Prospects for Syria’s revolution March 14, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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The number of fighters in the armed popular resistance is estimated at more than 100,000, while most reports indicate that Jihadist fighters number around 5,000. Let’s assume double that number. Whatever the media may claim, these groups are miniscule compared to the size of the armed popular resistance. They have no tangible presence or popular influence.
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Breaking the Taboo January 8, 2013Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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Narrated by Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman, "Breaking the Taboo" is produced by Sam Branson's indie Sundog Pictures and Brazilian co-production partner Spray Filmes and was directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade. Featuring interviews with several current or former presidents from around the world, such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the film follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.
FOR A CITYWIDE GENERAL STRIKE TO DEFEAT CON ED’S LOCKOUT July 27, 2012Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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Occupy MayDay! Occupy Lenin! July 4, 2012Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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First, let’s get this idea that Occupy is finished out of the way. It hasn’t finished and this is why. You can’t evict an idea when that idea is to make the Bankers pay for their crisis. They won’t and they can’t without renouncing the whole basis of capitalism – making profits. Therefore Occupy is forced to confront the system in all of its dirt and blood. Physically Occupy lives on in the many actions and meetings that are taking place globally. Occupy is outreaching to working class struggles in workplaces, education, housing, unions, media etc and much of this activity is live-streamed, twitted or blogged continuously.
The #OccupyMaydayGeneralStrike call is an attempt at a global general strike. There is intense political and theoretical discussion among liberals, radicals and Marxists about what Occupy is, its class composition, its demands, its prospects, and so on. This is not new as liberals, radicals and Marxists have had to debate Occupy’s progenitors – the Arab Revolution and the European revolt of the Indignados and the British youth riots. So what do revolutionary communists make of Occupy as a social movement and the ideological struggle between reformists, radicals and revolutionaries?
Those who want to challenge capitalism have to take power and that means the class conscious, organised armed insurrection to take power. So how is the revolutionary left working towards this? Let’s look at a discussion kicked off by Pham Binh that is directed at the failure of the organised ‘Leninist’ left to relate to Occupy fruitfully. Binh argues that is because today’s Leninists are a caricature of Lenin. He remonstrates that Lenin would have done a much better job. So the question is what would Lenin have done? At its heart this is the question posed by many revolutionaries today. Let’s look at the three positions in turn.
The reformists in Occupy are trying to turn Occupy into a support base for the re-election of Obama. Leading this co-option is the 99Spring which is a “campaign” fronted by organizations like MoveOn, Jobs with Justice, Greenpeace and others who have signed the 99% Spring pledge? It claims to be a broad base movement based on the grass roots. The 99% Spring label attempts to trade off both the Arab Spring and the 99% concept of Occupy. Yet it’s objective is to coopt Occupy behind Obama. That is why it has not endorsed the MayDay General Strike. That is the test. Since the call for the reclaiming of MayDay is a radical initiative to put International Workers Day on the agenda of Occupy and making clear that Occupy and the base of the labor movement must join forces, this will embarrass the machine politics of the Democrats. So 99Spring is using its training schools for “nonviolent direct action” as a way to divert Occupy from MayDay. There is also the Occupy NATO in Chicago, but that would be too close to the bone for the party of Bomber Obama!
At the same time we don’t want to write off Occupy just because it has a large number of reformists. This is a factor of the backwardness of US political culture where no workers party exists and the weak unions act as conveyor belts into the Democrat Party. But Occupy signals a huge upwelling of anger at the effects of the capitalist crisis especially as it effects middle class youth. The whole point is that Occupy has the capacity to develop into a revolutionary movement.
Chomsky is a classic case of the celebrity anarchist who is trapped in the petty bourgeois politics of individualism that offers no way out of the existing state apparatus other than to adapt to it. Much pseudo radicalism is based on the notion of ‘horizontalism’ ostensibly directed at the ‘hierarchy’ of political parties. It implies Occupy can operate without a leadership and function on the basis of direct democracy. It can build a ‘counter-power’ that does not need to challenge the bosses’ state power. But inevitably if you don’t contest the power of the state uncompromisingly then you end up joining that state. Chomsky and Co are the reverse side of the anarchist coin to the Black Block. Both offer no alternative to capitalism because they have no program to replace it.
Occupy proved in a few short weeks that the reformist platform is bankrupt. This is why reformists like Hedges attacked the Black Bloc. But the Black Bloc is an easy target and does not represent more than a tiny minority of Occupy. The reformists have more difficulty in neutralising the real breakthrough which is the radical unity of Occupy with union rank and file. This proved to be the ‘circuit breaker’ that built mass support for port closures and forced the ILWU union bosses to expose themselves as in the bosses’ pocket at Longview. That is to say, as soon as Occupy, rebounding from the vicious attacks of the state forces, joined up with the militant union rank and file, the reformist’s strategy to recruit Occupy to Obama was blown out.
What was blown out was the pacifist politics of electoralism where ‘Violence’ is reserved for Obama’s bombs and drones. In its place Occupy found that the mass picket justifies violence in defence of the 99%, and in the process confronting state violence put them in solidarity with the ‘wildcat’ strike at Longview! The linking of Occupy and the ILWU rank and file at Longview also exposed the union officials who panicked by the fear of losing control of the dispute signed a sell-out deal with the EGT bosses. To its credit Portland Occupy who were not shown the rotten terms of this deal, saw it as a small victory as part of the ongoing war against the 1%. There is a long way to go to build solidarity to the point where the unions take strike action against Taft-Hartley and return to the militancy of the early days of the US labour movement.
The Occupy decision to reclaim MayDay as a general strike follows directly from the experience of solidarity with workers in struggle. It’s a first attempt at a national strike which falls far short of a general strike. But it is a political strike that prepares the ground for a political general strike at the power of the 1%. But the labour solidarity at Longview and other struggles may not lead directly to militant class conscious struggle in the ranks of the unions or Occupy unless revolutionaries intervene directly. This is because neither the unions or Occupy as yet has a Marxist analysis which explains that the labour bureaucracy act as the labour lieutenants of capital that keep the unions confined to the labour law. The labour bureaucracy is no friend of the workers!
Fortunately Occupy has labour solidarity groups like #OOlaborsolidarity where revolutionaries can put forward analyses of what must be done. It requires the revolutionary Marxists to speak plainly and tell the truth. So this means Marxists advocating labour solidarity actions that unite workers’ strikes against the employers with Occupy’s commitment to ‘breaking the law’ to advance the 99%. In essence it means making Occupy MayDay General Strike the launching pad for an unlimited political general strike for an insurrection to bring down the ruling class and put a Workers’ and Oppressed peoples’ Government in power!
The radical reclaiming of MayDay by Occupy is an attempt to generalise this revolutionary thrust. But it’s not enough. Lenin and Trotsky recognised the limits of Trade Union Consciousness as falling short of revolutionary consciousness. Trade unions operate as economist institutions that negotiate wages but do not fight to end the wage system! Without a revolutionary Marxist party neither the unions or Occupy cannot develop beyond an economist consciousness of capitalism into a class conscious revolutionary movement. Let’s examine this point because it is central to the debate on what kind of revolutionary party is needed to lead workers to revolution.
What would Lenin have done?
The need for a revolutionary Marxist party is the need for a revolutionary Marxist program. Capitalism throws up a smoke screen that hides the class basis of exploitation. A Marxist program proves that capitalism cannot be reformed and that to survive the working class must become class conscious and overthrow it. The program also spells out how to go about making a revolution. Such a program needs to be kept alive and kicking by a revolutionary party. Whether a program works or not is decided by testing it in practice. So a revolutionary party must be organised to put the program into practice, and to change it if it doesn’t work. The Marxist left sees the need for leadership and a revolutionary party, but what does this party look like.There are two basic models of a Marxist party. The first is a ‘class party’ (or “multi-tendency” party) including reformists, radicals and Marxists. The second is the so-called ‘vanguard’ party of class conscious Marxists. The question of how Marxists should intervene in Occupy has raised this question again. And the advocates of both types of party both claim to be Leninists.
For the class party side is Pham Binhwho argues against le Blanc and others that the idea that Lenin built a new type of vanguard party is a myth. He claims Lenin didn’t form a party of Bolsheviks separate from the broad party of the class in 1905 or 1912. The Bolsheviks in 1905 were a small minority inside the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) which was a mass party including a number of currents which shifted course so that both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks (minority) where never actually distinct or separate parties.
What Binh is arguing here is that today left parties are tiny sects modelling themselves on the mythical Leninist ‘vanguard’ and competing in a sectarian way to win support in Occupy and meeting resistance. He looks back to Leninism as he understands it for the model of a broad class party, that contains workers at different levels of political consciousness, where the different factions compete to demonstrate how a Marxist program can be applied to solve the problems of the 99%.
There is some truth in this as the Bolsheviks did function as a faction in the old RSDWP until 1917. Yet that faction acted more as a vanguard party within a much broader party from 1905 when it declared itself to be a separate party, and after 1912 when it actually became a separate party. The Bolsheviks growing split from the Mensheviks was necessary to defend the Marxist program. The basis on which the Bolsheviks formed a faction/party distinct from the rest in the RSDWP was a programmatic principle: the refusal to ‘liquidate’ the proletarian class into subordination and even political alliances with the exploiting classes. In other words the Bolshevik faction stood for the independence of the workers as the revolutionary class against those who ‘liquidated’ this class independence into cross-class or popular fronts with the bourgeoisie. Allied to the ‘liquidators’ were the ‘conciliators’ who while formally opposed to liquidation, in practice vacillated towards the ‘liquidators’. The liquidators in various degrees all took the Menshevik position that ‘backward’ Russia would have to go through a prolonged bourgeois revolution before it was ready for a socialist revolution.
The long battle against ‘liquidationism’ faced the critical test over the question of whether the RSDWP would give ‘conditional support’ to the bourgeois Provisional Government in Russia after the February 1917 Revolution. Up to that point the Bolsheviks had won support for a Bourgeois revolution led by the workers and peasants (the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasants’) since the bourgeoisie was too weak and dependent on Tsarism. The Bolsheviks would give ‘conditional support; to a bourgeois government ‘insofar as it acts in the interests of the revolution’. That is, mobilise workers and peasants to control it and push it left (for peace, land, and bread) to complete the tasks of the Bourgeois revolution and so prepare for the socialist revolution.
The lesson for Leninism in Occupy today is that after 1903 the Bolsheviks formed a faction in which the principle of revolutionary independence of the working class against any political alliances that subordinated it to the bourgeoisie was the test of membership. When revolution broke out in Russia the Bolsheviks had the history of building an organisation with a long experience of both democracy and discipline to act to defend this principle and change its program from one which involved a ‘popular front’ with the bourgeoisie, to that of socialist revolution. The change in program defeated the counter-revolution and made the revolution. So if this is the Leninist party we need today how do we go about building it?
The global capitalist system is facing a terminal crisis. The world economy must go through a deep depression to restore the rate of profit. No bourgeois or capitalist party can stop this, only a working class revolution. We face socialism or barbarism. The bourgeoisie cannot rule without invoking extreme repression, first smashing of democracy and then unless workers stop it, fascism. The workers cannot live with capitalism. For workers to live, capitalism must die. Lenin would call it a revolutionary situation where the extreme rottenness of global capitalism threatens destruction of humanity and where the working class is ready and willing to fight to the death but has yet to overcome a huge lack of class consciousness and organisation.
So Lenin would recognise Occupy as a spontaneous mobilisation of objectively anti-capitalist youth and other workers but with its majority trapped into an economist ideology and still misled about the possibility of reforms. However the severity of the crisis means that the capitalist attacks and resistance of Occupy to them will quickly prove that the capitalists must destroy rather than grant reforms. One term of Obama has gone a long way to destroy economist illusions. Several social democratic government in Europe have been voted out after imposing drastic austerity programs. Even so the reformists are fighting like hell to hijack Occupy and stop its revolutionary development. So Leninists must join in this fight against all attempts to subordinate the working class to the bourgeoisie via the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucracy, and raise instead the need to build an independent mass workers party with a revolutionary program.
Leninism is about how Marxists lead in the wider working class struggles. This means a program for socialist revolution. It means to fight against today’s liquidators and conciliators who want to bury the Marxist program into the popular front of the workers, petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements who make up the 99%. Leninists intervene to oppose the politics of all those who claim to be anti-capitalist yet act as the agents of the popular front with the bourgeoisie.
Lenin’s tactic of a Bolshevik faction engaging in patient explanation combined with contesting the leadership of the class struggle would weed out those among the 99% who are agents of the bourgeoisie. Cops, Ron Paulites, libertarians, etc. yes. But more dangerous are those that pose as workers. We oppose pacifist and reformist appeals to the 1%, the cops, the middle class, the Democrats, Social Democracy and the labour bureaucrats of the trade union federations.
We do this by calling on Occupy to follow Occupy Oakland’s lead and unite with the union rank and file members to Occupy all the strategic sites of production of profits – the workplaces, the banks, transport and communications, schools, hospitals etc – to demand workers administration and control. Reformists will oppose such direct action, and radicals will join with Leninists to build workers councils and workers militias capable of smashing the capitalist state and installing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
We advocate reading Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg but not the petty bourgeois radicals Zizek or Chomsky, Bourdieu or Badiou. The latter offer no revolutionary answers as in their various ways they oppose the Leninist-type party and the practice of democratic-centralism. For us the only way that the Marxist program can be tested is if a majority agrees to unite in action to test it, and then to debate the results democratically to see if it works or not. That is the basis of democratic centralism, or, dialectics – which in its highest form is the class conscious intervention of the vanguard of the working class to resolve the contradiction between socialised production and private profit by means of a socialist revolution.
That is the method of Leninists in Occupy. The crisis of capitalism is destroying the working class and driving it to resist it’s destruction. Leninists are Marxists; we do not separate ourselves from the masses, but champion their class interests locally and globally. We intervene only to help workers become class conscious fighters, organised in strike committees, democratic councils of action, defence militias, and as militants of an international party of socialist revolution, able to unite internationally as a force to smash the capitalist system and its military machine and replace it with a socialist society producing for need and not profit!
Turn Occupy into revolutionary workers councils!
For a new World Party of Socialist Revolution!
Review of Maurice Brinton’s “The Bolsheviks and Worker Control” October 23, 2011Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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The document has become a standard anarchist text on the subject of workers control during the early days of the Russian Revolution. It makes all the usual arguments that the Bolsheviks were always an elitist vanguard expropriating the democracy of the workers. The long drawn out ‘crisis of Marxism’ that Trotsky spoke of in 1940 continues. Today its main result is a debasement of Marxism to an anti-capitalist exchange theory that we have referred to many times in Class Struggle as the basis of the WSF theory/program of ‘market socialism’. Another effect of the crisis of Marxism is to give anarchism a new lease of life among young people who swallow bourgeois lies about Marxism. Thus the ‘Leninist Party’ is portrayed as a ‘dictatorship’ over the workers. What Brinton’s article reveals is that his charge of Leninist party ‘conspiracy’ is nothing other than a defense of bourgeois democracy against workers democracy.
In his Introduction to this document Brinton states:
“Two possible situations come to mind. In one the working class (the collective producer) takes all the fundamental decisions. It does so directly, through organisms of its own choice with which it identifies itself completely or which it feels it can totally dominate (Factory Committees, Workers’ Councils, etc.). These bodies, composed of elected and revocable delegates probably federate on a regional and national basis. They decide (allowing the maximum possible autonomy for local units) what to produce, how to produce it. at what cost to produce it, at whose cost to produce it. The other possible situation is one in which these fundamental decisions are taken ‘elsewhere’. ‘from the outside’, i.e. by the State, by the Party, or by some other organism without deep and direct roots in the productive process itself. The ‘separation of the producers from the means of production’ (the basis of all class society) is maintained. The oppressive effects of this type of arrangement soon manifest themselves. This happens whatever the revolutionary good intentions of the agency in question, and whatever provisions it may (or may not) make for policy decisions to be submitted from time to time for ratification or amendment.”
Here Brinton is setting up an abstract template of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of workers control.
‘From below’ is good and ‘from above’ is bad. Notice how he builds an anti-party anti-state state ideology into the definition. Party and the state are ‘outside’ alien institutions which are separated from the working class. They do not have “deep and direct roots in the production process itself”, but instead separate the workers from the ‘means of production’. Notice too that this separation does not mean ‘exploitation’ by the party or the state but ‘oppression’. I suppose that’s because the party is not located at the ‘point of production’ so we have to be thankful for that!
Brinton gives us a running account of events year by year. In June 1917 at a conference of Petrograd Factory Committees he comments on Lenin’s position on workers control at that time.
“Lenin’s address to the Conference contained a hint of things to come. He explained that workers’ control meant “that the majority of workers should enter all responsible institutions and that the administration should render an account of its actions to the most authoritative workers’ organizations”. (13)Under ‘workers’ control’ Lenin clearly envisaged an ‘administration’ other than the workers themselves.”
Brinton seems to think that ‘authority’ cannot be delegated by workers if it is in a party or state. Yet he quotes with approval a resolution passed by the conference that states in part: “for a proletarian majority in all institutions having executive power”.
He also quotes Lenin producing a draft [!] for a new Party program on ‘workers democracy’ in the previous month [May]:
“The Party fights for a more democratic workers’ and peasants’ republic, in which the police and standing army will be completely abolished and replaced by the universally armed people, by a universal militia. All official persons will not only be elected but also subject to recall at any time upon the demand of a majority of the electors. All official persons, without exception, will be paid at a rate not exceeding the average wage of a competent worker”.
Here Brinton introduces another little preconception and snide remark:
“At the same time Lenin calls for the “unconditional participation [my emphasis] of the workers in the control of the affairs of the trusts” - which could be brought about “by a decree requiring but a single day to draft”. (8) The concept that ‘workers participation’ should be introduced by legislative means (i.e. from above) clearly has a illustrious ancestry.”
For Brinton, it seems that workers are too stupid to be able to delegate ‘authority’ in a party or a state to ‘legislate’ (i.e. from above) without losing control of the party or the state.
Brinton then moves on to look at the unions and the struggle for control inside them.
“On the one hand the unions were the auxiliaries of the political parties, which utilized them for recruiting purposes and as a mass to be maneuvered. On the other hand the union movement, reborn in a sense after February 1917, was pushed forward by the more educated workers: the leadership of the various unions reflected the predominance of a sort of intellectual elite, favorable at first to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, but later won over, in varying proportions, to the Bolsheviks.
It is important to realize that from the beginning of the Revolution the unions were tightly controlled by political organizations, which used them to solicit support for their various actions. This explains the ease with which the Party was able – at a later date – to manipulate the unions. It also helps one understand the fact that the unions (and their problems) were often to prove the battleground on which political differences between the Party leaders were again and again to be fought out.
Taken in conjunction with the fact that the Party’s whole previous development (including its tightly centralized structure and hierarchical organizational conceptions) had tended to separate it from the working class, one can understand how heavily the cards were stacked against any autonomous expression or even voicing of working class aspirations. In a sense these found a freer expression in the Soviets than in either the Party or the trade unions.”
So unions were politicized. If the Bolsheviks didn’t fight to win control this would leave the Mensheviks (reformists) or SRs (petty bourgeois peasantry) in control. What to do? Fight for ‘autonomy’! But from what? From class! Why? Because the party is centralized and hierarchical it cannot represent a class.
But these are scare words that patronize workers as led by the nose first by reformists and liberals and then by revolutionaries. Too bad workers are so easily led. Repeat after me, Party bad, Union good. How come workers don’t get the message? OK let’s see if things go better in the soviets where the parties are not so firmly established.
Meanwhile before things got out of hand completely the Second Congress of Factory Committees resolved to pay 0.25% of their wages to support the ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. Surely this was a mistake, due to the undue influence of that Bolshevik hierarchical party? What was going on?
“The Conference resolved that 1/4% of the wages of all workers represented should go to support a ‘Central Soviet of Factory Committees’, thus made financially independent of the unions. (23) Rank and file supporters of the Factory Committees viewed the setting up of this ‘Central Soviet’ with mixed feelings. On the one hand they sensed the need for co-ordination. On the other hand they wanted this co-ordination to be carried out from below, by themselves. Many were suspicious of the motives of the Bolsheviks, on whose initiative the ‘Central Soviet’ had been bureaucratically set up. The Bolshevik Skrypnik spoke of the difficulties of the Central Soviet of Factory Committees, attributing them “in part to the workers themselves’. Factory Committees had been reluctant to free their members for work in the Centre”. Some of the Committees “refrained from participation in the Central Soviet because of Bolshevik predominance in it”. (24) V. M. Levin, another Bolshevik, was to complain that the workers “didn’t distinguish between the conception of control and the conception of taking possession”.
In other words the majority supported funding the Central Soviet, but some (“many”) expressed doubt about the role of the Bolsheviks who had “bureaucratically” set up the soviet. Once again, the stupid workers pay for something that was bureaucratically set up by the Bolsheviks. What were they thinking?
When the Bolshevik, Levin, ventures to suggest that some members of factory committees were jealous in guarding their “possession” of the factories, and that they were uneasy about handing over this new property right and sending members to help administer this property right at the center! In other words the center stood for subordinating the factory committees to a centralizing of all factories, and this ran into the petty bourgeois concept of the factory committees being all powerful on their own factory floor!
We might call this conception of factory committees ‘workshop parochialism’, or more generously, ‘socialism in one factory’.
Brinton does not make this connection. When he wrote the pamphlet in 1975 the question of factory occupations and the question of coordination between factories, regions and nations (the world!), was barely on the agenda. Today is certainly is, in Latin America at least. In the factory occupations in Argentina for example, there is a tendency for factory committees to also be ‘cooperatives’ that are actually made up of workers as individual shareholders. And inside these factory committees are reformists that advise workers to use the law to protect their ‘cooperatives’, and revolutionaries that call on workers to fight for real workers control by expropriating capitalist property in the name of the working class.
But back to Russia. The question of how socialism in single factories and farms might be made to work everywhere is suggested, vaguely, by an anarcho-syndicalist publication on August 25, 1917.
“Golos Truda, in a famous article headed ‘Questions of the Hour‘, wrote: “We say to the Russian workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionists: above all, continue the revolution. Continue to organize yourselves solidly and to unite your new organizations: your communes, your unions, your committees, your soviets. Continue, with firmness and perseverance, always and everywhere to participate more and more extensively and more and more effectively in the economic life of the country, continue to take into your hands, that is into the hands of your organizations, all the raw materials and all the instruments indispensable to your labor. Continue the Revolution. Do not hesitate to face the solution of the burning questions of the present. Create everywhere the necessary organizations to achieve these solutions. Peasants, take the land and put it at the disposal of your committees. Workers, proceed to put in the hands of and at the disposal of your own social organizations – everywhere on the spot – the mines and the subsoil, the enterprises and the establishments of all sorts, the works and factories, the workshops and the machines”. A little later, issue No. 15 of the same paper urged its readers to “begin immediately to organize the social and economic life of the country on new bases. Then a sort of ‘dictatorship of labor’ will begin to be achieved, easily and in a natural manner. And the people would learn, little by little, to do it”
Notice that while you are grabbing your factory or farm there is no talk of coordination, of the central soviet, of any organized workers’ or peasants’ militias or peoples’ army. The “organizations” are all of the same weight. Somehow they are going to ‘self-administrate’. Workers and peasants, but…no soldiers! This is at the same time that General Kornilov is marching on Petrograd to smash, not workers’ autonomy, but … the soviet! Why? Because the soviet has proven that it is not only organizing a centralized working class led peasant revolution and military mutiny, but is the general staff of that enemy class insurrection. And the Petrograd soviet proves that it is the general staff because it organizes a centralized, armed rout of Kornilov. Not by autonomous, decentralized, non-hierarchical methods. No, by planning a defense that involves sending messengers to the soldiers’ soviets, propagandists to win Kornilov’s troops, and by sheer coordination and centralism telegraphing messages and organizing the railway workers to re-route the enemy troops in the wrong direction. When Kornilov found that he troops were deserting him he gave up.
Brinton has left out a little bit of history [quite a large chunk if you read Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution] here, all to do with the centralized, coordinated and hierarchical ‘top-down’ central soviet of Petrograd making the defeat of the counter-revolution possible.
But each factory and farm that the anarcho-syndicalists had occupied could now live another day and “the people would learn, little by little”. Just as well some other people at the center learned a hell of a lot in one hell of a hurry!
Part of that rapid learning curve at the center was the planning of the insurrection by the Bolsheviks who had won a majority for “all power to the soviets” in the … soviets. The actual seizure of power was the result of a conspiracy by the Military Revolutionary Committee led by Trotsky (not as Stalin would have it, himself). Like all military campaigns, the authority to make the battle plan was in the hands of a few experts, linked by a chain of command to the most loyal elements of the armed forces such as the sailors of the Kronstadt fortress. The insurrection was as a result of this secret, centralized planning and coordination of the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers soviets already won over to the revolution, victorious and almost bloodless.
Meanwhile Lenin’s mind is racing ahead. While writing The State and Revolution which was rudely interrupted by the revolution, Lenin was also thinking of how the revolution would survive the first rough months and years. In ‘Can the Bolsheviks retain State power?‘ published on October 1 just before the insurrection, Lenin states:“When we say workers’ control, always associating that slogan with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and always putting it after the latter, we thereby make plain what state we have in mind… If it is a proletarian state we are referring to (i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat) then workers’ control can become a national, all-embracing, omnipresent, extremely precise and extremely scrupulous accounting of the production and distribution of goods”.
Brinton thinks that these passages are very revealing of the top-down state dictatorship of the party in the making.
“In the same pamphlet Lenin defines the type of ‘socialist apparatus’ (or framework) within which the function of accountancy (workers’ control) will be exercised. “Without big banks socialism would be impossible of realization. The big banks are a ‘stable apparatus’ we need for the realization of socialism and which we shall take from capitalism ready made. Our problem here is only to lop away that which capitalistically disfigures this otherwise excellent apparatus and to make it still bigger, still more democratic, still more comprehensive…” “A single huge state bank, with branches in every rural district and in every factory – that will already be nine-tenths of a socialist apparatus“. According to Lenin this type of apparatus would allow “general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods”, and would be “something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society”.
Brinton comments; “No one disputes the importance of keeping reliable records but Lenin’s identification of workers’ control in a ‘workers’ state’, with the function of accountancy (i.e. checking the implementation of decisions taken by others) is extremely revealing. Nowhere in Lenin’s writings is workers’ control ever equated with fundamental decision-taking (i.e. with the initiation of decisions) relating to production (how much to produce, how to produce it, at what cost, at whose cost, etc.).” [Reviewer's emphasis]
Well of course not. The soviets have taken over as the representative organizations of the workers. The soviets have taken power and now are the basis of the state. The dictatorship of the proletariat is exercised through the soviets. Here the planned socialist economy will take shape. The factory committees never coordinated anything before, during or after the revolution, and preferred their autonomous ‘socialism-in-one-factory-or-farm’ everywhere. They were admirably suited to their basic duty– to administer and control their factory or farm production according to the overall plan. Why, once a plan is underway should factory committees have any say in whether they fulfill it or not – especially since the economy is almost wrecked by war and headed for a civil war?*
Brinton semi-recognizes these problems in a back handed way.
“Other writings by Lenin in this period reiterate that one of the functions of workers’ control is to prevent sabotage by the higher bureaucrats and functionaries.“As for the higher employees… we shall have to treat them as we treat the capitalists – roughly. They, like the capitalists, wiill offer resistance… we may succeed with the help of workers’ control in rendering such resistance impossible”. (36)
He goes on: “Lenin’s notions of workers’ control (as a means of preventing lock-outs) and his repeated demands for the ‘opening of the books’ (as a means of preventing economic sabotage) referred both to the immediate situation, and to the months which were to follow the revolution. He envisaged a period during which, in a workers’ state, the bourgeoisie would still retain the formal ownership and effective management of most of the productive apparatus. The new state, in Lenin’s estimation, would not be able immediately to take over the running of industry. There would be a transitional period during which the capitalists would be coerced into co-operation. ‘Workers’ control’ was seen as the instrument of this coercion.”
Brinton still can’t see it. He is so enraged by the party conspiracy of the Bolsheviks to impose a party dictatorship on the workers, he overlooks that what is going on is a class war in which the vast majority of workers are fulfilling their various tasks, authorized by the soviets. The factory committees are not rendered powerless by this, but able to exercise their power at the point of production in fulfilling their assigned tasks. In other words we have a semi-militarization of industry in which the factory committees are the workers brigades on the front line of production in the overall battle plan of the transition to a socialist economy. And Brinton is still moaning about book-keeping!
To prove the Bolshevik conspiracy that he his hunting out, Brinton writes:
“As already pointed out, the Bolsheviks at this stage still supported the Factory Committees. They saw them as “the battering ram that would deal blows to capitalism, organs of class struggle created by the working class on its own ground”. (38) They also saw in the slogan of ‘workers control’ a means of undermining Menshevik influence in the unions. But the Bolsheviks were being “carried along by a movement which was in many respects embarrassing to them but which, as a main driving force of the revolution, they could not fail to endorse”. (39) During the middle of 1917 Bolshevik support for the Factory Committees was such that the Mensheviks were to accuse them of ‘abandoning’ Marxism in favor of anarchism. “Actually Lenin and his followers remained firm upholders of the Marxist conception of the centralised state. Their immediate objective, however, was not yet to set up the centralised proletarian dictatorship, but to decentralise as much as possible the bourgeois state and the bourgeois economy. This was a necessary condition for the success of the revolution. In the economic field therefore, the Factory Committee, the organ on the spot, rather than the trade union was the most potent and deadly instrument of upheaval. Thus the trade unions were relegated to the background…” (4) [Pankratova]
Did Brinton want the revolution to fail? Note 39 is a quote from EH Carr, a bourgeois professor of history and an acknowledged authority on…what? That the Bolsheviks had planned a top down revolution and were ‘embarrassed’ by the bottom up groundswell? The only embarrassment here surely, is that Carr can be taken at his word by a libertarian socialist. The reason is that they share the same anti-Bolshevik prejudice. The only time the Bolsheviks were embarrassed was when they were lagging behind the workers, something Lenin commented on frequently.
The quote from Pankratova states the obvious. How could the Bolsheviks take power and form a dictatorship of the proletariat without the proletariat?
You can only think it strange that the Bolsheviks first tried to promote the Factory Committees, and then seize power, if you think that they were planning to manipulate not only the Factory Committees but the Soviet majorities in a cynical exercise of substituting of party for class. Where were the workers while this maneuver was going on? These same workers, who ran rings around Kornilov and were voting for the seizure of power in the soviets, were simultaneously blind to their status as the puppets of Lenin and Trotsky etc. Who has an interest in promoting the ridiculous view that Lenin and the party necessarily rode roughshod over workers democracy? Only the bourgeoisie who promote their brand of democracy, one man-one vote! No wonder the organizers of the Kronstadt rebellion wanted to return to the ‘constituent assembly’.
Brinton concludes with a flourish
“This is perhaps the most explicit statement of why the Bolsheviks at this stage supported workers’ control and its organizational vehicle, the Factory Committees. Today only the ignorant or those willing to be deceived can still kid themselves into believing that proletarian power, at the point of production was ever a fundamental tenet or objective of Bolshevism.” Yeah right.
The ‘point of production’ is a romantic conception of the shop floor, abstracted from ‘production, distribution and exchange’ which has to be taken as a whole, not only in Russia and the other socialist republics that made up the USSR, but most immediately in Europe, where socialist revolution would have created a continental division of labor capable of meeting the needs of all European and Asian workers and thus overcoming the ‘scarcity’ which was the root cause of the degeneration of the revolution in Russia.
This brings us to the seizure of power – another supposed top-down stunt behind the backs of the masses.
In this second part of the review of Brinton’s pamphlet covering 1917 we see the theory and practice of anarcho-syndicalism in opposition to the dictatorship of the proletariat put to the test of events and failing that test.
The All Russian Conference of Factory Committees – October 17-22 was convened by Novy Put, an anarcho-syndicalist paper.
“According to later Bolshevik sources, of the 137 delegates attending the Conference there were 86 Bolsheviks, 22 Social-Revolutionaries, 11 anarcho-syndicalists, 8 Mensheviks, 6 ‘maximalists’ and 4 ‘non-party.”
On the eve of the revolution Brinton points to the importance that the factory committees had in Lenin’s thinking:
“Lenin at this stage saw the tremendous importance of the Factory Committees… as a means of helping the Bolshevik Party to seize power. According to Ordzhonikidze he asserted “we must shift the centre of gravity to the Factory Committees. The Factory Committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan and instead of saying ‘All Power to the Soviets’ we must say ‘All Power to the Factory Committees’”.
Yet at the same time factories committees must be centralized:
“A resolution was passed at the Conference proclaiming that “workers’ control – within the limits assigned to it by the Conference – was only possible under the political and economic rule of the working class”. It warned against ‘isolated’ and ‘disorganised’ activities and pointed out that “the seizure of factories by the workers and their operation for personal profit was incompatible with the aims of the proletariat”.
On October 25 the Provisional Government was overthrown. On the next day at the Second All Russian Congress of Soviets the Bolsheviks proclaimed:
“The Revolution has been victorious. All power has passed to the Soviets… New laws will he proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers’ problems. One of the most important will deal with workers’ control of production and with the return of industry to normal conditions. Strikes and demonstrations are harmful in Petrograd. We ask you to put an end to all strikes on economic and political issues, to resume work and to carry it out in a perfectly orderly manner… Every man to his place. The best way to support the Soviet Government these days is to carry on with one’s job”. Without apparently batting an eyelid Pankratova could write that “the first day of workers’ power was ushered in by this call to work and to the edification of the new kind of factory”.
Clearly the revolution was the work of the workers organized in soviets, but also in factory committees. The importance of keeping production going under workers control would be a responsibility of such factory committees but under the centralized laws of the Soviet government. The prospect of central state control over the factory committees is the problem for Brinton. He documents the development of the laws governing worker control which follow. He approves of Lenin’s first draft on workers control published on November 3 because it recognizes what the workers have already achieved themselves.
The “publication in Pravda of Lenin’s ‘Draft Decree on Workers’ Control’ provided for the “introduction of workers’ control of the production, warehousing, purchase and sale of all products and raw materials in all industrial, commercial, banking, agricultural and other enterprises employing a total of not less than five workers and employees – or with a turnover of not less than 10,000 rubles per annum”. Workers’ control was to be “carried out by all the workers and employees in a given enterprise, either directly if the enterprise is small enough to permit it, or through delegates to be immediately elected at mass meetings. Elected delegates were to ‘have access to all books and documents and to all warehouses and stocks of material, instruments and products, without exception”.
Great, already done, says Brinton, only to then condemn the following provisions:
“Point 5: “the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees were legally binding upon the owners of enterprises but that they could be “annulled by trade unions and congresses” (our emphasis). This was exactly the fate that was to befall the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers and employees: the trade unions proved to be the main medium through which the Bolsheviks sought to break the autonomous power of the Factory Committees.”
“Point 6: that “in all enterprises of state importance” all delegates elected to exercise workers’ control were to be “answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property”
“Point 7: Enterprises “of importance to the State” were defined – and this has a familiar tone for all revolutionaries – as “all enterprises working for defence purposes, or in any way connected with the production of articles necessary for the existence of the masses of the population”.
“In other words practically any enterprise could be declared by the new Russian State as “of importance to the State”. The delegates from such an enterprise (elected to exercise workers’ control) were now made answerable to a higher authority. Moreover if the trade unions (already fairly bureaucratized) could ‘annul’ the decisions of rank-and-file delegates, what real power in production had the rank-and-file? The Decree on Workers’ Control was soon proved, in practice, not to be worth the paper it was written on.”
So the new workers state must not attempt to coordinate and discipline the working class other than by following the decisions taken at the level of factories (not to mention the farms, military, post-office etc). Here the direct democracy of the workplace is the universal panacea to the authoritarian state and the bureaucratized unions. What, then, of the role of workers in electing delegates to soviets and officials to unions? It seems these are not within the scope of workers democracy because they, state and unions, are by definition alien to workers control. Workers therefore confine their democratic decision making to the workplace. In which case how would those decisions be coordinated into an overall plan for a socialist economy?
These questions were central to the debates on Lenin’s draft document on worker control.
“…Lozovski, a Bolshevik trade unionist, was to write: “To us, it seemed that the basic control units should only act within limits rigorously determined by higher organs of control. But the comrades who were for the decentralisation of workers control were pressing for the independence and autonomy of these lower organs, because they felt that the masses themselves would incarnate the principle of control”. Lozovski believed that “the lower organs of control must confine their activities within the limits set by the instructions of the proposed All-Russian Council of Workers Control. We must say it quite clearly and categorically, so that workers in various enterprises don’t go away with the idea that the factories belong to them”.
A compromise position was arrived at:
“Milyutin, who presented the revised decree …explained somewhat apologetically that “life overtook us” and that it had become urgently necessary to “unite into one solid state apparatus the workers control which was being operated on the spot”. “Legislation on workers’ control which should logically have fitted into the framework of an economic plan had had to precede legislation on the plan itself”. There could be no clearer recognition of the tremendous pressures from below and of the difficulties the Bolsheviks were experiencing in their attempts to canalise them… The new decree started with the ingenious statement that: “In the interests of a planned regulation of the national economy” the new Government “recognised the authority of workers’ control throughout the economy”. But there had to be a firm hierarchy of control organs. Factory Committees would be “allowed” to remain the control organ of each individual enterprise. But each Committee was to be responsible to a “Regional Council of Workers’ Control”, subordinated in turn to an “All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control”. (58) The composition of these higher organs was decided by the Party…For instance the All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control was to consist of 21 ‘representatives’: 5 from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, 5 from the Executive of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, 5 from the Association of Engineers and Technicians, 2 from the Association of Agronomists, 2 from the Petrograd Trade Union Council, 1 from each All-Russian Trade Union Federation numbering fewer than 100,000 members (2 for Federations of over this number)… and 5 from the All-Russian Council of Factory Committees! The Factory Committees often under anarcho-syndicalist influence had been well and truly ‘cut down to size’.”
The reason, says Brinton, was the antagonism between the centralized party apparatus and the democratic national federation of factory committees. He quotes Deutscher on the Bolshevik position:
“anarchic characteristics of the Committees made themselves felt: every Factory Committee aspired to have the last and final say on all matters affecting the factory, its output, its stocks of raw material, its conditions of work, etc., and paid little or no attention to the needs of industry as a whole” . Yet in the very next sentence Deutscher points out that “a few weeks after the upheaval (the October revolution) the Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organization, which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees. The unions came out firmly against the attempt of the Factory Committees to form a national organization of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the Committees”.
Brinton seems to think that the national organization of factory committees would somehow represent an adequate basis for national economic planning. Deutscher however is clear that the federation of factories would be a virtual ‘economic dictatorship’ i.e. impose the economic decisions of the factories for the whole of Russia as a parallel structure to the soviet state.
Brinton claims this is why the Soviet state prevented a federation from forming to coordinate the national economy:
“Some comments are called for in relation to these developments. The disorganization created by the war and by the resistance of the employing class (manifested as sabotage or desertion of their enterprises) clearly made it imperative to minimize and if possible eliminate unnecessary struggles, between Factory Committees, such as struggles for scanty fuel or raw materials. There was clearly a need to co-ordinate the activity of the Committees on a vast scale, a need of which many who had been most active in the Committee movement were well aware. The point at issue is not that a functional differentiation was found necessary between the various organs of working class power (Soviets, Factory Committees, etc.) or that a definition was sought as to what were local tasks and what were regional or national tasks. The modalities of such a differentiation could have been – and probably would have been – -determined by the proposed Congress of Facttory Committees. The important thing is that a hierarchical pattern of differentiation was externally elaborated and imposed, by an agency other than the producers themselves.”
For Brinton a Congress of Factory Committees had it not been stopped by the imposition of the ‘hierarchical’ All-Russian Council of Workers Control, could have overcome the local, parochial interests of the factories, farms and post offices and arrived at a national planned economy. Thus, at the first meeting of the Council:
“Zhivotov, spokesman of the Factory Committee movement, declared: “In the Factory Committees we elaborate instructions which come from below, with a view to seeing how they can be applied to industry as a whole. These are the instructions of the work shop, of life itself. They are the only instructions that can have real meaning. They show what the Factory Committees are capable of, and should therefore come to the forefront in discussions of workers’ control”. The Factory Committees felt that “control was the task of the committee in each establishment. The committees of each town should then meet… and later establish co-ordination on a regional basis”.
In December with the formation of the Vesenka (Supreme Economic Council) the All-Russian Council of Workers Control, in which the Factory Committees were already buried, was put to rest. It became one of many organs that underwent a transition from “workers control to the Supreme Council of National Economy”. Brinton sums up what he sees as:
…a process which leads, within a short period of 4 years, from the tremendous upsurge of the Factory Committee movement (a movement which both implicitly and explicitly sought to alter the relations of production) to the establishment of unquestioned domination by a monolithic and bureaucratic agency (the Party) over all aspects of economic and political life. This agency not being based on production, its rule could only epitomise the continued limitation of the authority of the workers in the productive process. This necessarily implied the perpetuation of hierarchical relations within production itself, and therefore the perpetuation of class society.
Incredibly what is missing from this analysis is the seizure of state power and the formation of a Soviet state representing the workers organized in Soviets. The Bolshevik Party is referred to a “bureaucratic agency…not based on production”. Counterposed to this “bureaucratic agency” imposed on “production” is the “authority of the workers in the productive process”. But what is that “authority” in isolation of the Soviet state? The Party that wins the support of the workers, poor peasants and soldiers in the Soviets now lacks “authority” and instead imposes a “rule” over workers and a “perpetuation of class society”! How can a Party which represents the revolutionary majority that overthrows the ruling class and creates a workers government now “perpetuate class society” over the workers? Let us see how Brinton’s arrives at this conclusion.
“…The problem can be envisaged in yet another way. The setting up of the Vesenka represents a partial fusion – in a position of economic authority – of trade union officials, Party stalwarts and ‘experts’ nominated by the ‘workers’ state’. But these are not three social categories ‘representing the workers’. They were three social categories which were already assuming managerial functions – i.e. were already dominating the workers in production. Because of their own antecedent history each of these groups was, for different reasons, already some-what remote from the working class. Their fusion was to enhance this separation. The result is that from 1918 on, the new State (although officially described as a ‘workers’ state’ or a ‘soviet republic’ – and although by and large supported by the mass of the working class during the Civil War) was not in fact an institution managed by the working class.”
Brinton states that the Vesenka is the creation of the ‘workers state’. The trade union “officials”, Party “stalwarts” and “experts” appointed by the state don’t represent the workers because they are already “managers…dominating the workers in production”. The state cannot supply such ‘managers’ because they are drawn from “social categories” “remote from the working class”. He thinks Workers Committees alone should have the authority to appoint managers. But this is a utopian position contradicted in the very next sentence. If the state managers are so “remote” from the workers, then what can be said of former Tsarist officers recruited to the Red Army to fight the Civil War which Brinton claims was “by and large supported by the mass of the working class.”
Despite the urgent overwhelming task of organizing the wrecked economy and fighting a civil war, notwithstanding the support of the working class, Brinton persists in claiming that the Soviet state usurped and trampled on the “authority” of the factory committees. He may as well say that the Red Army trampled on the democratic rights of the rank and file to elect their officers and debate military strategy! In fact he does so later in his pamphlet.
Here we have the utopia of the parallel syndicalist state versus the dictatorship of the proletariat.
To be continued for years 1918-1920.
Footnotes in Brinton
Oaxaca: When one falls let 50 step forward February 16, 2009Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far
Barcelona, 1936. Orwell and Trotsky February 11, 2008Posted by raved in Spanish Revolution.
Tags: anarchism, Catalonia, Commune, POUM, revolution, spain, stalinism, Trotskyism
from Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell.
“This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags ow with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said ‘Sen~or’ or ‘Don’ ort even ‘Usted’; everyone called everyone else ‘Comrade’ or ‘Thou’, and said ‘Salud!’ instead of ‘Buenos dias’. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also, I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed or voluntarily come over to the workers’ side; I did not realise that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being.
Together with all this there was something of the evil atmosphere of war. The town had a gaunt untidy look, roads and buildings were in poor repair, the streets at night were dimly lit for fear of air-raids, the shops were mostly shabby and half-empty. Meat was scarce and milk practically unobtainable, there was a shortage of coal, sugar and petrol, and a really serious shortage of bread. Even at this period the bread-queues were often hundreds of yards long. Yet so far as one could judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. #Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine. In the barbers’ shops were Anarchist notices (the barbers were mostly Anarchists) solemnly explaining that barbers were no longer slaves. In the streets were coloured posters appealing to prostitutes to stop being prostitutes. To anyone from the hard-boiled, sneering civilization of the English-speaking races there was something rather pathetic in the literalness with which these idealistic Spaniards took the hackneyed phrase of revolution. At that time revolutionary ballads of the naivest kind, all about the proletarian brotherhood and the wickedness of Mussolini, were being sold on the streets for a few centimes each. I have often seen an illiterate militiaman buy one of these ballads, laboriously spell out the words, and then, when he had got the hang of it, begin singing it to an appropriate tune.”
. . . . .
Why was this ‘workers state’ or ‘commune’ obliterated? Trotsky answers:
The Class, the Party and the Leadership, by Leon Trotsky
This except is from an unfinished article written by Trotsky and first published in 1940.
Sophistry Of The Betrayers
In July 1936 — not to refer to an earlier period — the Spanish workers repelled the assault of the officers who had prepared their conspiracy under the protection of the People’s Front. The masses improvised militias and created workers’ committees, the strongholds of their future dictatorship. The leading organisations of the proletariat on the other hand helped the bourgeoisie to destroy these committees, to liquidate the assaults of the workers on private property and to subordinate the workers’ militias to the command of the bourgeoisie, with the POUM moreover participating in the government and assuming direct responsibility for this work of the counter-revolution. What does “immaturity” of the proletariat signify in this case? Self-evidently only this, that despite the correct political line chosen by the masses, the latter were unable to smash the coalition of socialists, Stalinists, anarchists and the POUM with the bourgeoisie. This piece of sophistry takes as its starting point a concept of some absolute maturity, i.e. a perfect condition of the masses in which they do not require a correct leadership, and, more than that, are capable of conquering against their own leadership. There is not and there cannot be such maturity.
Our sages object: but why should workers who show such correct revolutionary instinct and such superior fighting qualities submit to treacherous leadership? Our answer is: There wasn’t even a hint of mere subordination. The workers’ line of march at all times cut a certain angle to the line of the leadership. And at the most critical moments this angle became 180 degrees. The leadership then helped directly or indirectly to subdue the workers by armed force.
In May 1937 the workers of Catalonia rose not only without their own leadership but against it. The anarchist leaders — pathetic and contemptible bourgeois masquerading cheaply as revolutionists — have repeated hundreds of times in their press that had the CNT wanted to take power and set up their dictatorship in May, they could have done so without any difficulty. This time the anarchist leaders speak the unadulterated truth. The POUM leadership actually dragged at the tail of the CNT, only they covered up their policy with a different phraseology. It was thanks to this and this alone that the bourgeoisie succeeded in crushing the May uprising of the “immature” proletariat. One must understand exactly nothing in the sphere of the inter-relationships between the class and the party, between the masses and the leaders in order to repeat the hollow statement that the Spanish masses merely followed their leaders. The only thing that can be said is that the masses who sought at all times to blast their way to the correct road found no new leadership corresponding to the demands of the revolution. Before us is a profoundly dynamic process, with the various stages of the revolution shifting swiftly, with the leadership or various sections of the leadership quickly deserting to the side of the class enemy, and our sages engage in a purely static discussion: why did the working class as a whole follow a bad leadership?
The Dialectic Approach
There is an ancient, evolutionary-liberal epigram: every people gets the government it deserves. History, however, shows that one and the same people may in the course of a comparatively brief epoch get very different governments (Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, etc.) and furthermore that the order of these governments doesn’t at all proceed in one and the same direction: from despotism — to freedom, as was imagined by the evolutionist liberals. The secret is this, that a people is comprised of hostile classes, and the classes themselves are comprised of different and in part antagonistic layers which fall under different leadership; furthermore every people falls under the influence of other peoples who are likewise comprised of classes. Governments do not express the systematically growing “maturity” of a “people” but are the product of the struggle between different classes and the different layers within one and the same class, and, finally, the action of external forces — alliances, wars and so on. To this should be added that a government, once it has established itself, may endure much longer than the relationship of forces which produced it. It is precisely out of this historical contradiction that revolutions, coup d’etats, counter- revolutions, etc., arise.
The very same dialectic approach is necessary in dealing with the question of the leadership of a class. Imitating the liberals our sages tacitly accept the axiom that every class gets the leadership it deserves. In reality leadership is not at all a mere “reflection” of a class or the product of its own free creativeness. A leadership is shaped in the process of clashes between the different classes or the friction between the different layers within a given class. Having once arisen, the leadership invariably rises above its class and thereby becomes pre-disposed to the pressure and influence of other classes. The proletariat may “tolerate” for a long time a leadership that has already suffered a complete inner degeneration but has not as yet had the opportunity to express this degeneration amid great events. A great historic shock is necessary to reveal sharply the contradiction between the leadership and the class. The mightiest historical shocks are wars and revolutions. Precisely for this reason the working class is often caught unawares by war and revolution. But even in cases where the old leadership has revealed its internal corruption, the class cannot improvise immediately a new leadership, especially if it has not inherited from the previous period strong revolutionary cadres capable of utilising the collapse of the old leading party. The Marxist, i.e. dialectic and not scholastic, interpretation of the inter-relationship between a class and its leadership does not leave a single stone unturned of our author’s legalistic sophistry.
How the Russian Workers Matured
He conceives of the proletariat’s maturity as something purely static. Yet during a revolution the consciousness of a class is the most dynamic process directly determining the course of the revolution. Was it possible in January 1917 or even in March, after the overthrow of Czarism, to give an answer to the question whether the Russian proletariat had sufficiently “matured” for the conquest or power in eight to nine months? The working class was at that time extremely heterogeneous socially and politically. During the years of the war it had been renewed by 30-40 per cent from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie, often reactionary, at the expense of backward peasants, at the expense of women and youth. The Bolshevik party in March 1917 was followed by an insignificant minority of the working class and furthermore there was discord within the party itself. The overwhelming majority of the workers supported the Mensheviks and the “Socialist-Revolutionists” i.e. conservative social-patriots. The situation was even less favourable with regard to the army and the peasantry. We must add to this: the general low level of culture in the country, the lack of political experience among the broadest layers of the proletariat, especially in the provinces, let alone the peasants and soldiers. What was the “active” of Bolshevism? A clear and thoroughly thought out revolutionary conception at the beginning of the revolution was held only by Lenin. The Russian cadres of the party were scattered and to a considerable degree bewildered. But the party had authority among the advanced workers. Lenin had great authority with the party cadres. Lenin’s political conception corresponded to the actual development of the revolution and was reinforced by each new event. These elements of the “active” worked wonders in a revolutionary situation, that is, in conditions of bitter class struggle. The party quickly aligned its policy to correspond with Lenin’s conception, to correspond that is with the actual course of the revolution.
Thanks to this it met with firm support among tens of thousands of advanced workers. Within a few months, by basing itself upon the development of the revolution the party was able to convince the majority of the workers of the correctness of its slogans. This majority organised into Soviets was able in its turn to attract the soldiers and peasants. How can this dynamic, dialectic process be exhausted by a formula of the maturity or immaturity of the proletariat? A colossal factor in the maturity of the Russian proletariat in February or March 1917 was Lenin. He did not fall from the skies. He personified the revolutionary tradition of the working class. For Lenin’s slogans to find their way to the masses there had to exist cadres, even though numerically small at the beginning; there had to exist the confidence of the cadres in the leadership, a confidence based on the entire experience of the past. To cancel these elements from one’s calculations is simply to ignore the living revolution, to substitute for it an abstraction, the “relationship of forces,” because the development of the revolution precisely consists of this, that the relationship of forces keeps incessantly and rapidly changing under the impact of the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat, the attraction of backward layers to the advanced, the growing assurance of the class in its own strength. The vital mainspring in this process is the party, just as the vital mainspring in the mechanism of the party is its leadership. The role and the responsibility of the leadership in a revolutionary epoch is colossal.
Relativity of “Maturity”
The October victory is a serious testimonial of the “maturity” of the proletariat. But this maturity is relative. A few years later the very same proletariat permitted the revolution to be strangled by a bureaucracy which rose from its ranks. Victory is not at all the ripe fruit of the proletariat’s “maturity.” Victory is a strategical task. It is necessary to utilise in order to mobilise the masses; taking as a starting point the given level of their ” maturity ” it is necessary to propel them forward, teach them to understand that the enemy is by no means omnipotent, that it is torn asunder with contradictions, that behind, the imposing facade panic prevails. Had the Bolshevik party failed to carry out this work, there couldn’t even be talk of the victory of the proletarian revolution. The Soviets would have been crushed by the counter-revolution, and the little sages of all countries would have written articles and books on the keynote that only uprooted visionaries could dream in Russia of the dictatorship of the proletariat so small numerically and so immature.
Auxiliary Role of Peasants
Equally abstract, pedantic and false is the reference to the “lack of independence” of the peasantry. When and where did our sage ever observe in capitalist society a peasantry with an independent revolutionary programme or a capacity for independent revolutionary initiative? The peasantry can play a very great role in the revolution, but only an auxiliary role. In many instances the Spanish peasants acted boldly and fought courageously. But to rouse the entire mass of the peasantry, the proletariat had to set an example of a decisive uprising against the bourgeoisie and inspire the peasants with faith in the possibility of victory. In the meantime the revolutionary initiative of the proletariat itself was paralysed at every step by its own organisations. The “immaturity” of the proletariat, the “lack of independence” of the peasantry are neither final nor basic factors in historical events. Underlying the consciousness of the classes are the classes themselves, their numerical strength, their role in economic life. Underlying the classes is a specific system of production which is determined in its turn by the level of the development of productive forces. Why not then say that the defeat of the Spanish proletariat was determined by the low level of technology?
The Role of Personality
Our author substitutes mechanistic determinism for the dialectic conditioning of the historical process. Hence the cheap jibes about the role of individuals, good and bad. History is a process of the class struggle. But classes do not bring their full weight to bear automatically and simultaneously. In the process of struggle the classes create various organs which play an important and independent role and are subject to deformations. This also provides the basis for the role of personalities in history. There are naturally great objective causes which created the autocratic rule of Hitler but only dull-witted pedants of “determinism ” could deny today the enormous historic role of Hitler. The arrival of Lenin in Petrograd on April 3, 1917, turned the Bolshevik party in time and enabled the party to lead the revolution to victory. Our sages might say that had Lenin died abroad at the beginning of 1917, the October revolution would have taken place “just the same.” But that is not so. Lenin represented one of the living elements of the historical process. He personified the experience and the perspicacity of the most active section of the proletariat. His timely appearance on the arena of the revolution was necessary in order to mobilise the vanguard and provide it with an opportunity to rally the working class and the peasant masses. Political leadership in the crucial moments of historical turns can become just as decisive a factor as is the role of the chief command during the critical moments of war. History is not an automatic process. Otherwise, why leaders? Why parties? Why programmes? Why theoretical struggles?
Stalinism in Spain
“But why, in the devil’s name,” asks the author as we have already heard, “did the revolutionary masses who left their former leaders, rally to the banner of the Communist Party?” The question is falsely posed. It is not true that the revolutionary masses left all of their former leaders. The workers who were previously connected with specific organisations continued to cling to them, while they observed and checked. Workers in general do not easily break with the party that awakens them to conscious life. Moreover the existence of mutual protection within the People’s Front lulled them: since everybody agreed, everything must be all right. The new and fresh masses naturally turned to the Comintern as the party which had accomplished the only victorious proletarian revolution and which, it was hoped, was capable of assuring arms to Spain. Furthermore the Comintern was the most zealous champion of the idea of the People’s Front; this inspired confidence among the inexperienced layers of workers. Within the People’s Front the Comintern was the most zealous champion of the bourgeois character of the revolution: this inspired the confidence of the petty and in part the middle bourgeoisie. That is why the masses “rallied to the banner of the Communist Party.” Our author depicts the matter as if the proletariat were in a well-stocked shoe store, selecting a new pair of boots. Even this simple operation, as is well known, does not always prove successful. As regards new leadership, the choice is very limited. Only gradually, only on the basis of their own experience through several stages can the broad layers of the masses become convinced that a new leadership is firmer, more reliable, more loyal than the old. To be sure, during a revolution, i.e., when events move swiftly, a weak party can quickly grow into a mighty one provided it lucidly understands the course of the revolution and possesses staunch cadres that do not become intoxicated with phrases and are not terrorised by persecution. But such a party must be available prior to the revolution inasmuch as the process of educating the cadres requires a considerable period of time and the revolution does not afford this time.
Treachery of the POUM
To the left of all the other parties in Spain stood the POUM, which undoubtedly embraced revolutionary proletarian elements not previously firmly tied to anarchism. But it was precisely this party that played a fatal role in the development of the Spanish revolution. It could not become a mass party because in order to do so it was first necessary to overthrow the old parties and it was possible to overthrow them only by an irreconcilable struggle, by a merciless exposure of their bourgeois character. Yet the POUM while criticising the old parties subordinated itself to them on all fundamental questions. It participated in the “People’s” election bloc; entered the government which liquidated workers’ committees; engaged in a struggle to reconstitute this governmental coalition; capitulated time and again to the anarchist leadership; conducted, in connection with this, a false trade union policy; took a vacillating and non-revolutionary attitude toward the May 1937 uprising. From the standpoint of determinism in general it is possible of course to recognise that the policy of the POUM was not accidental. Everything in this world has its cause. However, the series of causes engendering the centrism of the POUM are by no means a mere reflection of condition of the Spanish or Catalonian proletariat. Two causalities moved toward each other at an angle and at a certain moment they came into hostile conflict. It is possible by taking into account previous international experience, Moscow’s influence, the influence of a number of defeats, etc., to explain politically and psychologically why the POUM unfolded as a centrist party. But this does not alter its centrist character, nor does it alter the fact that a centrist party invariably acts as a brake upon the revolution, must each time smash its own head, and may bring about the collapse of the revolution. It does not alter the fact that the Catalonian masses were far more revolutionary than the POUM, which in turn was more revolutionary than its leadership. In these conditions to unload the responsibility for false policies on the “immaturity” of the masses is to engage in sheer charlatanism frequently resorted to by political bankrupts.
Responsibility of Leadership
The historical falsification consists in this, that the responsibility for the defeat of the Spanish masses is unloaded on the working masses and not those parties which paralysed or simply crushed the revolutionary movement of the masses. The attorneys of the POUM simply deny the responsibility of the leaders, in order thus to escape shouldering their own responsibility. This impotent philosophy, which seeks to reconcile defeats as a necessary link in the chain of cosmic developments, is completely incapable of posing and refuses to pose the question of such concrete factors as programmes, parties, personalities that were the organisers of defeat. This philosophy of fatalism and prostration is diametrically opposed to Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action. Civil war is a process wherein political tasks are solved by military means. Were the outcome of this war determined by the “condition of class forces,” the war itself would not be necessary. War has its own organisation, its own policies, its own methods, its own leadership by which its fate is directly determined. Naturally, the “condition of class forces” supplies the foundation for all other political factors; but just as the foundation of a building does not reduce the importance of walls, windows, doors, roofs, so the “condition of classes” does not invalidate the importance of parties, their strategy, their leadership. By dissolving the concrete in the abstract, our sages really halted mid-way. The most “profound” solution of the problem would have been to declare the defeat of the Spanish proletariat as due to the inadequate development of productive forces. Such a key is accessible to any fool. By reducing to zero the significance of the party and of the leadership these sages deny in general the possibility of revolutionary victory. Because there are not the least grounds for expecting conditions more favourable. Capitalism has ceased to advance, the proletariat does not grow numerically, on the contrary it is the army of unemployed that grows, which does not increase but reduces the fighting force of the proletariat and has a negative effect also upon its consciousness.
There are similarly no grounds for believing that under the regime of capitalism the peasantry is capable of attaining a higher revolutionary consciousness. The conclusion from the analysis of our author is thus complete pessimism, a sliding away from revolutionary perspectives. It must be said – to do them justice – that they do not themselves understand what they say. As a matter of fact, the demands they make upon the consciousness of the masses are utterly fantastic. The Spanish workers, as well as the Spanish peasants, gave the maximum of what these classes are able to give in a revolutionary situation. We have in mind precisely the class of millions and tens of millions. “Que Faire” represents merely one of these little schools, or churches or chapels who, frightened by the course of the struggle and the onset of reaction publish their little journals and their theoretical etudes in a corner, on the sidelines away from the actual developments of revolutionary thought, let alone the movement of the masses.
Repression of Spanish Revolution
The Spanish proletariat fell the victim of a coalition composed of imperialists, Spanish republicans, socialists, anarchists, Stalinists and on the left flank, the POUM. They all paralysed the socialist revolution which the Spanish proletariat had actually begun to realise. It is not easy to dispose of the socialist revolution. No one has yet devised other methods than ruthless repressions, massacre of the vanguard, execution of the leaders, etc. The POUM of course did not want this. It wanted on the one hand to participate in the Republican government and to enter as a loyal peace-loving opposition into the general bloc of ruling parties: and on the other hand to achieve peaceful comradely relations at a time when it was a question of implacable civil war. For this very reason the POUM fell victim to the contradictions of its own policy. The most consistent policy in the ruling bloc was pursued by the Stalinists. They were the fighting vanguard of the bourgeois-republican counter-revolution. They wanted to eliminate the need of Fascism by proving to the Spanish and world bourgeoisie that they were themselves capable of strangling the proletarian revolution under the banner of “democracy”. This was the gist of their policies. The bankrupts of the Spanish People’s Front are today trying to unload the blame on the GPU. I trust that we cannot be suspected of leniency toward the crimes of the GPU. But we see clearly and we tell the workers that the GPU acted in this instance only as the most resolute detachment in the service of the People’s Front. Therein was the strength of the GPU, therein was the historic role of Stalin. Only ignorant philistines can wave this aside with stupid little jokes about the Chief Devil.
These gentlemen do not even bother with the question of the social character of the revolution. Moscow’s lackeys, for the benefit of England and France, proclaimed the Spanish revolution as bourgeois. Upon this fraud were erected the perfidious policies of the People’s Front, policies which would have been completely false even if the Spanish revolution had really been bourgeois. But from the very beginning the revolution expressed much more graphically its proletarian character than did the revolution of 1917 in Russia. In the leadership of the POUM, gentlemen sit today who consider that the policy of Andres Nin was too “leftist”, that the really correct thing was to have remained the left flank of the People’s Front. Victor Serge, who is in a hurry to compromise himself by a frivolous attitude toward serious questions, writes that Nin did not wish to submit to commands from Oslo or Coyoacan. Can a serious man really be capable of reducing to petty gossip the problem of the class content of a revolution? The sages of “Que Faire” have no answer whatever to this question. They do not understand the question itself. Of what significance indeed is the fact that the “immature” proletariat founded its own organs of power, seized enterprises, sought to regulate production, while the POUM tried with all its might to keep from breaking with bourgeois anarchists who, in an alliance with the bourgeois republicans and the no less bourgeois socialists and Stalinists, assaulted and strangled the proletarian revolution! Such “trifles” are obviously of interest only to representatives of “ossified orthodoxy.” The sages of “Que Faire” possess instead a special apparatus which measures the maturity of the proletariat and the relationship of forces independently of all questions of revolutionary class strategy.
Oaxaca leads the workers and peasants struggle July 22, 2007Posted by raved in Commune, Oaxaca.
The 14 of June of 2007 thousand of workers and farmers were mobilized headed by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) and Section 22 of the teachers’ union, included teachers’ educational delegations from Chiapas, Federal District, Guerrero, Jalisco, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, Valley of Mexico and Durango etc, that form National Coordinator of Workers of Education (CNTE), a radical faction within the national teachers union. This was the first anniversary of the formation of the Commune of Oaxaca. The Commune was formed by defeating to the police attack on their camp unleashed by the PRI state Governor Ulises Ruiz (URO).The camp was set up by striking teachers and the Commune took control of the central city, taking decision in a popular assembly, forming its own self defence squads, creating a temporary dual power of the APPO against the bourgeois state. The Commune was a popular response to the attacks of imperialism and the bosses on the workers and farmers on both sides of the border. The ghost of the Mexican revolution was seen looming over North America. Oaxaca became the vanguard of the revolutionary struggle of the masses against imperialism in Latin America, inseparable from the struggle of immigrants in the U.S.A. Like the workers and teachers Neuquén and Santacruz, in the Argentine Patagonia, and other struggles in Latin America, they were betrayed by the same treacherous class collaborationist leaders associated with the Zapatistas and the World Social Forum, and suffered the repression of the bourgeois state forces.
This 14 June the people went on the streets again demanding the immediate resignation of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, the release of the political prisoners, the bringing to justice of those in charge of the repression, the withdrawal of all charges against members of the APPO and the demilitarization of the communities of the state of Oaxaca, following the defeat of the APPO in a heroic struggle against the forces of the PFP led by URO and President Fox and his successor Calderon (PAN)in October-November of 2006.
Now it is necessary to return to the fight to avenge the 24 comrades who died, free the hundreds of prisoners who still rot in the jails, and stop the persecution of the activists and teacher by the murderous regime of Calderón and Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca which is still occupied by the Federal Preventative Police (PFP).
The workers and farmers who formed the commune put all their efforts into the struggle and yet were defeated. Not because of any lack of will to fight, or lack of heroism, quite the reverse. Nor was it the superior strength of the repressive forces. This defeat was the sole responsibility of the leaders of the political currents organised in the World Social Forum who left the heroic fighters of the Commune isolated and disarmed. The results are clear. Those who lead the APPO to defeat were the reformist leadership of the APPO associated with the Castroite Communist Party of Mexico-Popular Revolution (PCM-FPR) and the New Left (affiliated to the Democrocatic Revolutionary Party of Obrador – PRD). The union bureaucracies played a criminal role in isolating the APPO from all the other union struggles, in order to subordinate them to the PRD of Lopez Obrador and his electoral ‘democratic front’ backed by the World Social Forum. Missing in action was the ELZN, led by Subcommandante Marcos, of “the other campaign” who travelled across Mexico by motor scooter preaching his message that it is necessary to “go slowly” and that “we can change the world without taking power”. All disarmed the insurgent workers in the face of the bourgeois repression.
These currents are today raising resolutions in APPO to tie it to the PRD ‘Democratic Front’. “(…) to strengthen all the efforts at national unity against the repressive governments such as , like the APPM; the National Dialogue; the Democratic National Convention (PRD front); and the General Council of Struggles and the Other Campaign (EZLN front). The APPO will have to act on the proposals passed by the assemblies, ensuring that representation in these assemblies is plural and inclusive.” (2ª STATE ASSEMBLY OF the APPO, Oaxaca to 15 of June of the 2007). To leave no doubt where these reformist currents stand, in the declaration calling for a march on June 29 they say. “(…) the movement today must meet with all the other sectors to unite and demand the resignation of [URO] as soon as possible, as our objective has always been to replace the corrupt government of Oaxaca with a democratic government which serves all sectors of Oaxaca society; this can never happen under URO so it is necessary to change the articles of incorporation.” (APPO, 27 of June of 2007, City of the Resistance, Oaxaca).
The PRD led by Lopez Obrador , and backed by stalinism and the reformist currents in the World Social Forum has a ally in the EZLN of Marcos. They played the key role in preventing the masses from rising up against Fox-Calderón when they stole the Presidential election from Obrador, and turning the Federal District and all of Mexico into another Oaxaca. Instead the masses were contained by the “planton” (camp) in the Zocalo of Mexico City of two months by Lopez Obrador while he organised the “Democratic Front” against the electoral fraud of the PAN. The PRD and its collaborators thus prevented the masses from independent action and subordinated them to the fraction of the bourgeoisie that the PRD represents (as pro-imperialistic, antiworker and defending NAFTA as Fox, Calderón of the PAN as well as the PRI). It is this swindle of the PRD and Lopez Obrador against the exploited masses that is the real “fraud: that is, to make the masses think they can have “democracy” without breaking with imperialism, without throwing out NAFTA, and with the PRD/PAN/PRI state regime. Playing a supporting role, the EZLN and Marcos, in his knitted cap, comes to the aid of the NAFTA regime, when the masses threaten to make a revolution. They are the ‘celebrities’ of the World Social Forum, the Castroities and Chavistas, who want to make a “Bolivarian Revolution” in Mexico.
Thus they made a trap for the Comuneros of Oaxaca. While the Government Secretary promised to meet the demands of the teachers, including a wage increase, dropping legal charges against the leaders of the APPO, and to release the political prisoners, a Senate Commission declared Oaxaca to be in a state of “anarchy” creating the pretext for the massive repression that followed. . The leaders of the APPO, Castroites and PRD members and supporters of Marcos, knew of the situation and refused to prepare the masses for the attack. By entering the negotiations the class collaborators and conciliators of the APPO leadership opened the doors to the repression. The consequences of their policy today can be counted in the number of dead, dissappeared, tortured, imprisoned, wounded and persecuted comrades.
Inside the leadership of the APPO the Castroites of the PCM-FPR and the New Left (PRD members) did all they could to stop the struggle of the comuneros from coordinating and concentrating all the militant forces of Mexico in Oaxaca. They refused to call on the workers and peasants organisations in struggle to send mandated delegates of the base to Oaxaca to organize the defense of the commune and a national general strike in support. They prevented therefore – following exactly the policiy of Marcos and the WSF – that after 12 years of NAFTA, the workers and peasants from rising up against the the huge imperialist offensive to complete the privatisation and sacking of national assets, such as PEMEX (Mexican State Petroleum) and the national electricity company.
No honest observer it can have any doubt that the role of Marcos was fundamental. The EZLN had in their hands the ‘power’ to prevent Oaxaca from being isolated. It would have been enough to call on the workers and poor farners if Chiapas and Guerrero to rise up beside their oaxaqueños brothers and sisters with the demands that the EZLN first raised in 1994: “Down with NAFTA”, “Land for the peasants” and “Down with the hated regime”! When the workers and peasants of Guerrero also came together, following the example of Oaxaca, and creating popular assemblies, they were prevented by Marcos and the EZLN from answering the call of their brothers and sisters of the Commune of Oaxaca to unite in a same fight against imperialism and the NAFTA regime of the PAN, PRI and PRD..
Because Marcos says it is necessary to “go little by little” the EZLN refused to make available of the defense of the Commune of Oaxaca all its resources and media to oppose the repression of the PFP. Meanwhile Marcos wrote poems travelled across Mexico building “the Other Campaign”, that is to say, the subordination of the masses to the bourgeoisie of the PRD. By his actions he prevented the unity of the workers workers and poor farmers of Guerrero and Chiapas to join the APPO to create a Federation of workers and peasants Communes of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas, that without doubt would have reopened the road to the Mexican revolution demolishinig the regime of the PRI, PAN, and PRD, the only way to smash NAFTA and guarantee the land for the peasants and the other demands raised by the chiapanecos from 1994.
But it is also in San Salvador Atenco where the consequences of the criminal policy of the EZLN can be seen. When the workers and peasants of the Peoples Front and Defence of the Land (FPDT) cut the Texcoco-Lecheria highway in May 2006, they were brutally attacked by the PFP forces. Two comrades were killed, many wounded, 28 jailed and 146 arrested and charged. And in Michoacán a state governed by the PRD, in April of 2006, when the heroic iron and steel workers, joined by the miners, occupied the Sicartsa plant, they were attacked also by the PFP, leaving 2 dead, tens of wounded.
It was obvious to all that in Oaxaca two alternative powers faced one another, two different and irreconciliable classes: on one side the power of the imperialistic monopolies, the national bourgeoisie, its armed forces and paramilitary bands; on the other, the power of the workers, peasants and poor people. Once again the purveyors of the ‘democratic front’, put the combative masses on their knees before the national bourgeoisie, and the result is a catastrophic defeat for the workers and peasants. Marcos and the Castroites in alliance with the PRD, they are the one really responsible for the defeat of the heroic comuneros of Oaxaca.
The struggle of the masses in Mexico is indissolubly linked to the struggle of the immigrant in the U.S.A. The class collaborationist policy the EZLN and the Castroites, along with Lopez Obrador and the PRD in Mexico, ensured that the Oaxaca commune did not spread to the Latino migrants in the US, subordinating them to the Democratic Party of Clinton and Obama. Thus, the ‘celebrities’ of the WSF helped to contain the political opposition to the Iraq war of the US working class behind the pacificist opposition of the Democrat Party left, and migrant workers faced a new attacks as happened in Los Angeles on May 1st.
Have Elections Split the APPO? June 13, 2007Posted by raved in Uncategorized.
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The Oaxaca Volcano Stews
On the first anniversary of the beginning of last summer’s feverish uprising here, the city’s jewel-box plaza which had been occupied for seven months by striking teachers and their allies in the Oaxaca Peoples’ Popular Assembly (APPO) from May until October when federal police forced them into retreat, shimmered in the intense spring sunbeams. The only massive police presence on view was the city police department’s orchestra tootling strident martial airs to a shirt-sleeved crowd of gaffers. Here and there, handfuls of burley state cops, sweltering in bulletproof vests and helmets in hand, huddled in the shade quaffing “aguas frescas” (fruit water) and flirting with the senoritas. Evidence of last summer’s occupation has been obliterated. Surrounding government buildings have been scrubbed clean of revolutionary slogans and no marches were scheduled to commemorate last May 22nd when the teachers first established their camp in the plaza. Indeed, militant members of Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) were not encamped in the stately old square for the first time since the section’s founding 27 years ago. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), the object of their fury, was still the despotic governor of Oaxaca.
Despite the relaxation of U.S. State Department travel advisories and the apparent calm, few tourists were strolling the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca’s “Historic Center”. long ago designated the patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, and the cavernous colonial hotels around the plaza were virtually deserted. The 2006 uprising has put a serious kibosh on the international tourist trade, the backbone of the local economy. If the experience of San Cristobal de las Casas after the 1994 Zapatista uprising is any lesson, the tourist moguls will take years to recoup.
“Apparent calm” is a euphemism oft utilized to describe the uneasy lulls that mark social upheaval in Mexico. True to the nation’s volcanic political metabolism with its fiery spurts of molten fightback and sullen, brooding silences, the Oaxaca struggle seems to have entered into a period of internal contemplation.
Government repression, which featured death squad killings and the jailing of hundreds of activists, slammed the lid down on the social stew but did not extinguish it. Discontent continues to brew and fester, the bad gas building down below. The structures of the Popular Assembly and the teachers union, which served to catalyze this discontent throughout 2006, remain in tact.
To be sure, the rainbow of social movements that lit up red bulbs as far away as Washington last year, are not enjoying their best moments. Section 22, which itself is a loose amalgam of left factions, is wracked with division and dissonance and its titular leader Enrique Rueda Pacheco is held in profound contempt for having forced the strikers back into the classroom last October and abandoning the APPO to savage government repression.
Moreover, in response to the 70,000-strong Section 22′s rebellion against the leadership of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), union czarina Elba Esther Gordillo, a close confidante of President Felipe Calderon, chartered a new Oaxaca local, Section 59, to diminish the control that the militants exert over the state’s classrooms.
The division has put a dent in the teachers’ usual aggressive stance and instead of walking out this past May 15th, National Teachers Day, when new contracts are negotiated, Section 22 tentatively accepted a 4.8$ base wage increase (above the 3.7% Calderon had conceded to other sectors) and 122 million bonus pesos to “re-zone” Oaxaca for cost of living increases in this tourism-driven state.
Although the “maestros” did participate in a two-day boycott of classes in May to protest the Calderon government’s privatization of government workers pension funds, whether the teachers will take part in an indefinite national walk-out June 1st that has been called by dissident education workers organized in the Coordinating Body of Education Workers or CNTE, remains unresolved at press time.
Nonetheless, the teachers’ disaffection with Ulises remains strong and Section 22 spokesperson Zenen Reyes last week (May 23rd) called upon the teachers and the APPO to push for cancellation of the Guelaguetza, an “indigenous” dance festival in July that has become Oaxaca’s premier tourist attraction. Last year, the strikers and the APPO destroyed scenery and denied access to the spectacle, forcing URO to suspend the gala event. In its place, activists reclaimed this millennial tradition of Indian cultural interchange by staging a “popular” Guelaguetza in the part of the city they were occupying, and plans are afoot to repeat that celebration this year.
The Oaxaca Popular Peoples Assembly, which came together after the governor sent a thousand police to drive the maestros out of the plaza last June 14th and which at one time included representatives of the state’s 17 distinct Indian peoples and many of the 400 majority indigenous municipalities plus hundreds of grassroots organizations, is equally fractured. Having borne the brunt of the repression – 26 killed, 30 disappeared, hundreds imprisoned – the Popular Assembly has been reduced to a defensive posture when only months ago it was an aggressive lightning rod for social discontent.
Even more debilitating than the government crackdown has been the prospect of upcoming local elections August 7th to choose 42 members of the Oaxaca legislature and October 5th balloting for 157 non-Indian municipal presidents (majority indigenous municipalities elect their presidents via traditional assemblies.) While the APPO considers that its goals transcend the electoral process and rejects alliance with the political parties, some Popular Assembly leaders engage in a quirky dance with the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) which last July almost catapulted Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) into the presidency.
Prominent APPO mouthpiece Flavio Sosa, jailed by Calderon as his first political prisoner, is a former Oaxaca party leader and the PRD has mobilized to achieve his release.
Perhaps the cruelest blow the APPO and the striking teachers struck against Ulises came during July 2nd 2006 presidential elections. Although URO had promised the long-ruling (77 years – at least in Oaxaca) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) a million votes for his political godfather Roberto Madrazo, the popular movement inflicted the “voto del castigo” (punishment vote) against the PRI, handing the state to AMLO’s presidential bid in addition to electing both PRD senators and nine out of 11 federal representatives to the new congress for the first time ever.
The left party seemed positioned to bump Ruiz again in 2007 by taking the state legislature and neutralizing the tyrannical governor’s clout. But instead of rewarding the APPO and Section 22 for having dumped the PRI in 2006, the party has responded by excluding activists from its candidate lists.
“If, at one time, there was hope that elections could provide a solution to the conflict, exclusion of the APPO has canceled them,” writes Luis Hernandez Navarro who follows Oaxaca closely for the national daily La Jornada.
One Oaxaca-based PRD insider who preferred not to be named confides that APPO activists were vetoed by the left party’s national leadership least front-page photos of the candidates hurling rocks during last summer’s altercations lend credence to the perpetual allegations of the PRI and Calderon’s right-wing PAN that the PRD is “the part of violence.” Most local candidacies were distributed in accordance with the laws of PRD nepotism and amongst the party’s myriad “tribes.”
The exclusion of the APPO activists so infuriated 50 members of grassroots organizations led by Zapotec Indian spokesperson Aldo Gonzalez that they stormed the PRD’s Oaxaca city headquarters May 18th, leaving its façade a swirl of spray-painted anguish. The failure to select candidates from the popular movement, Gonzalez and others charge, throws the elections to URO, suggesting that the PRD has cut a deal with the APPO’s arch enemy.
Given the hostilities the upcoming elections have sparked so far, the August and October balloting could well signal another “voto del castigo” – this time against the PRD.
The election season was in full swing by mid-Spring in Oaxaca. PRD leader Felix Cruz who had just coordinated Lopez Obrador’s third tour of the Mixteca mountains (AMLO was conspicuously absent during last summer’s struggle) was gunned down in Ejutla de Crespo on May 21st. Juan Antonio Robles, a direction of the Unified Triqui Liberation Movement (MULT), a participating organization in the APPO, met a similar fate the next day. That same week, a car carrying a local candidate for Elba Esther Gordillo’s New Alliance Party was riddled with gunfire along the coast. Drug gang killings have also jacked up the homicide rate in the state – under Ulises’ governance, drugs and drug gangs have flourished.
Meanwhile, in classic “cacique” (political boss) style, the PRI governor is out and about dishing up the pork to buy votes, passing out cardboard roofing and kilos of beans, building roads to nowhere and bridges where there are no rivers to cross, to pump up his electoral clientele. Gifting opposition leaders with pick-up trucks to enlist their allegiances is a favorite URO gambit, notes Navarro Hernandez.
Despite the ambitions of some of its members, the APPO is not enthusiastic about participating in the electoral process. At a statewide congress in February, APPO members were allowed to run for public office as individuals and only if they resign from any organizational function.
Miguel Cruz, an APPO activist and member of the directive of the CIPO-RFM or Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca – Ricardo Flores Magon (Flores Magon was a Oaxaca-born anarchist leader during the Mexican revolution) is not a partisan of the electoral process. Seated in the CIPO’s open-air kitchen out in Santa Lucia del Camino, a rural suburb of Oaxaca city where police gunned down U.S. journalist Brad Will last October, Miguel explains his disdain for how the elections have split the APPO “when they were supposed to bring us together.”
“Everyone is working on their own agendas now and the so-called leaders are all looking for a ‘hueso” (literally ‘bone’ – political appointment.) This is a crying shame. The APPO is a mass movement, not a political party. Our consciences are not for sale.”
June 14th, the day last year Ulises sent a thousand heavily armed police to unsuccessfully take the plaza back from the striking teachers, is a crucial date. The APPO and Section 22 are planning one of their famous mega-marches which last summer sometimes turned out hundreds of thousands of citizens. Will June 14th signal a resurgence of massive resistance and if it does, will the popular leadership be able to restrain hotter heads and government provocateurs that last November gave the federal police the pretext to beat and round up hundreds? Miguel Cruz is hopeful the APPO will persevere. “Whatever the ‘leaders’ do and say, the APPO lives down at the bases.”
Up the steep, windy hill in San Pablo Etla where the cognoscenti live above the hurly-burly on the streets of Oaxaca, political guru Gustavo Esteva views the popular struggle down below geologically. “The popular movement in Oaxaca is like an active volcano” he writes in La Jornada, “last year when it erupted, the movement left its mark in the form of molten lava trails. Now the lava has cooled and formed a cap of porous rock that marks the point through which the internal pressure will find its way to break through to the surface again.”
John Ross is back in Mexico City hot on the trail of Brad Will’s killers and re-immersing himself in the real world. Write him at email@example.com.