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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Communism and Violence

"The civil war, like other such conflicts, was marked by terror and cruelty on all sides. Bolshevik terror was not, however, simply a response to White terror. It was an essential part, for Lenin, of the dictalorship of the proletariat stage. During this period, as Trotsky later recalled, Lenin stressed the inevitability of terror ‘at every suitable opportunity‘. As early as 1901 he had denied that he rejected terror on principle, seeing it as ‘useful and even indispensible in certain moments of battle‘. The battle, in the sense of class as well as civil war, had arrived. Both he and Trotsky defended their view that terror against class enemies was an essential part of the dictatorship of the proletariat against protests from leading European socialists in 1918 and 1919. To Kautsky, Lenin defended his concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as ‘rule based directly on force and unrestrained by any laws. . . rule won and maintained by the use of violence against the bourgeoisie’. Thus terror was not just a reaction to civil war, or the undeniable White atrocities, but an essential part of creating the new society. As Lenin said, ‘When we are reproached with cruelty we wonder how people can forget the most elementary Marxism."

Terror was, obviously, to be used against the old exploiting classes. In December 1917 Lenin wrote to Antonov—Ovseenko in Kharkov commending ‘the arrest of the sabotaging millionaires and advise that they be sent for six months to forced labour in the mines’. But it was also to be used against non- Bolshevik socialists who were defined as accomplices to the bourgeoisie. This attitude is most clearly expressed in two articles, written as early as January 1918, but not published at the time. Called, respectively, Fright at the Fall of the Old and the Fight for the New and How to Organize Competition, they urged ‘the most intense, the most acute class struggle’ if socialism was to be built. The dictatorship of the proletariat was here defined as

a state of simmering war, a state of military measures of struggle against the enemies of the proletariat power.,. systematic application of coercion to an entire class (the bourgeoisie) and its accomplices... ‘the lackeys of the money bags, the lickspittles of the exploiters — messieurs the bourgeois intellectuals . . . the rich, the crooks, the idlers and hooligans.

In language which echoed earlier pro-monarchist and anti-semitic . Black Hundred pamphlets of 1905, and which perhaps explains why publication was delayed, he called for Russia to be ‘cleansed’ of ‘all sorts of harmful insects, of crookfleas, of bedbugs — the rich and so on and so forth’. Calling for socialist competition in the organization of labour and distribution among work units, he went on to remind his readers that ‘he who does not work neither shall he eat, and recommended a variety of punishments to be applied at street level; from imprisonment to forced labour, to cleaning out latrines, to ‘one out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot‘. The equaling of socialist opposition with that of the bourgeoisie, seeing it as ‘actually impeding our struggle, actually assisting the White Guards’, made any criticism of Bolshevik policies treasonable, and ruled out, for Lenin if not for all Bolsheviks, Cooperation with them against the While armies....

Not only other socialists but workers and peasants, if idle, non-cooperative or ‘hooligan’, also became ‘enemies of the people‘. This could apply to striking workers or to peasants who resisted grain requisitioning, or soldiers. who, if labelled cowards or depraved elements, should be expelled from the army or, if they resist, 'rubbed off the face of the earth‘. On 11 August 1918 during peasant resistance in Penza he gave orders to ‘hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers’, and added that all their grain should be seized and hostages taken... By 1920 he objected to opposition within the party on the grounds that ‘whoever brings about even the slightest weakening of the iron discipline of the party of the proletariat is actually aiding the bourgeoisie." In April 1918 he was complaining that ‘our government is excessively mild, very often it resembles jelly more than iron‘, and he criticised the Paris Commune for its failure to act with sufficient determination against class enemies... [he] called on his subordinates to follow ‘the model of the French Revolution‘.

The Cheka was established with Lenin's full support and was in practice responsible only to him, becoming a state within the state. It had nothing to do with law, abolished as bourgeois, or the new Soviet courts which were being set up. and the Left SR, I. N. Steinherg, the first Commissar for Justice, was in constant conflict with it. As Dzerhinsky's deputy advised, a Chekist should not look for evidence of guilt, but to the class origin, education and profession of the accused. ‘It is these questions that determine the fate of the accused. In this lies the significance and essence of the Red Terror.‘ In these circumstances the abolition of the death penalty by the Second Congress of Soviets was unacceptable and Lenin declared that only a ‘hypocrite' could fail to restore it. It was restored in June 1918 but in practice had been in use before. The historian of the Cheka has estimated the number of deaths directly attributable to it by February 1922 as 280,000, and other estimates talk of half a million deaths in Lenin's lifetime."

--- Lenin / Beryl Williams

There're significant echoes in Post-Marxist movements.
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