Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.

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Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.

The Nazis, Capitalism and Privatisation

November 9, 2017

One of the tactics the Right uses to try to discredit socialism is to claim that the Nazis were socialist, based largely on their name and the selective use of quotes from Hitler and other members of the Nazi party.

This claim has been repeatedly attacked and refuted, but nevertheless continues to be made.

In the video below, Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News also refutes the argument that the Nazis were socialists by looking at the economic evidence and the Nazis’ own policy of privatising state-owned industries and enterprises. He puts up several graphs showing how the stock market rose under the Nazis, as did the amount of money going to private industry. Indeed, this evidence shows that the Nazis were actually more successful at managing capitalism than the democratic, laissez-faire capitalist countries of Britain and the US.

Then there is the evidence from the Nazis’ own policy towards industry. He cites a paper by Germa Bel in the Economic History Review, entitled ‘Against the Mainstream: Nazi Privatisation in 1930s Germany’. In the abstract summarising the contents of the article, Bel states

In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime transferred public ownership to the private sector. In doing so, they went against the mainstream trends in Western capitalistic countries, none of which systematically reprivatized firms during the 1930s.

He goes further, and makes the point that the term ‘privatisation’ actually comes from Nazi Germany. It’s the English form of the German term reprivatisierung.

I am very definitely not a Maoist, and have nothing but contempt for the Great Helmsman, whose Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of 60 million Chinese in the famines and repression that followed, and unleashed a wave of horrific vandalism against this vast, ancient countries traditional culture and its priceless antiquities and art treasures.

But Unruhe has clearly done his research, and is absolutely correct about the capitalist nature of German industry under the Third Reich. Robert A. Brady, in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937) also described and commented on the privatisation of industry under the Nazis.

He states that the organs set up by the Nazis to ‘coordinate’ the industrial and agricultural sectors were specifically forbidden from giving any advantages to the state sector rather than private industry, and that state industry was handed over to private industrialists.

The same picture holds for the relations between the National Economic Chamber and the organs of local government. As Frielinghaus has put it, “The new structure of economics recognises no differences between public and private economic activity….” Not only are representatives of the various local governments to be found on both the national and regional organs of the National Economic Chamber, but it is even true that local government is co-ordinated to the end that economic activities pursued by them shall enjoy no non-economic advantages over private enterprise.

The literature on this point is perfectly explicit, being of a nature with which the general American public is familiar through numerous utterances of business leaders on the “dangers of government competition with private enterprise.” Under pressure of this sort the Reich government and many of its subsidiary bodies have begun to dispose of their properties to private enterprise or to cease “competition” with private enterprise where no properties are at stake. Thus the Reich, the states and the communes have already disposed of much of the holdings in the iron and steel industry (notably the United Steel Works), coal and electric power. Similarly, support is being withdrawn for loans to individuals wishing to construct private dwellings wherever private enterprise can possibly make any money out the transactions. True, the government has been expanding its activities in some directions, but mainly where there is no talk of “competition with private enterprise”, and with an eye to providing business men with effective guarantees against losses. (Pp. 291-2).

There is a serious academic debate over how far Fascism – both in its Nazi and Italian versions – was genuinely anti-Socialist and anti-capitalist. Mussolini started off as a radical Socialist, before breaking with the socialists over Italian intervention in the First World War. He then moved further to the right, allying with Italian big business and agricultural elites to smash the socialist workers’ and peasants’ organisations, and setting up his own trade unions to control the Italian workforce in the interests of Italian capital.

Ditto the Nazis, who banned the reformist socialist SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party – and the Communist party, and destroyed the German trade unions. Their role was then taken over by the Labour Front, which also acted to control the workforces in the interests of capital and management.

As for Hitler’s use of the term ‘socialist’ and the incorporation of the colour red, with its socialist overtones, into the Nazi flag, Hitler stated that this was to steal some of the attraction of the genuine socialist left. See the passage on this in Joachim C. Fest’s biography of the dictator. The incorporation of the word ‘socialist’ into the Nazi party’s name was highly controversial, and resisted by many of the party’s founders, as they were very definitely anti-socialist.

Brady himself comments on how the Nazis’ appropriation of the term ‘socialist’ is opportunistic, and disguises the real capitalist nature of the economy. He writes

the principle of “self-management” does appear to allow the business men to do pretty much what they wish. The cartels and market organisations remain, and have, in fact, been considerably strengthened in many cases. These are the most important organisations from the point of view of profits. The larger machinery is, as previously indicated, primarily designed to co-ordinate police on threats to the underlying tenets of the capitalistic system. The fact that the new system is called “socialism,” and that “capitalism” has been repudiated, does not detract from this generalisation in the slightest. The changes made to such as worry compilers of dictionaries and experts in etymology, not economists. For the realities of “capitalism” has been substituted the word “socialism”; for the realities of “socialism” has been substituted the word “Marxism”; “Marxism” has,, then, been completely repudiated. By reversing the word order one arrives at the truth, i.e. “socialism” in all its forms has been repudiated and capitalism has been raised into the seventh heaven of official esteem.

And the structure of Nazi Germany, where there were very close links between local and state government and industry, and where private industry and big business were celebrated and promoted, sounds extremely similar to the current corporatist political system in Britain and America. Here, political parties now favour big business over the public good, thanks to receiving donations and other aid, including the loan of personnel, from private firms, and the appointment of senior management and businessmen to positions within government. While at the same time pursuing a policy of deregulation and privatisation.

And this is without discussing the murderous Social Darwinism of the Reaganite/ Thatcherite parties, including Blairite New Labour, which has seen the welfare safety net gradually removed piecemeal, so that hundreds of thousands in Britain are now forced to use food banks to survive, and around 700 desperately poor, and particularly disabled people, have died in misery and starvation thanks to the regime of benefit sanctions and the use of pseudo-scientific procedures by ATOS and Maximus to declare seriously and terminally ill people ‘fit for work’.

The Blairites, Tories and their Lib Dem partners have set up a system of secret courts, in which, if it is considered ‘national security’ is at stake, individuals can be tried in secret, without knowing what the charges against them are, who their accuser is, or the evidence against them. Cameron and May, and indeed Tony Blair, followed Thatcher’s lead in trying to destroy the unions, and have put in place progressively stricter legislation against political protests.

Meanwhile, under the guise of combating ‘fake news’, internet companies like Google and Facebook are trying to drive left-wing, alternative news networks and sites off the Net.

The Code Pink and Green Party campaigner, Vijay Prashad, gave a speech in Washington, where he stated that Trump could be the last president of the US. If he doesn’t destroy the world, the political processes that are operating under him could result in him being the last democratically elected president, should the elites get tired of democracy.

Trump’s regime is certainly Fascistic, particularly in the support it receives from racist, White supremacist and openly Nazi organisations. If the business elites bankrolling the two parties do get tired of democracy – and due to their pernicious influence Harvard University has described the current American political system as an oligarchy, rather than democracy – then the transition to real Fascism will have been completed.

And where the Republicans go in America, the Tories over here in Britain duly follow.

Democratic Socialist on the Von Mises Institute’s Lies About the Pinochet Coup

November 5, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the Von Mises Institute. They take their name from Ludwig Von Mises, one of the founders, along with Von Hayek, of modern libertarianism.

And they’re a deeply, deeply unpleasant lot. They hate the welfare state, demand the complete privatisation of every state enterprise or service, and are thoroughly racist. Von Mises’ himself was a member of Dollfuss’ austrofascist government, before fleeing to America when the Nazis invaded. He was instrumental in setting up the Chicago School, which included Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism, and which provided the economic doctrines for Pinochet’s disgusting regime in Chile. Von Mises, like Friedman, used to go down there to see how their doctrines were working out under the old dictator.

During the Cold War they used to publish pseudo-scientific racist and eugenicist literature, arguing that Blacks were mentally inferior to Whites, and that there was no point in setting up a welfare state, as you’d just be wasting your money keeping alive the biologically unfit. Which means Blacks, as well as poor Whites. Or indeed, anyone who isn’t rich and White. More recently they’ve been pushing the lie that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about tariff control and states’ rights. Which is rubbish, because the leaders of the Confederacy said they were going to war to defend slavery.

In this video, Democratic Socialist, who sounds Antipodean to my ears, tears apart the lies in an article about the Pinochet coup by George Reisman in the Institute’s wretched journal.

Reisman claims that Pinochet was absolutely correct to overthrow the government of the Marxist president, Salvador Allende, because Allende was planning to overturn democracy and incarcerate and kill millions in concentration. Pinochet did not do any of this himself. If he had lived in Germany, he would have stopped Hitler coming to power, and would similarly have overthrown the Russian Revolutionaries under Lenin.

This is all hogwash.

Democratic Socialist uses the Pinochet Coup to demonstrate that it seems to bear out Trotsky’s comments that Fascism is the highest stage of capitalism, when it is challenged by the workers. He begins by stating that capitalism is the system under which the means of production are owned privately by a group, which then forms the working class. It needs a state apparatus to defend itself from being attacked and taken over by the exploited workers. This is followed by footage of Hitler’s ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’, Nick Robins-, sorry, Josef Goebbels, ranting about how Hitler had saved Germany from the threat of Bolshevism. Just as Pinochet claimed he had saved Chile from Communism.

In fact, Allende had been democratically elected and his government had been in power for three years when Pinochet overthrew him. Allende himself never imprisoned anyone, did not shut down any opposition radio stations or newspapers, nor set up a single concentration camp.

But Pinochet certainly did. He imprisoned thousands of Chilean left-wingers. If you read the text shown in the video, it gives the number of people imprisoned by the b*stard as 3,000. Reisman claims that these victims were not innocents. They were. One of them was Victor Jara, a popular singer and musician. Apart from imprisoning and torturing members of the Chilean left, he also used football stadiums as the venues for their execution.

As for preventing Hitler from coming to power, Democratic Socialist points out that both Hitler and Pinochet had the backing of the capitalist class, and both claimed they were saving their countries from Marxism. This is accompanied with footage showing troops in coal-scuttle helmets doing a kind of goose-step. They could be Nazi storm-troopers, but they’re not. Democratic Socialist doesn’t point this out, but they’re actually Chilean soldiers. Pinochet was a fan of Adolf Hitler, and deliberately modelled the uniforms of the Chilean army on those of Nazi Germany. And to anyone from the Right, who wants to dismiss this as coming from a tainted left-wing source, I didn’t get it from a left-wing newspaper. It came from an article in the Daily Mail years ago. So definitely not from a left-wing source!

Democratic Socialist also puts Reisman right about the possibility that Pinochet would have saved Russia from Communism. Well, that was what the Russian Civil War was about, when the Whites tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. They had thousands of little Pinochets, but were defeated as they faced an army of armed revolutionaries, not unarmed, innocent civilians.

He then goes on to demolish the claim that Pinochet stepped down voluntarily in 1988. He didn’t. He was forced out by the other members of his vile junta after he lost a referendum. Pinochet himself was planning to overturn it.

And unsurprisingly, Reisman claims that Pinochet’s economic reforms benefitted ordinary Chileans. They didn’t. They simply plunged them into even worse poverty.

Democratic Socialist also compares Pinochet’s regime with Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Pinochet overthrew a democratically elected government, and imprisoned and tortured innocents. Castro, by contrast, overthrew the Bautista dictatorship, which was also supported by the capitalists, and which had killed thousands of political opponents.

He also takes issue with the claim that capitalism has not killed anyone, or is not responsible for the same number of deaths as global communism. He shows this to be untrue by citing the figures for the famines in China and India created by capitalism, and of the horrific punishments inflicted by capitalist regimes when their workers aren’t productive enough.

He ilustrates the last with pictures of Black Africans with missing limbs. These are from the poor indigenous people of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, when it was the personal possession of King Leopold in the late 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. These people were forced to cultivate and produce rubber for the king. If they were unable to meet their quotas, they were flogged or had their hands and feet hacked off. If you want to see the photos for yourself, along with some of the other grim depictions of slavery and the slave trade through the ages, try Susan Everett’s Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. It’s a big coffee table book, rather than academic text, but it does cover slavery throughout history, including the ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian and Chinese migrant workers.

This is very much the type of pernicious lies which the Republicans and the Libertarian wing of the Tory party over here have been trying to spread about Pinochet’s regime in Chile. Thatcher was very much part of the Libertarian wing of the Tory party, and she was very much a friend and admirer of the old b*stard, when he came over here for medical treatment. Or to evade arrest after a left-wing government took charge of the country.

And far from Allende destroying democracy and setting up concentration camps, part of what made him so dangerous to the Americans was that he was democratically elected and was not destroying democracy in Chile. This undermined the right-wing attempts to present Communism as a threat.

The Communist regimes have been responsible for massive repression and famine across much of the world, from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Mao’s China. I wouldn’t like to say that capitalism has killed more people than Communism, but it has certainly produced millions of deaths. For example, capitalist ideas about the sanctity of free trade were partly responsible for a horrific famine in India, which carried off millions. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts, which is shown in one of the pictures in the video above.

Pravda International on Ukrainian Anarchist Revolutionary Nestor Makhno from c. 1988.

November 2, 2017

This is the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, which broke out in October/November 1917, depending on which calendar is being used – the Julian or Gregorian. One of the results of Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s was that historians were at last able to examine and reappraise other left-wing revolutionaries against the former Russian empire, who would previously have been dismissed or attacked by the Communists as ‘bourgeois socialist’ or counterrevolutionary, simply because they weren’t Communists. The edition of Pravda International which I managed to dig out the other week, vol. 3 no. 5, dating from around 1988/89, began a series of articles by Vasily Golovanov, reprinted from the Literaturnaya Gazeta, about the Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno, who led an uprising of the workers and peasants in the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution and Civil War in the 1920s.

Nestor Ivanovich Makhno: the ‘little father’ of the Ukraine

The introduction to the article ran

The Makhnovist Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine – an independent popular movement which expropriated the estates of the landed gentry and distributed the land to the peasants, fought the Austrian invaders, the White Armies of Deniken and Wrangel, finally, Trotsky’s Red Command – took its name and inspiration from it charismatic military leader, Nestor Makhno. VASILY GOLOVANOV’s article in Literaturnaya Gazeta illustrates how the revolutionary potential of the peasantry – not only in the struggle to overthrow the old landowning system in Russia, but also in the work to create a new society – has been largely ignored or underrated.

In the history of the revolution, no figure is so shrouded in mystery and contradiction as Nestor Ivanovich Makhno. Even while he was still alive the most unlikely rumours circulated about him.

One story goes that when he was baptised, the priest’s vestments caught fire, which signified to all present that the child would be a rebel. Other rumours have it he was sentenced to hard labour for the murder of his brother, and that during the first months of the revolution he robbed his own villagers to buy a house in Moscow where he lived in luxury – a story put about by the Austrian troops who occupied the area after the treaty of Brest Litovsk, when Makhno was already a partisan. It is precisely these ‘facts’ that have coloured our view of this almost mythological figure.

Due to the black and white view of history in the 20s and 30s no serious historical works deal with Makhno. The journal War and Revolution published an analysis of Makhno’s partisan warfare tactics, but to date there has been no research on Makhno as the social phenomenon he was. Labelled a bandit, his memory has been stowed away among the historical archives in the hope that time would erase the image of the man who had led the peasant war in the Ukraine.

Makhno was born of a poor, fatherless peasant family. At 16 he was apprenticed to a carpenter in his home village Gulyai-Polya in the Ukraine, where joined a local anarchist group involved in carrying out expropriations.

In October 1907, following the death of a postman during the hold-up of a post coach, the police hunted the group down in earnest and by the following year 14 people had been arrested. All broke down under interrogation and blamed Makhno for the murders, but still he would not confess.

Due to his youth, Makhno’s sentence of 20 years’ hard labour was commuted to imprisonment in the Butyrky prison in Moscow, where he spent nine years shackled hand and foot for bad behaviour. But it was in prison that Makhno met his mentor, Peter Arshinov, a fellow Ukrainian anarchist whom he trusted completely.

Released after the February 1917 revolution, Makhno – now 28 and without a penny to his name – returned to his native Gulyai-Polya where he found himself playing a central role in village affairs. Elected chairman of the Peasant Union, he was also made head of the Council of Peasant Deputies.

But the pace of events did not allow for the luxury of reflection. In June, workers’ control was proclaimed and a Committee of hired Farm labourers was set up under the Union of Workers and Peasants to act against the landed gentry. In August, during Kornilov’s advance on Petrograd, Makhno organised the confiscation of weapons held by the landowners and bourgeoisie in the region.

The regional Congress of Soviets and the Gulyai-Polya anarchist group next called on the peasants to ignore the caretaker government and the Central Rada (council) and declared the immediate expropriation of land from the churches and landowners. They also set up free agricultural communes on the estates with – as far as possible – the kulaks and landowners being included in the communes.

By October the estates had been expropriated and the land ploughed up despite ‘threats from government agents’. With sedition in Gulyai-Polya threatening to spread to neighbouring provinces, the caretaker government sent a representative to punish those who had confiscated the weapons. Makhno summoned the government agent to the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution and ordered him to ‘leave Gulyai-Polya within 20 minutes, and the boundaries of (his) revolutionary territory within two hours’. After this incident no one ever troubled this strange Soviet region against until the German invasion in June 1918.

Following the German invasion, Makhno travelled to Moscow for advice. There – according to Makhno – he met Lenin who was greatly interested in his agrarian changes. In his memoirs Makhno recalls Lenin asking three times how the peasants understood the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets’. Makhno replied that to them it mean the Soviets and all bodies under their control, should be responsible for setting policy at local level.
‘In that case, the peasants in your region have been infected with anarchy,’ Lenin is reported to have said.
‘And is that such a bad thing?’ responded Makhno.
‘I don’t mean to say that it is. On the contrary, I would be very glad since it would accelerate the victory of Communism over capitalism,’ Lenin explained – adding that he considered peasant anarchy to be a temporary ailment which would soon pass.

Makhno left Moscow with the opposite conviction. Although he was a ‘soviet’ anarchist, his understanding of the revolution was very different from that of the Bolsheviks. Makhno naturally did not recognise that the party had any leading role to play. For him, the ‘lowly’ regional soviet was the only organisation which could directly express the will of the people; the hierarchy of the soviets was to him absurd and the proletarian state – personified by bureaucrats – was a dangerous lie.

In December 1917, when the Bolsheviks had consolidated their position in the Levoberezhna, their relationship with the anarchists was friendly, despite obvious differences of opinion.

During this period Makhno worked in the legal commission of the Aleksandrovsky revolutionary committee, a body which reviewed cases of people arrested under Soviet power, but it was work he did not enjoy. Moreover, when they started arresting the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, Makhno was on the point of storming the local jail.

The row over the elections to the founding congress, which he dubbed the ‘political game of cards’, also annoyed him. ‘The parties won’t serve the people, but the people the parties. Already they are talking about “the people”, but it is the parties which are running things,’ he told his new comrades-in-arms. But they did not agree with him and he resigned from the revolutionary committee and returned to Gulyai-Polya – to escape from the distortions of ‘politics with a capital P’.

In Gulyai-Polya an agricultural commune had been set up on the former estates of the gentry. Peasants and workers, who owned no property were allocated land and equipment confiscated from the land owners and kulaks.

The attempt by the Gulyai-Polya soviet to set up a direct exchange with the city is interesting. The village soviet sent flour to the workers in the Prokhovorovskaya and Morozowskaya textile mills with a request for cloth in exchange. But because the authorities opposed this petty bourgeois method of supplying the towns, the cloth sent by the textile workers was intercepted by the authorities and shipped instead to Aleksandrovsk. Subsequent events may possibly have brought the disagreements between the nascent ‘proletarian’ model of socialism and its ‘peasant’ alternative to a head and led to some sort of compromise, but the unexpected German invasion of the Ukraine prevented this development. It is not easy to explain why Makhno parted company with the Bolsheviks, since there was a period when his relationship with the Reds was official and apparently permanent.

Makhno returned from Moscow in 1918 disappointed with some of his fellow anarchists who he felt had ‘slept through’ the revolution. While he had little sympathy for the Bolsheviks’ ‘staid’ revolution, Mkahno nevertheless realised that none of the opposition parties had a leader of Lenin’s stature or strength to ‘reorganise the road of revolution’. For this reason he amalgamated the peasant insurgent ‘army’ – which had liberated a large area of eastern Ukraine from Petlyurov – with the Bolsheviks.

By agreement with the Red Army High Command (March 1919), Makhno’s army was allowed to keep the name Revolutionary insurgent Army. They were sent communist commissars and weapons, and came under the tactical direction of the command fighting Denikin. Yet for months later the idyll came to an end when, according to the generally accepted version of events, Makhno opened the front to the White due to a rift between himself and the Bolsheviks.

I Teper, one of Makhno’s cultural department, who wrote an account of the period, blames the assortment of semi-criminals who surrounded Makhno, flattering him as the ‘second Bakunin’. Yet it was not vanity which separated Makhno from the Bolsheviks. It is difficult to know why, having ceased to support Soviet power, Makhno did not go over to the Whites, but stubbornly continued to fight on against all odd on two fronts at once. In his opinion the revolution had not added a single thing to the peasant conquests on the left bank of the Dnieper; they had held the land even before the Land Decree was passed. Then, when they started founding state farms in the Ukraine the peasants’ response to this wholesale ploughing up of land was to ensure they did not leave a single shred of anything which could be used by the state farm.

Tension was also growing between Moscow, Kharkov and the countryside. Attempts to imagine the new society and how it differed from capitalism, have led Marxists to believe that under socialism all areas of the economy should be nationalised, right down to the smallest peasant smallholding. That was why in 1919 most communists thought of the peasantry as the last bourgeois class not conscious of its social obligations; they looked upon it as a material which the proletariat needed in order to fulfil its historical mission. A Kollontai wrote at the time: ‘In the Ukraine, now that worker and peasant power have been consolidated, the inevitable gap is starting to appear between these two irreconcilable elements… the petty bourgeois peasantry is totally opposed to the new principles of the national economy which come from communist teaching.’

Hence the cruelty of the food policy, and the trend of describing all peasant protests against food allocation and the resolutions passed by arbitrary peasant congresses, as ‘kulak protests’. A series of spontaneous, sometimes very violent uprisings swept through the young republic during the summer of 1918, only quietening down during the White invasion. But the understanding that the interests of the agrarian petty bourgeoisie could not be ignored came only three years later, after a series of outbursts culminating in the Kronstadt rebellion where, under the slogans of ‘free Soviets’ armed peasant troops and units of the Red Navy established a revolutionary commune which survived for 16 days, until an army was sent to crush it.

Taranovsky, one of Makhno’s lieutenants, the commander of the Jewish division at Gulyai-Polya.

Another of Makhno’s lieutenants, Fyodor Shchus.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the following issues. Makhno is discussed in George Woodcock’s book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 2nd edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986). The Anarchist Reader, (Fontana Press 1986) also edited by George Woodcock, also contains a passage by Peter Arshinov, ‘Makhno’s Anarchism in practice’ (pp.236-42).

The kulaks, denounced by the Bolsheviks, were the rich peasants, who they considered formed a separate class exploiting the landless peasants beneath them. It was against this section of the peasantry that the collectivisation policy was directed. The results, particularly in the Ukraine, as an horrific famine, which carried off millions of people. I think the death toll for Ukraine was seven million. Despite wanting to reappraise Makhno, Golovanov still follows Marxist ideology in describing him as petty bourgeois, and expecting him to side with the counterrevolutionary forces of the Whites following his break with Lenin. In fact, it’s not hard to understand why Makhno did not do so: it was precisely because he was an anarchist that he didn’t join the Whites in their campaign to re-establish Tsarism and the traditional quasi-feudal, capitalist hierarchy. Some historians have also concluded that Makhno’s revolution in Ukraine was also quasi-nationalistic. It was a form of national independence movement, but the Ukrainians had not then developed a complete idea of themselves as forming a separate nation, and so Makhno’s anarchist revolution formed as a kind of substitute.

Makhno ultimately failed, the Bolshevik Red Army reconquered Ukraine, and Makhno and his followers fled into exile, dying in Paris. When the Germans invaded in 1942, the were welcomed by many Ukrainians as liberators, only for opinion to turn against them when the Nazis began to behave as Nazis, treating them as Slav subhumans to be brutalised and exploited. It was only following the Fall of Communism that Ukraine became an independent state during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Makhno’s revolution in Ukraine and his resistance to the Bolsheviks have nevertheless been an inspiration to subsequent anarchist revolutionaries across the world. And it’s interesting to speculate how different world history would have been, had he won, and created an independent, anarchist Ukraine.

Telesur English: US Planned to Use Biological Warfare Against Cuba

October 31, 2017

The US has over the past few days released thousands of previously classified documents relating to JFK. I think this has mostly been of interested to that part of the parapolitics/ conspiracy theory crowd, who are skeptical of the official explanation of Kennedy’s assassination. But there’s also been some very disturbing revelations about America’s strategy for dealing with Cuba after Fidel Castro’s revelation overthrew the corrupt and brutal Bautista dictatorship.

This clip from Telesur English is less than a minute long. But it reveals that the Americans were at one time considering using biological weapons – that’s germ warfare to you and me – against Cuba’s crops. This would have caused mass starvation. In the end the plan was dropped because they feared that it could spread to America, and were also afraid of their scheme being traced back to the American government.

This is just one of long line of plots and schemes the Americans devised over the decades for trying to oust Castro and overthrow the Communist regime in Cuba. The video states that this plan was thought up when the Cuban regime was trying to improve conditions in the country for everyone. There are serious human rights issues in Cuba, but roughly, that’s correct. Conditions for ordinary, working Cubans have been improved immensely by the Communists, despite decades of being blockaded by the Americans.

This is in very stark contrast to the Bautista regime, which kept the majority of Cubans in grinding poverty for the benefit of the big plantation owners and industrialists with the support of Washington.

The attempts of the American government to overthrow Castro and reintroduce capitalism into Cuba are yet just another part of America’s long campaign in Latin America and elsewhere to overthrow liberal and left-wing regimes, which may not even have been Communist or even Socialist, if they threatened American corporate power. The only difference is that while they were successful in British Guiana, Guatemala, Chile and much of the rest of the Continent, Cuba successfully resisted them with the aid of the Soviets.

Scientists for the EU Explains Why the Heaton-Harris Letter Is So Dangerous

October 28, 2017

On Thursday, the news broke that Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, had written to the universities demanding details of the courses they were running on international relations, and particularly those on Brexit, asking for the names of the lecturers taking the course.

In this video lasting six minutes, the speaker takes you through the issues involved and explains the danger of a personal witch-hunt instigated by a Eurosceptic government. It’s clear that the speaker is a British scientist, who teaches at one of our unis. The blurb for the video runs

The letter from Tory Eurosceptic whip Chis Heaton-Harris to University V-Cs demanding “names of professors” that lecture on Brexit is sinister. What could the purpose of his efforts be, if not to make some kind of report to attack universities or individuals? For example, though the tabloid press? This is a classic totalitarian tactic, from Lenin to McCarthy, to politically go after and remove wider societal resistance to a government line. Universities are a common target to both left & right-wing totalitarianism because of their public voice. To drive public opinion against universities for political/power expedience is damaging both to trust across wider society and to the independence of universities. We already saw this during the referendum when Daniel Hannan peddled the notion that British Universities are paid off “sock puppets” of the EU and part of an elite, not part of “the people”.

Apparently, Hannan initially started by claiming that the universities would love it, when they were freed of EU control. When he found out that most were against leaving the EU, he then changed his tune to this populist, anti-intellectual rhetoric.

Hannan himself is a vile specimen. He’s a Dorset Tory MEP, and so, as the speaker here points out, like Nigel Farage is more than willing to get his salary from the EU. But he resents British universities, who only have a little money from the European Community, getting funding from them. The French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, has also pointed out in frequent posts that Hannan is, or used to be, a columnist for the Torygraph Blogs. Not only is he Eurosceptic, but he also openly wants to privatise the NHS. And he lies so much that Buddy Hell calls him ‘the Lyin’ King’.

The Scientist for the EU also goes on to state that Heaton-Harris’/ Daily Heil’s anger that the overwhelming majority of universities don’t reflect the wider views of British society is wrong by pointing out that other parts of British society also don’t. Like the fishing community. But no-one tells them that 48 per cent of fishing people should now support the Remain campaign. He states that different sectors of British society have different views on the issue, according to the circumstances as it affects them.

Two Soviet Anti-Fascism Posters

October 21, 2017

The threat of Fascism in the years leading up to the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of the USSR also brought forth a number of propaganda posters from the Communist authorities. Several of these are collected in the book The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987. Most of these are very much of their time, intended to encourage and strengthen the Soviet people’s resistance to the invaders.

But I thought I’d select a couple to put up here, because their message, like that of the anti-war posters I discussed in my last post, has become intensely relevant yet again. Fascist regimes have seized power in Europe. There are genuine Nazis in the coalition governing the Ukraine, while the Hungarian government is also intensely nationalistic and anti-Semitic. And in the former Czech republic many of the parties are bitterly anti-Roma, and, like the Hungarian government to their south, anti-Islam.

In Germany the Nazi Alternative Fuer Deutschland has entered the German parliament, while the Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France has been challenging the last few French presidential elections. And in America there’s the Alt-Right propping up Donald Trump’s government, led by Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon, and including figures like Milo Yiannopolis and Katie Hopkins.

All promise their countries’ citizens a future of prosperity and stability, if they purge the country of migrants from the Developing world, Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Roma. And women are to be encouraged to give up their careers, and return to the home and raising children.

The poster below shows the reality behind the Fascist rhetoric. It shows a grieving woman and child while Nazi forces goose-step around them.

The slogan translates at

Fascism spells hunger
Fascism spells terror
Fascism spells war.

I realise this is another piece of historical hypocrisy, as Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture was partly achieved through the creation of an artificial famine which killed millions of Soviet citizens. In Ukraine, the Holodomor, as this mass genocide is known, killed 8 million people. It created an atmosphere of bitter hostility to the Soviet state, which resulted in many Ukrainians greeting the invading Germans as liberators. In fact, the Nazis were anything but, and swiftly started persecuting the Ukrainians as ‘subhuman’ Slavs.

But apart from the horrors of Stalin’s Russia, the poster does show the reality of Fascism: poverty, terror and war for its victims and ordinary people at the bottom of the Fascist hierarchy.

The poster below is an attack on Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in breach of the Nazi-Soviet pact. This treaty divided up eastern Europe between Germany and the USSR. Stalin was taken by surprise by the Nazi invasion. The German forces were able to advance hundreds of miles into the USSR in a very short time because for a few days Stalin forbade his armed forces to shoot back. Eventually Stalin recovered, and pushed the Nazis all the way back to Berlin. Historians have said that it was the Red Army that broke back of the Wehrmacht. They’re the reason why we don’t have a Europe dominated by the Third Reich today, with Jews and Gypsies extinct, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians cleansed from a large section of their homelands, and the survivors degraded to a poor, uneducated class of peasant producers raising food for their Aryan masters.

The poster shows Hitler, mask now fallen off, bursting through the Molotov-Soviet pact, being skewered by the bayonet of a squaddie from the Red Army. I put it up because I thought how great something like this would look if you just replaced Hitler with Richard Spencer.

Three Soviet Anti-War Posters

October 21, 2017

I found these three posters in the art book, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987 and was struck by their continued relevance to events today. The book is a collection of Soviet political posters from the Bolshevik coup of 1917 to the time the book was published in the mid-1980s, taken from the Lenin library. In many ways it’s an art-historical chronicle of the great events that shaped the Soviet Union, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, collectivisation and industrialisation, the Nazi invasion, nuclear tensions of the Cold War, Gagarin’s epoch-making spaceflight and then on to the years of stagnation under Brezhnev.

Two of the posters below were part of a number produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which the Russians called the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Their message against war is simple and eternal, using the images of a woman and child in one, and a small child in the other, to get the message across.

The Russian behind the little girl reads simply ‘Don’t Need War’.

The slogan in this poster says ‘Not For Wars’.

This last poster is less anti-war, than anti-nuclear testing. Nevertheless, it was painted in 1958 during the Cold War, when the West and the Communist bloc faced each other amid an intense atmosphere of distrust and hostility, and it seemed that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. This is the background to the formation of groups in the West like CND. The Russian is a simple cry of ‘No!’

I realise that there’s an element of hypocrisy in these posters, as the Soviet Union was a military superpower, which used its armed forces to dominate its satellites in eastern Europe, and was intent on developing its own nuclear arsenal.

But I wanted to put these images up because of their powerful message now, when our political leaders seem to be intent on driving us towards another useless, dangerous Cold War with Russia, and Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the madman in charge of North Korea, have been threatening each other with their nuclear and conventional weapons over in the Pacific.

In the case of Kim Jong-In, he’s simply the latest scion of a family of brutal ‘Stalinist’ dictators, who hang on to power through terror and mass arrest. In the case of Trump and the western politicians, the new Cold War is another attempt to isolate and weaken Russia on the geopolitical stage, provide a reason for giving more massive government contracts to the arms manufacturers, and in the case of Killary and the corporatist Democrats, divert attention away from their own very corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia abroad, and Wall Street and big business at home.

America’s wars in the Middle East are killing hundreds of thousands, and have displaced many millions more. They have reduced secular Arab nations to ruins, and created legions of Islamist militants and sectarian death squads, who kill, maim, butcher and enslave in their turn. And now Trump seems intent on forcing some kind of confrontation with Iran.

And so we still need to hear these posters’ vital message, whatever we think of Russia’s Communist past.

During the Cold War of the 1980s, Sting sang ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ The answer from these posters is clearly ‘Yes’. Just as the Arabs and Iranians do.

No more imperialism.

No more war.

Radio 4 Programme on British Invasion of Russia to Overthrow Russian Revolution

October 13, 2017

Also on Radio 4 next week, on Friday, 20th October 2017 at 11.00 am., is a programme on the British invasion of Russia. This followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917, and was intended to overthrow the new Communist regime. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times states

The story of a little-known war that took place a century ago along the frozen rivers of the Russian Arctic and transformed Russia’s relations with the West for decades to come. After the October Revolution, thousands of foreign troops under British command fought Russians on Russian soil for more than 18 months. Lucy Ash meets the 93-year-old son of General Edmund Ironside, who wrote at the time that he was in charge of “a tiny army of not very first class troops” stranded in the icy vastness of Russia “in the midst of a bitter civil war”. (Page 139).

Again, there’s a bit more information on the facing page, 138, written by Tom Goulding. This reads

The UK’s relationship with Russia has always seemed cold – coloured by by decades of menacing but empty rhetoric on both sides. so it’s often overlooked that just under 100 years ago a real and bloody conflict took place between Britain and the Bolsheviks in the frozen Arctic. Journalist Lucy Ash investigates this infamous incursion of British boots on Russian soil by speaking to the 93-year-old son of Edmund Ironside, the general who led Churchill’s crusade to put down the fledgling Bolshevik state. The intervention was a disaster, and the resulting mistrust between the two countries looms large to this day.

With 20/20 hindsight, it could be said that it’s a pity that the invasion didn’t succeed. The Bolsheviks were authoritarians from the start. They suppressed the other political parties and organisations, including left-wing and socialist groups such as the Mensheviks, Trudoviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Strict discipline was reintroduced, and the Bolsheviks reinstated the same proprietors and managers to manage the factories and other industrial concerns that they’d nationalised, against the desires of the anarchists, syndicalists and Left Communists, who wished to create a genuine worker’s state with worker’s control of industry. These were also suppressed, and their leaders and members arrested.

And if Bolshevik rule had been overturned, the Nazis may never have come to power as there would not have been a Communist threat that they could claim to be protecting Germany and the upper and middle classes from. And Stalin would not have come to power, to kill and imprison something like 30 million Soviet citizens – although some estimates put the death toll higher at 45 million – in the gulags and purges.

On the other hand, the Whites were also extremely brutal and oppressive. They, like the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, also held out the prospect of restoring democracy. However, the leader of one of the White counter-revolutionary bands was a maniac, who I think believed himself to be Jesus Christ or Buddha – or both. This butcher used to throw cold water over his prisoners’ naked bodies in the depths of the Russia winter so that they froze to death, and snap pieces of their bodies. Tony Greenstein in a recent blog post describes how the Zionist leaders approached another anti-Semitic White General, Petlyura, about sending Jews from Russia to Palestine. The Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov vividly describes the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence during the Civil War in the Ukraine in his classic, The White Guard, adapted from his play, The Days of the Turbins. He mentions the lynching of Jews by the peasants, and one of the characters killed by the mob in this way is a Jewish man, whose only crime was to have left his home to try to buy food and medicine for his family.

And if you read accounts of the Russian Revolution, it’s very clear why the peoples of the Russian Empire rose up, even if they mostly didn’t support Lenin and the Bolsheviks: they were pushed to the end of their tether through losing a war for which the ordinary squaddies were poorly treated and equipped, and by social conditions of horrendous poverty and near starvation in industry and the countryside. Russia was beset by strikes, and their were hundreds of peasant uprisings that occurred one after the other in the Russian countryside.

As for the British invasion, it seems to me it had two objectives. These were to keep the Russians in the War, fighting the Germans and Austrians, and to overthrow the Bolshevik state as a threat to capitalism. I dare say that it was accompanied with claims that it was about defending democracy, but as it wasn’t until the ’20s that all men got the vote regardless of property qualifications, and women finally gained the suffrage, such claims are probably rather specious.

Pat Mills, in one of the interviews I put up a few weeks ago, mentioned that he wrote a story for the First World War strip, Charlie’s War, in the comic Battle, which dealt with the British invasion of Russia. Mills is very left-wing, and says in the interview that the British officers ‘behaved like animals’. Which I don’t doubt they did, considering the stupid brutality they later unleashed in Ireland during their Revolution, though this was mostly done by the auxiliary units, the Black and Tans, rather than the regular army.