Introduction

The essays in this volume, written over the past four years (2010–14) and collected here, deal with the legacy bequeathed to the contemporary revolutionary left by four key historical experiences: the Russian Revolution, the Communist International’s first experiment in ‘anti-imperialism’ in the early years of the Turkish Communist Party (1917–25), the failings of anarchism in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1936–9) and the failure of the Trotskyist Fourth International in the run-up to the Bolivian Revolution (1952) and beyond. In short, they probe the theoretical and practical legacies bequeathed to us as Leninism, anti-imperialism, anarchism and official Trotskyism, as it evolved after Trotsky’s assassination in 1940.

At first glance, such a selection may appear arbitrary and open to the charge of ‘ancient history’ to new generations of self-styled revolutionaries emerging from the nearly four decades of quiescence, defeat and dispersion that followed the ebb of the world upsurge of 1968–77. Those familiar with the cutting edge of a certain Marxist ‘renaissance’ in recent years, after the long post-1970s glaciation, may wonder: why I do not instead attempt a reckoning with the work of Backhaus and the ‘new Capital reading’, Postone, communization, Italian workerism and autonomism, Dauvé, Camatte, or (stretching the envelope) the insurrectionists, the last, ‘aleatory’ Althusser, Badiou or Zizek, and beyond them, perhaps even Deleuze and Guattari?

The answer is fairly simple, if undoubtedly unsatisfactory to some: the theories of such figures, of highly uneven interest (to me, at least), have not been tested, to date, in practical revolutionary processes comparable to what occurred in Russia, Turkey, Spain and Bolivia in the first half of the twentieth century. The historical period has not, to date, been kind to us contemporaries. All this theoretical heavy lifting, in the old E.P. Thompson quote I like, has yet to produce a single practical mouse.

Evidenced in dozens, perhaps hundreds of Capital and Grundrisse study groups around the u.s. and Europe, or in widely attended conferences on Marx (which would have been unthinkable as late as the mid-1990s), one finds the healthy impulse: back to Marx, freed from the faded (but still with us) twentieth-century legacies of Lenin and Trotsky, not to mention Mao and lesser figures (Baran and Sweezy) who still dominated debate, pro and con, into the 1970s. While I had to emit a belly laugh perusing the preface to Ingo Elbe’s book on the ‘new Capital reading’Ingo Elbe 2008. in which he wrote, ‘We can now read Marx for the first time without discussing politics’, not so many today accord the canonical status granted a few decades ago to the work of the revolutionaries of the Second and Third Internationals, even the best of them, such as Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter, and Bordiga, or those who, breaking with Trotsky and Trotskyism, produced some of the most original theories of the shop-floor revolt of the immediate post-World War Two period, such as James or Castoriadis, or finally those who broke with them in turn, such as Debord. Not so many people today seek orientation in Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? or – God forbid – Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, or even in his (improved) Philosophical Notebooks, or finally in Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, not to mention in Mao’s ‘On the Resolution of Contradictions among the People’.

Most movement comrades I knew in the late 60s and early 70s had not read the three volumes of Capital, let alone drawn specific political conclusions from them about what capitalism and communism are. Nor had I. This new focus on Marx’s critique of political economy cuts through the assumptions of forty years ago that its lessons were ‘assumed’ in the writings of Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Pannekoek and lesser lights. The best currents then said there would be the international power of the workers’ councils and soviets, and that would be that. The hard knocks of subsequent history have also distanced us from that seemingly optimistic view. The question today is no longer global worker management of this production and reproduction, but of a profound recasting of all such spheres, in which as many jobs would be eliminated as placed under ‘workers’ control’,See my 2010 article ‘The Historical Moment that Produced Us’ (Golder 2010). and work itself would be superseded in that ‘all-sided activity’ articulated in Marx’s Grundrisse.

I nonetheless part ways with a swath of currently fashionable theories: I still see the wage-labour proletariat – the working class on a world scale – as the key force for a revolution against capital. Since the 2008 world financial meltdown, the world has seen unprecedented ‘social movement’, ‘citizens’, ‘multitudes’ uprisings, confrontations and riots: the Arab spring, Greece from 2008 to 2012, the Iranian ‘green revolution’ in 2009, America’s Occupy, the Spanish indignados, the Ukrainian maidan (not ignoring its fascist component), the London riots of 2011, the successful Brazilian ‘anti-fare hike’ movement of summer 2013, the relentless Chilean student strikes of 2011–12, the 2014 Hong Kong democracy movement, or the ongoing (January 2015) movement against racist police killings of black and brown youth in the u.s.

What has been unfortunately missing from most of these movements was none other than the wage-labour proletariat, workers participating in them as workers, or more up to date, as proletarians seeking the self-dissolution of the proletariat into a realised humanity (which was, it should not be forgotten and pace the contemporary communizers et al., always the conception of the best elements of the older movement).Already in 1920 Amadeo Bordiga criticised Gramsci’s conception of factory councils as confining workers to their place in the division of labour (i.e. the factory) bequeathed by capitalism, to which he counterposed the soviet, a regional body including all proletarians, employed or unemployed, and freed from workplace-bound roles. See John Chiaradia, ‘Amadeo Bordiga and the Myth of Antonio Gramsci’ (Chiaradia 2013).

True, the Egyptian working class staged some impressive strikes before and after the fall of Mubarak, and at this writing remains unbowed; true, the Brazilian anti-fare hike movement included many workers on the peripheries of the big cities. But we can see the predominantly middle-class character – the downsized and frayed middle class produced by decades of global crisis – of most of these movements when we counterpose to them the unending wave of strikes, large and small, many underreported or unreported, in China; several recent general strikes in Vietnam; strikes of textile workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh; the new workers’ movement in India in such places as Faridabad and Gurgaon; the strike wave lasting for years in the South Africa mining industry; the ongoing, multiyear ikea strike in Italy; or the burgeoning $15-an-hour, fast food movement in the u.s. Or, finally, in 2011–12, the near- convergence of the beleaguered longshore (ilwu) local in Longview (Washington state), with elements of the west coast Occupy ‘precariat’, which almost led to a head-on confrontation with the u.s. Coast Guard and, behind it, the Obama government.

To take only the United States, of the 130 million people who go to work every day, how many are, by any standard, blue, white or pink collar proletarians? How many millions of them labour in transportation, whether in the ports (longshoremen and above all truckers), on railroads and in the mass transit systems of 100 cities? In oil, gas or the newer fracking? How many millions do the scut work in health care, or work as precarious teachers’ aides or secretaries in education at all levels? How many work in supermarkets and the massive distribution centers, not to mention the hyper-computerised time-and-motion hell of the warehouses of Walmart or Amazon? How many are fast food workers, or workers in the meatpacking and food processing plants of the Midwest? How many at the post office, at FedEx or ups? How many both in construction and in building maintenance, as repair people and janitors? How many airline employees, and the skilled workers maintaining the planes? How many in the back rooms of Wall Street or Silicon Valley? As public employees at the Federal, state and local levels? And last but hardly least, how many in the factories that remain in the u.s., starting with twenty (mainly foreign) auto plants scattered in ‘green field’ plants throughout the South, that still produce as many cars in the u.s. as the ‘Big Three’ did 40 years ago?

Despite the appearances of ‘post-industrial’ capitalism in the West, and the clouds of ideology that have ‘disappeared’ the working class, there are more wage-labour proletarians in the world today than ever before. All the new, complicated forms of profit, interest and rent go back to surplus-value produced by them.

To return, then, to Russia, Turkey, Spain and Bolivia. Having hopefully countered, somewhat, the deep sense of ‘farewell to the proletariat’ that underpins many currently fashionable (and untested) theories (which, not accidentally, proliferate most in world cities where the ‘creative classes’ help set the tone) we can now ask how these upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century can speak to revolutionaries today.

We might begin by reminding ourselves, much as we did with the newly- formed working classes of Asia, that political spinoffs of the Russian Revolution are still in evidence. Shall we first recall the mass Maoist parties of Nepal and India, each having tens of thousands of members and still parading with silkscreens of Stalin? Or the rural Maoist insurgency of the Indian Naxalites, reborn from post-1970s oblivion in recent years? Shall we remind ourselves of the reach of Latin American Trotskyism, from Mexico to Argentina, in which latter country Trotskyist militants have been key in impressive subway strikes in Buenos Aires? Of the not negligible Trotskyist presence in and around the Brazilian Workers Party?

A sceptic might quickly point out that these mini-mass phenomena exist in countries of the underdeveloped or semi-developed ‘periphery’, and that their counterparts in the ‘centres’ of Europe, the u.s. and Japan are at best small sects. Shall we then consider the emergence of new mass left-wing parties such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, or the (not so new) Linke Partei in Germany? How will revolutionaries relate to them if and when they enter the state, whether as brokers or partners in some new left-wing coalition? Granted that none of these are classical Social Democratic or Communist parties, are the lessons of such parties in power from the 1920s to the 1970s, and how revolutionaries attempted to relate, or not relate to them, of no use to us today? Not so long ago a not negligible wave of chavismo was palpable in some broad left circles in the u.s. and Europe, wishing to see in Venezuela, its close ally Stalinist Cuba, and other left-wing governments or parties in Ecuador, Bolivia or Brazil a new ‘anti-imperialist’ bloc. Some of that sentiment even extended to decidedly non-Marxist forces such as Hezbollah or Hamas in the Middle East.

If one central theme has emerged in the resurgence of interest in Marx in the past two decades, and of some of the theorists mentioned above, it is the eclipse of the 1960s/1970s focus on workers’ control of production by the deeper understanding of communism, for which Marx’s work is the indispensable starting point, as inseparably the destruction of value, wage labour, and hence as the self-dissolution of the proletariat as the class ‘whose dissolution is the dissolution of all classes’.Marx 1975b [1844], p. 186. But such an understanding goes hand in hand with a recognition that on a world scale such a transformation is, as before, ‘the task of the working class itself’, and not some shapeless mass of ‘multitudes’ as some contemporary theory would have it. An ‘individuality as all-sided in its production as in its consumption’Marx 1973 [1857], p. 325. was and remains the goal, once individuals are freed from the shadowy husks of ‘identity’ allotted them in commodity relationships.

Hence the articles presented here draw on the new, deeper retrieval of Marx. I begin with the agrarian question in the Russian Revolution, in which I show how the Russian peasant commune, which fascinated Marx in the last decade of his life, was suppressed by a century of the ‘developmentalist’ Marxism begun partially by Engels, which latter then became a world-conquering ideology at the hands of Kautsky, Lenin and their lesser acolytes. I argue that all the leading Bolsheviks were blinded to the reality of the peasant commune, which in 1917 laid claim to 98 percent of all land in Russia, and which survived until Stalin’s collectivisations after 1928, and that, further, this ‘blind spot’ became as fatal as any relationship between ‘party and class’ in the industrial-urban centres, which was the dominant focus of all the 1960s and 1970s debates on the origins of Stalinism. This analysis does not mean that the Bolsheviks ‘had the wrong ideas’, but rather that their ideas, and the practice those ideas expressed, were part of a transition in world capitalism they only partly understood, and ultimately abetted.

The second article, on the very early years of Turkish communism, questions the widespread view that Soviet interests as a nation-state, within the international capitalist balance of power, only became dominant with Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’ in 1924. I show on the contrary that the massacre of the central committee of the Turkish CP in January 1921, in all likelihood by Kemalist (nationalist) forces, did not prevent the Soviet government from concluding a trade agreement with that same Kemalist regime mere months later (March 1921), from saying nothing about the massacre for further months, and did not prevent the attendant subordination of the Turkish CP to support for one of the first ‘national liberation’ struggles, a subordination which would have, to put it mildly, a long legacy around the world. I take off from Trotsky’s little-known secret memo to the top Bolshevik leaders in June 1920:

All information on the situation in Khiva, in Persia, in Bukhara and in Afghanistan confirm the fact that a Soviet revolution in these countries is going to cause us major difficulties at the present time ... Until the situation in the West is stabilized and until our industries and transport systems have improved, a Soviet expansion in the east could prove to be no less dangerous than a war in the West ... a potential Soviet revolution in the east is today to our advantage principally as an important element in diplomatic relations with England. From this I conclude that: 1) in the east we should devote ourselves to political and educational work ... and at the same time advise all possible caution in actions calculated to require our military support, or which might require it; 2) we have to continue by all possible channels at our disposal to arrive at an understanding with England about the east [my emphasis – lg].

and show its consequences over the next five years, and ultimately into the 1970s.

The third article is addressed to the contemporary revival of anarchism in looking at the ‘grandeur and poverty’ of the biggest mass anarchist or anarcho- syndicalist movement in history, that of Spain, culminating in the revolutionary period 1936–7, but not fully defeated for two additional years. I take seriously the comment of the anarcho-syndicalist Diego Abad de Santillán in 1940, one year after the final defeat, to the effect that ‘Even in our revolutionary ranks we worked much more intensely and with more inclination preparing the insurrection than in really preparing for what we would build afterwards’. This critique, to my knowledge, applies all the more to the different shades of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism abroad in the world today. No revolutionary process to date, which even Leon Trotsky acknowledged was at its outset a deeper social revolution than that which occurred in Russia, better illustrates how the absence of Marx’s project of the abolition of value and wage labour, and a programme based on it, cripples the most powerful revolutionary surge. Again, as in the cases of Russia and Turkey, this absence of theory ultimately expressed the backwardness of conditions.

The fourth and final article deals with the lesser-known Bolivian Revolution of 1952, led by the ex-fascist turned left-corporatist MNR (Movimiento Nacional Revolutionario). As with the article on Turkey, I begin with the deep influence of German populist (Fichtean) romanticism, in this case in the career of Franz Tamayo, one of the founders of Bolivian (and Andean) indigenismo, a nationalism which shaped a faction of the Bolivian officer corps deeply alienated by the debacle of the Chaco War (1932–5). The interest for this collection is, however, more the attempt to situate the emergence of one major Latin American corporatism in the overall shift from the formal to the real domination of capital on a world scale, along with the corporatisms of the Brazil of Vargas, the Argentina of Peron and the Mexico of Cardenas. In the Bolivian case, the philofascist origins of the movement were quietly effaced for the emerging post-1945 period dominated not by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany but by the United States. What is decisive here, finally, is the way in which the Trotskyist POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario) tailed this corporatism in the name, once again, of ‘anti-imperialism’ to the point where a majority of its members simply liquidated themselves into the MNR. True, a small minority, including the Trotskyist leader Guillermo Lora, stopped short of that final step, but the die was cast for the Paris-based Fourth International, which went on to a long career of supporting decades of dubious ‘anti-imperialist’ movements from the Algerian FLN to the Iranian mullahs, via the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and the Vietnamese NLF.

Hence, in conclusion, what is modestly attempted here is a critical undermining in turn of Leninism, anti-imperialism, anarchism, and Trotskyism as a contribution to clearing away the ‘poetry of the past’ for the creation of a world communist movement fully at the level of the founding work of Marx, and beyond that, of the uncompleted