Online archive of the newsletter and journal of the UK communist group Wildcat, published in the 1980s and 1990s.
Wildcat journal (UK)
The Wildcat group had various phases.
Early 80s: A free 2-sided Bulletin produced by a temporary collective made up of dissident members of the autonomous Manchester Solidarity Group and similar dissident members of the Manchester local ICC (World Revolution) group plus a couple of local anarchist communists.
Mid 80s: a large format newspaper. (Issues 1-10: 1984-1987)
Late 80s: Issues 11-14 were produced in London. The "anti-democracy" phase.
1990s: From issue 15 onwards Wildcat developed an anti-civilisation ("primitivist") position which culminated in an "abandonment of Marxism" in issue 17.
2000s: After the publication of the final issue (#18), Wildcat was based in America. The online texts by the remaining member became increasingly controversial and reactionary (for example promoting the work of Gilad Atzmon and David Irving).
(The group were internationalists and called Wildcat and not "Wildcat UK". There is another, different, internationalist communist group called Wildcat which is based in Germany and known for convenience on Libcom as Wildcat (Germany).)
Wildcat UK #1 1984
First issue of Wildcat as a newspaper/magazine, September 1984.
Taken from Splits and Fusions archive.
Contents include: Miners Strike, What Is Solidarity?, Austin-Rover Workers Defy Bosses and Union,
Wildcat UK #2 1984
Issue 2 of Wildcat from November 1984.
Taken from Splits and Fusions archive.
Contents include: Miners Strike, Middle East: Imperialist War and Class War, Defend Jobs Not Councils.
Wildcat UK #3 1985
Issue 3 of Wildcat from Jan/Feb 1985.
With thanks to Splits and Fusions archive.
Contents mainly about the Miners Strike, but also: Feed The World - Overthrow Capitalism, Ethiopia, US Arms Boom, Support Class Violence, Red Petrograd (Book Review), Labour Party and Union Leaders - the Enemy Within.
Wildcat UK #4 1985
Issue 4 of Wildcat from March/April 1985.
Taken from Sparrows Nest archive, Nottingham. This A3 document has been scanned using an A4 device. Please get in touch if you can help us in getting a better scan.
Contents mainly concerned with the Miners Strike, but also prisoners, lay offs at Michelin, Dresden: Holocaust for Democracy.
Wildcat UK #5 1985
Issue 5 of Wildcat from June/July 1985, including Miners Strike, South Africa, pigs murder Italian activist Pietro Greco, Pannekoek's "The Fight", strikes in Denmark, class struggle in the classroom, AIDS panic,
PDF courtesy of Splits and Fusions archive.
Wildcat UK #6 1985
Wildcat UK #7 1985
Wildcat UK #8 1986
Wildcat #8 1986.
Taken from Splits and Fusions archive.
- Resistance to Vietnam War
- Space Shuttle Disaster
- Class Against Class: The War In The Schools (Teachers strike etc)
- Social Security Reforms
- Reactions To The Riots
- Nope to NUPE
- Japanese Management Techniques
- South Africa: Barricades to Victory
- Greece: On The Slippery Slope
Wildcat UK #9 1986
Wildcat #9 July 1986.
Taken from Splits and Fusions archive.
- USA Prepares for War
- Silentnight strike
- Royal Weddings and Riots
- Letters: revolutionary consciousness, Ireland
- Class Struggle in the Prisons
- Spain '36: The End of Anarchism?
- Os Cangaceiros - Spanish Dockers on the Barricades
- South Africa: Prospects for Revolution and the International Response
- South Africa: '76 Uprising / '86 Power
Wildcat UK #10 1987
Wildcat UK #11 Spring 1988
11th issue of Wildcat.
Return of the Crisis
Tuffin Needs a Duffin' (UK postal workers)
Class War - The Paper That Supports Our Boys
Heroes of the Proletarian Revolution no.1: Nikolai Bukharin
Nailing Religion: The Pope and Democracy
The British Disease Is Back - Let's Make It Fatal
Wildcat UK #12 Autumn 1988
12th issue of Wildcat.
Neither War Nor Peace: Revolution
An Opera Singer in Iraq
P&O Ferries strike
Lefties Screw Up Council Strike
Shake On It Scabface! (Scargill and Kinnock)
Poll Tax: Exocet Thatcher's Flagship
Review: Neither East Nor West by Marie-Louise Berneri (Freedom Press)
Split In Wildcat: Councillism In Decay
How Subversive Is Subversion?
Slav Revolt (Yugoslavia)
USSR: Unemployment, Speed-Ups, Strikes, Resistance
Poland: The Phoenix and The Fireman
Wildcat UK #13 Summer 1989
13th issue of Wildcat.
Capitalism is a Disaster
Hillsborough: Police Massacre
Poll Tax: Don't Register. Don't Pay
A Blasphemous Arrow of Retribution (Rushdie Affair)
Basic Principles / Forthcoming Productions
1789 And All That (French Revolution)
Dolor De Cabeza Por Capitalismo! (The problems of capitalism in Latin America)
The Intifada Spreads
The Anarchist Communist Federation on Ireland
Eye Witness In Halabja
The Herald of Free Enterprise: Thatcherism in Crisis
1789 And All That - A Critical Look At The French Revolution
Wildcat (UK) on the French Revolution.
In case anyone's failed to notice, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the 'French Revolution'. This is usually seen as a series of political and social events beginning with the storming of the Bastille in July 1789 and culminating in the declaration of the Republic in September 1792 ('Year 1'), or perhaps Napoleon's seizure of power in 1799, depending on the political complexion of the historian involved.
The significance of (some, carefully chosen, of) these events for the bourgeoisie is quite clear - it was during this period that the French nation was created. This was an event which inspired nation-building bourgeois across the world. It is no coincidence that so many nations use some kind of tricolour as their national emblem. What the anniversary celebrators don't want us to think about is that every nation can only exist in so far as the class struggle can be suppressed. Most of the world's nations claim to have been brought into existence by some kind of 'revolution' which overthrew an evil and corrupt 'ancien regime'. Frequently the 'revolution' is just a coup d'etat or institutional rearrangement, but often it is a bloody counter-revolution. Every new-born nation must be baptised in working class blood, and France was no exception.
The purpose of this article is to make clear that the proletariat has always had to fight independently for its interests against the bourgeoisie. It is not a question of whether or not communism was possible. Even if it is not possible to create communism, proletarians still have an interest in having enough to eat and not being massacred in wars. 'Progress' for the bourgeoisie has never meant improvements for the proletariat. It has simply meant a more rapid numerical growth of the proletariat and the further development of exploitation, starvation and war.
For leftie historians the working class progresses from 'apolitical' food riots to the modern labour movement and universal suffrage. For theorists of capitalist decadence, including Karl Marx, the working class had to support various fractions of the bourgeoisie in the creation of nation states while capital was in its ascendant phase. Against both of these positions we assert the 'Invariant Programme' of rioting, looting, machine-breaking, resistance to work and insurrection against all states.
ARISTOCRATS vs. BOURGEOIS?
We must start off by completely rejecting the notion that the two sections of the ruling class who fought over possession of the State were two separate classes - the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. That is, we reject the notion that France between 1789 and 1793 underwent a 'bourgeois revolution'.
The bourgeoisie did not need political revolutions to establish its domination over society since it was able to establish its mode of production side by side with the old feudal system. The feudal system was not so much overthrown as 'corrupted' from within by the gradual development of trade, money-lending and the beginnings of industry in the cities. As early as the 16th century the Absolute Monarchs of Europe were no longer feudal kings but bourgeois who fought their wars and ran their State bureaucracies not on the basis of feudal service and loyalties but on the basis of money. As a result, they were either heavily in debt or themselves became money-lenders, like the Pope.
When the 'bourgeois revolutionaries' in France started flogging off the church lands and monasteries in 1789 they were only doing what Henry VIII had done in England two and a half centuries earlier.
What is also important is that on the eve of 1789 the French ruling class was NOT divided into an 'aristocratic' land-owning and church camp and a party of 'bourgeois' industrialists and merchants. The expansion of capitalist enterprise (whether overseas trading or industry) was carried on by nobles as much as by the 'bourgeois' nouveaux riches. At the same time, many non-nobles preferred to invest their capital in land, titles and government stock. So many ennobling offices were for sale that anyone with enough money could join the nobility. A particularly cushy number was the position of 'King's Secretary', a sinecure which conferred hereditary nobility on the purchaser and his family, a snip at 150,000 livres. On the ideological level, the 'Enlightenment' was as much a product of the liberal nobility as of any other bourgeois fraction.
The involvement of nobles in 'Revolutionary' politics cannot be ignored. It was the Comte de Mirabeau who emerged as the leader of the National Assembly (the parliament formed in June 1789), it was the Marquis de Lafayette who became the first commander of the Paris National Guard, it was the Vicomte de Noailles who introduced the decrees proposing the 'abolition of feudalism' on 4 August 1789, and it was Talleyrand (a bishop!) who proposed the selling off of church land.
CLASSES AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS
If the feudal nobility did not exist as a class, the proletariat certainly did, and may even have been a majority of the population.
In 1789, France was second only to England as an industrial country, large manufactories promoted by the State had already appeared. Real industrialisation had not yet begun, though. In 1789 Great Britain had 200 mills on the Arkwright model. France had eight. There were no factory towns and no modern industrial proletariat.
In most of the country industry was still largely carried on in cottages, or by master craftsmen and their journeymen in small medieval city workshops. But the old guilds had declined and no longer protected the journeymen who were becoming reduced to the status of wage earners with little chance of ever becoming masters. The smaller masters were also being proletarianised as their interests separated from those of the merchant manufacturers.
The fabled 'sans-culottes' of the Paris faubourgs (poor districts) were by no means exclusively proletarian, they included small shopkeepers and artisans, but it was undoubtedly the proletarian majority which gave the specific character to 'sans-culotte' struggles.
The overwhelming majority' of the French population (around 85%, of 23 million) lived in the countryside. Undoubtedly many were petty bourgeois peasants - that is peasants who have an interest in high food prices. Many more, though, were either poor peasants, (that is, peasants who were well on the way to proletarianisation, such as sharecroppers) or simply rural proletarians ('landless labourers'). Many of these were destitute : in 1777 over a million people were officially declared to be beggars. Many peasants still relied on pre-capitalist forms of land ownership and village organisation for their, survival. All this meant that the content of struggles in the countryside was very confused, with the struggle of the proletariat frequently being mixed up with 'kulak' struggles or the struggle to defend pre-capitalist conditions.
The peasants were no longer serfs, although on the royal lands serfdom had only been abolished as late as 1779. Statute labour, however, still existed and took on an enormous variety of forms: work in the Lord's fields, work in his parks and gardens... There were also a bewildering array of taxes to be paid, in addition to land-rent. The peasant paid for the right of marriage, baptism, burial; he paid on everything he bought or sold. As the position of the land-owners declined their extraction of 'feudal' dues became all the more rapacious as it was the only way they could maintain their profits.
A whole new profession of lawyers had come into being, the 'feudists', whose job was to help the land-owners revive old feudal obligations and maximise existing ones. Not surprisingly, revolts by the peasantry took the form of refusals to pay some or all of these exactions.
All sections of the proletariat were precariously dependent on the price of bread which could fluctuate wildly depending on the state of the harvest. Hardly a year passed without some part of France being plunged into famine conditions. High points in the class struggle tended to correspond to bad harvests across the whole country, e.g. 1788.
The struggle often took the form of attempts to force reductions in the price of bread and other necessities by collective force ('taxation populaire'). Typically people would invade the flour markets and besiege bakers' shops forcing dealers to sell the goods at a 'just' price.
A particularly widespread example of this was the 'flour war' of April-May 1775 which gripped Paris and its neighbouring provinces for over a fortnight and caused panic in the Court. It spread into Paris itself and resulted in the siege of every baker's shop in the city centre and the inner faubourgs. The movement was only crushed by the massive use of troops and hundreds of arrests.
Similar outbreaks of 'taxation populaire' continued during the 'Revolution' period, in 1789, 1792-3 and 1795. The target of these movements was the prosperous peasant, the grain merchant, miller or baker. Whether the bourgeois in question supported the old or the new regime was unimportant.
THE STATE CRISIS
The immediate cause of the political crisis in the State was the enormous debt created by France's participation in the American War of Independence. Half the state's revenue was being used to pay interest on loans.
On Feb 22, 1787 the Assembly of Notables was convened at Versailles. This was an obscure aristocratic body which had not met since 1626. Nothing was decided, all that happened is that it became public knowledge that the national debt had reached 1.5 thousand million livres. This was an incredible figure.
On Aug 8, 1788 Louis XVI was obliged to convene the Estates General and to fix the opening for May 1, 1789. This body had not met since 1614 but was different in that it was elected and was supposed to represent the three 'Orders' of society - the Clergy, the Nobility and the so-called Third Estate. The Third Estate was what in Britain would be called the Commons. That is, in theory, everyone else, in practice, the non-aristocratic bourgeoisie. The elections were indirect but nevertheless provided an opportunity for the radical bourgeois to propagate their program and ideology throughout the whole of society.
It was increasingly necessary to channel working class discontent into support for reforms since things had already reached the stage where any disorder on the streets of Paris risked turning into a proletarian rising. For example, the magistrates of the 'parlement' (Courts of Justice) of Paris got themselves exiled to the provinces on two occasions (1787, 1788) for being mildly critical of the Court. Their first return resulted in a few disorderly celebrations by lawyers clerks and university students but on the second occasion they were joined by proles from the faubourgs, resulting in violent rioting in which guard posts were looted and burned.
A week before the Estates General was to meet, the famous Reveillon riots broke out when the Electoral Assembly meetings were held in Paris. At one of these meetings a paper manufacturer by the name of Reveillon (together with another called Henriot) made a particularly offensive speech to the assembled proles. He said that wages in industry were too high. The reaction was swift, an effigy of Reveillon was hung in the Place de la Greve and Henriot's house was burnt down. The next day a crowd went to Reveillon's factory and made the workers stop work. Then they plundered the warehouse. Much fighting with troops ensued and Reveillon's house was burnt down that evening. A few days later a mob tried to storm the Bicetre prison. Even during this movement, which was clearly for proletarian interests, a bourgeois political influence was emerging. Insurgents shouted 'Long live the Third Estate' and 'Liberty... No Surrender'.
Meanwhile the inhabitants of the countryside had not been idle. Starting in December 1788, there was a massive movement of attacks on grain boats and granaries; assaults on customs officials and merchants; 'taxation populaire' of bread and wheat; and widespread destruction of bourgeois property. This occurred in virtually every province. North of Paris the starving rural poor attacked the game laws and hunting rights of the nobility by indulging in unrestrained poaching.
In the spring of 1789, after lying dormant for almost a century, peasant anger against royal taxes and seigneurial dues began to be expressed explosively all over the country. The peasants burned the chateaux and with them the hated manorial rolls on which were inscribed the details of the dues and obligations. It was this which caused the National Assembly to issue its decrees of August 4 and 5 which abolished, or in most cases made redeemable into money, all seigneurial burdens on the peasantry. The peasants, however, carried on refusing to pay anything. Three years later the Jacobin government had to annul the peasant debt.
Some six weeks after the opening of the Estates General, the Third Estate constituted themselves and all who were prepared to join them as the National Assembly with the right to recast the constitution. The response of the Court was to gather troops to invade Paris and dissolve the National Assembly (still based at Versailles). This led to the first of many popular calls to arms. On July 12 crowds gathered in the gardens of the Palais Royal, the home of the Duc d'Orleans (whom many radical bourgeois wanted to place on the throne) to hear 'patriotic' orators. Marchers paraded along the boulevards and Besenval, the commander of the Paris garrison, withdrew to the Champ de Mars, leaving the capital in the hands of the insurgents. They proceeded to destroy the 'barrieres', or customs posts, ringing the city. These were despised because of the tolls they imposed on food and wine entering the city.
Men armed with pikes and cudgels spread themselves through every quarter, knocking at the doors of the rich to demand money and arms. Gunsmiths' shops were looted and pikes began to be forged in the faubourgs. The next day the monastery of the St. Lazare brotherhood was broken into, looted, searched for arms and grain, and its prisoners were released. Fifty two carts laden with flour were dragged to the Halles for free distribution.
In many ways the actions of the masses were similar to the glorious few days of 'mob rule' which had shaken British capitalism nine years earlier in the London 'Gordon Riots' in which half a dozen prisons were completely destroyed and the homes of the rich pillaged and burnt on a massive scale.
There were the same mass releases of prisoners, for example - not just 'political' ones, either. In Paris, however, the movement was nowhere near as extreme - 'Nothing was touched that day, either at the Treasury or the Bank' said the British ambassador. This was partly because the bourgeoisie were better organised to control things. The patriotic bourgeoisie formed a provisional city government based at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). Thoroughly alarmed by what was happening, they began to enroll a citizen's militia (the National Guard) to uphold bourgeois order. On the 13th the debtors' prison of La Force was seized and all the prisoners released, but an attempt to free prisoners from Chatelet prison on the same day was crushed by the National Guard. It is also known that around the same time the National Guard carried out several night-time summary executions of looters. They challenged passers-by with the words 'Are you for the Nation?'. Shortly afterwards, similar militias were formed all over the country to fight the insurgent peasants and rural proles.
THE BASTILLE FALLS...
The insurgents continued the search for arms and ammunition and this was one of the main reasons why the Bastille Fortress was attacked on 14th, this and its strategic military importance (rather than because It was a 'symbol of Absolutism'). They were short of powder and it was known that large stocks existed in the Bastille. At the same time its guns were trained ominously on the St. Antoine faubourg. So, after 30,000 muskets had been removed from the Hotel des Invalides across the river, the cry went up 'To the Bastille!'. After much fruitless negotiation between City Hall and the Bastille's governor, the impatient crowd took the place by storm at the cost of 150 lives. These the governor, the Marquis de Launay, paid for when he was dragged away from his bourgeois protectors outside City Hall and beheaded in the street.
The Bastille's surrender had remarkable political results. The National Assembly was saved and received royal blessing. Many Court supporters fled the country, or tried to. Among these was the notorious grain speculator Foulon who was dragged back to Paris and hung from a lamp post by the angry mob. In Paris, power passed into the hands of the Committee of Electors, who set up a city council (the Commune). The King himself came to Paris wearing the red, white and blue cockade of the patriots. But he continued to plot against the Assembly and in October once again tried to end the situation of bourgeois dual power by a show of force. The Flanders regiment and the dragoons were called to Versailles.
Once again the patriots called on the masses to save them, but this time things were more under control. Leading patriots like Danton, Marat and Loustalot had been inciting a march to Versailles for some time. On Oct 5 a crowd of working class women marched to City Hall and forced open the doors demanding. bread and arms. They were quickly enroled under suitable leadership. The patriots had again managed to divert class hatred away from themselves onto the wicked aristos. Later on, men began to march as well, and, a few hours later, were followed by the National Guard to prevent any mishaps. The National Guard arrived at the Palace just in time to save the royals from the mob and the king was brought to Paris as a virtual prisoner. The constitutional monarchy was firmly established.
The bourgeoisie could now return to the problem of the proles. The Paris municipality, using the excuse of the killing of a baker on Oct 21, went to the Assembly to beg for martial law. It was voted for at once.
The new regime was not simply based on force, however. Despite the notorious division of citizens into 'active' (propertied) and 'passive' categories and the gradual erosion of democratic rights throughout 1790, there remained a high level of participation in the State. This occurred through the local government bodies known as Communes which were composed of smaller 'districts' or 'sections' based on regular general assemblies. The districts played an important role: they appointed magistrates, organised the National Guard and armed 'the people' for patriotic purposes. It was by means of these bodies that bourgeois orators such as Danton and Marat were able to gain such an influence. In addition, numerous Clubs and 'fraternal' societies were formed which after 1790 opened their doors to wage-earners and craftsmen.
... THE CLASS STRUGGLE CONTINUES
But while the bourgeoisie carried out their great program of modernising the State, the working class never completely abandoned its struggle, particularly as inflation and food shortages began to bite again in mid 1791.
In Paris there was a large scale strike movement for higher wages which began amongst journeymen carpenters and quickly spread to other cities. The City Council condemned their strike as illegal and rejected their demand for a minimum wage as contrary to liberal principles. But they dared not use too much repression in case the movement spread. Their fears were well grounded. In June the master blacksmiths, in a petition to the assembly, warned of the existence of a 'general coalition' of 80,000 workers including joiners, cobblers and locksmiths as well as their own journeymen. The Assembly responded by passing the notorious Le Chapelier Law which declared all workers' associations of any kind to be illegal. It was to remain on the statute book for almost a century.
In August 1791 food riots again convulsed the whole country, lasting until April the following year.
FROM CHATTEL SLAVES TO WAGE SLAVES
On 22 August 1791, the slaves of San Domingo (now Haiti) revolted. Each slave-gang killed its masters and set the plantation on fire. Within a few days, half of the North Plain - the most important sugar and coffee growing area in the French empire - was a flaming ruin. The revolt quickly spread to maroons (escaped slaves living in the hills) and poorer mulattos (people of mixed race). It was to lead to a many-sided war that eventually forced the Convention to agree to the abolition of slavery in the colony in Feb. 1794. This was done to encourage the slaves to fight for France against Britain which had declared war on France at the beginning of 1793.
As with the class struggle in France, the revolt had quickly acquired a bourgeois leadership just as steeped in the ideas of Liberty and Equality as their class brothers in Paris and Marseilles. The most famous of these was Toussaint Breda (later "L'Ouverture"), a "senior executive" amongst slaves who had organised the labour of several hundred others and had originally protected his master's property from destruction. When this stratum finally came to power they did everything they could to rebuild the sugar economy and keep the old plantation owners in place (as later Lenin would strive to keep the old factory bosses). A savage code of labour discipline was enforced against considerable resistance from the ex-slaves who said "moin pas esclave, moin pas travaye" - "I'm no slave, I won't work".
In Paris in January 1792 the shortage of sugar and other colonial products caused by the slave revolt in San Domingo caused price fixing riots to break out in various parts of the city. In February there were similar riots in which cart loads of sugar were seized even though they were under military escort. The struggle of the slaves had found an international echo!
In April 1792 the government of the Girondins (moderate republicans) declared war on Austria. This was partly necessitated by the fact that the French noble emigres were plotting with Austria, Prussia, and the German Princes to invade France and re-establish the Old Regime. It was also a good way of creating national unity. Early defeats in the war brought radicalisation, in a purely bourgeois republican sense. In August and September the monarchy was finally overthrown and the republic established. The parliament underwent another metamorphosis, this time into the National Convention. The distinction between active and passive citizens was abolished. The King got the chop.
The French army was ineffective and still staffed by royalist officers. Dumouriez, the Republic's leading general was shortly to desert to the enemy. Only unprecedented and extreme methods could win the war. The nation's resources were mobilised through conscription, rationing, a rigidly controlled war economy and the virtual abolition of the distinction between soldiers and civilians. By March 1793 France was at war with most of Europe: and had begun annexations (France was entitled to her 'natural frontiers'). In June the Convention decreed the 'levee en masse', which called up three quarters of a million men. Shortly before this, the Girondins were overthrown after finding themselves increasingly out-manoeuvred by the Jacobins who alone had the popular support to win the war.
The war dramatically worsened conditions of life for the poor. In November 1792 a new and more extensive movement against food prices began spreading to eight departments, starting amongst foresters, craftsmen and glass factory workers in Sarthe who raided the local markets under arms. In many regions prices were forced down and the National Guard were powerless to intervene. In others, the local National Guard even joined the movement (out in the styx they were less loyal and petty bourgeois than in Paris!).
In Feb. 1793 Paris was shaken by a far larger price reduction movement than the one a year,earlier. It lasted only one day but affected all 48 Parisian sections, taking the form of a mass invasion of grocers' and chandlers' shops. Barere, on the Committee of Public Safety, spoke darkly of 'aristocrats in disguise' and insisted that such luxuries as sugar and coffee were unlikely objects of popular passion.
These struggles, together with the demands of the war economy, were instrumental in forcing the convention to pass the law of the General Maximum of Sept. 29, 1793. They were also encouraged by a massive demonstration of sans-culottes who, on Sept. 5, went to the convention accompanied by the left wing municipal leaders Roux and Hebert to demand price controls. This law imposed a ceiling on the prices of most commodities of prime necessity, as well as labour power. This led to an important strike movement in Paris in the summer of 1794.
In many agricultural districts the law was applied far more vigorously to wages than to prices. In Paris it tended to be the other way round at first because of the strength of the class struggle. War production meant that labour was scarce so workers frequently had to be paid higher than legal rates despite restrictions on labour mobility. But the price controls began to be relaxed in March 1794 and more and more groups of workers began to press wage demands. In June the arms workers struck and soon the movement spread to building workers, potters and government employees. On July 7, even the Committee of Public Safety's printers went on strike. In the midst of all this the Paris Commune published new wage rates strictly in line with the law, obliging many workers to take a 50% pay cut.
At the same time the bourgeoisie as a whole were dispensing with the Jacobins who had outlived their usefulness (the war was over). Robespierre and his associates were expelled from the convention and arrested. Having temporarily escaped they took refuge in the City Hall. On the same day it was besieged by angry workers. The sans-culottes could no longer be roused to support the left against the right and jeered the councillors of the Commune as they were led off to be guillotined.
At first the workers were allowed decent pay rises but these were quickly eaten up by inflation as free market conditions returned. The closure of government workshops led to a rise in unemployment.
The sans-culottes attempted to rise for the last time in May 1795 with a massive political and military demonstration marching on the convention to press their demands, which were as confused as ever. The most popular slogan was 'Bread and the Constitution of 1793'. But this time the bourgeoisie didn't have to give an inch because they were able to confront the marchers with a regular army loyal to the state. The insurgents gave in without firing a shot, so as to avoid bloodshed, and slunk back to their hovels. Savage reprisals followed. The days of mass struggle in France were over for another 35 years. The country was prepared for the massacres of the Napoleonic wars.
It was the war economy that had been the greatest achievement of the French bourgeoisie in the 'Revolutionary' years. They had layed the foundations for modern warfare, both as a means of carrying on capitalist competition and as a means of dealing with the proletariat, a class who were becoming everywhere more numerous and troublesome.
Wildcat UK #14 Summer 1990
14th issue of Wildcat.
Victory at Trafalgar Square (Poll Tax Riot)
Herman Gorter's Open Letter To Comrade Lenin - Its Historical Context
Death To Perestroika
Poland - Solidarity With The Ruling Class
Romania - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
The Fourth Reich (Reunification of Germany)
ANC Fails To Suppress Class Struggle
Liberty For The Prisoners Of Democracy (Argentina)
Militant Will Grass You Up
Wildcat UK #15 Autumn 1991
15th issue of Wildcat.
Disobey The New World Order
"Satanic Child Sex Terrorist Crack Menace Grows" (on moral panics around drugs and child abuse)
Free The Poll Tax Prisoners!
Ozymandias - Review of Against His-story, Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman
Opportunism Knocks - Debate on Ireland
Ten Days That Shook Iraq - Inside Information From An Uprising
The Hunt For Red October: Ten Days That Didn't Overthrow Capitalism
Terror And Democracy - Two Faces Of The Krugerand (class struggle in South Africa)
Poem by a Poll Tax Prisoner
Ozimandias - Review: Against His-story! Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman - Wildcat (UK)
Review: Against His-story! Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman, Black & Red, Detroit 1983.
Against His-story! is an attempt to take opposition to Progress to its logical conclusion. So is this belated review.
Perlman summarises the whole history of Civilisation from the viewpoint of its victims: we, the "zeks", free people who were enslaved then taught to identify with the enslaving monster: Leviathan.
ROCK OF STAGES
Civilisation, the antithesis of community, is only 5,000 years old. Communities existed in the New World for thousands of years without either "giving rise to" or becoming part of, the Civilisations of the Aztecs and Incas, which shrank. Civilisations did not arise inevitably because of the development of the productive forces. People have always tried to fight Civilization. So why did it arise, how did it spread and dominate the world, and why didn't communities stop it?
The minority which created Civilisation did so initially, not in a place where the productive forces were rich, but where they were poor, and where Nature was harsh: Mesopotamia. The Sumerians had to build waterworks, so expertise and eventually kings developed. When the waterworks of Lagash overflowed into those of Ur, the king of Ur, or Lugal, persuaded his people to attack Lagash, and basically ended up enslaving its inhabitants and forcing them to rebuild both sets of waterworks, by now a full-time activity.
Communities try to resist Civilisation in various ways. But to form permanent military alliances, which is what is needed to seriously threaten the monster, is to turn these communities into a new Civilisation. Walled cities need a permanent wall-building proletariat. What was a free activity becomes compulsory. What Civilisation touches turns to stone. People internalise compulsion. They become "armored", to use Perlman's term, creating morality and guilt.
Other communities ran away. The modern Leviathan is just now wiping out the very last of them in New Guinea and the Amazon. People have always tried to escape. Leviathans perpetually decompose. Hence the ruins in deserts and jungles. One of the most spectacular examples of decomposition Perlman describes is the decay of French colonialism, stretched out across the fur trails of North America, losing hunters and traders to the existing communities, until the British wiped them out. The first proletarian uprising in American history was the one led by Francisco Roldan against Columbus in 1498. Roldan and a mob of ex-convicts from Spain overthrew the government in Santo Domingo, and ran off into the hills to join the natives, fighting against Civilisation, which they knew from personal experience was far worse than the alternative. There were also tendencies toward primitive communism among English Americans: hence the New England witch trials.
Perlman's critique of religion is more penetrating than Marx's. Moses' God was simply Leviathan made abstract. His program was a "declaration of war against all Life": "Replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth".
There were numerous genuine primitivist crisis cults in the decomposing Roman Leviathan. Christianity was Civilisation's way of recuperating and suppressing them. Christianity is not, as Marxists have argued, the essential capitalist religion. Perlman explains how Islam was the midwife of mercantile capitalism. Arab merchants taught Europeans commerce, maths, etc., and they have never been given credit for this. Capitalism grew, not out of the burghs of mediaeval Europe but out of the trading networks imported by Islam's imitators. There is no God but Value, and Mohammed is his Profit.
The antithesis of Civilisation, communism, has always been possible. There is a constant tendency toward communist revolution: 4th century Persia, 16th century Germany. The aim of the revolution is to destroy the productive forces, not to develop them. Decadence is not a stage in the development of Civilisation, but a permanent tendency to decompose, the result of the invariant struggle of slaves against private property and the state. Progress is the result of a disruption of cyclical time. Our struggle reasserts invariant, cyclical time against progressive, linear time. Civilisation is not inevitable, but it is a permanent danger, and primitive communities' myths warn them against it.
Myths such as Dream Time, Eden and the Golden Age when "They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods" (Hesiod) are humanity's memories of pre-Civilisation. Leviathan's myths are lies. Here is an example:
"Changes in the economy freed part of the population from the need to engage in subsistence farming, more men now became available to pursue other tasks (i.e. crafts, defence, religious life, administration and technology)" (Penguin Atlas of World History, Vol. 1).
Became available to whom? The Penguin Atlas continues:
"The centralisation of the state and the hierarchical ordering of society into sharply differentiated classes (rulers, priests, warriors, officials, craftsmen, traders, peasants, slaves) enabled the Egyptians to solve the problems which confronted every riverine civilisation".
This is literally nonsense. The division into classes makes the phrase "the Egyptians" meaningless. "The Egyptians" did not differentiate themselves into slaves and torturers in order to solve their common problems. The slaves were enslaved. From this point on, to talk of humanity solving its problems, is to peddle the discourse of the State.
The evidence discovered since Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) derived from the racist anthropologist Morgan, shows that primitive peoples did not generally live in scarcity, nor were they cannibals. It was not the increase in the wealth of society which allowed Civilisation to emerge. It emerged in an area of scarcity, whereas Native Americans often lived in abundance, and, according to Perlman, consciously rejected the Civilisations on offer. This is hardly surprising. Civilisation has made more and more people more and more miserable for five thousand years.
Perlman's uncritical description of Native American communities should not be swallowed whole. According to one of his main inspirations, FW Turner, scarcity, competition, warfare, intolerance and torture did exist among pre-Columbian Indians (see The Portable North American Indian Reader). Perlman manages to paint a glaringly black-and-white picture of community and Civilisation. European Civilisation introduced the horse into Native America. On the other hand, it exterminated the beneficiaries of this development. Some white supremacists used Morgan's stages theory as an excuse. Nathan Meeker founded a cooperative concentration camp for the Ute Indians in Colorado, which he believed would raise them from savagery through the pastoral stage to barbarism, then to "the enlightened, scientific, and religious stage" (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, p372). Sounds familiar? The ideologists of the frontier didn't need historical materialism. Christianity served their genocidal purposes adequately. The ignorant savages, unwilling to be elevated into barbarians, killed Meeker in 1879.
FREDY VS. FRED
Perlman dismisses the progressist ideas of Marx's Preface to A Critique of Political Economy as "moronic". Capitalism doesn't "develop the productive forces", it creates capitalist "productive forces" and "relations of production". "The so-called material conditions are Leviathan's garments, not the ground it stands on." Perlman is right to point out that the productive forces do not exist apart from their social form, and that the latter give rise to the former, not vice-versa. But his dismissal of Marx is a trifle brusque. He makes no attempt to give a balanced assessment of Marx and Engels' contribution.
Engels' position was ambiguous. Although he saw the state as a weapon of one class against another, he also believed it "arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check". The concept of the "needs of society" implies some neutral force apart from the two antagonistic classes:
"At a certain stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this split. We are now rapidly reaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall just as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage."
Perlman confidently invites his readers to reexamine the theory of stages to see whether he has caricatured it. He hasn't. The argument that Civilization is an inevitable stage in the development of the productive forces is just as dangerous as the old chestnut about it being "human nature". To deny alternatives to Civilization's program of war against nature and peoples is to be an accomplice to their physical destruction. To those who say Marx developed a less progressist position (for example Teodor Shanin in Late Marx and the Russian Road), I would reply that it's a shame he didn't do it earlier. Nevertheless, it is simplistic to identify the whole of Marx's work with some of his, and especially Engels', mistakes. Perlman gives the impression that nothing good has happened since the state first arose in Sumer, and that non-civilised people were just as Hesiod described them. If the only alternative to life under Civilization is the "Stone Age", a life of hunting, screwing, being at one with Nature, etc., there is no question which is preferable.
Women in particular were better off before Civilisation, which has systematically stripped them of the power they used to have. But some technologies which have been developed during the last 5,000 years could be inherited by communism. No doubt the idea of a centralised world administration will be rejected. There will be a large degree of self-sufficiency. Without the waste of capitalism, the world could easily support its current population. The Stone Age couldn't. The population figure will depend entirely on how many children women choose to have and how much effort people are prepared to put into raising them (see How Deep is Deep Ecology? by George Bradford).
Perlman's arrogance is infectious. He dispatches Marxism in a couple of pages, the concept of "bourgeois revolutions" in one sentence. His method of dealing with anyone he doesn't like involves its own totalitarian circular logic. His critics are dismissed as "armored". People who want some positive evidence before accepting his conclusions are guard dogs of the Leviathanic order. Perlman's anti-history is so all-explanatory, covering the whole of history in 300 pages, there must be a danger of Against His-story! eventually becoming a new bible for a political dogma, the fate which befell Situationist theory.
An eclectic approach is needed to avoid this dead end. In learning from the culture of primitive peoples, we are not obliged to abandon everything which has been developed since the waterworks of Mesopotamia.
RB, 8 September 1991.
Ten days that shook Iraq - inside information from an uprising, by Wildcat (UK)
An account of the uprisings in Southern Iraq and Kurdistan in 1990-91 which involved large numbers of mutinous troops who had deserted during the Kuwait Gulf War. The uprisings were crushed by Saddam, with the complicity of US and Allied forces.
The following text was published as a four page leaflet in 1991 and was one of the first sources of information in English about the uprisings in Southern Iraq and Kurdistan. It was later published in the magazine 'Wildcat'.
The Gulf war was not ended by the military victory of America and the Allies. It was ended by the mass desertion of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. So overwhelming was the refusal to fight for the Iraqi state on the part of its conscripted army that, contrary to all predictions, not one Allied soldier was killed by hostile fire in the final ground offensive to recapture Kuwait. Indeed the sheer scale of this mutiny is perhaps unprecedented in modern military history.
But these mutinous troops did not simply flee back to Iraq. On their return many of them turned their guns against the Iraqi state, sparking a simultaneous uprising in both Southern Iraq and in Kurdistan to the North. Only the central region of Iraq surrounding Baghdad remained firmly in the state's hands in the weeks following the end of the war.
From the very start the Western media has grossly misrepresented these uprisings. The uprising in the South, centred on Basra, was portrayed as a Shia Muslim revolt. Whereas the insurrection in the North was reported as an exclusively Kurdish Nationalist uprising which demanded little more than an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraq.
The truth is that the uprisings in both the North and South of Iraq were proletarian insurrections.
Basra is one of the most secular areas in the Middle East. Almost no one goes to the mosques in Basra. The radical traditions in this area are not those of Islamic fundamentalism but rather those of Arab Nationalism and Stalinism. The Iraqi Communist Party is the only bourgeois party with any significant influence in this region. The cities of Basra, Nasriah and Hilah have long been known as the region of the Communist Party and have a long history of open rebellion against both religion and the state. The "Iraqi" working class has always been one of the most troublesome in a volatile region.
In the North, there is little sympathy for the Nationalist parties - the KDP and the PUK - and their peshmergas (guerrilla movements) due to the repeated failure of their compromises with the Iraqi state. This is particularly true in the Sulaimania area. The inhabitants of the area have been especially hostile to the Nationalists since the Halabja massacre. Following the chemical attack by the Iraqi air force against deserters and civilians in the city of Halabja in 1988, the peshmergas initially prevented people from fleeing and then went on to pillage and rape those who survived the massacre. As a result, many villagers have long since refused to feed or shelter nationalist peshmergas. As in the South, the Communist Party and its peshmergas are more popular.
The uprising in the North was not nationalist. In the early stages Ba'athist officials and secret police were executed, police files were destroyed and the prisons stormed. People were openly hostile to the bourgeois policies of the Kurdish Nationalists. In Sulaimania the Nationalist peshmergas were excluded from the city and the exiled leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, was prevented from returning to his home town. When the Kurdish Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, went to Chamcharnal, near to Sulaimania, he was attacked and two of his bodyguards were killed. When the Nationalists broadcast the slogan: "Now's the time to kill the Ba'athists!" the people of Sulaimania replied with the slogan: "Now's the time for the Nationalists to loot Porsches!", meaning that the Nationalists were only interested in looting.
A revolutionary group, "Communist Perspective", played a major role in the insurrection. In their publication, "Proletariat", they advocated the setting up of workers' councils. This provoked fear and anger among the Nationalists, as well as the Communist Party and its splinter groups.
Faced with these proletarian uprisings the various bourgeois interests in the region had to suspend hostilities and unite to suppress them. It is well known that the West, led by the USA, have long backed Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. They supported him in the war against Iran.
In supporting Saddam the Western ruling class also recognised that the Ba'athist Party, as a mass based fascist party, was the only force in Iraq capable and ruthless enough to repress the oil producing proletariat.
However, Saddam's ultimate strategy for maintaining social peace in Iraq was for a permanent war drive and militarisation of society. But such a strategy could only lead to further economic ruin and the intensification of class antagonisms. In the Spring of 1990 this contradiction was becoming blatant. The Iraqi economy was shattered after eight years of war with Iran. Oil production, the main source of hard currency, was restricted while oil prices were relatively low. The only options for redeeming wartime promises of prosperity in peace were a rise in the price of oil or more war. The former choice was blocked by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saddam's bold leap to resolve this impasse was to annex Kuwait and its rich oil fields.
This gave America the opportunity to reassert its political hegemony, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world as a whole. With the hope of exorcising the specter of Vietnam, the Bush regime prepared for all-out war. The Bush administration hoped for a quick and decisive victory that would evict Iraq from Kuwait but at the same time leave the Iraqi regime intact. However, to mobilise the home front for war, Bush had to equate Saddam with Hitler and so became increasingly committed publicly to toppling the Iraqi leader.
With this commitment the American government now sought to impose such a military defeat on the Ba'athist Party would be obliged to replace Saddam with someone else. Indeed the Bush regime openly invited the ruling circles in Iraq to replace Saddam Hussein with the approach of the ground war in March. However, the mass desertion of Iraqi conscripts and the subsequent uprisings in Iraq robbed the American government of such a convenient victory. Instead they faced the prospect of the uprising turning into a full scale proletarian revolution, with all the dire consequences this would have for the accumulation of capital in the Middle East.
The last thing the American government wanted was to be drawn into a prolonged military occupation of Iraq in order to suppress the uprisings. It was far more efficient to back the existing state. But there was no time to insist on the removal of Saddam Hussein. They could ill afford the disruption this would cause. Hence, almost overnight, Bush's hostility to the butcher of Baghdad evaporated. The two rival butchers went into partnership.
Their first task was to crush the uprising in the South which was being swelled by the huge columns of deserters streaming north from Kuwait. Even though these fleeing Iraqi conscripts posed no military threat to Allied troops, or to the objective of "liberating" Kuwait, the war was prolonged long enough for them to be carpet bombed on the road to Basra by the RAF and the USAF. This cold blooded massacre served no other purpose than to preserve the Iraqi state from mutinous armed deserters.
Following this massacre the Allied ground forces, having swept through southern Iraq to encircle Kuwait, stopped short of Basra and gave free rein to the Republican Guards - the elite troops loyal to the Iraqi regime - to crush the insurgents. All proposals to inflict a decisive defeat on the Republican Guards or to proceed towards Baghdad to topple Saddam were quickly forgotten. In the ceasefire negotiations the Allied forces insisted on the grounding of all fixed wing aircraft but the use of helicopters vital for counter-insurgency was permitted for "administrative purposes". This "concession" proved important once the uprising in the South was put down and the Iraqi state's attention turned to the advancing insurrection in the North.
Whereas the uprising in the Basra region was crushed almost as it began, the Northern uprising had more time to develop. It began in Raniah and spread to Sulaimania and Kut and at its height threatened to spread beyond Kurdistan to the capital. The original aim of the uprising was expressed in the slogan: "We will celebrate our New Year with the Arabs in Baghdad!" The defeat of this rebellion owed as much to the Kurdish Nationalists as to the Western powers and the Iraqi state.
Like all nationalist movements the Kurdish Nationalists defend the interests of the propertied classes against the working class. Most Kurdish Nationalist leaders come from very rich families. For example, Talabani comes from a dynasty originally set up by the British and his parents own luxury hotels in England. The KDP was set up by rich exiles driven out of Kurdistan by the mass working class uprisings of 1958 when hundreds of landowners and capitalist were strung up. As a result of these disturbing events a meeting of exiled bourgeois in Razaeia, Iran, organised nationalist death squads to kill class struggle militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. Later they carried out racist murders of Arabs. During the Iraq-Iran war very few deserters joined the nationalists and the PUK received an amnesty from the Iraqi state in return for repressing deserters.
These Kurdish Nationalists, like the international bourgeoisie, recognised the importance of a strong Iraqi state in order to maintain capital accumulation against a militant working class. So much so, in fact, that they merely demanded that Iraqi Kurdistan be granted the status of an autonomous region within a united Iraq.
In the uprising they did their best to defend the Iraqi state. They actively intervened to prevent the destruction of police files and state property, including military bases. The Nationalists stopped Arab deserters from joining the "Kurdish" uprising, disarmed them, and sent them back to Baghdad to be arrested. They did all they could to prevent the uprising from spreading beyond the "borders" of Kurdistan which was its only hope of success. When the Iraqi state began to turn its attention to the uprising in Kurdistan the Kurdish Nationalists' radio broadcasts did not encourage or co-ordinate resistance but instead exaggerated the threat posed by the demoralised Iraqi troops still loyal to the government and advised people to flee to the mountains. Which they eventually did. None of this is any surprise if we examine their history.
Although, as we have seen, there was much hostility towards the Kurdish Nationalists, they were able to gain control and bring to a halt the insurrection in Kurdistan because of their organisation and greater material resources. Having been long backed by the West - the KDP by the USA and the PUK by Britain - it was the Kurdish Nationalist parties that were able to control the supply of food and information. This was vital, since after years of deprivation, exacerbated by the war, the search for food was an overriding concern. Many individuals were mainly content with looting food, rather than with maintaining revolutionary organisation and the development of the insurrection. This weakness allowed the Nationalist organisations to step in with their ample supplies of food and well established radio stations.
The War in the Gulf was brought to an end by the refusal of the Iraqi working class to fight and by the subsequent uprisings in Iraq. But such proletarian actions were crushed by the combined efforts of the various international and national bourgeois forces. Once again, nationalism has served as the stumbling block for proletarian insurrection. While it is important to stress that Middle East politics is not dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and Arab Nationalism, as it is usually portrayed in the bourgeois press, but rests on class conflict, it must be said that the immediate prospects for the development of working class struggle in Iraq are now bleak.
The war not only resulted in the defeat of the Iraqi working class but also revealed the state of defeat of the working class in the USA, and, to a lesser degree, Europe. The western anti-war movement never developed into a mass working class opposition to the war. It remained dominated by a pacifist orientation that "opposed" the war in terms of an alternative national interest: "Peace is Patriotic". While it expressed abhorrence of the Allies' holocaust it opposed doing anything to stop it that might bring it into confrontation with the state. Instead it concentrated on futile symbolic protest that simply fostered the sense of helplessness in the face of the state's war machine.
Following the defeat of the insurrection, the Western media's misrepresentation continued. The proletariat was represented as helpless victims, ripe for patronising by the charities, grateful for the spectacles of pop stars flogging the Live Aid horse once more. For those that remembered the uprising a "Let It Be... Kurdistan" t-shirt was the obvious answer. Whilst the uprising was defeated we cannot allow its aims and the manner of its defeat to be distorted without challenge" hence this text.
The failure of the working class to recognise its own class interests as distinct from the "national interest" and sabotage the war effort can only serve to deepen the divisions amongst our international class along national lines. Our rulers will now be that much more confident of conducting murderous wars unopposed elsewhere in the world, a confidence they have lacked since the working class ended the Vietnam war by mutinies, desertion, strikes and riots.
Opposition to the war in Iraq
There has been a long tradition of class struggle in Iraq, particularly since the revolution in 1958. With Saddam's strategy of a permanent war drive to maintain social peace this struggle has often taken the form of mass desertion from the army. During the Iraq-Iran war tens of thousands of soldiers deserted the army. This swelled the mass working class opposition to the war. With the unreliability of the army it became increasingly difficult for the Iraqi state to put down such working class rebellions. It was for this reason that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the town of Halabja in 1988.
Following the invasion of Kuwait there were many demonstrations against its continued occupation. Even the ruling Ba'athist Party was obliged to organise such demonstrations under the slogan: "No to Kuwait: We only want Saddam and Iraq!" in order to head off anti-war feeling. With the dramatic rise in the price of necessities - food prices alone rising to twenty times their pre-invasion levels - there was little enthusiasm for war. The common attitude throughout Iraq was one of defeatism.
Despite a 200% pay rise desertion from the army became common. In the city of Sulaimania alone there were an estimated 30,000 deserters. In Kut there were 20,000. So overwhelming was the desertion that it became relatively easy for soldiers to bribe their way out of the army by giving money to their officers. But these working class conscripts did not merely desert, they organised. In Kut thousands marched on the local police station and forced the police to concede an end to the harassment of deserters.
Two days after the beginning of the war anti-war riots broke out in Raniah and later in Sulaimania.
This leaflet was produced by revolutionaries from Iraq and Britain. For more copies or correspondence we can be contacted by writing as follows: BM CAT, London WC1N 3XX, UK.
TO BE A PATRIOT IS TO BE AN ASSASSIN!
The Hunt for Red October: Ten Days That Didn't Overthrow Capitalism - Wildcat
Wildcat (UK) attempt to debunk theories both for and against the October Revolution in Russia against the events of 1917-1921, including the council communist, Trotskyist and 'left communist' positions on the revolution.
The Hunt for Red October - Ten Days That Didn't Overthrow Capitalism
By Wildcat (UK)
The article which follows this introduction views the Russian revolution of October 1917 from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of Kronstadt, a strategic island in the Gulf of Finland, which was universally regarded as the most radical part of Russia, until it was militarily suppressed by the Bolshevik government in March 1921. It measures theories of what happened in 1917 against the events of February to October, to see what relevance, if any, these events and theories have for the communist project today...
"No-one can belittle the huge importance of the October revolution and its influence on the course of world history and the progress of mankind", announced the chairman of the Soviet parliament in November 1990. Nevertheless, we're going to try.
The article which follows this introduction views the Russian revolution of October 1917 from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of Kronstadt, a strategic island in the Gulf of Finland, which was universally regarded as the most radical part of Russia, until it was militarily suppressed by the Bolshevik government in March 1921.
This introduction measures theories of what happened in 1917 against the events of February to October, to see what relevance, if any, these events and theories have for the communist project today.
The view that the Soviet system, resulting from the tactical genius of Lenin and the discipline of his party, is a great gain for humanity to be defended by the working class, has been somewhat eroded by that system's collapse. So too has the orthodox Trotskyist variant of this position.
Analyses which endorse October, but say that at some point between then and now, Russia became capitalist, have more life in them. Immediately after the second world war, various tendencies, for example Tony Cliff's, tried to make sense of the Red Army's rule in Eastern Europe. They worked out that wage labour prevailed in these countries, and concluded that they were dominated by a form of capitalism, which they called "state capitalism". The problem was when the gains of October had been lost.
This is not an academic question. Though we try to avoid the habit of seeing today in terms of 1917, there are some lessons to be drawn from then which still apply. We are still engaged in battles against the manoeuvres of Leninists in the class struggle in the 1990's. For this reason alone, this obituary is worthwhile. On the other hand, the funeral is long overdue. The conclusions of the following contributions are necessarily general, and many of them are non-specific to the Russian revolution.
The most dangerous of all errors made by non-Leninist tendencies analysing the Russian revolution is the critique of Leninism as undemocratic. Councilists and other democrats turn the ideology of Leninism on its head. Instead of a benevolent genius leading a clear minority through numerous dire straits to ultimate victory, councilists saw an evil genius, with an undemocratic minority party, which seized power without the approval of the majority of the working class, and thus was bound to do no good. The conclusion they draw is that only when the majority of the working class (usually in one country) have voted for the revolution is it safe for it to take place. This idea has been defended by councilists since the early twenties, and still finds an echo in the revolutionary movement of today. Democracy can only hinder the revolutionary minority. Depending on majority approval, whether in one workplace, one city, or one country, will always prevent this minority doing what needs to be done. As we argue throughout these text, what went wrong in Russia was not the result of a minority substituting itself for the working class.
The council communist movement arose in the 1920's in response to the Bolshevik counter-revolution and the manoeuvres of the German Communist Party (KPD). The Communist Workers Party (KAPD) had emerged from a split in the KPD, on the basis of opposition to parliament and trade unionism. The council communists, most of whom came from the KAPD and its Dutch equivalent, went further than the KAPD in their critique of the Bolsheviks. Whereas the KAPD argued that the Soviet state, the official communist parties around the world, grouped together in the Communist International, became counter-revolutionary in 1921-22, the council communists discovered that they had never been revolutionary at all.
They defended a simplified Marxist "stages" theory of history, taking at face value the claim that there had been a series of "bourgeois revolutions" which overthrew the old feudal social relations and substituted capitalist ones. These revolutions included the English in the 1640s, the French in 1789, and the German in 1848. The capitalist outcome of these revolutions was inevitable, notwithstanding the involvement of the proletariat. The clearest defence of this position can be found in From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution by Otto Ruhle . For our critique of the concept of bourgeois revolutions, see the article in Wildcat 13 .
The councilists argued that Russia could not give birth to a proletarian revolution because it was too backward. This argument is the same as that put forward by most of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks prior to 1917. Capitalism in Russia, precisely because it had taken root late, was more advanced than that of England. Petrograd had the biggest factory in the world. The fact that the territories of the Russian Empire were full of peasants could not make a workers' and soldiers' uprising in Petrograd capitalist "in essence".
Even if Russian capitalism had been backward, this is beside the point. Petrograd was a link in a chain of industrial cities which stretched around the world, and its workers knew it. That is why they responded to Lenin's calls for an internationalist revolution.
Councilists were if anything more dogmatic and didactic in their interpretation of Marxism than their Leninist opponents:
"According to the phaseological pattern of development as formulated and advocated by Marx, after feudal tsarism in Russia there had to come the capitalist bourgeois state, whose creator and representative is the bourgeois class." (, p13).
But the tsars of Russia were capitalist from Peter the Great (1689-1725) onwards. Their religious beliefs did not make them feudal. The tsars, with the aid of foreign capital, had developed Russian capitalism, in particular in the shipping and related industries, creating a modern industrial base in Petrograd and Moscow. "Unlike in Western Europe, the State did not merely supervise the new industries; it directly managed the bulk of heavy industry, and part of light industry, thereby employing the majority of all industrial workers as forced labour" (, p3). "State capitalism" was not introduced by the Bolsheviks.
We therefore reject the councilist analysis of the origins, course and outcome of the Russian revolution. However, they do have the merit of being the first to point out the evidence for the capitalist nature of the Bolshevik regime and the social relations it supervised. In 1920, Otto Ruhle refused to take his place in the Communist International in Moscow, as the KAPD had instructed. His journey through Russia had completely disillusioned him with the idea that socialism was being built there. Ruhle attacks the Bolsheviks' national liberation policy, their giving the right of self-determination to the nations (in other words, to the bourgeoisie) of Finland, Poland, etc. as "the outcome of bourgeois political orientation" (, p14). He ridicules their giving land to the peasantry, though what the Bolsheviks should have done instead, he does not say. He attacks the treaty of Brest-Litovsk which brought peace between the Soviet state and German imperialism, giving the latter one last chance to step up the fight against both the Entente powers and its own working class. Ruhle points out that "nationalisation is not socialisation" and describes the Russian economy as "large-scale tightly centrally-run state capitalism... Only it is still capitalism". He equates the massacre of the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 with the suppression of the Paris Commune and the German revolution.
The "left communist" current, in common with Cliff and other ex-Trotskyists, supports the Bolsheviks in the October revolution, but argues that the revolution degenerated because of Russia's isolation. This point of view deserves to be seriously considered, before being dismissed out of hand. The problem of when Russia was no longer a workers' state has caused tremendous problems to these groups, and most of them have given up trying to answer the question.
But they are generally in agreement on the primary cause of the degeneration: isolation. It is true that, if it were not supported by a revolution in the rest of the world, the Russian revolution would inevitably have led to capitalism. However, this is not why it did so. The Bolshevik regime did not try to create communism, find itself isolated, and end up implementing capitalist policies in spite of its best intentions. On the contrary, it enthusiastically administered and expanded capitalism - the exploitation of labour by means of the wages system - from its very first day in office.
"And the facts speak for themselves: after the October revolution Lenin did not want the expropriation of the capitalists, but only 'workers control'; control by the workers' shopfloor organizations over the capitalists, who were to continue to retain management of the enterprises. A fierce class struggle ensued, invalidating Lenin's thesis on the collaboration of the classes under his power: the capitalists replied with sabotage and the workers' collectives took over all the factories one after the other... And it was only when the expropriation of the capitalists had been effected de facto by the worker masses that the Soviet government recognized it de jure by publishing the decree on the nationalization of industry. Then, in 1918, Lenin answered the socialist aspirations of the workers by opposing to them the system of State capitalism ('on the model of wartime Germany'), with the greatest participation of former capitalists in the new Soviet economy." (A. Ciliga, The Russian Enigma , pp 283-284).
The Bolsheviks were already imprisoning their revolutionary opponents before the outbreak of the civil war in 1918. They had already tried to strike deals to keep the capitalist managers in charge of the factories. As Mandel shows in The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power , the factory committees frequently came into conflict with the Bolsheviks, who wanted to dissolve them into the trade unions. He also quotes the leather manufacturers' organisation in Petrograd to the effect that the Bolshevik trade unionists were preferable, as people with whom jointly to manage production, to the "anarcho-communist" factory committees. Clearly, to some extent, the factory committees attempted to continue the revolution after October in the teeth of Bolshevik opposition. We do not however idolise the factory committees, as does Brinton in The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control . Though containing useful information, it should be read in conjunction with Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat , in which Goodey shows how simplistic it is to see the committees as the goodies and the Bolsheviks as the baddies.
Relations of production inside Russia never ceased to be capitalist. Hardly any attempt was made to abolish wage labour and the law of value, and none by the Party. The Bolsheviks did carry out nationalisations, under pressure from the factory committees, but these had nothing to do with communism.
In "Left-Wing" Communism  written two and a half years after the October uprising, Lenin argued that in Russia the trade unions were "and will long remain" a necessary means for "gradually transferring the management of the whole economy of the country to the hands of the working class (and not of the separate trades), and later to the hands of all the toilers". Lenin didn't claim that at that time the working class even managed the economy. They had not even instituted workers management, let alone socialism. He argued that state capitalism was a step on the road to socialism, and urged Russian socialists to "study the state capitalism of the Germans, to adopt it with all possible strength, not to spare dictatorial methods in order to hasten its adoption" (On "Left" Infantilism and the Petty-Bourgeois Spirit, cited in E.H. Carr, , p99).
Lenin and the Bolsheviks conceived of a long period of transition, during which workers would gradually exert more and more control over production and society as a whole, eventually, after many years, converting it into socialism (see , pp 12-13, citing Lenin, , p245). This would be assisted by "general state book-keeping, general state accounting of the production and distribution of goods", and would be "something in the nature, so to speak, of the skeleton of a socialist society". . In the meantime, the state would be in control of capitalist relations of production. Any Marxist should be able to work out that a state which is in control of capitalism - wage labour - is a capitalist state. In order to run the economy, it has to impose work discipline, and all the accompanying forms of repression which capitalism is heir to. The idea of a "workers' state" which will gradually transform wage labour into the free association of producers is an un-Marxist utopia. The involvement of the working class in the administration of capitalism, through Soviets, etc., just leads it into managing its own exploitation.
Supporters of the notion of a "workers' state" will admit that, initially, such a state is in charge of a capitalist economy. What will prevent it becoming a capitalist state is the intentions of the people running it. They - organised in the Party - want to create communism. But it is again basic materialism to point out that states develop independently of the intentions of their functionaries. A state in charge of capitalism cannot transform it into communism by willpower. There has to be another way.
The concept of a "degenerated" workers' state is absurd. States are administrative bodies based on armed forces. They defend particular social relations. A state cannot degenerate. It cannot gradually change from defending the proletariat to defending the bourgeoisie. This would involve a period of transition in which it abolished wage labour with less and less enthusiasm, followed by a phase in which it defended it with greater and greater vigour, divided by an interregnum in which it couldn't quite make up its mind!
To summarily demonstrate the nature of the Bolshevik regime, we will briefly look at three areas of society in which the new regime strengthened capitalism with a resolve which must have been the envy of the liberals they had just overthrown.
The Extraordinary Commission to Fight Counter-Revolution, or Cheka, was founded on December 8 1917 "to watch the press, saboteurs, strikers, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries of the Right" (Daniels,  p90, citing the Cheka's founding decree, our emphasis). Strikers were now labelled agents of the counter-revolution, and subject to rapidly increasing repression, starting with "confiscation, confinement, deprivation of (food) cards", and ending with summary execution.
In March 1918, Trotsky abolished the elective principle in the army, replacing elected officers with former tsarist officers who, "in the area of command, operations and fighting" (in other words, everything), were given "full responsibility" and "the necessary rights" (, p93). One year after the revolution which destroyed the tsar's army and navy, Trotsky restored them.
Finally, in the economy, Lenin said in April 1918: "We must raise the question of piecework and apply and test it in practice; we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system, we must make wages correspond to the total amount of goods turned out..." (, p96).
And he didn't just raise these questions, he answered them.
When a particular state imprisons strikers, decimates soldiers, militarises labour, cooperates with factory owners and negotiates territory with imperialist powers, its nature is clear. Such a state defends the capitalist class and the capitalist mode of production against the proletariat and the communist movement. Such was the nature of the Soviet state created by the October revolution.
WE GOT THE POWER
Between February and October 1917, the working class had a significant amount of power in Russia. Following the Petrograd mutiny of 27 February, when troops refused to shoot demonstrators and striking workers and joined them, the whole edifice of tsarist autocracy collapsed. Kerensky commented that throughout the whole of the Russian lands, there was "literally not one policeman". They crowded into the jails to avoid lynching, taking the place of thousands of hardened revolutionaries of all factions who wasted no time in getting stuck in. From February to October, a situation of "dual power" existed, with a weak bourgeois government and numerous organs of working class power. Even at the lowest points during these eight months, when the bourgeoisie was on the offensive, workers defied the bosses, and soldiers and sailors chose which orders to obey. The Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, led by the Petrograd Soviet, had more power than the Provisional Government, though they persistently refused to use it to destroy the latter, in fact they propped it up by sending ministers and giving it "socialist" credibility.
Finally on October 25, the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Bolshevik-dominated Petrograd Soviet smashed the Provisional Government and announced that the Soviets were now the power in the land. The Congress of Soviets elected a government, the Council of People's Commissars, or SovNarKom, to which the Soviets now gave increasing amounts of their own power. From the viewpoint of the working class, it is difficult to find any major gains resulting from October. There is one major exception: peace.
It is understandable that the Soviets, after much debate, accepted Lenin's arguments for signing a peace treaty with Germany. Most of the Soviets initially bitterly opposed the idea, arguing that a revolutionary war, even a guerilla war which would not actually beat Germany, would hasten the advent of the world revolution. But the argument that Russia was exhausted won the day. The Brest-Litovsk treaty was disastrous for the working class. It freed German militarism from fighting a war on two fronts, giving it the Ukraine, and boosted its morale (its power over its own workers), which enabled it to launch the March-July 1918 offensives on the Western front, prolonging the war.
It is impossible for us to say exactly what effect a refusal by the working class to accept Brest-Litovsk would have had. Certainly the Germans would have advanced towards Petrograd, but a communist guerilla war would have tied up vast numbers of troops, bringing forward the collapse of the Central Powers and the wave of Revolutions which eventually brought them down in November 1918. There was certainly a readiness for a fight, as shown by the debates in the Soviets, and by subsequent events in the Ukraine, where a large anarchist army fought the counter-revolution with considerable success, until it was suppressed by the Red Army (see Voline, The Unknown Revolution, ).
The Russian revolution was not defeated primarily because Russia was isolated by the civil war and the defeat of the German revolution - it had already been seriously undermined from within before isolation had a chance to take hold. Of course, the invasion of White Russian and imperialist armies in the summer of 1918 took its toll of surviving revolutionary gains, not least because it enabled the Bolshevik government to impose capitalist discipline and the militarisation of labour. But the Soviet government was already defending capital against communism before the outbreak of the civil war. So "isolation" is a feeble excuse. The suppression of Kronstadt in 1921, the most spectacular act of the Bolshevik counter-revolution, was the culmination of four years of constant attacks on the working class revolution of February 1917. Lenin succeeded where Kerensky had failed.
Nor were the Bolsheviks forced to conduct the civil war in the way they did by circumstances beyond their control. Insurgents in the Ukraine were capable of holding Soviet congresses to organise the struggle against the White armies. The Red Army under Trotsky ruthlessly liquidated such attempts to conduct a communist civil war against counter-revolution. Voline cites Trotsky's order no. 1824 of June 4, 1919, which calls participation in a Soviet Congress of insurgents in various regions of the Ukraine, "an act of high treason", and forbids it: "In no case shall it take place" (, pp596-597). Whilst the "anarchist bandits" were fighting Denikin's offensive, the Red Army attacked them from the rear.
One of the causes of the 1921 uprising was the capitalist organisation of the Red Army. This was not a consequence of the civil war, preceding it by four months. The arbitrary brutality of bourgeois military discipline is neither necessary nor possible in a class struggle army. We only have to look at Makhno's partisans to see this (see Arshinov, ). Another was corruption. The armed guards who checked people bringing in food from the countryside took bribes to allow black marketeers through, and took what they wanted for resale or for themselves.
It is quite clear from Trotsky's account  that the Bolshevik Party consistently tried to hold back the class struggle up to October 1917 until they were in a position to dominate the government which resulted from the insurrection. Had Kornilov taken Petrograd in August 1917, he would have murdered the left-wing leaders, yet when sailors from the Aurora visited Trotsky in prison, he urged restraint! (, 2, p233).
Some of the writings and speeches of Bolshevik leaders at this time are impressive. Lenin's April Theses  served to radicalise the Bolshevik apparatus in 1917. The depth of this radicalisation can be gauged by the introduction of one-man management a year later. The State and Revolution , Lenin's most revolutionary work, was not published until 1918, when the counter-revolution was well under way, thus made no positive contribution. The Bolsheviks talked of a "commune-state", of "the arming of the whole people", of the "abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy", and proceeded to create a capitalist police state which disarmed the working class and gave birth to the biggest bureaucracy the world has ever seen. The more radical elements of Bolshevik propaganda had the effect of disguising a social democratic party as a communist one.
The Bolsheviks were, of all the Russian underground groups, the most opposed to the formation of Soviets in 1905. In February 1917,
"Inside Russia, the most active group in St. Petersburg, the Bolsheviks, refused requests for arms from the strikers and tried to dissuade them from further demonstrations, convinced that the tide was on the ebb and that consolidation was needed." (, p39).
In August, "The Bolshevik leaders themselves often joked about the similarity of their warnings to the political leit-motif of the German social democracy, which has invariably restrained the masses from every serious struggle by referring to the danger of provocateurs and necessity of accumulating strength." (, 2, p311).
A generally held view of revolution is that timing is of the essence. The prospective revolutionary class or party must choose its moment well. Too early an insurrectionary attempt will provoke repression; too late, and the revolutionaries will have missed their chance.
A proletarian revolution is only possible when the ruling class is in severe crisis, which is likely to last for months. Such was the case in Russia in 1917. In such situations, it is unlikely that the proletariat will lose much by going on the offensive. Even in the normal day-to-day life of capitalist society, it is unusual, though not unheard-of, for a genuine revolutionary group (as opposed to a leftist one) to urge restraint.
Military analogies are over-used in the class war, and often misleading. The class war is fundamentally different from a war between states. The workers are not an army until they start fighting. But in straightforward physical confrontations between classes, an understanding of timing, the balance of forces, and so on, is important. We cannot condemn the Bolsheviks simply because they held back the armed struggle. However, revolutionaries would not spend most of their time trying to hold back the class where the government is weak and the working class has real autonomous power in sections of society, including the armed forces. They would not try to prevent strikes as the Bolsheviks in the Vyborg district did (, 2, p10).
The Bolsheviks' strategy of holding back the class war was not based on fear of provoking the government (what would the government have done when provoked that it couldn't have done in any case?), but on the argument that there was no coherent force to take power. They left the Provisional Government in power while they were unsure of their ability to provide an alternative administration. The government could not even control the naval fort which defended Petrograd. So when Lenin urged "caution, caution, caution", he was trying to hold back the class struggle until the Bolsheviks were in a position to use it for their own ends. To do this, he needed a more disciplined party, so he described Bolsheviks who had supported the slogan "Down with the Provisional Government" against the more moderate official Bolshevik slogan "Long Live the Soviet" as guilty of "a serious crime". "Long Live the Soviet" in July 1917 meant supporting the body which, as Lenin constantly pointed out, was the main prop of the capitalist government.
In Petrograd, even at the militant Putilov factory, the Bolsheviks tried to stop the July demo, but were swept aside by the workers. The party in the Vyborg district decided it had to go along to "maintain order" (, 2, p17). Although Lenin did everything he could to prevent the July 4th armed demonstration, he explained why he had to support it once it was inevitable: "For our party to have broken with the spontaneous movement of the Kronstadt masses would have struck an irreparable blow at its authority".
Describing the genesis of the July Days, Trotsky admits: "With an embarrassed shake of the head, the Vyborg Bolsheviks would complain to their friends: 'We have to play the part of the fire hose.'" (, 2, p10). He candidly describes now he persuaded the 176th regiment to defend the "socialist" ministers against the demonstrators. When the demonstrators demanded to see minister Tseretelli, leading Bolshevik Zinoviev came out and spoke: "I appealed to that audience to disperse peacefully at once, keeping perfect order, and under no circumstances permitting anyone to provoke them to any aggressive action." Trotsky adds: "This episode offers the best possible illustration of the keen discontent of the masses, their lack of any plan of attack, and the actual role of the Bolshevik party in the July events" (, 2, p45). It certainly does.
Our critique of October is not that it was an undemocratic coup d'etat. Firstly, because we do not believe that a majority of the working class has to endorse an assault on state power by a minority, and secondly, because the Bolsheviks did have the support of a large proportion of the most militant workers. We would not quibble over the description of the result of October as a "workers' state", since it was based on the Soviets. But this is no guarantee that it will defend the interests of the working class.
Neither do we argue that the party was internally undemocratic. The Kommunist faction (see ), composed of some of the leading Bolsheviks in Moscow, argued against the party's decisions, saying that they "Instead of raising the banner forward to communism, raise the banner back to capitalism." The left communists also opposed the Brest-Litovsk treaty. When the civil war started, the left described the situation inside Russia as "War Communism". Housing was redistributed (see ), rail and post were free, electricity and water free when available, rent was abolished, and so, it appeared, was money. But in practice, most of the food was obtained on the black market, otherwise even more people would have died of starvation (, p101). Cannibalism also helped supplement Russia's meagre diet. Money was abolished only in the sense that inflation devalued it to such an extent it was replaced with barter.
Kollontai's Workers' Opposition advocated workers' control of capitalism, via the trade unions. Nowhere in The Workers' Opposition  does Kollontai understand that Russia is capitalist. The Workers' Opposition were "the first" to volunteer for the supression of Kronstadt in 1921 at the 10th Party Congress. At this congress, the left communists lurched to the right, defending private trade. After this, factions were banned, sent to Siberia, or shot. There were nevertheless numerous oppositions formally inside the Party even after this point, some of them quite positive, for example Miasnikov's Workers' Group and Bogdanov's Workers' Truth Group:
"The soviet, party, and trade-union bureaucracies and organizers find themselves with material conditions which are sharply distinguished from the conditions of existence of the working class. Their very well-being and the stability of their general position depend on the degree to which the toiling masses are exploited and subordinated to them." (Appeal of the Workers' Truth Group, 1922, cited in , p147).
Other examples can be found in Daniels, , and Ciliga, . The latter describes the debates among oppositionists in prison and in exile in the late twenties and early thirties, many of whom had managed to work out what had gone wrong. But by this time it was too late.
FOR ANTI-STATE COMMUNISM
It is obvious that conditions today are far removed from 1917, so we would not mechanically transfer the lessons of the proletariat's mistakes in Russia to today. However, there are some general points which can be drawn from the Russian experience. Between February and October, the proletariat had considerable power in Russia, but then rapidly lost it, and a strong capitalist state was created. When class warfare reaches a certain level, a Soviet state may emerge. However it will only be a step on the road to communism if the revolutionary workers refuse to accept the Soviet state as their own, and oppose it as intransigently as they did its predecessor.
There is no substitute for the immediate task of socialising the entire economy, abolishing money, destroying all bureaucratic hangovers of capitalist rule, and rapidly internationalising the revolution. Any organisation which tries to hold back these measures should be swept aside.
There are no forms which guarantee the success of the revolution, neither is there much point in trying to avoid particular forms, nor making rules about which pre-ordained tasks each type of organisation must take on or refuse. With obvious qualifications, Herman Gorter's 1920 formulation against formalism still stands: "...during the revolution, every Trade Union, every workers' union even, is a political party - either pro or counter revolutionary" (Gorter, ).
No one organisation, whether formally political or ostensibly economic, will hold a monopoly of correct positions. The "revolutionary party" is the sum of all individuals and organisations, whether formal political organisations or not, which actually defend the needs of the social revolution at a given moment. It is impossible to centralise such a minority under one command. However, immense discipline and more importantly, solidarity, will be required for such a party to act in a unified way against the bourgeoisie and its well-organised political forces, let alone its military ones.
This minority can certainly take any action - for example, the overthrow of the state - which serves proletarian goals, without endorsement from the majority of the working class. It cannot however impose communism - this can only be the product of mass activity - therefore it does not seek to create a new state power - a "workers' state" - in place of the old administration. It remains continuously in opposition to any state which is set up, participating in organising the class war until its final victory in the destruction of all states, and the creation of world communism, a free association of producers, in which the freedom of each is the condition for the freedom of all.
 From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution, Otto Ruhle, Revolutionary Perspectives, 1974 (out of print).
 1789 and All That, Wildcat no. 13, London, 1989.
 Notes on Class Struggle in the USSR, Red Menace, London, 1989.
 Kronstadt 1921: An Analysis of a Popular Uprising in Russia at the Time of Lenin, Revolutionary Perspectives no. 23, 1986.
 The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power, D. Mandel, MacMillan 1984.
 The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, M. Brinton, Solidarity, London, 1970.
 Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, C. Goodey, Critique no. 3, Glasgow, 1973.
 Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
 "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
 The Bolshevik Revolution, 2, E.H. Carr, Penguin, London, 1966.
 The Unknown Revolution, Voline, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1975.
 The Russian Enigma, A. Ciliga, Ink Links, London, 1979.
 History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921, P. Arshinov, Black & Red, Detroit, 1974.
 The History of the Russian Revolution, L. Trotsky, Pathfinder, New York, 1980 [3 vols. in one].
 The April Theses, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1951.
 The State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976.
 Clarity and Unity in the Russian Revolution, Communist Bulletin no. 10, Aberdeen, 1987.
 A Documentary History of Communism, 1, ed. R.V. Daniels, Tauris & Co., London, 1985.
 Theses of the Left Communists, N. Bukharin et. al., Critique, Glasgow, 1977.
 The Russian Revolution, 1, W.H. Chamberlain, Grosset and Dunlap, New York.
 The Workers' Opposition, A. Kollontai, Solidarity, London.
 The Conscience of the Revolution, R.V. Daniels, Harvard University Press, 1960.
 Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, H. Gorter, Wildcat, London, 1989.
 Kronstadt 1917-1921 - the Fate of a Soviet Democracy, I. Getzler, Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Remember Kronstadt - Wildcat
Wildcat (UK) give a brief history of the Kronstadt fortress, from 1905 to 1921 on the 70th anniversary of the uprising (1991).
The 70th anniversary of the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, giving us two convenient excuses to reexamine the Russian revolution. This brief history of the naval fortress-town in the Gulf of Finland gives us a particular viewpoint on the revolution itself: the viewpoint of some of its most combative participants.
Following the destruction of the fleet by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, Kronstadt joined the general uprising which swept the demoralised country. The first Kronstadt uprising in October 1905 was basically a large armed riot, accompanied by liberal political demands. The Tsarist autocracy managed to regain control after two days. Although the majority of Kronstadt's 13,000 sailors and soldiers participated in the uprising, only 208 were brought to trial. None were sentenced to death and only one to hard labour for life. This exceptionally lenient treatment was the result of the explicit solidarity offered by the workers of St. Petersburg who struck against the courts martial.
Kronstadt's second uprising took place in July 1906. The Socialist Revolutionaries and a few members of the Bolshevik Party convinced the rest of the Kronstadters that their parties would be able to organise a nationwide naval mutiny and then a revolution. It was totally unsuccessful, and brutally suppressed.
Directly after the debacle of the 1906 mutiny, the Minister of War received a letter from 71 sailors and 136 soldiers of Kronstadt who assembled in a forest and vowed to avenge their executed comrades. "...for every comrade soldier killed, we will hang three officers edgewise, and shoot another five" (I. Getzler, , p8).
Kronstadt's revolutionary tradition had begun.
Politically, Kronstadt was originally peasant-oriented. Land and Liberty were the main slogans. Following her humiliation by the Japanese, Russia resolved to build a modern fleet. From 1906, the Russian navy became increasingly composed of industrial workers who were capable of using and maintaining modern battleships, which had the effect of fusing the elemental aspirations of the peasantry with the class-conscious industrial proletariat.
The revolutionary spirit revived after the fall of Warsaw to the Germans on 4 August 1915, exactly one year into the First World War. Politically, patriotism was still on the ascendant, and the Kronstadt sailors mixed anti-German sentiments with their demands for better food and more humane treatment; many of their officers had German names. Nevertheless, the Kronstadters were miles ahead of the rest of the working class of Europe, who were busy killing each other. The demonstrations in Kronstadt in the summer of 1915 turned to mutiny in October. This was another failure.
As is usually the case when the barriers of discipline within the armed forces break down, the revolution in Kronstadt in February 1917 was rapid and violent. Sailors abstained from singing hymns with their officers, and refused en masse to reply when spoken to. Soldiers ordered to shoot the mutineers joined them instead, and Kronstadt joined the revolutionary soldiers and workers who were already in the process of destroying the Tsarist regime in Petrograd (the city's name had been Russified). They encountered little real resistance. The police ran, and most of the officers quickly saved their skins by surrendering. The revolutionaries shot Admiral Viren, another fifty officers, and around thirty police and police spies (, p24).
The working class now held power in Kronstadt. Whereas, throughout most of the country, the workers and soldiers tolerated an uneasy truce with the bourgeoisie, Kronstadt refused to recognise orders from the new Provisional Government. This defiance was to be its major strength for the next four years. A battleship would only sail from Kronstadt if the Soviet agreed to it.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Provisional Government of constitutional democrats, Mensheviks and Right SRs was able (just) to continue the war until October, the naval fort which guarded the approach to its capital was in a state of permanent mutiny through February, right through to October, and as we shall see, even after the Bolshevik revolution. Kronstadt effectively seceded from Russia. The soldiers and sailors refused to accept the authority of the Provisional Government, and it could do nothing about it. This was the dictatorship of the proletariat.
PARTIES AT KRONSTADT
Although the primarily peasant Socialist Revolutionary Party was until May the majority party in the Kronstadt Soviet, the Kronstadt SRs were mainly of the party's left wing. These had the same war policy as the Bolsheviks: armistice on all fronts, publication of the secret treaties, and no annexations.
There was a non-Party group at Kronstadt, led by Anatolii Lamanov. According to Getzler , "it rejected party factionalism" and "stood for pure sovietism". In August 1917, it joined the Union of Socialist Revolutionaries-Maximalists. They sought an immediate agrarian and urban social revolution, calling for the "socialisation of power, of the land and of the factories" ( p135) to be organised by a federation of soviets based on direct elections and instant recall, as a first step towards socialism. They rejected parliamentarism in principle and were against political parties, though it is not clear in what way they did not constitute a party themselves. According to Getzler's account, they prefigured the council communist current. They urged workers to seize control of the factories, rather than merely exercising control over production while leaving ownership and management unchanged, as the Bolsheviks advocated.
The Anarchists were less influential. There were anarcho-syndicalists, allied to the Bolsheviks, and a more piratical group led by Bleikhman, who appeared at mass meetings bristling with guns and ammunition, advocating a bloody war of class vengeance.
The Kronstadt Soviet was less party-dominated than other Soviets, in particular the Petrograd Soviet, the most powerful institution in the country from March to October. The debates at Kronstadt were real debates, in which the deputies, even to some extent Bolshevik ones, decided the issues on their merits, rather than on the basis of the party line. This contrasts with Petrograd, where the real business of the Soviet had been worked out by the party whips, so that "the resolutions moved by the speaker were almost automatically adopted" (Liubovitch, cited in  p54).
Since no political fraction is always right, it is sensible to allow members to decide issues on the basis of the arguments, not on the basis of which party the speaker belongs to. There is however a tendency to take this argument too far. If parties have no monopoly of truth, neither do soviets. The soviet form of organisation is not intrinsically more likely to produce a communist programme than a political or any other kind of organisation. Kronstadt's 1921 slogan "All Power to the Soviets and not the Parties" is no formula for success: it ignores completely the question of reactionary soviets.
The Mensheviks at Kronstadt were also on the extreme left, joining the Menshevik Internationalists, who rejected the main Menshevik Party's participation in the government and support for the war.
It is worth mentioning at this point that this factional fluidity was not restricted to Kronstadt, nor to 1917. Different parts of parties frequently defied the official line on this or that issue, and the Bolsheviks were no exception. When Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917, he had to admonish Bolsheviks for defencism (support for Russia in the war against Germany). As  makes clear, no single party or faction represented the clear programme of revolution.
The Bolshevik party certainly played no role in the February revolution at Kronstadt, since it didn't exist. Its organisation had been completely smashed by the Okhrana secret police in September 1916. Bolshevik sympathisers participated as individuals or in league with the SRs, but had no organisational connection with each other. So in the first Kronstadt Soviet elections, the Bolsheviks gained only 11 deputies. In May, they became the largest party in the Soviet, with 96 delegates.
This is remarkable considering how badly the Bolsheviks had cocked up their first intervention at Kronstadt as an organised party after March, which Getzler describes as "aggressive and shrill", and was accompanied by the publication of self-serving lies in Pravda about how the Bolsheviks had pulled the revolution in Kronstadt together ( p42).
The Bolsheviks gained the upper hand by saying what the sailors and soldiers wanted to hear, and by being better organised than the other parties. For example, they said that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had just begun, and the socialist revolution was not on the agenda, whereas Lenin's April Theses  argued that the former was complete, and the latter about to commence.
Following the Provisional Government's declaration of unswerving allegiance to the Entente's war aims on 18 April, the Bolsheviks at Kronstadt turned sharply to the left, in line with Lenin's, and increasingly the Party's, views. They were thus able to put themselves at the head of the militant mobs when these put pressure on the Soviet for a more radical break with the government. They became, along with the left wing of the anarchists, the most consistent opponents of the Petrograd Soviet's coalition with the bourgeoisie.
This position - all power to the soviets and the overthrow of the government - enabled them to win the May Soviet elections. Kronstadt Bolsheviks were able to distinguish between soviets, and said that only the more radical soviets should take power, though in practice they supported the SR position of recognising the Petrograd Soviet, despite the latter's support for the government.
The Anarcho-Communists went one better: they refused to recognise the authority even of the Kronstadt Soviet. "We, as Anarcho-Communists, can support a power only to the extent that it executes our will" ( p76).
The Kronstadters as a whole embarrassed the Petrograd Soviet by recognising only its authority "in matters of state", implicitly urging it to stop propping up the Provisional Government. This provoked a crisis. The Kronstadt Bolsheviks supported the unilateral declaration of independence from the government, though Lenin rebuked them for failing to consult the Central Committee first: for such breaches of discipline, he warned, "we shall shoot!".
The war continued. But it became increasingly difficult for the Provisional Government to mobilise men for the front. At the beginning of July, according to Trotsky (, 2, p6), "the offensive... was dying in convulsions". The June offensive had failed. Anti-war agitation of all sorts continued at the front and in the rear, despite desperate attempts to suppress it.
It was their anti-war policy - a just peace, with no annexations - that gave the Bolsheviks their complete victory in the Kronstadt Soviet on 23 June when it debated the Kerensky offensive. The Left SRs and Menshevik-Internationalists, as well as the Maximalists and Anarchists, agreed with the Bolsheviks' anti-war message, but it was the Bolsheviks who were the best organised propagandists in its favour.
The central importance of organisation - but not of centralised party discipline - is demonstrated by Getzler's account of how Raskolnikov and the other Kronstadt Bolsheviks ensured not only Kronstadt's participation in the July Days, but their leadership of it. The impressively-named Petrograd Machine-Gunners had come to Kronstadt to ask for support for a massive armed demonstration on 4 July. The Bolsheviks and their anarchist allies were quite clear that this was to be a campaign for the overthrow of the government.
Using techniques which are familiar to anyone who encounters their epigones in the class struggle today, the Bolsheviks packed a non-quorate meeting of the Soviet Executive Committee with "some 30 unverified representatives of armed units" (, p113), and then used their domination of this meeting to organise the arming and transportation of Kronstadters to Petrograd. But the rascally Raskolnikov and his comrades did something today's Leninists would never have the audacity to do. Telephoning the Bolshevik Central Committee, he told them he was unable to hold back the masses, whereas he hadn't even tried, but rather had done everything in his power to ensure Kronstadt's participation in the July days under Bolshevik leadership. This had the effect of galvanizing the Central Committee into action (see "The Hunt for Red October"). When the 10-12,000 armed men of Kronstadt arrived in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks led them straight to HQ at Smolny. First, Bolshevik speakers tried to persuade them to go home (, 2, p21). When this didn't work, the Bolsheviks bored them with speeches and lined them up behind the banner of the Central Committee.
Those who propose democratic solutions to the manoeuvres of today's leftist parties should think again. What was right and wrong about Raskolnikov moving the goalposts on 3 and 4 July coincides in no way to what was democratic or undemocratic about it. For a minority to outmanoeuvre its more conservative opponents by bending the rules in order to achieve a step forward in the class struggle is a fine thing.
It is the content of an organisation's activity that counts, not its form. For example, packing meetings is not in itself reactionary, but claiming that participants are valid because they have been elected is. It depends on what they are doing - are they sidestepping an obstacle in the class struggle or creating one? Raskolnikov's creative approach to party discipline - acting first, then informing the leadership - is a useful counter-example to advocates of military hierarchy as the model for organisation.
The same applies to the larger example of the October uprising. The fact that the Military Revolutionary Committee did not wait for the Congress of Soviets to endorse the attack on the provisional government before acting is not a sin. Our critique is of the Bolshevik Party's capitalist programme.
The July Days ended in failure. The Kronstadters were not all veterans, and when someone fired at the demo, panic broke out. Their lack of confidence is shown by this episode and by their behaviour outside the Tauride Palace, the seat of the Petrograd Soviet Executive Committee, where Trotsky and the Bolsheviks managed to rescue the SR minister Chernov from lynching by the Kronstadters. In a speech which sounds ironic in the light of his more critical evaluation four years later, Trotsky addressed the sailors as the "pride and glory of the Russian revolution", and went on to persuade them to free "comrade Chernov".
Could the working class have seized power in July? Trotsky, in  2, looks at the situation on the Russo-German Front, quoting a representative letter from a soldier. The soldier threatens to bayonet the Provisional Government, but says "we don't understand very well about parties". According to Trotsky, the army "mutinied constantly, but was far from ready to raise an insurrection in order to give power to the Bolshevik Party" (p 70). He then admits that in many other areas of the country, the Soviets were ready to take power. He adds that, immediately after the suppression of the July demonstrations, news came through from the front that the June offensive had collapsed. This would certainly have aided an insurrection had one been tried. Finally, the Bolsheviks' opposition to the demonstrations significantly reduced the chance of an uprising. Trotsky candidly explains how the Bolsheviks acted as a "firehose" during the hot summer of 1917 (see "The Hunt for Red October").
He argues that the Bolsheviks urged restraint in July in case they would be blamed for causing the collapse of the war offensive. But, he admits, they were blamed in any case. The offensive had already collapsed, this was already known in the capital, and would have been more widely known had the Bolsheviks publicised it. The working class had every interest in undermining the war effort, and openly boasting of the demoralising effect of its unpatriotic action. The ease with which the working class deflected Kornilov's attempted coup shows how much power it still had directly after the July counter-revolution.
Trotsky was only interested in whether the workers could have put the Bolsheviks in power in July. In spite of weaknesses on the proletarian side, the government was weaker. The class could have smashed the Provisional Government. One of the things which stopped them is the Bolsheviks.
In spite of major downturns, the proletariat had power between February and October, but consistently failed to use it to destroy the power of capital. Even after October, the soviets were the power in the land, together with the factory committees and to some extent peasant committees. Inasmuch as they gave this power to the reactionary leadership of the Bolsheviks, they undermined their own. The Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany in 1918 was certainly an error by the working class - the soviets were persuaded to accept Lenin's argument for peace with imperialism. Although the soviets weren't ideal means for representing the will of the class, there is no reason to believe better forms would have had a markedly different content.
The July Days finished in fiasco, but not in rout. The government were only able to institute the mildest counter-revolution at Kronstadt: two of the Bolshevik leaders were arrested, red flags were taken down, and the imprisoned tsarist officers (held by Kronstadt since February) were handed over. When General Brusilov, the commander-in-chief, suggested the disarmament of Kronstadt, and its bombardment in the event of resistance, Kerensky desisted, realising he just didn't have the men. Kronstadt was still in a state of permanent mutiny, during the darkest hour of the post-July reaction. The first commandant of the fort appointed by the provisional government turned out to be mentally unbalanced, and was simply laughed at until he was recalled. The government then appointed a more sympathetic commandant, a left SR who immediately accepted the Soviet. On 17 July Kronstadt gave its traditional welcome to the Assistant Minister for the navy, Lieutenant Lebedev, who narrowly escaped a beating.
The Bolsheviks suffered a temporary setback in popularity at Kronstadt following July. Lenin had abandoned "All Power to the Soviets" because of the Menshevik predominance in the Petrograd Soviet. This slogan was taken up by the Union of SR-Maximalists. However, he reintroduced it when his party gained a majority in the Soviets.
Kronstadt played a key role in the October 25 uprising, storming the Winter Palace, arresting the provisional government and defending Petrograd against the attempted comeback by Kerensky. Approximately 4,000 Kronstadters constituted nearly 40% of the naval force which in turn made up the bulk of the Petrograd Soviet's team on the day. The Bolsheviks rewarded their loyalty in March 1921.
The back-stabbing started immediately after October. The Kronstadt Bolsheviks helped the central government undermine workers' power on the island. They opposed the election of a commissar to "liaise" with Petrograd, supporting the Soviet constitution of June 1918 which subordinated local Soviets to the "corresponding higher organs of Soviet power", in other words to the capitalist state. The Bolsheviks had an easier time suppressing the other parties in Russia than at Kronstadt. Kronstadt had an "Investigation Commission" which originally looked into the cases of the tsarist officers. By 1918, its main role was to combat drunkenness. The Bolsheviks wanted to give it much more policing power on the pretext that it needed to "totally root out all gambling" (crack hadn't been invented). The Maximalists opposed the policy, as in March the entire Investigation Commission had been arrested by the Soviet Executive for taking bribes. Corruption was one of the main targets of Kronstadt's "third revolution" in March 1921.
SOCIALISATION NOT NATIONALISATION
Kronstadt was a little town as well as a naval fortress, with various factories and workshops. Like most of the military substructure of Russia, this industry was state-owned, and was therefore easy to transfer to local soviet then to Soviet state control.
However Kronstadt went further than implementing state capitalism and calling it socialism. The Kronstadters, unlike the Bolshevik government, had some idea of socialising the economy as opposed to nationalising it, for example, in 1918 they socialised housing, and distributed it on the basis of need.
The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks formed a united front against the abolition of private property in housing, and its replacement with management committees elected by tenants. The Bolsheviks, acting on instructions from SovNarKom, used various delaying tactics to try to avoid discussing the issue and implementing socialisation at Kronstadt, arguing that they should wait for Lenin to issue a decree on the subject. They were outvoted by the Left SRs, Maximalists and anarchists. A few Bolsheviks who voted for socialisation were expelled from the party.
Housing was reorganised so everyone had roughly the same amount of space, in place of the tremendous inequality which had prevailed before 1918. The Bolsheviks defended privilege against the first tentative steps towards communism, in Kronstadt as everywhere else.
Unfortunately, our main source on this question, Voline, a leading authority on anarchism, is concerned solely with the democratic forms which socialisation took. House Committees sent delegates to Street Committees, then came the District Committees, the Borough Committees, and finally the City Committee ( p457). The militia was also democratically elected. These democratic, libertarian policemen "functioned admirably", of course, along with all the other public services. But one day, along came the wicked Bolsheviks, who subverted the autonomous administration and replaced it by "a mechanical statist organisation controlled by officials" ( p458). This misses the central point, that the Bolshevik appointed police served the interests of capitalism, by defending the state, which was opposing the tentative communist movement.
The Kronstadt Soviet was itself constantly pressurised by mass meetings, generally held in Anchor Square. For example, on 25 May 1917, a large crowd, inspired by Bolshevik and anarchist speakers, marched to the Naval Assembly and forced the leaders of the Soviet to rescind their agreement with the more moderate Petrograd Soviet. The more reactionary elements were often manhandled by mobs. Kronstadt's hagiographers tend to downplay the less democratic aspects of the fortress's daily life. If we knew more, we would redress the balance.
On 18 April 1918, the Kronstadt Soviet denounced the Moscow Soviet's round-up of anarchists. The Bolsheviks had a struggle to exert control. This appeared to be over when the 5th Congress of Soviets purged the Left SR's in July following the assassination of the German ambassador and their attempt to organise peasant uprisings. Kronstadt's Left SR's were expelled from the Soviet, giving the Bolsheviks a solid majority. The Menshevik Party, its hands stained with workers' rather than diplomats' blood, was allowed to organise until the end of 1920.
As the civil war progressed, the rule of the Communist Party at Kronstadt became more and more repressive, bureaucratic, paranoid and arbitrary. The more strident its propaganda, though, the more evident its fragility. The country was in chaos, and the Communists blamed each other as well as everyone else. Undoubtedly, the white and foreign armies helped finish off the revolution, strengthening the Bolshevik dictatorship. However, the communist tradition at Kronstadt had been suppressed by the Bolsheviks, its rank-and-file committees replaced by party ones, and its debates by histrionic propaganda issued from the Soviet government, before it was put in the front line of the civil war by Yudenich's White North-Western Army in May 1919.
The third revolution of 1921 was not primarily a response to conditions at Kronstadt. It was not chiefly motivated by Communist Party dictatorship at the fortress, despite the opulent lifestyle openly enjoyed by the apparatchiks at Kronstadt and in Petrograd, compared with the relative austerity imposed on the sailors and soldiers. Kronstadt was, from the start of the civil war, a holiday camp compared to the rest of Russia, in which millions died of starvation. In the countryside, the only way out for many people was to become corrupt Communist Party officials. Kronstadters on leave couldn't avoid noticing the contrast between the ideals of socialism and the reality. Soldier Egorov described how the Communists "lorded it over us in a manner never before permitted to any except the village policemen of tsarist days" and "took the bread not from those they should have taken it from, but only from those who were not their friends", and "went on the train and, sheltering behind the word 'requisition', robbed everyone of whatever took their fancy, but spared the speculators - this fact was obvious".
"An analysis of 211 complaints that had arrived in the Complaints Bureau of the Politotdel [Political Committee] of the Baltic Fleet by the end of 1920, many lodged by the crews of the "Petropavlovsk", the "Sevastopol" and the minelayer "Narova", has shown that the abuses of provincial authorities, the injustice of forced grain collections and illegal requisitioning provided the major focus of discontent." (, p209).
Conditions in the countryside fanned the Kronstadters' discontent, but it was contact with the Petrograd industrial proletariat which sparked off the uprising.
Faction fighting within the Communist Party led to the virtual collapse of its supposedly iron discipline at Kronstadt at the beginning of 1921. One third of party workers on the island left during 1920 (, p211). Unauthorised sailors' meetings began to take place in February 1921, at the same time as strikes against austerity in Petrograd. The government introduced martial law and made mass arrests. The Kronstadters, defying the commissars, sent a delegation. Most workers were too terrorised by the Cheka to speak. One did, and told the delegation of the starvation and repression which the workers had to endure, and of the demand for new soviets. This demand was backed by the Mensheviks. The party which had supported the war and the Provisional Government now called for new soviet elections to bring the state into the hands of the toilers, and the true realisation of "the workers' democracy" (, p213). Reactionary parties always support some of the workers' demands in any struggle against capitalism so as not to become totally discredited. The Kronstadters returned to the battleship Petropavlovsk and adopted 15 resolutions:
"1. That in view of the fact that the present Soviets do not express the will of the workers and peasants, new elections by secret ballot be held immediately, with free preliminary propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections;
2. freedom of speech and press for workers and peasants, anarchists and left socialist parties;
3. freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant associations;
4. that a non-party conference of workers, Red Army soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and Petrograd Province be convened not later than 10 March 1921;
5. the liberation of all political prisoners of socialist parties, as well as all workers and peasants, Red Army soldiers and sailors imprisoned in connection with the working-class and peasant movements;
6. the election of a commission to review the cases of those who are held in jails and concentration camps;
7. the abolition of all political departments because no single party should have special privileges in the propaganda of its ideas and receive funds from the state for this purpose; instead of these departments, locally funded cultural-educational commissions should be established, to be financed by the state;
8. that all roadblock detachments [to prevent food smuggling] be removed immediately;
9. the equalisation of the rations of all toilers, with the exception of those working in trades injurious to health;
10. the abolition of the Communist fighting detachments in all military units, as well as various Communist guards kept on duty in factories and plants; should such guards or detachments be needed, they could be chosen from the companies in military units, and at the discretion of the workers in factories and plants;
11. that the peasants be given the right and freedom of action to do as they please with all the land and also the right to have cattle which they themselves must maintain and manage, that is without the use of hired labour;
12. we request all military units, as well as the comrades kursanty (military cadets) to endorse our resolution;
13. we demand that all resolutions be widely published in the press;
14. we demand the appointment of a travelling bureau for control;
15. we demand that free handicraft production by one's own labour be permitted." (, pp213-214).
Some of these demands, if granted, would have aided the proletariat. Those that wouldn't, would hardly have made the situation worse. A wider movement of the class at that time would not have overthrown capitalism, but it would have weakened it, and demoralised the shaky Leninist regime, making it harder for the Party to raise its blood-stained flag over the corpse of the revolution. There is always a class struggle, and it is always worth fighting. This refutes those who try to take a neutral position on the class war at Kronstadt, on the grounds that the uprising could not have succeeded. This includes most of the left communist groups, for example the Internationalist Communist Party .
A TERRIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING?
The PCInt. realise there was something amiss in Russia. "In the factories the odious methods of Taylorism were returning in order to increase efficiency and production". This refers to the introduction of time-and-motion schemes. But these methods weren't introducing themselves, they were being imposed on the working class by the Bolshevik government. The chief advocate of Taylorism was the head of government, the PCInt's hero, Lenin. In a similar jeu de mots, they say "a hierarchical order was reinstalled" in the Baltic Fleet after 1917, "annulling the revolutionary spirit which the Bolsheviks had been responsible for introducing". As can be seen from our account, the Bolsheviks had had nothing to do with the revolutionary spirit of the fleet, other than the introduction of the hierarchical order which "annulled" it.
You would have to be very athletic to sit on the fence over such a clear-cut battle of class against class, and the PCInt. don't quite manage it. First they try to use the aftermath of the revolt to smear the rebels. The leaders, they say,
"though to the left of the communist party in words, took refuge in Finland once the revolt was suppressed, and fell into (or more accurately re-entered) the arms of the counter-revolution, with whom they shared ideas and positions."
But the Communist Party didn't merely share ideas and positions with the counter-revolution, it was its main instrument. The fact that the survivors fled to Finland is hardly surprising: there was nowhere else to go. In defence of their attempted neutrality, the PCInt. plead the complicated nature of the situation: the insurgents had various confused ideas. But what proletarian movement doesn't? The Kronstadt program contains various confusions, such as belief in democracy, but when thousands of workers take up arms against a corrupt police state which jails strikers, decimates soldiers and exiles revolutionaries, this is class war. At no point in their analysis of Kronstadt do these Marxist-Leninists use class as a category. Yet they accuse the anarchists of precisely this failing: "... social conflict, rather than being seen as a dispute between classes, is depicted as a dispute between two opposing tendencies; authority on the one hand and liberty on the other."
The Bolsheviks suppressed the anarchist groups in Moscow in April 1918, not because of their idealist conception of history, but because of their opposition to capitalism. The anarchists and the SR-Maximalists clearly saw the Kronstadt revolt as a struggle of the proletariat against capital.
At one point in its failed attempt to sit on the fence, the PCInt. tries to stand on both sides at once. It admits that the uprising was revolutionary, then says that the Bolsheviks considered the uprising to be "simply a conspiracy by Entente spies" (p33). Lenin knew that the Kronstadters were neither for the Bolsheviks nor the counter-revolution but they were "taken advantage of by skilful international centres of counter-revolution". Finally, it quotes Victor Serge: "Insurgent Kronstadt was not counter-revolutionary, but its victory would have led inexorably to the counter-revolution". To summarise, the Italians argue that the Kronstadt uprising was revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, and neither. We hope nobody thinks we have deliberately chosen this article in order to make our own analysis look clearer.
They can't hide in no-man's-land for ever.
"The Russian emigres, indirectly supported by the imperialist forces of the Entente, were plotting. Plotting and scheming too were the provocateurs inside the revolt. Given these last two points, the repression of the revolt - even if it opened up a chapter of deep agony in the workers' movement, had more than enough reasons to justify itself." (, p35).
We prefer the position of the Trotskyists, who are at least honest about the need to take sides.
Back to reality. Kalinin, chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets, addressed the mass meeting called by the Communist Party at Kronstadt on March 1st. Kalinin pleaded with the sailors, soldiers and civilians to give the people's government a chance to repair the economy, and not to listen to Mensheviks, white guardists, and other enemies of the revolution. Like Ceausescu in 1989, he was heckled off the rostrum. The uprising had begun.
It was too late for party hacks to flatter the "pride and glory of the Russian revolution". New Soviet elections were held, and not a single Communist won. The Petropavlovsk resolutions became Kronstadt's manifesto. The senior military commanders, some of them old tsarist officers who had been placed in charge of Kronstadt by the Communist Party, agreed to serve as specialists under the orders of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee and under the close control of elected rank-and-file committees. Whilst Lenin allowed himself the luxury of arguing that the Kronstadters wanted only to "correct Bolshevik policy", though this put them objectively on the side of the white guards, Trotsky, as head of the Red Army, simply said that the Kronstadters were controlled by white guard tsarist generals. This is a lie for two reasons. Firstly the ex-tsarist officers were not white guards, and secondly, they were controlled by the Kronstadters, not the other way round. Whereas Trotsky, when he put the ex-tsarist officers in charge in March 1918, had abolished sailors' and soldiers' control by decree.
The Communist response to the third revolution is well known. Red Kronstadt had become a white guard, Black Hundred, right-wing, Left-SR counter-revolution. Kronstadt was militarily isolated to prevent links with the mainland being maintained. The Communists' fear of the solidarity shown by the Petropavlovskii for Petrograd was also demonstrated by their sudden concessions to the latter, who received food and clothing. The Red Army prepared to shoot the Kronstadt revolutionaries down "like partridges", and at the 10th Party Congress, delegates, including Kollontai's Workers' Opposition and the left communists, clamoured and volunteered for its suppression.
The politics of the SR-Maximalists rapidly became dominant at Kronstadt again: "All Power to Soviets and not to Parties" was the watchword broadcast by Radio Petropavlovsk. "To All.. To All.. To All.. Our cause is just: we stand for the power of Soviets and not parties". They stood for the legalisation only of "left-wing socialist parties". They rejected right-wing forces, and the support of Russian emigre newspapers which reinforced Communist lies by claiming that the ex-tsarist general Kozlovsky was in charge. When Chernov (the Right-SR leader roughed up in July 1917) promised military aid if the Kronstadters would support a Constituent Assembly with himself as chairman, it was rejected by a large majority.
Ironically, Kozlovsky's military advice might have saved many of the Kronstadters, but they refused to attack the supply depot at Oranienbaum, relying on a policy of "passive defence" and waiting for a Soviet revolution to occur on the mainland. But the working class as a whole was too demoralised to fight. Instead of a delegation of workers, Kronstadt woke up on 17 March to find a delegation from the 10th Party Congress, accompanied by 45-50,000 troops, advancing across the ice. Whereas in 1905 the Kronstadters were rescued by the Petrograd workers, by 1921 the counter-revolution had taken its toll, and the bloody suppression of the mutiny was totally successful. The last sparks of the Russian revolution were snuffed out. Capitalism had finally found the regime it needed. Only now has the Leninist counter-revolution served its purpose.
One-quarter of the delegates from the Party Congress (279), plus 2,758 additional party volunteers, stiffened the resolve of the Red Army battallions. They realised that ordinary Red Army soldiers were unreliable in a battle against Red Kronstadt; many had to be "driven at gunpoint onto the ice" (, p243). Communist Party members suffered up to 80% losses in dead and wounded; greater than the number of Kronstadters killed in the battle of March 17th-18th or subsequently executed. Now the system they died for has itself undergone a terminal experience.
 From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution, Otto Ruhle, Revolutionary Perspectives, 1974 (out of print).
 1789 and All That, Wildcat no. 13, London, 1989.
 Notes on Class Struggle in the USSR, Red Menace, London, 1989.
 Kronstadt 1921: An Analysis of a Popular Uprising in Russia at the Time of Lenin, Revolutionary Perspectives no. 23, 1986.
 The Petrograd Workers and the Soviet Seizure of Power, D. Mandel, MacMillan 1984.
 The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, M. Brinton, Solidarity, London, 1970.
 Factory Committees and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, C. Goodey, Critique no. 3, Glasgow, 1973.
 Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
 "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1950.
 The Bolshevik Revolution, 2, E.H. Carr, Penguin, London, 1966.
 The Unknown Revolution, Voline, Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1975.
 The Russian Enigma, A. Ciliga, Ink Links, London, 1979.
 History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921, P. Arshinov, Black & Red, Detroit, 1974.
 The History of the Russian Revolution, L. Trotsky, Pathfinder, New York, 1980 [3 vols. in one].
 The April Theses, V.I. Lenin, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1951.
 The State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976.
 Clarity and Unity in the Russian Revolution, Communist Bulletin no. 10, Aberdeen, 1987.
 A Documentary History of Communism, 1, ed. R.V. Daniels, Tauris & Co., London, 1985.
 Theses of the Left Communists, N. Bukharin et. al., Critique, Glasgow, 1977.
 The Russian Revolution, 1, W.H. Chamberlain, Grosset and Dunlap, New York.
 The Workers' Opposition, A. Kollontai, Solidarity, London.
 The Conscience of the Revolution, R.V. Daniels, Harvard University Press, 1960.
 Open Letter to Comrade Lenin, H. Gorter, Wildcat, London, 1989.
 Kronstadt 1917-1921 - the Fate of a Soviet Democracy, I. Getzler, Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Wildcat UK #16 Autumn 1992
16th issue of Wildcat from 1992.
PDF courtesy of the comrades at Sparrows Nest, Nottingham.
- From The Gulf War To The Class War
- British Justice On The Run (Guildford 4, Birmingham 6 etc released, prisoner support etc)
- Earth First! - Which Planet Are They On?
- Good Old-Fashioned Trade Unionism
- Bomber Harris Joins Anti-Fascist Action
- A Tough State And Soft Heads - anti-fascist demo in Hoyerswerda
- A Prole's Guide To The Recession
- Letters - drugs, democracy, Sussex anti-poll tax group
- Comments on Yugoslavia
- Five Go Job Hunting (MI5 mail interception)
- Hands off Columbus!
- Max Anger's Song
From The Gulf War To The Class War
Wildcat on the LA Riots.
We do not agree with all of this article but reproduce it for reference.
There's a difference between frustration with the law and direct assaults upon our legal system.
George Bush, 3 May 92.
The Los Angeles riot was the biggest in American history. There were of course negative aspects. But fighting between members of the working class dropped during the riot and has subsequently stayed low, despite the best efforts of the police. The rebellion saved lives. Initially, the media were so floored by the uprisings, they produced a wealth of evidence that they were examples of class struggle. Subsequently, they have been trying to make out it was all race.
In a racist society, class struggle often takes an apparently racial form. For example, if a particular ethnic group run the grocers' stores in poor areas, they are likely to be the first to be attacked. The fact that some rioters express their hatred of being ripped off in racial terms should be opposed, but does not invalidate the basic class nature of the struggle. As Willie Brown, a prominent Democratic Party politician in the State Assembly, and no friend of the class war, put it in the SF Examiner: "For the first time in American history, many of the demonstrations, and much of the violence and crime, especially the looting, was multiracial - blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians were all involved." The press all expressed horror that black people burnt down 'their own' neighborhoods. But the working class has no neighborhood. These 'communities' are always divided up into shopkeepers and proletarians: two classes with irreconcileable interests. The rioters expressed that antagonism against all the talk of neighborhoods and communities, and a black lefty councillor had his office burned down. The old ploy of 1965, 'Black Owned', didn't work. Capitalist enterprises of all races were attacked. Unlike the '65 Watts revolt, the riots spread over a wide area of LA. More than 5,500 buildings were burned. People shot at police stations. Seventeen government buildings were destroyed. The Los Angeles Times building was attacked and partially looted.
The riot stopped short of a full scale insurrection. Shortage of guns was certainly not the problem, and probably not absence of organization. The police were easily overwhelmed, and the military did not appear until the rioting had abated. Gang members with megaphones tried to turn the uprising into a war against the rich. "We should burn down their neighbourhoods, not ours. We're going to take it to Hollywood and Beverly Hills" man with megaphone, London Independent, 3 May. A few blocks from the mansions of the rich, burnt-out stores testify to how close the riot came to attacking the enemy class directly. But such an attack would have been repelled by police, crack army units, and the rich themselves. Perhaps the rioters realized that the time had not yet come. Class organization needs to develop a lot further before this happens.
"On Sunset Boulevard on Thursday evening, I watched children with mobile phones coordinate the movements of their gangs with the arrival of police and fire trucks, warning looters when police were on their way". London Guardian, 2 May. The organization which is normally associated with drugs was used by the proletariat to its own ends.
After drawing up a formal truce based on the Camp David agreement, the Crips and the Bloods signed a deal with the National Korean-American Grocers' Association to employ and train gang members, some in management positions. However, not much has come of this. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, there was still room for reform. A black bourgeoisie was created. Now, this is no longer possible. The state of California is bankrupt, and the federal government is not into giving money to the poor. On the contrary. The August/September welfare checks will be down on the previous ones. The last traditional blue collar auto plant in LA shut in August. Rubber, steel and auto have now all gone. A program known as "Weed n' Seed" is what is on offer. The Weed part is to get the cops to sell drugs, and arrest people who buy them, then offer them immunity in return for informing. This threat is difficult to resist because of the draconian drug laws, which include imprisonment for a first offence and seizure of all your assets. The Seed part is to introduce "Free Enterprize Zones", wherein there are no safety or pollution laws, no minimum wage, etc.. These enclaves of Third World exploitation are already being built. This is what the bourgeoisie has to offer behind the "rebuild LA" rhetoric.
"The rebellion was community. It was liberation" - woman from South Central.
We have done what we can to find out more about what happened and what has happened since. This is some of the information we got from our few contacts in the LA area. The rebellion started among black people, spread immediately to involve Latinos in South Central (which is about 42% Latino) and Pico Union, and then brought in unemployed white workers from Hollywood in the north to Long Beach in the south and Venice in the west. East LA was only spared because of a massive show of force by the Sherriff's Department. Everybody came out onto the streets. There was an unprecedented feeling of togetherness. Liquor stores were looted. Before the stores were torched, people got out hoses to defend their houses against the danger of fires spreading. Old people were evacuated. This was a family occasion. Carloads of people turned up at a clothing factory, and men, women and children loaded up and drove off. There was two days of continuous looting involving thousands of people, mostly black and Latino, with a few white people. The police were nowhere to be seen - "there were no arrests in my area". Essential items were redistributed, otherwise some people would have had nothing. As far as the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny goes, some of the people who beat him had just defended a 15-year old against being beaten by the police. This of course is not being mentioned in the media.
Since the rebellion, young men who have spent their whole lives unable to visit the next street because it is on another gang's territory can now do so. "As a woman, I feel much safer on the streets". Welfare mothers from 4 different areas have come together to fight the welfare cuts. This is a remarkable new development. When these women demonstrate outside welfare offices, the ruling class knows that behind them stand over 100,000 insurgents. The number of participants is definitely into 6 figures. We know this because there were around 11,000 arrests (5,000 blacks, 5,500 Latinos, 600 whites), and the vast majority of rioters and looters were able to get away scot-free. There has been a downturn in the drive-by gang shootings which plagued the area. Of those killed during the uprising, most were not even participants, they were simply bystanders murdered by the police. Police assassinations have started again. There were much worse incidents before the Rodney King beating, for example, in Compton, police killed two suspects on their knees in cold blood. The police are desperately trying to undermine the gang truce. They need the working class of South Central shooting each other.
There are two theories why the media repeatedly showed the Rodney King video. One is that the ruling class as a whole wanted to provoke a riot in order to justify repression. A more plausible explanation is that forces within the ruling class opposed to Daryl Gates wanted to generate support for a law which would enable the mayor to control the LAPD Chief. Either way, they got more than they bargained for.
Defendants campaigns are in a terrible state. There is no coordinated campaign based on defending all those arrested. The campaigns which do exist are concerned with particular defendants, or particular aspects of repression, e.g. racism. Liberal lawyers have refused to defend rioters, and concentrated on those arrested on peaceful demos. Anyone in the USA who claims to be a revolutionary should be involved in trying to defend imprisoned insurgents. Failure to do so immensely weakens the struggle, as we discovered during the miners' strike in Britain during 1984/85. Plea bargaining was used by the state a lot. Those arrested were told they could either plead guilty and be let free with a felony conviction, or wait in prison for a trial. Many took the former option, which means continuous police harassment. Others pleaded guilty because this would result in six months in a county jail, rather than risk the possibility of being found guilty and being exposed to the horrors of a federal penitentiary.
The political significance of the LA uprising can perhaps best be gauged by comparing the riot in San Francisco, which was the second biggest in the country. If this riot had happened without any uprising in LA, it would have been by far the most important in California since the sixties. But the LA uprising put it completely in the shade. In SF, on April 30th, more than a hundred stores were looted and trashed in the downtown area of Market Street. Most of the yuppie shops in the financial district were trashed, and the rich scumbag lair of Nob Hill was invaded and cars smashed up. One of the main hotels had its windows smashed by a gang of youths chanting "The rich must die". These actions were echoed across the Bay in Oakland and Berkeley.
A comrade in the Bay area describes the events : "I sat up late that night listening to the news reports and call-in talk shows on the radio. Everyone was hysterical. Everyone but a few white simians condemned the not-guilty verdict. But as far as the rioting was concerned, most people I heard, of all colors, and mostly working-class, were concerned with how to stop the violence, with the idea that destruction and appropriation of property is morally wrong, and that we should pray for peace. As the uprising progressed, however, I heard more and more voices declare that their only regret was that "we are doing it to ourselves... we ought to be going into the rich areas!" Throughout the next few days and continuing the vile American tradition, issues of race and class were confused, juggled, mistaken, manipulated, and recuperated on a vast scale. But the media and political circus found it difficult to paint this rebellion in racial terms only. It was so clearly multiracial, so definitively a working-class insurrection in the inner cities that it really has eluded attempts at being characterized as purely racial conflict. Even certain politicians and media creeps were caught admitting that this was CLASS WAR.
At 6:45 I arrived at the State Building. There was a crowd of maybe 300. Speakers were ranting about racism and injustice. Suddenly, from all corners of the gathering, 30 or so very young mostly black and Hispanic youth came charging out of the crowd, down Fell Street toward the Financial District, shouting and roaring and smashing windows. I followed them immediately, as did everyone. It was happening. I now know what is meant by the phrase, 'vanguard of the proletariat'.
Odd bits of construction material on the sidewalks were instantly put to proper use, deposited through shattered glass into the Government offices lining the street. I picked up a 2x4 length of wood and chucked it, screaming "Burn baby burn!". All the young hooligans at the the forefront of the assault had zealously given themselves over to the task of destruction, joy mixed with nervous fear. I was one of the first whites to join them. I recall making eye contact and trying to demonstrate my positive agreement and collusion in their actions. These were young men in Raiders jackets and basketball hats, street youth brought up by "Fuck tha' Police" rap culture and the worsening urban conditions of the 80s. They looked hurriedly around as they saw us others not of their crowd or culture join them enthusiastically... and within minutes all social barriers seemed to melt away in the attack on our enemies. Unfortunately, I was soon to be well acquainted with a treacherous element of law-abiding idiots who proved to be enemies within.
The march continued. Several blocks later, the pig scum attempted a diversionary tactic by parking about twenty men along a wall that the march was passing. They were hailed with abuse, but it was here where I first experienced that complacency, that hesitation that our law-enforced life in this society conditions in us. We had this line of cops surrounded. Sure, they were screamed and hissed at, and occasionally whacked with a stick or stone, but how were they able to intimidate us, who completely outnumbered them, into not kicking the shit out of them?
Soon we were on Market Street, the main drag through the Financial/Shopping District. Blocking our path was a thin nervous line of blue. They stopped us for 10 minutes or so, as we teased and poked them with kicks and verbal abuse. Our comrades to the left were invading around them, and before long we were all cutting through and they were shunted to the side. They were left behind as the proletarian army advanced down Commodity-Spectacle Boulevard whooping and revelling in the attack. Two blocks later I came upon a jewelry store which had already taken a great deal of damage. A few of us, I and probably almost all blacks, mainly older, stood there pondering the possibilities. Occasional shouts of "The cops are coming!" made us hesitate, but it became obvious that we were safe. The marching crowd seemed to have doubled in size since we began - the street and sidewalks were full of people. I saw that the main window on the shop was unhinged and only hanging by its top. Picking up a corner, I began to carefully pull it out. I paused and scanned around at a distant cry of "Police!" But it was nothing... behind me a deep, black voice joyfully urged, "Pull it down, white boy, pull it down!" - and I tore the thing onto the pavement. Crash! All around me people rushed into the window, scooping up the goodies.
As I watched the looting a man came up near me and began taking photographs. I approached him, and politely suggested that we shouldn't take pictures because the police might use them to identify people. "But they're looting!!" he responded incredulously... I was hurt. Here I stood, confronted with the very real claws of the leftist counter-revolution. I had given him the benefit of the doubt, hoping against naive hope that we were were all class-conscious revolutionaries in action. I tried to get some support from the looters against this enemy-within, but no one was listening. My confrontation with this vigilante cop heated up quickly and it looked like he was about to throw a punch when some guys came up from the crowd to break up the fight: "Let's fight them, not ourselves!" they implored... "But he's taking pictures of looters in order to turn them into the police!" I insisted. Like an angelic chorus of choir-boys, these 'alternative' looking students, or whoever they were, all announced in harmony, "THAT'S OK, WE'RE AGAINST LOOTING HERE!" speaking for the mob as if they were its appointed moral guardians. You can imagine the demoralizing blow such an encounter could wield. I was alone in the crowd. The looters, my only hope for support, were apparently not concerned for such "political" matters, just wanting to get out with their jewelry scoopings as fast as they could. I was helpless. Enraged, I flipped the petty-cops a FUCK YOU salute and struck off for more successful endeavors.
The march had left Market Street, and headed north toward Nob Hill and some other shopping areas. Half a block up an undercover police car was mired inside the crowd, nonchalantly communicating on his radio. I jumped into action. 'Hey! It's a pig! Let's get him!' I entreatied to the protesters, on whose skin every color in San Francisco seemed represented. Nobody listened. Everyone appeared to ignore me. I looked from face to face, searching frantically for signs of solidarity. Nothing. The cop was making his way to the rear of the crowd. I gave up on seeking support, started kicking at the back of the car out of desperation. It is not everyday that such opportunities avail themselves. But again, nonviolent moral sentiment in the crowd reared its stupid head. "We don't want any of that around here," yelled a big black woman, surrounded by supporters. "Well, I do!" I retorted. "No, you get out of here -this is our day." Her stern glare spoke of deeply held beliefs. So did mine. "That's a racist comment!" And she completed the discussion's degeneration: "No, you're a racist!" No one else in her group, 3 or 4 black men, said a word. As in LA, black churches throughout the SF Bay Area attempted to gather people together into a strictly pacified, grovelling, doggie position. As in LA and elsewhere, they had little success...
The next day there were the mass arrests of about 650 people who were coming to the announced demonstration at 24th and Mission streets... I was among them. We were held for 36 hours and it would've been longer if it weren't for the political rivalry between the liberal city council (who called off the state of emergency - the first since the 1906 earthquake) and the law-and-order mayor, Frank Jordan. The police chief, Richard Hongisto, had also been a mayoral candidate, on the ultra-liberal ticket. One of his first (and last, it was to emerge) acts was the May 1st counter-revolution. It was quite amusing to hear the complaints of the liberal-activist crowd in jail: 'I voted for Hongisto!' There was much talk among the prisoners of the prospects for revolution. Most were totally supportive of rioting and looting."
In San Jose, students looted and attacked police cruisers with rocks and bottles. Police were shot at by youths rioting in Tampa, Florida, and in Las Vegas rioters burned a state parole and probation office and shot at police, who just managed to save the casino area from the anger of the mob. Armed confrontations between police and local people continued for the next 18 days. In Seattle, a burning vehicle was pushed into police ranks, the interstate highway was closed for 2 hours, and there was loads of looting, smashing and burning. Similar events occured in Atlanta, where tear gas failed to stop the rioters. There were smaller riots in numerous locations across the nation. At a march in New Brunswick of 1,000 people on 1 May a truck driver plowed through a crowd, but quickly retreated as a large angry crowd quickly materialized. It is possible that the attack on the truck driver in LA was sparked off by a similar provocation.
Until the uprising, under the law in California the state had to arraign suspects within 72 hours of arrest or let them go. The California State Assembly voted unanimously to "temporarily" extend the arraignment period. The bill was flown on a National Guard airplane to be signed by State Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Lucas. This is the epitome of democracy in action. In a democracy, the ruling class and their hired orchestras of lackeys brag that the difference between a democracy and a more open form of despotism is that under democracy there are rules that limit the degree to which our rulers can screw us. But when the rules don't work, they show how meaningless they are by changing them.
KAPD NOT LAPD
The first major uprising of the 1960's was the Watts riot in LA in 1965. Hundreds of buildings were burned down by angry black proletarians. It was not simply a question of race, as the Situationist International wrote in December 1965 :
"This was not a racial conflict: the rioters left alone the whites that were in their path, attacking only the white policemen; conversely, black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners or even to black car-drivers. Even Martin Luther King had to admit in Paris last October that the riots did not fall within the limits of his speciality: 'They were not race riots,' he said, 'they were class riots.'"
Another major uprising occurred in Detroit in 1967, and in 1968, as the Vietnam-centred crisis of US capitalism reached its climax, the assassination of Martin Luther King became the pretext for a massive wave of riots across the country (he was no longer around to stop them). Tanks had to be used to quell the uprisings. Twenty years later, the proletariat in the USA had been crushed by the Reagan years of immiseration, bans on strikes, racism and atomization. The Vietnam syndrome had apparently been overcome.
That has now changed for the time being. The phrase "class war" was widely used by the insurgents. This was a momentous reassertion of class against the US bourgeoisie's attempt to bury class awareness under the myth that the market and democracy are the end of history. However, it will take more than a few riots to overcome the massive defeat the working class in the US has suffered since the sixties.
British Justice On The Run
Wildcat article from 1992 on the implications of recent successful campaigns to free victims of miscarrianges of justice.
Plus prisoner support including, controversially, Albert Dryden who shot dead a local council employee.
We do not agree with everything in this article but reproduce it for reference.
"This is one of the dirtiest, evilist, corrupted, perverted systems in the world." Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6.
The release of the Guildford 4 in 1990 began a series of spectacular successful appeals against false convictions obtained by police threats, torture, and fabricated evidence. The Maguire 7 and the Birmingham 6 acquittals followed. Then the Tottenham 3 were released, followed by Stefan Kiszko, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years for the sexual assault and murder of a school girl, after police had forced him to sign a confession. Needless to say, he was brutally mistreated by other prisoners. The growing embarrassment of the legal establishment came too late for Derek Bentley, hanged in 1953 for allegedly telling his comrade Chris Craig to shoot a cop, after police had faked a confession. Craig was too young to hang, so they hanged Bentley, aged 19, instead. Now he is likely to get the rare and coveted prize of a posthumous pardon from the Queen. The West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad was disbanded after an avalanche of appeals against its convictions.
Millions of working class people know that the police are persistent liars, but never before has it been so openly acknowledged. The state's need for reform was well summed up by Judge Verney in April. Sentencing a South London policeman to 30 months in jail for stamping on a man's head and shouting "You black bastard, this will teach you to mess about with the police", Verney perceptively noted that "nothing could be more calculated to ensure disrespect". The exposures of police frame-ups have undermined faith in the system. Juries have in the last two years swung from convicting people on the grounds that they are Irish to letting free open IRA supporters like Dessie Ellis. The state would prefer it if the people who actually committed crimes like the Birmingham pub bombings were in jail. The reason for this is that exposure of the infamies of the the criminal justice system could lead to a major attack on it during the next upsurge of class struggle in Britain. But creating a fairer criminal justice system is not easy. The Appeal Court initially tried to avoid acquitting the Irish victims altogether, then freed some of them on technical grounds, avoiding any criticism of the police or other judges. Finally, quashing Judith Ward's conviction after 18 years of imprisonment for planting bombs, the Appeal judges admitted that scientists, police, prosecution lawyers including the new Lord Chief Justice Peter Taylor, and a police doctor, were all involved in inventing and suppressing evidence during her trial.
The Royal Commission, set up to repair the system after the Birmingham 6 acquittals, will have to try to change the esprit de corps of the police. Royal Commissions are not whitewashes, they are attempts to reform some aspect of the state which is in serious trouble. But attempts to professionalize the police will only meet with resistance, even during periods of relative class peace. During upturns, when they are under attack, the police tend to move to the right, self righteously defending their difficult job against the reforms of the establishment and the bricks of the proletariat, and refusing to change their operating methods. When, after the LA riots, the government decided it was not going to issue the British police with American-style long batons after all, the police were outraged.
Improvements in conditions for prisoners do not necessarily dampen the struggle, as was shown by the riots at Moorland prison in Yorkshire in August 1991 and January 1992. New facilities, including computers and the well-equipped recreation room, were wrecked by the ungrateful miscreants.
In a word, the British state is in trouble. Our attitude is not to demand Justice, as liberal campaigns do. Justice would mean that the people who really did kill PC Blakelock defending Broadwater Farm against the police in 1985 would be in prison, not just that those who were fitted up for it were let free.
JUDGE NOT THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED
Whatever the trials and tribulations of Justice in Britain and the USA, it is still extending its power over the rest of the world. The New World Order has instituted a rapid expansion of the rule of law in time and space. The concept of retrospective legislation putting someone on trial for something which was not illegal when the deed was done was established through a campaign against so called Nazi war criminals. Following unification, ex East German border guards were tried for shooting people trying to escape acts which were perfectly legal under East German law. The USA extended the rule of law by kidnapping General Noriega from Panama and extraditing Columbian alleged drug dealers, charged with breaking US law without setting foot in its territory. The Supreme Court decided that the US Constitution extended to all the world's inhabitants. This is no abstract legal fiction. As we write, the United Nations is trying to bring two Libyans before either British or American courts. They can choose to be tried in Birmingham, UK, or Simi Valley, USA. The imposition of Justice includes punishing countries' working class populations for their rulers breaking international law, as happened in Iraq during the Gulf War.
In LA, the state obviously made a tactical mistake in setting up the acquittal of the LAPD by moving the trial to a fascist suburb. To demand Justice is to demand that it doesn't make such mistakes, to demand that it is more effective. Justice is not just a justification for the rule of property invented by the ruling class, it is a deeply internalized conception held especially dear by the people who have least interest in it, the oppressed. The immediate cause of the April uprisings was the failure of a bourgeois court to find four policemen guilty of beating up Rodney King. Another was the non-custodial sentence given to a shopkeeper who had shot dead an alleged shoplifter, Latasha Harlins. The gay 'White Night' riot in San Francisco in 1978 was based on a demand for someone to get a longer prison sentence for shooting the mayor. However we must argue that there will no more be Justice in communist society than there will be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
Revolutionaries utilize blatant examples of injustice to attack the state, to spread distrust of the police and hatred of the prison system, to add to the possibility of widespread working class conflict with its oppressors when the class struggle picks up, by helping to undermine attitudes which accept the rule of law. But in doing this, we can't simply point to injustice, we have to undermine the idea of Justice as well. As a dramatic illustration of why we are against Justice, consider the following demand from Women Against Violence Against Women in London: LIFE IMPRISONMENT NOW! (for someone who allegedly killed his wife). They urge supporters to write to the Home Secretary, "demanding that the government enforces its own law, and inform him of how disgusted you are that his party having been elected three times on the LAW AND ORDER platform is today setting murderers free, unpunished".
On a more serious note, this quote from Pashukanis' Law and Marxism succintly summarizes why Justice is inseparable from the exchange economy:
"Deprivation of freedom, for a period stipulated in the court sentence, is the specific form in which modern, that is to say bourgeois-capitalist, criminal law embodies the principle of recompense. This form is unconsciously yet deeply linked with the conception of man in the abstract, and abstract human labour measurable in time... For it to be possible for the idea to emerge that one could make recompense for an offense with a piece of abstract freedom determined in advance, it was necessary for all concrete forms of social wealth to be reduced to the most abstract and simple form, to human labour measured in time... Industrial capitalism, the declaration of human rights, the political economy of Ricardo, the system of imprisonment for a stipulated term are phenomena peculiar to one and the same historical epoch", cited in Molossi D and Pavarini M, The Prison and the Factory, MacMillan, 1981.
We could add that exchange is another, even deeper precondition, without which the idea of Justice could not exist. The idea of deprivation of freedom for a given time-slot as recompense, or payment, for a particular crime is evident in the frequent reports of victims arguing for longer sentences for criminals, and their outrage at their assailants getting "less than they deserve". To be able to make this calculation, you must have in mind that a particular crime deserves a particular quantity of punishment. Calling for a particular sentence rather than any other, more or less extreme, implies labour time and exchange, which did not arise spontaneously. Justice is not a product of human interaction, it is the expression of class domination, in other words, the State. Undermining Justice is primarily a matter of undermining state authority.
SUPPORTING PRISONERS - WHO, HOW AND WHY
Communists are very few and far between, and inevitably have priorities. We argue that, especially when the criminal justice system is in open crisis, support for its intended victims is a key issue. This is for strategic, not humanitarian reasons. Demonstrations against prison, contact with prisoners, publicity around wrongful convictions etc., can achieve far more than other kinds of militant activity.
The 'Who' is more difficult than the 'Why'. Given practical limitations, we should argue for specific support for particular prisoners, as well as general support for the struggle of all prisoners against prison. The 'How' includes offering to put up relatives when they need to stay overnight for prison visits. Moral support includes writing letters to prisoners. This is not a token gesture - it is crucial to help overcome isolation. Poll tax prisoners were greatly encouraged by the hundreds of letters they received. The demonstrations outside prisons in support of the prisoners had the same effect. The screws took measures to try to prevent prisoners hearing the demonstrators shouting and singing. Isolation is crucial to make prison work.
Support for prisoners is such a central part of the class struggle that there is a tendency not to criticize prisoners at all. The non-angelic character of some prisoners has tended to be swept under the carpet. During the trial of the scapegoats for the Strangeways prison uprising of 1990, supporters rightly kept quiet about some of the crimes they may have committed. It is an uphill struggle explaining why we should support people who have committed anti-working class crimes who subsequently rebel against their imprisonment. But it can't be avoided. At one of the pickets outside Wandsworth prison, when the poll tax prisoners' campaign put forward the programmatic demand "Burn it down, burn it down, burn it to the fucking ground", a passer-by pointed out "there are child murderers in there". In the USA, this argument has even more weight. An easy answer to these public fears is to say that all the anti social elements would be wiped out if we ever got the chance. This is wrong for two reasons.
Firstly, it implicitly supports brutality against alleged sex offenders by other prisoners. The prisoner who got killed during the Strangeways uprising was an alleged sex offender. This is outrageous, considering that there must be hundreds of people in prison framed up by the police. Prisoners should know this better than anyone, yet they often turn their frustration against an underclass created by the prison system. We should make no excuses for this state organized diversion. Attacks on Rule 43 prisoners, who are segregated for protection, are against the class struggle (with obvious exceptions, e.g. imprisoned policemen). Secondly, even if we agree that the worst perpetrators of anti-working class violence would have to be eliminated in a post-civilized society, what about those who are reformable, but not yet to be trusted? Anarchists oppose incarceration of any kind on principle. Their only alternatives are let them go free, or shoot them. This is ridiculously simplistic.
Albert Dryden is a clear example of a class war prisoner. A worker made redundant from the steelworks at Consett, NE England, when it was closed down by Thatcher, he kept himself busy by building a bungalow. The local council wanted to demolish it because of some legal technicality that Albert had overlooked. Adding insult to injury, they brought along camera crews to televize the confrontation. Albert felt that they were going to make him look a fool in front of millions. So he did the only thing he could under the circumstances: defended himself and his house against the forces of the state and media with a gun. He managed to kill the council planning officer in charge of the demolition attempt and wounded a policeman and a BBC reporter in the process of trying to blow away the council solicitor. Now he is doing a life sentence in Durham jail. Write to him expressing your support. A demonstration for him in Newcastle was banned, but he has many friends and supporters in Co. Durham.
Nick Mullen was illegally extradited from Zimbabwe. Framed up for supposedly allowing the IRA to use his flat, he is a straightforward political prisoner, hated by the police for his radical politics. Winston Silcott was one of the three acquitted for the Broadwater Farm cop-chop. He wasn't released because he was already doing life imprisonment for another "murder". There are many dodgy aspects to this case as well. Basically Winston was defending himself against assailants armed with knives. Kenny Carter was framed for murdering another prisoner, who in fact committed suicide, i.e. was murdered by the prison system. Martin Foran, framed up by the West Midlands pigs, has been recaptured and is being denied urgent medical treatment. Prisoners are frequently moved, so for the latest information on the whereabouts of these prisoners and numerous others, write to London ABC, c/o 121 Bookshop, Railton Rd, London SE24.
Another good example of prisoners who have to be supported is those charged with the notorious attack on Reginald Denny during the LA riot. The defence say that he had taunted the black men involved, by shouting out that the Rodney King police were not guilty. Obviously, we don't know whether this is true or not. But we have to support Damian Williams and the other three defendants, because a successful prosecution, regardless of their actual guilt or otherwise, would effectively tar all the insurgents with the brush of racist brutality: a rather hypocritical stance for the American Justice system. The riot would be remembered, not as a massive reassertion of class and community, but as a series of racist attacks. All the other insurgents should be supported, regardless of what they are charged with. None of them could get a fair trial, and even if they could, we would still take a clear line of unconditional support for all hostages taken by the state during the May Days.
A list of other American class war prisoners can be obtained from the Peoples Law Office at 343 S. Dearborn, Suite 1607, Chicago, IL 60604, or the Fall 1991 issue of Social Justice, obtainable from PO Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. Information about imprisoned war resisters from the Gulf War can be found in The Anti-Warrior, 48 Shattuck Sq, Box 129, Berkeley, CA 94704.
We do not believe in supporting only those prisoners who pass a test of political correctness. We believe in supporting virtually all prisoners in their struggle against the system. But it is practical to concentrate on those who are particularly politically pugilistic. Irish Republicanism is a product, and to a lesser extent, a cause, of Anglo-Irish working class division. It is not opposed primarily by denunciation, nor even by analysis, but by undermining the divisions in the class which reinforce it. This does not mean abstractly arguing for unity between prisoners, and then doing nothing to support particular examples. Supporting our class comrades in Northern Ireland means supporting demands for their imprisoned sons and daughters to be released, or at least to be moved to prisons nearer their families, supporting campaigns against sexual harassment in Mughaberry women's prison, etc.. It is impractical and dangerous to attempt to divide Irish people in prison for political offences. Where exactly would you draw the line? Even the most celebrated innocent prisoners, the Birmingham 6, were sympathetic to republicanism. Others became more interested in Irish nationalism whilst inside. Given the racist divisions in prison, this is hardly surprising. Our aim is to overcome these divisions. In Britain at present, this includes supporting all Irish political prisoners as prisoners, regardless of their guilt or innocence. In other Western countries, analogous arguments apply, though not in a mechanical way. With all allowances made for local conditions, involvement in prisoner support work is a priority for revolutionaries today.
Earth First! - Which Planet Are They On?
A critical article by Wildcat (UK) on Earth First!
"In 1987 the Tagaeri [native inhabitants of Equador] attacked a group of oil exploration workers who were laying seismic lines which cut through the Tagaeri gardens. The oil companies enlisted the help of the Catholic Bishop in missionizing and "taming" the Tagaeri. The bishop and a nun flew into the area bearing gifts and were found a week later with 17 spears embedded in their bodies, ceremoniously killed." Earth First! November 1991.
Direct action to defend the planet against its destruction by industrial civilization is assuming more and more radical forms. The methods of the nocompromise environmental movement Earth First! have spread from America to Europe, Australia and the forests of Borneo and the Amazon.
10 DAYS THAT DIDN'T SAVE THE EARTH
At the politicians' Earth Summit in Rio, over 200 top scientists issued a statement attacking Green extremism, stating that toxic chemicals and radioactivity are inescapable facts of modern life. "We are worried, at the dawn of the 21st century, by the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development." Independent, 1 June 92. We are pleased to hear they are worried, and resolve to do our bit to contribute to the emergence of the movement they oppose.
The needs of the working class include the requirement for a planet to live on. Monkeywrenching the sabotage of machinery involved in building motorways, cutting down forests, extracting peat, etc. directly attacks capitalism, whatever the views of the saboteurs. Earth First! itself has broken with some of the more conservative views of its founders and made some attempt to link up with the hidden history of working class sabotage from the Luddites to the Wobblies. Earth First! supported the LA riots. However, the journal is still mainly inspired by "deep ecology".
The first major problem with deep ecology is that it perpetuates the division between human beings and the rest of nature. This split was unthinkable to preColumbian Americans, who lived in harmony with their surroundings. That division lies at the root of all 19th century progressive capitalist ideologies, the most coherent of which is Marxism. Whereas Progress teaches us that we must conquer nature, deep ecology, recognizing that this has been a disaster, wants things to be the other way round. "If a war of the races should occur between the wild beast and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathise with the bears" writes John Muir. Some deep ecologists go so far as to argue that a certain amount of "die off" is inevitable, welcoming the AIDS epidemic as nature's way of curbing the destruction which inevitably results from human population growth. They support the capitalist myth that the world is over-populated, blaming the victims for their predicament. The world could easily support more than its current population if the waste of capitalism were eliminated.
Secondly, the idea that it is "our" greed that is destroying the planet accepts the humanist premise that all people share common interests. "We humans are collectively killing this planet", as one of the Arizona defendants put it recently. But this society is not a collective entity, but rather a vast labour camp. Starvation is not caused by human beings running out of food sources, but by the production of crops for the world market. In 14th. century England, they used to say "sheep eat men". In 20th. century Brazil and Ethiopia, its coffee and sugar. Lacking a class analysis, to put it mildly, deep ecologists fail to grasp that it is a tiny minority of human beings, who at the risk of sounding old fashioned we call CAPITALISTS, who are responsible for the destruction of nature, including millions of human beings. The planet isn't dying, it's being murdered, and the murderers have names and addresses.
One of us went to the first gathering of Earth First! in Britain. Just before this conference, an anonymous group destroyed hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of machinery belonging to Fisons on the Yorkshire moors, to delay the company's disastrous peat extraction programme. Not surprisingly, Friends of the Earth denounced the action as harmful to their attempts to persuade Fisons to be nice to the environment.
What is more surprising is that within Earth First! itself there are people arguing that the group should condemn sabotage. At the other extreme, it tolerates people who are prepared to talk to the press in the following terms: "Bombs have been used in the United States and Europe and we're bound to see desperate acts here" (The Independent on Sunday, 19 April). This was actually said: the press was not lying for a change.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Earth First! is overwhelmingly composed of middle class pacifists. Whereas the American group had a wholesome redneck image, its British offshoot has much in common with middle class environmental and peace movements. Earth First! is the Green Party with wire cutters. The press distortion which most riled Earth First! was the claim that it is an "offshoot" of the US group. "We want our own [British] identity" they whined. I tried hard to overcome my initial revulsion towards people talking about workshops and women only spaces, allowing their children to disrupt the meeting and wearing dungarees. But the fight for the Earth is too important to allow petty prejudices to get in the way.
Their attitude to organization makes anarchists look like disciplinarians. Instead of the organizers making it clear who is in charge, reading out the rules, and setting the agenda, as happens at the meetings we organize, the gathering wasted hours deciding whether to have workshops or just one big meeting. Eventually, workshops prevailed. At the end of a "workshop", you have a "reportback", in which the "facilitator" reads out a travesty of what happened in each workshop to the assembled gathering. None of the workshops seemed to produce anything relevant to what they were ostensibly about.
They went out of their way to choose the least effective organizational methods at all stages: dissolving into workshops just as the discussion was getting somewhere; pathetic "anti sexist" types chairing meetings when what was needed was someone with the self confidence to lead the discussion; and the general promotion of incompetence. Decentralization is regarded as an established desideratum. Not just the decentralization of activity which is absolutely necessary for security reasons, but political decentralization - in other words, allowing anyone to say what they like. I noticed a deep rooted fear of confronting other people's views, for fear of being aggressive. Without this debate no movement can resolve issues. At our meetings we feel obliged to argue with anything we don't agree with. They have actually discovered a worse form of organization than majority voting: allowing everybody to have their say and refusing to decide anything until everybody is happy.
Many people feel, rightly, that one of the things that needs doing is direct action of various kinds against the earth raping capitalist military industrial monster. In the current period of low class struggle many people will no doubt get involved in these things. Unless they reject the organizational practices and open attitudes of the Green Party and the peace movement they will be defeated.
Earth First! UK is hopeless. Those who want to do what needs to be done should avoid them like the plague. Organizing in small anonymous groups of people who know each other is the only way to avoid obvious dangers. We want to see a movement which rejects openness, moralism and workshops, in favour of clandestinity, professionalism, and solidarity.
I went to a much more inspiring meeting addressed by the veteran American social ecologist Murray Bookchin in May. Murray gave about 300 greens a lecture on class ecology. He explained how arguments that "we" are responsible for the destruction of the environment are dangerous, because they make us identify with corporations. Against the view "that recognises the equality and inherent worth of every form of life" (Green Revolution, Spring '92), Murray welcomed the forthcoming elimination of the Smallpox virus.
SUPPORT THE ARIZONA 4!
4 Earth First! militants have been jailed in Arizona for up to 6 years for damaging an environmentally harmful ski resort. In spite of their deep ecological ideas, they have to be supported. Solidarity is the minimum startingpoint for a discussion about the relationship between class struggle and ecodefence.
The following addresses are copied from the American Earth First! journal. Ilse Asplund and Marc Baker c/o 1385 Iron Springs Rd, Box 104, Prescott, AZ 86301, USA. Peg Millet, 23118008, 37900 N 45th Ave, Dept 1785, Phoenix, AZ 85027, USA. Mark Davis, 23106008, Federal Correctional Institute, RR 2 Box 9000, Safford, AZ 85546, USA.
Readers may be interested in Live Wild or Die!, which is available from POB 411233, San Francisco, CA 94141. This is similar to Earth First! and contains loads of interesting information about doing things without getting caught. A more detailed class based critique of deep ecology, How Deep is Deep Ecology? by George Bradford, can be obtained from Fifth Estate, 4632 Second Avenue, Detroit MI 48201, USA. Also available from them is Ecodefence (Ned Ludd Books 1987), an outrageously irresponsible manual of individual sabotage, which substitutes the formation of small elite groups of rigidly disciplined self-appointed professional saboteurs, for the real working class tradition of mass meetings and collective (contd. p94).
Good old-fashioned trade unionism - Wildcat
Wildcat argue that unions have sabotaged working class struggle since their inception.
The year 1842 was a very significant one for the proletariat of the British Isles. On the positive side it was the occasion of a great struggle against wage cutting and on the negative side it marked the formation of the first modern national trade union. This was the Miners' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, an organisation every bit as anti-working class as the trade unions today, which used almost identical methods to undermine the workers' struggle for their interests. This was an event of significance for the proletariat of the whole world since the trade union form (once perfected) was one which was to be exported across the globe. Unionisation was not the only important event in the "domestication" of the proletariat of Britain but it is one of the clearest examples of a general trend from the uncontrollable mobs of the 18th Century to the passivity of the modern Labour Movement.
But first let's start as we mean to go on, with mass strikes and uprisings. In mid 1842 conditions for the working class were even more desperate than usual. In some industrial towns half the population were unemployed and those "lucky" enough to be in work were often on short-time and subjected to frequent wage cuts and speed up. The first sign of a fight back was in West Bromwich in May when miners went on strike. The strike was smashed by the police and army and the workers were forced to accept a 10% wage cut but the strike had only been over a fortnight when more than 10,000 iron and coal workers struck in the Black Country. From here trouble quickly spread to North Staffordshire and by the end of July all the North Staffordshire mines were closed and industry ground to a halt across the whole of the Midlands. This was just the beginning.
In the textile towns large crowds of strikers and other proletarians roamed about emptying the factories and filling the streets. Many had sticks and did not hesitate to use force to extend the struggle. They pulled plugs from factory boilers so in Lancashire and Yorkshire the strike became known as the Plug Plot Riots. At Shelton, North Staffs., Lord Granville's pits had two furnaces blown up. They still had not been replaced two years later. At Bingley in Yorkshire strikers threatened to burn down any mill that carried on working. They meant it.
At this time the police force barely existed. In the Scottish town of Airdrie, for example, one superintendent and four constables attempted to control a mining community numbering 33,000! The total force in Staffordshire was 184 men. Rescue of prisoners was very common. On 6 August a large crowd surged through Burslem, North Staffordshire, in response to the arrest of three colliers for begging. They broke into the police station, freed the men and then smashed all the windows in the Town Hall. A few days later in the same town Thomas Powys, a magistrate and deputy lord lieutenant of the county, ordered troops to fire on a strikers demo in the market square. One was killed and many wounded. A crowd of 500 set off to burn Powys' house. Later various rich scumbags had their homes pillaged and burnt. Coalowners and magistrates were singled out for special treatment. So were the clergy - as well as most of them preaching in support of coalowners some of them actually were coalowners. God may forgive, the proletariat doesn't!
Many of the early clashes occurred because of attempts by the authorities to crack down on poaching and the stealing of vegetables, which went on on an enormous scale. In Cheshire a special mounted force was formed to ensure that information about attacks on farms was quickly sent to the army.
When the strike movement ended in September, it was a partial victory for the workers, despite the vicious repression meted out by the state - hundreds were imprisoned and sentences of over 20 years transportation were common. But employers were not able to impose the large-scale wage cuts (around 25%) which they had intended. Some workers (such as the spinners of Bolton) even won small increases. The situation was summed up well by Richard Pilling, a mill worker on trial for calling his fellow workers out on strike when the bosses announced a wage cut. In court he said "if it had not been for the late struggle, I firmly believe thousands would have starved to death".
It was clear that the workers had won this victory not through peacefully withdrawing their labour but through the traditional methods of rioting, freeing prisoners, plundering and burning the houses of the rich, theft, sabotage and undemocratically spreading strikes through going directly to other groups of workers. The numerous unions founded shortly after this time set about blatantly suppressing all of these activities in favour of legality, peaceful behaviour and, sometimes, the myth of the "General Strike" in which the workers would redress all their grievances without a shot being fired.
The Miners' Association was not the only union formed at this time. The Potters' Union was formed in 1843, so was the Cotton Spinners' Association. In 1845 the local bodies of the printing trade were united as the National Typographical Association. The tailors and shoe makers were being enrolled into national societies as were glass makers and steam engine makers. It was the most significant though, given its size (at one stage it may have had 100,000 members) and the important role played by miners in the strike/riot wave.
The trade unions, including the Miners' Association, openly opposed all forms of struggle apart from the peaceful withdrawal of labour. At one of the founding meetings of the Miners' Association at Wakefield in November 1842 every pit was asked to appoint delegates and urged to make "unity, peace, law and order" its motto. This meant accepting the logic of capitalist economics since obviously workers are less able to achieve anything by peaceful strikes when there is a surplus of labour. This doesn't mean they can't fight at all : it means they have to use different methods. The struggles of 1842 were against economic logic, taking place in the middle of a "recession" and succeeding where peaceful strike action would undoubtedly have failed. This wasn't the only way unions attempted to impose economic logic - the Miners' Association made regular appeals to employers to unite with the workers in demanding higher coal prices!
This period wasn't just critical for the development of modern unions but modern social democratic politics as well. The National Association of United Trades for the Protection of Labour, formed in 1845, even seriously debated launching a Labour Party. Fortunately this particular attack on the proletariat had to wait another half century or so.
It was also an important time for the state reform of working conditions, that is; for planned preemptive concessions to the working class designed to buy social peace in the long term. This was the year of The Midlands Mining Commission Report and the First Report of the Commission on Children and Young Persons - this was the first official exposé of the widespread employment of children (often sent down the mines at the age of four or five) and the appalling conditions under which they worked. There was renewed parliamentary agitation for the ten-hour day for women and juveniles in the cotton industry. This was led by Tory philanthropists such as Lord Ashley (later Lord Shaftesbury) and finally became law in 1847. In 1848, when many bourgeois commentators thought that Britain was on the brink of revolution, the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Ashley saying "I shall declare without hesitation ... that the passing of the Ten-Hours Bill has kept these vast counties at peace during this eventful period". In 1864 Gladstone declared in the House of Commons that the law had been beneficial "both in mitigating human suffering and in attaching important classes of the community to Parliament and the Government". At first sight it may appear that this "movement" had very little connection with what was actually happening within the working class but in fact there were numerous links between trade unionism and philanthropic reformers. The Miners' Association passed many resolutions praising Lord Shaftesbury's work and continually plied him with data. He once replied to them, saying he was "only an instrument, and possessed little power unless the working classes stood at his back".
Most of those involved in setting up and running the unions in this period, particularly the Miners' Association, would have described themselves as "Chartists". This meant they supported the "six points of the People's Charter" on the reform of parliament. These were: adult male suffrage, no property qualification, annual parliaments, equal constituencies, salaries for MP's and the secret ballot. This was first formulated for a specifically working class audience in 1836 by the London Workingmen's Association, a small society largely formed on the suggestion of the rich radical MP, Francis Place. Their program was hardly original - 58 years previously one Major Cartwright had introduced a Bill in the Commons containing the same six points.
As can be imagined, Chartism was a very broad church indeed, encompassing everyone from those who thought that adult male suffrage would somehow enable the country to be run a bit better to those, such as James Bronterre O'Brien, who honestly believed that it would lead to the abolition of private property. Numerous progressive historians have written that it was a "revolutionary demand" - in "the context of the times", of course. We won't waste time trying to refute this absurd idea except to ask a rhetorical question: how come the famous Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor was actually elected to parliament in 1847 by the middle class electors of Nottingham, and with a comfortable majority? It is often described as the "first working class organisation". It would be more accurate to describe it as a middle class movement dedicated to recuperating working class struggle. The intention of Chartism was always to divert working class anger into demands for an extension of the franchise. In 1848 when the working class urban centres of much of Britain were engulfed in strikes and riots their response was... a massive petition to parliament, though they couldn't quite make up their minds whether to appeal to the Cabinet or directly to the Queen.
As might be expected of a movement with such conservative aims its main activities consisted of organising petitions to parliament (with millions of signatures) and mass peaceful demos and rallies (hundreds of thousands of people). The fact that it was possible to assemble this many proles peacefully shows how much the working class had been tamed by the 1830's. This had not gone unnoticed by Francis Place: "Look even to Lancashire" he wrote a month after the vicious pig massacre of a pro-democracy demo at "Peterloo" (St. Peter's Fields near Manchester) in 1819:
"'Lancashire brute' was the common and appropriate appellation. Until very lately it would have been dangerous to have assembled 500 of them on any occasion. Bakers and butchers would at the least have been plundered. Now 100,000 people may be collected together and no riot ensue, and why?... The people have an object, the pursuit of which gives them importance in their own eyes, elevates them in their own opinion, and thus it is that the very individuals who would have been the leaders of the riots are the keepers of the peace."
There were, however, those who believed in achieving the goals of the Charter by insurrectionary means. These were known as "physical force" Chartists, as opposed to "moral force" Chartists. Sometimes they were as good as their appellation. One night in November 1838, for example, several thousand workers marched into Newport intending to free the imprisoned Chartist leader Vincent. They were led by Frost who had just been sacked from his post as a magistrate and was the chairman of a Chartist Convention which had just dissolved. They were attacked by troops and special constables and ten workers were killed. Violent rhetoric was also very common. The famous Chartist "extremist" Julian Harney once advised his audience to carry "a musket in one hand and a petition in the other" - an early example of "the armalite and the ballot box"! This was, after all, an age in which the state had very little legitimacy and the idea of taking up arms was very widespread amongst the working class. Harney wrote of the winter of 1838-9:
"In small villages lying out from Newcastle the exhortation to arms was being taken quite literally... a strong tradition of owner-paternalism had been replaced by an extremely class-conscious Chartism, and fowling pieces, small cannon, stoneware grenades, pikes and 'craa's feet or caltrops - four-spiked irons which could be strewn in a road to disable cavalry horses - were being turned out in quantities. It was localities like this which, on hearing rumours that troops would be present at the great meeting in Newcastle on Christmas Day, sent couriers to find out if they were to bring arms with them."
The Insurrectionary Tradition
"The Levelution is begun,
So I'll go home and get my gun,
And shoot the Duke of Wellington"
- an 1820's street song from Belper, Derbyshire
Since the 18th Century there had been an almost unbroken tradition of organised violent resistance to capital. The 19th Century was ushered in with a rash of riots across England against high food prices caused by Britain's war with France. Much of the rioting seems to have been organised in advance with handbills being distributed. One, from London in September 1800, said: "How long will ye quietly and cowardly suffer yourselves to be imposed upon, and half-starved by a set of mercenary slaves and Government hirelings?... We are the sovereignty, rise then from your lethargy. Be at the Corn market on Monday". Six days of rioting at the Corn Market followed. Another called upon "Tradesmen, Artizans, Journeymen, Labourers &c." to meet on Kennington Common. The meeting was prevented only by the use of troops.
For the first two decades of the century rural Ireland was swept by one revolt after another. Secret societies - Threshers, Caravats, Shanavests, Carders - used various forms of violence to defend tenant rights, to force down rent and prices, resist tithe payment and drive out landlords. In 1806 the Threshers virtually controlled Connaught. According to the Irish Solicitor-General in 1811 the countryside suffered from the "formidable consequences of an armed peasantry, and a disarmed gentry". The Lord Chief Baron, sentencing a teenage boy to death for stealing arms, declared: "Can it be endured, that those persons who are labouring by day, should be legislating by night?".
"In the three counties, the agitation for parliamentary reform commenced at exactly the point where Luddism was defeated."
- E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class.
The information in the following section is almost entirely taken from E. P. Thompson. This is because he seems to be the only lefty historian who's written anything decent about them. Many of the academics who deign to mention the Luddites are such blatant brown-noses of the bourgeoisie they're not worth reading - for example, one hack describes them as "simple-minded labourers... smashing the machines which they thought responsible for their troubles" (The Age of Revolution, E. Hobsbawm, p55). EPT, on the other hand, regards Luddism more as an honest mistake made by the workers on the long and tortuous path which led to the election of Harold Wilson. As you can see from the above quote, though, he is honest and often gives factual examples which contradict his progressive, social democratic ideas. From a communist perspective there is nothing "outmoded" about the forms of action described here. Some kind of Luddite-style community organisation would be appropriate for workers in small, scattered work-places today and, as for Captain Swing, perhaps a few burning hayricks and smashed farm machines might be just what rich farmers need to persuade them to share some of their fat EC subsidies with their miserably paid labourers.
The Luddite movement was focused around three main industrial objectives - the destruction of power looms in Lancashire, the destruction of shearing frames in Yorkshire and resistance to the break-down of custom in the Midlands framework-knitting industry. But the movement went well beyond these objectives, drawing in proletarians from outside these sectors and raising all kinds of political demands. It was a movement of such strength that for several months it could successfully resist 12,000 troops, not by military confrontation but social means - unbreakable community solidarity and spreading disaffection in the troops' own ranks. In June 1812 the Vice-Lieutenant of the West Riding declared "...except for the very spots which were occupied by Soldiers, the Country was virtually in the possession of the lawless... the disaffected outnumbering by many Degrees the peaceable Inhabitants."
The "croppers" of Yorkshire were highly skilled (and highly paid) wool cloth finishing workers whose status was threatened by two important inventions, the gig-mill and the shearing frame. The gig-mill was a device for raising the surface of cloth by passing it between rollers. It was at least as old as the mid-16th Century since there was a statute of Edward VI prohibiting its use. Workers had prevented its widespread use ever since. Who says you can't stand in the way of Progress? This struggle had been particularly intense at the end of the 18th Century. In the West Country bodies of rioters 1,000 or 2,000 strong had attacked the hated mills. In 1809 Parliament repealed all the protective legislation relating to the woollen industry - covering apprenticeship, the gig-mill and the number of looms which could be owned by one master.
The grievances of the framework-knitters of the Midlands (mostly Nottingham, Derby and Leicester area) were a bit more complicated. They mostly worked in small industrial villages in workshops containing three or four looms. These were rented from their employer. Since the end of the 18th Century they had suffered a severe worsening of general conditions as the development of uncontrolled prices and shoddy goods had undermined their earnings and craft status. The cotton weavers of Lancashire were also used to an artisan status which was directly threatened by the factory system.
The movement began in Nottingham in March 1811. A large demonstration of framework-knitters was dispersed by the army. That night 60 frames were broken in the village of Arnold by rioters who didn't try to disguise themselves. They were cheered on by the crowd. For several weeks similar incidents occurred throughout north-west Nottinghamshire. Despite the presence of troops and special constables, no arrests could be made.
In November of that year Luddism appeared in a more organised form. Frame-breaking had become the work of disciplined bands who moved rapidly from village to village at the dead of night. From Nottinghamshire it spread to parts of Leicestershire and Derbyshire, and continued without cease until February 1812. On 10 November a hosier in Bulwell defended his premises with arms. A Luddite was killed but, after taking away his body, his comrades returned, broke down the doors and smashed the frames. Three days later a large force of Luddites armed with muskets, pistols, axes and hammers destroyed 70 frames at a large workshop in Sutton-in-Ashfield.
Only those frames were attacked which were associated with reduced wages or the production of lower quality goods. This "reformist" spirit of the Nottingham Luddites is expressed well by the popular ballad of the time, General Ludd's Triumph:
The guilty may fear but no vengeance he aims
At the honest man's life or Estate,
His wrath is entirely confined to wide frames
And to those that old prices abate.
These Engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the Trade
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the Grand executioner made.
The Luddites were masked and had a well developed system of signals, sentinels and couriers. Whoever led the raiding party on the particular night would be referred to as General Ludd. They also had "inspectors" who went around investigating pay and conditions and collected money for the workers made unemployed by the frames being broken.
At the beginning of February 1812 this phase of Midlands Luddism quickly died away. There were three main reasons for this. Not least of these was the fact that the use of terror by the workers had been quite successful, and wages had risen. Secondly, there were now several thousand troops in the area. Thirdly, there was now a Bill before Parliament to make frame-breaking punishable by death. This didn't stop the movement but did cause considerable panic in the workers' ranks. It also created a space for parliamentarism and trade unionism. A quasi-legal association, the "United Committee of Framework-Knitters" was formed to petition parliament for a Bill to protect pay and conditions. The Committee tried to suppress machine-breaking but feelings were running high in Nottingham, where seven Luddites were sentenced to transportation. In April a hosier was shot and wounded outside his house. He was accused in a letter from "the Captain" of attempting to force his women workers into prostitution by paying them such low wages. After the inevitable defeat of the Bill a union was set up. The prime movers of the union were Henson and Coldham. Henson was an experienced activist in the secret "Institution" to which all framework-knitters belonged. Coldham was the Town Clerk of Nottingham! It had an effective existence for two years and seems to have been powerful enough to prevent a serious resurgence of Luddism.
The Nottingham events directly inspired the Yorkshire croppers. Luddism appeared modelled on the existing tactics but accompanied by a much greater number of threatening letters. A leaflet was distributed in Leeds which was far more insurrectionary than anything seen in Nottingham -
"...You are requested to come forward with Arms and help the Redressers to redress their Wrongs and shake off the hateful Yoke of a Silly Old Man, and his Son more silly and their Rogueish Ministers, all Nobles and Tyrants must be brought down..."
These Luddites expressed solidarity with struggles in Ireland and elsewhere. One letter goes
"...the Weavers in Glasgow and many parts of Scotland will join us the Papists in Ireland are rising to a Man, so that they are likely to find the soldiers something else to do than Idle in Huddersfield and then woe to the places now guarded by them..."
Many of the smaller manufacturers just gave in, destroying or storing their own shearing-frames. After six or seven weeks only a few substantial mills were still holding out. In particular there were two owners who were notorious for their determination to defy the Luddites, they both kept armed company goons and troops on the premises day and night. According to tradition, the luddites drew lots to decide which mill to attack. The choice fell on Rawfolds in the Spen Valley. Around 150 Luddites attacked it. They failed. Many were wounded, two of them mortally and they had to be left behind. The first blood had been shed and it did not go unavenged. Later the same month the other notorious owner, one William Horsfall from Ottiwell, was shot dead.
In Lancashire the movement was more one of open mass riots. On 20 March the warehouse of one of the first manufacturers to use the power-loom was attacked at Stockport. In early April there were numerous riots aiming to force down the prices of potatoes and bread. On 20 April in Middleton a power-loom mill was attacked by several thousand. It's defenders fired muskets, three attackers were killed and many wounded. The next morning the crowd assembled in even greater strength. They were joined by a body of men armed with muskets and picks with an effigy of General Ludd and a red flag at their head. Finding the mill still impregnable the crowd burned the mill-owner's house instead. Four days later a large mill was successfully burnt down in Westhoughton.
April-May 1812 was a real high point in the class war. Outside the Luddite areas there were serious food riots in Bristol, Carlisle, Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley. In Cornwall the miners struck and marched into the market towns demanding reductions in food prices. In Sheffield a militia arms store was broken into. On May 11 the Prime Minister, Perceval, was assassinated in the House of Commons. Joy amongst the proles was unrestrained. In London large crowds gathered outside the Commons and cheered the assassin as he was led away. In Nottingham order could only be restored by military force and the reading of the Riot Act. It was widely assumed that Perceval's death must be the result of some revolutionary conspiracy. There was widespread disappointment when it turned out to be the work of a solitary hero.
One of the factors which brought this movement to an end was more repression - more troops, more spies, more arrests and an increasing number of executions. But probably more important was a major concession. This was the repeal of the so-called Orders In Council in June 1812. This was the policy of blockading France as part of Britain's war effort. Its repeal led to an immediate improvement in trade, greatly relieving the famine conditions existing in many parts of the country.
But the ending of the bosses' recession didn't completely kill the movement. Luddism in Yorkshire and Lancashire largely gave way to preparations for an insurrection. During the summer of 1812 there were numerous raids for arms. Lead for making bullets was also being taken, in the form of pumps, water-spouts and guttering. The conspiracy extended well outside the Luddite areas but, unfortunately, never got as far as an actual uprising.
Over the next two or three decades the tactics of Luddism did much to inspire other movements of class warfare.
In the early 1820's in Monmouthshire, Wales there existed a secret organisation known as the "Scotch Cattle" based on the colliers. They claimed that Ned Ludd was their founder. Like the Luddites they had a well developed system of threatening letters, night meetings and military-style signals. They specialised in blowing up furnaces and terrorising scabs. Their leader was said to be Lolly, obviously Lol - the Lord of Misrule.
In 1830 the discontent of agricultural labourers exploded through the southern and eastern counties of England in marches from village to village, breaking threshing machines and demanding higher wages. Night time arson and machine-breaking were very widespread. "Captain Swing" was the signature most often attached to the threatening letters sent to landowners, farmers and parsons. Wages were successfully raised for a time but the main lasting effect was that the widespread introduction of threshing machines in rural England was delayed until the 1850's.
An important feature of all these movements was the commitment to secrecy. The clandestine hit squads of the day were premised upon a mass culture of non-cooperation. Whole working class communities refused to collaborate with the authorities. Often secret mass meetings were called which were only occasionally infiltrated by the state. This is why so few Luddites were ever caught despite the affected areas being saturated with troops and the extensive use of spies from outside the areas. The harsh sentences imposed by the judiciary were a sign of the desperation of the authorities.
Contrast this with a statement made by the executive of the Miners' Association in 1844 to the employers. It began: "We have no secrets; all is done openly and to any of our meetings all are invited. Manufacturers! Traders! and Shopkeepers! You are deeply interested in our welfare".
The legalisation of certain forms of organisation such as the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 is not something which enabled the working class to organise itself better - the Luddites were pretty well organised and everything is legal if you don't get caught! What it did do was enable the recuperators, particularly middle class ones from outside "impenetrable" working class communities, to become better organised. The attitudes which the working class had had towards rich reformers was summed up by Francis Place "The laws against combinations... induced [working people] to break and disregard the laws. They made them suspect the intentions of every man who tendered his services".
It would be a mistake to think that the development of trade unionism and parliamentary politics was just a middle class conspiracy. If petty bourgeois and even bourgeois elements had an influence out of all proportion to their numbers it was because, for the most part, the proles saw nothing wrong with this. As E. P. Thompson says in The Making of the English Working Class:
"Only the gentleman - Burdett, Cochrane, Hunt, Feargus O'Connor - knew the forms and language of high politics, could cut a brave figure on the hustings, or belabour the Ministers in their own tongue. The reform movement might use the rhetoric of equality, but many of the old responses of deference were still there even among the huzzaing crowds".
But the role of middle class types should not be underestimated. Most of the top leaders of the Miners' Association had never worked in the coal industry despite the continual cry from the members for the appointment of sacked miners as officials. The Association's treasurer, for example, was a pub landlord from Newcastle. A particularly important role in the union was played by W. P. Roberts, a solicitor from Bath, who was the union's legal officer.
In so far as Roberts and his friends had a political program for the union it can be summed up as the Right to Strike. That is, a class deal whereby the bosses allow the workers to struggle by peaceful, democratic means in return for guarantees that they won't go any further than that, that they won't threaten the bosses property rights or control over the production process. The right to strike implies the right to manage. It also implies that the Rule of Law should, to some extent, apply to all classes. Obviously, workers will only have any respect for the law if they can sometimes win court cases. This is where Roberts came in.
The Miners' Association was the first union in Britain to use the law courts in a systematic way to defend its members. Roberts became known as the "workingman's Attorney General". He used to travel up and down the country representing miners, and often other workers, in magistrates courts. "We resisted every individual act of oppression, even in cases where we were sure of losing", he explained. He was very good at his job, winning many small victories against the employers, here freeing a man imprisoned for leaving work without permission, there taking back wages illegally withheld. He once boasted that he had taught the magistrates law and how to make legal warrants. He regularly had the decisions of magistrates overturned by the Court of Queen's Bench in London. The fact that the authorities allowed him to get away with all this shows how much the ruling class were prepared to make concessions to integrate the proletariat into civil society.
The commitment of the union to the rule of law was nothing short of fanatical. They always told miners to be peaceful, even when they were being evicted from their homes. This happened on a massive scale during the strike in Northumberland and Durham in 1844. The Northumbrian miners' union leader Thomas Burt (later to become a Liberal MP) describes how families "stood with tears in their eyes and saw villainous wretches throwing to the door articles to which the memory of past years had given sanctity; but they had been taught by their leaders that if the peace was broken, they might bid farewell to their cherished union; and such was the power, eloquence, and advocacy of their leaders that the peace was not broken, even under such trying conditions". Rule 12 of the union's constitution (agreed in May 1843) stated "That this Association will not support or defend any member who shall in any way violate the laws of the country".
As well as assisting Queen Victoria's judiciary the union also attempted to suppress strikes, even legal ones, in a way which today we find very familiar. During 1844 there were strikes in almost every coalfield in Britain but the union doggedly maintained its position of opposing all "partial" strikes. Only a "general" strike of the whole industry was supposed to be good enough.
The union conference in Manchester in January 1844 was held in the midst of a strike wave in the South Lancashire coal-field. There had been 20 strikes and 100's of men had been out for 5 months. Since the last conference had condemned partial strikes they had not received a penny in strike pay and union officials had been sent to try to get them back to work. Not surprisingly, thousands left the union over the next few months. In many cases the men had succeeded in winning large pay rises through their unofficial action!
But the union didn't have things all its own way. As well as the unofficial strikes (many of which it had to officialise) there were numerous occasions where the veterans of 1842 failed to fully observe the spirit of Rule 12. During a strike in Yorkshire in 1844 scabs had been brought in from Derbyshire in large numbers. At the Soap House pit near Sheffield they were housed in a barracks in the pityard. A large crowd scaled the walls, broke open the doors, smashed every window and gave the scabs a good kicking. During the same strike, at Deep pit in the same area, strikers blew up the engine boiler. These sort of incidents, though, had already become few and far between by 1842 standards. The Miners' Association largely disappeared after the anti-Chartist repression and recession of 1848, but the damage had been done.
Bomber Harris Joins Anti-Fascist Action
Wildcat (UK) article on the limitations of anti-fascism. Whilst this is generally a good piece, the comment about anti-fascists having "internalized the democratic/Zionist guilt trip" is especially concerning given the later trajectory of Wildcat in the 2000s.
The basic proletarian position on fascism and anti-fascism can be stated simply. Fascist and Nazi governments are anti-working class, and have murdered millions of working class people in the interests of capitalist accumulation. When not in government, fascists have often played an important role for the state in spreading racism, dividing and weakening the proletariat. Judged by these criteria, all other capitalist political tendencies are no different. Democratic governments have killed just as many people as fascist ones, and through nationalism, reinforce racist divisions. The left have used anti-fascism to persuade people to support democratic parties. During the Second World War, this was useful to the Allies. The main purpose of anti-fascism was to justify the war, and crush the working class. This was the central aim of the war effort, as shown by Britain's attitude towards resistance to Hitler inside Germany : the Foreign Office argued "the Gestapo and the SS have done us an appreciable service in removing a selection of those who would undoubtedly have posed as 'good' Germans after the defeat of a Nazi Germany" (Guardian, 23 July 92). When Milan's workers rose against the fascist government in 1943, Britain and the US bombed them.
In Britain today, anti-fascist fronts divert those who wish to fight racism towards the almost irrelevant tactic of chasing small groups of skinheads. There is no evidence that racist attacks on black people are primarily carried out by Nazis: ordinary British patriotism is the problem. Anti-fascists do not challenge patriotism, in fact they support it. They demonstrate every year against fascists marching with the other capitalist parties, who fully supported the World Wars, to remember the dead. They object to fascists tainting the patriotic ceremony with their nasty foreign ideas. On Remembrance Sunday 1991, a speaker from Anti-Fascist Action argued against burning the Union Jack, and instead set fire to an imperial German flag.
In Labour-controlled Camden, when the council started deporting Irish and Bangladeshi workers, the left pleaded with them to stop doing it, because it "played into the hands of the Nazis". It never occurred to them that the Labour Party were doing what the fascist groups could only dream about. In another London borough, Tower Hamlets, Labour and Liberal councils ran a de facto apartheid policy, putting Indian and Bangladeshi families in separate estates from whites. Targeting fascists is a deliberate strategy by icepick-heads to shield Labour politicians in local government, though the anarchists involved in anti-fascism lack the analytical ability to see that they are being used for this purpose.
The anti-fascist movement's analysis of the fascist resurgence in Germany today is basically that Germans have an inbuilt urge to wear jackboots and march around doing Nazi salutes. There are even anti-fascists in Germany who have internalized the democratic/Zionist guilt trip so completely that they defend the bombing of Dresden by the Allies! The following article hopefully goes some way towards explaining the problem of neo-Nazism from a more internationalist perspective.
So much for the situation in Britain. Beyond the white cliffs of Dover, things are a bit more complicated. Fascists supported by Germany have democratically taken power in Croatia and started a civil war. Fascist parties have gained 15% and more of the vote in Germany, France and Italy. Though these parties have little chance of winning power - their role is to help the state divide white workers from immigrants to keep wages down, rather than prevent immigration altogether - they are obviously more important than their counterparts in Britain or the USA. Here we publish an account of an anti-fascist demo in Germany by the German communist group Wildcat. We don't completely agree with it. For example, we don't like the conclusion that people join anti-fascist groups because communists have nothing better to suggest. We always have something better to suggest: as Wildcat know better than anyone, there is always some sort of class struggle going on. The relative downturn at present is no excuse for supporting the left.
A Tough State and Soft Heads
Wildcat article on an anti-fascist demo in Hoyerswerda, Germany, in response to a week of racist violence in the town in September 1991.
The following does not claim to be a comprehensive critique of the demonstration in Hoyerswerda. A vehement discussion is currently taking place in Berlin on this. The demo was successful on a number of scores: there was a lot of spraying and sticking up posters (for a few days Hoyerswerda must have been the most colourful town in the Federal Republic). On the day a lot of things were discussed in general and this probably had consequences which went beyond the day of the demo. Instead we want to draw attention to a few weak points in autonomous anti fascism and pose a few questions which are, unfortunately, not being raised by anyone at all. The following is, therefore, a mere start and not an analysis of the overall situation; just a few ideas on how our struggle against racist tendencies and our intervention in the class struggles of '91/92 might look.
Until the 1960's Hoyerswerda was a small village in Saxony. Then a "workers' town" with 60,000 inhabitants was built overnight, with almost everyone there working in the brown coal mines. From the early 1980's on, the G.D.R. imported tens of thousands of cheap labourers from Mozambique and Vietnam to work in the Cottbuss brown coal mines. They were crammed into hostels, with frequently 4.5 men to a room. With the end of the G.D.R. and the projected closure of the gigantic open pit, brown coal mines they were gradually sent back to their home countries. About 200 were still there when a group of fascists drove Vietnamese traders from the weekly market in the middle of September. The latter retreated into the hostel. That night stones were thrown at the hostel... For some time the management of the brown coal mines had been making life difficult for the foreign workers. For example, they had raised the bonus for German workers by more than DM 800, whilst raising it by about DM 200 for the foreigners and simultaneously making an "offer" to these workers to terminate their contracts prematurely. Instead of accepting this they went on strike for the same bonuses, and the management responded by forbidding them entry to the company premises. Subsequently, negotiations followed in the hostel without producing any results three hours later the attacks on the hostel started. In order to get rid of the foreign workers, the enterprise would have had to give them severance pay. (There is also a rumour that the owners paid or incited the fascists; some people claim to have seen them talking.) The following night the fascists returned, and this time there were two dozen of them. The workers finally lost their tempers and hit back with a counter attack. Afterwards the attacks shifted to the hostel for refugees applying for political asylum and intensified each night. Fascists came from the whole surrounding area, and gradually about 300 people gathered around the scene, clapping every time mollies hit their targets. The crowd also included a number of youths who wanted to have a go at the police and who couldn't care less about the fascists and the foreigners. For days on end the state played little games with its ostensible helplessness before suddenly arranging for most of the workers and all the refugees to be transported away on 29th September: through rows of applauding residents from the neighbourhood.
"Hoyerswerda" was the most concentrated mobilisation of the state to take place so far. At the same time it revealed the most concentrated agreement between the left and the state: from pamphlets to the taz (left/alternative newspaper) to Springer's Morgenpost agreement prevailed: the Ossis (East Germans) had to be taught democracy. The taz even went so far as to demand BGS (Federal Border Police), barbed wire and stricter laws for the Ossis.
On 9th September a convoy of some 1,000 people set off from Berlin for an "anti racist demo" in Hoyerswerda. After gathering on a car park outside the town, the demo proceeded towards the new town: an incredible mixture of 60's style rabbit hutches one slab of concrete after another, visibly beginning to disintegrate built for the working class in the period of real socialism. There were the standard slogans "Nazis out, foreigners in" (not being able to think of anything better we decided to stay quiet), there were those who, with foaming mouths, planted themselves in front of the blocks of flats, pointing up at the people on the balconies shouting "You should be ashamed!", "Anyone who remains silent agrees!", "Nazis out!". Such clear expressions of one's political standpoint were followed by deeds: cars were attacked and stones thrown at private dwellings.
Then the cops formed a thin line in front of the (deserted) refugee hostel and wouldn't let us go any further. Demonstrators began, as a result, to break up concrete slabs and to prepare to charge through the police line only to be immediately surrounded by others wanting to stop them. The masked demonstrators retorted with "autonomous reformists!", punches and hitting people on the head with batons. Finally, the demo leaders decided to turn back. We could no longer stand it in the demo with the moralistic, anti fascist slogans, its inner confusion and the aggression directed at each and everyone there, and five of us set off for "enemy territory". During our walk through the new town we ran into people who were, almost without exception, horrified about the attacks on foreigners but who did not see any way of intervening personally or of at least standing up and stating quite clearly that they thought that what was happening was shit. One young woman said: all the older people think like my mother, that what the fascists did was good. In the future it will be embarrassing if someone asks you where you come from. When we returned to the demo it had been standing in front of a second police cordon of the BGS. Negotiations were conducted for about two hours. This time outside pressure had once again ignited bloody disputes within the demo. In the meanwhile its character had also begun to change: an increasing number of young people from Hoyerswerda began to join the demonstration, making announcements over the loudspeaker. An old man standing on a balcony waved his red flag and lowered drinks, others distributed sandwiches among the demonstrators ... As it was already beginning to get dark, we were finally given permission with vicars leading the way to start demonstrating. When we set off there were about a thousand of us and probably about a thousand came out and joined in; by the end of the demo there were about three thousand of us i.e. several hundred people from Hoyerswerda had joined in (in front of the demo, behind the demo, most of them alongside it, but quiet a few of the courageous people joined in). The demo came to an end at the workers' hostel, where 21 people from Mozambique were still staying. They were in the two top floors (probably the 11th and 12th) and hung white sheets out of the windows. Now the emotional climax was reached: "We've got a song for you." And then it was played through the loudspeakers at full power: "Deutschland verrecke! (Go to hell Germany)". This is when most of the demonstrators with black masks discovered the child inside each of them, their knees went weak and they began to dance and shout for joy. International solidarity had been re established, the demo was a complete success at least for all those who thought that they would be running into 60,000 fascists and now saw that this was not the case! For everyone else a number of questions remain open:
1) With the new Law on Foreigners, with the fascist groups bawling their heads off at the Polish border, with the systematic attacks on hostels for foreigners, and not least with African workers and asylum applicants being driven out of Hoyerswerda together with the gestures by politicians and the Police operations, the Federal German state is preparing a new sector of the labour market: the (illegal) exploitation of several million new immigrants "Hoyerswerda" was the provisional climax of a state campaign against the immigrants coming here and the foreigners who live here.
This constellation is remarkably similar to that of 1986: industrialists in the Federal Republic are faced with the problem that immigration is now declining substantially (in the building industry, catering and agriculture there are bitter complaints about a "shortage of labour") following the 1.1 million coming across from the East in 1988 an 1989. In analysis and strategy papers prepared for their own use, industrialists and their consultants assume that the Federal Republic will require several million new immigrants in the 90's. For some months now politicians have been stirring up the "refugee question" (although people applying for refugee status only constitute a minute proportion of immigrants). The FRG needs more immigrant workers who should not, however, come here feeling self confident but intimidated and as "tolerated" workers. The state is experimenting: huge waves of immigration have, to be sure, always led to explosions within the class, but have usually and rapidly also brought fresh wind into the class struggles ("Italian strikes" in the sixties, "Turkish strikes" at the beginning of the seventies, etc.) Whereas earlier state measures aimed at "integrating guest workers", they are now directed towards "making immigration precarious": work permits for persons applying for refugee status, eroding the laws on political asylum, the new Law on Foreigners, the toleration of fascist groups, the media campaign over the "issue of political asylum" (racist conditioning of the indigenous working class), the sudden outcry in the media over attacks on "foreigners" (with the desired imitations). These are all aspects of a state strategy which is intended to prepare the ground for the immigrants arriving in the next few years.
2) This campaign is also directed against the entire working class and, in particular, against the threat of struggles in the former GDR.
The many attacks on hostels for foreigners over the past few years were generally published as short reports on the "colour page" of the newspapers. In the week in which the press suddenly took a fancy to publishing these attacks on the first page of the paper, a few thousand workers at the Tridelta Werke (an electronics company) occupied the Hermsdorfer motorway intersection a few miles away, shutting it down for the entire Friday afternoon. They had discovered that Tridelta was to be shut down. This kind of struggle was unprecedented in the history of the Federal Republic (at best there had been the one minute motorway occupation under the strictest control of the unions following prior consultation with the police) and it was not to be allowed to spread under any circumstances. For in the coming months, hundreds of thousands of dismissals are impending in the south of the GDR And in the Hoyerswerda area two events are taking place almost simultaneously, as in the rest of the former GDR: two days after the demo took place the rents were increased five and even six fold. A one room flat in one of the glorious housing blocks now costs DM 250 (= £87 per month). Secondly, at the end of the year the short time working regulation will cease to apply: almost all the 60,000 workers in Hoyerswerda work in the open pit brown coal mines and in coal processing, which are to be reduced in size at the end of this year. Unemployment will be sent soaring. What will happen if the workers revolt? What will happen if they discover their power in the conglomeration of Hoyerswerda? The working class in the former GDR has not ceased struggling and putting up resistance since the GDR was driven to collapse. By stirring up "hatred of foreigners" two things have been achieved: the people have been given a scapegoat within reach for their own impoverished situation, and at the same time all Ossis have been branded potential racists in order to intimidate them and to keep a lid on the impending class struggles.
3) Hatred of foreigners grows from below. There are countless isolated reactions (in the family, in the "German" housing estate, groups of different nationalities in the factories, during leisure time, etc.) to the uncertainty and, in some cases, aggravation of material conditions by the 1.1 million "immigrants from the east", to the stagnation in class struggles in the old Federal German state, to the widespread social rejection and mobilisation experienced through "re unification"', to the traumatic events taking place at the level of "foreign policy" (the Gulf War, the civil war in Yugoslavia ...). There is widespread fear of the future (ecological, with the war, with mass unemployment or for whatever reason). There is growing aggression and an increasing tendency to make "too many foreigners" responsible for one's own problems and even more so for fears projected into the future. People are becoming more aggressive. And, in general, the situation is reminiscent of the sixties and the defamation of the "Itacker" (a pejorative term for Italians): as being lazy, depressing wages, chasing the German women etc ... Two things are different: today there are far more movements, but there is far less of the spirit of upheaval and revolt than in the sixties. This has made it very easy for the state so far to exploit these tendencies in the class for its own use.
4) There is no left in the world which cares so little about the "proletarian world" yet is so ready to put the blame on "racism, fascism, sexism, Teutomania" etc. etc. when problems arise. These slogans have one prime goal: to keep the social reality at bay and to confront them on a moral level only.
The mobilisation which followed Hoyerswerda took place under the banner of moral outrage: "You make us sick and now we're gonna show you!" Some anti fascists saw it as a "punitive expedition" and let themselves go accordingly. They still maintain after the event that "90 or 99%" of the inhabitants of Hoyerswerda are fascists.
Nobody took the trouble to see whether there were real problems between the "foreigners" and the "Hoyerswerda locals" (all of whom are "newcomers"), or how people have dealt with the situation up to now. These are problems which exist in any (alternative/leftist) scene pub and in every squat in which German comrades and foreigner workers try to live together. For example, there have also been fights with Africans in Kreuzberg scene pubs because they tried to get off with the women; there were also fights at the demo between "Germans" and "foreigners" Is it an accident when it happens "in our circles"? Racism when it takes place among workers?? Something that has to be kept hushed up when it happens among refugees???
5) "Hoyerswerda" was and is being used by the political class (from the [neo fascist] Republicans to the Greens) for their own use. The state created a fait accompli when it deliberately rushed the "endangered foreigners" away in buses: an invitation to Nazis and their drunken mates to continue. It succeeded far better as a state spectacle directed against new immigrants than the brutal expulsion of Albanian refugees from Italy in that case the state was visible, in Germany the "mood of the people" is presented as something which the state can hide behind or oppose.
The campaign is better prepared and with more advance planning than the "Flutkampagne" denouncing the flood of refugees, especially via East Berlin of 1986 (at the time the state campaign tended to produce solidarity). That also led to a considerable dissolution of solidarity among institutional groups and the liberal left. Today almost everyone, from left to right, from green to brown, church to "pro asyl", Turk to Ossi agrees on two points: first we haven't got anything against foreigners. Secondly, the boat is full. The only ones who aren't in this front are the industrialists. The Wirtschaftswoche (c.f. the Economist) carried the headline "There is still room in the boat", adding quite bluntly that the whole dispute was mere "electioneering". The CDU was trying to gain votes with the "asylum question". Lafontaine, who for years has counted among the most savage demagogues opposing applicants for asylum and immigrants from the east, made an effective media pose standing on the market square at Hoyerswerda. The "taz" demanded border police and barbed wire against the "Ossis", who weren't yet ripe for democracy. The German left more or less "nationalised" itself (from the green to the autonomous social workers). At best they envisage "politics from below" as street work. Their practice confirms the fascist view of the world: oppose the left and their state ...
6) The West German state uses the fascists. The German state cannot cover the "new Federal Länder" as extensively as it would like to, and in a manner to which we Wessis are accustomed. There is little police presence, social workers are scarce, etc.. But this state is in the process of coming out of its position of weakness. Southern Italy is an example of the way in which weak state presence need not mean anarchy at all: there the mafia has assumed the functions of the state. Hoyerswerda demonstrates that this state can use a dozen fascists in order to show all foreigners with the help of the media (including the "left") that this time the wind of change is blowing: that is why those who fled from Hoyerswerda will continue to be given bad treatment in an exemplary fashion (through being torn apart, not legalised, etc). Yet the power of the state really is too weak in the area which was formerly the GDR, and not only against the hooligans. It hasn't had any means so far of proceeding, for example, against motorway occupations, strikes, etc.. A few fascists are certainly not enough to make up for this. on the other hand, an excuse was needed: one cannot openly send in troops trained in putting down civil disobedience just one year after re unification. The excuse for moving in the border police is now there (the taz has grounds to celebrate!).
Triggered off by the politicians and the media, there were systematic attacks on hostels for foreigners throughout Germany. For the first time the fascists had a broad public impact. Hundreds of right wing drinking pals finally felt called upon to act.
Nor can the observation of a LKA (state criminal investigation department) cop be dismissed out of hand, i.e. that some of the attacks were "in their precision, untypical of the far right scene", and untypical was also the fact that there were not any letters claiming to have been responsible ... What was the story behind "Gladio"? (see Wildcat 53 p16, c.f. also the use of fascists by the state in other NATO countries, e.g. Italy.)
7) The West German state uses the anti fascists. Political fascism as a revolutionary strategy is finished. It is no longer able to do anything which cannot be functionalised by either the state or the Nazi squads. It has no political substance: when organised anti fascists announce that the situation now is the same as in 1933 they only make fools of themselves. They have no moral substance: the hardest fights and the largest number of casualties came about as a result of demonstrators attacking one another at Hoyerswerda. The functionalisation of young kids who see to it that the heat really gets turned on at demos is now rebounding. Political anti fascism is now only a recruiting ground for hierarchically structured, political organisations and, of course, continues to be a field of activity for militant big shots. However, this should by no means distort our view of the many new people who are simply sick of the way in which foreigners are being treated here, and who want to do something about it. As long as we have nothing better to suggest and to practice, they will first politicise themselves through the anti fascist groups ...
8) Let's turn "Hoyerswerda" on its head. The demonstration in Hoyerswerda was a concentrated experience which could happen anywhere in this society: decisive action can rapidly become a crystallisation point, since the atmosphere has become highly politicised everywhere.
* In a Berlin factory, with an almost exclusively Turkish workforce, the mass employment of Vietnamese, and then of immigrants from the east, and finally of Ossis, completely undermined the combativeness of the collectivity. Following the Gulf War huge splits appeared among the workforce: playing cards, eating, talking with one another in the breaks all these things were done almost exclusively according to nationality. The press reports about Hoyerswerda did a lot to break this down and set things in motion: the Turks first started to discuss it a lot among themselves, asking how they could deal with the situation (it is important to know that they started to conquer the surrounding area this summer together with their families: you can now buy döner kebabs at all weekly markets within a radius of 50 km, as well as Turkish clothes etc.). Then there was a lot of aggression directed primarily against Ossis with short hair: "Hey, are you also a fascist?" and so on. Over the next few days this behaviour was greatly stepped up by the Turkish and Vietnamese workers and directed against all German supervisors. After a while they no longer dared go near the assembly lines because they were greeted everywhere with cries of "Heil Hitler!" and so on. The day the state expelled the foreigners from Hoyerswerda the supervisors felt compelled to issue a formal declaration that they were not Nazis, had nothing against foreigners and that they regretted the incident. In this heated and highly politicised situation the Ossi's and the Turks did at least start to talk to one another. Yet a week later the discussion subsided: the debate in the Bundestag on the current situation and the newspaper reports were generally understood as an all clear signal, the German state would protect people because it still wants to have foreigners working here.
* People in Berlin occupied a house in Königs Wusterhausen, the stronghold of the regional fascist scene. When they moved in they first had to paint over the Nazi slogans inside the house. They are trying out a mixture of living, making music, doing cultural projects, creating a meeting place for youths and space for everyone. They have had trouble with the Nazis and things have been demolished, mollies thrown, cars wrecked in front of the house, etc.. At the annual "beach party", which has been violently disrupted by Nazis for the past three years, it comes to the (prepared) show down: 40 fascists with baseball bats are driven off by 20 people. One fascist is left lying on the ground with a cracked skull. The next evening a group of people are shot at from a big BMW passing by, someone is hit in the upper arm. But these are acts of desperation by the fascists. Anti fascist activities follow, scaring the young Nazis to such an extent that they leave their outfits at home and stop running around in Königs Wusterhausen and call a "peace conference". But, above all, the people in the squat have succeeded in rapidly establishing good contact with their neighbours and they write: "The Ossis are provincial somehow, you notice that because they are so damned human. Thank God we are immune to that because we walk around in a suit of armour full of prejudices which we would call racism elsewhere." The (autonomous) left, with its (superficial) morality distorts analysis of any social reality. The real phenomenon, i.e. that the class is directing its hatred against itself in some cases, is only dealt with as fear (mixed up with the fear of their own decline). Shouting their own fears into the society: "Foreigners, don't go to the DDR!", "Girls, don't go on the streets!", "Tomorrow it will be your turn!!"" are no substitute for revolutionary politics.
Instead of withdrawing and isolating ourselves in line with the general trend we must intervene!
Not as a punitive expedition of people with a superior morality, but in confronting the situation day by day. That presumes that we learn to distinguish between real problems and fascist slogans. And that we have some idea of the way to overcome these problems.
We need access to the entire class situation if we want to intervene in a revolutionary sense.
DON'T STAND AND WATCH!! DON'T STAND BACK!! DON'T BE SCARED!! GO AMONG THE PEOPLE!! TALK WITH THEM!! ASK IF THERE IS ANYTHING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!! GO INTO THE HOSTELS FOR FOREIGNERS!!
A prole's guide to the recession: economics with the truth - Wildcat (UK)
A guide to the language of economics and recession as it relates to workers, as opposed to abstract mystifying jargon.
A redefining of some economic terms.
A PROLE'S GUIDE TO THE RECESSION
- Economics With The Truth
Bored rigid by talk of exchange rates, interest rates and PSBR's? So you should be! The capitalists are always moaning about their figures not adding up but, unfortunately, their system isn't about to become mathematically impossible. Behind this dialogue of figures, though, is a real discussion within the ruling class about our struggles and how to defeat them. The following glossary will hopefully prove useful in deciphering the bullshit spouted by politicians and economists.
A means of attacking real wages (as stated by J. M. Keynes in his "General Theory..."). A common means of making the working class pay for wars, for example. It can also be a concession to the working class since it tends to keep inefficient businesses functioning - every wage slave with a grain of class consciousness knows that these are the best ones to work for! Inflation tends to undermine debts (by reducing the value of repayments) and so favours industry relative to finance capital, creating more employment so as to maintain social peace. This was why the post-war boom (a sort of productivity deal on the level of society) needed a few percent inflation per year. High inflation, then, is generally a sign that the bourgeoisie is weak since it has to buy social peace. This is why the Thatchers of this world are always going on about fighting inflation. At the G7 conference in July when they were talking about restructuring the CIS (even more!) John Major described hyperinflation as the "seedcorn for revolution".
Another means of attacking wages, this time by means of mass unemployment. This can be a risky business though. In Germany in 1930 a political commission, the Braun Committee, proposed to combat the depression by means of expanding credit (a classic inflationary measure). Hayek (the guru of anti-inflation measures, much praised by Thatcher) sent an article to his friend Professor Röpke, who was on the committee, attacking such measures. However, he enclosed a covering letter saying:
"...But if the political situation is so serious that continuing unemployment would lead to a political revolution, please do not publish my article..."
The article was not published!
An important strategy in countries where most wage goods are imported (Britain being the prime example). By reducing the value of the currency the real value of the wage is reduced. It is a means of carrying out a short term attack on wages. The disadvantage is that although it filches money from workers pockets it doesn't actually attack them directly through restructuring in the way that the 1981 recession did. Just taking money from us proles without restructuring society can sometimes be a positively bad idea - as the example of the poll tax clearly showed! Nowhere is the class nature of devaluation better understood than in the Lebanon. In early May 1992 the Central Bank announced it would no longer support the currency (the lira). As soon as it fell to 2000 per dollar there were widespread strikes and riotous demos resulting in the burning of the finance ministers home, an attack on the St George's Yacht Club in Beirut (where ministers were swanking it up with other Arab bourgeois) and the collapse of the Syrian-backed government.
ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism)
Exchange rates between EC states are now more or less fixed (rather like the old Gold Standard). The individual governments of the EC can no longer use short term measures such as devaluation against us so bosses are obliged to restructure. The mechanism for doing this will be increased national competition. Thus single European money needs petty nationalisms to function properly. The ERM also imposes relatively uniform interest rates since interest rates affect the relative strengths of currencies. This is why German interest rates have suddenly become such a big issue. The German bosses had to put up interest rates (the classic Anti-Inflation Policy) in order to counter-attack against all those stroppy proles going on strike for more wages.
PSBR (Public Sector Borrowing Requirement)
The amount a government will have to borrow in a given year to pay for its expenditure. It is a means of putting off an immediate attack on the working class. Though it will later be used as a justification for such an attack ("we must pay our debts"). This is another area where the EC is forcing the bosses to adopt a Europe-wide strategy of restructuring. It's planned "convergence zone", agreed at the Maastricht summit, requires national debt to be no more than 3% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product - roughly total commodity production within a state's borders per year). For poorer EC countries this will mean a massive acceleration in austerity measures. Italy's debt to GDP ratio is 10.5%. In Spain last year it was 4.2% but after the summit in April the government recently announced its intention to cut it to 1% by means of cuts in health care, public sector bale-outs and unemployment provision. The proportion of unemployed people entitled to dole is to drop from 50% to 25%.
Balance of payments deficits
A measure of the imbalance between imports and exports. It's a way of talking about the "uncompetitiveness" of a nations industry (much used by the rulers of Britain and the USA). In the case of the EC, fixed exchange rates mean that for a big deficit interest rates must go up to protect the currency. This means inefficient businesses are chopped leading to more unemployment and, the bosses hope, restructuring of industry and society.
Supply side economics
A whole school of economics dedicated to cutting the social wage - this is the part of our income which we receive without having to work for it (welfare, health care, subsidised housing etc.). They refer to the social wage as "rigidities". Related terms: "dependency", "dependency culture", "flexible working".
Originally the ideas of Keynes, formulated in the 1920's, were presented as a way of saving capital from communism (or "chaos" as it was sometimes described). After 1945 Keynesianism became the ideology of overall political management of the economy (e.g. "fine tuning"). What it actually was was a productivity deal on the level of the society based on the welfare state and full employment. It needed strong unions to police productivity and wage agreements. It also needed the Cold War to depoliticise the working class - revolution being presented as something foreign, paid by Moscow etc.. Keynesianism is not something likely to be revived in the near future.
A monetarist is someone who wants to restrain the money supply. It was a reaction to Keynesianism. Friedman (a Chicago economist who advised the Chilean junta) frankly stated that inflation no longer worked as a means of holding down wages. On the contrary, it had acted as a political focus for organising the struggle for higher wages. In the British context, think of the battles over "Incomes Policy" under Heath's government in the early '70's or the "Social Contract" under the last (ever?) Labour government. For this reason, according to Friedman, there was no point in the government trying to restrain unemployment. It should be allowed to gravitate to its "natural" level and then be reduced by means of supply side measures. For monetarists, defeating inflation is the central obsession.
Professor of Economics at Liverpool University. Had a lot of influence on Thatcher. Has been known to visit pubs in Liverpool and try to convince proles of the virtues of the free market, cutting welfare etc.. Has also been known to preach on the streets in the East End of London. A nutter.
A slow down in the growth of total commodity production. We are supposed to regard this as a disaster. A formulation which completely ignores the relation between wages and profits. Funny that.
Like a recession but worse. Mostly used on the level of propaganda - "if we don't make the painful changes now, the recession could turn into a depression". Related terms: "slump", "double blip".
This is something that never happens but is always threatened - e.g. "Bosnia on the verge of economic collapse". What is usually meant is that working class living standards are collapsing. As long as capitalist social relations exist so will the economy - the only thing that can cause real economic collapse is the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is what we're all supposed to be praying for, commodity production increasing at the rate it used to. This doesn't necessarily mean that us proles will be any better off, even in capitalist terms. It doesn't even have to mean a reduction in unemployment. During the "recovery" in the mid-80's in Britain it continued to rise. What it definitely would mean is more traffic on the roads to run us over, more new roads to disfigure the landscape, more yuppie wine bars to get thrown out of, more "toytown" houses to get depressed in, higher housing costs... They can keep it!
A excellent critique of recovery can be found in the 2nd issue of Armchair, a fraternal communist organ produced in Reading. It is a humorous, cheaply produced, anarcho-type rag with lots of good illustrations. It shamelessly calls for the dictatorship of the proletariat for the abolition of work. It can be obtained from Erik the Vandal at ARMCHAIR, BM MAKHNO, LONDON WC1N 3XX.
It should be clear from the above that if an economist says something you don't understand what they probably mean is "Work harder for less!".
FromWildcat (UK), no. 16. Early 1990's.
Letters: Wildcat UK #16
Letters from issue 16 of Wildcat (UK).
DIALOGUE ON DRUGS AND DEMOCRACY
One result of our policy of "continuous improvement" in our organ's size and quality has been a corresponding upward direction in the coherence of our correspondence. We no longer get idiotic letters from anarchists in Manchester. Here we publish at length some of our recent discussions with our readers, on some of our favourite topics: drugs, democracy and the poll tax.
LETTER TO SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
To : Sussex Poll Tax Resisters, 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton BN2 2GY.
We were concerned to hear about a member of the Resisters becoming a member of the Militant Tendency.
This does not mean that we think prisoners' support groups or local anti-poll tax union - the Resisters being a bit of both - can be as pure as driven snow. For example, we would not argue that such a group should exclude someone for being in the Labour Party, though we hate the latter as much as the Conservative Party or the fascists. The fact is, that members of the Labour Party have done useful work against the poll tax.
As long as they are kept carefully under the control of class-struggle militants, they should be grudgingly tolerated. But you have to draw the line somewhere. This cannot be based on some ad-hoc empirical case- by-case criterion, because who you allow to be involved sends a signal to the anti-poll tax movement in general.
Conversely, the expulsion of a Millie would tell them that certain things cannot be tolerated. It would also prevent Militant from having a spy in the group. It's not enough to say that you give the "donkey work" to your token Millie, as you have done. This is an argument about principles, not just immediate issues. But even on an immediate practical level, if we went to a Resisters meeting, we would feel inhibited about what we said, knowing that it would get back to the police informers who run Militant. This is a serious issue.
Finally, we don't think such an expulsion should be carried out by open discussion and democratic debate. It should be a manoeuvre by the more radical elements. They should be prepared to make it clear that they will not take part in organizations which tolerate such blatantly anti-working class elements. Those of you who supported the Keep Off The Grass leaflet about the TSDC surely must disagree with putting up with people who are a bit confused on the police question.
REPLY FROM SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
Our initial reaction to your letter regarding the "Millie" in the Resist Group was twofold: firstly we were perhaps a little affronted that you should doubt either our political acumen or, even worse, our political integrity; secondly, bearing in mind the individual in question, we were not a little bemused that you should take this issue so seriously. However, on further reflection we feel that the position that you adopt in your letter is symptomatic of a certain rigidity in your thought and analysis which all to easily reduces matters of principle into little more than dogmatic posturing, unrelated to the world that we have to change. Unfortunately we have been too busy in the last few months to formulate our reply any earlier; we apologise for the delay.
As you know, most of us have been actively involved in the anti-poll tax movement for more than four years, both at a local and at a national level. In Brighton, perhaps in stark contrast to London, Militant have been the dominant force in the local anti-poll tax movement from its very inception. Whether we like it or not, here in Brighton, it was Militant, more than any other of the Labour and left groups, that did the hard slog of door to door canvassing and organising that built the basis for the Brighton anti-poll tax movement. As a consequence, it was never enough for us to merely dismiss Militant as a lefty group trying to hi-jack the movement; rather we were obliged from the very start to establish a minimum practical relation with them in the local anti-poll tax groups in order to carry out such basic campaigning work as canvassing that would have been ludicrous to carry out in isolation from them.
Of course this is not to say that such a working relationship was not problematic and that we did not make important political and tactical mistakes with it. Nor is it to say that Militant did not seek to manipulate the movement in order to re-integrate it into the dead end of Labourism and Social Democracy. Indeed, they used every trick in the book to maintain their stranglehold on the local anti-poll tax movement and at the level of the Sussex Federation we found ourselves in constant struggle with the local leadership of Militant. But it is through this practical and concrete experience of dealing with, and confronting Militant that we have developed our understanding of them as a political force.
As you know, the Sussex Poll Tax Resisters Support Fund was established in the aftermath of the Poll Tax Riots of March 1990 at the zenith of the anti-poll tax movement. The SPTRSF was established for two closely related reasons: firstly it was obvious that the all important defence of those being victimised after the events of the 30th of march could not be left up to the Militant and the leadership of the "official" anti-poll tax movement who, at the time, were threatening to grass people up to the police; secondly, the poll tax riots had both shattered and discredited Militant's attempts to dominate the anti-poll tax movement, both at a national and at a local level, and it was hoped that Resist, along with similar groups up and down the country that were organising around the defence of poll tax prisoners, would provide an alternative organisational focus to that of the Militant dominated ABAPTF. It was for these very same reasons that we both aligned the SPTRSF to the TSDC and subsequently supported the criticisms of the TSDC in the infamous Keep off the Grass leaflet.
At the time of Keep off the Grass we still believed that there was a distinct possibility of the Government responding to the anti-poll tax movement by an openly repressive policy of mass jailings and the aggressive and widespread use of bailiffs that may then have led to a further escalation of the anti-poll tax movement. Such a prospect meant that we faced a two-fold imperative: firstly it was important that we did not allow Militant to regain its credibility amongst the more radical sections of the movement through its accommodation by the more liberal elements within the TSDC; secondly, it was important to challenge the very dominance of these liberal elements that was allowing the TSDC to drift towards a soft-cop policing role and becoming an advice agency for the state.
In such circumstances, as we saw it, it was vital for us to press home the fact that only a few months before, leading figures in the Militant tendency and the ABAPTF had gone on television announcing that they would "name names" and fully co-operate with the police in bringing "rioters to justice" : that in short, the Militant were grasses whose position was directly opposed to the basic position of the TSDC of unconditional defence of all poll tax prisoners. Further, we believed that it was vitally important to give voice to a class perspective within the TSDC which saw the poll tax riots as a positive expression of class violence; in counter-distinction to the all too prevalent liberal whining about police brutality.
It was on these grounds, and in such circumstances that we supported Keep off the Grass. This does not mean to say that we simplistically conclude that because leaders of Militant acted in particular circumstances as grasses that they are nothing other than police grasses, at all times and in all circumstances: that because they act in the interest of the state they are nothing more than a branch of the state. It does not take much subtlety of dialectical thought to see such conclusions which reduce everything to simple identities as being crass nonsense that explain nothing; and little better than the paranoid conspiracy theories that can only see wars in terms of the evil designs of the international protocols of "capital" hidden somewhere in the recesses of the CIA and the KGB (the latter of which has now, no doubt, faked its own disintegration after inspiring the break up of the USSR!).
On the contrary, we do not simply identify Militant with the state and dismiss them as nothing more than police informers - nor do we simply identify rank and file members of Militant with its leadership. For us Militant will act as grasses in particular concrete circumstances due to their political position and perspective. Because they seek to represent the working class as it is, or more precisely what they see the working class as being - respectable "law abiding" working class families - through the remnants of the traditional Labour Movement, they had little option in the aftermath of the poll tax riots but to present themselves as reputable upholders of law and order and the "peaceful and democratic traditions" of the Labour Movement. Even if it meant that they had to set up a witch-hunt on the same lines as Kinnock uses against them, it was necessary for them, in the face of a hostile media, to present both themselves and the ABAPTF as a respectable and democratic working class movement. It was for these reasons, and in such circumstances, that Militant came to threaten to "name names".
Furthermore, we must remember that in the face of the overwhelming outrage at the behaviour of Steve Nally and Co., not only from the rest of the anti-poll tax movement but also from Militant's own rank and file (some of whom had been involved in the fighting at Trafalgar Square), the leadership of Militant were forced into an embarrassing climb down in which they pleaded that they had been "quoted out of context"! The proposed "internal inquiry" never happened and the ABAPTF never came to publish any names of supposed trouble makers or "agents provocateurs".
Whether we like or not, many working class people are members of Militant because they see it as a well organised and effective organisation. While we may deplore their slavish support for the Party line we cannot totally dismiss them, and some are far more committed to the ideas of the party than others. The individual Millie member of Resist is to say the least a little politically naive. He joined Militant not so much because he accepted the ideas but because for him they were the political group that seemed to be doing the most. At the same time, through his practical involvement in the Resist group he has demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the unconditional defence of all poll tax prisoners. Of course there is a latent contradiction between his involvement in Resist and his membership of Militant but it is a contradiction that, in present circumstances, is not realised and has no practical consequences. If it was to become realised then "our Millie" would have to make his choice to resolve or we would have to make it for him; but this is not the case.
As we see it, the Government's tactical retreat over the issue of the poll tax has meant that the anti-poll tax movement has gone into decline. This is clearly the case in Brighton, where once there were more than a dozen local anti-poll tax unions now there are none that are active. The SPTRSF now no longer seeks to be the alternative focus of the Brighton anti-poll tax movement but is solely conceded with the important, but low level tasks of providing practical and moral aid to the remaining poll tax prisoners. In such circumstances our relation to the Sussex Federation can only be one of mutual indifference. As a consequence, there now seems little point in making grand gestures to the rest of the anti-poll tax movement by expelling Millies and breaking off relations with the official anti-poll tax movement; such actions belong in the past.
Furthermore, the idea that we have a spy in our midst is simply ludicrous since there is nothing to spy on. Even if we were doing anything of interest to the police such matters as these would have never been conducted in the semi-open meetings in the pub!
One final point concerns your dogmatic insistence on using anti-democratic methods even in the completely inappropriate context of the Resist group. An insistence that amounts almost to the point where we are expected to launch an anti-democratic coup against ourselves! We are well aware of the realities of democratic ideology, indeed the democratic manipulations of Militant within the Sussex Federation were a practical example of its power. However, unless we are to condemn ourselves forever to a principled isolation we have to work with others of differing views and politics, as you concede when you acknowledge our need to work with members of the Labour Party. But for this we have to grasp the kernel of truth of democracy; namely necessity for a minimum level of trust and openness between groups of divergent interests and perspectives. Without this, political co-operation becomes impossible. The simplistic idea that we should use anti-democratic methods almost on principle, regardless of their implications or context seems to us as little more than ridiculous. Indeed it reveals that your position on democracy and anti-democracy has not really been worked out; it is another example of adopting the easy way of dogmatism.
REPLY TO SUSSEX POLL TAX RESISTERS
Once again, it was only to be expected that a single issue campaign limiting itself to nothing more than destroying the prison system, based on a broad alliance of different classes, should fail to understand the role of the left as a fully integrated arm of inter-national capital, thus leading the proletariat off its own autonomous terrain and into the arms of the police.
On the other hand, we have to accept much of what you say in your letter. We did take a dogmatic stance. Involvement in the class struggle inevitably involves working alongside members of reactionary organisations. The question is how and to what extent. You go a long way in your letter towards answering this question, using the example of your own experiences ducking and diving the manoeuvres of the Millies. The question is one of tactics, and you rightly point out that even Militant is not simply a branch of the state, neither are its members police. Most of them would fail the IQ test.
We would like to correct one factual point. The Resisters group did not support the Keep off the Grass leaflet. True, the most radical elements in the Resisters helped write it, distribute it, and defend its illiberal approach to supporting class war prisoners in our many friendly discussions with the comrades of the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign. But because you could not be sure of the support of some of the Resisters, Class War supporters and the like, you wouldn't even let us use the Resisters address on the leaflet. (Keep off the Grass is available from our address). You have had to make a lot of concessions in order to keep the Resisters group going. The practical consequences included producing newsletters in which a class viewpoint was smothered by being surrounded by liberal rubbish. It is not dogmatic principles, but practical experience, which leads us to advocate that the more revolutionary bods should be prepared to undemocratically outman-oeuvre the less. We can't see why the need for trust and openness between divergent groups is "the kernel of truth of democracy". Democracy is opposed to trust and openness - it provides a framework for groups to lie to and conspire against each other while presenting a public front of unity.
But having said all this, we reiterate that we accept the gist of your reply. There is a lot to be learned about tactics in the class struggle from your analysis of what we did in the anti-poll tax campaign.
Just one more thing. We defend our penchant for conspiracy theories. We are not sure about the KGB in Russia, but we know that the Securitate in Romania faked its own disintegration. It is not enough to simply describe our position as "paranoid". We hope to hear from you soon.
LETTER FROM A COMRADE WHO WORKS IN THE HEALTH SERVICE IN LONDON
When reading your article on drugs and moral panics in W15 I couldn't help thinking about the similarity between the crack scare and the earlier panic over heroin, typified by the DHSS anti-heroin campaign started in 1985. This was the one with the laughable "Heroin Screws You Up" posters. This slogan was not an accurate description of reality.
For a start they made no mention of the fact that most of the severe problems associated with heroin are a result of it being taken by injection rather than from the effects of the drug itself. In fact they made no attempt to differentiate between relatively safe and unsafe use at all. This was not the result of ignorance. Their own reports on the matter were cynical in the extreme. A preliminary study done by the advertising company Andrew Irving Associates identified a growing tendency for heroin to be used "irregularly and episodically" by people who smoked or snorted it and were "apparently able to control their habit". This development -
"creates new and serious problems for for any attempt to contain misuse because it provides non-users with a series of arguments that undercut established resistances: heroin is not instantly addictive, not dangerous, a good "buzz", controllable."
Their Research Summary Report stresses the same theme -
"Those exposed to positive word of mouth about heroin and the example of "successful" users remain a difficult audience to reach because they could correctly argue that most of the negative consequences of heroin misuse were not inevitable."
In other words: it's difficult to tell lies to people who know the truth!
So the authors recommend an approach "showing the beginnings of a downhill slide. In this context it would be possible to allude to the more serious physical effects without being too specific"
This reluctance to go into specifics is to allow those less knowledgable about heroin "to project their own genuinely believed misconceptions". What can you say? It has to be said that the campaign didn't actually use blatant lies. Indeed its "power" came from taking out of proportion and context and investing with symbolic resonance a genuine phenomenon: opiate addiction (yes, it does happen!). But, as the initiators of the campaign freely admitted (to themselves, anyway), the aim of the campaign was not to "educate" young people liable to actually take heroin but to encourage the ignorant prejudices of those who know nothing about it. This was blatant law 'n' order propaganda thinly disguised as health education.
Yours in Solidarity, George
LETTER FROM COLLIDE-0-SCOPE
I'm writing in response to your latest issue (15) with the long and important discussion of the Russian Counter Revolution. It is remarkable that after so much time and analysis we are still trying to understand what happened in Russia in 1917. Your articles "The Hunt for Red October" and "Remember Kronstadt" for the most part advance the attempt at clarification and are well worth reading. I would like to argue, however, that in one central respect your analysis is still confused and this in an area of specific interest to you, the question of "democracy" in the revolutionary movement. That the question has particular importance for you is clear from the statement you make on p 9: "One of our long-term aims is an international journal of anti-democratic communism".
Part of the confusion evident in your articles stems from your failure to define what you mean by "democracy". From the contexts in which you use the word it seems to mean a formalized process of decision-making based on voting according to rules to which all adhere. But this conception of democracy looks only at forms, not at content. True democracy, democracy of content, needn't be institutionalized in formal voting bodies to exist. In a revolutionary situation especially rules are broken and new rules are made to he broken anew. True, the Bolsheviks seized the state without waiting for a vote. But they would not have been able to seize the state without a majority of the working class behind them in the critical locations - garrisons, naval vessels, streets, factories, railroad stations, communication centers, etc. The Bolsheviks acted when they did because they believed that the majority support was there, that is, the people had "voted", although informally.
If majority backing had been lacking, the insurrection would have failed. That the Bolsheviks themselves were "undemocratic" is true (how you can call such a critique "the most dangerous of all errors made by non-Leninist tendencies" [p 17] is a mystery to me). Nevertheless they knew that their pursuit of power relied on the support of a majority of the working class. As you show, they held their hand until they were confident they could control this support for their own purposes. They struck when the moment was ripe; had they waited, they feared, the fickle masses might have switched allegiance to other parties. The point is that despite their undemocratic mentality, the Bolsheviks depended on the will of the majority for their power. Democracy is the expression of this will, whether in votes or in revolutionary action. Revolution is the most forceful and direct form of democracy.
The Bolshevik Counter Revolution began when they preserved elements of the pre-existing state apparatus and added to them the Soviet components they controlled. Was this activity undemocratic? No, it was democratic. In the areas under Bolshevik/working class control all but a very few, the anarchists, were convinced that a state was necessary. (As they had pointed out for years, all states are counter-revolutionary.) But the Marxist parties and the workers they influenced and drew their power from still were controlled by the fetish of the state. In a formal sense the state the Bolsheviks constructed was undemocratic, in that decisions were made by the Central Committee of the party or the Polit Bureau or by Lenin alone. But in a more profound sense the early Soviet State was democratic, in that the vast majority of the working class believed they needed to have a state that placed their interests first. They believed the Bolshevik state to fit the bill. Of course, when the Bolsheviks tried to impose their machine over the vast stretches of rural Russia and the surrounding areas, the great bulk of the population the peasants, were not interested. As the Makhnovists in Ukraine and the Greens in Tambov and Siberia showed they didn't want any state controlling their lives.
Clearly you recognize the counter-revolutionary nature of the state, as you call for "anti-state communism" on p 22. The creation of stateless communism cannot be the action of a minority any more than the seizure and destruction of the pre-existing state can. All of these acts require the will and action of the majority. As long as the fetish of the state persists as the dominant social ideology (shared by the bourgeoisie, the Marxist "revolutionaries", and the mass of the working class), revolutionary activity will be channelled into counter revolution.
Your critique of the Bolsheviks as counter- revolutionaries who established a new capitalist state and dictatorially controlled the working class once in power shows clearly that you would not consider yourselves Leninists. but your call for "anti- democratic communism" can only serve to confuse the people you reach with your ideas, since you contuse formal democracy with democratic content. Formal democracy (a.k.a. "bourgeois democracy") is a cover for state-imposed political oppression of the working class by the capitalist class, even when it is copied by workers in their own organizations. This is your point, as best I can make it out. But democracy as the expression of the will of the majority (the working class in most countries, perhaps all, as the peasantry is really integrated into global capital just about everywhere today) is the only potentially revolutionary force that exists. To be "anti-democratic" with respect to formal democracy is correct, but to be anti-democratic in the sense that you assert the right and intention to impose your minority will on the majority is counter revolutionary. That is exactly what the Bolsheviks, other Leninists and indeed all capitalist classes have done.
But I don't believe you can mean to assert this intention, hence my conclusion that you are confused. Your evaluation of the Kronstadt soviet is revealing in this respect, I would like to think. On p. 24 you say "The debates at Kronstadt were real debates, in which the deputies, even to some extent the Bolshevik ones, decided the issues on their merits, rather than on the basis of the party line." Exactly; this is democracy of content. There is no substitute for making the case for communism on its merits. Perhaps that is not very glamorous or hopeful work at times, but that's the task. I'm afraid your call for "anti-democratic communism" sounds like a call for "undemocratic communism", the Leninist variety, which you know is just another name for capitalism. If you don't mean to give this impression, you've got to make "the case" more clearly.
REPLY TO COLLIDE-O-SCOPE
"The great issues of the day are not decided by fine speeches and majority verdicts, but by iron and blood." Bismarck.
This is a reply to your letter of 19 November. You are right to say we didn't explain what we mean by democracy. Since Wildcat 11, we have not really tackled the issue head-on. We welcome this opportunity to do so.
We didn't intend to give the impression that we regard democracy as a formalized decision-making process. We are against the content of democracy rather than majority voting. Democracy means more than this. It means the dictatorship of individual citizens over the class struggle activists, who are always a minority. Workers' democracy means taking orders from that section of the citizenry who happen to be sociologically working class, rather than from those who actually defend proletarian interests. There is no middle way. Either you are a democrat, in which case you respect the views of the majority, even if you know they are dangerously wrong, or you are for the class struggle, regardless of how many people support it.
You say that the Bolshevik counter revolution in Russia was democratic, yet don't see this as a condemnation of democracy. You try to have it both ways when you say that the Bolshevik Party had "a majority of the working class behind them in the critical locations - garrisons, naval vessels, streets, factories, railroad stations, communication centres, etc.". Well, which is it? The majority of the working class, or the parts of it that occupied the critical locations? It was when the Party was able to mobilize supporters in the key strategic points that it took power. It did not have a majority of the workers in Russia, who remained passive throughout, nor did it need one. Using the term "majority" to describe its supporters is meaningless.
Some have rejected our arguments on the grounds that we are being "elitist". If you think that advocating clear minority leadership by example is dangerous, we can only say that relying on majority votes to make decisions at any stage in the revolutionary process is guaranteed to lead to disaster, because the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. Since we know that revolution is possible, and that it cannot be democratic, we can only conclude that it will be undemocratic, and no number of dire warnings about the dangers of dictatorship will change our minds. You say there is no substitute for making the case for communism on its merits, in other words trying to win the battle of ideas. Fortunately, there is - action. You say that revolution is the most forceful and direct form of democracy. We agree it takes a lot of people to make a revolution, but why a majority? A majority of what?
We are against any state, not for the moralistic reasons put forward by anarchists, but because it cannot be used for our purposes. We are however for taking dictatorial measures. When insurgents in Iraq recently stormed a prison in which Baathist pigs were being held by the Kurdish nationalists and killed them, they did not take a vote on it in the workers councils first. After all, people might vote the wrong way. We are not going to kid people that we are democratic when we support defying the majority whenever necessary.
We hope you will discuss this issue with other comrades in the Bay Area, and let us know when our views are supported by the majority.
Hands Off Columbus!
A parody article by Wildcat (UK), satirising a mechanical Marxist materialist conception of history.
The events commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America have led to a predictable outcry from numerous leftist and Indian pressure groups, who point to the disappropriation suffered by their ancestors. It has become fashionable to decry Columbus and the other European adventurers. Horrific though some of the conquistadors' activities may seem, as Marxists we have to look at historical events objectively, not merely in terms of their immediate effects.
Whereas anarchists only see events through the distorting lens of eternal moral principles, Marxists defend a scientific materialist view of history. Though racial holocausts may be a symptom that capitalism is no longer progressive, in its infancy they were signs of robust health. Judged by this historical method, Columbus and his successors "played a most revolutionary part" (Marx) in liberating the productive forces of an entire continent from the archaic relations of hunting and gathering societies. Against the bleeding-heart moralists of his day, Engels summarized the Marxist view on these tribes of backward savages in the following passage from The Origins : "People were therefore almost completely dominated by nature as an external, alien, hostile and incomprehensible power, as is reflected in their childlike religious conceptions".
The European explorers freed the Native Americans from this domination, and more importantly, enabled the development of America's immense reserve of natural wealth. Though this process was achieved at great cost in human lives, this was the inevitable price that had to be paid. The development of America, and the vital boost it gave to man's mastery of nature, laid the material foundations for communism. Without this capitalist revolution, mankind would still be in the thrall of nature.
Shorts: MI5 / Yugoslavia / Max Anger's song
Three short articles from Wildcat (UK) #16.
FIVE GO JOB-HUNTING
In recent months, there has been a well-publicized tiff within the British law enforcement community. The buggers of MI5 (part of the military) are short of work following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and are trying to muscle in on police work such as chasing the IRA. MI5 justify their increased involvement in Irish affairs by the fact that the Special Branch (part of the police) are obviously too stupid to beat the IRA. This in turn means that the Branch have to justify their employment by finding other supposed threats to chase. We recently discovered definite evidence of interference with our mail. We suggest that correspondents try to use false names and addresses, and use box numbers or apartment blocks which receive their mail in a common collection box.
COMMENTS ON YUGOSLAVIA
As we go to press, the situation in Yugoslavia is suddenly making headlines, though nothing much has changed in the last year. It appears that the world ruling class are preparing for war, but in spite of the media barrage of manufactured atrocity stories directed against Serbia, calls for full-scale military intervention are being frustrated by diagreements among the more powerful capitalist gangs. In spite of the historic importance of Britain's recognition of Croatia, which was the first time German interests have dictated British foreign policy, the EC is still a long way from a unified 4th Reich. Differences among its members are at least as important as differences between them and the US. So the Balkan war has not turned into a struggle between the US and the EC. The New World Order is holding, in fact the Yugoslav crisis is part of it. Whatever their differences, all the capitalist factions involved have an interest in the war: the millions of refugees are useful to capitalism, because they can be used to keep wages down. War keeps the working class desperate, divided and easily exploited, both in the immediate war zone and in neighboring countries. This must be the starting point of a communist intervention against any new UN crusade. We are unable to be more specific at the present time.
MAX ANGER'S SONG
Come hither, comrades, with your six-packs of ale,
To sneer at our rulers and see how they fail;
On the lives of the rich pile a mountain of grief,
For its cuttin'`em
and guttin' `em
that bring us relief!
So fill up a glass,
For their ways shall soon pass;
When they're dead we'll remember their stink
and their gas!
John Kennedy's brains were red, so they say;
But what's their spilt blood when we're happy and gay?
I'd rather help slaughter the rich while I'm here,
Than be passive, hard-working - and dead half a year!
So comrades, let's kiss,
On their graves we shall piss;
In hell there's no bosses or time-clock like this!
Bill Graham, barbecued on electrical cables,
Is now in a bag on the autopsy table,
So fill up your glasses, drink, laugh all around
Better them dead in boxes than us under the ground!
Remember the past
And that crime is a blast,
Give 'em six feet of dirt - they're not likely to last!
In nights filled with riot and burning and shooting,
This city's been conquered by arson and looting!
Social unrest is sweeping the nation,
There's a pig-roast down at the old police station
So let's give a hand
To a mutinous band,
`Cause I'm merry
While I tarry
On top of The Man!
Wildcat UK #17 Spring 1994
Issue 17 of Wildcat (UK). We do not agree with all of its contents (for example the views on journalists in the article on Somalia and the anti-civilisation positions) but present it for reference.