The Capitalist Nature of The Soviet Famines

The Soviet Union is often viewed in the same manner as Nazi Germany in the circles of polite society. Likewise “communism” is often compared to Nazism and Fascism. One of the reasons for this is that in the early 1930s the Soviet Union experienced a series of brutal famines. Specifically the famine in Ukraine in this period has been claimed to be a deliberate act of genocide by the Soviet government against the Ukrainian people, thus being dubbed “Holodomor”. Wikipedia explains “Holodomor is a compound of the Ukrainian words holod meaning “hunger” and mor meaning “plague”. The expression moryty holodom means “to inflict death by hunger””1. In retaliation plenty of Stalinists, seeking to defend the political legacy of the Soviet Union as a model for socialism assert that the Ukrainian famine was not a genocide, and was either caused by weather, or, in some cases, never happened at all. The purpose of this article will be to explain the real nature of the Soviet famines, arguing that instead of being the result of the failures of communism, and instead of being completely natural, or made up conspiracies against the Soviet Union by it’s enemies, that the famines were a product of the Soviet Union as a capitalist society.

The first thing to understand is the Soviet Union is that it was not “communist”, or even a non-capitalist society. The Soviet Union didn’t even refer to itself as “communist”, but “socialist”, and saw communism as a far off future goal. While the Soviet Union’s official and governing ideology claimed that it was socialist, rather than capitalist, it’s system of production and distribution was in no way distinguishable from capitalism. The basic element of capitalist society, that defines what is and is not a capitalist society, is a system of production where all units of production produce things to be sold and where distribution takes place through buying and selling. The state owned firms of the Soviet Union produced, bought, and sold consumer items, raw materials, and means of production. These state firms even competed with one another to generate the most revenue for the state. Capitalism was not eliminated, but placed under state-direction.

The second thing to understand is that the famines were not a deliberate genocide of Ukrainians. The famines affected different parts of Russia, and were an incidental result of policy. At the time Soviet policies were directed toward carrying out industrial and agricultural development, not coming up with ways to eradicate and mass murder Ukrainians for whatever imagined reason. Despite this the famines certainly happened and were certainly not the simple result of bad weather.

The third thing to understand is that capitalism is an exploitative system. This means that in capitalist society one class of people forcefully makes use of the human energy of another for it’s own gain. This is accomplished by a small class of people privately owning resources and forcing the rest to work for it in exchange for money that can buy life sustaining goods such as shelter and food. What this labor produces is extracted as the private property of this class and turned into profit by selling it on the market. In the Soviet Union this capitalist class was the party bureaucracy that controlled the state which owned all production. Now to the famines themselves.

Russia, before the Russian Revolution and up until the time of the famines was underdeveloped economically. The roots of capitalist production had just taken hold in the country primarily through foreign investment by capitalists of other countries. This meant that the majority of the population were a self-sustaining peasantry rather than an exploitable working class with no property, but it’s ability to perform labor. Thus the Russian economy under the new Soviet Union was desperate for peasants to put their product up for sale on the market rather than simply consume it themselves, or horde it for a high price. Thus, once Stalin came to full power within the communist party he carried out a full scale industrial revolution. Deeply involved in this undertaking was complete and forceful expropriation of the peasants. Stalin’s forces in the countryside indiscriminately robbed the peasants blind and tore down their traditional institutions, forcing them into collective farms profited from by the state. This is an example of what Marx called “primitive accumulation”. Marx identified this as an important process in capitalist development.

Marx’s “primitive accumulation” describes the process by which coercion and trickery is used to rob the producer themself of what they produce. In this case the henchmen of the Stalinist state confiscated peasant property and destroyed the peasantry’s subsistence lifestyle. This process is essential for capitalist development because, once again, capitalism requires the exploitation of labor. This kind of naked coercion inevitably has human cost.

The combination the peasants being robbed of their subsistence resources and the ill-thought out implementation of the collectivization process on the part of the Soviet regime lead to famine in different parts of the country. Towards our argument that the famines were of capitalist origin they were kicked off by the extraction of grain for the International market. Millions of people met their ends, starvation ensued and resulted in parents mercy killing their children, consumption of tree bark, and cannibalism. The collective farms that the peasants were forced into ran as capitalist firms (just as all other units of production in the Soviet Union). Thus the collectivizations were the process of transforming the Russian peasants into a working class for labor exploitation. In resisting this “proletarianization” peasants burned crops, slaughtered livestock, and fought with state forces. Despite the fact that such peasants were predominantly middle class, or poor the regime labelled them “kulaks” (rich peasants). This label was applied liberally to any peasants that resisted grain requisition. Resisting peasants were killed, or deported to Siberia. This is reminiscent of a similar process in Europe where developing capitalism kicked peasants off of commonly owned land and punished them with death, or jail for not taking up wage labor jobs in capitalist production. Accordingly the collectivisations destroyed a peasant commune system in Russia called the “mir” in which peasants commonly owned land and organized life communally.

A “communist” society which is communist in more than name would not be one where a ruling class ruthlessly exploits the laboring classes for economic development to the point of famines with massive body counts. A communist society would have no ruling, or exploited class. Labor would be freely carried out and associated to provide for each member of society and thus there would be no reason for a coercive state apparatus in the first place. A really “communist” society would be much more akin to the mir communes than the Soviet Union and it’s collectivization policies. Thus the Soviet famines do not show the failure of “communism”. Despite this they do show the failure of the Soviet regime, not as an alternative to capitalism, or as “socialism”, but as a capitalist society. They show the system modern Stalinists wish to bring back to be just as miserable as any other capitalist set up. Accordingly the Soviet famines should not be put on communism’s rap sheet, but should be laid at the feet of the capitalist system which dominates global society to this day.

Notes:

1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor

2. See Chattopadhyay’s Did The Bolshevik Seizure of Power Inaugurate a Socialist Revolution? for a short discussion of the mir.

Bibliography:

The great famine of 1932–3 in Soviet Ukraine: Causes
and consequences, Bohdan Krawchenko

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

State Capitalism: The wages System Under New Management, Adam Buick and John Crump

The So Called “Primitive Accumulation”, Karl Marx

 

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Against Ballot Evangelism: The Political Uselessness Of The Vote

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Yesterday was election day in my country so I thought I would outline exactly why “exorcising” your “democratic rights” does precisely nothing. I mean this very literally. Your vote has literally no impact on the political-economic system, nor even the trends that push it forward. This conclusion is very jarring for those who believe in the political system known as “representative democracy”.  This is especially true in America where that “democracy” is celebrated as the mechanism which keeps state power accountable. The idea behind representative democracy is that by electing the officials that staff the state the public effectively controls the state from below. If you buy into this idea then you no doubt expect that the public can very easily effect politics and the economy by voting for certain politicians with certain political platforms. There are even radical leftists who believe that voting is vital in “harm-reduction”, i.e. preventing right wing attacks on workers and oppressed people.

This idea that simply writing someone’s name on a ballot and handing it in can fundamentally affect society has galvanized it’s adherents to, what I would call, evangelize the vote. These people preach to others about the necessity of voting. They say “if you don’t vote then welfare and union packages will be cut!” and “if you don’t vote some right winger will get into office!”, or if said people are right wing themselves they say “if you don’t vote then the leftists will destroy our country!”. This idea and practice of voter evangelism is based on two fundamental presuppositions; that when you vote you have a meaningful political choice and that politicians can be expected to carry out the platforms they are elected on. My contention is that both of these presuppositions are wrong.

Is There A Meaningful Political Choice When I Vote?

In the United States there are two big parties that mutually control the political system; the Republican and Democratic parties. Theoretically third parties, or independents can run in elections, but the two big parties take decisive action to marginalize, or even sabotage any efforts in this direction.1 Really, if you want your vote to matter it comes down to a choice between the republicans, or the democrats. How meaningful is this choice?

To put it bluntly; not at all. Both parties are political machines which perform the function of providing ideological legitimacy to the status quo (capitalism) by mobilizing the masses of people to politicaly engage with one or the other party. This is done through employing activists who campaign for the party. Politically the Democratic Party claims to be a progressive party of the people that fights for people of color, queer people, women, peace, and the working class. In reality the Democratic Party has simply channeled movements for peace, labor, and civil rights under it’s control to secure electoral victories and public support. When in power the democrats declaw these movements and carry out the repression of civil rights, waging wars internationally, and repression of the labor movement as needed by the capitalist economy. The Republican Party politically claims to be for the defense of the patriarchal family unit and the cultural values that uphold it. In reality the republicans enact the same, or similar policies the democrats do in service of capitalism. In addition, the patriarchal family system the republicans appeal to is based on the marginalization of people of color, women, and queer people, which also serves capitalism by providing a marginalized and thus easily exploitable labor force and/or marginalizing the surplus population that can’t be integrated into the capitalist economy. In the United States, your choice when voting is effectively two capitalist political machines that carry out more or less the same policies in pursuit of economic interests.

Now, not all countries have the same restrictive political system as the United States. Many countries have multiple political parties to choose from. Unfortunately, each one of these countries have the same sociological forces at play that have led to the restrictive two-party system in the United States. That is that every country on earth, even “socialist” regimes such as Cuba, or North Korea, have capitalist economies.

Every country on earth, and certainly every country with a “representative democracy” has a system of production and distribution based on buying and selling to produce a return. This system of production and distribution is called “capitalism”. The fluctuations of buying and selling in capitalism form what is called the “economy”. Every nation has an economy and every nation participates in the large global economy. The governments of every nation are set up to ensure that economy is in good health producing a financial return that keeps production running smoothly and expanding. Thus, every and any politician who ever gains an official position in the capitalist state is first and for most a maintenance man and technocrat for the capitalist economy. Effectively the only “choice” you have in any “democratic” state is between agents of capitalism. This shows us that there is no meaningful choice to be made when casting your ballot.

Can I trust The Politicians I vote For To Carry Out Their Political Platforms?

A key part of “representative democracy” is that politicians run their campaigns for election on certain platforms. They say that they will do x if the public elects them. The only way that voting would make a political difference is if the politicians that are elected can be trusted to do the things they got elected to do. So can they be trusted to do those things? Lets revisit the point about the capitalist economy.

As we have seen the state in capitalist society is instituted to secure the health of the capitalist economy. If the state doesn’t do this the system of production will falter leading to the state’s power possibly being compromised. This means that the bureaucracy of the state, i.e. politicians, will always pursue policies that are conducive to the health of the capitalist economy. If a politician promises to do x to get elected, but y would be more conducive to a lucrative capitalist economy then said politician will always go for y instead of x absent popular pressure (or sometimes even in the face of it). To find a real world example of this we need only look to the latest two presidents of the United States.

One of Barack Obama’s promises during his campaign was a national healthcare system paid for by the government. Note that government encroachment on private health insurance companies would threaten their profits to a certain degree. In Obama’s two terms in office he failed to implement even the most watered down form of national healthcare called “public option”. Instead he instituted his Obamacare which essentially meant forcing each American to have a private insurance policy. Lance Selfa called this a “corporate give away”. One of president Trump’s campaign promises was that he would ramp up pressure on companies to keep jobs in the United States. This would mean that corporations would be barred from moving production to locations of cheaper labor in the third world. Despite his promises Harley Davidson has carried out a huge relocation of jobs to the third world under Trump. Ultimately the only way politicians will actually enact the things they promise to do is if they are conducive to a lucrative capitalist economy.

Conclusion, Forget The Ballot, Organize!

If, as we have seen, you have no meaningful political choice when you vote and politicians can’t necessarily be trusted to do the things they are voted in to do then whether you vote, or don’t vote, has no meaningful social impact. This is jarring because we are in dire need of social change. The world we inhabit is based on oppression and class exploitation. The very foundation of the “economy” is that the mass of people have no control over social production and must labor for capitalist firms in order to receive a wage, or salary to survive. Thus the very basis of capitalist society is subservience and exploitation. So what can make social change?

The only way those in power have ever conceded to the interests of the masses of people is that the masses of people have mobilized to put pressure on those in power. Racial segregation between white and black people only ended in the US and South Africa through a militant civil rights struggle. Countries with the highest living standards are those with the most militant workers movements. Whether you vote, or don’t vote couldn’t matter less. Whether you mobilize people in your community and workplace to demand from the state and bosses what we deserve couldn’t matter more.

Notes:

1. In 2004 the Democratic Party forced Ralph Nadar’s campaign to pay over 80,000 dollars in legal fees and overturned thousands of his signitures based on technicalities such as voters writing their names as “Bill” rather than “William”.

Bibliography:

Why Bad Government’s Happen To good People, Danny Katch

Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa

State Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Adam Buick and John Crump, 1. What Is Capitalism?

State: and introduction, Libcom
https://libcom.org/library/state-introduction

Wage Labor and Capital, Karl Marx

Class: an introduction, Libcom
https://libcom.org/library/class-introduction

Direct action: and introduction, Libcom
https://libcom.org/library/direct-action-introduction

How Pink Tide Failed Brazil

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Brazil’s runoff election has been won by the right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Among Bolsonaro’s less than savory traits are colossal misogyny, and nostalgia for Brazil’s military dictatorship. This is naturally a dark time for Brazil’s working class and oppressed people. Regardless, Bolsonaro did not fall from the sky. His victory was the direct result of the failure of the so called “Pink Tide” in Latin America.

At the turn of the 20th century Latin American social movements in resistance to neoliberal policies of exploitation lead to the election of left-wing officials and governments. This has been called “Pink Tide”. From Pink Tide came significant left-wing governments on the continent such as that of Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia, and Chavez to Maduro in Venezuela. These new leftist regimes were suppose to be popular governments that actively resisted neoliberalism. They were suppose to create economically self-sufficient nations. If the goals of Pink Tide governments were met at all, it was only in very limited ways.

The fundamental problem with Pink Tide was two-fold. Firstly the popular energy of Pink Tide was transformed into state power. Prominent figures in social movements were absorbed into the state bureaucracy and the state, as it always is, was constituted as a sovereign power completely uncountable to popular demands. Secondly, and most obviously, capitalism was left in tact. Effectively Pink Tide tried to resist the pressures of the global capitalist economy through a national capitalism controlled by left-wing governments. This plan did not account for the fact that capitalism can not be channeled by leftists for their aims. Capitalism only cares about the maximization of profit which is only accomplished through the exploitation of labor and the environment.

Pink Tide amounted to nothing more than another leftist attempt at managing capital and the state. The problem with such attempts as can be seen in so called “Nordic Social Democracies” and Stalinist regimes is that they are attempting to manage the very foundation of modern people’s misery. Rather than overthrowing the systems of domination that keep the working class subordinated to the capitalist class, these leftists become participants in them. In Pink Tide’s case this meant the continuation of the extraction of natural resources such as oil for the world market, often against the will of indigenous people. Fundamentally, it also inherently meant the continued exploitation of the working class. In order for capitalists to make profit they need a workforce that can only survive on the wages they get in exchange for producing commodities for the capitalists. This is the backbone, not only of every national capitalist economy, but the global capitalist economy as a whole.

Capitalism is also prone to periodic crises because of the instability of it as an economic system based on the fluctuations of the market. Thus the recent global economic crises hit the Pink Tide countries just as it hit the rest of the world. The fact that Pink Tide regimes continued to be capitalist governments based on the exploitation and thereby misery of the masses meant workers often became fed up and turned to the political right. In the case of Brazil the country has elected left-wing presidents for the past 20 years. Former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached as a result of a corruption scandal and her still popular predecessor “Lula” is serving a twelve year sentence on corruption charges.

The fact is that Bolsonaro is promising law and order and shake up of the Brazilian government in a time of crises where even the left-wing Pink Tide has failed to create an alternative to the miserable capitalist world we all live in based on oppression and exploitation. Of coarse the Pink Tide is not directly responsible for Brazil’s turn to the right. Despite this the unavoidable truth is that the failure of Pink Tide to deliver real change gave the political right an opening in Brazil to mobilize on the basis of popular frustration. Since left-wing capitalism got us into the mess of right-wing capitalism the only way out is capitalism’s abolition. Since the poverty of left-wing politicians has delivered the predictably regressive Bolsonaro government the solution is not to simply replace Bolsonaro with a leftist when his term is up.

There is no way to utilize the capitalist state for the goals of fundamental social change. The state is in fact THE coercive mechanism for the maintenance of the status quo. The state and every politician from Bolsonaro to Maduro must go along with the capitalist mode of production. This requires an international movement of the working class and oppressed people, independent of all political parties and state influence, carried out through self-managed organizations, for the transformation of society along the lines of common ownership of production, meeting human needs, harmony with the natural environment, and directly democratic management of society without coercive political mechanisms.

Bibliography:

https://www.vox.com/2018/10/29/18037530/jair-bolsonaro-brazil-president-elections

What Happened To Pink Tide?, Kyla Sankey:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/pink-tide-latin-america-chavez-morales-capitalism-socialism/

The State: It’s Historic Role, Peter Kropotkin

Capital Volume 1, Karl Marx

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

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/