Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Anarchists, Communists, and terror

Strange to write this on 9/11, but I guess the idea of terrorism is in the air. It's interesting that while the violence of the Cheka, the Bolshevik political police, against dissidents in the Russian Revolution is focussed on that not much is said about the executions of people, without trial, simply because of the class they belonged to, something that's been estimated at totaling between 10,000 and 15,000 people, based on names that were published in a paper run by the Cheka itself. Wikipedia has a good article on this that cites Zinoviev, one of the heads of the Bolshevik party, as declaring that "To dispose of our enemies, we will have to create our own socialist terror. For this we will have to train 90 million of the 100 million of Russians and have them all on our side. We have nothing to say to the other 10 million; we will have to get rid of them." I raise this because there's a perception that if the anarchists of the period, not anarchists in general or the anarchists of today, would have gained power that they would have done something different. Yet, there are accusations of the same sort of behavior by Nestor Makhno, including massacres of Bolshevik army personnel once the Red Army turned against them, something very similar to the killing of anarchists done by the Cheka. There's also the issue of the people summarily killed in the Ukraine under Makhno who, again, didn't necessarily do anything wrong but just belonged to the wrong class. Understand, this isn't putting someone on trial or instituting a kind of reform where they're literally expropriated, but instead arrested and shot--just like that.

Similar things happened in the Spanish Civil War, with atrocities committed particularly against Priests. And I can't help but wondering if Durruti and the "Friends of Durruti" either played a part in this or, if they'd have gotten power, would have instituted a further campaign of violence against the Spanish people. Of course the forces lead by Franco committed many more crimes, but when it comes to shooting people and killing them in other ways do you really want to weigh 38,000 people against 150,000? I mention Durruti specifically because, although gaining in popularity, the ideas put forward in "How we shall bring about the Revolution", specifically the idea of a "Revolutionary Junta", come very close to a vanguard theory of political action. The idea that the Junta would be authorized by the people and so responsible to them is almost the exact language that the Leninists used to justify the role of the vanguard, who would ultimately be responsible to the industrial proletariat. Additionally, there's the role of the "FAI", or the Federation of Iberian Anarchists, which was a group that existed beside the CNT, the National Confederation of Labor, which was the main Anarcho-Syndicalist union, which was to keep the CNT anarchist. To me this sounds a whole lot like the relation that the Bolshevik party had with its own sponsored labor unions, making the whole Soviet labor movement a puppet rather than something independent and vital.

The charge that anarchists would never do what the Bolsheviks did when they got power is often repeated, but in these two cases, the main times in the 20th century when the anarchists did gain power, their actions seem to raise a lot of questions about whether or not they indeed refrained from the things that they condemned. Which should tell people that history is more complex than the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other.

Note: I'm not trashing anarchism in general or even saying that all anarchists in Russia and all anarchists in Spain were either like this or responsible for these things, and I'm not saying that if today's anarchists were to gain widespread influence that these sorts of things would happen. Instead, what I'm saying is that the act of not imitating enemies is more complex than just being an anarchist, and that people might do good by looking at history from all sides and analyzing what happened in order to learn from the past.

*on edit: I'm also not saying that there's some almost genetic connection between the violence that took place then and later socialism and anarchism. Some conservative scholars have maintained that because of events that took place during the Russian Revolution that all subsequent socialism is either doomed to be, or bound to be, similarly violent, like some kind of guilt that was passed on from father to son. This idea reflects more a political bias, that says that Socialism and socialist action always has to manifest in this form, than an actual reasoned position.

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