I won’t be joining the Internationalist Commune in celebrating the Communist International

We often re-blog posts by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava and we offer this critique of the article here, in a spirit of comradeship:


The author correctly identifies the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Second International, well established by 1914. Following the defeat of the Paris Commune insurrection in 1871, the International Workingmen’s (sic) Association, which had brought together many radical tendencies, had fallen apart amid personal quarrelling and intrigue. At the London conference that year, Marx and Engels succeeded in passing a resolution that concluded:

“Considering, that against this collective power of the propertied classes the Working Class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes; that this constitution of the Working Class into a political party is indispensable in order to assure the triumph of the Social Revolution and its ultimate end – the abolition of classes; that the combination of forces which the Working Class has already effected by its economical struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists – the Conference recalls to the members of the International: that in the militant state of the Working Class, its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united.”

To paraphrase the above: “fight the bourgeoisie using the political structures they devised to manage the capitalist mode of production, relying for success on the balance of class forces created by capitalism itself.” This remains the position of the parliamentary left to this day.

The Marxists and Anarchists went their separate ways; Marx and Engels turned to electoral politics particularly with the German Social Democratic Party (S.P.D.), which they had helped found. The S.P.D., like the British Labour Party later on, benefited from a short period of capitalist prosperity and rapid economic growth from military industrialisation, which put a premium on skilled labour. Trade union membership was high, and the workers were able to win material improvements through political representation. This seduced them into believing they could beat the bourgeoisie at their own game, thus ‘Social Democracy’ ceased to be socially revolutionary and came to represent the lily-livered reformist hypocrisy of the present day.

“The decades of peaceful gradual development transformed the character of social democracy. The labour leaders had bent under the sustained pressures of capitalism. For the developing careerists Marxist phrases were used at May Day processions, on workers’ holidays and other such occasions, whereas in day to day work they adapted themselves to bourgeois society. The trade unions and the SPD had become rich and powerful, and had begun to harbour careerists and place-seekers at every level. These privileged layers now had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, in effect becoming not an instrument for the overthrow of capitalism, but of mediation between the classes.”

– Rob Sewell: ‘Germany: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution’

Then in 1905:

“A strike of miners in the Ruhr basin broke out and rapidly spread out of the control of union leaders to the whole mining region. The strike involved both organized and unorganized workers and raised not only economic demands but a political demand that the Prussian state take responsibility for the conditions in the mines. The trade union leaders were unable to stop this strike so they resorted to the tactic of leading it and then calling it off.”


Sound familiar?

“This catastrophic policy which led to the emasculation of the socialist movement and its absorption into the capitalist State, rendered the German socialist movement (numerically the strongest in the world) impotent to resist the First World War as well as the rise of Nazi fascism — historical tragedies whose magnitude it is impossible to assess.”

– Sam Dolgoff: ‘A Critique of Marxism’.

Nevertheless, the Comintern was not founded to unite the workers of the world, so that they might throw off their chains – they were already doing so. In the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, Working Class insurrections were breaking out spontaneously on every continent of the earth. The Russian Revolution of February* 1917 was just one of these.

* The terms ‘February’ and ‘October’ revolution refer to the old Julian calendar that was in use in Imperial Russia. Lenin adopted the Gregorian calendar on 14th February 1918, advancing two weeks to synchronise with the Western world. The popular revolution started on what is now International Women’s Day, 8th March; the Bolshevik coup d’etat actually took place in November.

Marxist theory had it that the workers must be patient and wait for the mode of production to advance until it had outgrown capitalism. Marx perceived that capitalism was inadvertently engaged in the process of collectivising labour, thereby creating the conditions for its overthrow. An inexorable centralisation of political and economic power would eventually make the market inoperable, giving way to universal ‘state capitalism’. Then all the technical advances developed through the greed of the bourgeoisie would be at the disposal of the Working Class.

The theory was not easy for everyone to understand, the effects of alienation made it hard for workers to see their class interest as they struggled with their day to day survival, so they would have to be overseen by those in the know, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ – in practice a dictatorship of bourgeois intellectuals. Now if that idea seems with hindsight, too stupid for words, we have to bear in mind that the 19th Century Working Class had been virtually reduced to livestock already. It was hard to imagine their conditions being made any worse, then came the First World War.

However, by the end of that war, production in the industrial zones had advanced to the point where the workers could indeed have taken control, while currents of revolutionary syndicalism developed simultaneously amongst African, Asian, Russian, Spanish and Latin American peasants, encouraging them to proletarianise and collectivise themselves in one move, providing a methodology for abolishing both capitalism and the state.

“What the Socialist does realise is that under a social democratic form of society the administration of affairs will be in the hands of representatives of the various industries of the nation; that the workers in the shops and factories will organise themselves into unions, each union comprising all the workers at a given industry; that said union will democratically control the workshop life of its own industry, electing all foremen etc., and regulating the routine of labour in that industry in subordination to the needs of society in general, to the needs of its allied trades, and to the departments of industry to which it belongs; that representatives elected from these various departments of industry will meet and form the industrial administration or national government of the country.

In short, social democracy, as its name implies, is the application to industry, or to the social life of the nation, of the fundamental principles of democracy. Such application will necessarily have to begin in the workshop, and proceed logically and consecutively upward through all the grades of industrial organisation until it reaches the culminating point of national executive power and direction. In other words, social democracy must proceed from the bottom upward, whereas capitalist political society is organised from above downward.”

– James Connolly: ‘Socialism Made Easy’ 1909.

Isn’t that beautiful? The italics are mine.

That could have been the function of the Russian ‘Soviets’, the workers’ councils that gave their name to the new republic, but Lenin wanted a vanguard revolutionary party, so instead they became an arena for politics. In fact the soviets were not the creation of the Bolshevik movement but arose spontaneously during the social convulsions of 1905. Coming from the fields and the factory floor, such upheaval took the clandestine Bolshevik sect entirely by surprise, and Lenin, Trotsky and co struggled to work out how to turn it to their advantage.

“The Petersburgh Committee of the Bolsheviks was frightened at first by such an innovation as a non-partisan representation of the embattled masses. It could find nothing better to do than to present the Soviet with an ultimatum: immediately adopt a Social-Democratic programme or disband. The Petersburgh Soviet as a whole, including the contingent of Bolshevik working men as well, ignored this ultimatum without batting an eyelid”.

– Leon Trotsky: “Stalin”, London, 1947.

Trotsky joined the Petrograd Soviet and became its chairman, establishing his revolutionary credentials by getting locked up when the uprising collapsed. Soviets appeared again in 1917, threatening not only the old order, but Lenin’s new cadre of ‘professional revolutionaries’, who were to be the instrument of the party committees and have no truck with the common workers. This aloofness caused them to be caught on the hop yet again.

Such attitudes are partly explained by the origin of the party as a criminal conspiracy – one of many – against Tzarism. Although it had widespread and genuine support among sections of the Working Class, they exerted little influence on it. Those who showed promise were plucked from the factory to be supported by the growing underground bureaucracy. Clandestine operations did not lend themselves to frank discussion or consensus decision making, so they behaved as wolves among sheep. In April 1917 the German high command arranged for twenty-eight Bolsheviks, including Lenin, to travel to Petrograd by sealed train on a well-funded mission to take Russia out of the war.

Under the provisional government that followed the abdication of Tzar Nicholas, the factory committees extended themselves as far as they could, imposing an eight hour day, demanding to see the books and effectively writing their own contracts wherever they could get away with it. Lenin was ever one to play to a selected audience; writing in April 1917, he advocates workers’ control with recallable elected officials, paid no more than factory average. However, he wants this system ratified by a government decree – i.e. from above, and sees the factory committees as a stepping stone to nationalisation, which he insists, “in no way implies the introduction of socialism”, but is simply a measure to restore order and prevent the collapse of war production. He’s clearly walking a tightrope between the classes.

Within the factory committees themselves, the Bolsheviks pandered to the revolutionary fervour, resisting the Mensheviks’ recommendation that they be under the control of the trade unions, in which the Bolsheviks were still relatively weak. After their October takeover, however, that is precisely where they would be. Lenin had been honest in one respect: the priority was never to create socialism, just to expropriate the political and economic power of the bourgeoisie, the factory committees movement was a temporary means to that end.

In July (old calendar) Pro-war polititician Aleksandr Kerensky, a sometime Socialist-Revolutionary* lawyer who had become an advocate for bourgeois revolution, is installed as prime minister and launches an unsuccessful military offensive, mass desertion follows, soldiers and peasants begin expropriating land. As things hot up Lenin slopes off to Finland, where he writes the highly opportunistic ‘The State and Revolution’** to ingratiate with anarchists and other anti-authoritarian workers. By the end of August, Kerensky has lost control and is facing a military coup, he has to go cap in hand to the Bolsheviks who recruit twenty-five thousand Red Guards to defend Petrograd. When they have occupied the city Lenin sends an imperious letter to the Bolshevik central committee ordering them to seize power immediately. They “unanimously decided to burn it”.***

* A broad-based agrarian socialist party.

** Lenin appears to abandon the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat for a sort of anarchosyndicalist direct democracy, preceded by only the briefest period of coercive force to “crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie”. He claims to have started writing it in Switzerland but left the manuscript behind. Like most of his writings it’s composed of polemics against his rivals. If it’s indicative of anything at all, it’s Lenin’s insincerity.

*** N. Bukharin: From the speech of Comrade Bukharin in a commemorative evening in 1921, Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.10, 1922.

On the 5th October (old style) the provisional government decided to send the bulk of their forces, mainly those with revolutionary sympathies, to the front. This resulted in most of them immediately switching allegiance to the Petrograd Soviet, which by then had just achieved a Bolshevik majority with Trotsky as its president. It formed a Military Revolutionary Committee, comprising forty-eight Bolsheviks, fourteen Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, and four anarchists. It obtained the backing of the militant sailors of the Baltic fleet garrisoned on the island forts at Kronstadt, (many of whom were anarchists) which they had recently tried to declare an independent republic.

At 9:45 p.m. on the 25th October (old money) the cruiser Aurora fired a blank shell over the palace and the remaining loyalist troops made themselves scarce. At 2 a.m. Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko broke into the Winter Palace through a window in the servant’s quarters, taking with him a few of the Red Guards whose main interest was the Imperial wine cellar, and arrested the provisional government. This was the “storming of the Winter Palace” immortalised in the art of socialist realism.

As Petrograd went on the piss, the new day dawned to the Proclamation of Council of Peoples Commissars (Sovnarkom)* during the opening session of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. This body would have supreme executive power, its members nominated not by the Soviets but by the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee.

* Of its original incumbents, five – including Lenin and Stalin – died of natural causes, eight were executed, one assassinated (Trotsky) and one died in prison.

It was further proclaimed that:

“All power has passed to the Soviets …”

So they had all better go back to work and await instructions:

“… New laws will be proclaimed within a few days dealing with workers’ problems. … 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.”

In November Lenin issued a decree, no less, on “workers’ control”, which only formalised the arrangements workers had already implemented for themselves. As I’ve written elsewhere, the only purpose of granting rights is the option to withhold them. The proletariat was no more than an abstract to Lenin, another middle-class lawyer who had never done a stroke of work in his life.

Point 5 of the decree stipulated that:

“the decisions of the elected delegates of the workers …” could be “annulled by trade unions and congresses”.

Point 6 declared:

“in all enterprises of state importance” delegates were “answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property”.

Point 7 defined these 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.”

Which is pretty much everything.

“… 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. Lozovsky: ‘Workers’ Control’ Petrograd 1918.

In fact the All-Russian Council, stuffed as it was with delegates from bodies hastily constructed by the new government, never held a quorate meeting. By hook or by crook, the party dominated the soviets and took them over, or just dissolved them by decree. The trade unions usurped the functions of the factory committees. Instead of expressing the will of the workers to the centre, they carried the decisions of the centre to the workers; thus the Dictatorship of the Proletariat became the dictatorship of the Party.

“They have come out with dangerous slogans. They have made a fetish of democratic principles. They have placed the workers’ right to elect representatives above the Party. As if the Party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the workers’ democracy!”

– Leon Trotsky: to the tenth party congress, March 1921.

“Dangerous slogans”, eh? The tenth congress took place during the siege of Kronstadt which put paid to the unsuccessful ‘Third Revolution’, one of thousands of local uprisings against Bolshevik dictatorship. Trotsky was actually referring to the ‘Workers’ Opposition’ a mildly critical Communist Party faction drawn from the Trade Union bureaucracy, whose members had actually worked in industry and knew something about it.

It is precisely this separation of the political from the economic, of the needs and ambitions of the workers from their productive environment, which doomed the U.S.S.R. to perpetuate capitalist values and power structures through a long and wasteful detour around social revolution. Lenin explicitly referred to creating state capitalism, supposedly a fast-forward to capitalism’s end game, well aware this would take many years. The term ‘socialism’ was mainly used for propaganda effect and bore no relationship to actual production methods, which were highly centralised and authoritarian.

“Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labour processes that are based on large – scale machine industry…. today the Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process”.

– V.I. Lenin: The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. 1918

The proletarian revolution was dead, if unburied.

“If we are to speak seriously of a planned economy, if the mode of distribution of labour power is to be brought into full correspondence with the economic plan at any given stage of its development, then it is impermissible for the Working Class to lead a nomadic existence. In the same way as with troops, they must be prepared to be stationed in holding camps, posted here or there or simply ordered about.”

– Leon Trotsky: Russian Correspondence, Inprecor, Volume 10, 1920.

I could fill a book with quotes from Lenin and Trotsky about the necessity of dictatorship and state terrorism; the workers were to be treated like cattle in the name of their emancipation. They were all expendable and their lives could be taken whenever it was found expedient to do so, this principle was established from the outset. My favourite line has a touch of the Monty Python about it:

“It is necessary, secretly and urgently, to prepare the terror,”

– V.I. Lenin: Memorandum to Nikolay Nikolayevich Krestinsky September 1918 quoted in ‘The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West’ by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin.

The Bolsheviks were engaged in a desperate power struggle with the Socialist-Revolutionaries, whose power base lay with the peasantry rather that the industrial Soviets, they advocated agricultural communes. Peasants were problematic as their fortunes depended on the harvest alone – there was no abstract power relation to be transferred from the bourgeoisie to the state. In good times they were self sufficient, they didn’t need the state but the state certainly needed them, to be the provisioners of the factories and the army. In Marxist terms they had no revolutionary potential because once they had control of the land they would be immune to party politics. As Eric Hobsbawm points out:

“Peasants, however unrevolutionary, want land, and lack of land is against natural justice. The remarkable characteristic of the proletarianised [agricultural] labourer was that he (sic) no longer wanted land, but higher wages and good employment”

– Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude: ‘Captain Swing’.

Higher wages and good employment are in the gift of the controllers of the means of production, but land is only obtained by taking it, therefore the proletarianisation of the peasantry is a priority of both bourgeois and Bolshevik revolutions.

The militant wing of the S.R.s favoured the guerrilla tactics of the 19th Century ‘People’s Will’ anarchist movement that had assassinated Tzar Alexander the second. Lenin was recovering from gunshot wounds after arbitrarily dissolving the constituent assembly in which the S.R.s had just been voted an overwhelming majority. Stalin’s proposal for “open and systematic mass terror” was hastily approved by all the other Bolshevik leaders, running scared from the wave of bombings and shootings. In the first year of the Red Terror the conservative official figures admit to 6,300 summary executions by the Cheka. Civil War followed, in which Trotsky stationed troops at the rear to shoot anyone caught retreating without permission.

The function of the Comintern then, was to give the Bolsheviks a monopoly on class struggle, to franchise their brand of revolution, as it were, and elimininate their rivals as they had done at home. Sure enough, within twenty years, all the valiant efforts of the revolutionary Working Class in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, swirled down the giant plughole that was the Communist International.

In August 1920 Angel Pestaña attended the Second Congress of the Third International on behalf of the Spanish National Confederation of Labour (C.N.T.). The libertarian union affiliated to the Comintern the year before, although it had affirmed itself as apolitical. The appearance of a proletarian takeover in Russia excited anarchists just as much as everyone else and the news from the east were confused at best, amid the vitriol spewed out by the bourgeois press. Throughout 1917, partly inspired by these events, Spain had trembled on the brink of revolution. Anarchist and socialist unions united in a general strike, military conscripts mutinied and barricades were erected in the streets. Anarchists were sensitive to the idea of tactics being shaped by local conditions, and slow to condemn fellow workers. Errico Malatesta summed up his uncertainty privately to Luigi Fabbri:

“With the expression dictatorship of the proletariat, our Bolshevising friends intend to describe the revolutionary event in which the workers seize the land and the means of production and try to create a society in which there is no place for a class that exploits and oppresses the producers. In that case, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be a dictatorship of all and it would not be a dictatorship in the same sense that a government of all isn’t a government in the authoritarian, historical, and practical meaning of the word … In reality, it’s the dictatorship of a party, or rather, the leaders of a party. Lenin, Trotsky, and their comrades are doubtlessly sincere revolutionaries and won’t betray the revolution, given their understanding of it, but they are training government cadres that will serve those who later come to exploit and kill the revolution. This is a history that repeats itself; with the respective differences having been considered, it’s the dictatorship of Robespierre that brings it to the guillotine and prepares the way for Napoleon. … It could also be that many things that seem bad to us are a product of the situation and that it wasn’t possible to operate differently, given Russia’s special circumstances. It’s better to wait, especially when what we say cannot have any influence on events there and would be poorly interpreted in Italy, making it seem like we’re echoing the reactionaries’ biased slanders.”

– Errico Malatesta: quoted by Luigi Fabbri in ‘Dictatorship and Revolution’ 1922.

Whilst in Moscow Pestaña met with anarchists such as Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Augustine Souchy, who expressed their disillusionment with the Bolshevik regime. He told the congress he had no mandate to endorse the announcement of a new Red Labour International, with its specifically Marxist language. He knew the membership would never accept the control of a party:

“Everything referring to the taking of political power, the dictatorship of the proletariat … must wait for decisions that the CNT will take after my return to Spain, when the Confederal Committee learns what has been decided here.”

– Jose Peirats Valls: ‘Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution’.

The Communists promised to amend the document to take account of the Spanish delegate’s reservation, then in his absence they published the original text and appended Pestaña’s name. He found the proceedings farcical:

“The chairman made the rules, presided over the deliberations, modified proposals at will, changed the agenda, and presented proposals of his own. For a start, the way the chair handled the gavel was very inequitable. For example, Zinoviev gave a speech which lasted one and one-half hours, although each speaker was supposedly limited to ten minutes. Pestaña tried to rebut the speech, but was cut off by the chairman, watch in hand. Pestaña himself was rebutted by Trotsky who spoke for three-quarters of an hour, and when Pestaña wanted to answer Trotsky’s attack on him, the chairman declared the debate over. He also protested the way in which speakers were chosen. Theoretically each delegate could speak on every issue, but the chair selected “the most capable ones”. He was also shocked that no minutes were kept. Nor did they vote by national delegation, only by individual delegate. It had been agreed to count the vote proportionally, but the agreement was not kept, and the Russian Communist Party assured for itself a comfortable majority. On top of everything, certain decisions were made behind the scenes and never reached the assembly at all. That is how the following motion was approved:

In the future worldwide Congresses of the Third International, participating trade union organizations will be represented by delegates from the Communist Party of their respective countries.

All protest on this decision was simply ignored.”


The proposed structure of the Red Labour International would likewise place all the domestic activities of affiliated unions under the supervision of their local Communist parties. An exasperated Pestaña reported back recommending the C.N.T. review its affiliation. He was imprisoned on his return to Spain; in fact the entire National Committee was arrested the following year, leaving the union temporarily in the hands of Marxists Joaquin Maurin and Andreu Nin, who sat on the report. The decision had to wait until the Confederation’s 1922 congress when it affiliated to the anarchosyndicalist International Workers Association instead.

By the time Malatesta’s words appeared in print, the character of Lenin, Trotsky and the others was evident and the guillotine was in full swing. Anarchists with a high international profile were left unmolested but their comrades were slaughtered in droves. The venerable Pyotr Kropotkin returned from his 41-year exile in July 1917. Unlike Lenin who was granted safe passage by the Kaiser, Kropotkin took his chances with the U-boats in the North Sea. He visited the dictator to intercede on behalf of a friend condemned to death, and demanded an end to the reprisal shootings and hostage-taking the new state had resorted to.

“You and I have different points of view. Our aims seem to be the same, but as to a number of questions about means, actions, and organisation, I differ with you greatly. Neither I, nor any of my friends, will refuse to help you; but our help will consist only in that we will report to you all the injustices taking place everywhere from which the people are groaning.”

– David Shub: ‘Kropotkin and Lenin’ 1948,

published in English by Bastard Press and currently available from Wessex Solidarity.

And he did so until the end of his life in 1921:

“Russia has become a Soviet Republic only in name. … At present it is ruled not by Soviets but by party committees … If the present situation should continue much longer, the very word “socialism” will turn into a curse, as did the slogan of “equality” for forty years after the rule of the Jacobins.”

– (ibid.)

“Is it possible that you do not know what a hostage really is – a man imprisoned not because of a crime committed but only because it suits his enemies to exert blackmail on his companions? . . . If you admit such methods, one can foresee that one day you will use torture, as was done in the Middle-Ages.”

– (ibid.)

The dynamic duo took some following, Stalin made no secret of his intention to cram three centuries worth of primitive accumulation – he used the British Empire as an analogy – into a generation; unsurprisingly twenty million people died in the process. In 1928 the Comintern adopted its ultra-left ‘class against class’ policy mainly to settle internal power struggles and facilitate forced collectivisation, re-armament and industrialisation. This had the effect of isolating foreign Communist Parties from the Working Class movements in their respective countries. They became ever more irrelevant to their own social struggles, as they were pitted not against the bourgeoisie, but against the unions and parties of the Second International. It was this silly turf war that left the field open for the rise of fascism.

When it became apparent that the workers of the world were not, in fact, going to unite and follow the Russian example, Stalin settled for the status quo. Building on Lenin’s substitution of the Party for the Class, the ideal was now a one-party controlled economy competing successfully in bourgeois terms, building an empire in a capitalist world. Trotsky, who clung to the idea of world revolution, was expelled and later murdered, along with his supporters and most of the October revolutionaries. Stalin set quota for arrests and executions that his minions competed with each other to exceed. The function of the Third International and all the foreign Communist Parties affiliated to it explicitly shifted from fermenting revolution to protecting the strategic interests of the U.S.S.R. A policy defined as ‘Socialism in One Country’, so just as the interests of the Russian Working Class had been subordinated to the all-important state, so the workers of the world would, where necessary, by sacrificed on the same altar.

Why did so many revolutionaries abandon their critical faculties in blind obedience to Moscow? The scientific certainty of Marxism jarred with the failure of the revolution to spread beyond the U.S.S.R. and any serious analysis of this could only lead to heresy and loss of faith. The Soviets alone had succeeded in achieving their historic destiny, and they were encircled by enemies who would stop at nothing to put them back in their box; this gave them a monopoly on truth. So foreign Communists became devoted acolytes of an opportunistic and peculiarly Russian cult, requiring little intellectual capacity in their leadership.

“Leaving aside for the moment the scientific validity of ‘Scientific Socialism’, did we who became adherents of Marxism think about these theories scientifically? Not at all. We were disciples, advocates, expounders, missionaries of the ‘Cause’. These theories became the substance of our Faith, containing all we hoped for, enabling us to see what we wished to see. We were subordinating our reasoning to belief as all religionists do, transforming theories into doctrines, interpreting the social transformation taking place before our eyes as the ‘disintegration of capitalism’ despite the fact that life was flouting the basic tenets of our doctrines. Suddenly, the whole Marxist thesis of capitalism bursting itself asunder in the most highly developed and industrialised countries first was knocked sky high, for behold the ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’ were declared by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to be the opening days of the ‘World Proletarian Revolution’. Did we stop in our tracks, ask why we had been forestalled by our new god ‘history’ and query whether the Russian Revolution could be what its leaders claimed it to be? Not at all. We were missionaries of a faith and cared not two hoots whether it was Peter or Paul who led the Proletarian hosts or whether the Revolution began in Jerusalem or Rome.”

– J.T. Murphy: ‘Twilight or Dawn?’

Peace News, The International Pacifist Weekly, 7th December, 1956

Found at: Marxists Internet Archive.

Once the vision of proletarian revolution had given way to the grubby tactical manoeuvring of incompetent paranoiacs, there ceased to be any objective criteria for the correctness of any policy. The leader of the U.S.S.R. could never be incorrect so no debate was possible, only parrot-style repetition of jargon. The most disastrous errors of judgement could always be retrospectively attributed to the last batch of counter-revolutionaries. The preposterous Trotsky-fascist conspiracy theory used to justify the purges in Russia and Republican Spain had to be endorsed in every report to Moscow, so the boss’s paranoia was fed with lurid tales of spy-rings, gangs of Trotskyist saboteurs and Bukharinist bandits. When the Kremlin decided to replace the Spanish Prime Minister for refusing to endorse such nonsense the two Spanish Comintern delegates, Jose Diaz and Jesus Hernández, accepted the decision with regret, believing the move too divisive. Palmiro Togliatti refused to minute their reservations, on the grounds that it was “inadmissible” to accept that there could be any discussion on the matter. Hernández was then further humiliated, being ordered to publicly call for Caballero’s resignation.

The baffling and meaningless verbal formulations used to justify each reversal of direction, the fabrications and pseudo-ideological analyses were a silly game played in deadly earnest by folk who knew the slightest departure from approved terminology could get them denounced and shot. When Stalin farted, officials of the Comintern would strain to reproduce the precise tone, vibrato and stench. They applauded every policy change: from class against class to the ‘popular front’ against fascism; the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939 and even the dissolution of the Comintern itself in 1943 were all greeted with rapturous enthusiasm. When the rank and file had their way, as at Cable Street, the leadership explained that was what they had intended all along.

With the partition of Europe after the Second World War, both sides were served by representing the Soviet system as socialist or communist, allowing the bourgeoisie to demonise socialism as an idea, whilst giving the Soviet regime a false legitimacy among the militant proletariat, this was still going on in my lifetime, and its echoes have yet to die down. For me, the movement that turned Working Class militants into sycophants, gangsters and pimps is the real tragedy of the twentieth century. But as a disaffected young man I too was seduced by the symbolism, by the romance of revolutionary authority, the illusion that somewhere in the world capitalism had already been defeated and those who were ruining my life exerted no influence. There was the cult of Che Guevara, he may have been a psychopath but he was our psychopath.

The ends justified the means we were told, but they lost sight of the ends and only the means survived. In Marxist language, the failure to abolish the alienation of labour from the means of production, the continued reduction of human qualities to the exchange-values of things, not by markets but by a class of bureaucrats, perpetuated capitalist power relations. Wage labour is an abusive relationship however you dress it up, and money is of itself a structural oppression.

“This ideological construct of a unified “national interest” includes the fiction of a “neutral” set of laws, which conceals the exploitative nature of the system of power we live under. Under corporate capitalism the relationships of exploitation are mediated by the political system to an extent unknown under previous class systems. Under chattel slavery and feudalism, exploitation was concrete and personalized in the producer’s relationship with his master. The slave and peasant knew exactly who was screwing them. The modern worker, on the other hand, feels a painful pounding sensation, but has only a vague idea where it is coming from.”

– Kevin A. Carson: ‘The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand Corporate Capitalism as a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege’.

The Soviets never said: “go and be creative, and show us what you can achieve”, they said: “build us an icebreaker, a rocket, a camera”. They said “build apartments everyone can afford”, not “apartments everyone will want to live in”. As for artificial scarcity, the driver of capitalism, they were masters at that. Why would people need to ‘afford’ anything in a territory the size of the U.S.S.R. with all its resources? The reason is simple; had they stopped converting human activity to exchange values, they could not have retained their power, they would not have been a government at all.

Marx’s scientific theories became fetishises, the slogans worshipped to banish reason made a litany even more stupefying than the subtle deceptions of liberalism. Soviet Communism was no more than the reification of the Bolsheviks’ methods: centralisation, uniformity, orthodoxy, obedience, coercion, secrecy, treachery and deceit. Not the nurturing of human strengths but the manipulation of human weaknesses.

Their symbols went everywhere, they all put up statues of themselves; the personality cult is reification writ large. With the relations of production no longer masked by the market, everyone could see where the “painful pounding sensation” was coming from, as in earlier modes of production, the controllers and operators were not subject to the same laws, it was a return to monarchy. Their totalitarianism was authority in a vacuum, without even the justification of tradition or metaphysics to anchor it in the culture, just “do as I say or I’ll shoot you”. Thus it swiftly paved the way for its more durable alter ego, fascism.

‘The state’ became a synonym for socialism on both sides of the iron curtain. This mirage of an alternative to capitalism provided a foil for its most ruthless proponents to refine their own exploitative mechanics, to the extent that when the Russian empire collapsed, the bourgeoisie claimed to have won the class war!

“In the struggle for these objectives Bolshevism will eventually be seen to have been a monstrous aberration, the last garb donned by a bourgeois ideology as it was being subverted at the roots. Bolshevism’s emphasis on the incapacity of the masses to achieve a socialist consciousness through their own experience of life under capitalism, its prescription of a hierarchically structured ‘vanguard party’ and of ‘centralisation to fight the centralised state power of the bourgeoisie’, its proclamation of the ‘historical birthright’ of those who have accepted a particular vision of society (and of its future) and the decreed right to dictate this vision to others – if necessary at the point of a gun – all these will be recognised for what they are: the last attempt of bourgeois society to reassert its ordained division into leaders and led, and to maintain authoritarian social relations in all aspects of human life.”

– Maurice Brinton: The Bolsheviks and Workers Control

1917 – 1921 The State and Counter-revolution.

Sure enough, the Russians eventually created capitalism and their corrupt bureaucracy survived the transition seamlessly. In seventy years they hadn’t even managed to abolish racism, misogyny, homophobia and religion, all those vices and delusions re-surfaced with a vengeance.

Maoism or ‘Third World-ism’ took Stalin’s Popular Front a stage further and stood Marx on his head. If you can establish the idea that your vanguard party substitutes for the aspirations of the proletariat in all circumstances, you don’t actually need a proletariat. Applying Marxist symbolism to societies with the feudal mode of production and pre-capitalist power relations, the goal is an unashamedly bourgeois revolution. Styling themselves Revolutionary Communists, Maoist cadres appeal to nationalism and anti-imperialism, recruiting peasants to take the land through a guerrilla campaign. The party will then seize state power using cross-class alliances with anyone who fancies getting ahead of the old order, and transform itself into a homespun bourgeoisie.

I think it best to understand these historical phenomena in terms of the psychological deterioration of individuals corrupted by power and the fear it inspires, rather than wasting effort on ideological analysis. Not that mass murder is any more acceptable when conducted in the name of liberal democracy. The point is that if you once accept the primacy of an abstract: the state, the law, the economy, religion, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or what-have-you, over individual human life, it becomes possible to justify absolutely anything. I could do it, you could do it, whatever you like, limited only by your ability to manipulate the language. Capital and the state must always regenerate each other, so that abolishing one without the other is not even theoretically possible.