2011 Sydney Forum ~versus~ 2011 Ian Stuart Donaldson Memorial Concert

Choices choices.

The 2011 Sydney Forum — since the late scratching of the Inverell Forum, now Australia’s #1 annual fascist gathering — will be held in Sydney on October 8/9. The 2011 Ian Stuart Donaldson Memorial Concert — “a younger persons’ music gig” aka the largest annual gathering of neo-Nazi skinheads in Australia — will be held in Melbourne on October 8. The unfortunate clash between the two events, following several years of separate scheduling, may be a result of the simmering tension between the two neo-Nazi skinhead groups Blood & Honour/Southern Cross Hammerskins (B&H/SCHS) and Volksfront Australia (VF).

VF leader Welf Herfurth is Sydney Forum MC and Chris Smith (VF, Creatard* and blogger) another of its more enthusiastic and prominent organisers. According to a former B&H/SCHS supporter, VF’s rivals in B&H/SCHS have given VF permission to operate in NSW but in no other states, while close relations between VF and the scattered remnants of ‘Combat 18’ has done little to endear the Sydney-based cousin to the national body. Fortunately, the rivalry between the two tendencies has not reached the stage it has in the United States (the birthplace of both the Hammerskins and Volksfront), where members of the two groups have been known to clash violently with one another.

As for the Forum itself, thus far it features Melbourne-based Australia First organiser Alex Norwick on why the ‘Australianist Ethos Is The Most Contemporary Manifestation Of The Eternal Indo-European Idea’, Benedikt Osváth on ‘Persecution against artistic freedom’ and Dr Jim will be talking about how important it is for people like him to write the history of the far right.

While Norwick’s speech sounds like a load of old balls, the Benedikt Osváth case AS SEEN ON THE BOLT REPORT! is actually quite interesting, the artist apparently violating Aboriginal lore by creating Wanjina Watchers in the Whispering Stone (see : The Wandjina case demonstrates the lack of protection for Indigenous culture, Robyn Ayres, ART+law, September 2010). Curiously, Osváth & Co have gained the support of another ‘controversial’ artist named Sergio Redegalli, whose ‘ban the burqa’ mural in Newtown was recently redecorated in support of Osváth.

With regards the ISD gig, there’s not a great deal to add. It’s expected to * Melbourne-based nazis Deaths Head, Ravenous and new kids on the block Waffenbruder, while a bunch of boofheads from Brisbane called Open Season will also be jackbooting on stage, the stage itself likely to be located in some scout hall or other in the outer ‘burbs.

Business as usual, in other words.

See also : A Brief History Of Neo-Nazi Music In Australia (December 2, 2010) | 2010 Sydney Forum.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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51 Responses to 2011 Sydney Forum ~versus~ 2011 Ian Stuart Donaldson Memorial Concert

  1. Derek says:

    Ever noticed how anti-fascist gatherings don’t have to occur in zone 2? Funny, it’s almost like they’re winning…

  2. @ndy says:

    Still, credit where it’s due: the ISD gig has been running since 1994, 2011 making it 18 in a row, and it’s only five years ago that it was held @ The Birmy; mos def a zone 1 loc.

  3. Derek says:

    Yeah, I was sort of aiming low with that one. Then again, how low do you have to aim in a fight with a nazi before you’re the most morally unsound object in the room?

  4. LeftInternationalist says:

    Y’know, the more I observe the activities of the far-right, it almost feels as if they have washed up on our shores, blinked, and then began to quack, run in circles, and have rinsed and repeated the same activity, hoping for success. I mean, what could be a more ridiculous title to a talk than ‘Australianist Ethos Is The Most Contemporary Manifestation Of The Eternal Indo-European Idea’! Boofheadedness bereft of sense. Perhaps we should sneak into that ‘younger persons’ music gig’, lock the doors, put earbuds in our ears, and play the punk version of ‘Bandiera Rossa’ by the Angelic Upstarts at ear splitting volume (see link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9XJFDWDPrw

    Now, I’m an open minded young radical, and I see value in both socialist and anarchist currents on the left, especially a revolutionary democratic socialism, libertarian socialism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, even a bit of individualist anarchism, and so on. Probably the closest equivalent figure to my convinctions would be Rosa Luxemburg- that is, of a revolutionary, democratic, and libertarian socialism. Of all the radical groups I’ve seen, Socialist Alternative, to me, tends to the most consistently active, engaged, and antiauthoritarian of the groups on the socialist left (which seems to be true of most International Socialist Tendency influenced/actual IST tendency groups), even despite all the good criticisms that can be made of them. More importantly, they are actually of some significance, and not just a collection of three men and their dog proclaiming themselves the sole leaders of the revolutionary party. And while they may be no big shakes, the anarchist left seems to be even smaller and more disorganised, which pains me as someone broadly sympathetic to most of their analysis, goals and aspirations. Now, I am considering joining SA. I know, their criticisms of anarchism have not been of the most stellar quality. In fact, some of it has been downright poor, which has saddened me. However, it’s fair to say I agree with most of their analysis, action, theory and practice. So, if you want to save me from falling into their clutches, you better let me know now why I shouldn’t join them. Perhaps tell me what you think their biggest folly is, and what their greatest strength is. Also, I just started a blog. Any advice for new bloggers with a political bent? Keep up the good blogging work.

  5. @ndy says:

    On the lost, quacking ducks of the far right: yeah, kinda. I mean, in fairness to its partisans, that’s merely two, upcoming events I’ve highlighted — one straightforwardly neo-Nazi, the other merely fascist — and the far right has a history, organisational structure and audience (both real and potential) far larger than these two events would suggest. In other words, the radical right as a whole is, I think, a slightly different story. Suffice it to say that, while the far right within Australia has rarely exercised any broad-ranging or long-lasting influence, the reasons for this are I think somewhat complex and relate, in large part, to Australia’s status as a White colony, one which in its modern state formation has experienced the domination of a form of labourism which has, with some exceptions, effectively excluded both the far right and the far left from gaining a popular audience.

    Which is a long sentence.

    As for Norwick, he has a long history on the far right, generally within Saleam’s orbit, and some rather peculiar — but also entertainingly kooky — ideas about Australian identity and European history. Which is not unusual if you’re familiar with right-wing samizdat…

    Regarding SA (or SAlt — I use SA to mean ‘Socialist Alliance’), I dunno: as you find yourself in agreement with the party’s analysis and action (and/or theory and practice), it would seem a reasonable thing to join. Besides, I don’t know that I’ve anything much to offer beyond what you probably already know regarding criticisms of the Cliffite tradition, Trotskyism, Leninism or Marxism. That said: yes, their criticisms of anarchism are pretty poor. I examined one example written by party leader Mick Armstrong some time ago. Otherwise, I haven’t detected much that would distinguish SAlt’s criticisms from that of the iSt tradition generally, or even orthodox Trotskyism. For what it’s worth, I think Tom Keefer’s essay ‘Marxism, Anarchism, & the Genealogy of “Socialism From Below”’ (Upping the Anti, No,2, 2005) gives a pretty good account of the rather tepid nod to ‘libertarian’ socialism the iSt makes when necessary…

    Aside from that, I have little to do with SAlt, and most of my experience is based on encounters with former members, many of whom are now thirty-something, and whose politics have evolved, I think, based both on their own experience of party life but also on account of developing a more nuanced understanding of and appreciation for the Marxist tradition and its more libertarian expressions. The few dealings I’ve had with current members certainly haven’t suggested to me that the party is ‘antiauthoritarian’ in either style or substance, but that may also be a product of the fact that most have been solidly based in the student (left) mileu and thereby share many of the problems peculiar to that subculture.

    With regards strengths and follies, I think SAlt’s principal strength is in having developed a model of organisation suitable to recruiting serious young things on the student left, its principal folly an inability to develop much beyond this; perhaps by way of contributing to the development of a broader ‘revolutionary, democratic, and libertarian socialist’ movement. This, however, would require it junking its history and ideology so, y’know…

    Anyway, with regards blogging, I think making contact and exchanging links with like-minded bloggers is a good idea. My own has developed pretty much by happenstance, and was really only set in motion by my involvement with the online network Fight dem back! So a principal focus has remained documenting racism (especially if not exclusively insofar as it concerns the far right), with other themes emerging over time and concentrating on other political issues. At last count the blog has received about one-and-a-quarter million visits, which averages out at about 1,000 visits a day. Which I guess is another way of saying that if you persist, it’s likely that eventually you’ll build some kind of an audience, perhaps even a large one. I dunno if it’s had much impact, but then assessing this is pretty difficult. I’ve not written for other blogs or taken part in very many blog discussions elsewhere, but I’d recommend you do if you can as this seems to be one way, apart from sheer bloody-minded persistence, that you can gain an audience rapidly (assuming that’s what you want).

  6. LeftInternationalist says:

    Thanks for your response. Yes, I’m quite familar with all criticisms of Marxism, the IST, Trotskyism, etc, and some of them are excellent- that is beyond doubt. I am no fan of dour, orthodox, Trotskyism, which says everything Lenin and Trotsky did badly and wrong is not a result of their ideology at all, but all purely a case of ‘objective circumstances’ of the Bolshevik regime- and it’s one thing to do that in the early years, but in the civil war and after, it can definitely be said that whatever ideals they had they abandoned for the sake of survival of the Soviet regime- which meant it had compromised virtually every single ideal of the Revolution by that point. But I do think anarchist comrades should more actively engage with figures that are undoubtedly tainted like Lenin and Trotsky, and lesser known figures like Alexandra Kollontai (of the Worker Opposition faction in the Bolsheviks) and especially Victor Serge, to find out why an anarchist would join the Bolsheviks- which, no one doubts repressed anarchists when they felt the need to. Without illusions about them, I still think there is something there that can be gained from, just as much as can still be learned by anarchist comrades like Bakunin, Kropotkin, and even those anarchists who were terrorists- who often had interesting analyses and valid intellectual and practical contributions, and were often responding to the most barbaric circumstances- though I do take a pretty classical Marxist take on individual terrorism- i.e. as ineffective and counterproductive. I do wish more people of my political persusasion on the socialist left would really engage with criticism, rather than resorting to trite orthodox explanations or dismissing anarchism as a ‘petty bourgeois ideology.’ Although, in the defence of my socialist comrades, I have noticed a tendency among anarchists to denounce everthing and everyone who isn’t an anarchist as an ‘authoritarian.’ For example, when I’ve read some Marxist critiques of anarchism, the response back is ‘well, all Marxists are authoritarians, so we don’t have to listen to their criticisms.’ This sectarianism amongst groups that essentially want the same thing is entirely counterproductive.

    Why would SAlt have to junk their entirely history and ideology to contribute to a broader revolutionary, democratic, and libertarian socialism? There are problems with some of their interpretations, to be sure, but I don’t think you can say they have been apologists for authoritarianism that has characterised so much of the flotsam of the posturing, pseudo-radical left- i.e. Maoists, unreconstructed Leninists, Stalinists, even less bad groups like the former DSP (which were apologists for Castroism) and the Socialist Alliance (still, unfortunately, a defender of the ‘Cuban Revolution’- usually meaning a Castro-thought they have been running more critical articles in GLW, such as one by John Pilger). Certainly, the fact that their banner is totally untainted by that identification with ‘socialist’ regimes which are little more than authoritarian ghettos is attractive to me. And IST groups, whether part of the official tendency of not, have been remarkably consistent about their rejection of authoritarianism, both of regimes and of the way they organise themselves- and organisational problems, of any group on the radical left, has always plagued us, as we attempt to shape organisations befitting our ideals (democratic, egalitarian, libertarian, emancipatory) in a capitalist society, and the way it has formed us, personality issues, and the fact that we are only human beings. Also, the fact that they are, on the socialist left, the most consistent advocates of ‘socialism from below’ i.e. workers councils, workers control, and so on, you know what I mean (and what I assume you would call anarchism- what kind of anarchist are you exactly anyway?), which is a boon for anarchist comrades- the socialist left is now closer to anarchist ideas than ever before (at least that of social anarchism), while not embracing anarchism itself.

  7. @ndy says:


    A few things.

    On Lenin and Trotsky(ism): the iSt represent a somewhat unorthodox Trotskyism to be sure, one based on Tony Cliff’s re-interpretation — contra Trotsky — of the Bolshevik regime as one giving way to a form of ‘state capitalism’. Otherwise, I think its development can be explained by reference to the emergence of a New Left in the 1960s (especially in the UK) and the post-WWII debates among Trotskyist circles regarding the nature of the Soviet Union. In other respects it adopts a fairly orthodox, Trotskyist approach to social and political questions. In other words, it’s not much of a departure from the ‘dour’, ‘orthodox’ politics of Leninism (and/or Marxism) as interpreted by Trotsky himself. Outside of these figures, the iSt makes occasional, positive references to few major thinkers (Gramsci, Lukacs, Luxemburg). Finally, I think that their (that is, Bolshevik leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky) chief ‘ideal’ was borne out by their practice, and that was the construction of a state under their command and that of their party.

    Regarding the Bolshevik regime and Lenin and Trotsky’s role in it more generally, I’m not sure I understand your perspective. Are you suggesting that the ‘degeneration’ (sic) of the regime may reasonably be attributed to the civil war? If so, I don’t agree, and I don’t believe the historical record bears this out. Obviously, there’s a mountain of material on the question, but I reckon Maurice Brinton’s essay on ‘The Bolsheviks and workers’ control: the state and counter-revolution’ is useful in this context, not least because it comes from a (libertarian) Marxist perspective. As an aside, the work of the ‘Solidarity’ group as a whole is really interesting, of much greater utility and indeed a much better reflection of anti-authoritarian Marxist politics than the neo-Trotkyism of the iSt. In fact, there’s an abundance of material of this nature, and a useful account of the origins and history of such traditions is available by way of Richard Gombin’s ‘Origins of Modern Leftism’ and ‘The Radical Tradition’. As for Serge, yeah: he’s ‘The Bolshevik’s Anarchist’. His anarchism was formed during his engagement with the French Illegalists, the best account of which I’ve read is Richard Parry’s ‘The Bonnot Gang’ (who were pretty cool: the first gang to use a getaway car!). His joining the Bolsheviks was a fairly isolated phenomenon and one which most anarchists, rightfully, rejected. Some of their reasons for doing so are contained in Paul Avrich’s ‘The Russian Anarchists’, but otherwise proceed from fairly uncontroversial anarchist perspectives articulated for many years prior to the Bolshevik coup.

    On a more general level: it seems to me like anarchists, in general, have ‘engaged’ with thinkers like Trotsky, Lenin, Serge and Kollontai a good deal. All have been subject to criticism, not only of their ideology but, moreover, their practice. And by ‘practice’ I mean, in particular, repression: imprisonment, torture and murder. In other words, I think your criticism is misplaced, and in order to understand the anarchist attitude towards counter-revolutionaries such as the Bolsheviks and their successors some further consideration of the origins of this attitude is required. On a supplementary note, I think it worthwhile making a distinction between moral or political condemnation and political understanding, so of course an understanding and appreciation of Leninist and Trotskyist doctrine is worthwhile, irrespective of the results the implementation of these doctrines had on real, living anarchists or workers and peasants in general.

    Secondly, I think it’s wrogn to place too much emphasis upon the ideas of individual thinkers, which is partly why I describe myself as an anarchist rather than, say, a ‘Bakuninist’ or a ‘Kropotkinite’. The relationship of intellectuals to anarchism is rather different to that expressed by Marxism, and much could be said on this subject, but I think the important point (one expressed by all The Great Bearded Ones) is that anarchism is less the product of some clutch of bourgeois thinkers than it is a re-formulation of popular understandings of revolutionary social change.

    But maybe that’s a point worth taking up in greater detail elsewhere.


    There’s many detailed critiques of Marxism by anarchists, so better perhaps to ignore mere dismissals in preference for these;
    Some of the best critiques of Leninism and its numerous offshoots come from within the Marxist camp;
    The socialist tradition is much, much broader than Leninism (you seem to use the terms synonymously with Marxism);
    SAlt would need to abandon its ideology because its ideology is authoritarian;
    There’s a difference between producing apologias for various ‘socialist’ regimes and having Bad politics;
    On the SWP’s history, Jim Higgins’ account is neat.

  8. LeftInternationalist says:

    I don’t consider myself a Leninist at all, though I think Lenin did, sometimes, have something valid to say. Socialism is a broad perspective, with Marxism (and yes, I don’t order my ideas based on dead bearded guys- using something name’s as part of a political philosophy I am generally opposed to, because of course it places far too much emphasis on a single figure- but Marxism has stuck, and the only other alternative term is socialism, a much more amorphous term which can be identified as much with social democracy as with revolutionary socialism) as merely one aspect with many different features, distinctions, and spin offs. No, I don’t blame the degeneration of the Bolsheviks purely on the civil war- it had started long before that. But it certainly vastly accelerated it. I’ve read part of Maurice Brinton’s work and Jim Higgins’ account- like I said, I don’t denounce people who have made excellent criticisms of the SWP, Bolshevism in theory and practice, etc. Isn’t Solidarity just a tiny split off group from SAlt? You say they more accurately reflect anti-authoritarian libertarian Marxist politics, which is essentially what I’m looking for- but, given your criticisms of the IST, and the fact that Solidarity is the official section of the IST in Australia, wouldn’t that make them more subject to the international perspectives of the SWP? I think it’s unfair to call SAlt’s ideology authoritarian- if it is, then it would have been an apologist for all sorts of criminal regimes called socialist. It would also make Solidarity members ‘authoritiarian’ as well. And I think calling them that would not only be counterproductive, but factually wrong. Certainly, most people who join SAlt, including influentual figures within it, would probably consider themselves just as much antiauthoritarian as you are. It is not just their words, but their actions that are important- and in their actions, they have shown themselves better, more democratic and effective than many other groups. Yes, they could be MORE critical of the Bolsheviks in the early period- but they have plenty of criticisms, and point out, because of their particular ideology, what the Bolsheviks did wrong, what we should learn from that, and what to always avoid in order to bring about the desired outcome. They are a product of learning and revision of past failures- not an ignorant parroting of exactly the same atttitudes, ideology, and conceptions from the past.

    The formation of the New Anticapitalist Party in France, emerging mainly out of the LCR, a democratic and open minded revolutionary socialist formation that identified with Trotskyism, shows the capability of groups such as this to unite with those with other ideologies and tendencies and work toward a common program. For example, from wiki:

    The party’s stated aim is to “build a new socialist, democratic perspective for the twenty-first century”.[3]

    Olivier Besancenot has said that the party will be “the left that fights, anticapitalist, internationalist, antiracist, ecologist, feminist, opposing all forms of discrimination”.[4] The LCR’s distinctive identification with Trotskyism will not be continued by the NPA.[5]

    Also, on calling the October Revolution a coup, I do disagree with that. Every account I’ve read, including hostile accounts, show it to have been a popular democratic revolution, which did lead to some immediate benifits (i.e. voting rights for women- before even the USA did it!) and was, at that point, probably the highest culmination of the power of the soviets. The Bolsheviks could have been tossed out by them at that point, because the soviets were essentially in charge. And the Bolshevik attitude towards the soviets was very contradictory- with some arguing workers control was essential, others not. Obviously, that honeymoon period didn’t last long. Lots of things they did were inexcusably authoritarian, and it didn’t take them long to get there. But, to be honest, while another group could probably have done better in Russia in the horrific circumstances at the time, I don’t think any other group posed a real alternative. Even the Makhnovist movement I don’t think ever proved itself to be a real alternative, and even anarchist ideology can degenerate in the face of violence and hostility- and civil war always makes that more likely. Authoritarianism is not just a product of ideology- it is also a product of circumstances. Which is why poor/very unequal cities say, for example, have a lot of violence and theft, while rich ones with not huge class divisions, in a more equal, free, and abundant society have far less violence. Because the necessity for violence and theft to survive is virtually nil. See what I’m saying? So I feel I’m reasonably informed and have a relatively balanced view about the Bolsheviks, from a variety of perspectives- conservative, liberal, Bolshevik, critical socialist, anarchist, etc.

  9. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, in terms of authortiarianism, I always like to use this comparison. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincolin are not often thought of as authoritarian figures. But it is undoubtedly true that Jefferson was an owner of hundreds of slaves throughout his life, supported a political system which only gave voting rights to men with certain property qualifications, and showed little concern for the genocide of the Native Americans. Lincolin helped spark off the most destructive civil war in US history, supposedly to liberate the slaves, who, after the war, returned to a period of servitide, discrimination, violence and oppression- and Lincolin definitely justified massively authoritarian measures in the course of the US Civil War. Did they actively contribute to ideas about freedom and justice? absolutely. Does that absolve them from the blood on their hands? of course not. But I never cease to hear them described as if they were the purest angels, by everyone. And everything bad they did was entirely justified in the historical context. This was also said, by some, about the Bolsheviks. If you are prepared to take Jefferson’s and Lincolin’s ideas seriously despite their crimes, then you must do the same for figures like Lenin, Trotsky, Kollontai and Serge. But I always hear them described as if they were of the purest evil, from the very beginning.

  10. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also on,

    ‘understanding and appreciation of Leninist and Trotskyist doctrine is worthwhile, irrespective of the results the implementation of these doctrines had on real, living anarchists or workers and peasants in general’

    do you think that the emergent Bolshevik authoritarianism was a result of a perfect application of Leninist and/or Trotskyist theory? I’m not so sure about that, though, of course, you can find awful quotes from Lenin and Trotsky if you want- also quotes which contradict those as well. What about the Spanish anarchists? I don’t think I can blame all their problems on a perfect application of anarchist theory, as some Marxists have, or to prove the hollowness of anarchist ideas by the fact that the Spanish anarchists sometimes diverged from them. That would be stupid- I take acccount of the objective circumstances they faced. Is it fair to call them authoritarians because many of them joined the bourgeois Republican Government, compromising their anarchist doctrine to form a united front against fascism in the face of desperate circumstances? A united front which actively undermined the Revolution as it was betrayed by the bourgeois government, Stalinists, complicit Western govenments and even corporations. It would be unfair of me to criticise them for doing that, even though it seems to be the wrong move, a move made in desperate circumstances.

  11. LeftInternationalist says:

    That Marxism, anarchism, and socialism from below article is one of the best I’ve ever read. Assessing the qualities of both traditions, their main triumphs and failures, their interrelationship, and the need to develop a productive synthesis of the ‘insights of Marxism and anarchism with the dialectic of socialism from below/above’. I couldn’t agree more with that.

  12. @ndy says:

    I’ll reply in more detail later, but in the meantime the Solidarity I mean is the British Solidarity not the Australian one.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidarity_%28UK%29

  13. LeftInternationalist says:

    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Arachno-communism I think you’ll get a good laugh out of this.

  14. @ndy says:

    OK cool. I’ll try and clarify some points below.

    First, I don’t think that the history of the Russian Social Democrats / Bolsheviks / Communists is one simply of degeneration. Rather (as Brinton and others have documented), the party/regime had a program which it attempted to implement. Crucially, the Bolsheviks sought to subvert the autonomous power of the workers, especially as constituted through the soviets (workers’ councils).

    Chomsky (1986):

    The Leninist antagonism to the most essential features of socialism was evident from the very start. In revolutionary Russia, Soviets and factory committees developed as instruments of struggle and liberation, with many flaws, but with a rich potential. Lenin and Trotsky, upon assuming power, immediately devoted themselves to destroying the liberatory potential of these instruments, establishing the rule of the Party, in practice its Central Committee and its Maximal Leaders — exactly as Trotsky had predicted years earlier, as Rosa Luxembourg and other left Marxists warned at the time, and as the anarchists had always understood. Not only the masses, but even the Party must be subject to “vigilant control from above,” so Trotsky held as he made the transition from revolutionary intellectual to State priest. Before seizing State power, the Bolshevik leadership adopted much of the rhetoric of people who were engaged in the revolutionary struggle from below, but their true commitments were quite different. This was evident before and became crystal clear as they assumed State power in October 1917.

    A historian sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, E.H. Carr, writes that “the spontaneous inclination of the workers to organize factory committees and to intervene in the management of the factories was inevitably encourage[d] by a revolution [which] led the workers to believe that the productive machinery of the country belonged to them and could be operated by them at their own discretion and to their own advantage” (my emphasis). For the workers, as one anarchist delegate said, “The Factory committees were cells of the future… They, not the State, should now administer.”

    But the State priests knew better, and moved at once to destroy the factory committees and to reduce the Soviets to organs of their rule. On November 3, Lenin announced in a “Draft Decree on Workers’ Control” that delegates elected to exercise such control were to be “answerable to the State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for the protection of property.” As the year ended, Lenin noted that “we passed from workers’ control to the creation of the Supreme Council of National Economy,” which was to “replace, absorb and supersede the machinery of workers’ control” (Carr). “The very idea of socialism is embodied in the concept of workers’ control,” one Menshevik trade unionist lamented; the Bolshevik leadership expressed the same lament in action, by demolishing the very idea of socialism.

    Soon Lenin was to decree that the leadership must assume “dictatorial powers” over the workers, who must accept “unquestioning submission to a single will” and “in the interests of socialism,” must “unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.” As Lenin and Trotsky proceeded with the militarization of labour, the transformation of the society into a labour army submitted to their single will, Lenin explained that subordination of the worker to “individual authority” is “the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of human resources”… [snip] At the same time, ‘factionalism’ — i.e., any modicum of free expression and organization — was destroyed “in the interests of socialism,” as the term was redefined for their purposes by Lenin and Trotsky, who proceeded to create the basic proto-fascist structures converted by Stalin into one of the horrors of the modern age.

    Failure to understand the intense hostility to socialism on the part of the Leninist intelligentsia (with roots in Marx, no doubt), and corresponding misunderstanding of the Leninist model, has had a devastating impact on the struggle for a more decent society and a livable world in the West, and not only there. It is necessary to find a way to save the socialist ideal from its enemies in both of the world’s major centres of power, from those who will always seek to be the State priests and social managers, destroying freedom in the name of liberation.

    So: when I write ‘coup’, I mean the Bolshevik seizure of state power (‘the October Revolution’), not the radical transformations in economy and society which were taking place simultaneously and which constituted the essence of the revolution. In other words, what I’m suggesting is that in this context there were two, largely contradictory (rather than complementary) processes taking place in Russia at this time. (The Makhnovist movement is a slightly different case as it was largely confined to the Ukraine, and the relationship between the Makhnovists and the Bolsheviks is another story.) Of Lenin, I think Ron Tabor’s ‘A Look At Leninism’ (unfortunately not available online) is useful as it traces the evolution of his thinking, especially inre the more libertarian nature of the April Theses, and how these fit (or didn’t) in terms of his overall ideology and the political context within which it developed.

    Secondly, with regards SAlt and its ideology, I’m not really interested in writing a lengthy critique, both because that would be tiresome, but also because Trotskyism has been subject to such criticism many times before, and I have little to add. Whether or not it’s unfair to describe SAlt’s ideology as ‘authoritarian’ I think depends on the meaning of this term and whether or not it might fairly be applied to Trotskyism. I think Trotskyism is ‘authoritarian’ not in the sense that the individuals who subscribe to it are especially rude or overbearing but in terms of its aims and methodology. Namely, it aims to construct a political party and for this party to assume state power. So words and actions are important, and so is history, and so is the likely and intended outcome of words and actions. While ‘Trotskyism’ developed a great deal following Trotsky’s exile and in the period up to and immediately following his death, a critical account of the Russian Revolution I think reveals something of its essentuial nature, as do Trotskyist accounts of the history of the Soviet Union (cf. Aufheben‘s series on the question). Finally, I’m unsure what are the key features of SAlt’s critique of the Bolsheviks, so I think it would be better for you to outline what you consider to be the chief characteristics of their many criticisms. My understanding is that these are fairly orthodox and do not concern matters of principle so much as practice.

    Thirdly, with regards the New Anticapitalist Party / Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France — yes, this could be said to constitute evidence of the capacity of ostensibly Trotskyist parties to engage in broader alliances with others on the left. However, this kind of recombination is one that has been going on for a very long time and indeed constitutes an important part of left history as a whole, whether in France or elsewhere. Given the focus on Australian politics, perhaps a more germane example would be the Socialist Alliance. Otherwise, Tendance Coatesy follows these developments fairly closely.

    Fourthly, I’m not familiar enough with Jefferson, Lincoln or Civil War history to comment very meaningfully on your comparison but that said: your argument here appears to be that we should not discount the contributions to economic, political or social ‘progress’ made by figures whose views we might otherwise reject. If so, I agree, but I don’t think that this is really what is at stake in the above discussion.

    Finally, I’ve written elsewhere about the Spanish Revolution, and will leave it here for now. Fwiw, Bob Ellis is meant to be working on a script for a filmed version of Orwell’s Homage; I think Vivir la Utopia is neat.

  15. LeftInternationalist says:

    Yes, the Living Utopia film is excellent. A film of Orwell’s Homage, if pulled off right, could be fantastic. Have you seen Libertarias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarias That was probably the best film I’ve seen so far about The Spanish Civil War. There’s also that big Spanish Civil War documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOwnPuZr-Eo

  16. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, from what I understand about SAlt and other such similar tendencies, they don’t believe in one party simply seizing state power. They believe in smashing the capitalist state, and replacing it with the organs of popular power/authority (i.e. workers’ councils and all the rest) which will then federate (isn’t that an anarchist word?) together to form the basis of a ‘workers’ state’ a ‘working class government’ similar to that of the Paris Commune, as related back to Marx’s writings on the Commune. A ‘state’ (though the word ‘state’ I think would not neccesarily be an accurate description- I suppose you could call it ‘self-government’, ‘self-management’, or an anti-statist formation of popular democratic revolutionary forces). A revolutionary party is intended to help supplement this process and help draw together those popular sectors of society struggling for revolutionary change- and by ‘party’ this could mean a broad alliance of organisations, revolutionary organisations drawn together in the struggle- i.e. say there was a revolution in Britain, the SWP wouldn’t be the revolutionary party (no group or grouping on the British left at this point comes close to constituting a popular revolutionary democratic alternative favoured by a majority of Britons and other similar progressive organisations) and wouldn’t seek to become a new ruling class- but to play a role along with other groups in the revolutionary transformation of society.

  17. LeftInternationalist says:

    This anarchist has got some very interesting ideas upon the intersection of anarchism and socialism, and about reformism and revolution http://www.archive.org/details/WaynePrice-AnarchismSocialism This is a free download of a talk he did. His personal bio is also interesting- from anarchist pacifist to dissdent Trotskyist, to revolutionary anarchist communist.

  18. @ndy says:

    Yeah I’m familiar w Wayne’s stuff. Of related interest are Karl Korsch http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/index.htm and Daniel Guerin http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Daniel_Guerin__Anarchism__From_Theory_to_Practice.html. Black Flame http://black-flame-anarchism.blogspot.com/ may also appeal. I’ve also seen Libertarias, which is good in parts but in the person of the nun employed a fairly clumsy and slightly annoying plot device. It also had some odd nationalist overtones. The Devil’s Backbone ain’t half-bad, and I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth too.

  19. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, a review of Wayne Price’s Book The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist perspectives by New Politics http://www.newpol.org/fromthearchives?nid=75 and his reply http://anarchistnews.org/?q=node/8778

  20. @ndy says:

    Re Leninist doctrine on The State & Revolution, I’m familiar w the basic thesis. One problem is the r/ship of The Party to this putative “workers’ state”. The “workers’ state” is not actually a federation of workers’ councils, but a state in the conventional sense: one that, under the direction of a legislative body of some kind (The Party), assumes the authority to employ armed force to govern the population of a given territory. If history is any guide, the Leninist ideal has produced some rather awful monsters.

    Re Marx’s writings on the Commune, see Alan Carter on ‘Anarchism: some theoretical foundations’ and ‘The real politics of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’.

  21. @ndy says:


    Finally, I’m unsure what are the key features of SAlt’s critique of the Bolsheviks, so I think it would be better for you to outline what you consider to be the chief characteristics of their many criticisms. My understanding is that these are fairly orthodox and do not concern matters of principle so much as practice.

  22. LeftInternationalist says:

    http://www.marxist.com/marxism-anarchism-marx-bakunin-conflict090606.htm I think this article is also of value in understanding the actual philosophical divide between Marx and Bakunin, and their relationship to the Enlightenment tradition- and not reducing two people, who ultimately wanted something very similar, to stereotypes about their personal failings or predjudices to understand their differences.

  23. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, I think there’s an unfortunately strong tendency here to locate the politics of socialism or anarchism in a way in which both supposedly socialists and anarchists approach their politics uncritically. For example, I’ve seen anarchists essentially assume that all socialists, before going to bed, cross themselves ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky’, sigh a breath of relief, and fall into a sleep uncomplicated by issues around the politics of these particular figures. Same thing with socialists- they pick out some selective quotations from people like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, etc, to prove that since these anarchists think this (some bad example) all anarchists think like that. Or the actions of some anarchists, often responding to brutal pressures. This kind of sectarianism doesn’t advance the debate- real constructive criticism does. I think we have to be materialist about this. We live in the 21st century- the ideas of all these thinkers, people we meet and know, our subjective experiences and nutting out of theorectical issues and debates, bringing together our praxis (theory and practice) and the application of the fruits of our knowledge and experiences to the real world shape our politics. The interrelationship, people taking all these figures seriously and incorporating them into their praxis, can only be useful- a pragmatic application of these ideas in the real world, in different contexts and circumstances, will prove their merits to those different contexts and circumstances. For example, the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists (part of the IST) played a considerable role in the Egyptian Revolution- in helping give rise to a mass movement, putting their bodies and lives on the line fighting against a ruthless dictator. They have been beaten, locked up, shot, etc. Now, from what I remember, they are working out with other left groups a way to form a new and unique political party- a Labour party of sorts. Now, we all know the problems of this approach, but at least it’s a start. They do not approach their actions uncritically- and they have contributed to a democratic breakthrough in their country. Will we ever be able to speak so proudly of our actions as they can? Maybe we never will have to test ourselves thus. But their bravery and courage cannot but be respected.

  24. @ndy says:

    I’ll try read the IMT thing later.

    You may be right regarding the general manner in which such discussions take place, but this is not really my concern in responding to your questions, and the answers I’ve provided I think are fairly straightforward and do not rely upon the use of caricatures. I’m not sure if what is required is materialism so much as common sense.

    Regarding events in Egypt, there’s an array of groups involved. For example, last week in Alexandria 22 political groups — including the Justice Party, the Free Egypt Party, Khodr Party, Free Egyptians Party, Egyptian Communist Party, Karama, Tagammu and the April 6 Youth Movement — issued a statement and organised a rally to demand ending military trials for civilians, releasing political prisoners, and implementing minimum wage court rulings. Some months ago, another joint statement denouncing attempts to turn Egypt into an Islamic state was issued by the Democratic Workers Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the People’s Alliance Socialist Party, the Awareness Party, the Egyptian Current Party, the Karama Party, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egypt Freedom Party, the Hamdeen El-Sabahy Campaign, the Revolution Youth Coalition, the Lotus Revolution Coalition, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Free Egyptian Movement, the Popular Committees in Defense of the Revolution, the Participation Movement, the A Beginning Movement, the Progressive Youth Coalition, the Coordinating Committee for Awareness Movements in Egypt, the No to Military Trials Campaign, the El-Baradei Independent Campaign, the Justice and Freedom Youth, the Socialist Renewal Current, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Kifaya Movement, the Maspero Youth Coalition, the Sahwa Movement, Egyptian Women for Change, the April 6 Movement, the Democratic Front Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Artists Coalition, the National Council and the National Association for Change. In other words, the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists — the members of which I expect are very courageous individuals — are one of a much large number of groups operating on the Egyptian left.


    …I’m unsure what are the key features of SAlt’s critique of the Bolsheviks, so I think it would be better for you to outline what you consider to be the chief characteristics of their many criticisms. My understanding is that these are fairly orthodox and do not concern matters of principle so much as practice.

  25. Ema says:


    IMO the main problem with SAlt isn’t about what they think of the Bolsheviks or whatever. It’s that they have a strategy which involves building themselves up at all costs and often to the detriment of the movements.

    They have wrecked several movement groups for their own purposes. They are doing a lot of good work through Students for Palestine now. But what you may not know is that they deliberately broke up a previous coalition in order to be able to put more energy into Students for Palestine which they had control over. They also trashed Stop the War Coalition by going along to all the events and using them to recruit for SAlt and not doing any work to build them. They eventually decided it wasn’t any use to them any more and when some of us tried to get it started up again they came to the meeting just to block us from starting it up. I witnessed these two events personally, but I also know they have done similar things in other movements such as the refugee rights.

    They also go to some pretty strange efforts to stop their members talking to other groups. I have seen them on many occasions literally surround a new member who was talking to someone from another group and sort of herd them away. Regularly when there are broader left events such as conferences or meetings they will organise a meeting on the same topic at the same time (a few times even in the same building). The only possible reason I can think of for doing this is that they don’t want their members to go to them.

    And from everything I have heard from ex-members the way the group works is really pretty top down. There is formal democracy but in reality the leadership make all the decisions. From what members have told me most of their debates about what movements to get involved in revolve around where they can recruit (which is why they don’t get involved in the enviro movement). I don’t think there is any real space in the group to bring in non-orthodox ideas like the ones you are raising.

    I know that sounds like a lot of accusations, but my (and most people I know) experience of working with them in various movements here has been pretty bad. I also don’t mean any of that as an attack on individual members (except maybe the leadership which is Mick and Sandra). I think most of their members are really decent people with the best motivations. I just think the group as a whole is if anything quite damaging to the left and the movements here.

  26. @ndy says:

    “Bakunin enthusiastically created secret societies as catalysts for a revolutionary upsurge while Marx flatly rejected them.”

    I’m not sure this is entirely correct. Both Bakunin and Marx engaged in clandestine political activity; Bakunin also advocated the formation of unions and other forms of political association.

    “To summarize Bakunin’s philosophy, he is operating, by and large, within the naturalistic framework established by the empiricist current of the Enlightenment. Humans are conceived as embodying a permanently fixed nature with behavior basically determined by natural laws. This state of affairs is then identified with what is good. However, when coercion enters into the relations among people, we enter the realm of the unnatural. We are alienated from our natural condition and we lose our freedom.”

    Maybe. Maybe not. There’s no trace in the article that the philosophy of both Marx *and* Bakunin owed a debt to Hegel; nor that Bakunin, like Marx, developed his philosophy over time, his embrace of anarchism occuring during the later period of his life.


  27. LeftInternationalist says:

    Yeah andy, don’t worry, I don’t agree with everything in that article about Bakunin- but I thought the philosophical examinations, for whatever issues there may have been in that article, presented something new to discuss. There’s a book called ‘From Rousseau to Lenin’ that tries to locate more of a relationship between Marx’s thought and that of Kant, while de-emphasising Hegel, which is contrary to most accounts of Marxist thought. You can get it for something like $13 on the coopbookshop website. Thanks for that list of organisations and parties- I was aware of about a dozen of them, but a fuller list like that gives me a better idea of the left forces involved. In response to Ema-thanks for giving me your opinion of them. I’m trying to get as many accounts about them from as many different sides as possible before I consider joining them- I take joining organisations very seriously. I should say though, the kind of criticisms you’re making I’ve heard about every far left group of any significant size- there does seem an unfortunate correlation between size and, sometimes, the quality of their contribution to the social movements. I certainly hope it’s not really top down. But I really don’t want to be part of an organisation with total revolutionary purity and composed of three people. That’s not really going to advance the causes we are fighting for. And even SAlt, the largest group on the rev left, is small all considering. Hence, their obsession on recruitment- something which I think plagues all far left groups, and not for bad reasons neccesarily- it’s because we are, at this point, a pretty tiny irrelevancy, in size and influence, to the majority of the population.

  28. LeftInternationalist says:

    I also want to say thanks for the great tone of our debate andy. Very constructive and useful for me.

  29. @ndy says:

    Speaking of humanity and nature…

  30. LeftInternationalist says:

    Andy, you ever read What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian History. I’ve just posted a review of it up on my blog http://theredstartwinklesmischievously.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/our-militarised-australian-history/ if you’re interested, let me know what you think of it.

  31. @ndy says:

    No I haven’t read the book, tho’ I’m familiar with the authors and have followed some of the debates about ANZAC Day with interest. The relationship b/w war and masculinity, state and nation is interesting: it brings to mind some other writings on the subject (esp those of Klaus Theweleit on the Freikorps), Marxist and psychoanalytical accounts of war, but also stories regarding some of my Irish-Australian ancestors, who sadly couldn’t go to The Great War ‘cos they had ‘to stay home and look after their mums’ (I don’t think they could see much would be gained from sacrificing their lives for the British Empire).

    On a final note, I’ve asked you a number of times to elaborate upon what you claim are the many criticisms SAlt has of the Bolsheviks (“Yes, they could be MORE critical of the Bolsheviks in the early period- but they have plenty of criticisms, and point out, because of their particular ideology, what the Bolsheviks did wrong, what we should learn from that, and what to always avoid in order to bring about the desired outcome”). I think the contrary is true, that SAlt is generally uncritical, and the reason for this is that they are a Leninist party. Thus ‘Lenin is history’s greatest rebel’ according to Corey Oakley.

    I suggest that the same critical scrutiny as could be applied to The Anzac Myth is also applied to The Bolshevik Myth.

  32. LeftInternationalist says:

    Here’s SAlt’s view of what they emerge from, their view about the Russian Revolution and Bolshevism, etc: http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=3922:the-socialist-movement-our-history&Itemid=402

    The Bolshevik party began to substitute itself for the decimated working class. Non-Bolshevik parties were suppressed, and the party began to take many aspects of the state apparatus into its own hands. It was a terrible choice, but the Bolsheviks had no other. The only alternative was to give up and hand power to the counter-revolution. But while revolutionary will could stave off disaster for a time, it could not overcome the material realities imposed by Russia’s isolation.

    The end of the Civil War only exacerbated the problems. With the counter-revolution defeated, the ties that bound the peasantry to the revolution came undone. Now that they had their land, the individualistically-minded peasantry had little interest in the struggle for socialism. A series of peasant revolts – the most famous being that in Kronstadt – signified the need for a change of course.

    The New Economic Policy (NEP), which reintroduced elements of the market into the economy, made significant concessions to the peasants. This retreat demonstrated the crisis the revolution was in. In “socialist” Russia there now existed neither meaningful workers’ control, nor a planned economy. All that was left was the subjective revolutionary intentions of the Bolshevik government. But by now the Bolshevik party itself had started to degenerate.

    The party had expanded massively in the course of the Civil War. This process was closely tied to the expansion of the state apparatus. By necessity, the Bolsheviks had co-opted into the state administration many functionaries, officials and technocrats from the old Tsarist state. Initially they could be disciplined by the revolutionary movement, but as that ebbed, the bureaucracy began to act with a will of its own. At the 1922 party congress, Lenin asked: “Who is leading whom? The 4,700 responsible communists, the mass of bureaucrats, or the other way round? I do not believe you can honestly say the communists are leading this mass. To put it honestly, they are not the leaders but the led.”

    This bureaucracy now flooded into the party. By 1922, only 1 in 40 party members had been Bolsheviks in 1917. The subjective revolutionism of the Bolsheviks now only existed among a tiny layer within the party. The increasing hold of the bureaucracy was reinforced by almost every development within Russia itself. The hope for regeneration lay, more than ever, with revolution outside Russia’s borders. But in 1923 the German revolution was finally crushed. Rather than events abroad reinvigorating the revolution, they solidified the position of the bureaucracy.

    And that’s probably as critical as they get about the Bolsheviks in the early period.

    Now, revolutionary socialist organisations worldwide, especially of the IST and related groups, have been advocates in some way of this kind of model:


    See review:


    A largely decentralised, directly democratic, libertarian, cooperative model intended to faciltate a classless and free society- a long way from Soviet-style central planning. Even Alex Callinicos of the UK SWP, a key figure and a keen advocate of this model, sees anarchist Michael Albert’s Parecon as an important idea consistent with socialism, and worthwhile to consider- and Parecon is an anarchist economic vision! See here:

    There are various models of a democratically planned economy. Here resources are allocated on the basis of a democratic process that involves horizontal relations among networks of producers and consumers — a radically different form of economic coordination from either capitalism (where allocation is the outcome of competition) or a Stalinist command economy (where resources are allocated dictatorially). One of these models is Parecon, developed by Michael Albert. Another, somewhat more centralized model is Pat Devine’s ‘negotiated coordination’, first outlined in his book Democracy and Economic Planning (1988). The relative merits of these and other models are a matter for discussion. Nevertheless, their existence indicates that serious and concrete thinking is going on about what a systemic alternative to capitalism would look like. A democratically planned economy conceived along these lines represents, in my view, the best way of realizing the values to which the movement is committed… We shouldn’t be afraid of saying that in the kind of economic system that would realize our values the main productive resources would be socially owned, on a democratic and decentralized basis.

    Now some anarchists would choke on their cornflakes hearing this sort of language and ideological basis to the SWP, which I think comes from some bogeyman idea of a ‘Leninist’ organisation (as opposed to a multi-tendency/open minded revolutionary socialist organisation, which draws as much, if not more, from Luxemburg than Lenin). Is this not a sign of the best of the Red and Black coming together? Here is how they see themselves and what they fight for:


    and no doubt SAlt would see itself in the same terms. The stuff on a democratically planned economy is in that article as well.

    Ultimately, for me, it comes down to this- if there was an anarchist alternative of SAlt’s size, of its strength and influence, and it presented itself in a way that intellectually and politically that proved itself much better than them and more effective than them, I would join them. But they just aren’t there. That’s for you and your anarchist comrades to build. As such, for me, SAlt is the closest politically, and not so marginal that it is entirely off the radar. I want to be part of an organisation that can actually DO something, that presents a revolutionary and democratic alternative, and despite all its problems, SAlt is the closest organisation of any merit that fufills that. Who knows, maybe you will be right about them and their politics- but after a close investigation, for all their problems, they’re still better than most. I like a lot of what they do and have to say, I think the theoretical ground they stand on is not like sand or completely removed from the real world, and they are not a complete and total irrelevancy, like 98% of the far left. Experience is the best teacher- so I will probably join them, and make an assesment on them based on my experience with them.

    Some articles on the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks:


    Some books on the Russian Revolution:

    Revolution and Counterevolution: Class and Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory
    The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24: Soviet Workers and the New Communist Elite
    The Socialist Alternative to the Bolsheviks: The Socialist Revolutionary Party 1921-1939

  33. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, quote from ‘The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World’: “The Trotskyists were the first serious champions of the idea that Nazism and Stalinism had to be compared, and were both totalitarian regimes” (pp.202-3). Not exactly what an authoritarian kind of politics would argue. Wasn’t the first person to apply the totalitarian label to the Soviet Union a figure from the Marxist Left-Victor Serge? I seem to remember an article by Christopher Hitchens on Serge making that point.

  34. Grumpy Cat says:

    Hey L.I,
    The problem with SAlt isn’t that they are Leninists per se. The problem is that they are caught in a rut of hyper-recruitment and group building and this causes them to act in pretty horrible ways, have an unpleasant internal culture and wafer-thin politics. Rather than being Leninists perhaps they should ‘repeat’ Lenin (to steal a concept from Zizek). That is try to grasp the actual material and class compositions of Australian capitalism, finds the lines of tensions and commit themselves to organising around these with a mixture of patience and an appreciation of spontaneity and faith in the class. Less shrill ideology, more open discussion, theory, history and humour.
    I think you will find the comrades who do act in such ways probably won’t be in tiny sects.

  35. LeftInternationalist says:

    There’s also a debate between Callinicos and Albert on Parecon on Znet: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/zdebatealbertvscallinicos.htm

  36. @ndy says:


    OK. There’s a few issues. First, I’m familiar with and understand (I think) SAlt/iSt’s line on Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution. There’s a few problems with this account (as re-told by Corey). One has to do with the nature of Russian society at the time and the fact that the vast majority of the population were basically peasants, the working class constituting a very small minority and one concentrated in a few towns and cities. The implications for Marxist theories of history of this situation was the subject of fierce debates at the time and Lenin opted to deviate from Marxist orthodoxy. The point here being that it could be argued that a ‘revolution’ of the sort that the Bolsheviks attempted to organise was doomed from the start. Secondly, the substitution of the party for the class, the suppression of political rivals and the assumption of control of the ideological and repressive state apparatus by the party was not merely a ‘terrible choice’ or a ‘terrible decision’ but the carrying out of the party program. Thirdly, there were alternatives, which others sought to pursue, and it’s untenable to argue that these measures were adopted simply or merely because there were also reactionary forces in Russia at the time.


    The Bolshevik Party was torn by a contradiction which helps explain its attitude before and after 1917. Its strength lay in the advanced workers who supported it. There is no doubt that this support was at times widespread and genuine. But these workers could not control the Party. The leadership was firmly in the hands of professional revolutionaries. In a sense this was inevitable. A clandestine press and the dissemination of propaganda could only be kept going regularly by militants constantly on the move and at times compelled to seek refuge overseas. A worker could only become a Bolshevik cadre on condition he ceased work and placed himself at the disposal of the Party, which would then send him on special missions, to this or that town. The apparatus of the Party was in the hands of revolutionary specialists. The contradiction was that the real living forces that provided the strength of the Party could not control it. As an institution, the Party totally eluded control by the Russian working class. The problems encountered by the Russian Revolution after 1917 did not bring about this contradiction, they only served to exacerbate it. The attitude of the Party in 1917 and after are products of its history. This is what rendered so futile most of the attempts made within the Party by various oppositions between 1918 and 1921. They failed to perceive that a given ideological premise (the preordained hegemony of the Party) led necessarily to certain conclusions in practice.

    But even this is probably not taking the analysis far enough. At an even deeper level the very conception of this kind of organization and this kind of relationship to the mass movement reflect the unrecognized influence of bourgeois ideology, even on the minds of those who were relentlessly seeking to overthrow bourgeois society. The concept that society must necessarily be divided into “leaders” and “led”, the notion that there are some born to rule while others cannot really develop beyond a certain stage have from time immemorial been the tacit assumptions of every ruling class in history. For even the Bolsheviks to accept them shows how correct Marx was when he proclaimed that “the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of its ruling class”. Confronted with an “efficient”, tightly-knit organization of this kind, built on ideas of this kind, it is scarcely surprising that the emerging Factory Committees were unable to carry the Revolution to completion.

    The final difficulty confronting the Committees was inherent in the Committee Movement itself. Although certain individuals showed extraordinary lucidity, and although the Committee Movement represents the highest manifestation of the class struggle achieved in 1917, the movement as a whole was unable to understand what was happening to it and to offer any serious resistance. It did not succeed in generalizing its experience and the record it left is, unfortunately, very fragmentary. Unable to proclaim its own objectives (workers’ self-management) in clear and positive terms, it was inevitable that others would step into the vacuum. With the bourgeoisie in full disintegration, and the working class as yet insufficiently strong or conscious to impose its own solutions to the problems tearing society apart, the triumphs of Bolshevism and of the bureaucracy were both inevitable.

    An analysis of the Russian Revolution shows that in allowing a specific group, separate from the workers themselves, to take over the function of managing production, the working class loses all possibility of even controlling the means of producing wealth. The separation of productive labour from the means of production results in an exploiting society. Moreover, when institutions such as the Soviets could no longer be influenced by ordinary workers, the regime could no longer be called a soviet regime. By no stretch of the imagination could it still be taken to reflect the interests of the working class. The basic question: who manages production after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? should therefore now become the centre of any serious discussion about socialism. Today the old equation (liquidation of the bourgeoisie = workers’ state) popularized by countless Leninists, Stalinists and Trotskyists is just not good enough.

    And oh yeah: it’s wrogn, I believe, to describe Kronstadt as a “peasant revolt” (tho’ the point is certainly arguable); the incorporation of Tsarist technocrats into the Communist state was a conscious preference for the imposition of Taylorist management practices and in keeping with Bolshevik hostility to workers’ self-management; in summary, SAlt remain apologists for the Bolsheviks and for ‘history’s greatest rebel’.

    Alternative economic models, Michael Albert’s vision of participatory economics and its relationship to anarchism is a discussion best conducted elsewhere (or later); I don’t know if Trotskyists were the first ideological grouping to favourably compare Nazism to Stalinism, or whether or not Serge was the first to apply the term ‘totalitarian’ to the Soviet Union, but I am aware of the fact that the political status of the new state was and remains the subject of much debate and certainly dissident communists were not adverse to comparing Bolshevism to fascism. See: Otto Rühle, ‘The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the Struggle Against Bolshevism’ (1939).

    If one looks with critical eyes at the picture of Bolshevism provided by Lenin’s pamphlet, the following main points may be recognized as characteristics of Bolshevism:

    1. Bolshevism is a nationalistic doctrine. Originally and essentially conceived to solve a national problem, it was later elevated to a theory and practice of international scope and to a general doctrine. Its nationalistic character comes to light also in its position on the struggle for national independence of suppressed nations.

    2. Bolshevism is an authoritarian system. The peak of the social pyramid is the most important and determining point. Authority is realized in the all-powerful person. In the leader myth the bourgeois personality ideal celebrates its highest triumphs.

    3. Organizationally, Bolshevism is highly centralistic. The central committee has responsibility for all initiative, leadership, instruction, commands. As in the bourgeois state, the leading members of the organization play the role of the bourgeoisie; the sole role of the workers is to obey orders.

    4. Bolshevism represents a militant power policy. Exclusively interested in political power, it is no different from the forms of rule in the traditional bourgeois sense. Even in the organization proper there is no self-determination by the members. The army serves the party as the great example of organization.

    5. Bolshevism is dictatorship. Working with brute force and terroristic measures, it directs all its functions toward the suppression of all non-Bolshevik institutions and opinions. Its “dictatorship of the proletariat” is the dictatorship of a bureaucracy or a single person.

    6. Bolshevism is a mechanistic method. It aspires to the automatic co-ordination, the technically secured conformity, and the most efficient totalitarianism as a goal of social order. The centralistically “planned” economy consciously confuses technical-organizational problems with socio-economic questions.

    7. The social structure of Bolshevism is of a bourgeois nature. It does not abolish the wage system and refuses proletarian self-determination over the products of labour. It remains therewith fundamentally within the class frame of the bourgeois social order. Capitalism is perpetuated.

    8. Bolshevism is a revolutionary element only in the frame of the bourgeois revolution. Unable to realize the soviet system, it is thereby unable to transform essentially the structure of bourgeois society and its economy. It establishes not socialism but state capitalism.

    9. Bolshevism is not a bridge leading eventually into the socialist society. Without the soviet system, without the total radical revolution of men and things, it cannot fulfil the most essential of all socialistic demands, which is to end the capitalist human-self-alienation. It represents the last stage of bourgeois society and not the first step towards a new society.

    These nine points represent an unbridgeable opposition between Bolshevism and socialism. They demonstrate with all necessary clarity the bourgeois character of the Bolshevist movement and its close relationship to fascism. Nationalism, authoritarianism, centralism, leader dictatorship, power policies, terror-rule, mechanistic dynamics, inability to socialize-all these essential characteristics of fascism were and are existing in Bolshevism. Fascism is merely a copy of Bolshevism. For this reason the struggle against the one must begin with the struggle against the other.

  37. LeftInternationalist says:

    Once again, I agree with most of what you say- but I was trying to point out how groups/organisations that on the surface may appear so dissimilar (SWP/pareconists) are actually more similar than people realise, and represent a coming together of the best ideas of red and black. Their main disagreements seem to be on strategy and organisational questions- both agree on ‘taking power’, both believe that it must come through a mass democratic process and application, in radical democracy (usually through a council form, of workers’ councils, neighbourhood assemblies, consumer councils) that the means must be relatively consistent with the ends, and that it cannot be an act from above or taken over by professional revolutionaries- it must be the act of the working class itself. I also should say, though I am not a defender of Lenin, I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss him as an authoritarian through and through, and recent and well researched scholarship has disputed him either being the Communist God created by Stalinism, or the authoritarian despot as seen by the West. See this post by the Unrepentant Marxist http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/historical-materialism-symposium-on-lars-lihs-lenin-reconsidered/

    Read some reviews of the book he’s talking about http://www.amazon.com/Lenin-Rediscovered-Context-Historical-Materialism/dp/1931859582/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316407651&sr=1-1

    and Lih’s recent and pretty concise warts and all Lenin biography http://www.amazon.com/Lenin-Reaktion-Books-Critical-Lives/dp/1861897936/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316407651&sr=1-3

    And finally http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Lenins-Political-Thought

    Also, yes, I’d like to debate alternative economic/social visions if you’ve got the time. Do you have a favourite idea/model? I am in favour of what works, whether that includes markets or not, but I do have a bias towards a democratically planned economy, like that of Pat Devine’s.

    Also, another book The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd.

  38. LeftInternationalist says:

    Yes, I’ve seen that talk about Trotsky between Hitchens and Service. I actually read Service’s Trotsky book, which is obviously biased against him, but I thought at least it was historically accurate. Not so, according to the American Historical Review, a publication about as far from Trotskyism as one can imagine. It’s a savage review of his book, pointing out some outright historical falsifications- so I no longer have much trust in Services denunciations of Trotsky- he has discredited himself. Quote from the AMR on Service’s book, he: “commits numerous distortions of the historical record and outright errors of fact to the point that the intellectual integrity of the whole enterprise is open to question.” http://links.org.au/node/2397 and here http://wsws.org/articles/2011/jun2011/pers-j28.shtml Perhaps its not surprising that the bourgeois press loved the book. I even thought it was half decent until this.

  39. LeftInternationalist says:

    Also, something to ponder… “In The Abolition of the State, Price argues that “anarchism is democracy without the state”.14 More concretely, he suggests that while “it will be necessary for the oppressed to take power” in a revolutionary situation, it would be “a mistake for the oppressed to take state power”.15 It is to Price’s credit that he recognises that this position was, in essence, shared by Marx and Lenin. They too rejected the idea, often mistakenly associated with their names elsewhere in anarchist and autonomist circles, that socialists should “seize the state”. In its place they insisted that the revolution should be defended through workers’ own democratic organisations.16 In an interesting comment in the longer online version of his critique of my essay, van der Walt runs with this idea. In regard to my and Leo Zeilig’s rehearsals of the Marxist understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of extreme democracy he writes: “If (and I stress, only if) we concede [such] definitions, then we must argue that Bakunin, Kropotkin, as defenders of working class power and its armed defence, were for a ‘workers’ state’ and a ‘dictatorship’ of the proletariat. Indeed, it would follow that the majority of the broad anarchist tradition were for the state.”17 http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=746&issue=131

  40. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah.


    1. Whatever the status of the r/ship b/w the SWP and Callinicos, Parecon and Albert (et al), a meeting of the red and the black won’t be found there, nor has it been historically. A recent attempt (despite his dismissal of anarchism) might, otoh, be found in the work of John Holloway (as found in, for example, Change the World Without Taking Power), or–as I’ve already mentioned–in the work of figures such as Karl Korsch. Which is really just scratching the surface, and should in any case be supplemented by the green and the pink and the purple…

    2. Power, the state and state power are obv key concepts in political philosophy. The r/ship of the ‘Marxist understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of extreme democracy’ to historical practice is one of extreme contradiction in the case of the Bolsheviks; other Marxists (I’ve alluded to a handful) have stood outside and against this tradition, and are naturally of greater interest to me.

    3. I haven’t read Service’s bio of Mr T; I suppose I will one day. I’ve read McLemee and others on the subject. I ain’t read Lih on Lenin either, and I confess I likely won’t. 800 pages is a serious investment, for no obv return.

    4. Good luck w SAlt.

    PS. Slavoj Žižek is talking about communism at the Opera House nxt wk; Chris Berg agrees that he’s a dangerous thinker. His embrace of Lenin is realistic, apparently. Or repetitive. Or something.

  41. LeftInternationalist says:

    Yeah, I liked Change the World Without Taking Power and Crack Capitalism by Holloway- both good books, especially on the analysis and I enjoy the poetic style he utilises sometimes. But I feel, organisationally and in terms of successful political action, he doesn’t have that much to offer beyond a kind of revolutionary rhetoric, with some very very general proscriptions. I’m much more sympathetic to anarchist perspectives on organisation than Holloway for sure- especially that of ‘Libertarian Communist Federation’ in the USA http://nefac.net/ which is an anarcho-communist/libertarian socialist/platformist group. They have a good idea of where they are going, and how to get there. btw, I’ve heard of the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, but I don’t seem to able to find a website/publication/contact details for them. Are they even still around? Ah yes, Zizek. Funny guy, very good at puncturing leftist pretensions, a good populariser of ideas, but definitely has some problems. He’s good to try and engage with controversial figures, but not to flirt with no-go areas like frickin Mao or Stalin- it’s not helpful in any way to approach these figures without total disgust and scorn. And also- why voting for socialists gives Spanish women orgasms. Apparently. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc9eHI3ieQk

  42. @ndy says:

    On Holloway: I read Change, but not Crack. The Commoner http://www.commoner.org.uk/ and Midnight Notes http://www.midnightnotes.org/ and Wildcat http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/eindex.htm are neat; so too Massimo De Angelis http://www.uel.ac.uk/lss/staff/massimodeangelis/ and Harry Cleaver https://webspace.utexas.edu/hcleaver/www/txarchintro.html. I also recommend:

    Cornelius Castoriadis http://www.agorainternational.org/
    Loren Goldner http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/
    George Katsiaficas http://www.eroseffect.com/
    Ken Knabb http://www.bopsecrets.org/

    and of course http://libcom.org.

    There’s shitloads moar stuff out there obv.

    I’m familiar w NEFAC.

    The MAC-G used to have a site but it’s gone. They’re still around but: macg1984[at]yahoo[dot]com[dot]au.

    There was an exchange b/w Žižek, Simon Critchley and David Graeber a coupla years back, which I re-published here: http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=1147. Don’t find the distinction b/w Lenin, Stalin and Mao all that relevant obv. Other blah on my blog on dis kinda shite:

    Which Anarchism? Which Autonomism? Between Anarchism and Autonomist Marxism (Heather Gautney)
    Through a Glass Darkly: Alain Badiou’s critique of anarchism (Benjamin Noys)
    Anarchism & Marxism Part 666

    Crackademic @:
    Anarchist Studies (journal) http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/anarchiststudies/contents.html
    Anarchist Studies Network http://www.anarchist-studies-network.org.uk/
    Institute for Anarchist Studies http://www.anarchist-studies.org/
    Research on Anarchism http://raforum.info/?lang=en

    Theme for this comment:

  43. LeftInternationalist says:

    Thanks for the great links. Do you have any sites/books on ecology from an anarchist perspective? I haven’t been able to find much. There’s been a lot of recent literature coming out of the Marxist left on ecology i.e. Marx’s Ecology by John Bellamy Foster, Ecology and Socialism by Chris Williams (by far the most succinct and best of all the books) and The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the Worldwide Ecosocialist Movement by Derek Wall. I did find this article on ecology from a libertarian communist perspective http://nefac.net/theecologicalchallenge.

  44. @ndy says:

    Yeah there’s all kindsa stuff on ecology and @. Prolly the most cited figure is someone like Murray Bookchin (Post-Scarcity Anarchism was published in 1971) whose brand of ‘social ecology’ has some continuing relevance–there have been sporadic attempts to organise skools for social ecology in places like Brisbane. Chuck Morse has an ace blog called ‘negations’ which deals with Bookchin’s legacy while Bob Black has subjected him to some sustained criticism, but otherwise Black Rose Books in Canada has published heaps of his stuff. Antecedents can be found in the work of (late nineteenth/early twentieth century) geographers like The Anarchist Formerly Known as Prince Peter Kropotkin, the Reclus Bros and d00ds like Thoreau (the two former being Anarchists, unlike Mr T). There are other writers like Paul Goodman who wrote a bit about urban ecology and the city who are worth reading–Lewis Mumford also wrote some cool stuff about technology which is relevant (and broadly libertarian). Moar contemporary Australian writers with some (sometimes vague) sympathy for @ include Robyn Eckersley, Freya Mathews, Judith Plant, Val Plumwood and Ariel Salleh, but (imo) an anarchist sensibility tends to permeate a lotta ecological thought: Alan Carter has written quite a bit on the subject and (from a moar practical/less philosophical perspective) I think Do or Die! was cool. Vandana Shiva and others who write about stuff like the notion of a subsistence economy (from a broadly eco-feminist perspective) are interesting, as is Peter Gelderloos’ account of a possible future. Otherwise, there’s a whole lotta stuff associated with ‘primitivism’ which is interesting, of which stuff by John Zerzan is prolly the most (in-)famous (see also Harold Barclay on People Without Government and David Graeber on Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology [PDF]). Fifth Estate and Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (have) publish(ed) lotsa relevant stuff.

    Oh and… http://anarchist-studies-network.org.uk/ReadingLists_Ecology

    And of course…

  45. LeftInternationalist says:

    Fantastic, that’s heaps for me to read. I do like Bookchin’s stuff quite a bit. Isn’t his status as an anarchist a little contested though? I know he wrote Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism (a great read, the excellence and clarity of his prose made that an enjoyable text) he seemed to flip flop a bit in terms of what he called himself, I’ve heard him call himself an anarchist communist, libertarian socialist, Marxist, libertarian municipalist, etc etc.

  46. @ndy says:

    “Isn’t his status as an anarchist a little contested though?” Yeah it is. He himself appears to have adopted a number of diff terms to describe his outlook, and his ideas changed over time. Fwiw, I think SALA was kinda bogus, but that’s a diff story. Note that when I write that Bob Black criticised Bookchin, I mean he really stuck the boot in, several times. AJODA also aren’t xacly fans of Murray either…

  47. Pingback: Hate: My Life in the British Far-Right (Matthew Collins) | slackbastard

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