(1/3) (by /u/flesh_eating_turtle) “These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world.” - Friedrich Engels
- Introduction -
While the phrase “left unity” has come into great fashion lately, it seems that this has done little to stem the tide of anarchist assaults on everyone and everything having to do with Leninism. Everybody reading this will no doubt be able to recall at least one occasion on which they were smeared as a “tankie”, “authoritarian”, or (most insultingly of all) a “red fascist”. This has left us with little choice but to respond, a task which we are often woefully unprepared for.
In the interests of protecting the legacy of socialism from these attacks, I have compiled this post addressing the various accusations and slanders put forth by our more utopian comrades.
Keep in mind that I am not attacking those anarchists who legitimately stand with Leninists and support socialist revolution; these anarchists are good comrades, even if we have theoretical differences. Rather, I am responding to those sectarian anarchists who, in the words of Michael Parenti, “support every revolution except the ones that succeed.”
- “Leninist States Were Nothing But Horrible Dictatorships!” -
Perhaps the most common allegation put forth by the anarchists is this one, that the USSR, Red China, etc. were little more than brutal dictatorships, with no participation by the workers themselves. However, the truth of the matter is far more complex. While the Leninist states did commit excesses, they were far less extreme than is usually claimed, and there was a great deal more participation by workers than anarchists generally like to admit. Let us focus on the USSR as an example.
For one thing, the common claim that Soviet gulags were political prisons used to silence dissenters is, for the most part, untrue. An excellent study on this was conducted by J. Arch Getty (and others), and published in the American Historical Review, the most prestigious historical journal in the world:
In addition to pointing out that the total number of gulag prisoners was far lower than previously thought, the study also states that:
The frequent assertion that most of the camp [gulag] prisoners were ‘political’ also seems not to be true.
The study found that between 12% and 33% of camp prisoners were imprisoned for political offenses, with the rest convicted of legitimate crimes. This is corroborated by a CIA report on the topic, which found that as many as 95% of prisoners in the camps they investigated were non-political:
As for the issue of mass participation and political repression, research by Robert Thurston (Professor emeritus at Miami University at Ohio), published in the Cambridge University Press’ Slavic Review, deals with this topic quite well:
Thurston remarks that:
Stalin, the press, and the Stakhanovite movement all regularly encouraged ordinary people to criticize those in authority.
He also points out that many arrests in the 1930’s were actually late punishments for genuine offenses, such as serving in the White Army during the Civil War. Thuston also puts forth the question “If the citizenry was supposed to be terrorized and stop thinking, why encourage criticism and input from below on a large scale?” He also states that “my evidence suggests that widespread fear did not exist in the case at hand [the Soviet “Great Terror” period].”
Thuston also wrote a good book on this topic, published by the Yale University Press:
In it, Thurston states that:
Stalin did not intend to terrorize the country and did not need to rule by fear. Memoirs and interviews with Soviet people indicate that many more believed in Stalin’s quest to eliminate internal enemies than were frightened by it.
The book also states that:
…between 1934 and 1936 police and court practice relaxed significantly. Then a series of events, together with the tense international situation and memories of real enemy activity during the savage Russian Civil War, combined to push leaders and people into a hysterical hunt for perceived ‘wreckers.’ After late 1938, however, the police and courts became dramatically milder.
One particular quote from Thuston demonstrates the entire point of this problem, and why we are hesitant to condemn the USSR for its excesses:
There was never a long period of Stalinism without a serious foreign threat, major internal dislocation, or both, which makes identifying its true nature impossible.
The genuine material conditions of the time (which anarchists consistently refuse to acknowledge) had an enormous impact on the functioning of these societies. The USSR, for example, dealt with sabotage, multiple invasions, constant infiltration and foreign threat, etc. And despite it all, they still managed to include a great deal of mass participation, even if this did not extend as far as we would like.
- Analysis of the Anarchist Revolution in Spain -
If we are to take anarchist critiques seriously, then they must present us with a genuine alternative to the Leninist model. However, a practical analysis of anarchist revolution shows that they have no such alternative to offer. Their successes have largely been due the adoption of Leninist tactics, while their failures have resulted from their own unique features.
For the sake of brevity, we will focus our analysis on Revolutionary Spain, the most famous of anarchist revolutions.
After the initial revolution, a system of courts were set up, which dispensed ruthless justice against fascist sympathizers and right-wingers. According to Juan Garcia Oliver, the Anarchist Minister of Justice (how’s that for a phrase!):
Everybody created his own justice and administered it himself…Some used to call this ‘taking a person for a ride’ [paseo] but I maintain that it was justice administered directly by the people in the complete absence of the regular judicial bodies.
Diego Abad de Santillan, editor of Solidaridad Obrera (the official CNT newspaper), said the following:
We do not wish to deny that the nineteenth of July brought with it an overflowing of passions and abuses, a natural phenomenon of the transfer of power from the hands of privileged to the hands of the people. It is possible that our victory resulted in the death by violence of four or five thousand inhabitants of Catalonia who were listed as rightists and were linked to political or ecclesiastical reaction.
The anarchists even implemented a system of labor camps for fascist sympathizers. Juan Garcia Oliver remarked:
The weeds must be torn out by their roots. There cannot be and must not be pity for the enemies of the people, but… their rehabilitation though work, and that is precisely what the new ministerial order creating “work camps” seeks… great irrigation canals, roads, and public works must be built immediately.
The book Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts (used as a source by Libcom, incidentally) is useful for discussing this topic:
The book remarks:
The work camps were considered an integral part of the “constructive work of the Spanish Revolution,” and many anarcho-syndicalists took pride in the “progressive” character of the reforms by the CNT minister of justice. The CNT recruited guards for the “concentration camps”, as they were also called, from within its own ranks.
While the use of the term “concentration camps” is unfortunate (this was pre-Holocaust, remember), the use of a labor camp system hardly seems particularly anarchistic.
Now, let us discuss the economy. Our primary source for discussing the economy in Catalonia will be the book The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution by Burnett Bolloten, which discussed the events from a pro-anarchist perspective:
After only a short time, the anarchists saw the need for organized economic planning, after completely decentralized self-management led to economic chaos. CNT member Albert Perez Bara commented:
After the first few days of euphoria, the workers returned to work and found themselves without responsible management. This resulted in the creation of workers’ committees in factories, workshops and warehouses, which tried to resume production with all the problems that a transformation of this kind entailed. Owing to inadequate training and the sabotage of some of the technicians who remained many others had fled with the owners the workers’ committees and other bodies that were improvised had to rely on the guidance of the unions… Lacking training in economic matters, the union leaders, with more good will than success, began to issue directives that spread confusion in the factory committees and enormous chaos in production. This was aggravated by the fact that each union… gave different and often contradictory instruction.