Listen to the Episode — 53 min
Clara: The ex-worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world
Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everybody who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Welcome back to the Ex-worker. Today we’ll revisit our exploration of the relationship between communism and anarchism. If you haven’t listened to Episode 20, you might wanna start there, because this episode is a continuation of the themes we started chipping away at last time.
Alanis: We’ll also hear listener feedback from everyone’s favorite gubernatorial candidate, anarchist prisoner Sean Swain, and, extensive news and updates from struggles around the world. I’m Alanis…
Clara: …and I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. You can visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast for full show notes and a transcript of today’s episode, as well as an archive of all of our past episodes.
Alanis: And if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you can shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, leave us a voicemail at 202–59-NOWRK, that’s 202–596–6975
Clara: Let’s get this party started!
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: We’ll kick things off with The Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world We’ll get started with some prisoner updates, as well as inspiring reports from prison rebellions. Clara?
Clara: Animal liberation prisoner [Brian Vaillancourt was sentenced to 9 years in an Illinois prison](http://www.gofundme.com/6s3pvg]. http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/02/11/brian-vaillancourt-gets–9-years-for-alf-arson/) for attempting to burn down a “slaughterhouse known as McDonald’s.” He is also facing charges in Florida for allegedly threatening a vivisector. A link to his legal support fund can be found on our website.
Alanis: In France, Damien Camelio was sentenced to 2 years for his involvement in two attacks claimed by the group GADI.
Clara: And two Belarusan antifascists have been sentenced to 4 years of” custodial restraint” and 5 years of “colony with reinforced regime,” respectively, for sending a neo-nazi to the hospital.
Alanis: A number of political prisoner support groups have begun a campaign to demand medical care for former Black Panther Abdul Majid, who is serving life in prison for the alleged murder of an NYPD officer. He is in intense pain and needs back surgery. Information about the call-in campaign can be found on the NYC anarchist black cross’ website.
Clara: In Brazil, after attacks on police stations and cars were allegedly organized from prison, a video was released of a prison riot during which 3 inmates were killed. Brazil has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the world; 60 people were killed last year in that prison alone.
Alanis: Immigrant detainees in Washington continue their hunger strike, and now inmates in a Texas ICE facility have begun corresponding hunger strikes against unjust treatment, including overcrowding, systemic violence, and commissary prices, as well as mass deportation of immigrants. In Washington, over 750 prisoners begun the strike. Despite reports that only 3 remained a week later, over 70 have now rejoined the effort.
Clara: In a Belgian prison, several inmates have been attacking guards, sending at least 3 to the hospital. In response to an inmate being moved to isolation, 90 inmates also attacked a courtyard, destroying benches and cameras.
Alanis: Prisoners in the isolation section of Novate prison in Italy flooded and devastated their block. According to a guard, “the prisoners…have systematically uprooted everything they could break… "it looked like a bomb had fallen on that department.”
Clara: In France, a warehouse full of machinery to be used in the construction of prisons was set on fire and destroyed.
Alanis: And we have some follow-up to our reports on the hunger strike in the Menard, IL prison: some strikers have written response letters to noise demonstrations carried out by supporters outside the prison facilities. While several inmates were given 3 months in segregation for responding to the demonstrators, they reported that it was “totally worth it.”
Clara: And now for some animal liberation actions:
Alanis: In Israel, the websites of several companies that profit from the exploitation of animals were hacked and changed to display animal liberation messages.
Clara: While in Istanbul, four bunnies were liberated from a pet store during a protest against the new Animal Protection Law, which includes permission to use stray animals as test subjects. The action was dedicated to “all the species about to be ravaged in the destruction of the Northern Forests of Instabul."
Alanis: In France, the offices and computer system of a cattle market were destroyed by explosives and fire.
Clara: A Blue Marlin punctured part of a BP storage barge floating off the coast of Angola. The attack shut down the transfer of crude for five days, resulting in losses of $100 million. To date, no suspects have been caught.
Alanis: Next up we have several reports of eco-defense actions and land struggles:
A series of Blockades continued this weekend against Peabody coal, who are trying to expand strip mining in southern Illinois.
Clara: Yellowstone National Park announced an end to their controversial bison-trapping practices after a lone man staged a daylong blockade.
Alanis:And in South Dakota, a single Lakota woman blocked a megaload truck from illegally driving through her tribe’s territory.
Clara: Villagers in Burma clashed with 200–300 police, who showed up to bulldoze their land to build a new police station.
Alanis: Communist rebels in the Philippines claimed attacks on a police station and a military base, as punishment for their “reign of terror” against indigenous and other communities resisting local mining operations.
Clara: After a rally opposing violence against women in Malmö, Sweden, several people were attacked and beaten by fascists associated with the Swedish Party, which was formerly known as the National Socialist Front.
Alanis: In other news: France has been going hard. In recent weeks, the basilica Sacre Coeur, a famous tourist attraction in Paris, was vandalized in solidarity with Spanish anarchist prisoners Monica and Francisco; A Red Cross office had it’s windows smashed out because of their role in the detention and deportation of immigrants. Windows were also broken in a public railway shop, claimed against the TAV and in solidarity with Claudio, Mattia, and Niccolo.
Clara: There have also been several attacks on police, including the use of swords, crossbows, guns, and even a dumbbell dropped from atop a building.
Alanis: Other attacks against the police include squatters in the UK resisting an eviction by throwing paint and projectiles and setting up booby traps.
Clara: In San Francisco, the offices of nazi publishers Counter Current were attacked with bricks and paint bombs.
Alanis: In Ontario, protesters near the Tyendinaga Mohawk reserve blockaded a rail-line to draw attention to missing and murdered aboriginal women. In the past few years, over 800 aboriginal women have gone missing or were murdered.
Clara: In South Africa, residents in Bekkersdal have been rioting over issues such as municipal corruption, unemployment, and crime. Children have been flooding out of class and into the streets, residents constructed barricades of burning tires and rocks and have pelted canvassing politicians with stones. This all accompanies a two-month platinum miners’ strike. Protesters report being shot at by the police.
Alanis: Dockworkers in Portland, Oregon walked off the job for a day in solidarity with Honduran dockworkers who are resisting a labor agreement. The honduran company is related to the one operating the dock in Oregon. Activists in San Francisco also protested the Honduran consulate the next day.
Clara: A police station and police cars in Athens were torched on the anniversary of the death of Lambros Foundas, a greek anarchist killed by the police during an attempted vehicle expropriation.
Alanis: And last but not least, 10 police cars have been torched in Brazil.
Clara: Just ’cause?
Alanis: Just ’cause!
Clara: And now it’s time for listener feedback. We’ve got some more comments to share from Ohio anarchist prisoner Sean Swain, whose feedback on our discussion of fascism we discussed in episode 15. He’s got a lot to say – so we encourage you to read his response in its entirety on his website, seanswain.org – but we want to share some of his thoughts as a helpful transition into this episode’s discussion of socialism and communism.
Alanis: His original response framed all political ideologies on a continuum from fascism to anarchism based on the degree of freedom, or absence of external regulation, they promoted. Since all others espouse some degree of state control, and thus regulation on our freedom, they are all, in essence, more or less severe varieties of fascism. We responded by proposing that freedom was not only the negative absence of regulation but the positive capacity to reach our fullest potential.
Clara: This time, Sean defends his framework, criticizing the way we distinguished socialism from fascism. He writes:
Sean Swain: Except for the extreme anti-State, anti-external regulation position occupied by anarchists, the entirety of the political spectrum shares all—let me capitalize that: ALL—of the component features of fascism. All of those political philosophies—including socialism—simply contain ALL of the component features of fascism in lesser quantities. Something I read in Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism by Michael Schmidt speaks to this very subject:
Michael Schmidt: “…the vast majority of historical Marxist movements strived for revolutionary dictatorship based upon nationalism and central planning. Every major Marxist regime has been a dictatorship. Every major Marxist party has renounced Marxism for social democracy, acted as an apologist for a dictatorship, or headed a brutal dictatorship itself. Even those mainstream Marxist who critique the horrors of Stalin or Mao defend Lenin and Trotsky’s regime, which included all of the core features of later Marxist regimes—labour camps, a one-party dictatorship, a secret police state, terror against the peasantry, the repression of strikes, independent unions and other leftists, etc. Marxism must be judged by history and the authoritarian Marxist lineage that exists therein: not Marxism as it might have been, but Marxism as it has been…”
Alanis: Sean continues:
Sean Swain: “All of those core features—labor camps, a dictatorship, a secret police, terror against the population, repression of strikes and unions and other political theories—aren’t just the core features of later Marxist regimes, but are the core features of fascism. And I’m not trying to specifically pick on socialists here, but my thinking is, socialists are the next position over to the right of anarchists, so if this holds true for them, it certainly holds true for every political position situated even closer to fascism.”
Alanis: Sean goes on to critique the idea that socialists and other state leftists are allies of ours against the fascists:
Sean Swain: “There is an idea that socialists and other state leftists are allies of ours against the fascists because state leftists are further away down the continuum from fascists. And because they are sometimes positioned just to the right of us, we take that proximity as commonality. We ally ourselves with state leftists in common cause against the fascist menace. And, invariably, every single time, the socialists (aka “fascist-lites”, aka state-worshipers with all the components of fascism but to lesser degrees) stab us in the back at a critical juncture and turn the tides in favor of the fascists, with whom they share a god (the State). Ask Durruti. Socialists did it in the Spanish Civil War, time and again. Then Stalin made a secret pact with Hitler, the most fascist of fascists, while Jews, gypsies and anarchists filled Nazi concentration camps.
To present an analogy:
Clara: Sean, the zombie apocalypse is upon us! We have to fight the zombies!
Sean Swain: Okay. Who are our allies?
Clara: Those dead, rotting, shambling, drooling people over there who are trying to eat our brains.
Sean Swain: See how that sounds? We’re going to team up with the closet fascists to fight the out-and-out fascists? I would say, “Let me know how that works out for you”- except we have examples of how that works out… over and over and over.
I don’t want to “play nice” with someone who intends to oppress me as soon as we bump off his competition, and do most of the fighting and dying in the process. I know how this sounds, but fuck socialists. They are not anti-fascist and they are not our pals. Never have been… and we’ve got the scars to prove it.
There is no long-term benefit from working socialists, unless you’re excited at the prospect of serving time in the gulag under the next Stalin, in which case you’re already a socialist - so why are you even reading this far? And somehow socialists have us duped into thinking that we don’t have “the numbers” to engage in a purely anarchist resistance using anarchist strategies and tactics without compromising on principle and begging the socialists to de-rail our anti-state efforts.
Clara draws the conclusion that anarchists “can’t defeat fascism alone.” I hope that’s not true because we’re the only ones who truly reject fascism. We’re the only ones resisting it rather than watering it down or implementing it on a slower, sneakier timeline.
Clara: Sean criticizes the leftist notion of needing to appeal to the masses and emphasizes anarchist tactics that don’t require many people to make a significant impact. He concludes:
Sean Swain: With just fifty committed anarchists who want to take down the system, we can come up with a plan in less than a day that would be so thoroughly devastating that by this time next year, we’d all be squatting or living in yurts, foraging for food. Money would be good kindling. The ozone would be looking much healthier.
Nobody would be reading Karl Marx.
Clara: Well, as always, thank you to Sean for challenging us to think and making us laugh. We don’t have time to respond to everything he’s laid out – again, we encourage all of you to follow the link from our website or seanswain.org to read his response in its entirety – but let’s try to get into some of it.
Alanis: First of all, as Sean alludes to, history confirms much of the suspicion he expressed about anarchists working with socialists. Later on in this episode we’ll delve into some of the sordid betrayals anarchists have experienced at the hands of Stalinists and other authoritarians of the left. While that may not rule out working together on any issues today, it does give us very valid reason to be skeptical, especially in potentially revolutionary situations.
Clara: However, once again we take issue with the single axis framework of freedom based on external regulation. We made our case for that in Episode 15, so we won’t rehash it, except to say that conceiving of a graph with an x axis that ranges from hierarchy to equality and a y axis that spans from centralization to decentralization may give us a more nuanced way to plot our politics onto the coordinates of freedom.
Alanis: For example, you can say that socialists are not anti-fascists, and argue that fairly convincingly based on the similarities between state socialist and fascist regimes in power; but if you look at who’s doing anti-fascist organizing across the globe today, you’ll notice that it includes a whole lot of socialists and communists. It’s not hard to see the differences between socialism and fascism on paper, but according to Sean, what’s most important is how these ideologies have played out in actual practice.
Fair enough. Still, a model that can contrast the centralized hierarchy of fascism against the centralized equality of socialism can help us understand why these guys are battling it out despite sharing key characteristics… and how we should position ourselves relative to them.
Clara: Still, if what really matters is what these people do when they’ve got the reins of power, then Sean’s point stands. One concern about the single continuum, though, is that it leaves room for the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists to promote their visions as true freedom simply because it rejects the state – even if their concepts of private property secure the basis for continued inequality and domination. Like all frameworks and theories, what’s important is what it allows us to do. And a theory of freedom based on the degree of external regulation does point to a particular strategy – work only with anarchists, in small groups, and forget about mass appeal or recruiting or allying with anyone else.
Alanis: Given that, one concern we have with Sean’s critique of “numbers” is that it seems like it could be a slippery slope towards vanguardism – by which we mean the idea (a very communist idea, I might add) that a revolutionary struggle requires a small group of specialized revolutionaries with the correct ideology to lead the masses in order to succeed. No doubt Sean would throw up in his mouth a little if we were to even imply that he had a socialist bone in his body. And we should be clear – the socialist notion of a vanguard party is explicitly about taking over state power to wield it over others, whereas anarchists working alone in small affinity groups aim to dismantle it. This has been a conflict between socialists and anarchists since the very beginning, when Marx locked horns with Bakunin, who was interested in conspiratorial secret societies rather than mass parties with their hierarchies and congresses. Sean writes in that tradition of anarchists who reject mass organization and instead advocate focused action by individuals and small affinity groups that can destabilize hierarchical structures and find resonance among others. But there is a risk of getting too concerned with purity, stuck in an elitist bubble that can be isolated and neutralized. We can find affinity wherever folks are acting in sync with our interests and our desires, regardless of ideology or political identity, right?
Clara: But it’s not just a question of ideological purism – there’s the very concrete practical question of whether folks who participate in liberation struggles but promote authoritarian means will actually have our backs and fight for freedom when the chips are down. And if history is any guide, we have every reason to suspect that the answer is no.
Alanis: Anyway – decide for yourself! We chose these excerpts from Sean’s response because they’re a great introduction to the themes we’ll be exploring in this episode’s feature. When it comes to socialists and communists, do we have affinity with them? What does history teach us? Where do we go from here?
Clara: As always, keep the comments coming to email@example.com.
THEME SEGMENT: COMMUNISM & SOCIALIST PT. II
Alanis: The so-called red and black split of 1872 resulted in a parting of ways between communists and anarchists. The First International never recovered and petered out over the next few years; anarchists convened an Anarchist International in St. Imier, Switzerland, which lasted only slightly longer. Marx’s followers founded a Second International in 1889, which declared May 1st an international worker’s holiday and lasted until World War I, while the anarchists went on to organize the International Working People’s Association in 1881, the so-called Black International, of which many of the Haymarket anarchists in Chicago were members.
Clara: Why does all this ancient history matter? Well, beyond the celebrities and the labyrinth of organizations and splits, the core issues remained. How should revolution happen? Who should lead it? What’s the role of political parties and the state? While anarchists and communists pursued separate international organizations, they also overlapped in unions, agitation campaigns, and struggles against the First World War. And as revolution broke out in the country of Bakunin’s birth, the major power Marx thought least likely to see the proletariat come to power, these unresolved conflicts resurfaced with deadly consequences…
[Radio transmission noises]
Anastasia: This is Anastasia from the Ex-Worker! It’s March 1917, and we’re reporting live from Petrograd, Russia. We can now confirm that the Tsar has abdicated the throne! After large groups of women began protesting bread shortages, numerous factories went on strike, and when the Tsarist government ordered soldiers to fire on the demonstrating crowds, they refused and mutinied. Members of the State Duma formed a provisional government, while socialists re-established the Petrograd Soviet. Throngs of elated Russians mass in the streets – it feels like anything is possible!
Let’s check in with our correspondent, Misha, to get some background on this emerging revolution. Misha, how did things get to this point?
Misha: Well, Anastasia, back in 1905 the first soviet, or worker’s council, was founded in Petrograd at an informal gathering of anarchists and other radical workers who weren’t affiliated with any political party. All that year, industrial strikes and peasant rebellions raged through the country. Eventually, though, the Tsar managed to quell the unrest with a combination of brutal repression and minimal liberal reforms. The Soviets represented the autonomous worker’s movement, free from the control of the state-sponsored trade unions; after 1905, they more or less vanished, but the dream of using self-organized councils as a basis for resistance and a new society lived on. Now it seems that the Soviets have reappeared, and are challenging the legitimacy of the provisional government. We’ll keep you updated as events unfold!
Anastasia: Welcome back listeners; it’s December 1917, and this is Anastasia, reporting live from Petrograd, where last month an armed insurrection led by the Bolshevik faction has deposed the provisional government! Since we last reported, peasant uprisings across the empire have seized land from the aristocracy, while soldiers and sailors, disgusted with the provisional government’s efforts to continue Russian involvement in the war, declared that they would no longer recognize its authority. Strikes and demonstrations continued, with the demand “All Power to the Soviets!” carrying the day. Finally, armed Bolsheviks seized government buildings here in Petrograd and many other cities.
But the Bolshevik Party has been attempting to consolidate their power and direct the course of the revolution. Vladimir Lenin has established a new secret police force called the Cheka to attack counter-revolutionary activities. Leaders from not just the bourgeois parties, but also the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries have been arrested. Various regions of the empire have declared their autonomy, including Ukraine, where Bolshevik attempts to establish control have resulted in conflict.
Let’s go now to Misha live in Moscow to tell us about anarchists’ role in the revolution so far!
Misha: Well, Anastasia, anarchists have been on the front lines! Here in Moscow, the Dvinsk Regiment of the revolutionary army booted out the Whites from the Kremlin, and the attack on the Constituent Assembly in October was led by Zhelezniakov, an Anarchist sailor. Anarchists here passionately support the revolution; many believe “All Power to the Soviets” has the potential to mean the abolition of the state! But there are also definitely suspicions about the Bolsheviks; back in July, when anarchists in Petrograd were involved in demonstrations attempting to seize power for the Soviets, the Bolsheviks attempted to take over and call them off. And now we see the Bolsheviks attempting to take over the Soviets that have been independent and self-organized until now.
Anastasia: Thanks for joining us! It’s December 1918, and the news, I’m afraid, is not looking so good. Misha joins us from Moscow to update us on the situation for anarchists in the developing Russian revolution.
Misha: Thank you, Anastasia. I’m going to start with a quote from the Burevestnik anarchist newspaper in Petrograd, addressed to the Bolshevik government: “We have reached the limit! The Bolsheviks have lost their senses. They want to purchase the good will of the bourgeoisie with the heads of anarchists. We regarded you as our revolutionary brothers. You are Cains. You have killed your brothers. You are also Judases, betrayers. Lenin has built his October throne on our bones. Now he is resting on our dead bodies, the bodies of anarchists.”
He’s referring to the April raid by Lenin’s Cheka against all of the major anarchist spaces in Moscow; 40 anarchists were killed or wounded and hundreds imprisoned.
Anastasia: On what grounds?
Misha: Well, the supposed pretext for the raid was a group of anarchists who, ahem, stole the car of an American general who was in town representing the Red Cross.
Anastasia: Ha! Got ’em! But… dozens dead and hundreds arrested for a stolen car?
Misha: Obviously this wave of repression had been planned for some time. Anarchists had been increasingly critical of the Bolsheviks in the months leading up to the raids, which were repeated in Petrograd shortly thereafter. The government claims that they’re not targeting ideological anarchists, but only “criminal elements” –
Anastasia: Sound familiar, present-day listeners?
Misha: But now they’ve shut down anarchist publications and targeted well-known organizers – even members of the Petrograd Soviet! We’re hearing rumors that surviving members of the anarchist Black Guards are going underground and conducting attacks on government forces. In some southern cities, anarchists broke into the jails and freed all the prisoners. In July, we received this statement from the Briansk Federation of Anarchists:
Both: ARISE PEOPLE! THE SOCIAL-VAMPIRES ARE DRINKING YOUR BLOOD! THOSE WHO EARLIER CRIED OUT FOR LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, AND EQUALITY ARE CREATING TERRIBLE VIOLENCE! THE SHOOTING OF PRISONERS IS OCCURRING NOW WITHOUT TRIAL OR INVESTIGATION AND EVEN WITHOUT THEIR “REVOLUTIONARY” TRIBUNAL… THE BOLSHEVIKS HAVE BECOME MONARCHISTS… PEOPLE! THE GENDARME’S BOOT IS CRUSHING ALL YOUR BEST FEELINGS AND DESIRES… THERE IS NO FREE SPEECH, NO FREE PRESS, NO FREE HOUSING. EVERYWHERE THERE ARE ONLY BLOOD, MOANS, TEARS, AND VIOLENCE… YOUR ENEMIES SUMMON HUNGER TO HELP THEM IN THEIR STRUGGLE WITH YOU… ARISE THEN PEOPLE! DESTROY THE PARASITES WHO TORMENT YOU! DESTROY ALL WHO OPPRESS YOU! CREATE YOUR HAPPINESS YOURSELVES … DO NOT TRUST YOUR FATE TO ANYONE … ARISE PEOPLE! CREATE ANARCHY AND THE COMMUNE!
Misha: At present, the aboveground anarchist movement in the cities has nearly been crushed; anarcho-syndicalists have convened a congress and are publishing a new journal critiquing Bolshevik policies, but nobody knows how much longer they’ll be allowed to continue. While some anarchists are participating in the Bolshevik government or fighting in the Red Army, most of them are facing repression as fierce as under the Tsarist regime… the situation is looking pretty grim here, Anastasia.
Anastasia: Thank you, Misha. On a more hopeful note, let’s turn now to Ukraine, where anarchist military leader Nestor Makhno has won some spectacular victories against the reactionary White army. Anarchists in the ranks of the Bolshevik Red Army organized mass desertions to Makhno’s Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, so that the Crimea region and surrounding territories are almost completely autonomous from Moscow. Unlike their opponents, the so-called Black Army is a democratic militia based on soldier committees and general assemblies. Free worker-peasant soviets are being established across the territory, with no central control. We’re excited to see what develops here in the months to come…
Anastasia: Welcome back, listeners. It’s December 1921, and we’re reporting live from Russia, where the revolution has deteriorated into a nightmare. In Ukraine, Nestor Makhno’s Black Army, after defeating the counterrevolutionary Whites, was betrayed by the Bolshevik Red Army, its leadership murdered through treachery, its supporters persecuted, and Makhno himself driven into exile. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy is spiraling into collapse; hundreds of peasant uprisings have erupted against the Bolshevik grain requisitioning – also known as theft – while workers in the cities rioted against reductions in food rations and violent repression of strikes. We’re now going live to Misha in a naval fortress near Petrograd on the Gulf of Finland called Kronstadt. Misha, what’s happened?
Misha: Anastasia, in late February this year, a group of sailors from this naval fortress issued a list of demands to Bolshevik authorities, including reconstitution of the Soviets; freedom of speech and assembly for anarchists, left socialists, workers and peasants; freedom for political prisoners, and other reforms. Lenin and Trotsky responded by declaring martial law in Petrograd and outlawing the Kronstadt protestors, accusing them of being counter-revolutionary conspirators.
The garrison refused to capitulate and became a lightning rod for revolutionary resistance to the oppressive Bolshevik regime. As a March 6th radio broadcast from Kronstadt declared: “Our cause is just: we stand for the power of Soviets, not parties. We stand for freely elected representatives of the laboring masses. The substitutes Soviets manipulated by the Communist Party have always been deaf to our needs and demands; the only reply we have ever received was shooting.”
And shooting they would indeed receive. Trotsky issued an ultimatum demanding that the rebels submit to his authority or face military invasion, and after ignoring overtures by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman to negotiate a peaceful solution, led an assault on the fortress. After days of bloody fighting, in which the garrison refused to fight offensively against fellow soldiers but defended themselves bitterly against the Bolshevik attack, the fortress fell on March 17th, with thousands of revolutionaries losing their lives or deported to prison camps.
Since then, the struggle for freedom in supposedly revolutionary Russia has turned to ashes. The famous anarchist underground rebel Lev Chourny was murdered without trial by state forces in September, and much of the guerrilla resistance against the regime has faltered. The revolutionary promise of 1917 seems a distant memory.
Alanis: In 1920, Kropotkin wrote to Lenin to protest the escalating authoritarianism and brutality of the new Soviet regime. After acknowledging the possibilities opened by the October Revolution, he asked, “Why, then, push the revolution on a path leading to its destruction, primarily because of defects which are not at all inherent in socialism or communism, but represent the survival of the old order and old disturbances, of an unlimited, omnivorous authority?”
Clara: When Kropotkin died in February 1921, thousands of anarchists and supporters marched in his funeral procession with anti-authoritarian banners; Emma Goldman and many others gave speeches. His funeral marked the last public demonstration of anarchists in Russia until 1988.
Alanis: After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin consolidated his hold on totalitarian power and whatever lingering notions that the Soviet Union could be a revolutionary worker’s state were swept away in a tidal wade of blood and terror. Internationally, the regime underwrote communist parties in many countries and maintained tight control over their ideology and programmes. This authoritarianism and centralized control would prove lethally destructive in another revolution that came so close and yet fell so far, this time in Spain.
Clara: The Spanish Revolution broke out in 1936, with anarchists, communists, and other radicals overthrowing the government and establishing worker’s militias to fight the fascist General Franco. Anarchists throughout Catalonia expropriated land and established economic cooperatives, abolishing social hierarchies, attacking the Catholic Church, and forming syndicates for industrial production. However, the Popular Front government, beholden to the Soviet Union as a source of weapons for the war, increasingly fell under the influence of Stalinist forces, and began to purge and repress anarchist and Trotskyist elements. In May 1937 in Barcelona, communist government police fought pitched battles against anarchists, killing hundreds.
Alanis: In 1936, Emma Goldman visited revolutionary Spain, including the Modelo prison in Barcelona, which housed fascist prisoners. The following fall, she returned, and found the same prison filled to the brim with anarchists and other revolutionaries, many held on charges of “Trotskyism,” bizarrely enough. In Valencia, thousands of anarchists who would have otherwise been fighting Franco were rotting in cells. Even the infamous prison of Montjuich, in which the Spanish state and Catholic church had tortured and killed anarchists, was filled again with political prisoners by the Stalinist-influenced Negrin regime, after having been emptied during the revolution of the previous year.
Clara: The desperate authoritarianism of the Spanish communists and their Soviet overlords divided and inhibited the war effort to such an extent that they deserve no small part of credit for the 1939 fascist victory and succeeding decades of military dictatorship.
Alanis: In Cuba, the successful revolution of Fidel Castro – aided by anarchist militants who fought in the guerrilla struggle – immediately betrayed its most radical participants, expelling anarcho-syndicalists from the Cuban Workers Confederation and shutting down its publication. Numerous anarchists went into exile after the revolution or died in Castro’s prisons.
Clara: The defeat of the Spanish Revolution, the post-World War II economic stabilization through the Marshall Plan, and emergence of the Cold War binary seemed to dampen the prospects for revolt in 1950s and 60s Europe. Yet beneath the surface of capitalist prosperity, discontent simmered, and soon would boil over.
In May of 1968, Paris erupted into an unexpected rebellion, as student protestors building barricades and fighting police were joined by striking factory workers. The situation escalated, and before long over 11 million French workers were on strike, bringing the entire economy to a halt. Yet within a few weeks, the conservative de Gaulle government seemed to have the situation back under control. How? In no small part due to the willingness of Communist leadership to cajole their rank and file back into line and defuse a potentially revolutionary situation.
Alanis: In their book “Obsolete Communism,” Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a participant in the upheavals, and his brother Gabriel describe the role of the Communist party in promoting xenophobic fears of outside agitators, refusing to endorse general strikes that they couldn’t control, and attacking the revolutionary students for giving the state and fascists a cause for retaliation through their radical actions. The Communist CGT union negotiated a settlement with the government to get the workers back to work, and when the workers they claimed to represent refused en masse, they functioned as strikebreakers. As General Secretary M. Georges Seguy of the CGT put it, “Public opinion, deeply upset by all the trouble and violence, confused by the equivocal position and the free and easy attitude of the State, has come to look upon the CGT as a great force for peace and order.” The Communists declared, “In all our demonstrations, we Communists scorn the black flag of anarchy, but march firmly under the tricolour banner of the nation and the red flag of socialism.” Party bureaucrat Waldeck-Rochet claimed, “The Communists love their country passionately… and because they love it, they want to see it free, prosperous and peaceful.” Deploying this nationalism helped reinforce the legitimacy of the conservative government and prevent the risk of it spreading across borders. They claimed that the militants who continued to agitate for strikes and resist the united call from Communists and the French state to go back to work were privileged, middle-class, bourgeois, out of touch with the workers, troublemakers, outside agitators, etc etc… sound familiar? We hear these same arguments today whenever anarchists aren’t willing to accept the limits that leftist managers attempt to place on social rebellion. As the Cohn-Bendits succinctly put it: “The role of the Communist Party was simply to prevent workers and students alike from issuing a radical challenge to their common exploiters.”
Clara: And 1968 wasn’t the first time that French Communists had betrayed revolutionary possibilities in moments of crisis; in 1936, they played a pacifying role in the Popular Front, while in 1947, they ordered the end of an escalatingly militant strike they were unable to control.
Alanis: But why? Why should Communists take actions that so blatantly contravened their stated goals of internationalism and revolution? Because just as anarchists had anticipated since the 19th century, pursuing hierarchical power through political channels gave them different interests than the workers they claimed to be fighting for. As bureaucrats that helped the state manage industrial production, the nationalism of the Communist parties made more sense, as they were stakeholders in the national capitalist system they ostensibly opposed. Yet they were also beholden to the Stalinist bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, which had its own interests. At no point did the actual interests and desires of revolutionary workers and students figure into the equation. Cohn-Bendit explains, “The objections to Bolshevism are not so much moral as sociological; what we attack is not the evil conduct of some of its leaders but an organizational set-up that has become its one and only justification… In other words, democracy is not [undermined] by bad leadership, but by the very existence of leadership.” Bakunin, if only they’d listened to you…
Bakunin: I warned you man, I TOLD you about states!
Clara: Today, there isn’t a central Communist state power that commands the loyalty and sets the agenda for Stalinist groups in the same way as during the heyday of the USSR… at least, we don’t know of one. Yet history shows that a willingness to obey authority over revolutionary principles and spontaneous possibilities leads again and again to betrayal and defeat.
Alanis: OK, so what’s going on today in terms of communism and socialism around the world?
Clara: Well, the Cold War’s over… and capitalist imperialism won, it seems. The tradition of extreme authoritarianism lives on in Russia, though without the socialist safeguards against poverty and extreme disparities of wealth. Communist governments control state power in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. In North Korea, the Kim family dictatorship rules through the Korean Worker’s Party, though Marxist-Leninism is no longer the official state ideology and references to communism have been removed from the constitution. In China, Vietnam, and Laos, the term “communist” refers only to the name of the single ruling party; they have predominantly capitalist market economies with some residual socialist features.
Alanis: Cuba, however, continues to hold out, with a state-controlled planned socialist economy with only some encroaching privatization. The so-called “Pink Tide” of leftist governments in Latin America, from Lula’s Brazil to Chavez and now Maduro’s Venezuela to Morales’ Bolivia, has sparked hope to socialists for a bright future. Of course, anarchists in these contexts continue to speak out against the political repression, environmental destruction, and indigenous oppression that takes place in these more and less socialist regimes.
Clara: While African socialism rooted in pre-colonial traditions and the pan-Africanism of Kwame Nkrumah remains influential across the continent, some regimes inspired by those ideals became harsh autocracies, as in Nyerere’s Tanzania, or betrayed socialist ideals for neoliberalism, as in Mandela’s South Africa.
Alanis: There are also ongoing Marxist guerrilla movements around the world, following a Maoist trajectory of armed uprisings intended to eventual assume state power. The Shining Path in Peru is largely in decline; the Unified Communist Party of Nepal has taken part in elections and become the major ruling party in the government; the FARC are in peace talks with the Columbian government in Cuba.
Clara: In western Europe, socialist and communist parties participate in parliamentary coalitions within social democratic frameworks, far removed from revolutionary struggles. The Socialist Party government in Spain under Zapatero began instituting austerity measures that led to general strikes and riots; the Socialist Party mayor of Nantes, France leading the charge to evict squatters from the ZAD and working with the multinational corporation VINCI to destroy the land and livelihood of his people to make way for a gentrifying new airport. A far cry from the socialism envisioned during the 19th century…
Alanis: And here in the US? Well, things look pretty dismal. Despite the passing of the Cold War, the label of communist and socialist remains a grievous insult to most of the population, and serves as a disciplining tool against criticism of capitalism. Look at the right wing’s shrill accusations that Obama is a “socialist” - little could be further from the truth, but the anti-socialist rhetoric serves the purpose of marginalizing any critique of capitalism, however meek.
Clara: As such, it seems like, while anarchists may not be communists, anarchists can be hurt by the anti-communism that pervades American political discourse.
Alanis: Hmm, I think that’s debatable. As we discussed in our last episode, anti-communism is sometimes connected to the libertarian strands in American political culture, and provides a basis for a critique of the state.
Clara: In any case, the political climate in the US is such that no party or organization that openly proclaims itself to be communist or socialist is going to stand a chance at broad popularity these days. So how do they organize in this climate?
Alanis: There are basically two arenas in which self-described communists and socialists congregate. One is academia, in which ivory tower Marxists draw six figure salaries to pontificate in dense jargon. They tend to cluster in literary criticism and critical theory, and with a few exceptions, remain pretty remote from real life social struggles.
Clara: On the other hand, there’s the acronym soup of sectarian parties: RCP, ISO, FRSO, the other FRSO, PSL, CPUSA, Worker’s World, Worker’s Vanguard, and on and on and on. They vary a fair bit in terms of their approach – some embody the stereotype of the wingnut in the beret badgering you to buy their newspaper, while others are less confrontational and work behind the scenes. There are also variations in their ideologies, which might seem minor to us, but have been the source of astonishingly brutal conflicts and splits and subdivisions. These sometimes surface in conflicts over tactics: some sects support capitalist politicians, or field candidates themselves, while others focus on labor organizing and protest campaigns. Some are Trotskyist, some are Stalinist (though they tend to be fairly quiet about it), some are Maoist, and others claim even more precise and complex pedigrees.
Alanis: But what do they actually do? Well, many engage in a strategy called entryism, which involves members of a smaller group collectively agreeing to join a larger group and attempting to influence its direction from within. For example, some communist splinter groups attempted to do this on college campuses during the resurgence of Students for a Democratic Society a few years ago. In other cases, the leadership or main organizers from a particular group will all be members, more or less secretly, of a particular communist sect; this is the case in some smaller unions. Another common variation involves running a large public campaign around a broadly popular issue under a generic organizational name that is secretly run by a sectarian party. During the massive protests against the second Iraq War in 2003, groups such as the ANSWER Coalition, United for Peace and Justice, and the International Action Center were either directly front groups for, or heavily influenced behind the scenes by, parties such as Worker’s World and the Communist Party USA.
Clara: But all in all, there really aren’t all that many of them. It’s hard to imagine that any of these parties have more than a couple hundred active members; some probably more like dozens. Yet they represent some of the most active political organizers in a wide range of left struggles; if you’re an activist on a variety of different campaigns, chances are you’ll engage with them, whether you’re aware of it at the time or not.
Alanis: What do these groups stand for? In some cases, the positions they take are pretty indefensible. We read in the Worker’s World newspaper that the party “affirms its solidarity with Comrade Kim Jong Un” and argues that progressives in the US are obligated to defend the North Korean state against the imperialist lies and attacks.
Alanis: Yup. Sorry, but trying to keep the Cold War alive by rooting for the losing team is not a useful political strategy. And allying yourself with the dictator at the helm of one of the most horrifically repressive regimes in the world doesn’t leave us confident that we’re actually fighting for the same liberation. That same logic is exactly what Ukrainian anarchists were critiquing in their statement we read earlier: ditch the so-called “anti-imperialist” politics that lead leftists to support Russian imperialism just because it’s counter to US interests.
Clara: At the same time, look at the issues around which communists are engaging: police brutality, political prisoners, economic exploitation… there’s clearly a lot of overlap. The Worker’s Vanguard has issued an appeal to support the NATO 3’s legal defense, while Worker’s World celebrated the release of Russell “Maroon” Shoats from solitary confinement. Some of us anarchists who’ve been organizing for a long time have deeply rooted personal connections with communists, have fought side by side with them in social struggles, and have benefited from their ability to mobilize solidarity from broad networks. Should historical baggage or ideological differences keep us from participating alongside communists when we’re fighting the same battles?
Clara: So the question of whether or when or how we should work together with socialists and communists remains an extremely controversial one among anarchists today. Ultimately, it’s up to you.
Alanis: Drop us a line to podcast at crimethinc dot com and tell us about your experiences as an anarchist working with socialists or communists, and your perspective on what affinity does or doesn’t exist.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Clara: And now it’s time for next week’s news, a look at some events coming up in the next week:
Alanis: Organizers in Bloomington Indiana will be hosting the campus conflict conference this weekend, in hopes to link university campus-based struggles across the midwest. More information can be found at IUBassembly.tumblr.com.
Clara: And, last but not least, we have a few prisoner birthday coming up:
Alanis: On April 7th is Chuck Sims Africa, and on April 13th Janet Holloway Africa; both are members of the MOVE 9. There are currently eight MOVE activists in prison each serving 100 years after being framed for the murder of a cop in 1979.
Clara: And that’s it for this episode of the ex-worker. Thanks to Sean Swain for the feedback and to Underground Reverie for the music.
Alanis: Remember, you can find more information about everything we’ve talked about on today’s show on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: Until next time…
Anastasia and Misha: ARISE PEOPLE! CREATE ANARCHY AND THE COMMUNE!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
This episode’s theme segment is a continuation of Episode 20. You might want to start listening there if you haven’t already.
The totally amazing statement from the Briansk Anarchist Federation, July 1918 can be found here.
Lawrence Jarach’s take on the “post-left” in “post-left anarchism.”
And here’s a link to that scandalous bit from Worker’s World newspaper, in which the party “affirms its solidarity with Comrade Kim Jong Un” and argues that progressives in the US are obligated to defend the North Korean state against the imperialist lies and attacks.
Information about the call-in campaign for former Black Panther Abdul Majid, who is serving life in prison for the alleged murder of an NYPD officer, can be found on the NYC anarchist black cross’ website.
inmates in a Texas ICE facility have begun corresponding hunger strikes with those ongoing at the Tacoma, WA ICE facility. Keep up on the developments here.
More information about the ongoing blockades in southern Illinois against Peabody Coal.
More of Sean Swain’s writings and opinions can be found on his support page; you can also listen to more of his rantings on his weekly segment on Asheville FM’s The Final Straw. And no, we weren’t kidding– he actually is running for governor of Ohio.
Upcoming Prisoner Birthdays:
April 7: Chuck Sims Africa #AM4975
1000 Follies Rd.
Dallas, PA 18612
April 13: Janet Holloway Africa #OO–6308
SCI CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS
451 Fullerton Ave
Cambridge Springs, PA 16403–1238