Anarchist Analysis of The Russian Revolution

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The Russian Revolution was perhaps the most important event in the history of revolutionary socialism and the struggle against capitalism. For the first time in October of 1917 workers took power on a grand scale and eventually the change in regime inaugurated by the revolution lead to Stalinism and it’s export around the world to countries such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, Germany, and North Korea, which captured the imaginations of radicals for most of the 20th century and today is used as an argumentative stick to beat anti-capitalists over the head with. An understanding of this all important event can not be overlooked by revolutionary socialists. Different Leninist sects from Stalinists to Trotskyists celebrate the Russian Revolution every year with dogmatic allegiance to what they proclaim “the greatest moment in human history”. Anarchists should analyze this historical event, from our anti-authoritarian perspective as opposed to Leninist worship of Trotsky and Lenin, and determine it’s implications for radical politics today.

In 1905 a bread riot organized primarily by women stirred a pot of social forces which would become fully unleashed in February 1917. Russia under the Czar was an autocracy which republicans had been struggling against for decades. Lenin’s brother was put to death for attempting a terrorist act in pursuit of this goal. It’s economic set up was primarily feudal with a small but developing capitalist economy in the urban areas largely dominated by foreign capital. All though there was a mass of workers there was an even larger mass of peasantry. This peasantry was subject to feudal exploitation by the landed gentry. To compound matters Russia had involved itself in World War One which was sapping resources from the country and killing it’s people. This combination of autocratic semi-feudal oppression and opposition to the war lead to the outbreak of the revolution.

In February 1917 the masses of people rose up against the Czarist regime and forced the Czar to flee the country leading to the smashing of the Czarist state. New organizations of class struggle sprung up called “soviets” (Russian for “council”). A liberal “provisional government” was created that eventually came under the leadership of a man called Alexander Kerensky.  Meanwhile the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (the Russian Marxist party) had split in two on the question of the revolution. The reformist and stageist faction were known as the “Mensheviks”. They argued that the Russian Revolution would need to establish a liberal republic before transitioning through reform to a socialist society. The revolutionary socialist faction known as the “Bolsheviks” argued instead that the Russian Revolution should carry out the “bourgeois revolution” against semi-feudal social set ups (the purpose of the liberal republic argued for by the Mensheviks) and then immediately carry out the socialist revolution. Menshevik Leon Trotsky would develop a theory called “permanent revolution” which argued that the socialist revolution could itself carry out the tasks of the “bourgeois revolution” which Lenin would end up signing on to leading to Trotsky joining the Bolsheviks.

One of the main impetuses behind the revolution was opposition to Russian involvement in the war. The provisional government never pulled back from the war and continued to wage it. This lead to the idea that the provisional government was not the hoped for change the Russian Revolution was to bring about. Meanwhile on the ground the Soviets had grown to include workers, peasants, and soldiers. The soviets were federal councils organized to wage the revolution through democratic means via the self-organization of the producers and soldiers. They were a revolutionary form of organization because they allowed workers to organize directly for control over society within militant class struggle. In addition to the soviets organizations at the point of production for workers’ were set up called “factory committees”. They were worker organized groups that fought for better conditions and in some cases took over production itself and kicked out the capitalist owners bringing it under direct worker control. The factory committees were revolutionary in that they were self-organized organs of class struggle for workers to fight against the bosses and take control of production themselves.

The Bolsheviks took up the popular slogan created by Anarchists of “all power to the soviets” given the strength of the soviets as revolutionary organizations. In reality the Bolsheviks (as with other groups such as the Mensheviks) treated the soviets as a means for mobilization under their influence looking to elect Bolshevik majorities within them. When the time came to dethrone the provisional government the Bolsheviks refused to wait for a democratic mandate from the congress of soviets and Lenin declared that the congress had nothing to offer the Russian people.  “the Congress will give nothing and can give nothing. ….. First defeat Kerensky, then call the Congress”. The Bolsheviks as such began pushing for the overthrow of the provisional government. This was not a hard sell since the liberal republic of Kerensky could not, fundamentally, resist the need to continue the disastrous war as like the Czarist autocracy it was a nation-state vying for military and economic power in the global order. On October 25, 1917 (November 7 on the western calendar) the working class rose up against the provisional government, forced Kerensky to flee like the Czar before him, and took over Russian cities, leading to working class power on an unprecedented scale. The hope of all socialists was that this revolution would lead to a new society controlled and organized by the masses of workers’ and peasants. This dream quickly died.

Since we are analyzing the revolution from an Anarchist perspective we should document the far too often overlooked part Anarchists played in the Russian Revolution. As mentioned earlier Anarchists created the slogan “all power to the Soviets”. Anarchists and Anarcho-syndicalists organized the Kronstadt soviet. The Russian Anarchist movement was critical to the February and October Revolutions. Anarchist Communists set up revolutionary communes and Anarcho-syndicalists set up factory councils. Later when the white army and western forces would attack the young Soviet regime Anarchists fought in it’s defense. The Russian Anarchist movement so critical to the Russian Revolution would be torn to shreds by the Bolshevik counterrevolution that destroyed the dream of a revolutionary Russia under worker and peasant control.

Almost immediately after the October victory the soviets and factory committees were assaulted. The soviets were simply integrated into the state as bureaucratic state organizations for the carrying out of low level political affairs. From then on the Soviet Union was only “soviet” in name. The factory committees were promised a national congress by the Bolsheviks and attempted to organize into a national federation. The promised congress never happened and the factory committees were essentially abolished and what was left of them integrated into the state central planning organs. Mensheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries who campaigned for the soviets and factory committees as independent revolutionary and class organizations were assassinated. Political repression of opposing groups whether or not they were left wing/working class became a main fixture of Bolshevik rule early on. Even dissident Bolsheviks were assassinated. The Anarchist movement that was indispensable to the revolution, that viewed the Bolsheviks as comrades and fellow revolutionaries, was deconstructed with Czarist like methods of repression. Anarchists were vanished, arrested, thrown in jail, executed, and had their newspapers shut down. As a result of this political intolerance and reactionary attack on a revolutionary movement the remainder of the Russian Anarchists languished in Stalin’s gulags.

So why had the Bolsheviks turned on a dime from revolutionaries to policemen? There are two major reasons. The first is that the Bolsheviks never saw the emancipation of the working class as the task of the workers themselves. Their idea of proletarian power was that political representatives from the working class would form a revolutionary party (the Bolshevik party) that rules the state in the interests of the working class. Much earlier Lenin had written in “What Is To Be Done” that in all countries the working class by itself would never reach true social democratic (read Marxist) revolutionary consciousness without guidance from the social democratic party. He argued that the theory of socialism didn’t come out of the struggles of the working class, but out of the minds of the intellectuals of the “propertied classes”.1 These points of view put forward the notion that the party must guide the workers to power rather than the workers taking power for themselves. This gives a justification and motive for repression of real working class control and left-wing political opposition. There was however more than just an ideological element. Equally as important is the second major reason for the Bolshevik counterrevolution. Instead of the workers and peasants taking over production for themselves it was nationalized by the Bolshevik state. This recreated the capitalist relation of private property where the vast majority of people have no control over the production process and thus no inherent means to attain the consumption goods necessary for survival. Thus the mass of people sold their ability to work to the state for a wage that allowed them to purchase items of consumption so they could subsist. The state took the bulk of what was produced and realized it as profit for itself by selling it on the market. This meant the capitalist economy with it’s wage labor, money and markets, private property, class division, and state machine were all preserved. The working class and peasants remained the exploited laboring population that generated capital and profit for a capitalist class who owned and controlled the production of wealth. As such the Bolshevik party was the capitalist class that imposed it’s rule, exploitation, and oppression of workers through it’s capitalist state with the ideological justification that the Bolsheviks as revolutionaries represented the working class. In accordance with the class nature of the newly minted Soviet Union the Bolsheviks crushed strikes which occurred after the Russian Civil war killing anywhere from over 2 to 3,000 people.

The Bolshevik state morphed further and further into a capitalist nation state like any other, factions within the party were banned, the Kronstadt uprising of sailors demanding workers’ control and political democracy was mercilessly crushed, a secret police was set up that carried out terror in imposing the regime’s rule, the remnants of the Russian Revolution in the Ukrainian Anarchist insurrectionary movement were stomped out, and a treaty was signed that allotted Russian land and production to the German capitalist state. In the 1920s the Soviet one man management system of strict hierarchy over workers in production was established. Later in the decade Stalin would maneuver the established party bureaucracy and repressive state mechanisms with the help of his lackeys to come to dictatorial power. This involved the execution of the remaining Bolsheviks (save for Stalin and his allies) on trumped up charges. Stalin fully developed the USSR into a capitalist nation-state, ideologically enshrining “socialism in one country” (a complete oxymoron by the standards of the historical socialist movement) and building the USSR up into a neo-colonial super-power with nuclear capability. This model of Stalinism was exported throughout the world through Stalin’s command of the Comintern and military expansion into Eastern Europe. The Russian revolution was no more and on it’s ashes stood a number of police states where capital continued to exploit labor. The Soviet Union itself collapsed and China and Vietnam went through market reforms for the installation of typical private capitalism and the deconstruction of the state capitalist system of “socialism in one country”. The selling off of Russian industry to foreign investors and Russian oligarchs has accomplished the same there. The dissipation of the “socialist world” and the failure of these regimes to produce a free and equal society has haunted the left for generations. Communism is discredited as an authoritarian failure.

So what are the lessons that Anarchists should take from the Russian Revolution for the construction of a revolutionary movement today? The first and fore most lesson is that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. A socialist society is one where production is governed freely through the cooperation of producers. This can only be achieved through working class self-organization within the class struggle. Vanguard parties and similar “leadership” formations are categorical obstacles to socialism. The second is anti-statism. The state is a top down organization used to coerce the majority of the population under the rule of a small exploitative elite. The state will always reproduce class divisions so long as it exists and prevent a socialist society which is necessarily governed by the collective freely associated producers. The third is the need for collectivized production over nationalized production. Nationalized production simply puts production under the control of the state bureaucracy reproducing the relationship of private property which gives real control over production to a small group of owners. Production needs to be seized from the capitalist class and immediately made the collective property of the workers and oppressed people, then operated through workers’ self-management to meet the needs of the population. Hopefully the next great revolution can break through the barriers the Russian Revolution faced and make the final leap from world capitalism to global free socialism, or as a I call it, libertarian communism.

Notes:

1. “We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.”

2. A key factor in the failure of the Russian Revolution was the defeat of revolutions in other parts of Europe and the isolation of the Bolshevik regime. I ignored this in the article because Anarchists can’t draw many “lessons” from it. The revolutions in Italy and Germany were defeated by capitalism and this left the Bolsheviks surrounded by hostile capitalist and reactionary forces. I mention it here both because it’s an important aspect of the history and because it does tells us about the need for an international revolutionary effort for the abolition of global capitalism.

3. Despite the powerful Russian Anarchist movement Russian Anarchists never successfully conceptualized the Bolsheviks as counterrevolutionaries in order to defend themselves from repression. Anarchists and Anarcho-syndicalists saw the Bolsheviks as their comrades and collaborators in revolution. They thought, particularly after the publication of Lenin’s book “State and Revolution” which gives lip service to self-management and the Paris Commune, that the Bolshevik idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would be the same thing as direct working class power advocated by Anarchists. Even while the Anarchists were being killed and imprisoned they never really began to see the Bolsheviks as traitors, or enemies.

Bibliography:

From The Russian Revolution of 1917 to Stalinist Totalitarianism, Agustin Guillamon

Beyond Kronstadt; the Bolsheviks in power

How Lenin Lead To Stalin, Workers’ Solidarity Movement

The Importance of Russia, Workers’ Solidarity Movement

Anarchists In The Russian Revolution, Paul Avrich

The Persecution Of The Anarchists, Emma Goldman

No Gods No Masters, Part 2

Anarcho-Syndicalism In The 20th Century, Vadim D.

Did The Bolshevik Seizure Of Power Inaugurate A Socialist Revolution? A Marxian Inquiry, Paresh Chattopadhyay

There Is No Communism In Russia, Emma Goldman

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In Defense Of A/S: Is Anarcho-syndicalism Outdated?

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This article will be the first in a consistent series on this blog that will be updated as ideas come to the author. It’s title is “In Defense Of A/S”. The aim will be to evaluate counter-arguments to Anarcho-syndicalism and sufficiently defend Anarcho-syndicalism against these arguments. One can think of it as a sort of frequently asked questions pertaining specifically to criticisms of Anarcho-syndicalism. In this vein some criticisms addressed in this series will be commonly made criticisms of Anarcho-syndicalism. Some criticisms will be less commonly made and may only come from a specific individual, or group of individuals. The ambition is to provide a hefty counter-weight to theories and practices opposed to Anarcho-syndicalism that acts as a resource which Anarcho-syndicalists can draw from in making convincing arguments for our cause. The argument addressed in this addition of In Defense is the argument that Anarcho-syndicalism is outdated.

This was all prompted by a comment that was left on my recent article about Noam Chomsky. I will quote the comment in full:

“As much as I agree with the author here, isn’t calling someone or oneself nowadays an ‘Anarcho-syndicalist’ somewhat like wearing a bowler hat? Just like ‘capitalism’ is so dramatically changed from that era that one really should use a different word (though we keep using the same one). Syndicalism is highly relevant historically, but today consider the diminution of actual (human) production jobs, rise in bullshit jobs, along with the exponential debt enslavement, acute wealth extraction, and annihilation of the planet – problems that were slight back then. The article author keeps rolling back to reference the 1930s as if it is the handbook for 2018. I get it, but I also feel like it is spinning the tires a bit. Perhaps the idea of scaling down productivity and abandoning it altogether is a strategy for saving the earth. Maybe this would mean less emphasis on traditional unionization and syndicalism and more on general assemblies based around job obsolescence, debt, and climate crises.”

This is a common criticism made of Anarcho-syndicalism. Since traditional Marxism and Anarcho-syndicalism first developed at a relatively early stage of capitalism’s existence which is depending on how you chart the development of these ideas, between one and two centuries ago, both are viewed as fossils of bygone leftist politics. When comrades from my organization, Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, published a critique of Center For A Stateless Society one of it’s major figures, Kevin Carson, argued in turn that Anarcho-syndicalism is a “dinosaur”. To quote Corson; “It’s ironic that they describe my practical vision as “far removed from reality” — and use the term “fantasy” in their title — because those are exactly the terms I’d use for the anarcho-syndicalist model they advocate. This is a heroic Old Left fantasy based on an obsolete mass-production technological model that resembles the real world less and less every day. And the authors ignore left-wing currents around the world that have developed specifically in response to the obsolescence of their model.” Ecologist Murray Bookchin made very similar arguments in 1992. According to Bookchin Anarchist proximity to Marxists in the first International Workingmen’s Association lead Anarcho-syndicalism to develop out of Marx’s preoccupation with an industrial proletariat concentrated in European factories in the 19th century. “Marx and Engels personally eschewed terms like “workers,” “toilers,” and “laborers,” although they were quite prepared to use these words in their popular works. They preferred to characterize industrial workers by the “scientifically” precise name of “proletarians” — that is, people who had nothing to sell but their labor power, and even more, who were the authentic producers of surplus value on production lines (an attribute that even Marxists tend to ignore these days). Insofar as the European proletariat as a class evolved from displaced preindustrial strata like landless peasants who had drifted toward the cities, the factory system became their economic home, a place that — presumably unlike the dispersed farmsteads and villages of agrarian folk — “organized” them into a cohesive whole. Driven to immiseration by capitalist accumulation and competition, this increasingly (and hopefully) class-conscious proletariat would be inexorably forced to lock horns with the capitalist order as a “hegemonic” revolutionary class and eventually overthrow bourgeois society, laying the foundations for socialism and ultimately communism. However compelling this Marxian analysis seemed from the 1840s onward, its attempt to reason out the proletariat’s “hegemonic” role in a future revolution by analogy with the seemingly revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie in feudal society was as specious as the latter was itself historically erroneous (see Bookchin, 1971, pp. 181–92). It is not my intention here to critically examine this fallacious historical scenario, which carries considerable weight among many historians to this very day. Suffice it to say that it was a very catchy thesis — and attracted not only a great variety of socialists but also many anarchists. For anarchists, Marx’s analysis provided a precise argument for why they should focus their attention on industrial workers, adopt a largely economistic approach to social development, and single out the factory as a model for a future society, more recently in particular, based on some form of “workers’ control” and “federal” form of industrial organization.”

The chestnut is that since Anarcho-syndicalism was developed first in the late 19th century and was carried forth in major ways in the early 20th century that it is only suited to deal with the economic and social reality of that time. If this were true then Anarcho-syndicalists all around the world might as well pack it in. If our ideas can’t be applied to the modern world, then what’s the point? Luckily for us just because a school of thought and practice was developed a long time ago, doesn’t mean it stopped developing since then. If one can seriously, and in good faith, claim that Anarcho-syndicalism is “outdated” and not significantly developed since the Spanish Civil War, then one clearly has not familiarized oneself with modern Anarcho-syndicalism.

International Anarcho-syndicalism was destroyed by the second world war. Fascist governments repressed Anarcho-syndicalist organizations, the war destroyed their homelands, and the International Workers’ Association which organized the Anarcho-syndicalist movement into one international organization essentially fell apart. After World War Two the international re-organized itself and it’s member organizations got back on their feet with new organizations sprouting up. Throughout much of the 20tth century since the Spanish Civil War Anarchism had been marginalized by State Socialism, War, and Fascism to a few small groups in different corners of the world. In the 1980s Anarchism sprouted up once again as a popular alternative to State Socialism and neoliberal capitalism.

In the new era Anarcho-syndicalism adapted to questions of racism, patriarchy, and the environment. The aforementioned international used to be called the “International Workingmen’s Association” as a nod to the first international of Marx, Engels, Proudhon, and Bakunin, but changed the name out of consideration for gender equality. A variety of Anarcho-syndicalism has cropped up called “green syndicalism” which puts defense of the environment from capitalism on the agenda of the revolutionary libertarian workers’ movement. Anarcho-syndicalist environmental activist Judi Bari worked to synthesize defense of the earth with working class organization working with workers to help them see their exploitation as workers and the exploitation of the earth as intertwined. The International Workers’ Association is still thriving today despite recently going through a major split. It regularly puts out statements arguing against racist anti-immigrant sentiment and for international solidarity among workers. Recently, in Bangladesh, an Anarcho-syndicalist federation has been organized. The polish revolutionary union, ZSP, has been organizing postal and supermarket workers against attacks by bosses. With the help of Anarcho-syndicalists in Indonesia of PPAS a militant union called “Kumon” was set up for Uber drivers and a large scale Uber strike took place. We could go on.

The reason that the Anarcho-syndicalist movement has carried forth into the 21st century is because the relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism is not dependent on the particular stage capitalism finds itself in. It is only dependent on the existence of capitalism itself. Bookchin claims that Marx’s argument about the proletariat is based on workers being congealed into large factories during the industrial revolution. This is a misreading of Marx. Though Marx and Marxists after him would underestimate the role of the peasantry in revolution, Marx’s argument for the working class as the “revolutionary subject” was far more fundamental than the specific conditions of the time he conjured up his theories in. Marx’s argument was that the working class is deprived of all means of subsistence in capitalist society. They have no control over the tools of production and must rent out their time to those who own production as private property in order receive an income that allows them (workers) to live. This means workers have every interest in organizing together to abolish capitalism and take control of and then run production themselves. Volume 1 of Marx’s capital states “The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labor, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult than the transformation capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialized production, into socialized property”. He goes on; “In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of people”.

The relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism lies in the fact that workers would do much better to organize in their own self-managed associations to struggle against capitalism and institute a world where they collectively control the means of living then continue to suffer the exploitation and domination of capitalist relations of production. This will be the case as long as capitalism exists.

Bibliography:

https://c4ss.org/content/46875

The Ghost of Anarcho-syndicalism, Murray Bookchin

1860-Today: The International Workers’ Association

Green Syndicalism – An Alternative Red-Green Vision, Jeff Shantz

http://www.iwa-ait.org/content/police-and-state-lnstrument-class-war-and-oppression

http://www.iwa-ait.org/content/may-day-and-libertarian-workers-movement

http://www.ainfos.ca/en/ainfos35596.html

http://www.bangladeshasf.org/

Capital, Volume 1, p.296

Revolution From Below In Syria? An Anarchist Analysis Of The Kurdish Movement For Autonomy In Rojava

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Since 2014 the left has been smitten. During that year the forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the People’s Protection Units successfully defended Kobane, a Syrian region, from the forces of the Islamic State. Anthropologist and self-proclaimed “Anarchist”, David Graeber, of Occupy Movement fame, wrote an article essentially shouting for international attention and support for these anti-ISIS fighters. He compared this conflict to the Spanish Civil War where revolutionary Anarchists fought against Fascists comparing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and People’s Protection Units with the Anarcho-syndicalists of the Durruti Column, CNT, and FAI while comparing ISIS to the Francoist nationalists. After that article appeared the mainstream media started declaring an “Anarchist” revolution in Kobane and the surrounding regions under the control of these forces, Rojava.  Every tenancy of the radical left have come out in support of these forces ever since running the gamete from Stalinists to especially Anarchists. Some of the only skeptics have been “communisers” in the case of Giles Dauve.2 and the Orthodox Trotskyist International Communist League who in fact called for support of ISIS against the the Kurdish forces3.

This endless support from the international left for the Kurdish forces in Rojava has not gone away. Westerners, many have been leftists, have gone to Rojava, fought with the Kurdish forces, even died, and are still fighting. This Kurdish movement has been especially important for Anarchists over the past four years. Under the control of these Kurdish forces an experiment has taken place in Rojava which puts emphasis, among other things, on communal popular control of the running of running of society. This has lead Anarchists, who have likely often been strung along by the mainstream media, to think of this social experiment as an anti-state project for communal self-management. Such values are the very nerve center of the Anarchist political philosophy and movement. The significance of this experiment for Anarchists was inflamed by the fact that it’s leader and principle architect, Obdullah Ocalan, was apparently influenced by Anarchist ecologist Murray Bookchin. Even the individualist Anarchists CrimethInc have declared their support despite opposing direct democracy and most types of formal organization4.

As an Anarchist, I don’t see things this way and side with the group of Anarchists who have been critical of the Rojava experiment. I’ve attempted tackling this issue numerous times. Most of my attempts no longer exist for consumption, but the large article which I wrote on the subject when I was still a relatively knew writer is still available in some places and in fact garnered some attention. My successive failures have lead me to take one more stab at outlining a critical Anarchist approach to this issue. I feel that I can finally deliver an analysis I am happy with based on my current skills as a thinker and writer. This analysis will start with an introduction to the key players in this experiment, go through it’s history to introducing the key concepts, and then come to a conclusion based on reasoned argument from an Anarcho-syndicalist perspective.

Key Players

There are many players in the Kurdish experiment, even other groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party exist in other regions.  The main players are the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), and the PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan.  The People’s Protection Units are the armed wing of the experiment and have been leading a long fight against ISIS. The Women’s Protection Units are an autonomous armed group with an all women membership designed to be a mechanism of the feminist aspect of the experiment, more on that will come later. The idea behind the YPJ is that women are given a specific armed detachment to carry out their self-determined struggle. The PKK is the oldest player in the experiment in terms of it’s development leading to the experiment itself. It was originally a Kurdish Stalinist and national liberation party, analogous to groups such as the Shinning Path in Peru, Naxalites in India, or the Communist Party of the Philippines and it’s adjacent organization National Democratic Front. After carrying out a well over decade long war with the Turkish state it was repressed and re-oriented it’s ideology after the political and ideological development of it’s leader.

Abdullah Ocalan is the experiment’s ideological architect to the point where the adherents of the experiment’s ideology directly invoke him as it’s thinker. He is a Kurdish radical who’s main aim is Kurdish autonomy, a goal watered down from his original devotion of an independent Kurdish nation, though supporters would describe this as an ideological evolution. The PYD is the main governmental organization in Rojava, I would refer to it as the ruling party and will make that case later. It was the group which took control of the Rojava territory originally. The SDF is essentially a US proxy. On the ground in the region it is often referred to as “Washington” and is directly supplied and funded by the US. This could change, as we will examine later, as a result of the US’ recent unofficial decision to allow the Turkish state to have it’s way with the Kurdish experiment. This organization exists to carry out the United States’ war against groups such as ISIS.

History Of The PKK And The Kurdish Experiment 

This history starts in the Turkish left and with Ocalan himself. Turkey was established by the Soviet Union and as such it’s left has been historically Stalinist and nationalist, though nationalism is certainly fueled by Turkey’s dominant nationalist ideology. Ocalan lived in the Kurdish populated areas in Turkey and went to Ankara (Turkish capital) as a young man for study purposes. There he became wrapped up in Turkish leftism, but, as a member of the persecuted Kurdish minority he was unhappy with the fact that the Turkish left generally called for Turkish independence and completely ignored the plight of the Kurds who have been a de-facto illegal ethnic group in the country since it’s founding. Ocalan thus set out to create a version of the nationalist Stalinism he encountered in Ankara that focused on Kurdish national liberation (the achievement of an independent nation-state). Upon returning to the Kurdish region of Turkey, often called “Kurdistan”, Ocalan set about recruiting fighters for the cause of Kurdish independence, thus the Kurdistan Workers’ Party was born.

The early PKK’s ideology was Stalinist and Kurdish nationalist. It’s aim became to destroy the Turkish state and institute an independent Kurdish nation ruled by the PKK as the ruling communist party (the last part being in line with the Stalinist practice of rule through party states). Although traditional Stalinism put an emphasis on working class agency and emancipation in order to associate itself with historic Marxist and socialist goals the PKK, coming from “Kurdistan” which was populated mostly by peasants openly washed their hands of such appeals. They openly stated that the class nature of the Kurdish independence struggle in Turkey was that of the peasantry, not the working class. While the PKK would eventually drop this form of Stalinism it is telling that they dropped all together the class which socialists view as the motive force for the revolution against capitalism early on, given it’s reputation for being a left-wing/anti-capitalist, or socialist group. The PKK would enter into a protracted war with the Turkish state which started in the late 70s and ended in the late 90s with Ocalan’s capture by the state. This war was bloody and thousands of civilians were caught in the cross hairs between state repression and the fight of a reckless guerrilla force. Going back to the earlier comparisons with other Stalinist guerrilla groups such as the Naxalites and the Shinning Path, the PKK essentially was one of these groups. It was a Stalinist party trying to wage a socialist revolution through the struggle of a small military minority which resulted in defeat, slaughter of peasants and workers, and state repression.

Up to the end of the war with the state the PKK was thus effectively an opportunistic Stalinist organization trying to carry out a power grab through elitist blood letting. This is hardly the kind of thing radicals, let alone Anarchists, should level their support for. It’s not that Anarchists aren’t aware of the organization’s Stalinist past, the idea is that it has undergone a major evolution in theory and practice towards libertarian socialism, Anarchism, and communal autonomy. This is theoretically plausible, but it really nudges the bull crap detector. How does a self-appointed vanguard in all of it’s authoritarianism and staunch nationalism, things which it’s members fought and died for, move to libertarian socialism in a matter of a decade, or so? This would mirrior such strange turns as Victor Serge becoming a Bolshevik, or Gregori Maximoff quitting the red army and becoming a fore most theorist of Anarcho-syndicalist and bitter enemy of the red bureaucracy (though the last example was obviously positive).  It would indeed be extremely positive if the PKK transformed into a libertarian socialist organization, but how true is this version of events? Well, the PKK did undergo a major ideological shift, but as I shall argue it’s libertarian, or even socialist content is deeply questionable at best.

In 1999, Ocalan who had fled the country was captured abroad. He was brought to stand trial in a Turkish court. Upon being questioned about the PKK’s violent nationalist tenancies he vigorously denied this. He claimed that the PKK was a peaceful organization at it’s heart and only wanted what he now called “democratic autonomy” from the Turkish government. He painted a picture of a democratic Kurdish enclave independent from and having peaceful relations with Turkey. Ocalan had switched on a dime under pressure of the state from a nationalist who wanted and carried out open insurgency to a peaceful democrat. The myth goes that Ocalan inaugurated the new ideological stance of the PKK as a result of reading Murray Bookchin, but in fact it started with this new position created under the pressure of the Turkish state. While serving his prison sentence Ocalan would become ideologically devoted to this democratic autonomy and develop it into a coherent theory and practice.

Ocalan’s forces who had avoided capture went underground and eventually took over a swathe of territory abandoned by the Syrian government. Through his strong cult of personality Ocalan ideologically restructured the PKK according to this democratic ideology. Ocalan would lay down in writing what is now essentially the PKK’s guiding ideological stance. He called this theory “democratic confederalism”. We will describe it in the ideas section. The PKK gained international attention when it’s YPG forces defended Kobane against ISIS successfully.

Key Ideas and Whether They Are Anarchist/Libertarian Socialist

Democratic confederalism is an ideology which pushes communal self-organization of the Kurdish people against nation-states. Ocalan defines nation-states as ancient institutions of domination that must be unraveled by progressive movements and peoples. Democratic confederalism argues that self-managed communities should confederate to organize the whole of society. Anarchists oppose nation-states and advocate federated and self-managed councils run society, however this is not all Anarchism is. Anarchism is libertarian socialist which means that it sees the freedom of humanity based upon the realization of a socialist society. Socialism is the collective ownership of the means of production by the whole people. Additionally this can only be achieved, for libertarian socialists, through the self-organization of the working class against capitalism. The PKK shirked organization of the working class a long time ago as we have seen and democratic confederalism has pretty much nothing to say about the organization of production whether along socialist lines, or not. Calling the PKK’s ideology libertarian socialist, or Anarchist is thus a far stretch. Despite this those arguing for the PKK’s nature as a libertarian socialist organization may still have an argument in terms of the actual experiment going on in Rojava. It could be the case that the Rojava experiment is being carried out along libertarian socialist lines despite the ideology itself not necessarily being libertarian socialist.

The Nature Of The Experiment, Stateless Democracy?

It is often claimed that what is being done in Rojava is some kind of direct democracy without a state. David Graeber certainly thinks so comparing the Rojava experiment to the Anarchist social revolution during the Spanish Civil War. Something which fuels this idea is the advent of communal councils in the territory. The authority of the communal councils however is severely limited. They only handle small day to day affairs rather than running the society. As to some kind of socialism, libertarian or not, socialism can not be accomplished in one territory as it is a whole new mode of production that is designed to abolish world capitalism. A society carrying out a socialist revolution would be one where the working class has taken control of production and is constructing a new organization of it, where peasants exist they would be taking control of land and turning it into a commons. This is the only way to establish collective ownership of the means of production. This is not what is happening in Rojava. Private property is preserved within the constitution and an official from the PYD said that it is allowed to exist as long as it “does not interfere with communal property”. For those unaware, private property is the capitalist relation where the means of production become commodities on the market owned, sold, and bought by those with the immense wealth to do so effectively severing the actual producers from any control over them. The main tenet of socialism is the abolition of this relation to production. There is no socialism, or socialist revolution in Rojava.

What about statelessness? Well there isn’t any of that either. Jails, police, and a standing army have been erected in the region. The PYD has effectively become the ruling party imposing it’s rule over the peasants and workers. There is even representative democracy with the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP standing in elections. If a state has not already been constructed certainly the beginnings of one are being put into place. Effectively no kind of Anarchist opposition to the state, or libertarian socialism has been established, or fought for in the Kurdish experiment. Alternatively the Spanish Revolution of 1936 referred to by Graeber saw control of production through workers’ councils and control of land through peasant agricultural communes that was federated together through worker and peasant self-organization of society.

The other major aspect of the experiment that is heavily touted is the women’s movement of which the the YPJ is a part. There is actually some real content to this. There were uprisings of Kurdish people in Turkey (the PKK were largely absent from them existing up in the mountains away from the struggle). Kurdish people came into violent conflict and clashes with the Turkish state. In this movement women participants asserted themselves as a key aspect of the struggle not willing to be pinned down by patriarchy. This gestating women’s movement ultimately entered the PKK struggle. For the PKK’s part it always had a concept similar to the “new Soviet man” which argued that the national liberation struggle would turn the Kurdish man into a model soldier and being, always respectful, always ready to fight for all kurds, always kind, always gentle when need be, but always conceding when the need to be the opposite arises. This Kurdish man would be the perfectly balanced independent Kurd. This theory was transferred on to the womens’ movement as both an expectation and immense obligation. It was thus turned into a new Kurdish women theory which puts social pressure on women to be model fighters for Kurdish freedom and their own autonomy. Ironically women are controlled through gender roles into being model soldiers against patriarchy and for Kurdish liberation. Many leftists and supporters have brandished around pictures of YPJ fighters holding guns and looking tough. These are part of a marketing strategy by the PKK to get western support and the orientalist display of attractive brown women with guns has unfortunately been quite a successful marketing strategy at that. While the women’s movement is something of an organic feminist struggle against patriarchy, the feminist ideology created by the PKK is mainly just a new form of patriarchy.

Support?

So should we support the Kurdish experiment in Syria? Many leftists’ knee jerk reaction is to propose that this experiment be the remedy to all the problems in the middle east, the mid-east revolution. This is despite the fact that the 1; the PKK being the vanguard for all revolution across the mid-east is an atrociously elitist idea and 2; the PKK only have the desire to defend and hold the Rojava region in accordance with Ocalan’s “democratic autonomy”. This is evident in the dealings the PKK is making right now with the Syrian government for an alliance in the wake of inaction by other powers against Turkish repression of the Kurdish forces. We can’t speak for what the many different and contradictory tenancies of the left should “support”. Anarcho-syndicalists have no interest in what Stalinists, Trotskyists, left communists, or “commisers” should support. The question for us is should Anarcho-syndicalists support the Kurdish experiment? The answer big picture is no.

Despite the mystification of what is going on what is actually happening is that another capitalist state is being constructed by another ruling class and nationalist group. The PKK’s shift in ideology has only corresponded to the fact that they can no longer engage in Stalinist insurgency with the Turkish state and are left to defend some abandoned Syrian cantons. This is not to say that there is nothing for Anarcho-syndicalists to get behind. Anarcho-syndicalists should be for the struggle against ISIS by the Kurdish ethnic minority, full self-determination for this group in the form of an inclusive free society with no states, or ethnic conflict, and the struggle of Kurdish women against patriarchy. Unfortunately the power of the PKK, Ocalan’s personality cult, and the PYD have severely limited all of these positive developments, or prospects. Ultimately Anarcho-syndicalists should support Kurdish women, workers, and peasants in the self-organized overthrow of their masters whether they be the PKK and PYD, ISIS, the Iraqi US puppet government and the nationalists in control of the Kurdish enclave in the country, the fundamentalist Ayatollah government of Iran, the Syrian Baath dictatorship, or the intensely nationalist Erdoğan autocracy.

Notes:

1. The backing of the SDF by the United States has lead some leftists not to support the Kurdish experiment in Syria. Some, such as CrimethInc, once again ironically, argue that this is only happening because the Kurdish forces need help to survive within a civil war. This realpolitik ethical maneuvering is alien to revolutionary politics. The point of the revolutionary approach is to radically undermine the dominant institutions in society, not participate in them when convenient. Even beyond this the reason for taking the support is not “survival”, things are not nearly so dire although they have certainly become more dire recently. The PKK and PYD are aspiring ruling groups who like money and guns. To me US support is definitely a point against he Kurdish experiment, though this reality may quickly be subject to drastic change. The US has shown no interest in defending the Kurdish forces from Turkey and this reality in the wake of the brutal Afrin invasion has lead the YPG to make alliances with the United States’ bitter enemy in the Assad government.

2. Kurdistan?, Giles Dauve

3. Down With The US War Against ISIS!, ICL

4. Understanding the Kurdish Resistance Historical Overview & Eyewitness Report, CrimethInc

Bibliography:

Stalinist Caterpillar Into Libertarian Butterfly?, Alex De-Jong

Anarchist Federation Statement On Rojava

Democratic Confederalism, Abdullah Ocalan

Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective, KB

The Grim Reality Of The Rojava Revolution – From An Anarchist Eyewitness

The Problem With Chomsky’s “Anarcho-Syndicalism”

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Linguistic professor Noam Chomsky of MIT University is a distinguished intellectual and activist. He has wrote voluminously and spoke thousands of words in lectures about propaganda and the foreign policy of US empire. In doing so Chomsky has contributed a body of work essential to understanding how that empire functions and controls it’s subjects. As a younger activist he was vocal about his support for Anarcho-syndicalism. He rarely brings it up now a days, but when asked about it he reiterates his opinion that Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism offer a framework for challenging power and creating a radically democratic society.

He recounts that as a teenager he was fascinated by the Spanish Revolution and the Anarcho-syndicalists’ role in it. He even wrote an article about it which he says is gone, which he is glad about since he says it was barely readable. If Chomsky is a consistent Anarcho-syndicalist then the Anarcho-syndicalist movement has a powerful public ally. If he is not then it is an unavoidable fact that he is doing some damage to Anarcho-syndicalism as a movement by portraying it’s ideals improperly. So what does Noam Chomsky have to say about Anarcho-syndicalism?

In an interview with Peter Jay in 1976 Chomsky describes Anarcho-syndicalism as a society under complete democratic control by the population. Production and social affairs are organized through horizontal cooperation rather than through modern coercive institutions like the state. Chomsky describes such a society; “I should say to begin with that the term anarchism is used to cover quite a range of political ideas, but I would prefer to think of it as the libertarian left, and from that point of view anarchism can be conceived as a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of, say, Bakunin and Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally, they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization which might be national or even international in scope. And these decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return, and in which, in fact, they live.” Chomsky says this about representative democracy and capitalist economic relations from an Anarchist point of view; “Representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain, would be criticized by an anarchist of this school on two grounds. First of all because there is a monopoly of power centralized in the state, and secondly — and critically — because the representative democracy is limited to the political sphere and in no serious way encroaches on the economic sphere. Anarchists of this tradition have always held that democratic control of one’s productive life is at the core of any serious human liberation, or, for that matter, of any significant democratic practice. That is, as long as individuals are compelled to rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful.”

This is a less than accurate picture of Anarcho-syndicalism. Libertarian socialism, or the Anarchist vision of a socialist society is described more, or less to a tee by Chomsky here. Anarcho-syndicalists do indeed seek to achieve such a society, but Anarcho-syndicalism is not a synonym for Libertarian Socialism, or Libertarian Communism. Anarcho-syndicalism is the labor strategy adapted by Anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to achieve such a society. The basis of this strategy is revolutionary unionism where workers form their own unions, organized by the workers themselves, to struggle against the capitalist class and the capitalist mode of production. Chomsky never actually talks about revolutionary unionism and makes far different strategy prescriptions.

Apart from advocating a mass movement to acquire reforms such as a national healthcare service, Chomsky does not advocate any thing like a revolutionary labor strategy. Instead. When asked what to do about specific issues Chomsky comes up with  policies the state can put in place. In addition Chomsky is a long time advocate of electoralism which Anarcho-syndicalists have always stood firmly against. In 2008 Chomsky said that Americans should “vote for Obama without illusions”. Since, in Chomsky’s estimation, the republican party has gone wildly off the rails voters in swing states (or states that swing the vote toward one candidate or another) should vote for the democratic candidate. During the 2016 presidential election Chomsky argues there is  “sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.” For the sake of argument let’s compare Chomsky’s position to that of two prominent Anarcho-syndicalists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Rudolf Rocker and Alexander Berkman.

In the 19th century the Marxist movement was concentrated in “social democracy” which was a series of socialist parties that used participation in electoral politics to agitate for socialism as Marx prescribed. Rudolf Rocker and Alexander Berkman, opposing this strategy, articulated cutting critiques of it. According to Berkman:

 “they claimed that they meant to use politics only for the purpose of propaganda. It was in the days when Socialist agitation was forbidden, particularly in Germany. ‘If you elect us to the Reichstag’ (the German parliament), the Socialists told the workers then, ‘we’ll be able to preach Socialism there and educate the people to it.’ There was some reason in that, because the laws which prohibited Socialist speeches did not apply to the Reichstag. So the Socialists favored political activity and took part in elections in order to have an opportunity to advocate Socialism.

It may seem a harmless thing, but it proved the undoing of Socialism. Because nothing is truer than that the means you use to attain your object soon themselves become your object. So money, for example, which is only a means to existence, has itself become the aim of our lives. Similarly with government. The ‘elder’ chosen by the primitive community to attend to some village business becomes the master, the ruler. Just so it happened with the Socialists.”

He goes on; “Little by little they changed their attitude. Instead of electioneering being merely an educational method, it gradually became their only aim to secure political office, to get elected to legislative bodies and other government positions. The change naturally led the Socialists to tone down their revolutionary ardor; it compelled them to soften their criticism of capitalism and government in order to avoid persecution and secure more votes. To-day the main stress of Socialist propaganda is not laid any more on the educational value of politics but on the actual election of Socialists to office.” The ostensible founding father of Anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolf Rocker, makes a similar argument against socialist electoralism. He says: “Parliamentarianism (electoralism),which quickly attained a dominating position in the labour parties of the different countries, lured a lot of bourgeois minds and career-hungry politicians into the Socialist camp, and this helped to accelerate the internal decay of original Socialist principles. Thus Socialism in the course of time lost its creative initiative and became an ordinary reform movement which lacked any element of greatness. People were content with successes at the polls, and no longer attributed any importance to social upbuilding and constructive education of the workers for this end. The consequences of this disastrous neglect of one of the weightiest problems, one of decisive importance for the realisation of Socialism, were revealed in their full scope when after the World War, a revolutionary situation arose in many of the countries of Europe. The collapse of the old system had, in several states, put into the hands of the Socialists the power they had striven for so long and pointed to as the first prerequisite for the realisation of Socialism. In Russia the seizure of power by the left wing of state Socialism, in the form of Bolshevism paved the way, not for a Socialist society, but for the most primitive type of bureaucratic state capitalism and a reversion to the political absolutism which was long ago abolished in most countries by bourgeois revolutions. In Germany, however, where the moderate wing in the form of Social Democracy attained to power, Socialism, in its long years of absorption in routine parliamentary tasks, had become so bogged down that it was no longer capable of any creative act whatsoever. Even a bourgeois democratic sheet like the Frankfurter Zeitung felt obliged to confirm that “the history of European peoples has not previously produced a revolution that has been so poor in creative ideas and so weak in revolutionary energy.” Against electoral politics Rocker argues for a revolutionary Anarcho-syndicalist movement of the mass of workers that organizes against the state for their interests; “Anarcho-Syndicalists, then, are not in any way opposed to the political struggle, but in their opinion this struggle, too, must take the form of direct action, in which the instruments of economic power which the working class has at its command are the most effective. The most trivial wage fight shows clearly that, whenever the employers find themselves in difficulties, the state steps in with the police, and even in some cases with the militia, to protect the threatened interests of the possessing classes. It would, therefore, be absurd for them to overlook the importance of the political struggle. Every event that affects the life of the community is of a political nature. In this sense, every important economic action, such, for example, as a general strike, is also a political action and, moreover, one of incomparably greater importance than any parliamentary proceeding. Of a political nature is likewise the battle of the Anarcho-Syndicalists against Fascism and the anti-militarist propaganda, a battle which for decades was carried on solely by the libertarian Socialists and the Syndicalists, and which was attended by tremendous sacrifices.” Thus Anarcho-syndicalists reject participation in electoral politics in favor of the direct self-organization of workers and the masses of people against the capitalist class, the state, and the entire capitalist system itself. For Anarcho-syndicalists it makes little difference who is in power in a capitalist state. Such individuals will always have to carry out the normal functions of the capitalist state, namely the political control and oppression of the working class.

At the end of the above passage Rudolf Rocker argues that Anarcho-syndicalists should confront Fascist organizing through organized direct action. This strategy has been put into practice both by Anarchist and communist resistance to Fascist regimes historically such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and the modern anti-fascist movement which organizes against neo-fascist groups through organized class struggle and direct action. This movement has been derided by the mainstream media and internet liberals for it’s violent clashes with neo-fascist groups such as the alt-right. Despite Chomsky’s professed sympathy for Anarcho-syndicalism he joins the mainstream media and reactionary internet commentators in denouncing militant anti-fascism. Chomsky argues in am email exchange with a fan:

“You draw the line where the actions are principled and tactically effective. You therefore oppose these actions, on both grounds.

I’ve received so many inquiries I’ve been reduced to form responses, below:

Wrong in principle, and tactically self-destructive. When we move to the arena of violence, the most brutal guys win – that’s the worst outcome (and, incidentally, it’s not us). The right response is to use the opportunity for education and exposure, not to give a gift to the hard right while attacking fundamental principles of freedom of speech.

We’ve been through all of this before, for example, with Weathermen. The Vietnamese pleaded with them to stop actions like these, understanding very well that each such act simply increased support for the war. In this case, the motive is far less significant, but the consequences are very likely to be the same, and we can see that they already are. That’s quite apart from the question of principle. There could be a constructive response that would not simply be a welcome gift to the far right and those elements in the state yearning for a pretext for repression: to use the opportunity for education and organizing.” He calls militant anti-fascism “a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were” with “some limited similarity to the Weather Underground”.

This is quite apart from the Anarcho-syndicalist tradition of militant resistance to Fascism. When the Nazis tried to take over a German town where the Anarcho-syndicalist movement was culturally centered the FAUD, Germany’s Anarcho-syndicalist union, mounted a heroic resistance to Nazi forces and held them off for a period of time before being crushed. The Anarchist social revolution in Spain in 1936 was kicked off when workers overthrew and attempted Fascist coup and forced the Fascists to flee the country. Anarcho-syndicalists such as Buenaventura Durruti mounting armed resistance to Fracoist Fascists through workers’ militias became a main fixture of the Spanish Civil War.

Chomsky’s affinity for the liberal approach to fighting Fascism through debating it’s merits is not a recent phenomena by any means. In the 70s when an academic in France by the name of  Robert Faurisson was charged by the French government for denying that the holocaust happened and disputing the existence of the horrific gas chambers in German concentration camps Chomsky signed a petition for this individual’s right to express his views, no matter how horrible. When denounced in French intellectual circles Chomsky defended his position with gusto arguing that the right for people to express and promote any views without any harm coming to them because of it even if those views are Fascist is a fundamental “civic libertarian principle”. He defends his position to this day. It should be mentioned that Zionists such as Alan Dershowitz have blown Chomsky’s position completely out of proportion and out of context to attack any criticism he makes of Israel however, the fact remains that Chomsky’s position with regard to this issue was not one of Anarcho-syndicalist militant anti-Fascism. Militant anti-Fascists would agree with Chomsky that the capitalist state should not be allowed to punish individuals for thought crimes, however Chomsky argues against even organizing to prevent this individual from publishing his holocaust denial work and being accepted by academia. As Rocker states anti-Fascist Anarcho-syndicalists by contrast would aim to stop the proliferation of this individual’s views through organizing against him.

It must be concluded that Chomsky is not an advocate of Anarcho-syndicalism as his positions are at odds with fundamental Anarcho-syndicalist principles. To be fair to Chomsky he has never painted himself as a “theorist of Anarchism”, or even an Anarcho-syndicalist outright, but rather as a “fellow traveler”. Really that is all he can claim to be. He is a public intellectual with an affinity for the skepticism of authority and democratic ideals of Anarchism. One can not look to Chomsky for true Anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice, they must instead look to the international Anarcho-syndicalist movement which has been organized around the world since the 19th century.

Bibliography:

http://libcom.org/library/relevance-anarcho-syndicalism-noam-chomsky-interviewed-peter-jay

Fighting For Ourselves, Solidarity Federation

Anarchism

https://chomsky.info/an-eight-point-brief-for-lev-lesser-evil-voting/

Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice, Rudolf Rocker

ABC Of Anarchism, Alexander Berkman

Durruti Is Dead, Yet Living, Emma Goldman

” Anarcho-Syndicalism ” Concept and production by Thomas Beckmann, Barbara Uebel and Markus Hoffmann in cooperation with “Videozeitung”

https://libcom.org/blog/6-reasons-why-chomsky-wrong-about-antifa-18082017

https://chomsky.info/1989____/

https://chomsky.info/19801011/

https://chomsky.info/19810228/

 

Abolish ICE? Yea, but…

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is an institution which has come under fire recently. This is a result of president Donald Trump’s immigration policies which have begun detaining children, some as young as months old infants, separate from their families. This has been amplified by audio of these children wailing scared and alone in these child internment camps. Facing public backlash as a result of this completely unfeeling policy has president Trump tried to rescue his public image by, not putting a stop to the detentions of undocumented people at the border, but instead opting to detain families of undocumented people together. What a family man our president is! ICE has been the enforcement mechanism of these policies. This has naturally lead to a call by activists and even politicians to abolish the agency.

Upset winner in the 14th congressional district of New York’s democratic primary Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for the abolition of the agency as well as democratic candidate for Michigan governor Abdul El-Sayed. On the surface this seems like a radical demand to end the oppression of undocumented people at the border. But that’s the surface. Often proposals like these, especially when they are mainstreamed and supported by politicians, don’t go as far to the root of the problem as they may claim to.

ICE is simply a mechanism of United States border enforcement that has existed for a little over ten years. Refugees and the undocumented people have suffered at the hands of US borders long before ICE even existed. Going all the way back to the Carter presidency refugees from political turmoil in Haiti have been forcibly sent back to the country. President Clinton promised to end this policy in his campaign, but ended up doing the opposite and continuing it. When, in 1990, a genuinely democratic election took place in Haiti with a popular candidate defeating a US, IMF, and World Bank backed candidate by a landslide the policy was reversed at a time when the new democratic president and his policies were attracting Haitians that had previously fled back to the country. When a US backed coup overthrew that president and created a military dictatorship the policy was returned to normal with fleeing Haitians being forcibly sent back.

During World War Two a boat with nearly a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany was turned away by the US coast guard. In the 19th century a law was passed that literally banned Chinese people from the country. When the US acquired nearly all of it’s east territory including Texas and California it wrested it from Mexico through a war of conquest called the Mexican-American war. If we were to generalize the oppression of borders beyond the United States all nation states, and their borders, have been created through establishing territory controlled by these entities that cut across organic, already existing communities.

The United States Government’s “war on terror” started almost immediately after 911 which happened two years before ICE’s founding. This War On Terror which preceded ICE’s creation lead to the direct persecution of Muslim and Arab Americans by the security state with detention and deportation. The problem clearly goes much deeper than ICE, or even Trump. The problem in fact, cuts at the very heart of the existence of the United States as an entity in the first place.

ICE obviously needs to go. It’s nothing, but a mechanism of repression which right now is at Trump’s disposal to enact his fanatically racist and xenophobic policies. However, getting rid of ICE won’t solve the problem at hand. The problem at hand is the oppression that would be immigrants to the United States face. This problem is produced by the United State’s very existence. Not only is the United States causing the political and social turmoil that creates refugees and migrants in the first place in the form of free trade deals such as NAFTA that ruin countries’ economies and ongoing wars and geopolitical struggles that destroy countries in general such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It’s existence, as well as the existence of all other nation-states, and the capitalist system in general prohibits the natural flow of populations from one place to another that has happened since mankind evolved. To understand this we have to understand the nation state as an institution.

DOWN WITH THE NATION STATE!

The nation state, and thus the nations they govern, came about as a result of the development and globalization of capitalism. Local capitalists needed a sanctioned territory to rule over and exploit their workers and as a result of globalization needed a vehicle through which to compete with other capitalists internationally for power. Thus the nation state was born as a state which claimed a specific territory through the drawing of arbitrary lines. The majority of nation states were established in the first place by colonialism where capitalist states invaded territory where native people’s lived, colonized it with white settlers, and used the force of the state to marginalize and even wipe out the indigenous population.

Talk of “national security” is inherently hallow and anathema because “national security” does not mean the safety of civilians. If it did children would not be ripped from their families and undocumented refugees and migrants would not be turned away, all in it’s name. All it means is the protection of the power structure that forms the nation state and ultimately the protection of the ruling class it represents. This brings us to how this capitalist nation state weaponizes racism.

Capitalism and Racism

Racism has served many functions in capitalist society. It was created as a mechanism of exporting capitalism around the world through the process of colonialism that was mentioned earlier. Today the function of racism is to turn people of color into an easily exploitable workforce, or a surplus population that can be left to rot on the streets and in prisons and a group which can be scapegoated by people like Trump to make white workers believe that their problems, caused by their exploitation at the hands of capital, are a result of workers of color. In this sense the instability and powerlessness that white workers feel in capitalist society is blamed on Muslims carrying out terror attacks and Latino Americans sneaking over the border, leaching off of government benefits, and paradoxically also stealing the jobs of white workers from under their noses.

Abolish ICE and The Whole System

Right now undocumented immigrants and refugees are being repressed as a result of the unholy merger of the nation state, capitalism, and racism. Simply abolishing ICE will not get rid of this hydra, it existed long before ICE and if abolishing ICE is all we are willing to do will exist long after it. ICE abolition could be a radical demand which leads into a call for the abolition of capitalism, states, and racism, but has generally been employed as a fashionable activist slogan with little meaning. Alexandria Ortiz said in an interview with Jeremy Scahill that her vision of abolishing ICE is one where ICE is replaced with more competent and supposedly more humane mechanisms of national security based in the community. The plan of people such as Ms. Ortiz is to change remarkably little, to abolish ICE and in it’s place even embolden the security state with thin assurances that this time, borders, jails, detention, and standing armies will somehow work in the interests of oppressed people.

If you want the suffering of undocumented immigrant children to end then yes, ICE needs to be trashed, but so does racism, capitalism, and the nation state. A new society needs to replace these systems. This is a society with no borders, no states, and no xenophobia. This society must be organized as a global human community with no distinct social classes, no powerful/powerless dichotomy, and no oppression what so ever. Only a Libertarian Communist society can attain justice for humanity.

Bibliography:

https://theintercept.com/2018/06/20/administration-of-hate-the-snatching-and-caging-of-immigrant-children-it-is-happening-here/

The Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa

Free Markets?, Noam Chomsky

Against Nationalism, Anarchist Federation

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/07/18/capitalismracism-partnership

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Exclusion_Act

 

State Socialist Anti-Communism

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In the 90s an article written by political scientist Michael Parenti was circulated. This article was an attempt to show that that the non-Stalinist left (Anarchists, Trotskyists, and pretty much any leftist critical of the Soviet Union) were essentially for a left wing version of anti-communism. This anti-communism was like right wing anti-communism in that it supposedly opposed the communist project and sought to prevent it from being realized. Unlike right wing anti-communism so called “Left Anti-Communism” cloaked it’s opposition to communism in a leftist ideological veil. An example of this Michael Parenti gives is professor Noam Chomsky who despite giving very open and cutting critiques of US empire and propaganda, none the less says that the fall of the Soviet Union was actually “the best thing that ever could have happened for socialism”. In his essay “The Soviet Union vs Socialism” Chomsky argues that the Soviet Union was an authoritarian regime that used the word “socialism” and the imagery associated with it to garner support from socialists and revolutionaries and thus to hide the fact that in actuality (according to Chomsky) it was really a repressive capitalist state that exploited workers through wage labor in place of private capitalists.  Anarchists, since the Bolsheviks consolidated their rule after the Russian Revolution, have argued that the state socialist regime in Russia lacked the direct control of society by freely associated self-managing producers required for genuine socialism. Parenti attacks this view as left anti-communist as well.

So why are these two positions anti-communist? According to Parenti because they attack the communist project in practice. Parenti argues that state-socialist regimes like the Soviet Union were the real experiments in socialism and communist revolution. They were the result of the in practice application of the ideas of the communist and socialist movement. As such, by attacking the communist project’s realization in practice state socialism’s critics are effectively putting down the communist project and arguing against it, and just as well, working to undermine it. “The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country.” -Parenti

Parenti, as you may have gathered by now, is a defender of state socialism. He sees the regimes of the USSR, China, Cuba, ect. as something close to models of how socialism and communism are really enacted. In a speech given after the Soviet Union’s collapse Parenti argued that despite having layers of sometimes repressive bureaucracy that limited economic efficiency, despite Stalin being a bit despotic, the Soviet Union implemented socialism for the first time on a mass scale and created a generally prosperous and humane society. Followers of the state socialist model today, or as they call themselves “Marxist-Leninists”, or sometimes “Maoists” depending on what traditions they particularly fallow, echo this criticism throughout time. Despite the collapse of the USSR and sweeping market reforms in China and Vietnam modern day state socialists will accuse leftists who are critical of certain regimes as fundamentally anti-communist, working against socialist and communist goals rather than toward them. These regimes include Cuba, North Korea, the Syrian Baath government, Iran, and sometimes even China, or the Russian Federation.

A particular brand of modern state socialist, Maoists, apply this principle to Stalinist guerrilla movements in the third world such as the Naxalites in India, the New People’s Army in the Philippines, the Shinning Path in Peru before it’s defeat by state forces, and sometimes the FARC in Columbia. In his reply to Left Communist working class historian Loren Goldner’s critical article on the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and leftist support for Mao Maoist academic J. Moufawad-Paul calls on Loren’s publication, Insurgent Notes, to drop “insurgent” from it’s name. Moufawad-Paul argues that Maoists through their presence in the form of these aforementioned guerrilla groups are the people fighting for communism in modern times, by rejecting Maoism, Loren Goldner is in effect rejecting the communist movement itself. “Not so with Loren Goldner’s Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism which is not only insulting to maoists but also insults the intelligence of anyone who has bothered to critically investigate the history and theory of the communism that was influenced by the Chinese Revolution.  And yet Insurgent Notes published this article that mocks the ideology of the only communist insurgencies that currently exist and have existed since the fall of the Soviet Union proving that it only cares about insurgency insofar as to denigrate actually existing revolution.  Indeed, even Insurgent Notes’ general readership appears to wallow in the ignorance Goldner’s article promotes as evinced by many of the comments, all of which betray the same shallow understanding of the subject matter.”-J. Moufawad-Paul

So, how can I, a Libertarian Communist and someone who rejects state socialism respond to this claim? Well if we examine the actual facts of the legacy of state socialism we can formulate a response pretty easily, a response that shows that state socialism and it’s ideological support base are the real “left anti-communists”.

Defining Communism

If we are to determine who indeed is the real anti-communist we must have a working understanding of what communism is. Communism is a term that has it’s roots in the word “commune” carrying the meaning of “communal”. It was most famously used by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels to describe their politics. Since the word “socialism” was at the time being used by all kinds of people who Marx and Engels disagreed with fundamentally such as Ferdinand Lassalle and Pierre Joseph Proudhon Marx and Engels adopted the word “communism” to differentiate the socialism which they believed in from the socialism of these others. Socialism is a term with the root word “social”, just as communism has “commune”. These are words that imply social interaction and collective living. Socialism in the tradition of the socialist movement always meant a society organized socially, that is cooperatively without social hierarchy, where production is the property of the whole society and is carried out to directly meet it’s needs. Communism means basically the same thing with it’s similar emphasis on “communal” ideas. After Marx and Engels picked up the term to describe their socialism Anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Elise Reclus, and Rudolf Rocker would use “Anarchist Communism”, or “Libertarian Communism”, (a synonym for both these terms was “Libertarian” as used in early French Anarchist circles) to refer to the socialism they were for. They used the word “communism” to describe the practical implementation of a socialist society where social organization of society and production is carried out through the free cooperation of self-organized producers forming horizontal networks of administration and producing to meet the needs of each individual in society.

From this bit of etymology and this history of the usage of these terms by respective movements we can infer that communism means a freely, but cooperatively organized society without any form of exploitation, or domination, where production is owned and carried on by the whole society to meet the general needs of all individuals.

The Practice of State Socialism

Starting in Russia in 1905 a wave of working class upheaval swept over eastern and western Europe. This eventually culminated in February 1917 when the Russian workers overthrew the Czarist regime that ruled the Russian Empire and October 1917 where workers overthrow the liberal replacement regime headed by Alexander Kerensky which continued Russian participation in WW1 that produced revolutionary anger among the workers and peasants in the first place, and the workers took over Russian cities through the Bolshevik party.  In the proceeding months and years the Bolshevik party would construct a new Russian state that it presided over, in conjunction with this it would set up an international of communist parties that aligned themselves with the Bolshevik regime. Once Stalin came to power through gaming the Soviet party bureaucracy’s murderous and repressive tenancies he solidified the state socialist regime in Russia. He carried out his rule through secret police terror on the population, he declared that the nationalization of production and land created socialism in the USSR, and carried out huge state directed industrialization and collectivization projects. Through the Comintern international set up by the Bolsheviks, international relations with other countries, and outright invasion of other Eastern European countries the Soviet Union exported it’s state socialism internationally to countries like China, Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and China. This launched an era of “socialist” states competing with capitalist states such as the US and the members of NATO for global hegemony.

These socialist states were not complete dystopian failures like the capitalist west painted them as in their media. They were quite successful in specific areas, specifically accomplishing the same urbanization, industrialization, and transforming of self-sufficient peasants into wage workers that western capitalism’s industrial revolution took many more decades to accomplish. On the front of repressiveness, these societies were bureaucratic police states. Stalin’s rule was probably the worst in any of these examples because he ruled Russia almost exclusively through the brutality of the secret police. After Stalin the Russian communist party resumed it’s function as the major authority in the socialist state (Stalin had circumvented it with his secret police terror), but the use of the secret police to keep people in line continued. These societies have been compared to Fascist regimes such as Italy under Mussolini and Germany under the Nazis. This even spawned a whole new theory of societies called “totalitarianism”.  These sort of comparisons are often very misleading. The state socialist regimes were at least products of failed revolutions where the masses of people overthrew the existing state and ruling class, only for a small clique to take power, construct a new state, and solidify itself as the new ruling class. Fascist regimes were installed by moderate conservatives to protect the capitalist system from revolutionary movements and economic crises by killing and jailing all of it’s opponents.

So how did state socialism work? As previously stated these regimes came into being when there was a popular uprising that overthrew the old rulers and exploiters, typically semi-feudal empires(Russia, North Korea), nationalist warlord governments(China), or capitalist dictatorships backed by the west(Cuba, Vietnam). Once this was achieved a tiny group of bureaucrats, specifically within the communist party, appointed themselves the new ruling clique, set up their own state, and nationalized production to position themselves as the group with control over production – the ruling class.

As Anarchist Communists pointed out in almost a century of debate with Marxists; communism being a free society without class division and domination, could only be achieved through the action of the masses of oppressed and exploited people themselves. The state would have to be destroyed, and all ruling cliques and classes dethroned and replaced by collective popular power and administration. By consolidating themselves as the ruling class through setting up a new state that protected their power these revolutionary communists destroyed even the possibility of moving toward communism in the first place.

These regimes declared themselves “socialist” because they nationalized production and land, meaning they turned it over to the state. They claimed that communism would be reached at a later stage when socialist development was complete. “Real” socialism, as fought for by centuries of socialists meant that production and land be completely socialized becoming the property of all mankind, rather than just being handed over to the state. Socialism also isn’t possible without communism. If production is owned and controlled by the whole human race than it’s products must be distributed directly to satisfy their needs.

State socialist societies were organized first and for most, by the state. They were organized by the managerial bureaucracy within it, principally within the communist party. Since the state these bureaucrats ran owned all production they were the group with control over it. The vast majority of people owned no production and to get access to means of consumption and subsistence it produced had to work wage labor jobs for the state. What these workers produced above what they needed to survive was extracted by the managerial bureaucracy and used to develop the nation’s economy with part of it going to the bureaucrats subsistence. This is effectively the economic structure of capitalism. The only major differences are that what workers produce is reinvested into competing firms rather than the national economy and that the state owns production rather than private persons. However, the state firms that made up the state socialist economy competed with each other and capitalist property is not always the property of private individuals. State owned enterprises, or SOES have become a main fixture of the modern capitalist economy. An example would be postal services around the world, including the US Postal Service. State socialism was capitalism, developing state capitalism. State capitalism is a word Marx and Engels used to describe capital under state monopoly. Moreover because the state lead industrialization and collectivization was developing capital these societies were certainly not transitional to any kind of socialism, or communism.

State socialist governments were also quite fond of killing other communists. During the reign of the original Bolshevik party and government the Bolsheviks assassinated Mensheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries who campaigned for independent soviets and factory committees, and members of the Bolshevik party who disagreed with Bolshevik policy. Despite the fact that Russian Anarchists were largely friendly to the Bolshevik party (even at one point thinking that the Bolshevik “dictatorship of the proletariat” would advance the Anarchist idea of working class control of society) the Bolsheviks carried out Czarist like repression against them. Anarchists were disappeared, thrown in jail where they would often undergo hunger strikes for their rights, exiled, and murdered out right. Anarchist publications such as “The Voice of Labor” were also repressed and shut down.

The spread of the Russian revolution to Ukraine created a peasant and worker movement that aimed to destroy states and redistribute land for collective use. An Anarchist Communist named Nestor Makhno was freed from prison by the insurgency and would end up becoming it’s prime military leader uniting the insurgency militarily against the opposing counter-revolutionary forces of the white army. Originally the Bolsheviks, who were trying to include Ukraine in their sphere of influence by fighting nationalists and the whites, collaborated with Makhno and his insurgency. The insurgency being a movement of anti-state workers and peasants it eventually could no longer harmoniously cooperate with the Bolsheviks and their interest in conquering Ukraine, however, after the first alliance was broken unity between the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists against the whites once again became tactically advantageous. The Bolsheviks wanted to subsume Makhno and his forces under their command to eliminate him as a threat while still profiting from his military value. Makhno refused this and the Bolsheviks mercilessly crushed the Ukrainian insurgency. This involved a particularly brutal incident where Bolsheviks captured a Makhnovist unit, the Makhnovists laid down their weapons and the Bolsheviks mowed them all down with machine guns. Trotsky was quoted as saying that the Makhnovists needed to be “wiped off the face of the earth”.

Later when Stalin took the seat of power the late 1930s were dominated by a period called “the great purge”. Historian J. Arch Getty compares it to the witch trials of the 15th century. Countless members of the communist party were tortured, disappeared, executed, and jailed. Their family’s right to housing would often be revoked and they would often be exiled from their community. The original Bolsheviks left after the Russian Civil War were slaughtered by this process. High profile Bolshevik Leon Trotsky fled to Mexico and was assassinated. Albert Meltzer points out that unlike Trotsky who fled with fan fair and an entourage almost equally high profile Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin was quietly charged and killed.  When the Soviet Union broke with Yugoslavia the former carried out a similar anti-Yugoslav purge of Eastern European communist parties of Soviet satellites, and the latter did the same with an anti-Soviet purge of it’s ruling party.

At the end of a long a bitter struggle within the Chinese Communist Party the “revisionists” lead by Deng Xiaoping who favored market reforms over continued state lead industrialization defeated the “gang of four” composed of Mao Tse-Tung loyalists including his wife. They were purged and one; former general Lin Biao, suspiciously died in a plain crash. When Ho Chi Minh took power in North Vietnam to do it he slaughtered the mass popular Trotskyist movement. It’s members were disappeared and killed. The list of violent acts that state socialist regimes have committed against communists continues, on and on.

The Anti-Communism of State Socialism

Michael Parenti argues that opponents of state socialism are really just opponents of communism. I counter argue that proponents of state socialism are proponents of an anti-communist ideology which dolls itself up in red flags and socialist realist art. State socialism was not communism, or socialism put into action. It was counter-revolution that used words like socialism, Marxism, Leninism, communism, and anti-imperialism to ideologically mask societies that differed from the west only in their political form. “Marxism-Leninism”, the ideology of state socialism, is the ideology of developing state capitalist societies. Like all other capitalist societies their rulers have a fundamental interest in masking their rule and repressing efforts at creating a free society which meets human needs. G.P. Maximoff called this “power communism”. Today’s state socialists, when they complain about “left anti-communism” are really just pushing an anti-communist agenda, attacking the actual communist project in the favor of a red liberalism. Will the real communists please stand up!?

Bibliography:

What Was The USSR?, Aufheben

Loren Goldner on The Chinese Working Class and Global Crises July 2015

The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, J. Arch Getty

Nestor Makhno: The Man and The Myth, Paul Averich

Nestor Makhno: Anarchy’s Cossack, Alexandre Skirda

My Further Disillusionment In Russia, Emma Goldman

And Now?, Ngo Van

Reflections on Anti-Communism, Ralph Miliband and Marcel Liebman

There Is No Communism In Russia, Emma Goldman

Bolshevism. It’s Class Character, Peter Arshinov

Sorghum and Steel: The Socialist Developmental regime and the Forging of China, Chuang

Communism and Anarchy, Peter Kropotkin

Anarchist Communism, Peter Kropotkin