--- Appendix A ---
Truth is always concrete
One of the problems with focusing our attention so exclusively on what happened in 1920's Russia is that it is difficult for modern readers to make any sense of the concrete conditions which existed there. How many of the readers of this essay know who the SR's were? Or why the Bolsheviks prohibited the promotion of the slogan "Freedom to buy and sell grain"? Or what happened in Siberia or the Caucasus?
The study of history is valuable and necessary. But it is one thing to study the past--and another to live in it. I study the past in order to serve the present and the future. I do not have the time to reply to all of the questions on which Daniel appears confused (hopefully there will eventually be other talented people on the pof-200 list who might help out) but I will make an effort to deal here with one or two of the historical and philosophical themes that Daniel has raised.
Are all ruling classes the same?
Daniel asserts that it didn't really make any difference whether the 1917 revolution was defeated by the external bourgeoisie or the internal counter-revolution (ie: "it isn't important which ruling class takes power ... the consequences for us are identical. We get hung, shot, drawn, quartered, guillotined ..."). This is a relatively clear example of thinking that is guided by over-generalization.
Although in both cases the revolution fails and is defeated--a more sober analysis will show that the differences between these two kinds of defeat are of world historic importance.
The economic development of Soviet Russia in the 1930's and 1940's was probably considerably higher than it would have been if the Bolsheviks lost the civil war. Despite all the hardships (and purges, etc) which took place this translated into a substantially increased standard of living for well over a hundred million people. Within the space of a few decades a backward, semi-feudal country with a shattered economy was transformed into a major industrial power that almost single-handedly defeated nazi Germany and went on to challenge (as a rival) US imperialism.
Probably the best counter-example to the claim that all ruling classes are essential the same ... is the distinction between Weimar Germany and Hitler. Both represented forms of bourgeois rule.
In general, the aftermath of revolutions which are defeated internally (the best examples are probably the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and Stalin) have a different character than that of revolutions which are defeated by opposing, external force (the best example is probably Hitler--installed by the German bourgeoisie as a way to deal with the threat of revolution) which tend to be particularly savage and bloodthirsty.
Also important is the impact that the Soviet revolution had on the Chinese revolution (which could never have been successful without the inspiration of the Soviet example) and the various national liberation struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While the Chinese revolution failed to put the working class in power--it had a huge impact in raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of people. The impact of the Chinese revolution can be assessed by comparing China and India today. India today is at a distinctly lower level of development (hunger and malnutrition are far more widespread and severe--and the feudal caste system still survives in the countryside) although both countries were at a similar level of development in 1950.
Coming down from the mountaintop
Daniel reformulates his first question at the conclusion of his reply as follows:
If class struggle from below is the only thing that brings us any closer to communism, then how can an entity which has the capacity to dissolve the instruments which galvanize this struggle from below, bring us any closer to communism?
Is "class struggle from below" the only thing that pushes history forward? My view is that class struggle has many forms--some of which involve discipline and authority. It would appear to me that Daniel's tidy separation of "from below" and "from above" fail to fully reflect the complex reality of Russia in the early 1920's.
It takes a lot of time and energy to answer Daniel's reformulated question but somebody needs to do it. Anarchists and others have been asking and thinking about questions such as these for decades--and have not gotten very good answers from people who have called themselves marxists. Most of what they have gotten has been word-twisting, ignorance, evasion and dishonesty.
Somebody needs to give a reply to this which is not bullshit.
I will try give a non-bullshit answer--and see if I can avoid screwing it up too badly.
The confusion in Daniel's question originates from the fact that it is presented as an _abstraction_.
Abstractions of course are necessary. Our actions have power in the world because we can base our actions on abstractions we call "principles". And all words are abstractions on some level--so we would not be able to communicate (or even think) without the use of abstractions. And we are powerless to understand the world if we fail to take note of consistent patterns in events: the sun will come up tomorrow--because it has come up today--as it has for the last four and a half billion years since the earth formed.
But abstractions can also lead us into trouble--by lumping things into buckets with other things where they don't belong. Apples and oranges are both fruit--but they are still apples and oranges.
Material reality is never made up of abstractions. On the contrary: truth is always concrete. This phrase is worth underlining and remembering by every revolutionary activist who aspires to be a materialist. Here it is again: truth is always concrete.
Every situation is unique. Every revolution, every mass struggle, every instance of class rule has, in addition to its commonality with similar events, its own specific, concrete features. And every time we abstract from these concrete events we risk confusing ourselves.
The human body requires a beating heart to live. Without a beating heart it dies. Then how can stopping the heart help someone to live?
But surgeons might do this during open heart surgery.
Poisons will kill a person. But chemotherapy is based on the principle of poisoning the cells of the body. (The cancer cells--which are less robust--will die off more easily than healthy cells.)
No one can live without breathing. But anyone who swims underwater must learn to hold her breadth.
If these examples were left at the level of abstractions--all we would know was that people become or remain healthy by getting poisoned, having their hearts stopped--and not breathing. That is why we can only understand these situations by going deeper.
Daniel has trouble understanding why the Bolsheviks suppressed the democratic rights of the masses during and after the civil war because he is not able to understand the concrete circumstances of 1920's Russia--where an estimated twenty million died of famine and famine-related diseases such as typhoid. Daniel is unable to understand (or deal with the fact) that the majority of the peasants would have believed the fraudulent promises of the Mensheviks and SR's if these parties had been allowed the political space to exist. Daniel is unable to understand (or deal with the fact) that these parties would have surrendered to the bourgeoisie just like they had in Siberia and the Caucasus. Daniel is unable to understand (or deal with the fact) that a bourgeois/landlord/whiteguard restoration in 1920's Russia would have been far more bloody (and far less conducive to the economic development of Russia) than the Bonapartist regime which came to power by strangling, from within, Lenin's 1917 revolution.
More to the point, Daniel appears unable to understand (or deal with the fact) that material conditions in a modern economically developed country (such as the U.S. or Australia) with a working class majority and a digital communications infrastructure accessible to the majority of the population--are far more favorable than they were in 1920's Russia.
Sweeping generalizations vs. concrete analysis
"I will also assert, in relation to the question of state, is that under no circumstances is the suppression of this mobilisation from below ever in the interests of the working class – not even in the direst of political or economic conditions. This is the fundamental principle that distinguishes an anarchist from a Leninist. The fundamental contradiction of Ben’s position is that although he would like to claim that modern, "stable" conditions of production – particularly with modern communications infrastructure – guarantee future "revolutions" against "counter-revolutions" such as that suffered in Russia after 1917, he nonetheless also wants to maintain that the "emergency measures" (including the shooting of anarchists: see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pof-200/message/67) which ushered in these counter-revolutions were historically necessary, as a matter of principle, given the concrete conditions of the time. This implies that should such dire "concrete conditions" again emerge in some future revolutionary scenario – in particular, to the point where people’s basic material needs are no longer satisfiable at a mass level – then similar measures would in principle be equally justified."
--Daniel--July 1, 2003 (emphasis as in the original)
Daniel is confused concerning the fundamental principle that distinguishes an anarchist from a (genuine) Leninist. A genuine Leninist understands the necessity of basing actions on an analysis of concrete conditions--rather than on sweeping generalizations. Daniel (and many other anarchists) want to stay in their comfort zone of supreme abstraction and argue (per the analogy in the section above) that under no circumstances is it ever in someone's interests to have their heart or breathing stopped--or be poisoned.It would be a minor matter if this tendency (ie: to view life thru a filter of abstractions and generalities) were confined to a study of Soviet history. But the inability to analyze and deal with the world in concrete, material terms often spills into practical political activity (including email discussion lists) in the form of prejudices, knee-jerk reactions and emotionalism that obstructs calm and principled cooperation between revolutionary activists who have different views. > It has been said that there is little point in engaging
> in "rational" debate with Leninists; that a Leninist
> is a statist like any other statist, and that rather than
> debating them we should be trying to exclude them
> from our associations. I agree wholeheartedly with
> this, as should any other libertarian who has seen
> the effect a Leninist presence tends to have on
> affinity-group based organisations.
-- Daniel (Part 4--Nov 2002) emphasis added
I hope that, if nothing else, Daniel is able to recognize that these kind of sectarian comments help to keep the revolutionary movement weak and divided and assists the bourgeoisie.
I see no reason why activists with different views and interpretations of Soviet history cannot work together in a far more productive way than is typical at this time. Much of the current antagonism between anarchist communities and "Leninists" originates in the behavior of many of the supposedly "Leninist" organizations--which often act as unprincipled sects (ie: engaging in the skilled and sophisticated manipulation that Daniel has noted) competing to recruit the warm, living bodies of the young activists who are new on the scene and looking around for an organization with which to align their energies. But this only proves that real cooperation between activists must be based--not on ideology in the abstract--but rather a commitment to open, principled behavior and a common recognition of the need to oppose the reformist domination of the movement which keeps it so weak.
Cooperation in confronting the crisis of theory
One area of principled cooperation between activists that I would like to see--would be to assist in the distribution of installments of this debate. The installments have a calm tone and will assist activists to (a) think in more concrete terms about the future and the goal of the progressive movement, (b) help puncture the suffocating influence of the reformist ideology and (c) help lay the ideological foundation of a revolutionary mass movement.
Cooperation in developing weapons of extreme power
Another, much larger, area of cooperation between militant activists is work to create interactive news sites--that are not controlled (ie: as is the local Seattle Indymedia group) by liberals or reformists--and which are powered by the energy of readers who would rate posts, determine what articles are deserving of center column attention--and in general be actively involved in determining the site policies, principles and evolution.
I believe that it is around projects of this type that militant activists will get to know one another, learn of one another's work and views on basic issues--and create the network of people and organizations that may form the core of future revolutionary mass organizations.