The Fight For Anarchism is The Fight For Peace

Our comrades in the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement across the other side of the Tasman have put out an Anzac Day leaflet of their own. We think it’s pretty AWSM. Check it out here:

http://www.awsm.nz/2018/04/18/anzac-day-pamphlet/

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THE USEFUL DEAD

This is the MACG’s Anzac Day Statement for 2018.

1915

On this day, 103 years ago, Australian, New Zealand and other troops of the British Empire stormed a Turkish beach. It was a poorly conceived, poorly executed plan to secure a passage through the Dardanelles for the navy of the Czar of Russia. It was a sideshow in the greater crime of the war itself, where two rival imperialist alliances fought to redivide the colonies, markets and resources of the world. The war was ended by revolution, first in Russia in 1917 and then in Germany the following year. Victories for the Entente on the Western Front, while significant, were a result of the social disintegration of the Central Powers rather than being decisive factors themselves.

Today

War is politics pursued via other means. Politics under capitalism is the battle between the capitalist classes of different countries and between each capitalist class and the working class it exploits. Conflict between the most powerful capitalist classes has produced a system of imperialism. In modern globalised capitalism, wars are fought to advance the perceived interests of the capitalist classes of the belligerent powers and nationalism is propagated to enrol the workers behind the flag of their masters. In Australia, dead Anzacs serve once more. Their sacrifices are useful to today’s politicians to generate support for today’s wars.

Australian Imperialism

Australia is a small-time imperialist power in its own right, supporting the US-dominated world order so it can dominate the South Pacific unchallenged. Australia’s politicians therefore got a rude shock recently when reports started circulating that Vanuatu, a Pacific Island country that Australian capitalists rarely think about, was about to agree to establishing a Chinese military base. Naturally everybody denied anything like that was on the agenda, but Australia’s political and military establishment now have something to worry about. How can they keep China out of Australia’s “back yard” – even if the peoples of the South Pacific regard it instead as their living room?

Anzac Day

In recent years, Anzac Day celebrations in Australia have become increasingly strident and nationalistic, full of cloying militarism. And Right wing mobs in the media have taken to denouncing those who are insufficiently patriotic – particularly if they are brown and female. This is a sign that Australian nationalism is under pressure. People considering themselves humans before they are Australians is just too dangerous a thought these days. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group opposes Australian imperialism and militarism and all celebrations of it. We look forward to a workers’ revolution which will usher in a world community of freedom and equality for all – and where war will be seen in museums, not the news.

END ANZAC DAY
END AUSTRALIAN IMPERIALISM
END CAPITALISM

Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group

macg1984 @ yahoo . com . au
PO Box 5108 Brunswick North 3056
25 April 2018

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FORTRESS AUSTRALIA MEANS RACIST TORTURE

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 7 No 1, published in February 2018.

Late last year, the Manus Island Detention Centre was closed. Nominally run by the Papua New Guinea Government, it was in reality operated by the Australian Government using remote control. Inconveniently, in April 2016 the PNG Supreme Court found that the centre violated the PNG Constitution by imprisoning almost 900 people who had not committed any crime. Instead of immediately releasing the refugees imprisoned there, the governments conspired to keep them locked up while taking their time coming up with alternative arrangements.

The Manus refugees have been protesting their treatment for years. In the run-up to the closure, they escalated their protests greatly, getting wide publicity in Australia via social media and then breaking into the mass media. The new accommodation is located in the town, rather than on the isolated naval base that housed the Detention Centre, and the PNG citizens on Manus are deeply divided over the refugees. Some are very hostile and have issued threats.

As the closure deadline approached and centre management became more desperate, the vast majority of refugees refused to move. They maintained their non-violent stance in the face of escalating violence from the PNG police and military, directed by the PNG Government, and the security guards at the centre, ultimately directed by the Australian Government. Their struggle sparked widespread sympathy and a series of demonstrations by the refugee support movement in Australia. The Government was at last paying a small price for its policy of systematic cruelty.

In late November, a brutal police assault succeeded in removing the 600 remaining protestors. While protests have since died down, news continues to trickle out. The centre was closed while much of the new accommodation was still under construction and uninhabitable. While technically the refugees are not “detained” there (they can come and go), their lives are still highly regulated and closure has been a pretext for cutting back and removing services. Fears about the hostile reception awaiting the refugees in the township have been validated, while conditions in the new accommodation are poor. One block even has raw sewage running down the street – just the thing to make the neighbours happy!

The torture of the refugees on Manus and the similar torture visited on the refugees on Nauru are things that the Australian Government would like everyone to forget. Triumphant rhetoric about “Sovereign Borders” is a little harder to maintain when the struggles of refugees force the human cost of those policies into public view. A Fortress Australia policy necessarily means racist violence against those the policy seeks to exclude and the treatment of refugees on Manus and Nauru amounts to torture on a grand scale. Both major parties in Australia stand condemned over this.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group supports the struggles of refugees, who are simply demanding their legal rights to asylum. We call on the union movement in Australia, sections of which have quite reasonable refugee policies, to act on them and come to the refugees’ defence. We look forward to a workers’ revolution which will create a single federal world community with freedom of movement for everyone. And in the meantime, we support the work of the Close the Camps Action Collective:

https://www.facebook.com/Close-the-Camps-Action-Collective-1741130979474102/.

FREE THE REFUGEES
LET THEM STAY
BRING THEM HERE

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FASCISM ON THE MARCH

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 7 No 1, published in February 2018.

Fascism, in various guises, is on the march in most advanced Western countries and some underdeveloped countries. The extent of its rise is related to the history and the state of society in each.

The situation is most severe in Europe, where liberal capitalists’ illusions about the “end of history” have been shattered most cruelly. Mass Fascist parties have risen in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Ukraine. In Austria, they have even entered the government, while in Ukraine they were officially part of the government for a time after the Euromaidan protests. In addition, the governments of Hungary and Poland are hard Right wing national conservatives. They share some of the features of Fascism and are implementing parts of the Fascists’ program. Meanwhile, the Russian government openly collaborates with Fascists both at home and abroad.

Two factors have been driving this. Firstly, Europe is a more accessible destination than Australia, Canada and the US for migrants from the Third World fleeing poverty and oppression. It has traditionally been a source of emigration, not a destination for immigrants. Accordingly, many societies are experiencing challenges to deep seated nativist currents for the first time. The capitalist class cannot resist using cultural anxieties about immigrants to divert popular anger so they do not become targets themselves. The Fascists are able to take the capitalists’ racism to its logical conclusion, arguing forcefully for what the capitalists usually only imply.

The second factor is the failure of the European Union. The EU is a utopian project, aiming to solve the fundamental problem of Europe – the fact that the forces and relations of production there have far outgrown the suffocating confines of the nation state. While the problem is intractable under capitalism, there is no law of history that says you can’t try. Thus the EU.

What has occurred in Europe is that the project of economic and political integration has become trapped half-way. The capitalists have found they cannot drive it further, while a return to unco-ordinated national autonomy would produce economic ruin. On the other hand, the current shape of the EU is dysfunctional, producing both neo-liberal austerity and pointless bureaucracy. The Fascists advance a solution – to cut the Gordian knot of the EU and make somebody else pay the costs of its break-up. This is a recipe for war against both the enemy without and the enemy within. The parties of the political Centre, meanwhile, are like kangaroos in the headlights – doomed if they stay where they are, but frozen into immobility.

In the United States, an entrenched two party system has prevented the emergence of a mass Fascist party, but there is a plethora of new Fascist groups trying to take advantage of the social toxins released by Donald Trump. The US has its own cultural anxieties around immigration. In particular, racists are agitated by demographic trends indicating that at some future date, white people (a category subject to moveable and conflicting definitions anyway) will decrease from being a majority of society to being merely a plurality. Once again, in a society founded on genocide, slavery and violent racism, capitalists use immigrants and ethnic minorities as lightning rods for discontent and Fascists take the capitalists’ racism to its logical conclusion. While the growing Fascist current is yet to take clear organisational form, there are worrying signs that the Republican Party may be vulnerable to Fascist colonising.

In Australia, the Fascists are still marginal, having their political space largely taken up by the hard Right half-way house of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Hanson has worked hard to keep open Fascists off her candidates’ list, though one or two have slipped through and it’s clear her party is infested with them at the grassroots. Organisationally, Fascists in Australia have proven a disaster, a pantomime on the theme of “Everybody wants to be Führer”. It would be a serious error to be complacent however, because a talented leader could come along tomorrow and unite them. Further, even disorganised Fascists can be dangerous for Muslims, Jews, African immigrants and other targets.

One thing holding back the development of Fascism in Australia, though, is the fact that the capitalist class here is conflicted about fomenting racism. While all the usual minorities still function as attractive lightning rods for internal discontents, there is an external constraint. Australia, being a European settler outpost on the edge of Asia, is vulnerable to being denounced as racist by Asian governments and locked out of trade with the region. This would be a disaster for Australian capitalists and they have so far been much more careful and targeted in their racism than in Europe and the US. There are, however, no guarantees that this will endure in the event of an economic crisis.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group believes the best immediate response to Fascism is an internationalist working class movement of resistance in the form of a united front. Within this, we can put forward a libertarian communist solution to the many crises of capitalism. We participate in the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism because, although it has severe flaws, it does some good work and is the only working class united front available to us at the moment. We hope to contribute to solving its problems, most importantly its isolation from the union movement, and fight for a world where Fascism is consigned permanently to the dustbin of history.

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CAPITALISM IS KILLING OUR WORLD

This article was first published in The Anvil, Vol 6 No 2, Sep-Oct 2017.

The single biggest environmental challenge now facing humanity is climate change, but the capitalist system is proving unequal to the task. To be safe, global mean temperature can rise no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Pledges made at the Paris COP21 Conference in 2015 are vastly inadequate. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement and, here in Australia, the Government is proposing action which will fall a long way short of the pathetically insufficient promises it made in Paris.

At the rate things are going, actions to mitigate climate change will be too little, too late, leading to dangerous climate change. Triggering of feedback cycles concerning the permafrost and other large carbon sinks could cause catastrophic levels of damage – even jeopardising the survival of civilisation. Capitalist governments, even when faced with evidence of oncoming disaster, take the least action they can get away with. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

The science exists to decarbonise the activities of the human race, but capitalism is in the road. We need a massive working class movement to save the environment on which we depend for survival and institute an emergency program of transition to 100% renewable energy, sustainable transport systems, sustainable agriculture and decarbonised industry. To get there, we need that working class movement to get rid of capitalism.

In building our movement, we will face obstacles. Opposition from the fossil fuel corporations and their political representatives in the capitalist parties is a given. We will also, though, face opposition from within the labour movement. Union officials, especially those controlling unions that cover workers in unsustainable industries, will attempt to mobilise their members to support bosses in their industry in the name of “defending jobs”. This short-sighted strategy is a road to disaster.

The way out of the trap of defending unsustainable jobs is to start from the principle of a Just Transition. Our movement needs to demand that all jobs be sustainable and that no community gets discarded by capitalism. In the course of the struggle for our demands, it will become obvious to all that the entire capitalist system is unsustainable and that the only Just Transition is a workers’ revolution.

THERE ARE NO JOBS ON A DEAD PLANET

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WAR IN SYRIA

This article was first published in The Anvil, Vol 6 No 2, Sep-Oct 2017.

In Syria, a many-sided war is occurring with no end in sight. A popular uprising started against Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’athist regime in 2011, but Assad saw a way of derailing it. He would turn it into a sectarian war, with Sunni Muslims against the rest. If he could maintain the support, however grudging, of the Alawites and Christians, he would have 20-25% of the population and, together with the State apparatus, a fighting chance of survival.

First of all, Assad deployed massive violence against unarmed protestors, driving the movement to pick up arms in self defence. Then he emptied his gaols of thousands of jihadi Muslim fundamentalists – partly to create prison room for the civilian opposition he was determined to crush, but mainly to allow the jihadis to influence the opposition. A Free Syrian Army formed from defecting troops and opposition volunteers, but had no internal cohesion and little access to arms. It was vulnerable to control by whoever could supply them.

Enter the imperalists and neighbouring powers. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplied arms and other materiel to their favoured groups, each hostile to the secular and pluralistic goals of the original uprising. As a result, jihadis came to dominate military opposition to the regime. Assad turned to sectarian allies in the form of Iran and Hezbollah and to Russia, a middle-ranking imperialist power which didn’t want to lose its only naval base on the Mediterranean. The US also intervened, though with more resources than strategy. Obama was unsure whether he wanted the regime reformed or overthrown and had major trouble finding suitable clients to back. As a result, the US has blown massive sums on jihadis they couldn’t influence and puppets who couldn’t fight.

In the Kurdish region of Syria, a Kurdish party, the PYD, took advantage of Assad’s early difficulties to launch a revolution of its own. Borrowing heavily from the Anarchism of Murray Bookchin, the Kurds developed their own concept, called democratic confederalism, and implemented it partially in the area they call Rojava. They developed a “no war, no peace” relationship with Assad, since both sides had more pressing priorities.

The Kurds soon came into conflict with Daesh, the most fanatical of the jihadi groups. Their defence of Kobanê, which deprived Daesh of its appearance of invincibility, brought them to the attention of the world – and an ally in the shape of Uncle Sam. Unwilling to intervene directly with ground troops, the US was desperate for a local ally and the PYD’s military forces, the YPG-YPJ, are far and away the best fighters in Syria. The US therefore buried (for now) its concerns with the PYD’s politics and its embarrassing relationship with its fellow thinkers in Turkey, the PKK, and expanded the relationship.

As the YPG-YPJ took territory off Daesh (and other Syrian jihadis), more areas populated by Arabs and other non-Kurds came under its control. The PYD followed up by spreading democratic confederalism to these new areas and raising non-Kurdish militia that have joined with the YPG-YPJ to create the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

As the PYD’s collaboration with the US has increased, however, so has the role of the US Air Force and the US special forces embedded in the SDF – and the increasing role of the US is affecting the character of the war being waged. As this article is being written, the SDF is in the final stages of liberating Raqqa from the clutches of Daesh, but much of the city is in ruins from USAF bombing and civilian casualties have been high.

Meanwhile, Russian intervention on the side of Assad’s regime has been decisive in turning the tables against the anti-Assad rebels. Aleppo is now fully under Assad’s control, while territory in rebel hands has been substantially reduced. Assad’s enemies abroad are now making their peace with him, with Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States deciding they have to eat crow. The civilian opposition, sidelined by the jihadi grip on the military resistance, is either underground or amongst the millions of refugees in neighbouring countries or in Europe. It is unlikely to be seen again until the jihadis are off the scene. But Assad now holds power only at the pleasure of his saviours in Tehran and Moscow – and everybody knows it. Although the war might look to be heading towards a close, much blood may yet be spilled.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group opposes all sides in the war in Syria, both the internal military forces and the interventions by regional and imperialist countries. Australia is playing a role in the US bombing of Syria and is one of the imperialist powers to be condemned. In the conflict between Assad’s Ba’ath regime and the jihadi-dominated resistance, the working class can take no side. All are utter reactionaries. The MACG calls for all imperialist countries and regional powers to leave Syria and cease intervening in its conflicts. The situation in north-east Syria, however, is more complex.

The social transformation in North-East Syria, not least the improvement in the position of women, holds great promise for the working class and the oppressed masses of West Asia. The extension of democratic confederalism to non-Kurdish areas of Syria is immensely significant. While it is unclear how deep the Rojava Revolution has gone (we are, for instance, sceptical of the ability of a Stalinist party like the PKK to transform itself structurally), the political program of democratic confederalism is worth defending and extending. The weakness in Bookchin’s Anarchism (his abandonment of a class analysis) has not been an obstacle so far in Rojava, where the working class is tiny and the main capitalist force (the Ba’athist State) has largely withdrawn. Spreading democratic confederalism into major population centres, however, requires class struggle that establishes workers’ power in production.

The MACG recognises the right of groups struggling for national liberation to acquire arms from wherever they are to be had and to be judged on what they do with them. However, the collaboration of the SDF with the USAF, and allowing US special forces to be embedded within them, is politically disastrous and must be condemned as a betrayal and a strategic blunder of the first order. The US is justly hated across West Asia for its non-stop record of crimes. To ally with it is to drive a massive wedge between the Kurds and the non-Kurdish people who surround them. The PYD cannot ally with both the United States and the oppressed masses of West Asia. It must choose, because the program of democratic confederalism is incompatible with US imperialism. Either democratic confederalism is spread to Turkey and other US allies, thus earning US wrath, or the US alliance will isolate the Kurds from non-Kurdish potential allies.

We support the civil achievements of the Rojava Revolution. Being implacably opposed to US imperialism, though, we cannot support the SDF until it breaks off its alliance with the United States.

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HAIL THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION!

One hundred years ago today, a workers’ revolution triumphed in Russia, with consequences that would echo for generations. It was 7 November 1917, which Russia then called 25 October because the Czar was so reactionary he opposed switching from the inaccurate Julian calendar to the more accurate Gregorian one. That day, workers and soldiers under the command of the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet (which means “council” in Russian) took control of all important public buildings in Petrograd, the Russian capital, and dismissed the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. That night, the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets met and proclaimed its power.

The Road to October

The road to the October Revolution had been long and filled with diversions. Russia was a large but very backward country, whose participation in the First World War had shown that the State apparatus was so chaotic as to be useless in prosecuting the war. Pushed to breaking point, it collapsed in March (February, old style) 1917 and a Provisional Government was formed to take over from the Czar. Significantly, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was also formed.

This makeshift government, however, was unable to solve the crisis. Peasants lived in desperate poverty in semi-feudal conditions, inflation was driving workers to starvation, soldiers at the front were short of arms, ammunition and even boots, and industry was grinding to a halt due to shortages of raw materials. Not a single problem in Russia could be solved without stopping the war, but none of the parties in the Provisional Government would contemplate pulling out. As a result, the situation continued to deteriorate. Parties participating in the Government lost credibility and support. More soviets formed, growing stronger and more representative as the year progressed.

The Anarchist movement in Russia at the time of the February Revolution was very small. It grew as the year went on, but its influence in the Soviets was still very limited. The main parties in the Soviets were the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks. While the Mensheviks and SRs maintained their majority, the Petrograd Soviet acted as a pressure group on the Provisional Government, rather than seeking to overthrow it.

Out of all the parties, it was the Bolsheviks that gained most from the growing crisis – but things could have been different. The long-time Bolshevik position was to support what it called the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”. After the February Revolution, this meant being a Left pressure group on the Provisional Government and hoping to become a Left wing opposition party in a capitalist parliament governing Russia. Lenin had to fight several internal battles in the Bolshevik Party in order to get it to adopt, and then to keep, a position calling for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and for the Soviets to take power. Without that position, the Bolsheviks would have followed the path of the Mensheviks and SRs, whose strength grew and then shrank as the Provisional Government floundered in the face of the growing crisis. The war effort was tearing Russia to pieces. The only solution was for Russia to leave the War – and that required overthrowing the Provisional Government.

The growing crisis in the economy spawned the growth of the Factory Committees, where rank and file workers tried to deal with the day-to-day problems they faced. The Bolsheviks had a majority in the Committees from an early date, but the more conservative workers, concerned to support the war effort, were also often keen to use the Committees to counter-act the bosses’ incompetence. Factory Committees gained control of hiring and firing, resolved conflicts over wage rates, dealt with personnel matters, took on abusive managers and, increasingly, addressed supply issues. In some cases, bosses abandoned their factories in the face of their difficulties, but the workers, through the Factory Committees, kept them going. In the beginning, the impetus behind their formation and growth was practical, not ideological, but the experience of these committees in gradually establishing workers’ control was key to the growth of working class support for overthrowing capitalism and establishing self-management under socialism. Workers were solving problems the bosses couldn’t, and learnt a powerful lesson from this.

By early July (Old Style), the workers of Petrograd were supporting the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”. There was a mass demonstration sparked by opposition to the Provisional Government’s order for a war offensive at the front. But support for Soviet power was at its infancy across the country as a whole and the Petrograd Soviet still had a moderate majority. The Government suppressed the peaceful demonstration with great violence, killing 700, and ordered the arrest of Bolshevik leaders. Lenin fled temporarily to Finland.

At the end of August (Old Style), the Provisional Government invited General Kornilov to bring an army to Petrograd to restore order and suppress the radicals. Kornilov agreed wholeheartedly and marched on the capital. When Kerensky, leader of the Provisional Government, realised Kornilov saw him as one of the radicals that needed repressing, he panicked and turned to the Soviet for salvation. Co-ordinated by the Soviet, railway workers refused to provide transport, dissidents encouraged sabotage and soldiers deserted en masse. The army never made it to Petrograd, except for Kornilov and his aides, who arrived under arrest. The credibility of both the Provisional Government and the Czarist Right were shot. The Bolsheviks immediately won majorities in both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets and continued acquiring majorities in other cities.

October

As a result of the Kornilov Affair, the Petrograd Soviet gained control of troop placements in and around the capital. The Soviet formed a Revolutionary Military Committee, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, to administer this new power. Trotsky, who had been in a small faction independent of both the Bolsheviks and mainstream Mensheviks, had led his group into the Bolsheviks at the start of August (Old Style). Lenin at last persuaded the Bolshevik Central Committee that an insurrection must be organised and the Revolutionary Military Committee became the forum where the military side of the October Revolution was planned.

On 25 October (Old Style), which was 7 November (New Style), delegates to the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets gathered in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, for the first time, had a majority. Not only was the Revolutionary Military Committee ready for action, but (unlike in July) the Soviets were ready to accept power.

The actual insurrection was almost an anti-climax. With the Petrograd Soviet in control of military deployments, the ability of the Provisional Government to resist the take-over was almost non-existent. Detachments occupied public buildings, troop formations went over to the revolution, government communications were cut and loyalist troops were overwhelmed or prevented from being located by Kerensky. The entire event was bloodless, with only one shot fired (into the ceiling) in the storming of the Winter Palace. At 11 p.m. the Congress of Soviets opened. The Revolutionary Military Committee announced that the Provisional Government was overthrown and the Soviets accepted power. One chapter was over and a new one immediately began.

Aftermath

Kerensky blew his remaining credibility four days after the insurrection when he tried to enter Petrograd like a Czarist general, complete with a white horse and church bells, and killed eight people before retreating. Events in Moscow were more bloody. Fighting continued for a week before the Soviets defeated Kerensky’s forces. After that, resistance to the power of the Soviets gradually subsided – for the time being.

From a tiny beginning, Anarchists were growing in influence in Russia during 1917 and continued to grow through 1918. Anarchists supported the overthrow of the Provisional Government and some even participated in the storming of the Winter Palace. Anarchists also participated in the Soviet’s dispersal of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. It was a capitalist parliament and would only have created a capitalist state.

Anarchists and Bolsheviks had been operating roughly in parallel (though rarely in co-operation) until the October Revolution, but went in different directions after that. In retrospect, it can be seen that the Soviets made two key errors that foreshadowed all subsequent ones. Firstly, the All-Russia Congress disregarded Marx’s insight which he had set out in his pamphlet on the Paris Commune:

    The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

That is, the Commune held executive power and implemented its own decisions. Instead, the Congress elected a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet over the Soviets. The Congress of Soviets had turned itself into a legislature and was no longer the working body that the Commune had been.

Secondly, the All-Russia Congress of Soviets assumed central power over the regional and local soviets. Because of the unevenness of political developments in Russia, the Congress did need power in relation to areas where regional soviets were not yet established, and regional soviets needed power in relation to districts where local soviets were not yet established. But having the Congress assume central power over other soviets ensured that the All-Russia Congress was experienced as an external power imposed from above, making arbitrary and often ill-informed decisions. Its decisions were initially a good deal more just and popular than those of the Czar or the Provisional Government, but they were not the freely made decisions of the people who would implement them.

As a result of those two errors, Russia had a new state. The Bolsheviks would proceed to build its power at the expense of the workers and the peasants.

Subsequent events demonstrated that poor structural decisions made at the beginning were fateful. Very soon, the new government started reining in the Factory Committees. Before too long it was insisting on “one man management” – often the former owner employed as a “specialist” on a high salary. Repression of the Anarchists started in April 1918, a month before the first clashes with organised counter-revolutionary forces that became the White armies. The Red Terror, in the process of combating counter-revolutionaries, drove increasing numbers of workers and peasants into opposition because of its dictatorial methods. Opposition parties were crushed, one by one. Independent revolutions in the territory of the old Russian Empire were put down – a Menshevik republic in Georgia and peasant-based Anarchists, the Makhnovists, in Ukraine. The suppression of the Makhnovists was especially grievous because they had proven their loyalty to the revolution on the battlefield. In fact, they had done the bulk of the fighting against the White armies that had invaded from the south. And finally, the Bolshevik (now Communist) Party crushed the Kronstadt Rebellion, suppressed all other parties and banned its own factions in 1921 – all after the Civil War had been won.

By 1921, the Russian Revolution was over. All counter-revolutionary forces had been defeated, but so had the working class. The so-called “Communist” Party had usurped the power of the Soviets and established a heavy dictatorship. In time, assisted by the illness and then death of Lenin, Stalin would rise to power and institute major changes in policy, including “Socialism in One Country”, a concept both intellectually ridiculous and politically criminal. He stacked the Party with flunkies, purged opposition and turned the reign of terror systematically onto the Party as well (though Lenin had engaged in sporadic internal repression himself). The name of communism was dragged through the mud, with consequences we still suffer today.

Lessons

The most obvious lesson of the October Revolution is that workers can take power. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. Fundamentally, the October Revolution was successful because power was taken by the Soviets, the mass organs of workers’ democracy. It was not a mere Bolshevik coup. We don’t know what the mass organs of workers’ democracy may be in future revolutions. They may be workers’ councils, workplace committees, anarcho-syndicalist unions, or something else. The essential thing is that, like the Soviets in Russia, they have the participation of the mass of the working class and they operate by direct democracy, with mandated and recallable delegates.

The next lesson is that things went very badly wrong in Russia very soon after the October Revolution, not in 1924. The “workers’ state” built by the Bolsheviks was an oxymoron, a repressive apparatus that could only impose authority from above. It was the antithesis of workers’ freedom and workers’ control.

Things could have been otherwise. If the All-Russia Congress had not set up a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet, and if relations between the Soviets had been established on the basis of consistent federalism, then the Soviets would have been working bodies where workers came together to make decisions and implement them directly, without coercion or hierarchy. The Factory Committees would have been able to take over inside the workplace, being the basic organs of workers’ self-management.

A third lesson is that political parties cannot be trusted. The capitalist parties and the moderate workers’ parties discredited themselves well before October, leading to their eclipse by the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik Party played a vital role in the period between the February and October Revolutions, but after the October Revolution it acted consistently to draw power from the Soviets unto itself. It considered itself the vanguard of the proletariat, possessed of a better and more reliable revolutionary consciousness than the mass of the workers. When it had the opportunity to substitute its judgement for that of the workers, it did. The Civil War provided a high pressure context in which many of those decisions were made and could be sold to the Soviets, but the authoritarianism began before the Civil War and continued afterwards.

The final, and to many the most surprising, lesson is that the Russian Revolution proved that, on the question of the party, Lenin was wrong and Anarchist communists are right. It is well known that the February Revolution started because of an International Women’s Day demonstration that took a militant turn. It is occasionally pointed out that Bolshevik women textile workers organised this demonstration and its militant tactics. It is seldom remembered, though, that these women were acting on their own initiative. They were organised revolutionaries who debated and discussed amongst themselves, but they weren’t acting on instructions from the Bolshevik Central Committee. This was to be expected, since the Bolsheviks were illegal at that point and Central Committee members were either underground or in exile. Much latitude was necessarily given to local branches and factory cells.

This process played out on a larger scale through 1917. Before the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party acted in a very decentralised way, and party discipline was much weaker. The social turmoil and the rapid growth of the Party prevented the establishment of thorough centralism. It was only after October that the Bolsheviks could begin working consistently in the way that Lenin had fought for since 1903. Before October, Right Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Zinoviev engaged in open freelancing against the Party line. They even publicly opposed the Soviets taking power after the Central Committee had committed to the insurrection. An even more telling example is Lenin’s famous speech at the Finland Station when he returned from exile in April. His call for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, and for the Soviets to take power, was against Party policy! Lenin had to fight tooth and nail after this speech in order to get the Bolsheviks to adopt his position. If he had kept to Party discipline, he may never have won the argument and the Russian Revolution may have taken a vastly different course. Centralisation has a conservatising effect on organisations and, in a political party, cuts it off from radical shifts in public consciousness.

Anarchist communists accept that we need to be better organised than in 1917. Revolutionary working class activists need to organise themselves in specific revolutionary bodies, in addition to being members of the mass organisations of the working class. Where we differ from Leninists is on the role and structure of the specific revolutionary organisations. We believe the role of revolutionary organisations is to urge the working class to take power itself and not to take power on behalf of the workers. Our activists need to be exemplary militants rather than leaders. They need to inspire workers to act for themselves rather than to follow leaders, however revolutionary. As the old Wobbly saying goes, whoever can lead you into paradise can just as easily lead you out again. The role of Anarchist organisations, important at any time, will be irreplaceable in revolutionary periods, since Anarchists in the mass organs of workers’ power will have a message that all parties, including the Leninists, will oppose – that these mass workers’ organs are the very substance of the revolution and must not surrender power to anyone, whether it be a parliament, a constituent assembly, or a Council of People’s Commissars.

The structure of Anarchist communist organisations must reflect their function. We believe workers’ power must operate on the basis of consistent federalism, where power rests at the bottom and the higher bodies exist to co-ordinate without coercion. Anarchist communist political organisations that are large enough to have more than one constituent group must also organise in this way. Since we believe the mass workers’ organs must operate with mandated, recallable delegates and limited tenure of office, so must Anarchist communist political organisations operate.

And since we believe that workers can only exercise real power if they are able to hear all arguments on a given topic, we believe that Anarchists should not attempt to form a single organisation to present a monolithic opinion to the working class. The inevitable differences of opinion within the Anarchist movement (let alone between Anarchists and state socialists) should not be resolved artificially behind closed doors, but presented to the working class for judgement. If any one organisation, even an Anarchist one, gains an enduring majority in the mass workers’ organs, the danger of usurpation will arise. Anarchists need to guard against this by ensuring that Anarchist communist organisations preserve pluralism. They must reject the artificial unity that comes from papering over political differences.

Conclusion

The October Revolution in Russia was a momentous event and the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group celebrates its centenary. The Soviets and the Factory Committees were great achievements of the working class and taking power was an even greater achievement. We are angered by the betrayal of the Revolution by Lenin and its total perversion by Stalin, but we are not disillusioned. Rather, we have learned lessons and work in the confident expectation that, if capitalism doesn’t destroy us in the meantime, there will be another revolution, and it will be worldwide. Unlike last time, workers won’t get taken in by the siren song of leaders who tell us fairy tales about a workers’ state. We won’t be fooled again.

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