own. Marx and Engels held that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”5 They assumed that as the working class became the majority of society, it would carry out its self-emancipation through a revolution in the interests of that majority. But, as we shall see, as early as when he was in the Sierra Maestra in 1958, Guevara in contrast became the principal proponent of the view that the guerrilla rebel army itself—and not the working class or, for that matter, the peasantry, except as supporting actors—would overthrow the Batista dictatorship and carry out the social revolution in Cuba. Che turned out to be right, in the practical sense of seizing power—although he greatly underestimated the major role played by the far more dangerous struggle of the urban revolutionaries in achieving Cuba’s revolution of 1959.6

Although effective in overthrowing the old political and social system, Guevara’s approach diverged from the classical Marxist politics of self-emancipation and socialist democracy. But it was entirely consistent with the establishment of a socialism from above, which initially enjoyed overwhelming support; it emphasized popular participation while excluding popular democratic control. Thus, the system established by Guevara and the other Cuban leaders on principle did not allow for the establishment of socialist democratic institutions and the political liberties and rights necessary for their fulfillment.

That Guevara’s political and military methods worked under the social and political conditions that existed in the Cuba of the 1950s did not mean that they would work elsewhere. Che used the same fundamental approach in his guerrilla incursions in the Congo and especially in Bolivia without ever reassessing his assumptions regarding the socioeconomic and political conditions necessary for the success of guerrilla warfare. In the case of the Congo (while he later acknowledged the absence of conditions for a social or even an anti-imperialist revolution in the eastern part of that country), where he had led Cuban and Congolese soldiers, he nevertheless insisted, with extreme voluntarism, that the solution to those very real objective obstacles was the creation of a vanguard party. And in the case of Bolivia, he advised militant miners to abandon the mass struggle in the places where they lived and struggled and instead to join his faraway guerrilla army, which, in contrast with the democratic revolutionary traditions of the miners, was organized on a strictly military hierarchical basis and led mostly by people foreign to their class and country. In these two cases, Guevara’s approach was neither effective nor self-emancipatory—and certainly not democratic.

Revolution, socialism, and democracy

The critical framework I use as the basis of this discussion of Che’s political thought and practice favors revolution, which I see not as an inevitable explosion, but as a political reaction to changes in the real conditions that prevail in society. In this context, revolutionary violence is unfortunate, but necessary and inevitable in light of what oppressive ruling groups will do in order to preserve their power. There are, of course, critics of Che who claim that his resort to revolution and revolutionary violence itself is the cause of his “mistakes” or “failure.” One of them, Jorge G. Castañeda, a prominent Mexican writer with deep roots in his country’s political establishment (both he and his father were members of his country’s cabinet at different times), criticizes Che’s “eternal refusal of ambivalence.” Castañeda laments the tendency of the 1960s generation to which he belonged to engage in “a wholesale rejection of life’s contradictions” and to neglect the “very principles of contradictory feelings, of conflicting desires, of mutually incompatible goals” in an era that was “writ in black and white.”7 In his argument, Castañeda conflates the generally justifiable criticisms that he makes of guerrilla warfare as a revolutionary strategy and specific applications of it, as in the Congo and Bolivia with Marxist revolutionary politics and strategy as such. His clear implication is that reform, not revolution, is the only viable, sensible alternative in fighting for liberty and democracy.

This point of view is hardly unique to Castañeda. At least since the Russian Revolution, it has become accepted almost as political common sense that revolution and its violence are incompatible with democracy and liberty and that only parliamentary social reform can coexist with a democratic political order. In the mid-twentieth century, this perspective was not only maintained by prominent critics of Marxism such as the philosopher Karl Popper but at least implicitly by authentic socialist leaders such as Salvador Allende. As the democratically elected president of Chile, overthrown and killed in a military coup supported by the CIA, Allende sacrificed his life to remain faithful to that notion. That is why he refused to heed the call of his more militant supporters to arm the people to confront the armed forces’ monopoly of violence and support for the capitalist status quo.

The relationship between revolution and democracy is a very important issue and a difficult one to disentangle. Nevertheless, I would assert that the following two points are vital: First, revolution does not automatically lead to dictatorship, totalitarianism, or democracy. It is true that any situation of active armed conflict—revolutionary or otherwise—inevitably involves the curtailment of the democratic process and of civil liberties. But what happens after the armed conflict has ceased and the revolutionary power is stabilized, although economic crisis may act as a restraining and limiting force, depends to an important extent on the politics of the revolutionary leaders in determining whether the encroachment on democracy and liberties during the armed conflict are to be made permanent, thus converting what originally might have been a necessity into a virtue. Second, a social revolution does not necessarily lead to the collective punishment of social groups or categories of people—whether based on race, class, religion, or ethnicity—in contrast with the necessary punishment of individuals or specific groups who engage in armed actions against the revolutionary government. For example, in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, universal suffrage—an enormous achievement of the democratic struggles that arose in the wake of epoch-making movements such as the French Revolution and the Chartist movement in Britain—was curtailed by the provisions contained in chapters 5 and 13 of the Soviet Constitution promulgated in July 1918. These chapters established, respectively, the obligation of all citizens to work and confined the franchise to those who earned their living by production or socially useful labor, soldiers, and disabled persons, and specifically excluded persons who employed hired labor, rentiers, private traders, monks and priests, and officials and agents of the former police. In her famous pamphlet on the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg criticized these exclusions, arguing that the Russian economy was in no condition to offer gainful employment to all who requested it, thereby disenfranchising those who might have been involuntarily unemployed.8 While this is a legitimate point, Luxemburg missed the central issue behind the legislation. The aim of the Bolshevik government was not the disenfranchisement of the idle or the unemployed in general, but to punish every member of the bourgeoisie and allied strata, such as the church, even if they requested state employment after having lost their business, factories, and churches. This notion of collective punishment gained traction at the same time that Lenin explicitly indicated that he regarded these exclusions not as matters of general principle regarding the general nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat but as the result of specific Russian conditions, that is, the extreme resistance offered by bourgeois and petty bourgeois circles to the October Revolution and to the radical and initially democratic changes introduced by it.9 Nevertheless, the practice of collective punishment originally applied to the bourgeoisie and its allied strata had dire legal and political consequences for all classes and groups in Soviet Russia. Thus, it was that same notion of collective punishment that was used to repress and kill peasants in the Tambov region whether or not they had personally aided or participated in the so-called green peasant rebellions in 1920–21.10 Luxemburg made a comment relevant to this point when she remarked that the suffrage law in Russia “involves a deprivation of rights not as a concrete measure for a concrete purpose but as a general rule of long-standing effect,” though she did not make this the central element of her critique.11

The question of disenfranchisement is also related to the issue of the degree to which socialist democratic representation should be workplace based. This is a matter in which the classical Marxist tradition has been less than fully clear, since its indispensable critique of the vices of liberal capitalist parliamentary democracy does not settle the question of whether workplace representation would be sufficient by itself to represent all sectors of the population.12 In any case, a workplace- and class-centered socialist democracy should not mean the disenfranchisement and denial of rights to various types of workers, such as the self-employed, and to individual members of the defeated classes who are willing to work and live peacefully in the new system. The working-class nature of the new socialist system is most of all established by the actual political leadership of the working class and its allies and by a political system structured in such a way as to favor the collective workplace instead of the isolated individual citizen. It should not mean a repudiation of the principles of universal suffrage and legal rights on behalf of which so much of the blood of the oppressed has been shed.

Che Guevara and revolutionary politics

One of the important features of Che Guevara’s political thought and activism was his disregard for specific political contexts as crucial guides for political action. His exclusive focus on making the revolution and on the tactics of the armed struggle led him, by the mid-1960s, to the conclusion that practically all the countries in Latin America were ready to take up arms in their rural hinterlands, ignoring the widely differing political and socioeconomic conditions prevailing throughout the continent. This strategic and tactical blindness came in part from his reaction to the electoralist tendencies and politicking prevalent among the old pro-Moscow Communist parties of his time. It is very illustrative that when Che Guevara met Mario Monje, the leader of the pro-Moscow Bolivian Communist Party, on December 31, 1966, to ask him to join the guerrilla foco that he had just established in the Bolivian hinterland, Monje responded, “In your head there is a machine gun, in mine there is politics.”13 For Monje and his party, the road to power might have formally involved, as for all the Communist parties, a general uprising, street mobilizations, and the militancy of the miners and the unions. But their opportunistic practice of making pacts with corrupt parties and leaders was an entirely different matter, as was the case with the old pro-Moscow Cuban Communists in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship.14

There is, however, an alternative perspective to Che’s revolutionary voluntarism and to the Latin American Communist parties’ electoralism for its own sake and opportunism. It is a perspective that posits revolutionary politics as requiring strategic and tactical thinking and action in order to advance the revolutionary process. In that sense, politics is an imperative forced on the revolutionaries by stark political reality, which includes what the ruling class and its allies will do to prevent any changes that harm their interests. Political reality presents a great number of difficulties and options that continually pose anew the perennial question of what is to be done—as well as the political goals and the strategy and tactics best suited to attain them. As movements develop, in addition to government surveillance, provocations, and repression, they inevitably face the lies and propaganda of the rulers to weaken, divide, and confuse them. The best responses to these challenges are often far from obvious and require strategic and tactical tasks that help mobilize and make people conscious of the nature of the enemy and its tactics. Contrary to the Cuban revolutionary government’s dictum that the duty of the revolutionary is to make the revolution, most of the life of a revolutionary is actually spent in the often dangerous task of fighting political battles to advance the goals and interests of the working class and the popular sectors and, in that process, to prepare for the revolution and the revolutionary situations that may make them possible. As V. I. Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, famously put it:

To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes,” a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time,” but in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.15

Against the German social-democratic leader Karl Kautsky’s passive and mechanical belief that socialist parties do not plan for revolution but that revolutions occur by themselves when objective conditions give rise to them, Lenin was a fervent proponent of the notion that a revolutionary party that seriously contended for power had to be ready, in a political and military sense, to lead revolutionary movements to the seizure of power, which required detailed attention to the specific political situation to determine the appropriate moment to do so. Otherwise, Lenin noted, things would not change and reaction would very likely set in. This is exactly what has happened in many cases—for example, during General Augusto Pinochet’s coup in Santiago, Chile, on September 11, 1973, President Allende’s commitment to parliamentarism facilitated the demise of his constitutional government.

Guevara, however, ignored the whole problematic of the “revolutionary situation,” characteristically arguing, even in his original and relatively more cautious 1960 treatise on guerrilla warfare, that “it is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist, the insurrection can create them.”16 Seven years later, Guevara became so isolated that it was possible for the Bolivian Army, working with the CIA, to murder him in cold blood in the Bolivian jungle. The utter failure of his guerrilla venture was hardly surprising given the absence of a revolutionary situation and a mistaken strategic orientation to the peasantry in an isolated and thinly populated part of the country, which failed to obtain any support from either the Bolivian peasantry or its working class.

Nature of this study

The purpose of this project is to present a political portrait focused on Guevara’s thought and practical political record. My aim is to understand his politics and the varying situations in which he acted, and in the process help to dispel many of the common myths about Che. I have drawn on a variety of sources, especially on my previous work on Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. However, two of my most fruitful sources are works by Guevara that were not intended for publication but emerged between thirty and forty years later, when changing political conditions, including the demise of the Soviet Union, convinced the Cuban government that it was no longer necessary to keep them under lock and key. These are The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo, published by Grove Press in 2001, which originally appeared in Spanish in 1999 under the title Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria: Congo, and Guevara’s notebooks, written in 1965 and 1966, published by Ocean Press (based in Australia) and the Cuban Centro de Estudios Che Guevara in 2006, under the title Apuntes críticos a la economía política. As in the case of the Apuntes, all translations from Spanish are my own, unless stated otherwise.

In my conclusion, I draw together some of the major themes in my analysis of Guevara’s politics and restate the need for a political process that brings together the politics of revolution, socialism, and democracy.

This perspective was best expressed, until recently, by Espacio Laical, the publication of the Félix Varela Cultural Center, sponsored by the Catholic Church. In June 2014, the Catholic hierarchy appointed new editors who have since substantially reduced the frequency of the journal and its political interventions. Meanwhile, the previous editors Roberto Veiga and Leinier González Mederos have created a new debate forum called “Cuba Posible,” which has continued the editorial line and political orientation they previously followed in Espacio Laical.
For an overview of different tendencies in contemporary Cuban politics, see my article “The Future of the Cuban Revolution,” Jacobin, January 5, 2014, http://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/the-cu…
Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy (Cambridge and New York: Polity Press and Verso Books, 1990).
I use the terms Communism and Communist for the sake of clarity, simplicity, and convenience. However, as should be apparent from the content of this book, I do not link present-day Communism with the “classical” Communism of Marx, Engels, and many other revolutionaries who predate the rise of Stalinism. Furthermore, I also use Communism in a generic sense to describe a socioeconomic system, even though, of course, each Communist state has its own peculiarities and individual history. Marxists use the term capitalism similarly, despite the fact that capitalist states like the United States, Japan, and Sweden have significant differences.
Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, “Rules and Administrative Regulations of the Inter­national Workingmen’s Association (1867),” International Workingmen’s Association, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/iw….
For a thorough account and analysis of the role of the urban revolutionaries in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship, see Julia E. Sweig, Inside the Cuban Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
Jorge G. Castañeda, Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), xv–xvi.
Rosa Luxemburg, “The Question of Suffrage,” in The Russian Revolution and Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 64–65.
V. I. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and Kautsky the Renegade, in Collected Works, vol. 28, July 1918–March 1919 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 255.
Farber, Before Stalinism, 122–24.
Luxemburg, “Question of Suffrage,” 66.
For a thoughtful discussion of this and related questions, see the 2009 paper by Moshé Machover, “Collective Decision-Making and Supervision in a Communist Society,” LSE Research Online, LSE Library Services, July 2013, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/51148/.
“En tu cabeza hay una ametralladora, en mi cabeza hay política,” Taringa, http://www.taringa.net/posts/noticias/15…. This is a 2010 interview with Monje by Leonard Kochichev for La Voz de Rusia.
Inti Peredo, “En el banquillo. La deserción del P.C.,” in Tomo 4 ¿Traición del PCB? El Che en Bolivia, Documentos y Testimonios, ed. Carlos Soria Galvarro T. (La Paz, Bolivia: La Razón, 2005), 142.
V. I. Lenin, “The Collapse of the Second International,” http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/wo….
Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, trans. J. P. Morray (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1961), in Brian Loveman and Thomas M. Davies, Jr, Che Guevara: Guerrilla Warfare (Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1997), 50.

Migration, fundamentalism & terrorism in Asia-Farooq Tariq

Posted by admin On July - 19 - 2016 Comments Off on Migration, fundamentalism & terrorism in Asia-Farooq Tariq


Religious terrorism has become one of the major challenges for most of the countries in Asia, particularly in South and West Asia. It has resulted in a seemingly nonstop bombings, suicidal attacks and other means of terrorism.

On the 1 July 2016, after an 11-hour-long hostage situation, 20 hostages were killed in a restaurant packed with foreigners in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Nine of them were Italian, seven Japanese, one US citizen and an Indian. The responsibility for the barbaric act was claimed by the so-called Islamic State. The incident is a manifestation of the international character of the threat posed by Islamic religious fundamentalists.

Over the course of 20th century, Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as the most serious threat to democratic values, peace and security in most of the Asian countries.

In Pakistan, the menace of terrorism, in particular terrorism of the religious kind, has spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. There are people and groups who extend direct or indirect support to the terrorist activities of the Taliban and its ilk in name of religion. Violence has become a norm and religion is routinely used to silence voices of reason and compassion. The society has taken a turn towards the right-wing. In India, attacks by fanatic Hindu fundamentalists are becoming increasingly common in Muslim minority areas. As part of its campaign to spread its reactionary political ideology to all of India, the governing conservative Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) is patronising communal violence and promoting communal polarization.

For quite some time now, Afghanistan has been embroiled in conflict involving a religious terrorist organisation and a weak government supported by US imperialism. Suicide attacks have become a norm. The strategy of the NATO forces has not resulted in peace and security in Afghanistan. The influence of the Taliban remains intact despite the killings of some of its top leaders in US drone strikes.

Daesh’s spectacular growth in West Asia has resulted in some of the most barbaric acts of terrorism witnessed in history. The so-called Islamic State has emerged as the most dangerous religious terrorist organisation in the region. It has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria and now controls or can operate with impunity in a great stretch of territory in Western Iraq and Eastern Syria, making it militarily the most successful jihadi movement ever. It has the resources at its disposal to organise terrorist activities across the globe.

The tactical differences among Western countries in dealing with Daesh have resulted in new contradictions. The Syrian government, supported by Russian Federation, is on an all-out bombing campaign, reducing to rubble various towns under Daesh control.

Mass migration of people out of these conflict zones has led to an unprecedented refugee crisis and taken the miseries of the affected people to a whole different level. This state of affairs has shattered all the established relations among nations throughout Asia and Europe. The whole project of European Union is under threat amid differing strategies to deal with the issue of migrations and border controls.

Migration of people from zones affected by religious conflict is not just confined to Western Asia. South Asia has witnessed various instances of mass migrations by persecuted religious minorities. In Pakistan, scores of Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have left the country for safer shelters.

Over 800,000 people have left their homes in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) linking Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of an ongoing military operation since December 2014. Most of these have ended up as internally displaced people (IDPs) and are forced to live in inhumane conditions in refugee camps.

In Pakistan, religious fundamentalism is fighting on several fronts to gain more mass support. They do not spare a single opportunity to promote their “anti India” sentiments, a pillar in developing Islamic religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. Weak civilian governments, littered with neo liberal agenda, are cornered by mass disconnect to take any decisive action against fundamentalism. The Pakistani state has failed miserably to curb the rise of religious fundamentalism. There is always a soft spot for them. For a long time, they were encouraged by the state as a second line of security. The security paradigm meant an anti-India enmity was the core purpose of state patronage. The process of Islamisation was accelerated by military dictator Ziaul Haq, with the full support of US imperialism.

Apart from creating and supporting jihadist groups for decades, the state and military with the financial and political assistance of imperial power has indoctrinated millions with conservative Islamic ideology for the purpose of safeguarding its strategic interests.

What is religious fundamentalism? “Essentially the term fundamentalism suggests going back to the basic texts and reproducing as closely as possible the laws and institutions found then. It has also come to imply a dogmatic adherence to traditions, orthodoxy, inflexibility and a rejection of modern society, intellectual innovation and attempts to create a ‘golden era’. Islamic fundamentalists have exploited the dream of the ’golden era of Islam’, in poverty stricken, economically backward Muslim countries through the local”mullahs”.

Religious fundamentalists are not an anti-imperialist force. They are not a class-based social set up. They are new kind of neo-fascist groups. Opposing imperialism does and should not mean an alliance with the religious fanatics, or vice versa.

Fundamentalism finds its roots in the backwardness of the society, social deprivation, a low level of consciousness, poverty and ignorance. To sum up, it can be said that religious fundamentalists are against democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, and free speech. They fear of annihilation by secular modernity.

Religious fundamentalists are a new kind of fascists in the making. This phenomenon now dominant is the assertion of fascist currents with religious references (and no longer the triptych “people/state, race, nation”). They appear in all the “great” religions (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and so on). They now pose a considerable threat in countries like India or Sri Lanka. The Muslim world thus does not have the monopoly in this field; but it is certainly there that it has taken on a particular international dimension, with “trans-border” movements like Islamic State or the Taliban and networks which are connected more or less formally from Morocco to Indonesia.

The religious fanatic groups are internationalists. They want an Islamic world. They are against democracy and promote Khilafat (kingdom) as a way of governance. They are the most barbaric force recent history has seen in the shape of “Islamic State” and Taliban. There is nothing progressive in their ideology. They are not anti-imperialist but anti-American and anti-West.

They must be countered, however, a military solution to end fundamentalism has a very limited scope with long term negative effects. The US way of fighting back in shape of “war on terror” has failed miserably. Despite all the US initiatives of occupations, wars and creating democratic alternatives, the religious fundamentalists have grown with more force. Fundamentalists are stronger than they were at 9/11, despite the occupation of Afghanistan.

In several Muslim countries, strategies to counter religious terrorism have been misused against working class activists and peasantry. Anti terrorist laws are used against opponents to jail them for lives. Progressive groups and social movements are becoming target of these laws. In Pakistan, anti-terrorism laws are very often used against climate change activists, striking workers and peasantry along with political opponents.

To effectively curb the growth of religious fundamentalism and religious terrorism, the state must break all links with fanatic groups. The mindset that religious fundamentalists are “our own brothers, our own people, our security line and guarantee against ’Hindus’“,”some are bad and some are good” and so on must be changed.

There is no short cut to end religious fundamentalism. There is no military solution. It has to be a political fight with dramatic reforms in education, health and working realities in most Muslim countries. Starting from nationalisation of religious madrassas, it must go on to provide free education, health, residence and transport as one of most effective means to counter fundamentalism.

Right-wing ideas are promoting extreme right-wing ideology. A mass working-class alternative in the shape of trade unions and political parties linked with social movements is the most effective manner to counter religious fundamentalism.

Farooq Tariq, general secretary Awami Workers Party. This paper presented at the Asia Europe People’s Form (AEPF) being held from July 4-6, 2016 at Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

Asia Europe Peoples Forum’s proposal to Asia-Europe Meeting

July 6, 2016 — Awami Workers’ Party — On behalf of our “Peace and Security” thematic group at Asia Europe Peoples Forum being held at Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Farooq Tariq, general secretary Awami Workers Party was asked to present the recommendations.

Here are the recommendations that will be presented to 51 heads of the states from ASEM, including Pakistan next week here in the same pace

The AEPF has continuously appealed for a negotiated end to armed conflicts; lowering of threat perceptions between nations and social cohesion within countries and has opposed arms buildups while arguing for universal disarmament, peace with justice and human security. In 2014, within the framework of the tenth Asia-Europe People Forum, the “Peace and Security” Circle, in coordination with peace movements in Asia and Europe, organized a series of activities which discussed a variety of issues including military spending and arms transfer/arms trade, nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction; killer drones, killer robots, other secret weapons and infrastructures; disarmament policies and conflict prevention in Asia and Europe, etc. Accordingly, various recommendations were made and submitted to ASEM leaders in order to maintain peace and security in the two continents and the world as a whole.

Two years later, it can be seen that although some countries said they would cut programs and military weapons to reduce the defense budget deficit, the situation seems to be more complicated. The volume of international transfer of major weapons has gone up 14 percent in the 2011-2015 period compared to 2006-2010 (SIPRI fact sheet – February 2016); conflicts and disputes in such hot spots as the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, Ukraine; the worse ever refugee crisis in Europe, which is said to be the result of conflicts, tensions and human insecurity in the Middle East and elsewhere (such as the long conflicts and other oppressions in Africa and Afghanistan and many other regions); the rise of the terror group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist movements that continue killing innocent people, using rape and violence as a way of threatening the world’s security, shows that countries need to re-strategies methodologies to create a more sustainable peace. …

In such a context, peace movements and people’s organisations have raised their voices in an effort to contribute to easing the situation and making the two continents and the world as a whole a peaceful place to live for everyone. Clearly, much more needs to be done.

We gather here again at the Asia-Europe people forum, join our hands and would like to submit our recommendations to ASEM member states:


1. Welcome Mongolia’s nuclear-weapons-free status, highlight it as successful government-civil society cooperation, and expand nuclear-weapon free zone including in Northeast Asia. Ban the research, development, use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and support the Humanitarian Pledge to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” Support the Ulaanbaatar Process for civil society dialogue.

2. Work out a strategy to: Find ways to solve the refugee crisis and to assist countries and populations through strategic partnering, association agreements, civil society/ people-to-people dialogue and direct aid. To sensitise different sections of society like political parties, organizations and institutions to the problems faced by refugees and the common responsibilities to address this issue.

3. Support and put pressure on related parties to settle all conflicts, disputes and tension in different areas such as the Ukraine, Middle East including Palestine, the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and East China Sea, by peaceful means in compliance with international laws and regulations including The United Nations Charter, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC),… and in the spirit of constructiveness. To plan mass advocacy against the use of violence as a way of retribution.

4. To discuss and work out a concrete plan on cutting military spending (by at least ten percent in the next five years) and move the fund to social services as way to build peace with justice.

5. To support the promotion of Education for Peace, human rights and peaceful conflict resolution. To see peace advocacy as one based on rights and secularism.

6. Support all war victims, including nuclear victims, victims of Agent Orange, napalm, chemical barrel bombs, in their daily lives and their struggles for justice.

7. To address differences and social inequalities between groups, races, religions, genders in states by clear and balanced definition of rights amongst those groups in the constitution of the country.

8. We call on the people’s organizations and peace movements in two continents to initiate discussions on alternate theories and strategies. Meetings should be held as far as possible where there can be physical presence and intervention by organizations dedicated to the goals of AEPF; to strengthen the solidarity by concrete proposals, joint projects, and strategies for action adequate cooperation and connection in order to create effective synergies in the struggle for peace.

9. We propose the ASEM leaders to organise a symposium on connectivities between ASEM sea areas like South China Sea, Black Sea and Baltic Sea.

10.To respect the role of civil society organisations in decision-making process and work out a mechanism which involve them in peace-building activities, formal institutions and structures.

Asia Awami Workers Party (Pakistan) Europe Pakistan war on terror
Add new comment
Mon, 07/11/2016 – 04:41 — Michael Karadjis (not verified)
A comment and a question

Farouk, thank you for your article on this appalling situation. I think for comrades living in countries such as Pakistan, where some of the most terrible and seemingly senseless acts of terrorist slaughter have taken place, this must be an extraordinarily difficult issue.
I have one small comment and a question.
Regarding Syria, you say: “The tactical differences among Western countries in dealing with Daesh have resulted in new contradictions. The Syrian government, supported by Russian Federation, is on an all-out bombing campaign, reducing to rubble various towns under Daesh control.”
It is certainly true that the Assad regime and its Russian backers have reduced every city in Syria to rubble in massive bombing that kills mostly civilians, in enormous numbers. Your comments about the pointlessness of “military solutions” such as this are well-taken. It is important to note, however, that these have not at all been cities and towns under Daesh control. Overwhelmingly, they are cities and towns under the control of various Syrian rebels, all of whom fight Daesh and see it as their enemy in the same way they see the regime as their enemy. Studies have shown that the Assad regime and Daesh both overwhelmingly target the rebels rather than each other. Yes, Russia and Assad have also bombed Daesh-held Raqqa and Deir Ezzor,occasionally, and kill civilians, but it is mostly the US bombing these cities. Often the US bombs in tandem with Assad. The heroic underground anti-ISIS organisation, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, vigorously condemns these bombings from all quarters, which do nothing to weaken Daesh control.
My question is about Bangladesh. The sheer sadism of this latest terrorist atrocity you wrote about is almost beyond comprehension. Clearly the individuals that the jihadists have employed to carry out this deed are deeply sick. But I’m lost as to what has led to the jihadist forces organising such terrible attacks (and though ISIS later took responsibility, I’m not sure that this was really organised by someone sitting in Mosul or Raqqa). What are their local Bangladeshi motives? I’m not suggesitng any motives make terror OK, of course, but one can see some kind of warped ‘rationale’ in bombing Baghdad (get at US forces, and kill Shia) or Medina (hit Saudi monarchy ‘apostates’) or Paris (get at French for intervening in mideast) etc. But it seems even more senseless in Bangladesh. Any light you could shed would be most appreciated.

A missed revolutionary opportunity: The Comintern Third Congress discussion on the 1920 Italian factory occupations-Introductory note by Mike Taber and John Riddell  

Posted by admin On July - 19 - 2016 Comments Off on A missed revolutionary opportunity: The Comintern Third Congress discussion on the 1920 Italian factory occupations-Introductory note by Mike Taber and John Riddell  


Factories under control of the Red Guards in Italy, 1920
As the Communist International’s Third Congress convened in Moscow in June–July 1921, the powerful working-class upsurge that had shaken Italy months earlier was fresh in delegates’ minds and posed a backdrop to their debates.

The September 1920 occupation of the factories in Italy is a lesser-known revolutionary experience of the post–World War I years, yet its impact was no less significant. By starkly posing the question of which class should run the economy, the occupations legitimized a new form of proletarian struggle—expressed in part through the tactic of the sit-down strike that was widely utilized during the 1930s. Possessing the potential for working-class victory, the defeat of this movement instead opened the door to the rise to power of Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism.[1]

The defeat was not inevitable, however. During the years after the end of World War I, Italy was the scene of rising class struggle. Within Italian society as a whole, a widespread perception existed that socialist revolution was approaching.

During these years, conscious Italian workers in their vast majority looked to the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). The leaders of the main trade union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGL), belonged to this party.

The PSI had earned respect within the left wing of the world socialist movement for its opposition to World War I and as one of the organizers of the Zimmerwald Movement. It was among the first parties to declare support for the October Revolution in 1917. When the Communist International (Comintern) was founded in March 1919, the PSI was a charter member. Yet the party was incapable of fulfilling the hopes and aspirations that revolutionary-minded workers and youth had deposited in it.

Although it was a member of the Comintern, the PSI was far from being a genuine revolutionary party. It was instead an all-inclusive umbrella organization led by a majority current around a centrist leader, Giacinto Serrati. The centrists used quite revolutionary rhetoric but did not back it up with any kind of program of action. The party also contained an openly reformist current led by Filippo Turati, as well as a Communist left wing. A live-and-let-live atmosphere prevailed within the party, in which prominent members did what they pleased with little guidance or interference from the ranks. The Comintern’s congresses and leadership bodies had campaigned to transform the PSI’s character, starting with the expulsion of the Turati-led right wing. The Serrati leadership resisted all such calls.

September 1920 put the party to the definitive test. It failed. The events came out of a struggle by the metal workers’ union for wage increases to meet a sharp rise in the cost of living. The employers flatly refused to grant even the most minimal of the workers’ demands. Faced with this, the union responded with work slowdowns. Thinking they would teach workers a lesson, the capitalists then declared a nationwide lockout. This was a huge miscalculation.

On September 1 metal workers throughout Italy began occupying their plants. Factory councils were created to organize production under workers’ control. Armed “red guards” provided protection against possible attacks by the police and right-wing forces.

The action soon spread beyond metal workers to encompass other sections of the industrial proletariat. All told, some half million workers took part in the occupations. Inspired by the workers, peasants too joined in with land occupations. Effective appeals were made to soldiers as fellow workers in uniform to refuse to obey any orders to attack the factories. The capitalist class as a whole, and its government led by Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, were paralyzed with indecision.

A revolutionary situation was unfolding, posing the question of a fight for state power. But the labor federation refused to see the struggle as anything other than just another important union battle. On September 10, at the height of the occupation, the CGL’s national directive council stated: “The objective of the struggle shall be the recognition by employers of the principle of union control over industry. This will open the way to those major gains which will inevitably lead to collective management and socialization, and thus organically solve the problem of production.”[2] For its part, the PSI leadership—though it had been issuing fiery rhetoric—abdicated any responsibility, leaving the whole matter in the CGL’s hands.

The Italian capitalists, desperate to get their factories back, were willing to sign anything provided they could get workers to leave them voluntarily. An agreement was eventually reached granting workers an immediate pay increase, a substantial hike in the minimum wage, cost of living bonuses, increased overtime payments, paid holidays, and compensation for laid-off workers. A measure of union control of production was also agreed to.

The PSI leadership joined in the chorus proclaiming this an incredible victory for the workers. Waxing lyrical, Serrati declared: “The principle of sacred private property has been violated. For twenty days the red flag flew over the factories, and armed workers went on working and producing in defiance of the exploiters. Now the bosses surrender. They pay increases. They pay arrears. They pay annual holidays. And they bend before the government’s order to re-employ all workers without victimizing those who took part in the movement.”[3]

In other contexts, such an agreement would certainly have constituted an overwhelming workers’ victory. But in a situation where workers held the means of production in their hands, giving up the factories in exchange for empty promises simply amounted to surrender. The defeat of the movement led to widespread demoralization within the working class. Fascists stepped up their recruitment and carried out an escalating wave of attacks against the organized workers’ movement. They were able to seize power two years later and crush the unions entirely.

The results of September 1920 sharpened the debate within the PSI between the Communist left and the Serrati-led center. The Communist forces were themselves divided. The main current, the Communist Abstentionist Faction, led by Amadeo Bordiga, had a decidedly leftist orientation. Other currents included that of Antonio Gramsci and Umberto Terracini in Turin, which then also shared some of these leftist leanings.

The Communists concluded that the PSI should be immediately split. By the time the PSI held its congress in Livorno at the end of January 1921, a de facto split had in fact already taken place.[4] Following the vote (98,000 mandates for Serrati’s centrist faction, 58,000 for the Communists, and 14,000 for the reformists), the left-wing faction walked out and formally established the Italian Communist Party.

The excerpts below are from remarks to the Comintern’s Third Congress by Karl Radek, Gregory Zinoviev, and Leon Trotsky. They are taken from To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921.[5]

* * * * *

Karl Radek[6]

Let me briefly call to mind the course of events. The movement began in the Italian metal factories. It embraced the broad masses of metalworkers, and the metalworkers’ union felt compelled to set itself at the head of the movement. The movement expanded to encompass factories that deliver semifinished goods or raw materials for the metal industry. It leaped over to the chemical industry and to a large number of other industries, creating a climate in which the most deprived layers of the proletariat came into action. The metal, textile, and chemical workers occupied the factories, throwing the factory owners out on the street. The masses of homeless proletarians came into motion, and a movement of the homeless, linked to that of the workers, occupied the villas and palaces of the rich, housing their wives and children there. And the movement jumped off into rural districts from Sicily to southern and central Italy. The peasants set out with red banners, occupied the great estates, and formed red guards. And in such a situation, where the working class is advancing into a major struggle, where the villages are stirring, the initial and decisive question for us to ask is: what is the nature of this movement? Based on these facts alone, we can only conclude that this is a great revolutionary mass movement. The workers are seizing capitalist society by the throat. They are laying hands on what is most holy to capitalism: its factories, its moneyboxes.

Serrati, on the other hand, said that this was purely a trade-union movement. Think it over, comrades: Was this a purely trade-union movement, given that hundreds of thousands of workers occupied the factories, sought to raise the productivity of labour—and there are hundreds of examples of that—and succeeded in organising the sale of what they produced? Was it a trade-union movement when it broke open the capitalists’ cash boxes, gathering these resources into a common fund, which in turn was used by the metalworkers’ union to issue currency and by the consumer cooperatives to distribute food? Was it a trade-union movement, given that it involved nothing less than the workers’ attempt to take possession of the roots of capitalist power, the factories? The situation thus created cannot be better portrayed than through the words spoken by the Italian prime minister, Giolitti, on 26 September. He said:

And so the factories were occupied. According to the government’s critics, two courses were possible. Either I should have prevented this, or, if I did not act promptly enough to prevent it, I should have had the factories cleared by force.

Prevent it? We are talking about six hundred metalworking factories. In order to prevent the occupation, assuming I had acted with such lightning speed as to arrive before the occupation, I would have had to post garrisons in the factories, about a hundred men in the small ones, and several thousand in the large ones. In order to occupy the factories, I would have had to employ the entirety of the armed forces at my disposal. And now, who would have kept watch over the five hundred thousand workers outside the factories? Who would have protected public safety in the country?

I was being asked to exercise unattainable foresight or to take an action which, if I had carried it out, would have placed the state’s armed forces in a situation where they were besieged and would no longer have any freedom of movement. I felt able to set aside this option.

Was I then supposed to use armed strength to clear the factories? Obviously, I would then have to launch a struggle, an open battle, in a word, launch a civil war. And this after the General Confederation of Labor had given a solemn undertaking that it renounced any political goals for the movement, that this movement would be kept within the framework of an economic struggle. I trusted the General Confederation of Labor then, and it showed itself to be worthy of this trust, because the broad masses of workers adopted its proposals.

If we had taken refuge in violence, if we had sent in the army, the Royal Guard, and the gendarmes against the five hundred thousand workers—do the critics have any idea of what I would then have been leading the country into?

This statement by Giolitti—a very clever representative of Italian capitalism, perhaps their most clever—tells us everything. Five hundred thousand workers were engaged in revolutionary struggle; the government was powerless; and the trade-union bureaucracy, trusting the government and trusted by it, broke off the struggle and began negotiations in full knowledge that everything they would achieve thereby would be no more than a piece of paper once the workers had given up the factories.

Comrades, the Italian confederation [of labour] is headed by people who came here as Communists and were, until recently, members of the Communist International. And this confederation concluded an agreement with the Italian Socialist Party. They acted jointly. So what happened? The syndicalist and anarchist workers took part in the struggle. The Italian party knew that the trade-union bureaucracy would strangle the struggle, but that these workers wanted to struggle. It did not insist that representatives of these workers be invited into the joint negotiations. The large organisations of railwaymen, seamen, and dockworkers were outside the confederation. The party did not insist that representatives of these organizations be drawn into the struggle. It wanted to win the majority. It proposed to continue the struggle. The trade-union bureaucracy responded, “We will halt the struggle and gain workers’ control of production.” The party let itself be voted down, submitted, and gave up.

What was the result, comrades? Today I asked the Italian comrades what happened with workers’ control of production in Italy. Even though the government had signed a promise to introduce control of production by law if the workers would give up the factories, it did not introduce a single piece of paper about this in parliament. Comrades, when the struggle was broken off, the reformist papers celebrated this granting of workers’ control as a great victory. They said that finally the two forces of labour and capital would work together: labour would supervise capital, to ensure it does not steal; the capitalists would supervise the workers, to ensure that they work. That would even re-establish the value of the currency, which was very low.

But once the workers went back into the factories, the Whites began their savage campaign against the workers. They began to attack workers’ organizations, one after another. The editorial offices of party papers in Genoa, Milan, Rome, and Brescia were destroyed one after another. In Bologna they fired on the workers. Thousands of workers were jailed. The government proceeded intelligently, singling out those whom the Socialist Party had left outside the family of those in struggle—the anarchists and syndicalists, whose leaders were arrested en masse.

The great struggle of the working class ran aground because, in the face of this great revolutionary tide, the Italian Socialist Party had only one thought: May God let the cup of leadership in a revolution pass from my lips. Comrades, we do not know whether it was possible to win power in this struggle, but we know that a great deal could have been won. Two things, to begin with: genuine control of production, not in order to strengthen the capitalist state’s currency, but in order to weld the workers together solidly in a broad proletarian organization against the capitalist state; and the arming of the workers. If the Italian working class, in struggle for these goals, did not succeed in winning power, it would nonetheless have carried out a great battle against capitalism under the leadership of the Communist Party. During this battle, it would either have won important positions for future struggles or, in the worst case, if it were defeated in this battle, it would have emerged enriched in experience and in knowledge about how to struggle.

The Italian party evaded the struggle. It excuses this by saying that its influence has grown nonetheless, and that in the elections it still received a great many votes. Yes, the revolution, the maturing of conflicts drives the workers to us, even if we make enormous mistakes. But when we make such mistakes, the workers do not win either insight in the road forward or confidence in their strength. They vote for you because who else is there to vote for? The capitalists? But the proletariat’s sense of power is diminished. Important opportunities go to waste, in which victory or partial victory might have been possible. And what is the result? Capitalism consolidates. Before the Italian elections, Oda Olberg, an Italian-German reformist, who has been commenting attentively and astutely on the Italian movement for decades in Vorwärts, wrote, “The bourgeoisie feels quite differently now, because the Italian party has shown that it fears the struggle.”

Gregory Zinoviev[7]

A year ago, the Italian working class was enthusiastic, prepared to struggle, and better organized than anywhere else. The bourgeoisie was dejected. Both the soldiers and the peasantry, in great number, were sympathetic to the proletariat. Then came the magnificent movement in September, in which the Italian workers discovered a new form of struggle by occupying the factories. The bourgeoisie was completely disorganized. Giolitti himself said that in September there was nothing he could do. When he was asked, why did you not send in the army in September in order to clean out the factories, he responded: It was not in my power to do that. I had to start by utilizing homeopathic remedies; only later could I resort to surgery. With the help of Serrati and his comrades, he first suppressed the movement with homeopathy, and now he has switched over to surgery. The Fascists are excellent surgeons. They are butchering the Italian working class very conscientiously and thoroughly.

The party, and especially Serrati, are to blame for having allowed a favorable conjuncture in the struggle to pass them by, objectively delivering the working class over to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie was granted a year of time in which to recover its health, organize itself well, and make the transition from homeopathy to surgery. During this time, the working class was corrupted and broken apart.

Leon Trotsky[8]

The fundamental reality is the great crisis of last September, which produced the present state of affairs. Even a review from afar of the political situation leaves one with the impression and even the conviction that in the years following the war the Italian proletariat entered on a decidedly revolutionary course. The broad working masses understood everything written in Avanti and everything stated by the speakers of the Socialist Party as a summons to the proletarian revolution. This propaganda struck a responsive chord in the workers’ hearts and awakened their will, resulting in the September events.

Judging the party from a political standpoint, one can only conclude—for this is the only possible explanation—that the Socialist Party of Italy conducted a policy that was revolutionary in words, without ever taking into account any of its consequences. Everybody knows that during the September events no other organization became as flustered as the Socialist Party of Italy, which had itself paved the way for these events. Now these facts are proof that the Italian organization—and we should not forget that the party is not only a continuity of ideas, a goal, and a program but also an apparatus, an organization, which through its ceaseless action creates a guarantee of victory—in the month of September this organisation was the scene of a gigantic crisis for the proletariat and the Socialist Party of Italy itself.

What conclusions did the Italian proletariat draw from these events? It is very hard to estimate this, given that a class that breaks with its party immediately loses its sense of orientation. But the party: what conclusions has it drawn from this experience? For three years following the War, each and every comrade who came from Italy would tell us: “We are ripe, indeed overripe for revolution.” Everyone there knew that Italy was on the eve of the revolution. When the revolution broke out, the party proved bankrupt. What lessons were drawn from these events? What was done?

Did they say, “We were unprepared because our organization was composed of elements that were completely incompatible and that acted to paralyze each other. To create certain conditions, insofar as this depends on our will, one must have the will to create them”? This, Comrade Lazzari, is the crux of the matter; one must have the will to revolutionary victory. Only if this will exists can one then engage in discussion and undertake to analyze, because strategy is indispensable, and it is impossible to gain victory through a powerful will alone. Strategy is indispensable, but above all else one must have the will to revolution and to its victory.


[1] One of the best accounts is Paolo Spriano’s The Occupation of the Factories (Pluto Press, 1975), from which this chronology is taken. A good short summary of the events can be found in Duncan Hallas, The Comintern (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008).

[2] Spriano, 89.

[3] Spriano, 109.

[4] For an account of the November 28–29, 1920, Imola conference of the Communist Faction that registered this de facto split, see Paolo Spriano, Storia del Partito comunista italiano: 1. Da Bordiga a Gramsci (Turin: Giulio Einaudi Editores, 1967), 99–104.

[5] Historical Materialism book series, 2015. A Haymarket Books paperback edition was published in February 2016 and is reviewed by Jen Roesch in this issue of the International Socialist Review.

[6] To the Masses, 417–20.

[7] To the Masses, 193.

[8] To the Masses, 374–75. Trotsky’s speech is also included in The First 5 Years of the Communist International vol. 1 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), 262–68.


The darker the night, the brighter the star: Leon Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism  -Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On July - 19 - 2016 Comments Off on The darker the night, the brighter the star: Leon Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism  -Paul Le Blanc


The title of this session – “the darker the night, the brighter the star” – is the title of the fourth and final volume of Tony Cliff’s biography of Leon Trotsky, who was a central leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution of workers and peasants, which turned the Russian Tsarist empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. One of the founders of modern Communism and the Soviet state, Trotsky is also the best known of those who fought against the degeneration of that revolution and movement brought on by a vicious bureaucratic dictatorship led by Joseph Stalin.[1]

I went on-line to find out where that book title came from and learnt that it is often attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s great novel Crime and Punishment. But I also learned that this is contested, and I personally couldn’t find it in Dostoevsky’s novel. When I wrote to Tony Cliff’s biographer, Ian Birchall, he checked with Cliff’s son – Donny Gluckstein – who responded: “I think he might have taken the phrase from the Friedrich Schlotterbeck Left Book Club book – The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars.” Schlotterbeck was a young working-class Communist in Germany when Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship was established in 1933, and his 1947 book is an inspiring and devastating account of left-wing workers’ resistance to Nazi tyranny, in which we learn of the heroism and horrific destruction of his many comrades, friends and family members who remained committed to socialist and communist ideals.[2]

But Trotsky has told us: “No one, not excluding Hitler, has dealt socialism such deadly blows as Stalin. This is hardly astonishing since Hitler has attacked the working class organizations from without, while Stalin does it from within. Hitler assaults Marxism. Stalin not only assaults but prostitutes it. Not a single principle has remained unpolluted, not a single idea unsullied. The very names of socialism and communism have been cruelly compromised … Socialism signifies a pure and limpid social system which is accommodated to the self-government of the toilers. Stalin’s regime is based on a conspiracy of the rulers against the ruled. Socialism implies an uninterrupted growth of universal equality. Stalin has erected a system of revolting privileges. Socialism has as its goal the all-sided flowering of individual personality. When and where has man’s personality been so degraded as in the U.S.S.R.? Socialism would have no value apart from the unselfish, honest and humane relations between human beings. The Stalin regime has permeated social and personal relationships with lies, careerism and treachery.”[3] So wrote Trotsky in 1937. And those in Soviet Russia who believed such things were repressed no less ruthlessly than the German Communists had been.[4]

The Left Oppositionists that Trotsky led persisted after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, and they were rounded up and sent to Siberian prison camps called isolators. “When you can no longer serve the cause to which you have dedicated your life – you should give it your death.” These were the words of Adolf Joffe, one of Trotsky’s close friends and co-thinkers who had committed suicide as a protest against Stalinism in 1927. His young wife Maria ended up in internal exile in 1929. As the situation of the condemned Oppositionists worsened by degrees, she held out, and when it became the horrific “one long night” that she describes in her memoir of the late 1930s, she was one of the few who somehow survived to tell what happened. She was sustained by the core belief: “It is possible to sacrifice your life, but the honor of a person, of a revolutionary – never.”[5]

Pressures to give in were intense when capitulation could mean freedom, while remaining in Opposition meant never-ending jail and exile. By 1934, after seven years, Trotsky’s close comrade Christian Rakovsky himself was ready to capitulate, his views later recounted by Maria’s step-daughter, Nadezhda Joffe, in whom he confided and whom he won over: “His basic thoughts were that we had to return to the party in any way possible. He felt that there was undoubtedly a layer in the party which shared our views at heart, but had not decided to voice their agreement. And we could become a kind of common sense core and be able to accomplish something. Left in isolation, he said, they would strangle us like chickens.”[6]

Trotsky rejected this logic, as did many co-thinkers exiled in small village “isolators.” One survivor recalled the toasts they made [in the early 1930s] on New Year’s Day: “The first toast was to our courageous and long-suffering wives and women comrades, who were sharing our fate. We drank our second toast to the world proletarian revolution. Our third was to our people’s freedom and our own liberation from prison.”[7] Instead, they would soon be transferred to the deadly Siberian labor camps into which hundreds of thousands of victims of the 1935-39 purges (including most of the capitulators plus many other Communist Party members) were sent, as Stalinist repression tightened throughout the country. Arrested while in Moscow in 1936, Secretary of the Palestinian Communist Party Joseph Berger later remembered the Left Oppositionists he met during his own ordeal:

While the great majority had ‘capitulated,’ there remained a hard core of uncompromising Trotskyists, most of them in prisons and camps. They and their families had all been rounded up in the preceding months and concentrated in three large camps — Kolyma, Vorkuta, and Norilsk…. The majority were experienced revolutionaries who had fought in the Civil War but had joined the Opposition in the early twenties…. Purists, they feared contamination of their doctrine above all else in the world…. When I accused the Trotskyists of sectarianism, they said what mattered was “to keep the banner unsullied.”[8]

Another survivor’s account, published in the émigré publication of Russian Mensheviks, Socialist Messenger, recalls “the Orthodox Trotskyists” of the Vorkuta labor camp who “were determined to remain faithful to their platform and their leaders,” and, “even though they were in prison, they continued to consider themselves Communists; as for Stalin and his supporters, ‘the apparatus men,’ they were characterized as renegades from communism.” Along with their supporters and sympathizers (some of whom had never even been members of the Communist Party), they numbered in the thousands in this area, according to the witness. As word spread of Stalin’s show trials designed to frame and execute the Old Bolshevik leaders, and as conditions at the camp deteriorated, “the entire group of ‘Orthodox’ Trotskyists” came together. The eyewitness remembers the speech of Socrates Gevorkian:

It is now evident that the group of Stalinist adventurers have completed their counter-revolutionary coup d’etat in our country. All the progressive conquests of our revolution are in mortal danger. Not twilight shadows but those of the deep black night envelop our country… No compromise is possible with the Stalinist traitors and hangmen of the revolution. But before destroying us, Stalin will try to humiliate us as much as he can…. We are left with only one means of struggle in this unequal battle: the hunger strike….[9]

The great majority of prisoners, regardless of political orientation, followed this lead.

Lasting from October 1936 to March 1937, the 132-day hunger strike was powerfully effective and forced the camp officials and their superiors to give in to the strikers’ demands. “We had a verbal newspaper, Truth Behind Bars,” Maria Joffe was told by an Oppositionist who had survived, “we had little groups – circles, there were a lot of clever, knowledgeable people. Sometimes we issued a satirical leaflet, The Underdog. Vilka, our barrack representative, was editor and the illustrations were formed by people against a wall background. Quite a lot of laughing, too, mostly young ones there.” And then “everything suddenly came to an end.”[10]

In 1938 the Trotskyists of Vorkuta were marched out in batches – men, women, children over the age of twelve – into the surrounding arctic wasteland. “Their names were checked against a list and then, group by group, they were called out and machine-gunned,” writes Joseph Berger. “Some struggled, shouted slogans and fought the guards to the last.” According to the witness writing in Socialist Messenger, as one larger group of about a hundred was led out of the camp to be shot, “the condemned sang the ‘Internationale’ joined by the voices of hundreds of prisoners remaining in camp.”[11]

In her memoir Maria Joffe tells us the “tortures, murders, mass shootings of many thousands of Trotskyists in Vorkuta and Kolyma,” actually embraced many more, “the complete destruction of the October and Civil War generation, ‘infected by Trotskyist heresy …’” It has been estimated that more than two million people were condemned from 1934 through 1938 – with more than 700,000 executions and over a million sent to increasingly brutalized labor camps where many more perished.[12]

In the rest of these remarks I want to touch on aspects of the so-called “Trotskyist heresy” that analyze how a profoundly democratic workers and peasants revolution, inspired by the deepest socialist idealism, could turn into one of the worst tyrannies in human history. This is something that Trotsky wrestled with as it was happening – and there is much we can learn from that, as my friend Tom Twiss brilliantly demonstrates in his important book.[13]

The bottom-line, however, is that Trotsky’s analysis clearly emerges from the fundamental analysis of Karl Marx eighty years earlier. It is also inseparable from the basics of his own theory of permanent revolution. In my remaining time I will offer both analyses in very broad strokes – permanent revolution and bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union. The rise and industrial development of capitalism has done three things – according to both Marx and Trotsky. First there was a process sometimes known as “primitive accumulation” which involved a horrific and murderous displacement and oppression and brutal exploitation of masses of peasants and indigenous peoples on a global scale. Second, there has been a massive process of proletarianization – making a majority of the labor force and population into a modern working class (those whose livelihood is dependent on selling their ability to work, their labor-power, for wages). This working-class majority is the force that has the potential power, and the objective self-interest, to replace the economic dictatorship of capitalism with the economic democracy of socialism – and the awareness of all this is what Marxists mean when they speak of workers’ class-consciousness. Third, the spectacular technological development generated by capitalism – the ever self-renewing Industrial Revolution – creates the material basis for a new socialist society. As Marx put it in 1845, the creation of this high level of productivity and wealth “is an absolutely necessary practical premise [for communism] because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution [there is a resumption of] the struggle for necessities” generating a competition for who gets what, and then (according to one translation) the same old shit starts all over again.[14]

Drawing from Marx, Trotsky and a growing number of his Russian comrades came to see the coming revolution in backward Russia in this way. The democratic struggle against the semi-feudal Tsarist autocracy would only be led consistently and through to the end by the small but growing Russian working class in alliance with the peasant majority – and the success of such a revolution would place the organizations of the working class into political power. There would be a natural push to keep moving in a socialist direction (with expanding social improvements for the masses of people) – although the socialism that Marx had outlined and that the Russian workers were fighting for could not be created in a single backward country. But a successful Russian Revolution would help push forward revolutionary struggles in other countries, and as these revolutions were successful – especially in industrially more advanced countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Britain – the Russian workers and peasants could join with comrades in a growing number of countries to promote the development of a global socialist economy that would replace capitalism and create a better life and better future for the world’s laboring majority. This is why Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades labored to draw revolutionaries and insurgent workers from all around the world into the Communist International, to help advance this necessary world revolutionary process for international socialism. Because socialism cannot triumph if it is not global.[15]

But the anticipated revolutions in other countries were not successful and seven years of relative isolation – with military invasions, foreign trade boycotts, civil war, economic collapse, and other hardships – had three results. First, the projected government by democratic councils (soviets) of workers and peasants was delayed as the overwhelming social-political-economic emergency brought about what was originally seen as a temporary dictatorship by the Communist Party. Second, a massive bureaucratic apparatus crystallized in order to run the country and administer the economy. As Trotsky would later explain in The Revolution Betrayed, when there are not enough necessities to go around, there is rationing and people “are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait.”[16]

While some of the Communists remained absolutely dedicated to the original ideals and perspectives that had been the basis for the 1917 revolution, there were many who became corrupted or compromised or disoriented. Stalin was a central figure in the increasingly authoritarian bureaucratic apparatus, and along with the brilliant but disoriented Nikolai Bukharin, he dis-attached the idea of socialism not only from democracy, but also from the revolutionary internationalism that is at the heart of Marxism, advancing the notion of building socialism in a single country – the Soviet Union. Trotsky and his co-thinkers denounced this notion as “a skinflint reactionary utopia of self-sufficient socialism, built on a low technology,” incapable of bringing about genuine socialism. Instead, the same old shit would start all over again. But it was Stalin who won this battle, fiercely repressing Trotsky and the Left Opposition.[17]

Stalin did not stop there. While Bukharin and others had envisioned building their “socialism in one country” slowly and more or less humanely, Stalin and the powerful figures around him decided to initiate a so-called “revolution from above” – a forced collectivization of the land and rapid, authoritarian industrialization process (all at the expense of the peasant and worker majority) to modernize Russia in the name of “socialism in one country.”[18]

Bukharin and his co-thinkers were smashed politically, but unlike Trotsky and the intransigent Left Oppositionists, they quickly capitulated to Stalin – although this did not save them in the end. Peasant resistance was dealt with brutally, and famine resulted. Worker resistance was also savagely repressed. All critical discussion in the Communist Party was banned. All independent and creative thought and expression – in education, art, literature, culture – throughout the country was compelled to give way to authoritarian norms that celebrated the policies and personalities of Stalin and those around him – but especially, more and more, of Stalin himself.[19]

Although they claimed that the modernization policies they oversaw added up to socialism and that they were the loyal and rightful heirs of Lenin and the 1917 revolution, the functionaries in the increasingly massive bureaucratic apparatus enjoyed an accumulation of material privileges, with authority and a lifestyle that placed them above a majority of the people. As Trotsky put it in The Revolution Betrayed, “it is useless to boast and ornament reality. Limousines for the ‘activists’ [that is, the bureaucrats], fine perfumes for ‘our women’ [that is, wives of the bureaucrats], margarine for the workers, stores ‘de luxe’ for the gentry, a look at delicacies through the store windows for the plebs – such socialism cannot but seem to the masses a new re-facing of capitalism, and they are not far wrong. On a basis of ‘generalized want’, the struggle for the means of subsistence threatens to resurrect ‘all the old crap,’ and is partially resurrecting it at every step.”[20]

Several years later, the knowledgeable analyst David Dallin noted that government employees (the bureaucracy from top elite to lowliest functionaries), constituting at least 14 percent of the labor force, consumed as much as 35 percent of the wealth; that the working-class, constituting about 20 percent of the labor force, received no more than 33 percent of the wealth; that peasants, 53 percent of the labor force, received 29 percent of the wealth; and that forced laborers, estimated at a minimum of 8 percent of the labor force, received 3 percent of the wealth. By all accounts, the lifestyle of the elite rivaled that of capitalists in other lands. While this inequality is somewhat different from ours (where the top 1 percent has at least 40 percent of the wealth and the bottom 80 percent has no more than 20 percent of the wealth), what existed under Stalin was still a mockery of the socialist goal of 1917.[21]

In the 1930s, many in the USSR remembered the democratic and egalitarian ideals of the revolutionary cause and some remained committed to these. Among those dissident Communists defeated and repressed by the regime (including among those who capitulated) were experienced revolutionaries who had helped to overthrow the Tsar. They could not be trusted, especially because all was not well in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Despite the unending pseudo-revolutionary propaganda and positive improvements in economic and social opportunities from some workers, there was widespread suffering and dissatisfaction within the population. The dynamics of “socialism in one country” accelerated by the “revolution from above” was bound to explode into the murderous authoritarianism we looked at earlier.

The program of the heroic Left Oppositionists who gave their lives was a definite threat to the Stalinist system, and it was outlined eloquently in Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed: “It is not a question of substituting one ruling clique for another, but of changing the very methods of administering the economy and guiding the culture of the country. Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. Free discussion of economic problems will decrease the overhead expense of bureaucratic mistakes and zigzags. Expensive playthings – palaces of the Soviets, new theaters, show-off subways – will be crowded out in favor of workers’ dwellings. ‘Bourgeois norms of distribution’ will be confined within the limits of strict necessity, and, in step with the growth of social wealth, will give way to socialist equality. Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will go into the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes, and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And, finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism.”[22] This continues to be relevant to our situation today.

Which brings us back to this session’s title. When we look up at night, the blackness of the universe is vividly punctuated by the stars, whose glow has traveled light-years for us to see. Even though some of those stars no longer exist, we see them shining from where we are. And their wondrous illumination may help us find our way in the dark terrain of our own times.

This presentation was given at the Socialism 2016 conference on July 4, in Chicago, United States.


[1] Tony Cliff, Trotsky: The Darker the Night, 1927-1940, Volume 4 (London: Bookmarks, 1993). A more succinct account is offered in Paul Le Blanc, Leon Trotsky (London: Reaktion Books, 2015), from which some elements in this presentation are drawn. Also see an intimately knowledgeable account in Victor and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), and Isaac Deutscher’s massive classic, The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky (London: Verso, 2015).

[2] Friedrich Schlotterbeck, The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.,1947). For more on this, see Allan Merson, Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1986), and Donny Gluckstein, The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012).

[3] Leon Trotsky, “The Beginning of the End,” Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1936-37, ed. by Naomi Allen and George Breitman (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1978), pp. 328-329.

[4] Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge, The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (New York, 1989); Mikhail Baitalsky, Notebooks for the Grandchildren: Recollections of a Trotskyist Who Survived the Stalin Terror (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995).

[5] Maria Joffe, One Long Night, A Tale of Truth (London: New Park, 1978), 162, 190.

[6] Nadezhda Joffe, Back in Time: My Life, My Fate, My Epoch (Oak Park, MI: Mehring Books, 1995), p. 84.

[7] George Saunders, ed., Samizdat: Voices of the Soviet Opposition (New York, 1974), p. 141.

[8] Joseph Berger, Shipwreck of a Generation (London: Haverill, 1971), pp. 94-95.

[9] Saunders, pp. 206, 210-211.

[10] Maria Joffe, pp. 40-41.

[11] Berger, 96-98; Saunders, pp. 215, 216.

[12] Maria Joffe, p. 190. Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century (London: Verso, 2005), 106-107; Vadim M. Rogovin, Stalin’s Terror of 1937-1938 (Oak Park, MI: Mehring Books, 2009), 446-447. Also see Oleg V. Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror (New Haven, 2004).

[13] Thomas M. Twiss, Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015). Trotsky’s analysis is capably compared with others in Marcel van der Linden, Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009).

[14] Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), 56; Karl Marx, “The German Ideology,” in Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. by Loyd Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (Garden City, NY, 1967), 427. A more substantial summary of the revolutionary Marxist orientation can be found in Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), pp. 3-145.

[15] Leon Trotsky The Permanent Revolution and Tasks and Prospects (London: Resistance Books, 2007); Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution. (Chicago: Haymarket Books 2014).

[16] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 112.

[17] E.H. Carr, The Russian Revolution From Lenin to Stalin, 1917-1929. New York, 2004; Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin (New York, 1973); Michal Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987). Reference to “skinflint reactionary utopia” is from Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), pp. 45-46.

[18] Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992).

[19] See Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1975) Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of Collectivization (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975).

[20] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 120.

[21] David Dallin, The Real Soviet Russia, second edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1947), p. 121. Naturally, those at the top of the bureaucratic pyramid lived a variant of the “good life” much closer to that of our own top 1% – see Ernest Mandel, Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy (London: Verso, 1992), pp. 72-74. A comparative analysis of ruling elites and inequality under capitalism and Stalinism is offered in Paul Le Blanc, Marx, Lenin and the Revolutionary Experience: Studies of Communism and Radicalism in the Age of Globalization (New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 15-48.

[22] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 281-290.


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