Everything you ever wanted to know about tankies, but were afraid to ask

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin

One of the stranger developments of the past five years has been the resurrection of the word tankie. It's time for an explainer.

What does tankie mean?

On October 27th 1956, Peter Fryer, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and correspondent for its paper the Weekly Worker, arrived in Hungary. This was four days into an uprising of workers calling for worker controlled socialism. Factories had been taken over nationally by workers councils, in a demonstration of workers self-organisation that was unprecedented at the time, and the first strike on its scale in an Eastern-bloc country. On the 4th of November, Russian T54 tanks rolled into Budapest to suppress the uprising. Street fighting continued until the 10th November, although the workers councils held out for two months.

Fryer returned to the UK horrified by the Soviet repression he had seen, but his attempt to write about it for the Daily Worker was suppressed - the editors were sticking to the official USSR line that the entire uprising was a fascist counter-revolutionary plot and refused to publish anything contradicting that narrative. When Fryer wrote up his experiences anyway, he was expelled from the CPGB. Hungary 1956 split Communist parties across the world; many who had supported the USSR up until this point became disillusioned and split or left individually, while those who stayed loyal to the USSR earned the epithet 'tankies'.

After 1956, the USSR was to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968, then Afghanistan in 1979.

Are all Tankies Marxist-Leninists?

While the original 'tankie' epithet grew out of the split in the Communist Party of Great Britain, the geo-political 'anti-imperialist' support for the USSR and any state aligned against the USA has also been popular with some Trotskyist groups.

In the 1980s it was revealed that the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party (famous for the involvement of actress Vanessa Redgrave) had been receiving funding from Libyan intelligence services and passing details of Iraqi dissidents in the UK to Saddam Hussein.

In the USA, the Workers World Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation both originated in a split from the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party under Sam Marcy. Marcy split from the SWP over the position it took on Hungary '56, although somewhat bizarrely, also accused those who supported the uprising of being Stalinists. Both parties describe themselves as Marxist-Leninist now, and no longer cite Trotsky, but their origination was in the Trotskyist theory of the USSR as a 'deformed workers state.

So support for crushing of workers movements is shared by both some Marxist-Leninists and some Trotskyists, one explanation for this is that the actual politics of Stalin and Trotsky were not very different.

Are all Marxist-Leninists tankies?

The significance of Hungary was not only the uprising itself, but that it occurred in an Eastern Bloc country which was claiming to be socialist. This caused an existential crisis for any communist that still considered the USSR to be a workers' state. Along with Khrushchev's speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, exposing and denouncing many of the actions of Stalin.

It was at the same time that Mao began to gradually distance China from the USSR. Maoism had already become a distinct current but without any formal break, which was precipitated by Khruschev's speech and the international reaction to it. Both China and the USSR claimed to be the vanguard of Marxist-Leninism from this point onwards (from here sprang a million accusations of 'revisionism'). This was mostly due to the national interests of the two countries, and internal contradictions in China but was expressed politically as a split with Khrushchev.

The split between China and the USSR, between Maoism and Stalinism, had repercussions elsewhere, such as the multiple splits in the Communist Party of India in the mid-1960s, most often associated with the the Naxalite rebellion, or when the two countries supported opposite sides in Angola's civil war in the 1970s.

Tanks rolled into Tiananmen square in 1989, and those who supported the Chinese government against workers and students have sometimes been labelled 'tankies' too.

This means that 'Marxist Leninist' in the 1960s could include those still aligned with the USSR, those who had been aligned with the USSR but had split after 1956, those influenced by Maoism (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was coined later in the '90s) and even more confusingly, some Trotskyists would occasionally call themselves Marxist-Leninist too (because they were Leninist Marxists!).

Are all Leninist Marxists Marxist-Leninists?

There have been other historical currents that were influenced by Lenin, including Trotskyism, the Italian branch of Left Communism, and the Operaismo (workerist) tradition in 1960s and 1970s Italy, as well as major figures like CLR James (early on a Trotskyist and leading Pan-Africanist, later moving towards a council communist position). There are huge differences between these currents, as wide as the differences between 'anarchists' and 'marxists'. In terms of a relationship to Lenin we can identity some questions which most of these currents and others have had to answer:

- whether Lenin's work contains unique insights relative to other Marxists at the time
- whether Lenin was correct that Russia would have to pass through a capitalist stage prior to communism and that the task of the Bolshevik party was to raise the forces of production prior to a transition to communism.
- whether the conditions of Russia in 1917 apply to the US in 1960, or to anywhere in the world in 2018.
- whether the USSR was still revolutionary after 1921, 1927, 1956, or 1981.

The answers to these questions led Marxists like CLR James to abandon 'Leninism' almost entirely, whilst still retaining an admiration of Lenin the thinker and historical figure.

Were the Black Panthers tankies?

Some Black Panthers, such as Fred Hampton, described themselves as Marxist-Leninist, but were more influenced by the writings of Lenin and Mao (and the context of Vietnamese resistance to US invasion and African liberation struggles) than the internal or foreign policy of the the USSR. Huey Newton in 1970 introduced the idea of Revolutionary Intercommunalism, a clarification of his ideas which firmly rejected 'socialism in one country'.

In 1966 we called our Party a Black Nationalist Party. We called ourselves Black Nationalists because we thought that nationhood was the answer. Shortly after that we decided that what was really needed was revolutionary nationalism, that is, nationalism plus socialism. After analyzing conditions a little more, we found that it was impractical and even contradictory. Therefore, we went to a higher level of consciousness. We saw that in order to be free we had to crush the ruling circle and therefore we had to unite with the peoples of the world. So we called ourselves Internationalists. We sought solidarity with the peoples of the world. We sought solidarity with what we thought were the nations of the world. But then what happened? We found that because everything is in a constant state of transformation, because of the development of technology, because of the development of the mass media, because of the fire power of the imperialist, and because of the fact that the United States is no longer a nation but an empire, nations could not exist, for they did not have the criteria for nationhood. Their self‐ determination, economic determination, and cultural determination has been transformed by the imperialists and the ruling circle. They were no longer nations. We found that in order to be Internationalists we had to be also Nationalists, or at least acknowledge nationhood. Internationalism, if I understand the word, means the interrelationship among a group of nations. But since no nation exists, and since the United States is in fact an empire, it is impossible for us to be Internationalists.

These transformations and phenomena require us to call ourselves “intercommunalists” because nations have been transformed into communities of the world.
[...]
I don’t see how we can talk about socialism when the problem is world distribution. I think this is what Marx meant when he talked about the non‐state.

Former Black Panthers such as Russell Maroon Shoatz and Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, both of whom have spent years in prison for their association with the BPP, have broken with Marxist-Leninism after seeing how the Leninist structure of the Black Panther Party made it vulnerable to the FBI's COINTELPRO programme, and by examining the trajectory of Leninist revolutions.

So the BPP wasn't a monolithic entity politically, and the individual politics of its members as well as the orientation of the party itself changed over time. Rather than claiming it was any one thing, we can read what Black Panther Party members actually wrote in their own right.

And the League of Revolutionary Black Workers?

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, based in Detroit, described themselves as Marxist-Leninist, but they had close relationships with associates of CLR James such as Martin Glaberman, Grace Boggs, and James Boggs who had broken with Leninism more than a decade earlier, while also being influenced by Fanon and others. Once again the politics are a bit more complex than the labels.


CLR James, Grace Lee Boggs, Raya Dunyevskaya in the 1940s

What about anti-imperialism?

Anti-imperialism means different things to different people. Fundamentally, to be against imperialism should mean support for working class struggles against colonialism, and opposition to capitalist war. Unfortunately 'anti-imperialism' has often morphed into simply taking the side of the USSR in geo-political conflicts, and post-1990, unconditional support to the ruling class in any country aligned against the US.

Lenin in 1914 wrote in The Right of Nations to Self-Determination that communists should support the right of nations to secede, but not the specifics of any particular national struggle. This is because Lenin saw nationalist movements as essential to the development of capitalism over feudalism, as a step on the way towards communism:

Throughout the world, the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speak a single language, with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated.

Even within this stagist framework, Lenin still ultimately stated that the class struggle should take absolute precedence over the nationalist movement:

The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle. [...] the important thing for the proletariat is to ensure the development of its class. For the bourgeoisie it is important to hamper this development by pushing the aims of its “own” nation before those of the proletariat. That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right to self-determination, without giving guarantees to any nation, and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation.

Additionally, while American imperialism in 1916 was not at the level it is now, he also rejected the hypocrisy of simply playing off one imperialism against another, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

Let us suppose that a Japanese condemns the annexation of the Philippines by the Americans. The question is: will many believe that he does so because he has a horror of annexations as such, and not because he himself has a desire to annex the Philippines? And shall we not be constrained to admit that the “fight” the Japanese is waging against annexations can be regarded as being sincere and politically honest only if he fights against the annexation of Korea by Japan, and urges freedom for Korea to secede from Japan?

In War and Revolution Lenin wrote:

Nothing but a workers’ revolution in several countries can defeat this war. The war is not a game, it is an appalling thing taking toll of millions of lives, and it is not to be ended easily.

Lenin therefore saw anti-imperialist struggle as being in the realm of bourgeios national revolutions (something to 'critically support' but subordinated to the class struggle), dismissing inter-imperialist conflicts with the slogan "Turn the imperialist war into civil war".

Didn't the USSR support African national liberation?

Sometimes, but only when it supported the USSR's own geopolitical interests. CLR James described his conversation with George Padmore, who had joined the Communist Party and moved to the USSR in 1929, before leaving in 1934 due to the purges and a change in orientation:

But one day, sometime in late 1934 or 1935 there was a knock at my door and I went do the door and there was George Padmore. [...] He said, “I’ve left those people you know.” And that was the biggest shock I received since I had gone to Brazil three years before. “I have left those people” meant he had left the Communist Party. And he was the biggest black man in Moscow, dealing with black people and the colonial revolution. So I said, “What happened?” And he told me. He said, “They are changing the line and now they tell me that in future we are going to be soft and not attack strongly the democratic imperialists which are Britain, France and the United States. That the main attack is to be directed upon the Fascist imperialists, Italy, Germany and Japan. And George, we would like you to do this in the propaganda that you are doing and in the articles that you are writing and the paper you are publishing, to follow that line.” And George said, “That is impossible. Germany and Japan have no colonies in Africa. How am I to say the democratic imperialists, such as the United States is the most race ridden territory in the western world. So I am to say that Britain and France who have the colonies in Africa and the United States, can be democratic imperialists and be soft to them but be strong against Japan, Italy and Germany. That is impossible. What do you think of that?”

Isn't criticising the USSR anti-communist?

There is a tendency by everyone from conservatives, to liberals, to social democrats to criticise the 'crimes of communism' and ignore the actions of capitalist countries. This is complete shite and we reject it completely.

While there were famines and bread riots in the USSR in the 1930s, British policy caused the Bengal famine killing 3 million people in 1943.

While the USSR and China have imprisoned political dissidents, including many communists and anarchists, the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with some political prisoners held in solitary confinement for decades and 1,000 extra-judicial killings by police per year.

While Lenin deported dissident Bolsheviks like Miasnikov and presided over the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion, social democrats in Germany oversaw the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknicht in collaboration with the fascist Freikorps.

While the USSR had 'gulags', Britain put hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and Malayans into concentration camps in the 1950s, and there were forced-labour camps in the UK itself in the 1930s under Labour.

While the US healthcare system leaves people without medical care and destitute, Cuba despite economic sanctions has socialised healthcare and trains healthcare workers for other countries.

Liberal myopia sees a horseshoe where liberal democracy is 'reasonable' and fascism and communism are two poles of 'authoritarianism'. A libertarian communist critique asserts that communism is impossible within the framework of the nation state, and that all states, whether fascist, liberal democratic or socialist will suppress workers self-organisation in the interest of capital.

What about Syria, Iran, North Korea?

A central line of communist and anarchist thought and praxis has been internationalism, and an opposition to war in all its forms. This caused the split in the Second International in 1914 when German Social Democrats voted for war credits. However putting this into practice has turns out to be a lot more complicated.

With the war in Syria, opposition to US intervention, shared by all communists (though not necessarily social democrats), has been marred by support from some organisations for the Syrian government and Bashar Assad and Russia despite the of bombing civilians, on the basis that areas such as Eastern Ghouta are held by Islamist militias and that the 400,000 civilians trapped there are being used as 'human shields'.


The CPGB-ML

This is further complicated by Rojava, supported by both some Marxist Leninists and some anarchists, due to the Marxist-Leninist orientation of the PKK, the Libertarian Municipalist ideas recently adopted by the PKK's leader Ocalan, the TEV-DEM system of administrative councils, and the right to national self-determination of the Kurds. On the other hand, both some Marxist Leninists and some anarchist and anti-state Marxists have been fiercely critical of Rojava, due to collaboration militarily with the US against ISIS (and most recently with Assad against Turkey). On libcom.org we've continued to allow publishing of texts both critical and supportive of Rojava, and regularly get attacked for being NATO shills for both, whether it's the US against Assad or Turkey against Rojava.

With Iran, despite the religious nature of the regime and the fact that all communist parties are banned, when strikes and street protests broke out at the end of December 2017, there was an immediate reluctance to recognise the grassroots nature of the actions, due to the possibility that the US might use the protests as an excuse for 'regime change'. Some commentators went as far as to suggest the protests had been almost immediately hijacked by the CIA, Mossad, or Saudi Arabia.

The cases of Iran and Assad show that in these discussions, the internal contradictions of a country can be completely ignored, with the central question always being "is the country aligned against the US or not?" - on the one hand celebrating Assad's attacks against Islamists, on the other celebrating Iran's religious state against the Haft-Tappeh sugar workers or leftist students.

Our position is that regardless of the actions of the Iranian or Syrian state, we completely oppose foreign intervention, whether US, Russia, or Turkey, on the base that foreign intervention always makes things worse. But to oppose intervention does not require a denial of the internal contradictions of those states or the reality of working class resistance to them.

The same applies to North Korea - we reject under any circumstances US intervention in North Korea, hawks in the US talking about a nuclear weapons programme gloss over the US bombing Japan twice in 1945, let alone the use of depleted uranium shells against civilian areas in Iraq. But to reject sanctions and intervention can rely on a principled anti-militarism and internationalism, solidarity with the North Korean working class, not with Kim Jong Un personally. As we would support the Gwangju uprising in South Korea in 1980, we would support workers struggle in North Korea too.

But Communist parties are very successful in India/Japan?


Communist Party India - Marxist
While the CPI-M likes to hold huge rallies with hammer and sickle flags, it's policies are social democratic. It runs for elections, and where it wins pursues pro-business policies. In Kerala the new communist administration under Pinarayi Vijayan stressed partnership between management and trade unions and promised investment to stimulate industry, including 'Silicon Valley-like hubs'. Not quite seizing the means of production, then.

The Japanese Communist Party, with several members in the Japanese parliament (Diet) abandoned Leninism 25 years ago, deciding to pursue a purely electoral road to socialism, and has recently attempted to work with centrist liberal MPs.

They might be popular Communist Parties, but they aren't... communist.. at all.

What about American Marxist Leninists, are they social democrats too?

The Marcyite Party for Socialism and Liberation's program also sounds suspiciously social democrat if you actually read it, for example:

It will be a right of every person in the United States to have a job with guaranteed union representation and full social benefits provided by the socialist government, including a pension, health care, workers’ compensation, paid parental and family leave for up to two years, paid sick and disability leave, a minimum of one month’s paid vacation, and at least 12 paid holidays.

Isn't this... Sweden?

Working conditions will aim to enhance the humanity and dignity of all workers. The working week will be 30 hours.

That's ten hours less than Bernie's offering, but not quite the abolition of wage labour.

However the PSL is just one party, and you will also see Marxist Leninists oppose electoral activity, working on prisoner solidarity etc. The important thing is to actually read what people say they want, and observe what they do, not just listen to what they say about themselves or check whether there's a hammer and sickle or a rose printed next to the promise of full employment - these aren't the things that decide whether someone is communist or not.

Liberals just call anyone they don't like a tankie!

This is often true. There has been regular red-baiting of mild social democrat Jeremy Corbyn, recently accusing him of being a spy for East Germany in the '80s. The right wing of the Democrats at one point was calling any Bernie Sanders supporter a Russian-influenced alt-leftist. William Gillis of the Center for a Stateless Society recently said of us 'Remember when libcom was about as tankie and class-reductionist as you would ever encounter in the radical left, and we all viewed them as evil suspicious bastards because they wouldn't all outright id as anarchists? ' presumably due to our hosting and promotion of anti-state and post-Leninist Marxists.

Therefore if someone is using 'tankie', they may be objecting to a specific leftist ideology that prioritisies geopolitics over class struggle, or they might just be punching left. When liberals have a go at 'communism' they often mean the Soviet Union (and let's be honest sometimes it's tempting to tell people they'll be first in the gulags after the revolution when they do this, especially if it's fucking Jordan Peterson).

Should I work with Marxist-Leninists?

If you're organising at work or around housing issues, the people you work with are not going to all have the same politics at you, and your opinions on the July 1918 uprising of Left Socialist Revolutionaries after their expulsion from the Bolshevik government are not relevant to that situation. Yes, really, no-one gives a shit. You're relating to each other as workers in that situation, not as representatives of a political niche, at least we hope not.

Anarchists and Marxist-Leninists have also worked together as members of anti-fascist collectives in the US and elsewhere, and this is really a choice for people to make locally.

Things you should bear in mind when organising are -

However co-operation with individuals is very different from a left-unity project, coalitions of organisations etc. The questions to consider when a group is organised in for example an anti-war protest is are they going to try to divert a protest into an ineffectual rally, or co-operate with the police if protesters try to step outside strict limits of activity. Similarly with workplace organising, do co-workers have links with the union hierarchy or management? Approaches to this differ from organisation to organisation and is not strictly linked to ideology.

If there are real political and organisational disagreements, it's better to be open about them than gloss over them, and retain some independence.

Comments

rooieravotr
Mar 8 2018 22:04

Very good piece, so much insight crammed into one article wink One minor mistake: it is not ISIS that active in Eastern Ghouta, at least that is nog the cvlaim I see here and there. It is some other Jihadist factions, amongst whom is Al Nusra (under a new name).

Mike Harman
Mar 8 2018 23:36

Fixed that, thanks for pointing it out. Have seen several claims linking Eastern Ghouta to Isis but there's no point repeating those when it's not the central one being made.

Lucky Black Cat
Mar 9 2018 00:18
Quote:
Should I work with Marxist-Leninists?
If you're organising at work or around housing issues, the people you work with are not going to all have the same politics at you, and your opinions on the July 1918 uprising of Left Socialist Revolutionaries after their expulsion from the Bolshevik government are not relevant to that situation. Yes, really, no-one gives a shit. You're relating to each other as workers in that situation, not as representatives of a political niche, at least we hope not.

Well said! If we were in an actual revolution or a mass movement with revolutionary potential, then tankies are my enemies. But we're a long way off from that, so in the day to day class struggle, we're comrades. So long as they aren't trying to put themselves or their Dear Leader in charge. wink

Also, tankies make some dank memes. grin

R Totale
Mar 9 2018 13:32
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Quote:
Should I work with Marxist-Leninists?
If you're organising at work or around housing issues, the people you work with are not going to all have the same politics at you, and your opinions on the July 1918 uprising of Left Socialist Revolutionaries after their expulsion from the Bolshevik government are not relevant to that situation. Yes, really, no-one gives a shit. You're relating to each other as workers in that situation, not as representatives of a political niche, at least we hope not.

Well said! If we were in an actual revolution or a mass movement with revolutionary potential, then tankies are my enemies. But we're a long way off from that, so in the day to day class struggle, we're comrades. So long as they aren't trying to put themselves or their Dear Leader in charge. wink

Also, tankies make some dank memes. grin

Ehhh, yes and no - as I've mentioned, I have almost no real-life experience of what these folks are like in actual class struggle contexts, but in the context of, for instance, trying to organise practical solidarity with Iranian or Russian comrades facing state repression, I'd guess that most M-Ls would be very reluctant to give any comradely assistance to our "CIA psyops" or whatever.
But again, even international solidarity stuff tends to be on a kind of vague ideological level - if we look at, say, doing antifascist stuff, then you're gonna have to work with anyone who wants to practically disrupt fascist activity, and push forward a pro-WC response, and you're gonna have real problems with people whose strategy revolves around calling for the police to ban marches, or holding rallies on the other side of town with local politicians speaking, and I don't think ideological labels necessarily say much about who's gonna be on which side of those things - again, I don't have much IRL experience of tankies, but I can definitely think of Trots who're really sound on that stuff, and others who are very much not.
Similarly, in the context of an industrial dispute where rank-n-file workers are trying to resist union leadership from imposing a bad deal, or the kinds of class conflicts where you have to take on a Labour council, you'll probably get some ideological leftists of whatever stripe who are happy to help you out, and some who have good relationships with figures in the union leadership, or local Labour politicians, and so don't want to rock the boat and will try and clamp down on anything that might make their relationship with those people uncomfortable, and I don't think those divides are going to map neatly onto tankies or trots or even anarchos or whatever.

Steven.
Mar 9 2018 14:53
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Also, tankies make some dank memes. grin

Yeah I think meme culture has really helped the rise of the teenage tankies. I guess because in one sentence or in a soundbite, the ideas don't necessarily sound that bad. And a bunch of tankie meme pages are very funny. Although weirdly most of the big ones seem to be extremely transphobic, which is terrible…

In terms of working with tankies, TBH most of them just seem to be American kids on the internet. I've only really met one in real life who was a co-worker, so we worked together in organising sense at work (not that he did that much but was a solidly pro-worker ally)

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 16:12

R Totale's summary of the issues working with different groups are good and better than the one in the post. Might update to add a couple of concrete examples along those lines.

@Steven. The Americans in their early teens and twenties is both yes and no.

Where they've had most IRL influence has been the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition in the US - roughly equivalent to the Stop The War Coalition, which is a front Marcyite groups (first the WWP then the PSL), and from there you'll get members appearing on RT/Sputnik either as guests or hosting shows.

One thing I could have gone into more is that the most tankie-ist stuff around anti-imperialism applies as much to some Trotskyist groups as Marxist-Leninist ones. Sam Marcy was himself a Trotskyist, although the WWP and PSL have mostly written that out of their history.

The WRP in the UK in the '80s got funded by Gaddafi: https://libcom.org/library/revolution-betrayed-wrp-iraq

In the UK George Galloway has Tankie politics (pro-USSR, supported Saddam Hussein, supports Iran, doesn't support the DPRK though), also has a show on RT: https://www.rt.com/shows/sputnik/ as well as Talk Radio. Not sure exactly how Galloway identifies politically but he's anti-Trot.

Or Steve Hedley (senior assistant general secretary of the RMT). Used to be a member of the Socialist Party but he appears on the sites of this site run by a senior figure in a Belgian (I think Maoist) party:
Two articles claiming the Iranian uprising was entirely a US-backed attempt at a 'color revolution' on this Belgian Maoist site:
https://www.investigaction.net/en/interview-with-andre-vltchek-for-farhikhtegan-newspaper-in-iran/
https://www.investigaction.net/en/iran-surviving-another-attack-supported-from-abroad/

Interview with Hedley by the same site:
https://www.investigaction.net/en/brexit-corbyn-and-trade-unions-interview-with-steve-hedley/

Socialist Appeal:
Assadism and conspiracy theories: http://www.socialist.net/syria-the-barbarism-of-war-and-imperialist-hypocrisy.htm

Interview with Hedley again:
http://www.socialist.net/interview-with-steve-hedley-senior-assistant-general-secretary-of-the-rmt.htm

(this via https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/michel-collon-conspiracies-political-confusionism-and-steve-hedley-rmt/)

There are also many more people have some kind of Marxist-Leninist politics but aren't in a formal organisation. At an old job of mine at a sixth form college, the headteacher had a portrait of Che in his office ffs - people who think "I like communism" then adopt some imagery but don't really get past what is often in practice social democratic politics.

I've also run into at least a couple of people in IRL who believe one or more 'left conspiracy theories', especially around Syria.

So it's not that you run into tankie groups organising as such, this has not happened to me at least, but it's been a feature of the anti-war movement on both sides of the Atlantic, and both the imagery and some of the conspiracy/confusionism stuff has a reasonably wide reach with people who are 'leftie' but not organised.

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 16:51

Added a new section "Are all Tankies Marxist-Leninists?" to address the Trot issue.

Cooked
Mar 9 2018 18:53

Good piece but fails to emphasize why they are a problem. Perhaps the intro should be more clear about just how awful tankie politics are.

Steven.
Mar 9 2018 19:18
Cooked wrote:
Good piece but fails to emphasize why they are a problem. Perhaps the intro should be more clear about just how awful tankie politics are.

I don't know, I think to the vast majority of people they already get the problem with supporting mass murdering and genocidal dictators

R Totale
Mar 9 2018 19:35

Also, without wanting to go into full Daily Telegraph "CORBYN IS A CZECH SPY" mode, there is also a fair bit of crossover between the Andrew Murray/Morning Star old-school CPB folk and the those parts of the Labour left who now make up the contemporary Labour leadership - Seumas Milne being probably the clearest example of this. Obviously Corbyn/McDonnell themselves are genuinely, honestly left-reformist social democrats and not the undercover KGB agents that the right would like them to be, but they have also spent decades and decades working with the likes of Murray, Milne, Galloway et al, so there are shared loyalties and outlooks that grow out of that. I don't know how much, if any, crossover there is between yer excitable internet Maoists and the much more staid social-democrat leaning Morning Star types, but I guess there's still convergence on stuff like support for Assad, even if they might have different approaches on other things.

Also, The Two Souls of Socialism by Hal Draper has some really stupid distortions in ("anarchism is actually authoritarian socialism from above", lol), but also some very good points, and this bit sticks in my head:

Quote:
One [approach] has the perspective of overthrowing the present, capitalist hierarchical society in order to replace it with a new, non-capitalist type of hierarchical society based on a new kind of elite ruling class. (These varieties are usually ticketed “revolutionary” in histories of socialism.) The other has the perspective of permeating the centers of power in the existing society in order to metamorphose it – gradually, inevitably – into a statified collectivism, perhaps molecule by molecule the way wood petrifies into agate. This is the characteristic stigmatum of the reformist, social-democratic varieties of Socialism-from-Above...
The Communist Parties have shown themselves uniquely different from any kind of home-grown movement in their capacity to alternate or combine both the “revolutionary”-oppositionist and the permeationist tactics to suit their convenience. Thus the American Communist Party could swing from its ultra-left-adventurist “Third Period” of 1928-34 into the ultra-permeationist tactic of the Popular Front period, then back into fire-breathing “revolutionism” during the Hitler-Stalin Pact period, and again, during the ups-and-downs of the Cold War, into various degrees of combination of the two. With the current Communist split along Moscow-Peking line, the “Krushchevites” and the Maoists tend each to embody one of the two tactics which formerly alternated.

Frequently, therefore, in domestic policy the official Communist Party and the social-democrats tend to converge on the policy of permeationism, though from the angle of a different Socialism-from-Above.

Cooked
Mar 9 2018 19:51
Steven. wrote:
Cooked wrote:
Good piece but fails to emphasize why they are a problem. Perhaps the intro should be more clear about just how awful tankie politics are.

I don't know, I think to the vast majority of people they already get the problem with supporting mass murdering and genocidal dictators

Yes, but my point is that the fact that they support murdering and genocidal dictators somehow gets buried in all the info. Depends on the target audience though. I imagine this text could be what people trying to figure out what a "tankie" means will find. Its all detail and no overview? Still great stuff though.

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 20:03

Corbyn has gone to all kinds of rallies, SWP events etc., here he is at a rally that was covered in CPGB-ML flag:

It's that kind of 'turn up to any old rally' approach that allows trots and people like Galloway to build front groups so easily.

Steven.
Mar 9 2018 20:39
Cooked wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Cooked wrote:
Good piece but fails to emphasize why they are a problem. Perhaps the intro should be more clear about just how awful tankie politics are.

I don't know, I think to the vast majority of people they already get the problem with supporting mass murdering and genocidal dictators

Yes, but my point is that the fact that they support murdering and genocidal dictators somehow gets buried in all the info. Depends on the target audience though. I imagine this text could be what people trying to figure out what a "tankie" means will find. Its all detail and no overview? Still great stuff though.

That's also a good point. If anyone has time might be worth adding in a section summing up Stalin's crimes, and saying how tankies justify them (like the Kalmyk genocide, they blame on some Kalmyk's fighting for the Nazis – although more of them fought for the Red Army so that is a bullshit justification)

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 21:09

We'd need a standalone piece on the Kalmyk genocide to link to first, which I don't think we have. Also I doubt the vast majority of online tankies have heard of the Kalmyk genocide to even defend it?

There's many examples of them calling Syrian civilian casualties 'psy-ops' or Iranian workers 'CIA', but that gets into conspiracy theory debunking of which there's a lot elsewhere - also if you pick the absolute worst tweet repeating something from a conspiracy theory site it's easy for the slightly more sensible ones to just switch into "but do you deny that US neocons want regime change in Iran?" mode.

There's this part of the original Khrushchev speech on the Kalymk (and other) deportations though:

Comrades, let us reach for some other facts. The Soviet Union justly is considered a model multinational state because we have assured in practice the equality and friendship of all [of the] peoples living in our great Fatherland.

All the more monstrous are those acts whose initiator was Stalin and which were rude violations of the basic Leninist principles [behind our] Soviet state’s nationalities policies. We refer to the mass deportations of entire nations from their places of origin, together with all Communists and Komsomols without any exception. This deportation was not dictated by any military considerations.

Thus, at the end of 1943, when there already had been a permanent change of fortune at the front in favor of the Soviet Union, a decision concerning the deportation of all the Karachai from the lands on which they lived was taken and executed.

In the same period, at the end of December, 1943, the same lot befell the [Kalmyks] of the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic. In March, 1944, all the Chechens and Ingushi were deported and the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic was liquidated. In April, 1944, all Balkars were deported from the territory of the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Republic to faraway places and their Republic itself was renamed the Autonomous Kabardian Republic.

Ukrainians avoided meeting this fate only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them. Otherwise, [Stalin] would have deported them also.

No Marxist-Leninist, no man of common sense can grasp how it is possible to make whole nations responsible for inimical activity, including women, children, old people, Communists and Komsomols, to use mass repression against them, and to expose them to misery and suffering for the hostile acts of individual persons or groups of persons.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm

Cooked
Mar 9 2018 22:53

Mike I'd say just a sentence or two mentioning some of the shit they did is enough. No need for more detail or links to a fuller piece. Quite the contrary, but again that depends on the audience.

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 23:02

Well I tried to link to sources for as much as possible, because apologists will just take an unsourced claim, screenshot it and say "actually this refers to fascists".

When we posted https://libcom.org/library/lenin-orders-massacre-prostitutes-1918 there were dozens of claims that libcom had mistranslated the memo, despite the translation coming from the official USSR-backed publisher (Progress) in the 1970s.

People are always going to do backflips to justify their shit, but a link to a decent source at least means someone who actually reads the post and clicks through can see it's not just lifted from the Black Book of Communism or similar.

Not exactly sure who the audience is. At least partly I think it's for people who get mobbed by 'tankie twitter' or come across a spat and google the word, but I also think people who just think Cuba shouldn't be sanctioned by the US or similar could use a summary that doesn't lump them in with Assad apologists.

Lucky Black Cat
Mar 10 2018 00:37
Steven. wrote:
a bunch of tankie meme pages are very funny. Although weirdly most of the big ones seem to be extremely transphobic, which is terrible…

Holy shit, didn't know that. sad

Getting back to the article again...

Quote:
In the 1980s it was revealed that the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party (famous for the involvement of actress Vanessa Redgrave) had been receiving funding from Libyan intelligence services and passing details of Iraqi dissidents in the UK to Saddam Hussein.

Wow this is so fucking shameful.

Serge Forward
Mar 10 2018 01:04

Didn't they also pass the names on of a couple of Libyan Trotskyists who were subsequently executed?

R Totale
Mar 12 2018 18:49

grin I've just found this, which seems to sum up the whole issue very clearly and simply - should we just replace the whole article with:

Quote:
tankie:
obsessive fan of Thomas the Tank Engine
Cooked
Mar 12 2018 19:00

A fair bit of research around social media promoting algorithms have made in into the mainstream media recently. The jist of it being that provocative and divisive content is profitable for the social media platforms as they generate anger and clicks. So the platforms promote and recommend this content to make more money.

Most of the stuff written focuses on how right wing youtube and facebook content gets promoted by the algorithms. One could guess that tankies might benefit from this system as well.

Steven.
Mar 12 2018 19:47
Cooked wrote:
A fair bit of research around social media promoting algorithms have made in into the mainstream media recently. The jist of it being that provocative and divisive content is profitable for the social media platforms as they generate anger and clicks. So the platforms promote and recommend this content to make more money.

Most of the stuff written focuses on how right wing youtube and facebook content gets promoted by the algorithms. One could guess that tankies might benefit from this system as well.

I would think that is probably correct, however I think that would pretty much apply to both the extreme right and extreme left-wing of the spectrum (i.e. including trot and libertarian left as much as Stalinist)

Comrade Phil
Mar 13 2018 00:15

Hi, could I post this onto the SHAF blog please?
https://surreyandhampshireanarchistfederation.wordpress.com/

Reddebrek
Mar 18 2018 12:48

Pretty good Mike, if I have any comments it would be that I've noticed two other related trends. A number of online communists have moved away from Stalin & Mao et al but are very, very enthusiastic over ML leaders like Castro and Sankara and I'm sure there are others use issues aren't well known that will attract some attention in the future. Might be worth writing up responses that focuses on lesser known ML leaders too.

I've also noticed an increase in Pol Pot supporters, its gone from zero to a have dozen, so its still a small fish, but I don't really want to see that grow anymore.

Edit: also I made a PDF of this http://www.mediafire.com/file/jit5ruu5a3zpup2/Everything_you_ever_wanted_to_know_about_tankies%2C_but_were_afraid_to_ask.pdf

Mike Harman
Mar 19 2018 11:30
Reddebrek wrote:
Pretty good Mike, if I have any comments it would be that I've noticed two other related trends. A number of online communists have moved away from Stalin & Mao et al but are very, very enthusiastic over ML leaders like Castro and Sankara and I'm sure there are others use issues aren't well known that will attract some attention in the future. Might be worth writing up responses that focuses on lesser known ML leaders too.

I don't think I've seen a single good overview of Sankara anywhere online, it would be really good to add one to the library.

There are a couple of ways that people are approaching Castro and Sankara. On the one hand you get absolutely uncritical support, and people just adopting any person/country that they think is Marxist-Leninist and trying to claim the history of it as a list of 'successes for Marxist-Leninism'. This would certainly still fit into the general 'tankie' aspect of this piece.

However there's also an interest in them as part of a general trend of people trying to learn about Caribbean and African anti-colonial movements - Sankara, Sekou Toure and Kwame Nkrumah, Nyerere in Tanzania, the MPLA in Angola are the ones that people tend to cite as some kind of socialist attempt (compared to someone like Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya who was 100% liberal nationalist and put in place by the British despite him also being a figurehead while in prison).

Then Walter Rodney in Guyana (although he was organising against both Forbes Burnham's post-colonial government and Cheddi Jagan's opposition), Fanon, Steve Biko.

I'd like to see a lot more engagement with that history - both from MLs, but also anarchists, left communists and everyone else, because most of the people arguing about them on all sides do so from a position of relative ignorance.

One person who's good on this is Matthew Quest.

He wrote this on CLR James' 'critical support' for Cuba in Insurgent Notes: http://insurgentnotes.com/2016/04/c-l-r-jamess-critical-support-of-fidel-castros-cuba/

Also a more general one on James' differing approaches to Caribbean and African movements vs. Facing Reality: https://libcom.org/library/silences-suppression-workers-self-emancipation-historical-problems-clr-jamess-interpreta - Eusi Kwayana Guyana Bauxite strike book that some of those arguments are based on is really interesting.

This is partly why I wrote up https://libcom.org/blog/post-war-strike-wave-sub-saharan-africa-02032018 before this one, but of course it got zero comments compared to this.

reddebrek wrote:
I've also noticed an increase in Pol Pot supporters, its gone from zero to a have dozen, so its still a small fish, but I don't really want to see that grow anymore.

wtf.

Thanks!

R Totale
Mar 19 2018 13:36

On a related note, I'd be really interested to read more about Castro's (and the USSR/China's, to a lesser extent) adventures in Africa - I know a lot of Castroists cite Cuba's contribution to the defeat of apartheid as one of his big achievements, I kind of tend to think of sending a (conscript, iirc) army in to invade countries on another continent as being the sort of thing that smacks of imperialism. On the other hand, if we pose the question as "if there's a revolution in one area, while other areas are still ruled by régimes like that of apartheid SA, then what is the 'correct' way for the liberated zone to relate to those other areas?", I have to admit I really don't have a good answer either.
Still, from what I know of it, everything about the Soviet/Cuban policy towards Somalia and Ethiopia sounds like a truly indefensible mess, even from the most narrowly pro-national liberation perspective.

Also, just to pivot back to being all eurocentric again, does anyone know what proper Stalin-likers think about the Moscow trials/general 30s purges of old Bolsheviks? It seems kind of incomprehensible to me that anyone can simultaneously hold that the 1917 Bolshevik Party was the absolute bee's knees and the correct model that must be upheld for all time, *and* that a majority of the leadership, along with a good deal of the membership, were capitalist-fascist secret agents who deserved to be shot - does anyone understand how they square that circle?

Mike Harman
Mar 19 2018 15:04
R Totale wrote:
does anyone know what proper Stalin-likers think about the Moscow trials/general 30s purges of old Bolsheviks?

I've seen two approaches:

1. Some variation on "A chicken in every pot, an icepick in every Trot." (or just ignoring it entirely) - this is the teen tankie/LARPer/anti-anarchist line. It's almost impossible to argue against because there's not even a pretence at good faith.

2. Point out at this time there were still lynchings in the US, that the UK had concentration camps in the '30s, that there were forced labour camps in the Spanish Civil War, or that the USSR went on to defeat Hitler in collaboration with Churchill who presided over the Bengal famine etc.

The second one is whataboutism against liberal red-baiting but it's not necessarily wrong on its own terms. The question then is are people claiming the USSR was communist or a workers state or whatever, or that it was not necessarily more or less brutal than other capitalist states, while there has been a concerted effort to build up 'crimes of communism' without the same against 'capitalism'. The issue then for 'us' is are we actually interested in proving how bad the USSR was, or just that it wasn't communism? I think it's the latter when it comes down to it.

R Totale wrote:
On a related note, I'd be really interested to read more about Castro's (and the USSR/China's, to a lesser extent) adventures in Africa - I know a lot of Castroists cite Cuba's contribution to the defeat of apartheid as one of his big achievements, I kind of tend to think of sending a (conscript, iirc) army in to invade countries on another continent as being the sort of thing that smacks of imperialism.

Angola is one of the most confusing cases because the USSR and Cuba supported the MPLA, China and the US supported UNITA, and the DPRK switched between the two.

There was also John Stockwell the ex-CIA whistleblower who was stationed in Angola as one of his last posts, and wrote that there was absolutely no reason for the US to fund UNITA over the MPLA, because the MPLA would have been happy to be non-aligned and export oil to the US too - disillusionment over Angola was one of the reasons they left - i.e. that the US was contributing to the prolongation of a civil war for absolutely no reason except that they'd picked the losing side a decade earlier.

There's a general overview of the MPLA here which mentions Cuba and the USSR: https://libcom.org/library/national-liberation-state-power-anarchist-critique-mpla-angola

https://libcom.org/library/lessons-angola-walter-rodney-1976 Walter Rodney on the MPLA vs. UNITA

This paper on the massacre by the MPLA of up to 10,000 of their own supports with the help of
Cuban troops, after they'd beat UNITA in the civil war in the wake of a coup attempt (or at least street protest, even this is disputed) attempt by a faction of the MPLA. It's subsequently been turned into a book, but it's the only source on the massacre in English - apparently there's a book or two in Portuguese though.

https://libcom.org/library/angolan-massacre-may-27-1977-grim-portent-south-africa
https://libcom.org/history/27-may-angola-view-below

Also article on it here: http://africasacountry.com/2013/06/the-battle-over-the-27th-of-may-in-angola/

Online information about all this is pretty scarce as far as I can tell.

Haven't read it, but there's this Baruch Hirson piece on the ANC and Stalinism: https://libcom.org/history/various-documents-stalinism-anc-0

Edit: just found http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/cuba-and-struggle-democracy-south-africa which has a lot of details post-Angola. Essentially Cuba's assistance to the MPLA was a bulwark against the apartheid regime in South Africa both by preventing expansion and some support to ANC guerrilla groups operating around the border.

To have a critique of Cuban support for Angola you'd need to approach it in a couple of ways:

1. There's some discussion of Cuba being very concerned about oil production in Angola due to the US embargo, would they have offered assistance to somewhere that wasn't mineral rich?

2. More documentation on the mai 27 repression and Cuban involvement. When I posted some of these articles on twitter they were immediately dismissed as 'CIA propaganda' or similar.

3. A proper critique of why 'support for the ANC' should not be equated with support for anti-apartheid movements, given the Durban 1973 general strike, Soweto uprising, Steve Biko and Black Consciousness etc. which the ANC had little to no involvement with and in some cases opposed until well after they'd happened.

jura
Mar 19 2018 15:08
R Totale wrote:
It seems kind of incomprehensible to me that anyone can simultaneously hold that the 1917 Bolshevik Party was the absolute bee's knees and the correct model that must be upheld for all time, *and* that a majority of the leadership, along with a good deal of the membership, were capitalist-fascist secret agents who deserved to be shot - does anyone understand how they square that circle?

Judging from properly Stalinist textbooks on CP and USSR history, what they'd say is something like this:

Trotsky never really agreed with Lenin (1903 split, later a Menshevik), Zinoviev and Kamenev "betrayed" on the very eve of the Revolution (voting against an insurrection) and then again (arguing for negotiations and perhaps power-sharing), Bukharin and Radek were left deviationists and wrong on the Brest-Litovsk peace etc. All of these pople had close comrades around them who were later also part of the leadership, and so could be accused by proxy. The influence of these bad apples on the Party was not as pronounced as long as Lenin was around, but after his death these elements tried to gain control of the Party and the state. Fortunately, comrade Stalin, whose positions were always 100% in line with those of Lenin (well, not really, but this can be fabricated or glossed over), put up a fight and revealed these traitors for who they were.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

radicalgraffiti
Mar 19 2018 16:02
Mike Harman wrote:
reddebrek wrote:
I've also noticed an increase in Pol Pot supporters, its gone from zero to a have dozen, so its still a small fish, but I don't really want to see that grow anymore.

wtf.

there used to be some ironic pol pot supporters on revleft, and some that where apologists, putting all the blame on the American bombing campaign

Entdinglichung
Mar 19 2018 16:28
radicalgraffiti wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
reddebrek wrote:
I've also noticed an increase in Pol Pot supporters, its gone from zero to a have dozen, so its still a small fish, but I don't really want to see that grow anymore.

wtf.

there used to be some ironic pol pot supporters on revleft, and some that where apologists, putting all the blame on the American bombing campaign

there was a satirical "Red Khmer Students Group" 1996/97 at Hamburg University which won 2 out of 47 SU council seats, the people behind it were either Anti-Germans or Anarchist Punks

Reddebrek
Mar 19 2018 18:21
Mike Harman wrote:
I don't think I've seen a single good overview of Sankara anywhere online, it would be really good to add one to the library.

Apart from a Documentary I haven't either. I suspect there is a lot more information in French. In English the most information I've found are the books of speeches published by Pathfinder Press, the publisher that was connected with the American SWP (maybe still affiliated?).

Quote:
There are a couple of ways that people are approaching Castro and Sankara. On the one hand you get absolutely uncritical support, and people just adopting any person/country that they think is Marxist-Leninist and trying to claim the history of it as a list of 'successes for Marxist-Leninism'. This would certainly still fit into the general 'tankie' aspect of this piece.

Yes, most of Sankara in particulars popularity is very ignorant but rests on a list of practical achievements. There's not much knowledge at all about how his government actually function, other then some statistics and inspiring quotes. The lack of information is personally very frustrating.

R Totale wrote:
On a related note, I'd be really interested to read more about Castro's (and the USSR/China's, to a lesser extent) adventures in Africa - I know a lot of Castroists cite Cuba's contribution to the defeat of apartheid as one of his big achievements, I kind of tend to think of sending a (conscript, iirc) army in to invade countries on another continent as being the sort of thing that smacks of imperialism. On the other hand, if we pose the question as "if there's a revolution in one area, while other areas are still ruled by régimes like that of apartheid SA, then what is the 'correct' way for the liberated zone to relate to those other areas?", I have to admit I really don't have a good answer either.
Still, from what I know of it, everything about the Soviet/Cuban policy towards Somalia and Ethiopia sounds like a truly indefensible mess, even from the most narrowly pro-national liberation perspective.

A book you might find interesting is The Hot Cold War, the USSR in Southern Africa. Its written by a former Soviet adviser to allied organisations in Southern Africa, SWAPO, ANC, MPLA etc. It covers the entire region, and while its slanted at presenting the Soviets and their allies in a positive light it does acknowledge failures and mistakes. For example it doesn't talk about the Cuban massacre of MPLA supporters in Angola but it does mention the incident as a factional fight within the MPLA which complicated matters.

Quote:
there used to be some ironic pol pot supporters on revleft, and some that where apologists, putting all the blame on the American bombing campaign
Quote:
there was a satirical "Red Khmer Students Group" 1996/97 at Hamburg University which won 2 out of 47 SU council seats, the people behind it were either Anti-Germans or Anarchist Punks

Nah I'm aware of the "ironic" pisstaking support, but I've started seeing genuine sympathy for them. And to be honest, a lot of the criticism of Pol Pot from vocal ML types focusses on the support he got from the US. Which doesn't fill me with confidence.