Posts Tagged ‘Bakunin’

Socialism and Equality in the Programme of the International Workingmen’s Association

December 27, 2018

Last week I put up a piece arguing that one of the main differences between genuine socialism and Nazism and Fascism, which at times included socialist elements or affected socialistic postures, is that Socialism also demanded equality. Karl Kautsky in his writings stated that socialists supported the working class as the way to equality and the classless society. If this could be done better without socialism, then the latter would have to be discarded. Article 6 of the Preamble to the General Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association, agreed at the Geneva congress in 1866, explicitly included racial, national and religious equality. Bakunin gives the rules in the Preamble in his piece on ‘The Organisation of the International’ in Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans. (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), pp. 137-44. They were

1. The emancipation of Labour should be the work of the labourers themselves;
2. The efforts of the workers to emancipate themselves should lend themselves to the establishment not of new privileges but of equal rights and equal obligations for everyone, and to the abolition of all class domination;
3. The economic subjection of the worker to the monopolizers of primatery materials and of the instruments of labour is the origin of all forms of slavery: social poverty, mental degradation, and political submission.
4. For this reason, the economic emancipation of the working classes is the great goal to which every political movement should be subordinated as a simple means;
5. The emancipation of the workers is not a simply local or national problem; on the contrary, this problem is of interest to all civilized nations depending for its solution upon their theoretical and practical circumstances;
6. The Association and all its members recognize that Truth, Justice, and Morality must be the basis of their conduct toward all men, without regard to colour, creed or nationality;
7. Finally the Association considers itself obliged to demand human and civil rights not only for its members but also for whoever fulfills his obligations; “No obligations without rights, no rights without obligations”.

Pp. 142-3, my emphasis.

I realise that there are exception to this rule. The Fabians were fully behind British imperialism and the Boer War, and Marx and Engels had deeply unpleasant views about how certain nations – the Celts and the Slavs – were reactionary and due to disappear from history. And I think its probably fair to say that it has only been after the great social changes in the 1960s that feminism and anti-racism have been more than the concern of a few intellectuals both within the Labour movement in Britain and outside it.

But nevertheless, the I.W.M.A’s programme does show a commitment to social equality was present in the working class movement from very early on, a commitment that continues to inspire and motivate socialists and working people today striving for a better world. A world without Fascism, which will try to take on some of its aspects in order to suppress real socialism.

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.

More ‘Red Tory’ Bilge from May – But Is Anyone Taken In?

July 14, 2016

Announcing that she had won the Tory leadership contest yesterday, Theresa May made a speech declaring that she was going to continue the Tories’ work making a more equal society, which would not just be for the privileged few. She had also uttered something on Monday about supporting workers’ representatives in the boardroom. This impressed one of the more gullible journos in the Independent. He raved about how, if he was May, he’d call a snap election and destroy the Labour party. After all, Labour was tearing itself to pieces in the fight between Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairites. And May’s promise to put workers in the boardroom, and support the working poor, were clearly policies that only the most tribal of Labour supporters would ever reject. If May did this, said journo boasted, she could knock down Labour to only 20 per cent of the vote.

I say the journo was ‘gullible’. Actually, I don’t think he was anything of the sort. I think he was a bog-standard cynical Tory propagandist, doing what the Tory press have always done: lying for their favourite party.

Labour considered introducing worker’s representatives into the boardroom in the 1970s. According to the Fabian pamphlet I blogged about the other day, there was even a White Paper drafted. This would have given workers up to fifty per cent of the members of the boardroom in the nationalised industries. There were even two trial experiments in workers’ representation at the time in the Royal Mail and British Steel. Both were discontinued. Tony Benn was a staunch supporter of worker’s boardroom representation, and he was thoroughly vilified for it by the Tory press. It was partly due to this, and his support for wider nationalisation, that every single paper in the 70s and 80s depicted him as a wild-eyed fanatic. The opposite was the truth. Benn was a considered, thoughtful man, who listened very carefully to everyone’s opinion before making up his mind. This was the opinion of those who worked with him, including the head of Bristol’s Chamber of Commerce.

There’s a kind of irony here, in which a policy, which terrified the Tories at the time, was trotted out by them to show that Theresa May somehow cares about us proles. It’s rubbish. She doesn’t, and the fact that she’s trying to con people with it says all you need to know about how little she differs from Cameron.

It’s more ‘Red Tory’ nonsense, the same kind of stuff Philip Blonde wrote about in the book of the same title, in order to get his protégé, David Cameron, elected. Blonde’s book plays up the support the early Victorian Conservatives gave to the nascent working class movement, for example in the passage of the Factory Acts and 10 Hour Bill. He also waxed glowingly about the virtues of Kropotkin, the great 19th century Anarchist. Kropotkin was and remains one of the great figures of Anarchist thought, and his book, The Conquest of Bread, has now been issued in Penguin Classics. Kropotkin was a bitter critic of the poverty and misery produced by capitalism and the state, but he was no advocate of violence, like Bakunin and Nechaev. In the last chapter of Fields, Factories and Workshops, he describes the anarchist workers taking the means of production into their hands, and peacefully extending the contact of the emerging anarchist commune into the surrounding countryside. It is the statists, the bourgeois parties, who are responsible for the killing during this Revolution. The Anarchists, meanwhile, simply go about their business of building the new, libertarian communist society.

Yes, ‘communist’. As well as criticising the state and capitalism, Kropotkin also believed, like other Anarchists, that the ideal society could only be created, and conditions for humanity genuinely improved, when everyone controlled the means of production, distribution and exchanged. He shared the same vision of the abolition of private industry and agriculture as the Marxist Communists. He just believed that it could be done directly, with no need to create a powerful centralised state.

While Tories like Cameron like the idea of ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as Thatcher and a young William Hague once droned on about, none of the modern Tories has time for anything like the nationalisation or socialisation of industry. Indeed, they’re determined to privatise as much as possible. And anything they can’t privatise, they try to cut to the bone and close down. See the NHS, schools, and your local library, swimming baths and other local services for examples of this ad nauseam.

May’s utterances about workers in the boardroom is more of this sort. It’s an attempt by part of the Tory party to try to present itself as being ‘caring’ about working people. Cameron very carefully positioned himself as such in the run up to the 2010 election. He promised to ring fence funding for the NHS, and he and the other Tories campaigned against the closures of local hospitals. For a time, he looked more left-wing than Labour.

It was all a lie. Nothing new there generally, and it was just the first of many to come out of Cameron’s administration. Once through the front door of No 10, all this radical stuff evaporated, and it was full steam ahead with cuts, NHS privatisation and grinding the workers into the dirt. And it’s been like that ever since. May’s declaration that she’s in favour of workers in the boardroom, and helping the working poor, is just more of this ‘Red Tory’ mendacity. None of it is anything beyond PR, spin and doubletalk.

What she’s really going to be like can be seen from her cabinet. One of those to whom she gave a post, for example, was Priti Patel, the ‘curry queen’, and one of the authors of the infamous screed, Britannia Unchained. Patel and the rest of her cohorts argued in their wretched little book that British workers had better knuckle down, and work harder for less, just like the peoples of the Developing World. So, not the workers’ friend then.

Neither is Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose effortlessly genteel and condescending manner also hides – or not, as the case may be – the fact that he too is a member of the Tory right, who has backed Cameron’s policies of privatisation, cuts and immiseration all the way.

May has no interest in helping the poor, whether they’re working or not. And I do wonder at those, like the Indie journo, who would have us believe that she does. Do they really believe we’re that gullible? Is that how cynical they are about the British public. From all the evidence, it appears at the moment that they are.

Omar Mateen: Islamist Warrior, or Just Angry Nutter?

June 14, 2016

Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, apparently phoned up ISIS and swore allegiance to the murdering scum, before going out to commit his own horrendous atrocity. He had been investigated by the FBI before, as one of his friends had been a suicide bomber. They’d let him go. Now questions are being asked about the investigation and the soundness of their decision.

My guess here is that the FBI probably did have to face a genuinely difficult decision. Many people know someone personally who is a ‘bit dodgy’. For most people, it’s low-grade criminality, nowhere near the level of mass murder. The problem with looking at networks of people is that just because person X knows Y, who might be a known crim, or be a member of an unpleasant political or religious organisation, doesn’t mean that person X is either. Of course, ISIS are bound to claim him proudly as one of their own, because they are, after all, a gang of cut-throats with a twisted sense of morality and a need to kill and maim. But that doesn’t mean that Mateen joined them out of any deep religious or ideological reasons. He could just have joined them because he was an angry, nihilistic thug with a need to take out his rage on innocents, and ISIS gave him a pretext, a rationale for his atrocity.

Way back in 19th century France, Paris was rocked for a time by a series of bombings committed by Ravachol, an anarchist. Yet when Ravachol himself was caught, his self-declared ideological reasons for blowing up cafes and their patrons looked less than sound. He has no connection to other anarchist groups, and far from attacking the ruling classes, his bombings were of working class bars and cafes. He might have been genuinely motivated by the ideas of Bakunin and the other advocates of ‘propaganda of the deed’. Or he might simply have been a maniac with a need to kill and maim, and seized on anarchism for his rationale. Just as Mateen used ISIS.

After all, if Mateen was a dedicated Islamist, it looks like he left it rather late. Rather than phone them up before going out and shooting people, you’d have thought he’d have done it long ago. And then there’s his choice of venue. He had a very specific hatred of gays. I think this is remarkable, because in previous Islamist atrocities, they target the general population indiscriminately. They’re just interested in killing Western unbelievers, which includes those Muslims, who don’t share their warped views. You think of the 7/7 bombers. They targeted public transport. They didn’t target gay pubs. I’m not saying that they didn’t hate gays. It’s highly likely they did. But specifically targeting one particular group wasn’t their aim. They wanted to kill all infidels generally. The same with the Boston bomber. He targeted a marathon in order to kill the maximum number of people in a public place, irrespective of their sexuality.

Now it could be that Mateen was a genuine Islamist, and that from killing the patrons of the nightclub, he would have moved on to other sections of the population, apart from gays. But I wonder. At the moment, it looks to me like he was a nasty homophobe with a specific desire to kill gay people, rather than being a warrior for Islam.

Private Eye on the Magistrates’ Partnership with the Private Prisons Companies

April 27, 2016

One of the biggest scandals in America is the relationship between the private prisons companies and legal authorities and local governments. The private prison companies lobby the state legislatures to pass harsher laws, and the judiciary to increase custodial sentencing, all to boost their profits. One of the cases highlighted by Michael Moore in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is the case of a troubled teenage girl, who was sent to a private jail by a judge, who was in receipt of monies donated by one of the private prison companies.

According to this last fortnight’s Private Eye, the same has been happening in England. They report that the Magistrate’s Association has been attempting to open a profit-making arm in conjunction with the outsourcing companies that run prisons. After having been criticised for the scheme, the Association is trying to fold it into the Probation Institute, but leaving this corrupt relationship intact.

Here’s the article:

Magistrates

Bendy Beaks

Who is the Magistrates’ Association trying to kid?

Last year it was criticised for getting into bed with the very same private punishment companies which now carry out the sentences imposed by … magistrates. It had set up a commercial wing, the MA Education and Research Network, as part of an “income generation strategy”. Alas, three of its funding partners were the French multinational Sodexo, US import MCT Novo, and Working Links – all of which, thanks to former justice secretary Chris Grayling, now profit from carrying out court punishments.

The move troubled some at the top of the MA as well as its rank and file; and after the Eye highlighted concerns over conflicts of interest, sources told the Eye that there were plans to close the network. But when asked if it would therefore return members’ money used as seed funding, MA communications director Jason Hughes said, on 4 December last year: “There are no plans to close down the network. Your question regarding seed funding is therefore redundant.”

But the Eye has now been leaked minutes from an MA board meeting held two days earlier, on 2nd December, showing a weaselly plan to distance the MA from the scheme. In the minutes, chief executive Chris Brace said the board had decided to dissolve the network and that it would be “incorporated” into the Probation Institute. Among the reasons cited were negative publicity, allegations about compromising justice and judicial independence, and the amount of time spent on “reputational management”.

Troubled members of the MA should know what this means. As Hughes now explains: “The network was incorporated into the Probation Institute; it therefore exists (not closed) with a different ownership and governance structure – however, the objectives are maintained. The legal vehicle by which it was subsidiary of the Magistrates Association has been dissolved, as per the minutes. The [seed] funding … has been allocated to setting up the new initiative and into research about the treatment of women in the criminal justice system.” (Readers may recall that “women in the justice system” were hastily added to its initial research plans after the Eye questioned why its first year was to be focused on “technology” – an obvious commercial interest.)

The Probation Institute website declares that this “new joint Probation and Judicial Matters Professional Network … will include magistrates, probation and … rehabilitation practitioners” – ie, Sodexo et al. The venture is “an evolution of the work that has already taken place within the association’s Education and Research Network”, and aims at “identifying priority areas of research which the two organisations should promote, and to facilitate and encourage contributions from funder”. New name, new legal governance – same old tricks?

If the MA hope this would head off criticism, it hasn’t. Frances Crook, of the Howard league, said: “Taking substantial sums of money from companies delivering sentences calls into question the independence and integrity of the Magistrates Association. Now would be the time to repay the money and be honest with its members about this unfortunate relationship.” (Private Eye, 15th – 28th April, 39).

The relationship between the Magistrates Association and the private prisons industry would have confirmed to anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta not only the basic injustice of the state, but also its links to exploitative capitalism. With a fund-raising network like that, you can understand why the Surrealists, in the first issue of their magazine, demanded that the prisons should be opened and the convicts released. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s a recipe for terrible miscarriages of justice and bring the British legal system into severe disrepute.

Tolstoy’s Prediction of the First World War

April 27, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and already the BBC has put on a season of programmes commemorating the conflict. I’ve blogged on Michael Gove’s criticism of the negative view of the First World War, which he feels denigrates the courage and patriotism of the soldiers. He attacked the Beeb’s comedy series, Black Adder Goes Forth, as an example of this, and compounded his argument with knee-jerk Tory anti-intellectualism by claiming that the view was promoted by ‘Left-wing intellectuals’. A number of bloggers have attacked this diatribe, including Mike over at Vox Political. It has also provoked a response from the creators of graphic novels, who are putting together several albums presenting the horrific reality of the conflict as a response to Gove’s Right-wing patriotic view of the War.

Many people in Europe in the late 19th and first decade of the 20th centuries were very much aware of the looming threat of world conflict. One of those who foresaw it and its mass carnage was the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. As well as a writer, Tolstoy was a pacifist Anarchist. He hated the horrors of modern, industrial society and the state that oppressed the Russian poor. He saw the solution in the abolition of the state and traditional peasant society, to the point where he gave up much of his life style as a Russian aristocrat to live, dress and work like a peasant. As a young man, he had, like many other noblemen, been a soldier and had fought in the wars to conquer Chechnya and the Caucasus. He had been highly impressed by ideas of a Chechen Sufi leader, who, when his nations’ attempts to resist the Russians through armed force were repeatedly suppressed, rejected violence and advocated instead a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. Tolstoy himself rejected violence, and took up the Sufi leader’s ideas. In turn, Tolstoy’s advocacy of the policy influenced Gandhi in his own campaign against British rule in India.

Tolstoy also campaigned on behalf of the Doukhobors, a heretical Russian Christian sect, that also rejected violence. It was due to Tolstoy’s support and that of British Quakers that the sect emigrated from Russia to settle in Canada.

He promoted his Anarchist and pacifist ideals in a series of books, What Then Must We Do?, The Kingdom of God is Within You and The Restoration of Hell. They also influenced his magnum opus, War and Peace. This was written to show that history was not made by a few great men, but by the actions of millions of ordinary people. Lionel Kochan discusses Tolstoy’s ideas, his criticisms of contemporary society, and prediction of the coming War in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970). Tolstoy attacked just about every aspect of contemporary society, including science, the press, religion, state education, and the state as a system of organised crime itself. Kochan writes:

Tolstoy, no doubt, showed little, if any, awareness of the deep-rooted complexity of the evils he stigmatized; no doubt, also, his positive doctrine was thin enough – the gospel of universal love, undogmatic Christianity, sexual abstinence, non-resistance to evil, the renunciation of tobacco and alcohol – for all that his later work constitutes an anarchist programme of profound strength. His unbridled criticism of society and its values, his corrosive and derisive scepticism, made him an anarchist more anarchic, a nihilist more nihilistic and a revolutionary more destructive than any whom Russia had yet brought forth – far more consistent and humanistic than Bakunin, far more hard-headed than Kropotkin.

What is science? He asked. Had it done anything of value to human life in determining the weight of Saturn’s satellites? What was universal suffrage? A means whereby the prisoners elected their own gaolers. Had industrialism raised the standard of living? Then look at the slums and doss-houses of Moscow. Tolstoy derided division of labour as a device for turning men into machines, book-printing as a medium for communicating ‘all the nasty and stupid things that are done and written in the world’, and reform for teaching people ‘that though themselves bad they can reform bad people’. What did the church do but maintain idolatry ‘in the most literal sense of the word – worshipping holy relics and icons, offering sacrifices to them and expecting from them the fulfilment of the worshippers’ wishes’? What did compulsory education do but ‘teach the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pseudo-obligation to obey the state’? What was the press but a means for ‘exciting feelings of mutual hostility between the nations’? What were the governments of the time, despotic and liberal alike, but – and her Tolstoy quotes Herzen’s phrase – ‘Genghis Khans with telegraphs’? The modern state was a mechanism so interlocked and interdependent that it became impossible to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent: ‘Some people demand the perpetration of a crime, others decide that it shall be done, a third set confirm that decision, a fourth propose its execution, a fifth report on it, a sixth finally decree it, and a seventh carry out the decree.’ Tolstoy’s apocalyptic vision of a state given over to destruction culminates in an anticipation of the imminent First World War:

‘The bells will peal and long-haired men will dress themselves in gold-embroidered socks and begin to pray on behalf of murder … The editors of newspapers will set to work to arouse hatred and murder under the guise of patriotism and will be delighted to double their sales. Manufacturers, merchants, and contractors for army stores will hurry about joyfully in expectation of doubled profits … Army commanders will bustle here and there, drawing double pay and rations and hoping to receive trinkets and crosses, stripes and stars, for murdering people. Idle ladies and gentlemen will fuss about, entering their names in advance for the Red Cross and getting ready to bandage those whom their husbands and brothers are setting out to kill – imagining they will be doing a most Christian work thereby.’

Kochan criticises Tolstoy for not understanding how enthusiastic and patriotic Russian servicemen initially were for the War. However, he then goes on to quote the great writer’s prediction of the condition of the soldiers in the War’s later stages, men who

‘will trudge where they may be driven, stifling the despair in their souls by songs, debauchery and vodka. They will march, freeze, suffer from hunger, and fall ill. Some will die of disease, and some will at last come to the place where men will kill them by the thousand. And they too, without knowing why, will murder thousands of others whom they had never before seen, and who had neither done nor could do them any wrong.’

For Tolstoy, the coming world war would ‘devour in a year more victims than all the revolutions of a century’. (pp. 157-8).
I strongly disagree with most of Tolstoy’s criticisms of contemporary society. He was, for example, wrong about science not benefitting humanity. it clearly has and had, most obviously in the improvements in medicine, that appeared in the 19th century. And printing and the press have increased knowledge and much good around the globe, despite the fact that they can often be used for evil. Having said that, he does have a point with the Sun, Daily Mail, and Express.

It will, however, be interesting to see if the BBC or anyone else, in their programmes on the Great War, mention Tolstoy’s prediction.

As a pacifist Anarchist, Tolstoy’s political views were strongly disapproved by Paul Johnson in the Spectator. In one of his articles in that journal he described the great novelists as somehow – I’ve forgotten quite what he wrote – being responsible for the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s tyranny. He never described how this was so. He simply asserted it, and went on. The only thing Tolstoy had in common with Stalin is that they were both radicals, who revolted against the Tsarist state. And possibly that they both had military careers. Apart from that, Tolstoy hated everything that Stalin stood for – militarism, an oppressive, coercive state, brutality and murder. And Tolstoy himself was far from unique in wishing to see a radical reform or overthrow of contemporary society. By 1905 the Tsar’s reluctance to establish any kind of constitutional reforms had pushed most sections of the Russian society in opposition. Even the Union of Unions, made up members of the liberal profession – doctors, lawyers, vets, scientists, engineers, teachers, university professors – not the usual bomb-throwing nutters – were advocating the use of violence if all else failed. There was another writer called, Tolstoy, Alexey, who survived into the Stalin era to write pieces praising the dictator. It looks like Johnson confused the two due to the same surname. But Leo Tolstoy would have been utterly opposed to the old thug.

Kropotkin on the Potential of Communal Agriculture

February 13, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

Amnesiaclinic posted this comment, pointing to the development of co-operative gardens in America, on my post about Workfare Exploitation

‘I like the idea of doing as much bartering as possible and definitely blacklisting any company or charity having anything to do with this. There seems to be quite a movement taking off in the US of community gardens where people work together cooperatively and organically to produce good food for schools. hospitals nurseries but could be expanded into teaching basic cooking with fresh food and veggies for Food Banks etc etc. We need to help ourselves become independent and self sufficient leaving them with their useless walls of gold as Voice of Reason says!’

The great 19th-early 20th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, would have agreed. Kropotkin was a Russian nobleman and scientist, who had requested being posted to Siberia when he joined the Russian army. He had earlier been at the tsar’s court, and his experience there, and with the peasants on his own estate and in Siberia, convinced him that the peasants and ordinary working people were more humane and moral than the aristocracy. His research into the botany and animal life of Siberia convinced him that Darwinian ideas that stressed competition in evolution were incorrect, and that co-operation and mutual support were instead the driving forces of biological development. He published his ideas in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

His experiences also made him a convinced anarchist, believing that the state was both oppressive and unnecessary. Like many other anarchists, he believed that society could only reformed through a revolution. Unlike some contemporary anarchists, like Bakunin, he did not delight in violence, and his works take a more evolutionary line. He realised that the revolution would be violent and bloody, but believed that the new, co-operative order which would replace capitalism and individualism would develop from trends already in place. As proof of what voluntary groups could achieve without state support or interference, he pointed to charities and organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Britain, and the international courts set up by merchants in Europe during the Middle Ages, in which merchants administered their own laws.

In his book, The Conquest of Bread (London: Elephant Editions 1985), Kropotkin discusses how an anarchist revolution would reform society, with a comprehensive reorganisation of industry, housing, agriculture, the provision of food and clothes, and the abolition of the wages system in favour of the direct provision of goods between communities and the workers in particular areas.

The chapter, ‘Food’, describes how a new anarchist commune, like the Paris Commune of 1871, would organise its agricultural production to feed itself. This sounds rather like the community gardens mentioned by Amnesiaclinic. Kropotkin writes

‘The large towns, as well as the villages, must undertake to till the soil. We must return to what biology calls ‘the integration of functions’ – after the division of labour, the taking up of it as a whole-this is the course followed throughout Nature.

Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see that at the end of eight months it will be running short of bread, and Paris will set to work to grow wheat.

Land will not be wanting, for it is round the great towns, and round Paris especially, that the parks and pleasure grounds of the landed gentry are to be found. These thousands of acres only await the skilled labour of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive than the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labour be lacking. To what should the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention, when they would be no longer catering for the luxurious fads and amusements of Russian princes, Rumanian grandees and wives of Berlin financiers?

… Thus, learning the art of horticulture from experts, and trying experiments in different methods on small patches of soil reserved for the purpose, vying with each other to obtain the best returns, finding in physical exercise, without exhaustion or overwork, the health and strength which so often flags in cities – men, women and children will gladly turn to the labour of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery,, but has become a pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy.’

In the last chapter, ‘Agriculture’, he argues that an anarchist commune, such as a town, could provide enough food to support its inhabitants and to trade with other communities, through the use of the intensive agricultural techniques that were then coming into use, with only a few hours labour being demanded of each citizen. He similarly describes the benefits of such communal agricultural work thus:

‘Of all the great days of the French Revolution, the most beautiful, the greatest, was the one on which delegates who had come from all parts of France to Paris, all worked with the spade to plane the ground of the Champ de Mars, preparing it for the fete of the Federation.

That day France was united: animated by the new spirit, she had a vision of the future in the working in common of the soil.

And it will again be by the working in common of the soil that the enfranchised societies will find their unity and will obliterate the hatred and oppression which has hitherto divided them.

Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity-that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold – the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.

Ceasing to produce for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.’

One of the criticisms levelled at him is that of excessive optimism. He believed strongly in the essential goodness of human nature, to the point where he believed that even people guilty of the most heinous crimes would behave selflessly. In Mutual Aid, for example, he points to a case in France where a murderer in hiding dashed out to rescue a child from a burning house, knowing full well that this self-less act would lead to his arrest and execution for the crime. It’s been said that this is unrealistic. Given the horrors that have occurred in the 20th century – the mass killings by a succession of brutal and tyrannical regimes, and some of the truly revolting crimes you can read about nearly every day in the press, I have to agree.

The other, related point is that, if people really are as good and noble as Kropotkin believes them to be, it’s doubtful how their condition can be improved through a revolution and Anarcho-Communism, when left to themselves in the present system people can be expected to improve their conditions and that of their fellows. It’s another good point.

I have to say that I think any revolution is far more likely to end up in a blood bath than not, though there are exceptions, the greatest of which is the American Revolution. Nevertheless, ideas like Kropotkin’s continue to have a very strong influence on modern Anarchists, and strongly influenced the American hippy counterculture. Furthermore, recent studies of Anarchism have pointed to the various communities and experiments in work and business that have been set up according to anarchist ideals in parallel and within the modern capitalist state. The communal gardens Amnesiaclinic mentions sound like just such a social experiment, though they may not be directly influenced by Kropotkin or anarchist theory generally. I wish them, however, every success if they are bringing fulfilment and good food to the people that own and work them.