The Underground Anarchists and the 1919 bombing of the Bolshevik Moscow HQ

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Awesome Dude
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Sep 18 2009 12:36

The ICC seems to be obsessed with the idea of terrorism within the 'class'. By what measure does the ICC use to define unacceptable violence, "terrorism" as you put it, within the class? Do workers defending themselves, 'violently', against police violence on pickets count as terrorism? Workers on strike using physical force to stop strike breakers crossing a picket? The systematic violence of Bolshevik, who according to you are 'legitimate' representatives of the class by sole virtue of being 'elected' by workers within their councils, appointed heavies? The random violence of 'unaccountable' Anarchists'? Just what pray tell?

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Sep 18 2009 14:11

Jack isn't doing too badly as a spokesperson for the ICC, but he's not got all the nuances. In some circumstances, for example, workers will indeed have to use force to prevent strikebreakers entering a workplace, not least because the latter are often used by bosses or state to physically attack pickets etc.

Boris Badenov
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Sep 19 2009 13:39

this "terrorism" is not a method of the working class line is honestly the worst kind of liberal bollocks (which is ironically what a lot of ICCers impute on anarchists most of the time). There was nothing random about this attack. If the state acts to forcibly destroy class unity by framing, imprisoning, and murdering workers, then a concentrated attack on the Party's main oligarchs and ideologues, insofar as it is possible to carry it out, is an act of perfect clarity and logic.

Demogorgon303 wrote:

The debate about the use of terrorism had created a schism in the anarchist movement long before the Revolution. And many anarchists, who were just as implacable in their resistance to the Bolshevik regime, condemned the bombings against the Bolsheviks as a return to the atavistic nonsense of the past.

Do you have a reliable source for this? I can see why Russian anarchists did not want to return to the atavistic crap of their nihilist days, but this attack was most certainly not a pointless act meant only to shock bourgeois sensibilities.

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The anarcho-syndicalists were particularly vociferous in their condemnation, but they were also joined by Kropotkinites as well.

Really? Anarcho-syndicalists were particularly vociferous in condemning this counter-attack even as their comrades were being butchered everywhere the Bolsheviks had jurisdiction? I find it hard to believe. Maybe they expressed doubt as regards to the method, but I don't think they shed any tears for Bukharin and his band of reactionary mobsters.

Quote:
The syndicalists, in particular, for all their confusions, waged a determined campaign to reactivate the Factory Committees and, to a lesser extent, the Soviets.

syndicalist soviets were already a thing of the past by this point. As I have shown in a previous example, the Bolshevik attacks on any kind of worker organization were brutal and merciless.
The syndicalists may have tried to reactivate libertarian organizations, but obviously this did not yield any result in a climate of extreme counter-revolution. Their decision was thus no more realistic or short-sighted than that of the Underground Anarchists to blow up the Moscow Party HQ.

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So this isn't a communist vs anarchist debate,

It isn't indeed a communist vs. anarchist debate because most of those anarchists were in fact communists, in spite of what Bolshevik propaganda claimed.

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Sep 19 2009 22:30

If the state acts to forcibly destroy class unity by framing, imprisoning, and murdering workers, then a concentrated attack on the Party's main oligarchs and ideologues, insofar as it is possible to carry it out, is an act of perfect clarity and logic.

Let's get this right Vlad: does this apply to any state or just the Bolshevik state? And since states continue to murder and imprison workers and revolutionaries, are you saying that the 'tactic' of self-proclaimed combat groups is equally valid today?

Boris Badenov
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Sep 20 2009 00:18
Alf wrote:
If the state acts to forcibly destroy class unity by framing, imprisoning, and murdering workers, then a concentrated attack on the Party's main oligarchs and ideologues, insofar as it is possible to carry it out, is an act of perfect clarity and logic.

Let's get this right Vlad: does this apply to any state or just the Bolshevik state? And since states continue to murder and imprison workers and revolutionaries, are you saying that the 'tactic' of self-proclaimed combat groups is equally valid today?

Yes, by all means, let's get it straight; we are talking about a specific historical context in which there was a mass revolutionary movement that was being subverted and attacked by the agents of counterrevolution. In this context the attack on the Party leadership was in fact an act of defense (unsuccessful and poorly thought out as it was) not a spectacular stunt. Trying to compare this situation to that of today, especially to the activities of looney sectarian "combat groups" (who exactly do you have in mind?) is pretty dishonest imo; the actions of Russian and Ukrainian anarchists from the early days of the revolution and up until their total suppression by the Bolsheviks, have no contemporary equivalent. However, if the social revolution were to happen tomorrow, then yes I think it would be perfectly justified for workers to defend themselves against the violence of the state.

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Sep 20 2009 06:13

I don't see why it was dishonest to ask for clarification. I don't at all agree that what the anarchists did was an expression of a mass movement - in our view, they were substituting themselves for a movement of self-defence by the class on a real class terrain (such as the Petrograd strikes and the Kronstadt soviet of 1921). Also it is not at all impossible that similar mistakes could be made in today's conditions, even by elements who don't at all begin as loony sectarians. There were examples of genuine combative proletarians being drawn into terrorism in Italy in the early 70s, for example

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Sep 20 2009 09:29
Jack wrote:
blackrainbow wrote:
Do workers defending themselves, 'violently', against police violence on pickets count as terrorism?

Acceptable. Qualified by workers not being able to win the dispute by fending off the police but they need to spread it.

Quote:
Workers on strike using physical force to stop strike breakers crossing a picket?

Unacceptable. Qualified by scabs being workers too and needing to be won over to the strike. Also that the workers shouldn't 'obsess' over the scabs but should seek to spread the dispute elsewhere.

I don't think that we ever condemn workers who defend their picket lines or attack scabs.

What we do do is point out that this is not always the best way to win a dispute, and that sometimes what seem like very radical actions can be a mistaken tactic for strikers to adopt.

If we go back to the print strike at Wapping in the late 80s, there were lots of violent actions enacted against both scabs, the police, and property. The question is not about whether we condemn these sort of actions. We don't.

The question is whether we believe that they diverted workers away from taking the real steps that were needed to win the dispute.

At the time of the Wapping strike, workers were under attack across the entire newspaper industry, and as time has shown, workers on virtually every paper, suffered similar attacks on conditions as those at News International.

In our opinion, the most effective way to struggle would have been to bring out the whole of Fleet Street in a combined strike.

The unions oppossed this arguing that they needed to have other people in work to be able to pay strike pay to the wapping strikers. SOGAT82, the main union in the strike, argued for a publicity campaign seeking public support and a boycott. The NGA, a smaller craft union, was much more militant, organising violent attacks on Murdoch trucks (I actually saw Tony Dubbins the general secretary out on the Comercial Road involved in these things), and hit squads at NI depots.

What neither of them did was to argue for a national strike, and, indeed, even did their best to prevent it. On the night of May 1st 1987, when many pickets had been violently betten by the police, strikers planning to take some of the injured up to Fleet strike to call people out in solidarity, were physically stopped from doing so by Stalinist (old CPGB) SOGAT officials.

For us, and maybe more clearly looking back now, the 'obsession' with physically confronting the police, and attacking NI property, obscured what was the best way to confront attacks across the whole industry. Small groups organising secret attacks on NI depots became the focus of the activity of militant workers, where we would argue that what was needed were open mass meetings to discuss extending the strike.

That is not to say that we condemned these attacks. We didn't. Nor does it mean that we can't see the possibilities of militant minorites developing in the process of these actions who could have pushed for the extension of the strike.

It is merely to say that we shouldn't fetishies confrontation with the police, and that there are certainly times when it can act as a trap for workers, as many people badly beaten down there by riot police when they were dramatically out numbered in pitched battles can attest.

Devrim

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Sep 20 2009 10:34

Devrim wrote:

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For us, and maybe more clearly looking back now, the 'obsession' with physically confronting the police, and attacking NI property, obscured what was the best way to confront attacks across the whole industry. Small groups organising secret attacks on NI depots became the focus of the activity of militant workers, where we would argue that what was needed were open mass meetings to discuss extending the strike.

I'd actually concur with this. Workers on 'Fleet Street' are still paying the consequences for this defeat, including many who would have supported having a go at the printers but now face crap redundancy terms (progressively whittled down over the years) at the hands of a certain thuggish pornographer who likes punching his staff in the stomach.

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Sep 20 2009 11:20
Devrim wrote:
For us, and maybe more clearly looking back now, the 'obsession' with physically confronting the police, and attacking NI property, obscured what was the best way to confront attacks across the whole industry. Small groups organising secret attacks on NI depots became the focus of the activity of militant workers, where we would argue that what was needed were open mass meetings to discuss extending the strike.

This sounds a lot like a false dichotomy to me. I can't see why the two need to be mutually exclusive.

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Sep 20 2009 11:31
Farce wrote:
This sounds a lot like a false dichotomy to me. I can't see why the two need to be mutually exclusive.

But it is not a question of some pick and mix. Various stratergies were advanced for winning the strike. Part of the stratergy argued for by the print unions was not to extend the strike, but to keep everybody else working in order to "be able to pay strike pay" I don't think it is a making a false dichotomy to say that this is the strtergy is the one that is needed to win the strike, and that another stratergy can become a diversion.

Devrim

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Sep 20 2009 11:33

no, but in principle it's possible to pursue a strategy of mass meetings and flying pickets to extend a strike whilst physically disrupting scabbing. likewise bombing members of a counter-revolutionary government isn't mutually exclusive to the methods of mass struggle, although of course it is a symptom of the weakness (crushing) of the latter.

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Sep 20 2009 11:40
Joseph Kay wrote:
no, but in principle it's possible to pursue a strategy of mass meetings and flying pickets to extend a strike whilst physically disrupting scabbing.

In principle yes, but you can also understand how things such as for example the boycott campaign in that strike became a diversion from more militant struggle.

Quote:
likewise bombing members of a counter-revolutionary government isn't mutually exclusive to the methods of mass struggle, although of course it is a symptom of the weakness (crushing) of the latter.

If somebody bombed the UK government today, we wouldn't be cheering it on as some sort of revolutionary tactic. We would be criticising individual terrorism. I don't want to get into the Russia part of this argument really, but I think that most people here would agree with this.

Devrim

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Sep 20 2009 11:50
Devrim wrote:
If somebody bombed the UK government today, we wouldn't be cheering it on as some sort of revolutionary tactic. We would be criticising individual terrorism. I don't want to get into the Russia part of this argument really

right, so you want to abstract from all context and make general didactic statements. of course the whole point was the context of a bloody counter-revolution gathering pace, whether you agree with the action or not comparing it to bombing the UK government today is not very helpful.

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Sep 20 2009 11:53
Joseph Kay wrote:
right , so you want to abstract from all context and make general didactic statements. of course the whole point was the context of a bloody counter-revolution gathering pace, whether you agree with the action or not comparing it to bombing the UK government today is not very helpful.

No, I wanted to comment on what was being said about the ICC and picket line violence, and I am not personally that interested in getting into a long argument about the history of the Russian revolution at the moment. I think that my post shows that.

Devrim

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Sep 20 2009 11:59

ok fair enough.

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Sep 20 2009 16:53
Quote:
Do you have a reliable source for this?

"With the flare-up of terrorism in 1918, the old debate between the syndicalists and the terrorists over the efficacy of violent action was revived. The young syndicalist Maksimov , with a mixture of exasperation and contempt, condemned the Anarchist-Communists for returning to the discredited tactics of assassination and expropriation. Terrorism was a gross distortion of anarchist principles, he argued, dissipating revolutionary energy while doing nothing to eliminate social injustice." - The Russian Anarchists, Paul Avrich.

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I find it hard to believe. Maybe they expressed doubt as regards to the method, but I don't think they shed any tears for Bukharin and his band of reactionary mobsters.

I didn't say anything about shedding tears, now, did I? I said they condemned the return to terror.

Although there was an interesting debate on "state capitalism" within the anarchist movement at the time, with one pamphlet "Paths of Revolution" pointing out that "Lenin and his followers were not necessarily cold-blooded cynics who, with Machievellian cunning, had mapped out a new class structure in advance to satisfy their personal lust for power. Quite possibly, they were motivated by a genuine concern for human suffering. Yet, he added, plaintively even the loftiest intentions must founder when centralised power is introduced." (ibid).

Quote:
syndicalist soviets were already a thing of the past by this point. As I have shown in a previous example, the Bolshevik attacks on any kind of worker organization were brutal and merciless.The syndicalists may have tried to reactivate libertarian organizations, but obviously this did not yield any result in a climate of extreme counter-revolution.

Wrong. The syndicalists were extremely active and as the state cancer grew, "the syndicalist influence" was a big worry for the Bolsheviks, with all sorts of different currents being lumped together in that term, including the left of the Bolshevik party itself. As late as 1920, the Second All-Russian Congress of Food-Industry Workers adopted an anarcho-syndicalist sponsored resolution condemning the Bolshevik regime for its state control.

Quote:
Their decision was thus no more realistic or short-sighted than that of the Underground Anarchists to blow up the Moscow Party HQ.

I think you've rather missed the point. The blowing up of the Moscow Party HQ could not have had any success in any circumstances. The syndicalists (and the left communists, who said it somewhat more clearly in my opinion) were advocating that the working class do again what it had done in 1917 - and condemned the terrorism, just as they condemned it in 1917 and before because it disrupted the efforts of the class to build a mass movement.

The fact that this effort by the syndicalists, left-communists and - more importantly - the mass of the class to build a movement ultimately failed doesn't make it "short-sighted"! Sometimes, even the best tactics can fail - it doesn't suddenly transform idiotic tactics into intelligent ones.

And by the way, can anyone else appreciate the irony of a left-communist having to defend the anarcho-syndicalists??

Boris Badenov
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Sep 21 2009 03:38
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Quote:
Do you have a reliable source for this?

"With the flare-up of terrorism in 1918, the old debate between the syndicalists and the terrorists over the efficacy of violent action was revived. The young syndicalist Maksimov , with a mixture of exasperation and contempt, condemned the Anarchist-Communists for returning to the discredited tactics of assassination and expropriation. Terrorism was a gross distortion of anarchist principles, he argued, dissipating revolutionary energy while doing nothing to eliminate social injustice." - The Russian Anarchists, Paul Avrich.

Thanks, but this doesn't say much about the anarcho-syndicalist reaction to the particular incident we're talking
about. It just says some syndicalists (or actually one syndicalist) was vocally critical of assassinations and expropriations in general. I'm sure the 1919 bombing must have been specifically referred to and discussed in an anarchist paper, to the extent any were still being published after, given its magnitude (unfortunately I haven't been able to find such a source).

Quote:
Quite possibly, they were motivated by a genuine concern for human suffering. Yet, he added, plaintively even the loftiest intentions must founder when centralised power is introduced[/i]." (ibid).

Yes, demanding that workers be "made an example of" for striking peaceably reveals a truly moving concern with human suffering.

Quote:
Wrong. The syndicalists were extremely active and as the state cancer grew, "the syndicalist influence" was a big worry for the Bolsheviks, with all sorts of different currents being lumped together in that term, including the left of the Bolshevik party itself. As late as 1920, the Second All-Russian Congress of Food-Industry Workers adopted an anarcho-syndicalist sponsored resolution condemning the Bolshevik regime for its state control.

You may have a point here; fair enough. In any case, by the time the heinous "terrorist" attack occurred, anarchist organizations were being actively suppressed. Also, the fact that the Bolshies lumped together various left currents as "syndicalist" shows that it's hard to tell how much of the "syndicalist influence" was actually anarcho-syndicalist, and how much was a bogeyman invented by the CEKA.

Quote:

I think you've rather missed the point. The blowing up of the Moscow Party HQ could not have had any success in any circumstances.

I agree, and I have not missed that point. But since some people on this thread have been very busy disparaging this act as proof of anarchist terrorism against a "rightfully elected" government (lol), I think it's important to point out that the attack was born out of desperation, not from infantile spectacular nihilism.
You can argue all you want that it wasn't representative of the class, but the fact is, this attack was one of many failed attempts by workers to fight back against Bolshevik state terror (apparently they hadn't been informed that Lenin was all for "power to the soviets," the poor sods).

Quote:
The syndicalists (and the left communists, who said it somewhat more clearly in my opinion) were advocating that the working class do again what it had done in 1917 - and condemned the terrorism, just as they condemned it in 1917 and before because it disrupted the efforts of the class to build a mass movement.

Again, no one is saying that bombs are substitutes for class unity, but given the historical context, it's obvious that this act was not a deliberate disruption of class organization, but a sign that class organization was becoming increasingly impossible.

Quote:
And by the way, can anyone else appreciate the irony of a left-communist having to defend the anarcho-syndicalists??

I thought irony was reformist?

baboon
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Sep 21 2009 11:15

I too don't want to get into the details of the event in Russia of which I have little knowledge at the moment. But I do think that political positions should be consistent and applicable, ie, there isn't one political position for each event that's ever occured in the world.

What are the lessons for the working class today is the question for me and Joseph's position above echoes his position on the recent French factory "bombings" that I believe underestimates the use the state makes of such "actions" in order to materially confront and subvert the class struggle. From memory he said roughly the same things as above: bombings, while not being particularly effective, can be part of an overall struggle which includes spreading strikes, generalisation of struggles, etc. What this position misses in its "neutrality" is the effective use that the French state made of these "bombings" in order to present this impotent expression at best, as a radical means of action of the working class and the way the rank and file of the unions used it to polish up the damaged credibility of their union structures. I think that this contributed to the further disorientation of the working class in France in the face of unprecedented attacks and as such was not a neutral expression.

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Sep 21 2009 14:47

ok, another example would be an attack by anarchists on pistoleros in (i think) 1924 in barcelona. this was a time where pistolerismo was in full swing and militant workers were being dragged out and shot in the street by the bosses' pistoleros, or the police under the 'ley de fuegas.' so durruti and friends found out the bar were they were headquartered and ambushed a load of them.

this was during a time when durruti was very much into armed substitutionism (bank robberies, assassinations of clergy...) which he later renounced, but i don't really have a problem with that instance. it's not an alternative to mass, class action, but i don't shed a tear for a bunch of assassins hired to murder striking workers.

later, after the failed 1934 revolutionary general strike, the bulk of the CNT's best militants were imprisoned. the FIJL (iberian federation of libertarian youth) staged a robbery of the courthouse and destroyed the evidence, causing thousands of CNTistas to be freed. yes, it would have been better to launch a political strike for their freedom, or physically open the prisons, as the CNT had done at other times, but with the bulk of their militants in prison, this was impossible.

i'm not blanket supporting armed minority action, just pointing out it's not necessarily, in the right context, juxtaposed to mass class action; lust like you could be doing flying pickets by day to try and spread a struggle, and sabotaging empty scab busses by night.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
And by the way, can anyone else appreciate the irony of a left-communist having to defend the anarcho-syndicalists??

not really, although the Russian 'syndicalists' were a disparate bunch from IWW-types through to anarchists, in general they were among the staunchest supporters of authentic proletarian organs like the factory committees and the soviets. their critique of armed substitutionism in favour of mass class action was largely correct, i personally just don't think it applies always and everywhere, only most of the time and most places.

ernie
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Oct 16 2009 23:41

stealing the 'evidence' against the militants was not an act of terror, but self-defence. A similar incident happened during the German Revolution. Members of the KPD's walked into the headquarters of either the police or one of the terror organisations and stole the book containing information on communists and others. I think they disguised themselves as policemen,

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Oct 19 2009 11:28

Sorry for the delay in response, I've been a bit busy with some other things.

The point in quoting Avrich was to show that there was a debate in the anarchist movement as a whole, both before and after the revolution about the role of terror, etc. The anarchists closest to the working class (the syndicalists) had a completely different view on this from those were more attached to other classes.

The other quote was to demonstrate that there was a small tendency within the syndicalist movement that didn't simply write off the Bolsheviks as evil authoritarians. They tried to engage seriously with what the Bolshevik movement represented, why it emerged from the working class and why it turned against it.

Quote:
You may have a point here; fair enough. In any case, by the time the heinous "terrorist" attack occurred, anarchist organizations were being actively suppressed. Also, the fact that the Bolshies lumped together various left currents as "syndicalist" shows that it's hard to tell how much of the "syndicalist influence" was actually anarcho-syndicalist, and how much was a bogeyman invented by the CEKA.

It wasn't a bogeyman but represented the last ditch political efforts of the working class to resist the growing cancer of the party-state, both within (left communist) and without (syndicalism) the Bolshevik party. The fact that anarcho-syndicalists were able to pose resolutions, deeply critical of the party-state apparatus, at soviet organs with a winning vote demonstrates there was still life in the class. This life was confused, disorientated and slowly fading but it existed throughout all the classes organs and even within the Bolshevik party itself ( the Workers' Opposition, etc. and even the "tyrant" Lenin was highly critical of Trotsky's plan to militarise labour and insisted the workers needed unions to defend themselves against the state).

Quote:
But since some people on this thread have been very busy disparaging this act as proof of anarchist terrorism against a "rightfully elected" government (lol), I think it's important to point out that the attack was born out of desperation, not from infantile spectacular nihilism.

Who exactly has talked about rightfully elected governments? It's true that the assassinations, and "third revolution" launched by the Left-SRs and some anarchists in 1918 against the Brest-Litovsk treaty was a defiance of the will of the majority in the soviets. But at that time, even though the growing "party-state" was certainly a danger it had not yet taken on anything like the characteristics it had developed in 1921 and beyond.

Certainly there was an aspect of desperation in the attacks. But the point is that this desperation had driven certain elements back into an atavistic "infantile spectacular nihilism" that had plagued anarchism in Russia from the beginning.

The question of whether the attacks represent the class is also not a question of whether the majority of the working class agreed with them, supported them or not. It's a question of whether the attacks represent what the proletariat is, its historic and material interests, and the forms of struggle that correspond best with this being. This is actually the most important question about this issue, one that is immediately eclipsed once we embark on the kind of "against the Bolsheviks all methods are good" cheerleading of anti-Bolshevik action which was evident earlier on in the thread.

Despite some characterisation on this and similar threads that we in the ICC are just "liberals" and have a "middle-class" loathing of violence, this is not our position at all. We are not pacifists and believe we have to combat this tendency within the class. We believe that the working class has to use violence to defend itself against the bourgeois state and will also have to resort to violence in the post-revolutionary period to defend itself against the counter-revolution. The point is the difference between minoritarian violence and class violence.

I suggest people read our account of the Homestead Strike in 1892 for an example of how the working class has used class violence as part of its struggle.

For a more complete, theoretical discussion of these issues there is also our text Terror, Terrorism and Class Violence and the Resolution on terrorism, terror and class violence we adopted based on it.

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Oct 12 2010 18:49

sorry to bump such an old forum topic, but i found the place today, so if anyone else is in moscow and is interested in seeing it, it's now the ukrainian embassy (slight irony there) and is number 18 leontievsky per., a lane off tverskaya ulitsa one of the main streets leading to the kremlin. there's even a memorial there, though it's behind the fence so you probably can't go up to spit on ir or pay your respects (depending on which you want to do). so there you go.

akai
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Oct 13 2010 14:22

Any comrade from Moscow can take people there, or to House of Anarchy or any other interesting site if you are visiting. If you are in Moscow, you can see Kropotkin's old house too - it is also an embassy (Palestinian - yes they have an embassy).