Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan (Series 10: The Russian Revolution)

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Aug 31 2021 01:58
Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan (Series 10: The Russian Revolution)

Is anyone else listening to this? If so, here's a thread where we can discuss it. If not it's been a great series so far so if you're looking for a podcast, I recommend it.

https://podbay.fm/p/revolutions

I recently finished episode 10.65, the latest is 10.66, but if you're behind that's ok, I'm interested in people's thoughts on any episode. So just feel free to post on whatever episode you want in any order.

Even though it's episode 66 we're only in April 1917. So it's a deep dive!

Edit: To clarify, he starts with Russian history back as far as the 9th century (if I recall correctly), going over that history quickly and then starts slowing down and getting more detailed by about the 18th century, so it's not like it's been 60+ episodes on the February revolution. That starts with episode 10.62.

I have no idea what Mike Duncan's politics are but so far he seems unbiased in his presentation of history (to the extent such thing is even possible); he tends to give the perspective of different actors in each event, without taking sides. I might feel differently once we start getting into October and beyond, though. We'll see if I sour on him or not but for now I'm loving it.

Mike Duncan also has done a podcast series on various other revolutions, which I'm interested in listening to in the future, perhaps sooner than later.

1. English Revolution
2. American Revolution
3. French Revolution
4. Haitian Revolution
5. Spanish American wars of independence
6. July Revolution
7. Revolutions of 1848
8. Paris Commune
9. Mexican Revolution

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Aug 31 2021 03:02

I was intrigued by this. But I'm a bit intimidated by the number of episodes! I am currently listening to season 9 on the Mexican Revolution, as I didn't know that much about it.
In general, I enjoy it, and think Mike is a good host, and appreciate his perspective. But in general his telling is quite top-down, recounting the positions and actions of the few "great men", although he does mention bits and pieces about wider groups, like organised workers, Indigenous peoples etc.
Not sure of his exact perspective, but I had heard that his research about the Haitian Revolution radicalised him to the left to an extent, and he certainly has an appreciation and some level of sympathy for socialism/anarchism and social revolution. Although recently he did say that he was not a "Marxist" as such.
I would be very intrigued to learn more about his position on the Russian revolution. He doesn't seem generally someone to be a fan of dictatorships, so I wouldn't anticipate uncritical Leninism, but accounts of the Russian revolution from further left are still pretty obscure, so I would be curious to hear what his general narrative is, particularly from 1918 onwards, with the erosion of the social revolution, Kronstadt etc.

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Aug 31 2021 03:42

Nice! I'm looking forward to listening to the Mexican Revolution series since I know very little about it even though my great-grandfather fought in it (and killed two of his commanding officers, btw! -- had to run away both times afterwards to escape punishment). I'm conflicted over whether to listen to that one first, or just start from series 1 and work my way through.

If you're intimidated by the number of episodes in series 10 you could start on episode 10.62, which is the International Women's Day event that kicked off the February revolution. But you'll be missing some great stuff.

I'm nervously anticipating what he has to say about Kronstadt, the Red Army vs. the Makhnovists, the degeneration of soviet democracy, etc. Could be disappointing but I'm hopeful.

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Aug 31 2021 20:34

Steven, it is a lot of episodes but I found it such easy and compelling listening that it flew by. I’m right up to date and get real excited when a new episode drops and real disappointed when it’s over and I’ve another week to wait before I hear another one. I would definitely start from the beginning.

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Aug 31 2021 20:57

I listened to a few of the episodes on the English Revolution as I was trying to get my head around that. It was pretty great as far as I could remember. Maybe a bit more detailed than I needed, lol.

It is “straight” rather than “radical” history I think, despite covering radical events? He wasn’t scared of dissing the royal family in the ones I heard though.

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Sep 1 2021 09:55
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Is anyone else listening to this?

Listened to a series a few years back, thought it was good. Should try to get through all the others..

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Sep 25 2021 16:37

It's a pretty good series, though I was also put off by the sheer volume of episodes at times, I found it easier to listen to it from series to series with breaks in between and while reading some bits and pieces on the same conflicts to help keep up with it.

I agree with Steven that it was originally focussed on a few key personalities, with some digression on mass movements, but as it's gone on it's included a lot more of the latter. I've been waiting for other a year for the Russian revolution series to be finished before I listen to it which gives some idea at how big the work is going to be. I've seen a few people cite the episodes on Bakunin and Anarchism that he did as preparation and rate them really highly.

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Oct 14 2021 09:07

For dozens of episodes anarchists got no mention. My partner, who listens to this podcast with me, has worried that Mike Duncan would be leaving anarchists out of the story. But in the introductory episodes, Mike explicitly said that anarchists have a big part in the revolution, which is why he spends a few of these intro episodes discussing anarchist theory and history. But those episodes were nearly a year and a half ago, maybe his views and plans for the podcast had changed.

I'm happy to report that anarchists have returned to the story, making a reappearance in episode 69.

Nice.

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Oct 14 2021 09:08

I sent this email to Mike Duncan... not sure if he'll have time to answer but maybe someone here can provide some answers.

=============================

Hi there! I'm confused about something and I hope you can help.

In the intro episodes to the Russia series you talk about how Marx's concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat was highly democratic and that he saw the Paris Commune as a living example of this. But then in the Paris Commune series, you talk about how the democratic structure of the Commune was pushed aside by the Committee of Public Safety, a small revolutionary dictatorship.

If Marx saw the Paris Commune as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, does he include the Committee of Public Safety in that? Because if so that contradicts a democratic concept of a proletarian dictatorship.

I tried to answer this question by reading Marx's text "The Civil War in France." I wanted to see what he says about the Committee of Public Safety, if he denounces it as a deviation or speaks of it approvingly. The answer is neither. He doesn't mention it at all!

Was Marx just not aware that the Committee of Public Safety existed in the Paris Commune? Perhaps that information was not yet widely available? Because otherwise it seems very strange not to mention it.

I only recently listened to the Paris Commune series, and now I'm confused and uncertain about whether Marx's vision of the dictatorship of the proletariat is really as democratic as you described in the early episodes of the Russian revolution series. I'm hoping you can offer some clarity on this.

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Oct 14 2021 09:20

I didn't mention this in the email but I'm also confused by Bakunin's opinion on all this. After reading Civil War in France I read Bakunin's essay "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State" to better understand his take on things and he also doesn't mention the Committee of Public Safety. And he also makes what seem to me to be contradictory statements.

He says that the Paris Commune "formulated negation of the State", which I take to mean he thinks it was not a state

Quote:
I am a supporter of the Paris Commune... above all, because it was a bold, clearly formulated negation of the State.

But then later he says

Quote:
They had to set up a revolutionary government and army against the government and army of Versailles; in order to fight the monarchist and clerical reaction they were compelled to organize themselves in a Jacobin manner, forgetting or sacrificing the first conditions of revolutionary socialism.

(Perhaps this comment is in reference to the Committee of Public Safety, but he never mentions it by name, so who knows.)

Organizing in a Jacobin manner suggests centralization of authority. Also, for Bakunin, using the term government is basically the same as using the term state, as he seems to conflate them as one and the same, unlike some anarchists who make a distinction.

So like... which is it, Bakunin? Is the Paris Commune a negation of the State? Or is it a government organized in a Jacobin manner?

Dyjbas
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Oct 14 2021 20:59

For what it's worth, here's what Hal Draper says about Marx and the Committee of Public Safety:

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It is clear that, in Marx’s eyes, the Commune took no “dictatorial” measures – if the present-day meaning of the word is used. Indeed, there had been a proposal inside the Commune to do just that, as the military situation grew more and more precarious before the military power of the Versailles government. The Blanquist-Jacobin majority of the Commune proposed to set up a dictatorial body to be called (shades of Robespierre) a Committee of Public Safety, with special arbitrary powers. The debate over “dictatorship” (this is how it was put) was acrimonious; when the proposal was adopted, the Minority walked out of the Commune. This split would have attracted more attention from historians than it has if the final Versaillese assault on the city had not commenced at virtually the moment of the split, making it academic as all pitched in to the military defense. But in hindsight it is important to note that the antidictatorial Minority represented most of the International people as well as the Proudhonists, and in particular it included all the figures who had any special connection with Marx or showed any tendency to look to his ideas (for example, Serraillier, who was practically Marx’s personal representative; Frankel, Longuet, Varlin).

And here's what Marx said in his addendum to Lissagaray's History of the Paris Commune of 1871, which suggests he didn't fully identify himself with either faction:

Quote:
While all the bourgeois and monarchist parties silenced their hostilities to confront insurgent Paris, in the Council of Paris there were people who formed a minority in the midst of the struggle. And this minority included, with about ten exceptions, the most intelligent and educated members of the Council of the Commune. How is this strange situation to be explained? How did it happen that precisely these men exercised no influence on their colleagues? They lacked more than anything political insight.The Council of the Commune had the general illusion that it would endure, so much so that it stipulated a deadline of seven months to redeem the objects from the pawnshops, and that it postponed the repayment of the signed debts for three years. Many of the minority went on with this error, they did not want to admit that this Commune was a barricade, but wanted it to be a real Commune. This was the general error, the superstitious belief in their governmental longevity. Some resisted the principle of authority to the point of committing suicide, they were not ready to make any allowances for the necessities of the struggle even for the sake of victory and said: ‘We stood for liberty under the Empire; now that we are in power, we will not deny it.’ Even in exile they have claimed that the Commune was ruined due to its authoritarian tendencies. Beside these there were other, more positive minds, who only intended to protest against the lack of method, determination, and seriousness of the majority. But they did nothing to win over their colleagues, and seemed to wait for all the world to come to them, as Tridon had done.

Regarding Bakunin, here's Engels criticising the hypocrisy of his followers for themselves joining a Committee of Public Safety during the 1873 Alcoy revolt:

Quote:
From these we learn that a "Committee of Public Safety", that is, a revolutionary government, was then set up in Alcoy. To be sure that their Congress at Saint-Imier (Switzerland), on September 15 1872, the members of the Alliance [of Socialist Democracy] decided that

"any organisation of political, so-called provisional or revolutionary authority, can be nothing but a new fraud and would be just as dangerous for the proletariat as any of the now existing governments". ["Les deux Congres de Saint-lmier", Bulletin de la Federación jurassienne..., No. 17-18, September 15-October 1, 1872, p. 13.]

The members of the Spanish Federal Commission, meeting at Alcoy, had moreover done everything they could to get this resolution adopted also by the Congress of the Spanish Section of the International. And yet we find that Severino Albarracin, a member of this Commission, and, according to some reports, also Francisco Tomas, its secretary, were members of this provisional and revolutionary government, the Committee of Public Safety, of Alcoy!

And what did this Committee of Public Safety do? What measures did it adopt to bring about "the immediate and complete emancipation of the workers"? It forbade any man to leave the city, although women were allowed to do so, provided they ... had a pass! The enemies of all authority re-introducing a pass! Everything else was utter confusion, inactivity and helplessness.

Meanwhile, General Velarde was coming up from Alicante with troops. The government had every reason for wishing to deal with the local insurrections in the provinces quietly. And the "masters of the situation" in Alcoy had every reason for wanting to extricate themselves from a situation which they did not know how to handle. Accordingly, Deputy Cervera, who acted as a go-between, had an easy task. The Committee of Public Safety resigned, and on July 12 the troops entered the town without meeting any resistance, the only promise made to the Committee of Public Safety for this being ... a general amnesty. The Alliance "masters of the situation" had once again extricated themselves from a tight spot. And there the Alcoy adventure ended.

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Oct 15 2021 04:44

Thanks for the quotes. In Marx's quote from History of the Paris Commune of 1871 he says that "Some resisted the principle of authority to the point of committing suicide", but I'm not sure if he's referring to their opposition to the Committee of Public Safety or something else that they considered authoritarian. The quote itself doesn't make it clear, though perhaps he clarifies elsewhere in that text.

From what Mike Duncan said in the podcast, the Committee of Public Safety never had full control. Its power was largely aspirational. Maybe that's why Marx didn't discuss it in The Civil War in France.

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Oct 15 2021 14:36
Quote:
Minority represented most of the International people as well as the Proudhonists, and in particular it included all the figures who had any special connection with Marx or showed any tendency to look to his ideas (for example, Serraillier, who was practically Marx’s personal representative; Frankel, Longuet, Varlin)

Eugene Varlin came out of the mutualist labour movement and became an early advocate of syndicalism before being tortured and shot to death in 1871, I would be very interested to know what inspiration he took from Marx since I've never encountered it in any biography or in the ideas he promoted. And Charles Longuet didn't meet and become close to Karl Marx until after the defeat of the Paris Commune when he fled to London as a refugee, the only way he could be considered a follower of Marx before that is because as the Belgian secretary of the IWMA he republished some of Marx's documents, but by that evidence he was also a follower of Mazzini, and the London Trades Council.

And Leo Frankel, close ties to Lassalles followers aside, during the state of siege he explicitly took the opposite view of Marx who was advocating against a worker's insurrection, while Frankel was one of the most vocal advocates for it.

Draper really can't help himself.

Dyjbas wrote:
Regarding Bakunin, here's Engels criticising the hypocrisy of his followers for themselves joining a Committee of Public Safety during the 1873 Alcoy revolt:

Kinda pointless, since Engels can only point to two individuals, Albacarin and Tomas, and he isn't even certain of Tomas, working with this body.
Tomas actually publicly denied that the Cantonal revolt had any connection with the uprising of workers in Alcoy.
Also having read about the First spanish republic that whole pamphlet is full of errors and inaccuracies, and just ridiculous wishes and strategies, Engels sort of admits that when he discloses that most of his sources are bourgeois newspapers reporting afterwards. Which is a very series problem because most of them were actively making up atrocities and other distortions.

For example in Spanish the body Albacarin joined translates to Committee for Public Health, and when Engels keeps rattling off against "The Alliance" he's showing how out of date his knowledge of Spain was. The organisation that Engels accuses of being full of "Bakuninists" was the Spanish Regional Federation of the International Workingmen's Association or FRE-AIT. He couldn't even get the names right.

Dyjbas
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Oct 15 2021 15:02

Marx corresponded with Frankel and Varlin during the Commune (which I guess counts as a "special connection" and/or "looking to his ideas").

Maybe you're right Engels (or one of the translators) got the names of organisations a bit wrong (I'm not going to look into the German original now) but seems to me whether "Comité de Salud Pública" becomes "Committee of Public Safety" or "Committee for Public Health" is a moot point, and whether "Federación Regional Española" becomes "Spanish Federal Commission" or "Spanish Regional Federation" is not such a big deal.

Engels does however say "Alcoy was therefore chosen as the seat of the Bakuninist Federal Commission for Spain, [8] and it is the work of this Federal Commission that we are going to see here." And the footnote says "By decision of the congress of Spanish anarchists in Cordova (see Note 220) of December 30, 1872, the Spanish Federal Council was replaced by a Federal Commission with limited powers" which maybe explains some of the confusion.

Regarding the use of bourgeois sources, Engels stresses that:

Quote:
Needless to say, all the horror stories carried by the bourgeois papers about factories senselessly burnt down, numerous gendarmes shot down, and of people having petrol poured over them and set on fire, are pure inventions.

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Oct 16 2021 13:44

An article critical of Engel’s views. It explores complexities Engels ignored, including the relation between the political groupings, anarchist and republicans alike, and their relationship to the insurgent worker base, including thousands of mutinous “State sailors” conscripted into service. It links events in Spain to Atlantic revolts in its colonies; http://libcom.org/history/revolution-republics-iwma-spanish-empire-jeann...