Some Traditional Writings - Jonathan Horelick

Situationist comments on "Kronstadt" by Paul Avrich and "History and Class Consciousness" by Georg Lukacs.

Submitted by Fozzie on May 5, 2023

The chronological account of Paul Avrich, Kronstadt, 1921, represents the typical insufficiency of the historical specialist. The so-called objective accuracy of the investigation actually consists of the repetitive assertion of certain aspects of the historical question which are by now presuppositions to any further exploration of the subject. In the case of revolutionary Kronstadt, the author merely dwells on the actual cleavage which existed between the revolutionary populace of the island and the central bureaucratic authorities in Moscow. Avrich bothers only to affirm the non-existence of a “White Reaction” and the existence of a true revolutionary spirit among the “zealots” who formed the Provisional Revolutionary Committee. One could have learned as much from the remarks of Lenin alone concerning the perspective of his revolutionary adversaries when he said, for example, that “they do not want the White Guards and they do not want our power either.” At the same time, this libertarian specialist from Columbia University has only returned, tearfully, in the last analysis to the repression uttered softly through his double logic:

“The sailors, on the one hand, were revolutionary zealots, and like zealots throughout history they longed to recapture a past era before the purity of their ideals had been defiled by the exigencies of power. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, having emerged victorious from a bloody Civil War, were not prepared to tolerate any new challenge to their authority. Throughout the conflict each side behaved in accordance with its own particular goals and aspirations. To say this is not to deny the necessity of moral judgment. Yet Kronstadt presents a situation in which the historian can sympathize with the rebels and still concede that the Bolsheviks were justified in subduing them.”

One new element of the book is of marginal value. Avrich emphasizes the defensive spirit which still existed fatally in the “third revolution”. In the process of forming an independent Soviet, the sailors and workers of Kronstadt resisted the military advice transmitted by military specialists as well as the extensive intervention of the specialists themselves. The insurrection avoided the full attempt to form a beachhead at Oranienbaum early in the struggle and to penetrate in turn turbulent Petrograd. This defect had simply reflected the elementary level of organization evoked in the initial moment of revolutionary improvisation. It is not Avrich, but the anarchist revolutionary analysis of Voline written long ago, that reveals the victorious truth which was lived and represented by the insurrectionaries of Kronstadt. “Kronstadt was the first entirely independent attempt of the people to liberate themselves from all yokes and achieve the Social Revolution, an attempt made directly, resolutely and boldly by the working masses themselves without political shepherds, without leaders or tutors.”


A principal landmark of revolutionary theory has finally been published in English fifty years after its actual inception. In History and Class Consciousness the young Georg Lukacs manifests an extremism of philosophy which carries a double significance: as radical expression of dialectical theory and at the same time as ideological device of bolshevik polemicism. In the context of the twenties, the rediscovery of the critical concept of alienation as motor force of the radical historical process carried an extra-scientific character which was decisively revolutionary in view of prevailing economism. Lukacs arrived, in excess of his own political ties, in order to reaffirm the essential interaction between the subject and object at the base of dialectical materialism and to denounce in turn the degeneration of the theory of praxis into the formalism of a natural “Marxian” science and its contemplative metaphysic of reformism. For the first time, the effects of reification are understood to exceed the simple dimensions of culture and the workplace. Simultaneously, the revolutionary transformation of history is shown to depend on the “free action” of the proletariat for whom consciousness becomes a central necessity in liberating itself. As always, however, the very best of bolshevik analyses abandons the transcendence of voluntarism and determinism in actual practice. There, the author retains the proletariat as a philosophical subject in exchange for its externalized hierarchical representation. In the last analysis, the Communist Party becomes the organized form of class consciousness. “It implies the conscious subordination of the self to the collective will that is destined to bring real freedom into being.”

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