Breaking up with Anarchism

The following letter was inspired by a discussion with a close friend who suggested that my dislike of anarchism was excessively hostile, because of my personal history with anarchism. I felt that it was time that I gave anarchism its due.

Dear Anarchism,

It’s not you; it’s me.

In some ways I’ll always love you. But it’s time that we both moved on.

I remember when we first met. It was while I was reading Daniel Guérin’s book about you, with its preface by Noam Chomsky. It was like love at first sight. All of my instincts led me to you and I saw you through perfectly tinted rose-colored glasses. Eventually, through our friend Noam, we came to a much deeper understanding.

I’ll always cherish our first few years together the most.

After our relationship developed, rather than stagnating, you led me to more exciting places than I had ever been. All of a sudden, I met other people who loved you in the same way that I did. I had unimaginable fun meeting your friends and spending hours with them just talking about how wonderful you are.

And it was those friends who showed me how I could see you differently.

They gave me different books about you and even called you by different names. I was exposed to your other pet-names, like “Council Communism” and “Insurrectionary Anarchism“. Your multi-dimensionality drew me in even more. You were all things for all people, but you were unique for me.

You gave me the tools I needed in order to see the world properly.

You introduced me to theory. Like really, over-complicated theory. For that I am eternally grateful, because you taught me to think. It was because of you that I began reading French post-structuralists and German critical theorists. It was because of you that I first interacted with radical feminists, queer activists, and people of color fighting against white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

Those were undoubtedly some of the best days of my life. I’ll always owe that time to you.

In the end, however, those days had to come to an end. And that ability to think eventually made us incompatible. I took off my rose-colored glasses and saw our relationship for what it was.

You see, I realized that despite my love for you and your friends love for you, it was impossible for everyone to love you. And that meant that your promises of perfect equality and anti-authoritarianism couldn’t be kept.

And, unfortunately, those promises meant everything to me.

My idealism faded and that left me ultimately dissatisfied in our relationship.

I’m sorry, Anarchism, but things just weren’t meant to be.

You’ll be fine, though, I’m sure. Others will meet you and fall in love in the same way that I did. You’ll draw more and more people in as time go on – I can guarantee that.

I end this relationship without bitterness, but with honest disappointment that things didn’t work out. I would have loved to stay forever. I ought to add that I’m sorry for all the times I misrepresented you or did a poor job of dealing with your friends. I tried my best and learned a lot from you.

And I’ll never forget the great times that we shared together.

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How I Became a Stalinist, Kind of

A number of my friends have watched in horror over the past few years as I have become more and more sympathetic with the Soviet Union’s policies between 1926 and 1953.

The shorthand for this period, of course, would be the “Stalinist period”.

Stalin

Despite my previous open and vigorous support from the “Leninist period” between 1917 and 1924, many of my acquaintances began to strongly protest only once I began to defend the post-Lenin Soviet Union.

In fact, even on this blog, you can watch my evolution on this topic very clearly.

However, as I’ve turned towards a more fundamentally materialist analysis of political economy and the more I’ve critically analyzed historical accounts and narratives, it’s become apparent to me that the Soviet Union through to 1953 is worth defending, at least critically.

We can start where my anarchist friends would draw their first line of trouble. They even get uncomfortable if I talk about Lenin. For them, the trouble seems to be authority – never mind the fact that “authority” becomes increasingly more difficult to define in a satisfactory way when we discuss political arrangements.

Lenin didn’t live up to very important post-Enlightenment (Euro-Amerikkkan) bourgeois values of the anarchists.

Here, I’m always reminded of Emma Goldman’s discussion with Lenin during the Civil War. She very famously asked, “What about freedom of speech? Where is the freedom of speech here?” And Lenin responded, “Do you understand that we’re in the middle of a war? We’re being attacked by all sides – we’ve been invaded by fourteen countries. We won’t allow counter-revolutionary propaganda.”

My anarchist friends (in the West) take Goldman’s position and I take Lenin’s.

These are our fundamental differences.

(By the way, anarchists in Russia are having very different conversations.)

The idealist politics of my anarchist friends reveals the core flaw in anarchism. There is no destruction of capitalism as long as there is no anti-capitalist organization. There is no victory as long as there is no authority. Anarchists in history have discovered this in their attempts to build non-state utopias in Makhnoist Ukraine or Revolutionary Catalonia, where effectively they had very authoritarian governments without calling them “governments”. This has also become clear in modern anarchist projects like Rojava, where the PYD has instituted a sort of one-party (mono-ethnic) state, without, of course, calling it a “state”.

So what is important about Lenin here?

Lenin (and the Soviet Union) represents the will to overcome this defeatist trend.

Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Il

The resolve to, first and foremost, overthrow the dominant structures of capitalism and bourgeois class rule. The Leninist project was crystal clear about the need to embrace a materialist analysis of society and make conclusions that effectively flow from that premise. A materialist analysis is the thing that Trotskyists and anarchists are both lacking!

How does capitalism function?

Where can we find the bourgeoisie?

Where can we find the proletariat?

Who has, as Marx said, “nothing to lose” but their chains?

How do we organize these people to destroy global liberal capitalism?

Only by wielding the mechanics of the state do we have any hope in dismantling capitalism. The bourgeoisie are never going to willingly hand over power and give up their exploitation of the proletariat. These are central mechanisms to their existence. These are the central mechanisms of private control over the means of production.

This is why those who have always tried to do away with the state too early have found themselves reconstructing a state themselves (even if they’ve tried to hide behind semantics).

I was once an anarchist.

I was also once a Trotskyist.

Of course, one of the dominant narratives surrounding the Stalin period is the many millions of dead.

Personally, this was perhaps my largest hang-up with regards to Stalin. Despite getting beyond so much propaganda regarding other subjects (like the Russian Revolution!), I couldn’t seem to break free of this point on Stalin.

The whole thing seems unbelievably dreadful. Incomprehensibly reprehensible.

Until, of course, one really begins to dive into the Stalin period like a real historian, rather than someone reading a Wikipedia page with citations from “The Black Book of Communism” or hacks like Robert Conquest.

Once you engage with the evidence for the claims about Stalin, the whole edifice falls apart.

What was the population of the USSR in 1924 versus 1953?

What were the numbers of people who died in the Gulag system (let alone who were even in the Gulag!)?

How was legislation introduced, passed, and enforced in the Stalin period?

How did the bureaucracy function?

What was the role of the NKVD in this period and how many people were imprisoned/killed while Yezhov was leading the organization?

How about when Beria was in charge?

What about the Soviet role in other countries at this time?

Questions like this are what initially led me to embrace Trotskyism – all the fun of the revolutionary event without any of the consequences of defending the subsequent state-building process.

However, revolution is not an event; it’s a process.

Even if Trotsky advocated defending the “degenerated worker’s state” and the “deformed worker’s states” that followed the Stalinist line, most pseudo-Leftists are much more comfortable dealing with Trotskyists than they are with Stalinists.

The narrative of the tragic hero usually suffices to justify Trotsky’s position in the pantheon of pseudo-Leftist demigods.

However, Trotsky was also no teddy bear. And if you really look at history, the charges made against him in the Moscow Trials seem to be pretty accurate.

Regardless of the circumstances, all of us in the West have been fed endless anti-communist propaganda – the millions supposedly killed by totalitarian regimes. The dreadful living conditions behind the so-called Iron Curtain. The lack of “freedoms” and the evil of the proposition that everyone deserves a home, a job, and food.

yalta

After all, it is an undeniable fact that those who are currently in power have a vested interest in making sure that people associate Stalin and Mao with genocide.

It’s no wonder Stalin gets lumped in with Hitler, despite the fact that Hitler started the Holocaust and Stalin ended it.

Was the Soviet Union some sort of mystical paradise where nothing bad happened? Obviously not.

The Soviet Union was a country pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, almost literally.

In less than ten years, the USSR developed from a backward, feudal society into an industrial superpower that was able to defeat Nazi Germany in one of the most destructive events of all time. The magnitude of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.

Life expectancy doubled from around 35 years to 70 years. Literacy became nearly universal. Healthcare and education were free and available. Women were granted full legal and political equality. People of color were granted full legal and political equality. Electricity was extended beyond the cities. The population grew rapidly. The Caspian and Central Asian Republics were made fully equal republics to the Russian Soviet Republic.

What went along with this? In the Stalin era, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned (and we’ll never know how many of them were innocent). This is often used to demonstrate that the Soviet Union was hell on earth. No one seems to care that hundreds of thousands of people were locked away in many other countries at the same time (including the United $tates and throughout Europe).

Prison is never a fun place, and it certainly was no fun in the Soviet Union.

There is no denying that fact, as the social purpose of a prison is not to be a fun place. But if we’re going to determine the value of a state in its prisons, then it’s imperative that we do the same with regards to the USSR under Lenin and Trotsky, prisons in Makhnoist Ukraine, and the extensive prison system in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. How about the situation in Rojava right now?

The fact is (and this is an increasingly difficult fact for many pseudo-Leftists): the world is not a perfect place.

Nothing works exactly as you plan it and, following this, the Soviet Union had plenty of bad things going on.

There are also plenty of points we can use to criticize Stalin’s government. It was a government of people who made mistakes, who committed crimes, who were fallible. One thing to consider is that for almost thirty years, the Soviet Union was the only country even claiming to be socialist. While capitalism and imperialism had encircled the globe, the only active challenge to this paradigm was, in fact, Marxism-Leninism (pejoratively referred to as Stalinism).

One of the common challenges leveled by people who know nothing about communism is the bullshit cliché of “Communism looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work in real life, because of human nature.”

Many of these people also say that there are two socialisms – socialism in theory and “actually existing socialism”. The Soviet Union and “actually existing socialism” proved that socialism does work. People are not angels and, following that, we need socialist governmental structures in order to enact a socialist society.

Awful things happened under “actually existing socialism”. Do you want to know why? Because it was actual!

It’s important to remember that, beyond this, there are two “actually existing” socialisms. There was the socialism that exists/existed in countries like the USSR, China, Cuba, the DPRK, and East Germany and then there was the “socialism” presented in the West that was constructed through propaganda, lies, and misrepresentations.

Once you get past the second, the first “actually existing socialism” becomes clearer. In the USSR, people took chances, made errors, corrected or exacerbated those errors, etc. This is how things function in the real world. We shouldn’t shy away from the fact.

We shouldn’t say, “When there is a dictatorship of the proletariat, everything will be perfect!”

No. We should rather say, “We will learn from the errors made by our predecessors, but we too will make errors! And our successors will have to learn from our mistakes!”

Some anarchists say that the October revolution failed after the Bolsheviks took power over the Constituent Assembly. Some modern left communists say that the Soviet Union stopped being “socialist” after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk took them out of WWI. Some Trotskyist say that the system “degenerated” after Trotsky lost his place in the government. Some Marxist-Leninists outside the country left their parties during the 30s based on reports they received from the Soviet Union. And many other parties split after Khrushchev gave his secret speech and started the process of de-Stalinization.

Different groups of people have both supported the Soviet legacy, while criticizing the rotten elements of the Soviet Union.

And, after all, Marxist-Leninists are apt to criticize Marx and Engels, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Lenin and Stalin, Mao and Lin Biao. They were not perfect, flawless individuals. Indeed, many of the problems of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China can be attributed to their mistakes.

The fundamental question, however, is: where do we locate the rotten elements of the Soviet Union?

I no longer locate those elements in the person of Stalin.

For, ultimately, today Stalin can be nothing more than a symbol. Joseph Stalin, like all historical figures, is nothing except a face, an image, a re-presentation.

When we construct our contemporary political paradigms, we are inevitably forced to choose the symbols that delineate the borders. When pseudo-Leftists choose to toss aside the Stalin (or even more dramatically, the Soviet project all together), they lose the ability to engage that legacy fully.

Such a simple position with regards to Stalin (either pro- or anti-) does nothing to enhance critical engagement with the communist legacy. Plenty of mouth-breathing half-wits love to go on and on about how dreadful the Soviet experiment was, despite knowing next-to-nothing about the 20th century. The Soviet Union and Stalin especially should reveal to us the necessity of taking a more sophisticated position on things that require an ounce of thought.

A few years ago, a friend pointed out to me (and this is, of course, simply anecdotal) that the Marxist-Leninist parties in the U.$. were full of people of color, whereas the Trotskyist parties were almost always just bespectacled white people selling newspapers.

I would argue that this general trend applies to anarchists as well (although without the newspapers).

And while this alone doesn’t indicate the superiority of Marxism-Leninism, it does show that there is some division between how different people see things, based on their association with a nation of oppressors and a nation of oppressed. Trotskyists, after all, still think that revolution is going to be led by the First World (as though white people in the First World could possibly be trusted with the task of building socialism).

blackp4nthers

Marxism-Leninism was the ideological underpinning to organizations like the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords.

Marxism-Leninism was the only broad, multinational, successful attempt to overthrow capitalism, feudalism, and fascism in the 20th century. The gains made by the Russian Revolution are incalculable, because they were so far-reaching and often went unrecognized.

We must acknowledge and defend the legacy and successes of the Soviet Union, especially now in the 21st century, when Euro-Amerikkkan capitalism and imperialism have encircled the globe.

Over the years, I have tried, from multiple angles, to find a proper way to cast my own politics in relation to that legacy, but it was only through properly incorporating Stalin that my own political constellations crystallized. Today, I stand in defense of the Soviet Union and am willing to take responsibility for both the successes and the failures – only by doing so can we begin to overcome the current state in which we find ourselves.

The Role of the U.S. In the Rwandan Genocide and the Congo Wars

In my last post comparing the death tolls under Joseph Stalin and Bill Clinton, I decided to include the deaths of the Rwandan Genocide and the Congo Wars.

I took the position here that Clinton and the administration in Washington acted (or failed to act) out of either gross negligence or perhaps out of interest in allowing both the genocide and the wars to occur (at least in the way that they did).

Clinton Kagame

“I won’t tell if you won’t!”

With regards to the Rwandan genocide, there are generally two competing narratives. The dominant narrative has been very public: the administration (and Clinton himself) expressed time and again that they made an egregious mistake by not intervening. So, if we accept this narrative, then I think it’s fair to include the deaths that they admit that they didn’t stop.

However, if we accept an alternative narrative, presented in books like The Politics of Genocide by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, then the U.S. intervened fairly heavily. For example, according to Herman and Peterson, the United States was very involved in helping the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) assassinate Habyarimana in 1994 and then militarily conquer the country and subsequently massacre Hutus, Pygmies, and even Tutsis in reprisal killings, which, they argue, probably outnumber the 800,000 killed in the genocide. By accepting this narrative, although much more controversial, we would be able to attribute far more deaths to Paul Kagame and, by extension, Bill Clinton.

This is why I decided to include the death toll of the events in Rwanda under Clinton’s name.

Following this, Kagame and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda decided to invade Zaire in order to remove Mobutu from power. This is what is referred to as the First Congo War. As is discussed very in depth in Africa’s World War by Gérard Prunier, the U.S. very heavily backed Kagame and Museveni during the First Congo War. Prunier argues that Clinton saw an opportunity to get rid of Mobutu, of whom the U.S. was embarrassed for supporting throughout the Cold War. In fairness, pretty much everyone was in favor of ousting Mobutu in 1996/1997 and Kagame and Museveni got support from pretty much everyone except France.

"Our Guy" in Africa

“Our Guy” in Africa

Rwanda and Uganda installed Laurent-Désiré Kabila as president, who renamed the country as the Democratic Republic of Congo and who proved to be an uncooperative puppet in Kinshasa.

The Second Congo War began when Kagame and Museveni agreed to get rid of puppet #1 and try to set up puppet #2. This war, however, was much more complicated and the sides were much more convoluted – with Angola, Zimbabwe, and Sudan maintaining their support of Kabila. The big players officially took a much more hands-off approach during the Second Congo War. Nevertheless, both the RPA and the Ugandan government were able to rely on their backing of the U.S.

This is obvious, because Clinton could have roped in Kagame and Museveni (both during the genocide and the subsequent wars). Or he could have continued to give aid to the DRC. But instead he traveled himself to Rwanda in 1998 and sent officials to Kigali and Kampala after the most brutal parts of the wars. Bill Clinton could have made sure that the United Nations thoroughly investigated Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Army. But instead, he actively blocked UN investigations to continue with regards to RPA’s massacres in the Kivus and their reprisal killings.

Those are the reasons I decided to include his involvement as sharing responsibility for the deaths in Rwanda and the DRC.

Ultimately, comparing the death tolls was an exercise in showing the absurdity of “death counts” in the way they are commonly used. When I was teaching, I often heard students repeat the completely ludicrous claim that “Stalin was responsible for more deaths than Hitler”. This, of course, is nonsense. Nazi Germany, as shown by even anti-communist historians, killed many millions more than the Soviet Union.

It seems to me that a huge fallacy is being made when we decide to attribute deaths to state leaders. When we analyze deaths, both as the direct and indirect result of state policy, they need to be placed in their greater context – especially during the 20th century, where “death counts” often lead to counter-intuitive assessments.

The highest example of this is shown by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their book Hunger and Public Action, where they argue that there have been more deaths from low-level hunger in India than from the largest famines under Mao and that fewer people would have died if India had pursued similar (communist) policies as the People’s Republic of China. They even conclude “that every eight years or so more people die in India because of its higher regular death rate than died in China in the gigantic famine of 1958-61. India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame.”

Who Killed More People: Joseph Stalin or Bill Clinton?

Who is responsible for more deaths?:

Joseph Stalin or Bill Clinton

Stalin Clinton
Prison deaths (including during the war years): 86,582 Executions: 4141
Executions: 786,098 Sanctions on Iraq: >500,0002 (plus adults)
Kulak resettlement: 389,521 Rwandan Genocide: >800,0003 (plus those killed after the RPF came to power)
GULAG deaths (including during the war years): 1,053,829 Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Plant (Sudan) Bombing: >20,0004 (“several tens of thousands” – 20,000 is a low estimate)
First/Second Congo War5: ~2,700,0006
Turkey’s war against the Kurds7: >40,0008
Bombing of Yugoslavia: 1,5009
First Battle of Mogadishu ~50010
Total: ~2.3 million11 Total ~4 million*

By tallying things in this way, we are preceding from two assumptions:

  1. State leaders bare responsibility for deaths while they are in office
  2. Deaths caused directly or indirectly from state policy can be attributed to state leaders

Therefore, following this methodology, we can conclude that both Joseph Stalin and Bill Clinton hold responsibility for the excess deaths caused under their respective terms in office. However, this methodology leads us to conclude that, contrary to popular belief, the death toll under Bill Clinton’s leadership between January 20, 1993 and January 20, 2001 is higher than the death toll under Joseph Stalin’s leadership between ~1929 and March 5, 1953.

5 The Second Congo War continued on to 2003, so not all deaths happened during Clinton’s time in office. However, the vast majority of the fighting and the major campaigns occurred before Joseph Kabila became president of the DRC in 2001.

7 Similarly, not all of the deaths occurred while Bill Clinton was president.

11 All statistics regarding Stalin taken from: Getty, John Arch, Gabor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov. “Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence,” n.d. https://web.archive.org/web/20080611064213/http:/www.etext.org/Politics/Staljin/Staljin/articles/AHR/AHR.html.

 

*Conflicts not included, due to difficulty of finding reliable numbers for the time period: Indonesia’s genocide of East Timor under General Suharto, the invasion of Bosnia in 1992, KLA terrorism in Yugoslavia throughout the 90s, bombing of Iraq in 1998, the situation in Somalia following the First Battle of Mogadishu, support for the military dictatorship in Haiti, support for Israeli Apartheid, consequences of NAFTA in Mexico, extension of sanctions on Cuba, bombing of Afghanistan at the same time as Al-Shifa in Sudan, bombing of Iraq in 1993, support for the Colombian government throughout the 90s.

Just sayin’.

Stalin

A Critical Analysis of Occupy Wall Street

Negative: 99% WTF?

Occupy Wall Street was most successful in creating the new language of the left-liberal scene: “We are the 99%“. This was their message to the Wall Street bankers: “You are the 1%” and, therefore, the opposition. Of course, not the enemy, because that’s too strong a term.

The only drawback to this language is that it’s incorrect in two ways.

First of all, 99% of the people involved in Occupy Wall Street were not/are not really part of the 99%, because they’re all comparatively well-off compared to most of the world. Let’s be serious, a white 23 year-old with $10,000 of debt from their Ivy League University is not in the same position as anyone in the Third World.

Second of all, the enemy (I’m not afraid of the term) is a lot more than the 1%. The bourgeoisie, petite-bourgeoisie, and other reactionary classes make up significantly more than the 1% on Wall Street. Those who own the means of production make up a more sizeable group than that and those who benefit from the super-exploitation of the Third World make up the entire First World.

We’re talking about imperialism.

Occupy’s sloppy analysis isn’t helpful.

The big problem here is that analysis and language here have a feedback loop – the language is flawed and the more this language is used, the less the analysis reflects reality.

Positive: Reinvigorated some aspects of protest culture

One nice thing that OWS was that it put protests back into the mainstream in a way. Whereas before 2011, there certainly wasn’t a prevalence of protests coming from the Left in the dominant culture, today there seems to be far more of a willingness to protest. I’d be willing to concede that this probably had to do with the prevalence of OWS in the news/popular culture.

Negative: White-washed

Occupy Wall Street

Need I say more?

Positive: Set the stage for Black Lives Matter

I hesitate to draw this line, because it gives Occupy too much credit in my opinion, and it makes it seem (once again) that black people need white people for inspiration and support (which is obviously not the case), but a lot of people have connected these two protest movements. Objectively, OWS did take place before BLM (in other words, before a white pig murdered an unarmed black teenager in Missouri), so OWS was in the news before BLM was.

Negative: Non-ideological

Occupy is not some pan-leftist movement, but rather a washed-up intellectually-vacuous garbage. Case and point: this bullshit.

Positive: Opened up the ideological space

Of course, anything posted on Occupy.com in 2017 isn’t getting very wide readership, so we can rest assured that this “Letter to the American Left” won’t be poisoning much dialogue.

Negative: Undisciplined

OWS had no specific goals, demands, tactics, strategies, analysis, worldview, standards, or ideas about pretty much anything. This led to the conclusion that putting up tents and using unclear language would be a successful (whatever that means) strategy to realizing their goals (whatever those were).

Actually, the major mistake that OWS made was that they said everything, rather than nothing. Different factions articulated different aims and different paths. By saying everything, they effectively said nothing. And, all the while, in this menagerie of ideas, the Occupiers were so frustrated that their “pure” message was being ignored.

Positive: The Left can learn

This broad populist left-liberal space is a minefield.

Left-liberalism is a dead-end.

Capitalism is a losing game.

The lesson here is clear: analyze and radicalize.