Posts Tagged ‘Kulaks’

Lenin’s Speech Denouncing Anti-Semitism

November 22, 2017

I found this fascinating little clip of a speech by Lenin, the founder of Soviet Communism, on Maoist Rebel News, presented by Jason Unruhe. I am very definitely not a Maoist, as I think it’s undeniable that he was one of the most murderous tyrants of the 20th century. About 60 million Chinese died in the purges and mass starvation created by the ‘Cultural Revolution’, and countless precious art treasures and other monuments from the country’s rich, ancient past, were destroyed.

Nevertheless, this piece is interesting and important as it shows how the Bolsheviks took seriously the threat of anti-Semitism, and were keen to stamp it out. Unruhe made the video in response to an appearance by Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars on Mark Levin’s radio show. Harrison owns the pawn shop featured in the show. It’s an American programme, but it’s also shown over here on one of the satellite/cable channels. I tried watching it once, when it was on the History Channel, in the vague hope that it might actually be interesting. It wasn’t. The programme largely consisted of the crew musing over various artifacts – in this case, a couple of pistols left over from the Old West – and speculating about how much they were worth. It reminded me a little of the Beeb’s antiques’ programmes, with the exception that the people looking at the antiques didn’t actually seem to know very much about them, apart from the very basics.

On Levin’s show, Harrison went off and laid into Barack Obama. Obama was ‘anti-business’ and blamed the Jews and intelligentsia for everything, just like Lenin. Well, no. Barack Obama is not at all like Lenin. Barack Obama is very definitely not ‘anti-business’, even remotely. As the Jimmy Dore Show and other alternative news shows have pointed out, ad nauseam, Obama is a bog-standard corporatist politician. He tried to privatise the public schools by turning them into Charter Schools, the American equivalent of British academy schools. Even Obamacare is private enterprise. It was originally dreamed up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and promoted by Newt Gingrich, an arch-Republican. The last time I looked, America was still very much a private enterprise economy. Obama has even said that he considers himself to be a ‘moderate Republican’.

But such accusations are almost par for the course for the bonkers end of the Republican party. There have even been right-wing Christian radio hosts declaring that he was a mass-murderer, who was secretly planning to kill even more people than Mao and Stalin. And this is apart from all the hysterical screaming that he was a Communist-Nazi-crypto-Islamist terrorist intent on bringing about the fall of America and western civilisation.

He also spent eight years in power, and has now departed. Nobody was assassinated, or rounded up in cattle trucks to be deported to death camps. Or incarcerated in FEMA, which would be the modern equivalent, if you believe Alex Jones. But the rhetoric shows the sheer, blind hysteria that gripped some of these maniacs whenever Obama was mentioned.

Unruhe points out that it is factually incorrect that Lenin blamed the Jews for the problems of the nascent Soviet Union. He states that the Soviet leader spent a year touring the former Russian Empire, denouncing anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. How is this known? Because there are recordings of him. He then plays one. It’s clearly from a gramophone recording, complete with crackles and scratches, but it is subtitled in English. My Russian really isn’t very good at all, but from what little I can catch, the translation is accurate, and it states what Lenin is actually saying.

Lenin states that it is the capitalists, the landowners and the tsars, who were trying to stir up hatred against the Jews, as a way of dividing the working people of all nations and getting them to hate each other. He states that it is a medieval, feudal superstition, that exists only when workers and peasants are kept in slavery by the landlords. He says that most Jews are workers, and therefore our brothers. He acknowledges that amongst the Jews there are capitalists, the bourgeois and kulaks, just as there are all of these amongst Russians. He states that this hatred against the Jews is being stirred up by the capitalists to divert attention away from who really is exploiting working people: capital!

He cries out several times ‘Shame upon the tsars’ for stoking hatred against the Jews, for stirring up pogroms, massacres and persecution.

Unruhe points out in his introduction to the speech that it was actually Lenin’s opponents, the tsars, who were anti-Semitic. This is solid, established fact. Nicholas II was viciously anti-Semitic himself, and believed firmly in the ‘Blood Libel’ – the poisonous myth that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make the matzo bread for Passover. One of the issues that discredited Nicholas II’s rule was his repeated attempt to prosecute a Jew, Beilis, on this charge, despite the most anti-Semitic of his ministers telling him that it was stupid and ridiculous.

And in opposition to the workers’ and revolutionary movements, there were the Black Hundreds. These were groups of extreme right-wing supporters of the traditional order, who were viciously anti-Semitic.

It’s obviously glaringly true that Lenin was ‘anti-business’. But saying that makes it appear as though it was just a matter of prejudice. It wasn’t. Russia’s working people and peasants at the time laboured in appalling conditions, with many on literal ‘starvation wages’. And although the serfs had been freed in the 1860s by Alexander I, their lords and masters still treated their workers as unfree slaves. There were cases where factory masters told their workers ‘We own you!’ Hence before the Bolshevik coup there were hundreds of strikes and peasant revolts up and down the Russian Empire. You can easily see why before Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power, there was a revolution that overthrew the Tsar, and the workers began electing left-wing parties like the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Trudoviks and Socialist Revolutionaries on to the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets they set up to represent their own interests against the power of the capitalists.

As for the capitalists and business using anti-Semitism to divide working people of all nations, anti-Semitism in the West has been rightly discredited and regarded with loathing by the majority of people since the defeat of Nazism. But the right has used racism to try and attack the left and organised Labour. You can see it in the way the Tories have tried to stir up nationalist sentiment against Muslims and other ‘unassimilable’ immigrants, quite apart from the fearmongering about workers coming from elsewhere in the EU and eastern Europe.

I’m not a fan of Lenin. He created a very authoritarian system, which eventually led to the murderous tyranny of Stalin. But he was no anti-Semite, and his speech still remains a very relevant commentary on the political uses of racial hatred.

Advertisements

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.

Should Cameron Get their Order of Stalin?

February 3, 2014

Stalin medal

Russian Medal celebrating Stalin’s 130th anniversary

If I was an Englishman, I would be a Conservative!

– Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev, angry at being given a rough reception by the Labour party over the Soviet imprisonment of Socialist dissidents.

I found this Russian joke in Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin. The Soviet dictator’s regime was notorious for the mass starvation caused through the collectivisation of agriculture. This was used by the government to smash popular opposition, particularly that of the kulaks, the peasants Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw as the enemy of Communism and the organised working class. This led to the witticism below

No bread in the villages: left deviation.
No bread in the towns: right deviation.
No bread anywhere: general line.

To which we could add: Unemployed people forced to scavenge in bins because of mass starvation: Excellent policies aimed at smashing anti-Soviet hooliganism and parasitism. Well done, Comrade Cameron!

CAmeron Stalin