Massacres and the Media
In January 1980, a group of Guatemalan peasants including Rigoberta Menchu's father occupied the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City to protest army brutality etc.. The army burnt it down, killing everybody inside. Guatemalan TV gave a fairly accurate account of what had happened, despite being the tool of a military dictatorship.
In May 1985, the Philadelphia authorities were involved in a confrontation with a political/religious commune called MOVE. The unusual lifestyle of its members led to various arguments with its neighbors. Some of the neighbors stated "We believe that any problems the community has with MOVE should be solved by the community and that the police cannot help us", while others pressed the city to do something.
The authorities discovered there was a tank of gasoline on top of the MOVE house. The Orwellian-named Bomb Disposal Unit dropped a bomb on it, with predictable results. The fire department did nothing for over an hour, and very little for four hours. The fire destroyed 61 homes, damaged 110 others, and killed 11 of the MOVE people, 5 of them children. Police gunfire had prevented them from escaping. 250 neighbors were left homeless, wishing they had not cooperated with the pigs of City Hall in trying to resolve their differences with MOVE, and that they had ignored the hysterical press campaign.
In the March 1993 Waco tragedy, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms burnt to death over 80 people including children in a religious commune. The US media made out it was the fault of the victims - they had a suicide pact, they murdered their own children, etc.. The USA was founded by religious sects which, if they were around today, would be persecuted as "Cults". "Cult" means nothing more than a small minority religion. For example, the Waco Branch Davidians were an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists. Unlike, say, Catholics, members of a cult are described as "brainwashed". Add to this dehumanizing psycho-illogical garbage the routine accusations of child abuse, and you have a warrant for a massacre.
For example, the Waco Tribune-Herald helped soften up the locals with a lurid series of stories about "this menace in our community" which it ran just as the ATF pigs started the siege. The ATF raid was ordered because they had "intelligence" that the Waco outfit were "amassing heavy armaments". But Texas is full of people like that. The idea that the Branch Davidians had any reason to defend themselves against over 100 armed men who surrounded their house is hardly raised in the March 15 issue of Newsweek, published during the build-up to the massacre. The ATF agents merely "took up positions", implying that the "hail of gunfire" that greeted them was an unreasonable response. Newsweek does give voice to one DA who says the Koresh people are "peaceful and non-aggressive unless they are attacked", adding that the ATF played right into the group's apocalyptic vision. To say that the ATF "played right into" this vision is to say that this vision was true! According to a "deprogrammer" -- a psycho-the-rapist who specializes in turning "cult" members into normal American citizens --the Branch Davidians had been programmed into a "crisis mentality". Their leader David Koresh told them to be ready for "the aggressors who would come from without the walls to destroy them". And they tell us that he was mad?
Published six months after the massacre, the official report says that once Koresh knew they were coming, the ATF agents should have cancelled the raid, but some of them rewrote the documents to make it look as though they didn't know that he knew. This report has two purposes -- to blame it on individuals rather than the police state apparatus, and to show that they are so confident of their ability to murder us whenever they feel like it, the American ruling class can openly admit that the Waco bloodletting was justified by deliberate lies, just like, soon after the Gulf War, they openly boasted of how they had virtually encouraged Iraq to invade Kuwait.
The democratic media of today are far more adept accomplices of mass murder than those of dictatorships. In a state run by one party or one rich family the media is not taken seriously because it is seen as representing the views of a particular fraction of the ruling class. In a liberal democracy on the other hand, the media is more credible because it appears to represent "all sides" even- handedly. So it is more able to brainwash the public into supporting the murder of innocent people, whether in Philadelphia or Waco, Mogadishu or Baghdad.
From Marxism to Shamanism
Review : The Decadence of the Shamans by Alan Cohen. Unpopular Books, London 1992. (Box 15, 138 Kingsland High St, London E8 2NS, UK).
Its obscure title belies the ambition of this pamphlet; it is an attempt to integrate the gradually growing understanding of the Golden Age of "primitive communism" which existed prior to the emergence of Civilization, into the Marxist theory of Progress.
Pre-civilized communities were not poor, even in the material sense. They lived in vast forests and plains teeming with edible flora and fauna of all kinds. Starvation was rare. Today it is endemic. This is the bitter fruit of 5000 years of development. In a way, there is little more to say. To argue for the necessity of Civilization is ridiculous enough in America. In Africa, it is obscene. But human beings have lost more than material wealth. To the First People, what mattered were dances, visions, rituals and shamanic trances. But rather than urging an abandonment of the evils of Civilization, Alan Cohen tries to maintain an understanding of the shamanic experience in primitive society within a theory of historical development which argues that the advantages of primitive communism will be realized on a higher level AS A RESULT of the development of class society.
This pamphlet originated at a conference on northern and Arctic religions in Helsinki. Siberia and the Arctic was an area of the world virtually untouched by class society until recently; it was still inhabited by people whose spiritual masters, or SHAMANS, regularly induced ecstatic states, journeys to the "other world". Quotations from Black Elk Speaks and other acounts of the shamanic experience, our last connection with the universal consciousness which once stretched from Australia to Alaska, give something of the flavour of these journeys, and any but the most bone-headed materialist will be stimulated. These sympathetic accounts jar bizarrely with Cohen's defence of Progress. He is unable to refute the primitive communist position, so he resorts to amateurish insults. This is a sign of weakness.
The author has great insight into the content of shamanic trances, especially considering how little is left of primitive communist society, but he expresses ignorant assumptions about the content of pre-Civilized society in general. Following Marx, he states that "labour is the specific and central human activity" (p5), so labor existed in primitive communism. Because of humanity's innate urge to develop production, a consequence of the fact that labor is our specific and central activity, it was inevitable that "the very 'ascent of man' through the labour process, his break with the rest of the animal kingdom, was also the 'fall' into alienation" (p6).
Cohen's ontological error is based on a factual one. The labor process was not the means by which humans broke from the animal kingdom. The People of the Beginnings did not LABOR. They hunted, they picked berries, they may have scattered seeds, but this was not LABOR. "Hunter-gatherers" did not wake up cursing the fact that they had to go out hunting and gathering; they just did it. They did not regard food-collection as a chore, serving the more important activities of ritual, dancing, storytelling and collective vision-sharing; it was all part of life, and it was simply lived. Talk of labor in primitive society is an error; Marxists see the primitive community through class society, then use this distorted vision to explain how the latter "developed" out of the former. It is easy to believe primitive communists lived in scarcity, because the few remaining examples do so. Wherever mis- anthropologists looked, they saw the sad remnants of primitive society living in refugee camps, and concluded that this was how they had always lived. Capitalism created the material foundations of its own anthr-apology.
Class society did not develop; it was imposed. A very small minority of human beings, probably the immediate predecessors of the ancient Sumerians, enslaved their neighbors and spread the curse of labor. Labor did not develop because it is the essence of humanity, because of the spontaneous urge to develp the forces of production. The state did not 'arise' because of the needs of 'society'. Political authority arose from usurpation, and imposed needs ON society.
To ensure that we have not distorted Cohen's position, let's cite him at length :
Marxism is undoubtedly a theory of progress. It sees historical development as an overall forward movement based on the gradual accumulation of contradictions and sudden qualitative leaps onto new and higher levels: in broadest outline, from animal to man, from primitive communism to civilisation (class society), from the cycle of class societies based on natural economy to capitalism, based on generalised commodity production; and eventually, from capitalism to communism. At a time when a senile bourgeois order has lost any sense of historical progress, when the terrible events of the 20th century and the increasing decomposition of the dominant ideology has inaugurated the reign of nihilism, of disbelief in any future as well as innumerable desperate attempts to go back to the past, it becomes more than ever necessary to affirm this. As the theoretical outlook of the only class that can take society out of its present impasse, marxism alone can dare to look the present in the face and to hold fast to a vision of the future (p7).
We think this is a good summary of the Marxist theory of Progress; we reject it entirely. Some sophisticated Marxists try to argue that this sort of fundamentalism is a vulgarization of Marx and Engels' real position . Although Marx unquestionably contributed much to the class struggle, and although he certainly began to break with Marxism (compare his Ethnological Notebooks with Engels' The Origins to see how the two great minds were thinking less and less alike), the theory of Progress is true to the bulk of his writings, and his and Engels' political activity. In the Communist Manifesto, The German Ideology, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the Critique of Political Economy, through letters and articles supporting the American Civil War and the massacre of the Mexicans by the progressive forces, to the Grundrisse, Marx was for most of his life, capitalism's most able apologist:
... Will Bakhunin reproach the North-Americans for waging a 'war of conquest' which, of course, meant a severe blow to his theory based on 'justice and humanity', but which was carried out successfully to the advantage of civilization only? Or is it by chance that the wonderful California was snatched from the lazy Mexicans, who didn't know what to do with it? Is it a misfortune for the wonderful Yankees to exploit the gold mines there, to increase the means of transport, to make, in a few years, of the most appropriate coast of that peaceful ocean, a place with a high density of population and a busy trade, to build big cities, steamboat lines, a railway line from New-York to San Francisco, to really open for the first time the Pacific Ocean to civilization and, for the third time in history, give a new orientation to world trade? (Neue Rheinische Zeitung, cited in Communism no. 7, April 1992).
Later, Marx filled in the theoretical foundations of this position:
THE MOST EXTREME FORM OF ALIENATION - wherein labour appears in the relation of capital and wage labour... is a necessary point of transition - and therefore already contains in ITSELF, in a still only inverted form, turned on its head, the dissolution of all LIMITED PRESUPPOSITIONS OF PRODUCTION, and moreover creates and produces the unconditional presuppositions of production, and therewith the full material conditions for the total, universal development of the productive powers of the individual (Grundrisse, p515, cited in Cohen, p36). We should be so lucky.
If Engels subsequently turned Marxism into a more vulgar theory of Progress, this can only be welcome. Engels does not fudge the issues. Either class society is a necessary precondition for real communism, or it isn't. We prefer to see warrants for genocide unadorned by dialectical gilding: "The power of these primordial communities had to be broken, and it was broken" (Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, p101).
Alan Cohen has also faced up to the problem, and come down squarely on the side of Engels and the productive forces; "the historical process, with its ever-increasing burden of alienation and repression, unhappiness and guilt, is a necessary 'travail', an unavoidable stage in the true birth of mankind" (p37). Still, he needs to explain the difference between "the Stalinist anthropology which has been used to justify the destruction of shamanic cultures in Russia and China", against which he rails, and the views of Engels, to which he subscribes: "The power of these primordial communities had to be broken". To say something is necessary is to support it, by promoting the defeatist notion that resistance is futile.
It is pure hypocrisy for Marxists to "call capitalism to account for centuries of crime committed against the primitive peoples" (Luxemburg). Belief in "inevitability" is one of the strongest prejudices which holds people back from struggling against development. To reinforce, with clever-sounding theories, the popular view that you can't stand in the way of Progress is to side with the conquistadores against the invariant program of General Ludd.
Cohen believes that "the art of ecstasy is the expression of an immemorial human struggle to overcome the harsh limitations imposed on him [sic] by scarcity and the struggle for survival". This view of primitive society has now been supplanted by research into the "original affluent society" (Sahlins).
We don't pretend to have great insight into the rich traditions of visions and trances which have survived into the present age, themselves only a minute fragment of the original Dream Time, the once-universal human culture which stretched from Australia to the Arctic, which the blood-sucking monster Civilization has all but destroyed. Cohen's book contains a scholarly yet exciting introduction to shamanic and mystical experiences. The nearest most people in the west come to "other realities" is limited to occasional experiments with psychedelic drugs. Without the social context in which such stimulants can be taken, and the novice user guided through the various terrors which lurk in the collective unconscious, little is gained from such experiences. Primitive societies had this social context. They were also more able to deal with what we call "madness".
Those called to the shamanic profession, particularly among the Siberian tribes, often pass through a deep mental crisis that is hard indeed to distinguish from a descent into insanity: candidate shamans become withdrawn and dreamy and babble all kinds of nonsense; they may wander off for days, living like wild beasts in the forests; they become sick; they experience frightening hallucinations which frequently involve fantasies of being dismembered, torn to pieces by demonic spirits, and so on (p20).
This kind of behaviour has been normal to human beings at various points in their lives for millennia; primitive people understood and accepted it; capitalism persecutes it. The point is not whether these spirits "exist" in the same way as this computer exists. Shamanism is neither a science nor a religious cult; it is a view of the world which makes sense, which works.
We don't know exactly what the content of communism will be, but we can state now that it will not develop the productive forces and complete man's conquest of nature. On the contrary. Although it is impossible to simply "go back", a large component of the revolution will have to be a return to the state which existed everywhere before the State existed anywhere. Marxists like Cohen say it will be a return on a higher level, but it will take incalculable efforts before we have even managed to regain the achievements the pre- Civilized community, never mind improving upon them. Civilization has wiped out millenia of human culture - it will have to be recreated from scratch.
According to Marxist eschatology, "The 'great civilizing mission of capitalism' is the unprecedented development of man's productive capacities and the creation of a world economy, laying the material basis for a truly global community founded on abundance instead of scarcity". But such an abundance existed before Civilization, which has systematically impoverished more and more people. "On the intellectual plane, it signifies the breaking down of religious illusions and the full development of the historical, scientific world- outlook" (p11). This world outlook is the pitiless glare of the vivisectionist and the calculating myopia of the programmer. It is a religious illusion in itself, with Value in the place of God. John Zerzan, in Elements of Refusal(Left Bank Books, Seattle, 1988), quotes Andrew Ure, leading theorist of early industrial capitalism, as follows: "when capital enlists science into her service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught docility". We would go further (in fact, so would Zerzan... much further...). As the ICG put it in Aids, Pure Product of Science! in Communism #8: "Science, as knowledge subsumed by capitalist valorisation, is rotten to the core. Like all of Capital's productive forces, Science is fundamentally inhuman; not only in its applications, but in its foundations". .
It is increasingly difficult to defend the traditional Marxist view of historical development as it becomes obvious to almost everyone that it has been 'misery in misery', and increasingly, revolutionaries "dream of a return to the simplicities of the remote past" (p37). American readers can't understand why we even bother to argue the point - in the wake of the 500 Years of Resistance Campaign, surely Progress is now universally reviled? Perhaps they are all members of "that disintegrating petty bourgeoisie which can only look backwards because it has no historical future" (p12).
Cohen has some understanding of why the disintegrating petty bourgeoisie opposes Progress: "today, even the most remote Amazonian tribes are being wiped out by the 'development' of the rain forests, a development which in a period where capitalism has become totally irrational, is posing a real threat to the very fabric of planetary life" (p12). He puts 'development' in apostrophes for the same reason lefties enquote the word 'democracy', as if capitalism was not really democratic. These little quotation marks imply that capitalism isn't really developing the Amazon, as though there was, or there could be, a kind of development which was not destructive. He effortlessly explains how this false 'development' is destroying the planet; capitalism has become totally irrational. But capitalism has always devastated nature and wiped out human culture; it is no more irrational now than ever before, though the consequences have gotten worse and worse as development, or the war against life, has progressed. In fact this war has been going on since the dawn of class society. The deserts of the Middle East were created by ancient civilizations. Yet the Amazon once contained hundreds of thousands of people living in a sustainable relationship with their environment, since they didn't try to develop it.
FROM VISIONS TO TELEVISIONS
Marshall Sahlins, author of Stone Age Economics, is the most famous academic opponent of economistic views of primal man. In retrospect, his arguments seem understated. He accepts that Stone Age peoples lived in poverty, but since their desires were few, their supply exceeded their demand (The Fifth Estate, Vol 14 #3, 1979). In fact, a consistent economist would not conclude that they were poor. Think of the value of game reserves in, say, Scotland. Only millionaires can afford to hunt in them. The First People all had access to forests compared to which Sutherland is a Sahara. This leisure facility would of course have to be weighed against the absence of CD players in their caves. But we do not accept an economist's view of the People of the Beginnings. We cannot say that their material needs were few, since this implies measuring them, implies Value. We cannot measure the value of living in a tipi against a two- bedroom house. Even their material conditions are unmeasurable. How much more absurd is it to try to measure culture.
Without the premiss of the hungry hunter- gatherer, Cohen's model of historical development falls to the ground. He says labor necessarily arose from the struggle against "the hitherto prevailing conditions of scarcity" (p14), hence alienation and psychological repression; "'the tribe was the boundary for man', the individual was dominated by the collectivity, which in turn was dominated by the struggle for survival" (p36). However, "the historical accumulation of alienation/repression, far from being a mere misfortune, is a precondition for the true emancipation of man" (p15). But if primitive man's life was not a relentless struggle for survival , than all this repression and alienation was not a necessary precondition for anything - it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
1. Although the autonomist Marxists who produce Aufheben are our friends and comrades, when it comes to the Civilization debate, they speak with corpses in their mouths:
"Abandonment of the idea that the historical development of the productive forces is a progress towards socialism and communism has resulted in three main drifts in thought: 1) The abandonment of the project of abolishing capitalism and a turn to reformism of the existing system by the 'new realists', 'market socialists' etc. 2) the post-modern rejection of the notion of a developing totality, and denial of any meaning to history resulting in a celebration of what is, 3) The maintenance of an anti-capitalist perspective but identification of the problem as 'progress' or 'civilisation'; this romanticism involves the decision that the idea of historical movement was all wrong and what we really want to do is go back. These directions are not exclusive of course; post-modernist practice, to the extent it exists, is reformist while the anti-progress faction has its roots in the post-modern attack on history. In the face of the poverty of these apparent alternatives it is understandable that many revolutionaries would want to reaffirm a theory of decadence or decline..." (Aufheben 2, 1993, p27).
Neither we, nor Perlman, nor The 5th Estate have said that we can simply "go back". Perlman's position is not that "the idea of historical movement was all wrong", it is a theory of historical movement. Accusing us of post-modernism is an example of the amalgam technique. The "anti-progress faction" does not "have its roots" in post-modernism nor any other product of academia: this jibe could be more aptly applied to Aufheben, if we wanted to descend to their level of debate. It has its roots in thousands of years of class struggle. Aufheben don't explain why the anti-Civilization current, market socialism and post-modernism are only "apparent" alternatives: "of course" they're the same, aren't they? Neither do they give us their own position on progress and historical inevitability. They will need all their dialectical agility to continue avoiding the issues addressed in this series of articles, but if they wish to confront them seriously, our pages are open to them.
2. The Internationalist Communist Group are consistent opponents of progress. However, they believe that the development of alienation was inevitable because of OCCASIONAL outbreaks of scarcity:
"Yet, if we regard primitive communism as an embryonic prefiguration of the future human community, it is nevertheless true that this community was still imperfect and limited (we do not intend to revive the myth of "paradise lost") because it was strictly subordinated to the external natural conditions, inclement weather, melting ice, earthquakes,... which at times, caused scarcity and therefore the necessity to produce stores, to accumulate. The dissolution of natural community through exchange - brought about, on one side, by the accumulation of surplus for exchange, and on the other side by scarcity (the first and essential scarcity being historically that of women) -first takes place on the outskirts of the community, and then causes more and more strongly the gathering and hunting societies to become agricultural/stock-breeding societies, which means : production for exchange, emergence of value and then of money as a medium of exchange, expropriation of men, division of labour, division into classes etc." (Communism no. 6, p4).
Temporary scarcities must have been common among the homo sapiens who first left Africa, but this did not lead to exchange. If this were the case, Civilization would have started developing much earlier than it actually did.
DEMOCRACY = DEMAGOGUERY + HYPOCRISY
Who are right, the idealists or the materialists? The question once stated in this way hesitation becomes impossible. Undoubtedly the idealists are wrong and the materialists right.
Bakunin, God and the State
The Discussion Bulletin, published in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was for most of its life completely irrelevant to the class struggle. But recently it has published some decent material, namely two articles on the Russian Revolution from Wildcat #15. It has also published some libellous replies to these articles. Here we respond to these misrepresentations, and in the process, expand on an important aspect of the communist program: why we say we are for proletarian dictatorship against democracy. For the benefit of those readers fortunate enough not to have seen the DB, we republish below three letters which were first printed in #59.
1. Letter from WILL GUEST
Dear Readers of the Discussion Bulletin,
A few additional comments on Wildcat's present attitude toward democracy in the revolutionary movement seem called for. The question is an important one and over the last six years Wildcat have repeatedly and usefully focussed on it in their analyses. I have to admit frankly that, in rereading their writings on the subject from Wildcat #10 (1987) to the present, I find their critique fairly convincing. But their more recent articles on the Bolshevik Counter Revolution and their reply to my letter in response to their analysis of the Russian events (in Wildcat ##15 and 16, and reprinted in DB #58), all seem to me to share some similar problems, which did not stand out as clearly in earlier writings.
What I find convincing is Wildcat's emphasis on the necessity for revolutionaries to attempt to advance the revolution at all times, even or especially in the face of reactionary actions on the part of other sectors of the working class (not to mention the capitalists). They are correct to point out that many workers have repeatedly demonstrated, in revolutionary or potentially revolutionary situations, the deep hold of reactionary ideology upon them. Even in workers' councils and assemblies, bourgeois notions of democracy and democratic process, for example the notions of representation and majority decision making, are tenacious and frequently have resulted in counter-revolutionary activities. Wildcat are correct to point this out, warn against it, and to keep harping on it. [Why couldn't he stop there? -ed.]
Where I differ substantially from their point of view is on the kind of activity which is needed to advance the revolution in the face of this bourgeois inertia of workers. Wildcat's critique of the Bolshevik Counter Revolution seems to me to be flawed in certain respects, and the lessons to be learned from the Russian events of 1917-1921 have limited applicability to the current situation. But beyond these analytical questions, it seems to me that Wildcat have taken up an extreme vanguardist position which has little utility in advancing the self-liberation of the working class.
There is no question that Russian capitalism in 1917 was "backward" compared to Western Europe and the US; it seems like belaboring the obvious even to mention it. The fact that the state was almost the only native component to the capitalist class operating there was not a sign of advanced development (as is shown by the state-capitalist "revolutions" in other backward portions of the world subsequently). The state was a substitute for the lack of a native class of private capitalists. As a result significant concentrations of industry in Russia were centered primarily around St. Petersburg and Moscow, and only secondarily elsewhere, surrounded by a vast agricultural hinterland (and agriculture too was backward by contemporary measures). The industrial working class was a small minority of the population, which was overwhelmingly peasant. The well-educated and relatively well-off middle class of professionals and merchants were strongly concentrated in the two capital cities, as were virtually all important state institutions and the bureaucracy that ran them. The dependency of the whole country on St. Petersburg was quite extreme, and quite unlike the comparatively decentralized pattern of development in the US and Western Europe.
Now the point of all this obviousness is to help understand why the Russian Revolution failed to be a communist revolution. The reason is that only a majority of people can create a communist society, and they can only do so consciously. (I believe Wildcat would agree with this statement). In the face of the material and social conditions of Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks did essentially what Wildcat claims we should do now. They were audacious (once they saw they could control events), they were undemocratic, and they did what was possible. The result: Counter Revolution.
The Bolsheviks seized, but THEY DID NOT DESTROY, the Tsarist state. Only a majority of people can permanently suppress state-formation. States are instruments of a minority to control the majority. A second minority can wrest it away from the first (or could, in the conditions of backward and war-torn Russia in 1917), in which case it finds its interests directly opposed to the majority. Thus after October 1917 to have suppressed the state would have required suppressing the Bolsheviks.
Wildcat claim that the Bolsheviks were revolutionary in seizing the state; this needed to be done to advance the revolution. No other groups were prepared to do this, so the Bolsheviks had and took the opportunity. In doing so, however, they relied upon the power of the armed workers of Petrograd and Kronstadt and the support of the majority of the workers in key locations (as I said in my previous letter, in the garrisons, naval vessels, streets, factories, railroad stations, and communication centers. What other significant concentrations of workers existed?). Wildcat fudge the issue when they say "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" (DB #58, p8). The "minority" of the Bolsheviks and their supporters did not and could not overthrow the state, i.e. destroy it. They could and did seize it and strengthen it for their own purposes, in opposition to the majority of the workers and peasants, while claiming it was a "workers' state".
So there is a vast problem unaddressed by Wildcat in its analysis of the Russian events, which is the unseparable connectedness of objective and subjective readiness for revolution. The two go together: if the objective conditions are unripe, as they were in Russia, so too will be the subjective ones. The most radical, self-consciously revolutionary minorities were unable, despite their greatest efforts and sacrifice, to avoid doing what was objectively possible. We all know what the result was.
Objective conditions today throughout the industrialized world are vastly different from the Russia of 1917, and so, therefore, are subjective ones. The concreate impossibility in 1917 of a democratic communist movement does not exist today. Communism is possible if the workers decide to create it. The question for us is how to advance this collective decision.
Beyond these analytical criticisms I would like to make a few points about the nature of Wildcat's vanguardism, in which they resemble typical Leninist sects, if not the Bolsheviks under Lenin himself. What sort of activities do Wildcat explicitly praise in their recent writings? Raskolnikov is lauded for packing a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Kronstadt Soviet during the July Days with Bolsheviks who followed his orders on how to vote (DB #58, p11). "Rascally Raskolnikov" was doubly "revolutionary" in that his packing of the meeting was undemocratic, and his duping of the higher-level Bolsheviks in Petrograd was wily. But the result was pitiful (400 workers killed or wounded, and many imprisoned), as Wildcat could not fail to mention.
In general, that is, as a matter of "principle", Wildcat are committed to "action" as the path to communism - executions, manhandling of "reactionary elements" (including workers who do not agree with Wildcat?), and violence of all kinds - looting, burning, etc. (see Wildcat #16 on the Los Angeles uprising of last year). Their rejoinder to my earlier letter starts off with a quote from that leading communist theoretician, Bismarck: "The great issues of the day are not decided by fine speeches and majority verdicts, but by iron and blood." "Action" is the reaction to "reaction"; making a convincing case for communism is a waste of time and energy. In their letter, Wildcat's example of an inspiring action by a revolutionary minority is the storming of a prison in Iraq and the execution of the Baathist "pigs" inside. The "reactionary" elements of the working class (they are reactionary by definition because they are "nationalists") had felt that holding them in prison was sufficient; persuasion failing (or untried) the "revolutionary minority" did "what had to be done." This is "clear minority leadership". Who is being led, and how it leads to the creation of communism, are left unexplained.
Wildcat claim to promote "anti-state communism", not because states have anything inherently oppressive about them, but because states "cannot be used" for Wildcat's purposes. "We are, however, for taking dictatorial measures" against the working class. Despite rare lip-service to the fallibility of all factions they are clearly uninterested in the possibility that they themselves might have something to learn from others. Subtle tacticians and strategists they are not; Action is all. "Audacity, audacity, more audacity!". Sound familar?
Despite the detailed critique of the Bolshevik Counter Revolution contained in their articles, in certain fundamental ways Wildcat have not learned the lessons of Russia in 1917 to 1921. In their belief that their analysis of a revolutionary situation is the only correct one, that only they are truly committed to communism, and in their resolve to act dictatorially to "advance" their revolution against workers who do not share their goals or notions of infallibility, Wildcat have preserved intact the core psychological traits of Bolshevism. Workers who do not fall in line behind them are to be deceived, manipulated, and ultimately, "if necessary", executed. Surely the Cheka used similar rationalizations to get to sleep at night after a day's "revolutionary action".
As Wildcat are fond of pointing out, the dominant ideas in capitalist society are bourgeois ideas. One of them is democracy, but another and far more fundamental (and dominant) one is the use of force, as Bismarck's aphorism makes clear. Wildcat, psychologically, are the mirror image of the "pigs" they want to "waste". They have had some good analytical insights into past struggles, but I'm not convinced they have the key to the creation of a global communist society in today's or tomorrow's world.
The ultra-militant puffery of such a tiny cell of revolutionaries simply does not follow from the lessons provided by history or from the current predicament of the planet. Wildcat have evidently found their ideas and attitudes have little impact on the mass of workers around them, and have decided workers are incapable of understanding their own best interests and acting to secure them without "clear minority leadership" (in places in their writings Wildcat have come very close to expounding the Leninist concept of "trade-union consciousness"), which evades all discussion and collective decision-making. They have gone on to develop the proposition of "anti-democratic communism" as a cover for their vanguardism, which seems to be motivated, ultimately, by revenge and hatred. These motivations won't get us very far. Nor will Wildcat's "theory". "Anti-democratic communism" is a contradiction in terms, as communism is the expansion of democracy into all spheres of life. And history tells us, over and over again, that means and ends are inseparable. Dictatorship and force as principal means will create not communism, but a final tyranny.
2. Letter from JACK STRAW
Dear Readers of the Discussion Bulletin,
The Wildcat group makes in very explicit: It is against the CONTENT of democracy, not against a particular form such as representation or majority rule. The content of their argument, as articulated in the response to Will Guest in DB #58, is the necessity of "class struggle activists" to assert control over any movement which may emerge from the confrontations of daily life. Regardless of how they may label themselves, the Wildcat crew thus expose themselves as vanguardists.
To them, the main danger of democracy, even "workers' democracy", is that revolutionaries would have "to take orders from that section of the citizenry who happen to be sociologically working class, rather than from those who actually defend proletarian interests." (italics mine). It's interesting that they see themselves outside the working class, and even more, that they think they and others of their ilk should be giving orders, because of their supposedly superior awareness of the class's true interests.
This goes further than their assertion of rights to unilateral action, defying the majority whenever they think the majority is wrong and they are right. There's certainly room for that, as for example in the British coal mine strike in 1984, or the anti-Vietnam war movement. Here we're talking about leading the rest of the class, "taking dictatorial measures". Wildcat's perspective on the Russian Revolution takes this line of thinking down some very disturbing paths. Wildcat argues from two opposite sides. It criticizes Will Guest for trying to have it both ways re the Bolsheviks' role, and seemingly condemns the counter-revolution. Yet the Bolsheviks are praised for being able to mobilize supporters in strategic points, thereby taking power, without waiting for the passive majority to act. Anyway, how is a situation unique to Russia in 1917 to be transplanted to the advanced industrial world in 1993? Can you see the "important" workers bringing down the American state by taking over rail stations and naval vessels?
Somehow, some way, let's say that the most radical elements will destroy the state on their own. And then what? A critique of Earth First! in #16 gives us some rather scary hints. Earth First!'s workshop meeting format was lambasted for discussions chaired by "pathetic 'anti-sexist' types" instead of being led by people with "the self-confidence to lead the discussion". Why, anyone was actually allowed to "say what they like", while at Wildcat meetings, they feel "obliged to argue with anything they don't agree with."
To me, all this strongly suggests that their "leading" role will not stop with the elimination of the bourgeois state: it is to continue until all the "correct" decisions on the path to communism have been made. "No number of dire warnings about the dangers of dictatorship will change our minds". At a class I participated in a few years ago, one of Wildcat's American affiliates tended to monopolize the discussion. When I asked him about that, he replied that he was afraid that if he didn't talk, people would "say the wrong things" and derail the discussion.
Two other pieces from #16 stand out in relation to this topic. In an article on the LA riots, the beating of Reginald Denny, the truck driver, is excused because "some of the people who beat him had just defended a 15-year old boy against being beaten by the police". The only thing this could possibly explain is a revenge motif. And that's the main theme of Max Anger's "song", an ode to boozing, pissing and killing that, with a few cosmetic changes, could easily be sung by the US Marines. Would you trust your fate to people like these? Would you even be secure sharing a barricade with them?
3. Letter from ED STAMM
I would like to know exactly how Wildcat can justify a revolution on behalf of the working class, but against the will of the majority of the working class. Wildcat argues that the majority of the working class do not understand their own true interests. Does this mean that a Platonic minority of wisemen will paternalistically run society from offstage? Because if a group pretends to abolish the state, but at the same time tries to impose a form of organization on society through the use of force, they are really not abolishing the state. They are merely setting up a shadow state to run society through the use of a cladestine terror which answers to no one. How many generations will have their human rights revoked in the name of the long term interests of the working class? Do they favor the Pol Pot strategy of killing off anyone who has any political opinion other than their own, and then herd the masses into reeducation camps where they will learn that their interests are whatever Wildcat says their interests are? Is this really the path they propose for the human race?
When someone says that people do not know what is in their own best interest, I immediately get concerned. This is what our government tells us all the time in relation to US foreign policy. It is extremely treacherous territory Wildcat is travelling into when they propose to force people to conform to their own personal ideal of society. Only the individual can judge what is in his or her best interest. Individuals make mistakes, and they suffer for them. But if the self-appointed vanguard makes a mistake, millions can suffer and perish. If the coup is unsuccessful, society is plunged into a reactionary backlash that will cripple or extinguish all progressive elements.
4. Our Response
First, let's reply to the last letter: "If the coup is unsuccessful, society is plunged into a reactionary backlash that will cripple or extinguish all progressive elements". We certainly hope so!
On a more serious note, we will now deal with the letters from citizens Straw and Guest. Although we don't want to take time off from more important tasks to respond to specific libels against Wildcat, we have found that if we don't stomp on false allegations straight away, they spread like cockroaches. We are accused of defending political positions which we do not hold and which are not expressed in the articles which the DB reprinted. For example, we have never said that workers (or any other section of the proletariat) should be "deceived or manipulated". Neither have we "praised" or "lauded" any of the Bolsheviks' actions in 1917, still less described them as "revolutionary". The claim that we "excused" the beating of Reginald Denny is a lie, which makes it clear which side Straw and Guest are on in the media war against the LA defendants. Although the LA 4 have benefitted from a militant campaign in LA, our comrades in San Francisco found it impossible to get a defence campaign going in the Bay Area, thanks partly to the smug middle-class libertarianism which still thrives there. People arrested during the May '92 uprising are being quietly put away with no protests or anything - for example, Donald Coleman got 19 years and 8 months for torching a 7-11 store.
WG and JS both run in the binary mode of thought typical of those with a closed, totalitarian view of the world. For example, leftists say that if you don't vote Labour, you are helping the Conservatives, or if you are not an anti-fascist, you are on the side of the fascists. In the case of WG and JS, the binary opposition is between supporting the Bolsheviks or condemning them for being undemocratic. When we say that we do not condemn Bolshevik manouvers for being undemocratic, WG and JS say we "praise" them. We shall try, once again, to express something quite different: the point of view of communism.
According to WG: "Wildcat claim that the Bolsheviks were revolutionary in seizing the state". According to JS: "...the Bolsheviks are praised for being able to mobilise supporters in strategic points, thereby taking power...". This is quite simply false. The nearest we come to saying anything remotely like this is "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." Not quite the same thing, is it? So what is our view of the seizure of state power?
One of the major differences between communists and social democrats, including Leninists, is that our conception of revolution is social rather than merely political. For us there is no question of creating some kind of revolutionary government which then enacts communism by a series of decrees. The question of whether such a regime should be based on a single party or on the sovereignty of the workers' councils (or some other arrangement) is irrelevant. As we explain at great length in the articles, by seizing state power the Bolsheviks were taking over the management of capitalism, that they did it in the name of communism is neither here nor there.
WG distorts our position by quoting out of context. He cites the sentence "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", without the one which immediately follows: "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." Contrary to what WG says, if an organized minority can take over the state, in the sense of the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie, it is certainly possible for it to overthrow it (particularly if most of the army has deserted or mutinied and the cops have run away, as in Russia 1917). The problem was not that the Bolsheviks "could not overthrow the state" because of objective conditions, as WG claims, it was that they never had any intention of doing so.
Communism is not a political program but a social movement. For example, private property in housing will not begin to be abolished because some "workers' government" says that it is no longer legal for landlords to live off rent but because proletarians are refusing to pay rent, resisting evictions, seizing the mansions of the rich, and in the process developing more communal living arrangements.
This brings us on to the use of force or, to state the question more precisely, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (D.o.P.). This is the political position which WG and JS are really trying to undermine, using the tried and tested method of associating it with Bolshevism, with fanaticism and with notions of infallibility and other "psychological traits". WG says: "As Wildcat are fond of pointing out, the dominant ideas in capitalist society are bourgeois ideas. One of them is democracy, but another and far more fundamental (and dominant) one is the use of force..." [our emphasis]. Here WG appears to condemn all use of force (it's a "bourgeois idea"). There are only two types of people who condemn force per se. These are:
1) Committed pacifists. Despite their ludicrous morality these people may sometimes make a useful contribution to the class struggle - for example by sheltering army deserters.
2) Hypocritical demagogues.
The comment (by WG) that we are for taking dictatorial measures "against the working class" is a typical piece of "no violence" demagoguery. You cannot rule out using force against other working class people. Should working class people not use force to defend themselves against muggers, and other anti-social elements from within the working class? WG gives the impression in most of his letter that he thinks it is immoral to use force under any circumstances, but in his last sentence, he condemns us for advocating force as a PRINCIPAL means, which would mean his difference with us is that he thinks we give too much priority to the use of force. By being ambiguous in this way, he can occupy the high moral ground of pacifism without paying the entrance fee. All of us, except pacifists, are prepared to put the boot in from time to time. The difference between us and WG is that we honestly face up to the consequences of this fact.
Every society has to make use of force to some extent. What makes class societies different is that they are based on force since they involve a small minority of the population robbing and enslaving everyone else. Proletarian communities of struggle must make use of force too. It's true that you can't turn someone into a communist by pointing a gun at them. It's also true that you can stop them from doing reactionary things, such as crossing a picket line.
Like every other aspect of the struggle force needs to be coordinated to make it as effective as possible. It is not a question of force versus solidarity. Solidarity is the basis of our struggle to transform life but it is meaningless without the use of force. For example, we would always try to fraternise with government troops sent to suppress us and we should oppose any creation of a permanent military front with us on one side and the forces of reaction on the other. But fraternisation would be impossible if the soldiers could overwhelm us immediately without any resistance. The Makhnovists probably had the right idea when they said to Red Army soldiers "surrender to us and you won't come to any harm, it's only your officers we want to kill". A more extreme example might be that of the mutineers on the huge Russian battleship Potemkin in 1905 who threatened to blow smaller naval vessels out of the water if they tried to stop the rebellion. Many of them joined in. A more down-to-earth example was the fact that in the British miners' strike of 1984-85, many of the pits were shut down only by the intimidation of scabs. We would like to take this opportunity to correct what we wrote in Wildcat #3, Jan/Feb 1985. Under the headline "Support Class Violence", we said
"in general, violence in a strike is a defensive action. If the miners were receiving the support, and above all, the solidarity action they so desperately need, from other workers, then much of the violence witnessed over the past ten months need not have taken place".
On the contrary: if the strike had spread, so would the violence. The above section implies that if the strike had become more offensive, the violence would have been less necessary. But class violence does not tend to decrease as the revolution approaches: quite the opposite. Its important to understand the difference between force and bloodshed. Increasing the amount of force can reduce the degree of bloodshed, by making it clear to our opponents that it's not worth fighting. The above passage was written when Wildcat included "common ownership and democratic control of the world's resources" among its Basic Principles!
WILL TO POWER
By the D.o.P. we do not mean a specialised apparatus of repression (a workers' state). We mean the need for the proletariat to impose its needs despotically against its enemies. At the moment this is something which can generally only be seen in a very embryonic form - the beating of a scab (against the Right to Work!), the shouting down of a politician or union leader (against Freedom of Speech!), the smashing of a reporter's camera (against Freedom of the Press!), the smashing up of a patriotic or religious meeting (against Freedom of Assembly!)... It's impossible to say in advance what organisational forms the D.o.P. will take in a revolutionary situation. We can say, however, that it will have a completely different form from that of the repressive apparatus of bourgeois society since the D.o.P. is a means by which a community of struggle (encompassing more and more areas of the globe) defends itself against dissolution whereas the bourgeois state exists to destroy community. It will certainly not possess a standing army or a judiciary, for example. Repressive measures will be carried out on the basis of expediency rather than Justice, an expression of a society based on exchange.
The arguments of WG, JS and other left-wing libertarian critics of us authoritarian communists is not unadjacent to the libertarianism of the right. Their plaintive whining about our authoritarian psychological traits and the dire consequences thereof simply repeats what the bourgeoisie say about communists. What they are basically saying when they accuse us of vanguardism is "Who are these red troublemakers to tell you not to cross that picket line? What right do they have?". For the libertarians, some form of legitimate authority is being transgressed by someone using force. For the Right it's obvious who this authority is - it's The People represented by their democratically elected government. For the libertarian socialists it's something like The Workers Themselves. The Right deliberately avoid the issue of who actually acts when The People act. Similarly for the libertarian socialists when The Workers Themselves act. When they talk about a majority, they don't say of what. A majority in the whole world is unobtainable until the revolution is well underway, so to wait for this majority before starting would postpone it forever. A majority in one country is nationalist, and a majority in any other arbitrarily defined area is meaningless, since anyone can draw the boundary wherever it suits them. Talk of the majority of the proles is, then, another piece of demagoguery.
LENINISM & COUNCILISM - TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
The most vehement anti-Leninists usually share many of the conceptions of Leninism. In particular they share an obsession with the division between politically conscious people (such as themselves) and the masses. They see the central question as being how the former relate to the latter. Do they lead them organisationally? (Leninism); do they lead them on the plane of ideas? (Anarchism); do they refuse to lead them? (Councilism). Whatever they do they mustn't be too critical of "ordinary people" because that would put them off. They assume that everyone else is obsessed with this question as well: "Wildcat have evidently found their ideas and attitudes have little impact on the mass of workers around them...". Who do they think we are, the SWP?
As we explained in our introduction to Gorter's Open Letter, the view that proletarian revolution in Russia was impossible because the country was too backward is a profoundly nationalist one - the point is whether revolution was possible on a world scale. WG's concern with Russia's backwardness is closer to the dogmatic Marxism of the more conservative social-democrats than to Lenin. Most of Mensheviks and Bolsheviks believed, until April 1917, that Russia was unable to participate in a communist revolution because it was too backward: it needed to go through a bourgeois revolution and capitalist development first. Trotsky among the Mensheviks, and later Lenin, argued that it could "skip" a stage, and go straight to a socialist revolution. Unfortunately, what they meant by "socialism" was in fact capitalism. This was not an inevitable result of Slavic atavism. There were communist revolutions in 15th century Bohemia and Germany, far more backward regions than Russia in 1917. The "backwardness" argument expresses a belief in the liberating effects of capitalist progress. Russian agriculture was "backward", in the sense that peasants still lived in communities which hadn't been completely smashed by capitalist development and could still serve as a basis for communism. They were not to receive the full benefits of Progress until Stalin's program of collectivisation in the 1930's. Marx came to realise that these communities could play a positive role in the struggle for communism and that capitalist progress was not inevitable (see Late Marx and the Russian Road, T. Shanin, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983).
Although WG says "the lessons to be learned from the Russian events of 1917-1921 have limited applicability to the current situation", the whole basis of his politics is obsession with the bogey of Leninism. The hang-up of the libertarian left, anti-Leninism, belongs to the same category as anti-fascism: it identifies one particular form of the counter-revolution as the threat to the working class. Like anti-fascism it tries to rally people around the defence of democratic freedoms. Both anti-fascism and anti-Leninism are part of the official ideology of Western democracy.
DEMOCRACY OR COMMUNISM
As JS says, we are "against the content of democracy, not against a particular form such as representation or majority rule". In the most general terms democracy can be described as the reign of rights and equality. The existence of rights implies a society of atomised individuals. Equality implies a society in which individuals can have equal worth, one in which their value can be compared, that is one based on the existence of abstract labour. In other words, democracy is the way of life of capitalism, not just a particular form of the state. When WG says communism is "the expansion of democracy into all spheres of life" it is not communism but capitalism which he is describing. When we say we are against democracy it's not just from the point of view of dictatorship - although it's true that the Human Rights of the bourgeoisie won't be respected in the revolution. More importantly, it's from the point of view of community. Classical democratic forms of organisation such as elected representatives and sovereign assemblies are an attempt to maintain social atomisation by creating a fictitious community. Democrats are obsessed with notions such as accountability and revocability which assume that no one can be trusted. Against all this we say that one trusted comrade is worth a hundred revocable delegates!
Finally, a few words about revenge and hatred. This is what both WG and JS accuse us of basing our politics on. Revenge is not something we generally favour since it's based on exchange - "one bad turn deserves another". But it has to be said that revenge is more human - less corrupted by commerce and the state - than fully developed Justice. Hatred is another matter. John Major (Prime Minister of Britain) is not just a boring man in a grey suit. He is a monster drenched in the blood of the proletariat. When the bourgeoisie murder our class brothers and sisters, like the 100,000 children who died of disease following the bombing of Iraq, we don't just throw up our hands and say "this sort of thing is bound to happen until the majority of workers see the need for communism". Yes, we hate them.
Des Pot (no relation).
PS. No, Jack, we don't think a song containing the words "comrades, let's kiss" would be sung by the US Marines (Max Anger's Song).