Everything you ever wanted to know about tankies, but were afraid to ask

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin

One of the stranger developments of the past five years has been the resurrection of the word tankie. It's time for an explainer.

What does tankie mean?

On October 27th 1956, Peter Fryer, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and correspondent for its paper the Weekly Worker, arrived in Hungary. This was four days into an uprising of workers calling for worker controlled socialism. Factories had been taken over nationally by workers councils, in a demonstration of workers self-organisation that was unprecedented at the time, and the first strike on its scale in an Eastern-bloc country. On the 4th of November, Russian T54 tanks rolled into Budapest to suppress the uprising. Street fighting continued until the 10th November, although the workers councils held out for two months.

Fryer returned to the UK horrified by the Soviet repression he had seen, but his attempt to write about it for the Daily Worker was suppressed - the editors were sticking to the official USSR line that the entire uprising was a fascist counter-revolutionary plot and refused to publish anything contradicting that narrative. When Fryer wrote up his experiences anyway, he was expelled from the CPGB. Hungary 1956 split Communist parties across the world; many who had supported the USSR up until this point became disillusioned and split or left individually, while those who stayed loyal to the USSR earned the epithet 'tankies'.

After 1956, the USSR was to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968, then Afghanistan in 1979.

Are all Tankies Marxist-Leninists?

While the original 'tankie' epithet grew out of the split in the Communist Party of Great Britain, the geo-political 'anti-imperialist' support for the USSR and any state aligned against the USA has also been popular with some Trotskyist groups.

In the 1980s it was revealed that the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party (famous for the involvement of actress Vanessa Redgrave) had been receiving funding from Libyan intelligence services and passing details of Iraqi dissidents in the UK to Saddam Hussein.

In the USA, the Workers World Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation both originated in a split from the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party under Sam Marcy. Marcy split from the SWP over the position it took on Hungary '56, although somewhat bizarrely, also accused those who supported the uprising of being Stalinists. Both parties describe themselves as Marxist-Leninist now, and no longer cite Trotsky, but their origination was in the Trotskyist theory of the USSR as a 'deformed workers state.

So support for crushing of workers movements is shared by both some Marxist-Leninists and some Trotskyists, one explanation for this is that the actual politics of Stalin and Trotsky were not very different.

Are all Marxist-Leninists tankies?

The significance of Hungary was not only the uprising itself, but that it occurred in an Eastern Bloc country which was claiming to be socialist. This caused an existential crisis for any communist that still considered the USSR to be a workers' state. Along with Khrushchev's speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, exposing and denouncing many of the actions of Stalin.

It was at the same time that Mao began to gradually distance China from the USSR. Maoism had already become a distinct current but without any formal break, which was precipitated by Khruschev's speech and the international reaction to it. Both China and the USSR claimed to be the vanguard of Marxist-Leninism from this point onwards (from here sprang a million accusations of 'revisionism'). This was mostly due to the national interests of the two countries, and internal contradictions in China but was expressed politically as a split with Khrushchev.

The split between China and the USSR, between Maoism and Stalinism, had repercussions elsewhere, such as the multiple splits in the Communist Party of India in the mid-1960s, most often associated with the the Naxalite rebellion, or when the two countries supported opposite sides in Angola's civil war in the 1970s.

Tanks rolled into Tiananmen square in 1989, and those who supported the Chinese government against workers and students have sometimes been labelled 'tankies' too.

This means that 'Marxist Leninist' in the 1960s could include those still aligned with the USSR, those who had been aligned with the USSR but had split after 1956, those influenced by Maoism (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was coined later in the '90s) and even more confusingly, some Trotskyists would occasionally call themselves Marxist-Leninist too (because they were Leninist Marxists!).

Are all Leninist Marxists Marxist-Leninists?

There have been other historical currents that were influenced by Lenin, including Trotskyism, the Italian branch of Left Communism, and the Operaismo (workerist) tradition in 1960s and 1970s Italy, as well as major figures like CLR James (early on a Trotskyist and leading Pan-Africanist, later moving towards a council communist position). There are huge differences between these currents, as wide as the differences between 'anarchists' and 'marxists'. In terms of a relationship to Lenin we can identity some questions which most of these currents and others have had to answer:

- whether Lenin's work contains unique insights relative to other Marxists at the time
- whether Lenin was correct that Russia would have to pass through a capitalist stage prior to communism and that the task of the Bolshevik party was to raise the forces of production prior to a transition to communism.
- whether the conditions of Russia in 1917 apply to the US in 1960, or to anywhere in the world in 2018.
- whether the USSR was still revolutionary after 1921, 1927, 1956, or 1981.

The answers to these questions led Marxists like CLR James to abandon 'Leninism' almost entirely, whilst still retaining an admiration of Lenin the thinker and historical figure.

Were the Black Panthers tankies?

Some Black Panthers, such as Fred Hampton, described themselves as Marxist-Leninist, but were more influenced by the writings of Lenin and Mao (and the context of Vietnamese resistance to US invasion and African liberation struggles) than the internal or foreign policy of the the USSR. Huey Newton in 1970 introduced the idea of Revolutionary Intercommunalism, a clarification of his ideas which firmly rejected 'socialism in one country'.

In 1966 we called our Party a Black Nationalist Party. We called ourselves Black Nationalists because we thought that nationhood was the answer. Shortly after that we decided that what was really needed was revolutionary nationalism, that is, nationalism plus socialism. After analyzing conditions a little more, we found that it was impractical and even contradictory. Therefore, we went to a higher level of consciousness. We saw that in order to be free we had to crush the ruling circle and therefore we had to unite with the peoples of the world. So we called ourselves Internationalists. We sought solidarity with the peoples of the world. We sought solidarity with what we thought were the nations of the world. But then what happened? We found that because everything is in a constant state of transformation, because of the development of technology, because of the development of the mass media, because of the fire power of the imperialist, and because of the fact that the United States is no longer a nation but an empire, nations could not exist, for they did not have the criteria for nationhood. Their self‐ determination, economic determination, and cultural determination has been transformed by the imperialists and the ruling circle. They were no longer nations. We found that in order to be Internationalists we had to be also Nationalists, or at least acknowledge nationhood. Internationalism, if I understand the word, means the interrelationship among a group of nations. But since no nation exists, and since the United States is in fact an empire, it is impossible for us to be Internationalists.

These transformations and phenomena require us to call ourselves “intercommunalists” because nations have been transformed into communities of the world.
[...]
I don’t see how we can talk about socialism when the problem is world distribution. I think this is what Marx meant when he talked about the non‐state.

Former Black Panthers such as Russell Maroon Shoatz and Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, both of whom have spent years in prison for their association with the BPP, have broken with Marxist-Leninism after seeing how the Leninist structure of the Black Panther Party made it vulnerable to the FBI's COINTELPRO programme, and by examining the trajectory of Leninist revolutions.

So the BPP wasn't a monolithic entity politically, and the individual politics of its members as well as the orientation of the party itself changed over time. Rather than claiming it was any one thing, we can read what Black Panther Party members actually wrote in their own right.

And the League of Revolutionary Black Workers?

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, based in Detroit, described themselves as Marxist-Leninist, but they had close relationships with associates of CLR James such as Martin Glaberman, Grace Boggs, and James Boggs who had broken with Leninism more than a decade earlier, while also being influenced by Fanon and others. Once again the politics are a bit more complex than the labels.


CLR James, Grace Lee Boggs, Raya Dunyevskaya in the 1940s

What about anti-imperialism?

Anti-imperialism means different things to different people. Fundamentally, to be against imperialism should mean support for working class struggles against colonialism, and opposition to capitalist war. Unfortunately 'anti-imperialism' has often morphed into simply taking the side of the USSR in geo-political conflicts, and post-1990, unconditional support to the ruling class in any country aligned against the US.

Lenin in 1914 wrote in The Right of Nations to Self-Determination that communists should support the right of nations to secede, but not the specifics of any particular national struggle. This is because Lenin saw nationalist movements as essential to the development of capitalism over feudalism, as a step on the way towards communism:

Throughout the world, the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speak a single language, with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated.

Even within this stagist framework, Lenin still ultimately stated that the class struggle should take absolute precedence over the nationalist movement:

The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle. [...] the important thing for the proletariat is to ensure the development of its class. For the bourgeoisie it is important to hamper this development by pushing the aims of its “own” nation before those of the proletariat. That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right to self-determination, without giving guarantees to any nation, and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation.

Additionally, while American imperialism in 1916 was not at the level it is now, he also rejected the hypocrisy of simply playing off one imperialism against another, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

Let us suppose that a Japanese condemns the annexation of the Philippines by the Americans. The question is: will many believe that he does so because he has a horror of annexations as such, and not because he himself has a desire to annex the Philippines? And shall we not be constrained to admit that the “fight” the Japanese is waging against annexations can be regarded as being sincere and politically honest only if he fights against the annexation of Korea by Japan, and urges freedom for Korea to secede from Japan?

In War and Revolution Lenin wrote:

Nothing but a workers’ revolution in several countries can defeat this war. The war is not a game, it is an appalling thing taking toll of millions of lives, and it is not to be ended easily.

Lenin therefore saw anti-imperialist struggle as being in the realm of bourgeios national revolutions (something to 'critically support' but subordinated to the class struggle), dismissing inter-imperialist conflicts with the slogan "Turn the imperialist war into civil war".

Didn't the USSR support African national liberation?

Sometimes, but only when it supported the USSR's own geopolitical interests. CLR James described his conversation with George Padmore, who had joined the Communist Party and moved to the USSR in 1929, before leaving in 1934 due to the purges and a change in orientation:

But one day, sometime in late 1934 or 1935 there was a knock at my door and I went do the door and there was George Padmore. [...] He said, “I’ve left those people you know.” And that was the biggest shock I received since I had gone to Brazil three years before. “I have left those people” meant he had left the Communist Party. And he was the biggest black man in Moscow, dealing with black people and the colonial revolution. So I said, “What happened?” And he told me. He said, “They are changing the line and now they tell me that in future we are going to be soft and not attack strongly the democratic imperialists which are Britain, France and the United States. That the main attack is to be directed upon the Fascist imperialists, Italy, Germany and Japan. And George, we would like you to do this in the propaganda that you are doing and in the articles that you are writing and the paper you are publishing, to follow that line.” And George said, “That is impossible. Germany and Japan have no colonies in Africa. How am I to say the democratic imperialists, such as the United States is the most race ridden territory in the western world. So I am to say that Britain and France who have the colonies in Africa and the United States, can be democratic imperialists and be soft to them but be strong against Japan, Italy and Germany. That is impossible. What do you think of that?”

Isn't criticising the USSR anti-communist?

There is a tendency by everyone from conservatives, to liberals, to social democrats to criticise the 'crimes of communism' and ignore the actions of capitalist countries. This is complete shite and we reject it completely.

While there were famines and bread riots in the USSR in the 1930s, British policy caused the Bengal famine killing 3 million people in 1943.

While the USSR and China have imprisoned political dissidents, including many communists and anarchists, the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with some political prisoners held in solitary confinement for decades and 1,000 extra-judicial killings by police per year.

While Lenin deported dissident Bolsheviks like Miasnikov and presided over the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion, social democrats in Germany oversaw the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknicht in collaboration with the fascist Freikorps.

While the USSR had 'gulags', Britain put hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and Malayans into concentration camps in the 1950s, and there were forced-labour camps in the UK itself in the 1930s under Labour.

While the US healthcare system leaves people without medical care and destitute, Cuba despite economic sanctions has socialised healthcare and trains healthcare workers for other countries.

Liberal myopia sees a horseshoe where liberal democracy is 'reasonable' and fascism and communism are two poles of 'authoritarianism'. A libertarian communist critique asserts that communism is impossible within the framework of the nation state, and that all states, whether fascist, liberal democratic or socialist will suppress workers self-organisation in the interest of capital.

What about Syria, Iran, North Korea?

A central line of communist and anarchist thought and praxis has been internationalism, and an opposition to war in all its forms. This caused the split in the Second International in 1914 when German Social Democrats voted for war credits. However putting this into practice has turns out to be a lot more complicated.

With the war in Syria, opposition to US intervention, shared by all communists (though not necessarily social democrats), has been marred by support from some organisations for the Syrian government and Bashar Assad and Russia despite the of bombing civilians, on the basis that areas such as Eastern Ghouta are held by Islamist militias and that the 400,000 civilians trapped there are being used as 'human shields'.


The CPGB-ML

This is further complicated by Rojava, supported by both some Marxist Leninists and some anarchists, due to the Marxist-Leninist orientation of the PKK, the Libertarian Municipalist ideas recently adopted by the PKK's leader Ocalan, the TEV-DEM system of administrative councils, and the right to national self-determination of the Kurds. On the other hand, both some Marxist Leninists and some anarchist and anti-state Marxists have been fiercely critical of Rojava, due to collaboration militarily with the US against ISIS (and most recently with Assad against Turkey). On libcom.org we've continued to allow publishing of texts both critical and supportive of Rojava, and regularly get attacked for being NATO shills for both, whether it's the US against Assad or Turkey against Rojava.

With Iran, despite the religious nature of the regime and the fact that all communist parties are banned, when strikes and street protests broke out at the end of December 2017, there was an immediate reluctance to recognise the grassroots nature of the actions, due to the possibility that the US might use the protests as an excuse for 'regime change'. Some commentators went as far as to suggest the protests had been almost immediately hijacked by the CIA, Mossad, or Saudi Arabia.

The cases of Iran and Assad show that in these discussions, the internal contradictions of a country can be completely ignored, with the central question always being "is the country aligned against the US or not?" - on the one hand celebrating Assad's attacks against Islamists, on the other celebrating Iran's religious state against the Haft-Tappeh sugar workers or leftist students.

Our position is that regardless of the actions of the Iranian or Syrian state, we completely oppose foreign intervention, whether US, Russia, or Turkey, on the base that foreign intervention always makes things worse. But to oppose intervention does not require a denial of the internal contradictions of those states or the reality of working class resistance to them.

The same applies to North Korea - we reject under any circumstances US intervention in North Korea, hawks in the US talking about a nuclear weapons programme gloss over the US bombing Japan twice in 1945, let alone the use of depleted uranium shells against civilian areas in Iraq. But to reject sanctions and intervention can rely on a principled anti-militarism and internationalism, solidarity with the North Korean working class, not with Kim Jong Un personally. As we would support the Gwangju uprising in South Korea in 1980, we would support workers struggle in North Korea too.

But Communist parties are very successful in India/Japan?


Communist Party India - Marxist
While the CPI-M likes to hold huge rallies with hammer and sickle flags, it's policies are social democratic. It runs for elections, and where it wins pursues pro-business policies. In Kerala the new communist administration under Pinarayi Vijayan stressed partnership between management and trade unions and promised investment to stimulate industry, including 'Silicon Valley-like hubs'. Not quite seizing the means of production, then.

The Japanese Communist Party, with several members in the Japanese parliament (Diet) abandoned Leninism 25 years ago, deciding to pursue a purely electoral road to socialism, and has recently attempted to work with centrist liberal MPs.

They might be popular Communist Parties, but they aren't... communist.. at all.

What about American Marxist Leninists, are they social democrats too?

The Marcyite Party for Socialism and Liberation's program also sounds suspiciously social democrat if you actually read it, for example:

It will be a right of every person in the United States to have a job with guaranteed union representation and full social benefits provided by the socialist government, including a pension, health care, workers’ compensation, paid parental and family leave for up to two years, paid sick and disability leave, a minimum of one month’s paid vacation, and at least 12 paid holidays.

Isn't this... Sweden?

Working conditions will aim to enhance the humanity and dignity of all workers. The working week will be 30 hours.

That's ten hours less than Bernie's offering, but not quite the abolition of wage labour.

However the PSL is just one party, and you will also see Marxist Leninists oppose electoral activity, working on prisoner solidarity etc. The important thing is to actually read what people say they want, and observe what they do, not just listen to what they say about themselves or check whether there's a hammer and sickle or a rose printed next to the promise of full employment - these aren't the things that decide whether someone is communist or not.

Liberals just call anyone they don't like a tankie!

This is often true. There has been regular red-baiting of mild social democrat Jeremy Corbyn, recently accusing him of being a spy for East Germany in the '80s. The right wing of the Democrats at one point was calling any Bernie Sanders supporter a Russian-influenced alt-leftist. William Gillis of the Center for a Stateless Society recently said of us 'Remember when libcom was about as tankie and class-reductionist as you would ever encounter in the radical left, and we all viewed them as evil suspicious bastards because they wouldn't all outright id as anarchists? ' presumably due to our hosting and promotion of anti-state and post-Leninist Marxists.

Therefore if someone is using 'tankie', they may be objecting to a specific leftist ideology that prioritisies geopolitics over class struggle, or they might just be punching left. When liberals have a go at 'communism' they often mean the Soviet Union (and let's be honest sometimes it's tempting to tell people they'll be first in the gulags after the revolution when they do this, especially if it's fucking Jordan Peterson).

Should I work with Marxist-Leninists?

If you're organising at work or around housing issues, the people you work with are not going to all have the same politics at you, and your opinions on the July 1918 uprising of Left Socialist Revolutionaries after their expulsion from the Bolshevik government are not relevant to that situation. Yes, really, no-one gives a shit. You're relating to each other as workers in that situation, not as representatives of a political niche, at least we hope not.

Anarchists and Marxist-Leninists have also worked together as members of anti-fascist collectives in the US and elsewhere, and this is really a choice for people to make locally.

Things you should bear in mind when organising are -

However co-operation with individuals is very different from a left-unity project, coalitions of organisations etc. The questions to consider when a group is organised in for example an anti-war protest is are they going to try to divert a protest into an ineffectual rally, or co-operate with the police if protesters try to step outside strict limits of activity. Similarly with workplace organising, do co-workers have links with the union hierarchy or management? Approaches to this differ from organisation to organisation and is not strictly linked to ideology.

If there are real political and organisational disagreements, it's better to be open about them than gloss over them, and retain some independence.

Posted By

Mike Harman
Mar 8 2018 21:45

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Black Badger
Aug 19 2019 23:26

the POUM was made up primarily of Catalanist petit bourgeois leftists; their class composition made their adherence to collectives ambivalent at best. "It is one thing to attract the middle classes to the revolution and another to form a coalition giving them a decisive role as a governing force...but we uphold their economic claims ..." (La Batalla, Feb. 1937, my emphasis)
anyway, what else could this mean but a total respect for private property?

Helen Graham further states "Moreover, the POUM's numerous criticisms of CNT excess in the implementation of wartime collectivisation introduced yet further tensions to the relationship... At the same time, both the Esquerra and (more realistically) the PSUC were interested in attracting sectors of the POUM's urban base. The old USC Catalanist agenda, as much as the new Comtintern one, was now driving the PSUC to compete with the POUM for the political loyalty of lower-middle-class sectors in the region..." (The Spanish Republic at War: 1936-1939, p 237)

LeninistGirl
Aug 19 2019 23:42
Quote:
Helen Graham further states "Moreover, the POUM's numerous criticisms of CNT excess in the implementation of wartime collectivisation introduced yet further tensions to the relationship...

I mean, that is the same thing that Stalin was criticized for by the right-opposition, you can't really build a sustainable relation between the working-class and peasants through excessive forced collectivization.

Quote:
The original article didn't mention the POUM - I'm not too familiar with their actual texts but think it's fair to say these were 'Leninist' in one way or another - in the same way that the left-communists were.

POUM was not like "left-communists" and they were as leninist as Bucharin and Trotsky(even if he personally opposed becoming part of the popular front), they were the unification of the right-opposition and left-opposition, and had international ties with the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre. Cosmonaut has a good article on them,

Quote:
The POUM now stood as the sole independent communist leadership in Spain and immediately began fostering working class support, building a massive base in Catalonia where the BOC had its origins. While critical of the Comintern Popular Front policy, the POUM still entered into the Spanish front against Fascism in 1936. Internationally, the POUM became officially linked with the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre in London after the destruction of the International Communist Opposition.

[...]

Like Bukharin, the POUM supported gradual and voluntary collectivization into communal agriculture against the rushed forced collectivization that many in the Popular Front wished for. In other areas, the POUM found itself again clashing with the status quo of the Popular Front, specifically the Stalinists in the PCE. Even before the post-war years of cowardly “loyal opposition” to the bourgeoisie that the Comintern supported all across Europe, the PCE was already lowering its weapons and supporting bourgeois dictatorship

radicalgraffiti
Aug 20 2019 04:33
LeninistGirl wrote:
Quote:
Helen Graham further states "Moreover, the POUM's numerous criticisms of CNT excess in the implementation of wartime collectivisation introduced yet further tensions to the relationship...

I mean, that is the same thing that Stalin was criticized for by the right-opposition, you can't really build a sustainable relation between the working-class and peasants through excessive forced collectivization.

theres a bit of a difference between some peasants deciding to share their stuff and some solders truing up and taking all their stuff

Reddebrek
Aug 20 2019 06:05
LeninistGirl wrote:
I mean, that is the same thing that Stalin was criticized for by the right-opposition, you can't really build a sustainable relation between the working-class and peasants through excessive forced collectivization.

No it really isn't, the collectivisations in Spain were carried out by the local villagers, that's why the collectives differed quite a bit from village to village with some managing to overhaul the entire rural economy while others confiscated the lands of the wealthy estate holders and called it a day.

In contrast, Stalin dictated how all land in the CCCP should be worked, where all the equipment should be kept, how much each farm should be producing, that short falls were deliberate cases of hoarding, that the military and police could supervise and observe and enforce rural policy etc.

Its one thing to say the POUM were in favour of voluntary collectivisation, (a little odd since they wanted the PF electoral coalition to push through forced nationalisation of industry) but the collectivisation process was largely voluntary.

Quote:
The POUM now stood as the sole independent communist leadership in Spain and immediately began fostering working class support, building a massive base in Catalonia where the BOC had its origins. While critical of the Comintern Popular Front policy, the POUM still entered into the Spanish front against Fascism in 1936. Internationally, the POUM became officially linked with the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre in London after the destruction of the International Communist Opposition.

This is full of errors, or distortions to make the POUM look more impressive, not only were POUM not the only non CPE communist group operating in Spain at the time but even most sources put it at best 30,000 nationally in 1936 and that would include foreign volunteers in its militia arm.

It also doesn't explain who the IRMC were, an organisation that included the Independent Labour Party and a Zionist organisation doesn't really tell us anything about POUM other then that its leaders were either desperate for friends or ideologically incoherent. Probably why the author didn't elaborate beyond its name.

Its also overall incoherent like this passage here

Quote:
We can see now the only hope for the Spanish proletariat was revolution and the proletarian dictatorship; the popular government was weak and disjointed, unable to collectivize agriculture or unite the workers into war production at a level that could rival the international support of the Fascists.

So POUM opposed "rushed collectivisation" this is good.

The PF failed to "push collectivisation" this is bad.

This article is full of this double talk,

Quote:
This was a breaking point with the Stalinists in the PCE who refused to support proletarian seizure of state power out of fear it would break the Popular Front, favoring ‘progressive’ reforms to placate the bourgeois elements of the popular government.

POUM had also tried to get the Popular Front to adopt reforms.

This is a long article with little to no substantial criticism of the POUM, quite obviously absolves them of all faults and praises them for doing things it will then criticise others for and in the references was taking exclusively from pro POUM sources.

I mean look at this conclusion

Quote:
The lessons are rather easy to sum up; never surrender the call for workers’ power, the fight for working-class political power never ends regardless of context, and the presence of communists in a Popular Front is not for the purpose of defending bourgeois dictatorship, but for the garnering of power so that once the working class is strong enough the proletarian leadership can cast away the bourgeoisie and conclude in the only way possible – proletarian dictatorship.

According to the rest of the article POUM did all of these things, and all it got them was their destruction. So ultimately the article is pointless because the conclusion is not borne out by its own evidence.

Nymphalis Antiopa
Aug 20 2019 08:32

In response to this by me:

Quote:
tankies and other, subtler, forms of Leninism had their devastating effect in times of massive class struggle. There are virtually no places in the world where class struggle is as widespread as it used to be even 30 years ago. Should class struggle erupt on a considerably wider scale than now the zombie-vampires of Leninism are also likely to be revived from the graveyard of history, ready to suck the blood out of social contestation.

R.Totale said:

Quote:
that's a bit like saying "if circumstances were very different, then people would behave differently and different things would be appropriate", no?

No.
It's like saying that someone who'd raped women during a situation where rape culture was considered perfectly ok (say under Genghis Khan) and then circumstances had changed and he stopped trying to rape - but only because there were hardly any women around - would not revert to type once women returned to where he was living. The fact that there might not be many women around may have something to do with the fact that they'd been raped before and that they didn't want to return to somewhere where there'd been a rape culture. Much of the defeat of class struggle in the 20th century owes itself to the false opposition of Leninism and its influence, in part because people did not want a society and culture every bit as bad as rape. Any idiot would prefer western forms of capitalism than a "communism" that could produce https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2018/01/translation-party-history-people-c... 38 million deaths in China through forced collectivisation, for example.

It's not a question of reacting the same way but of being clear what it is about the various forms of Leninism (and of much of Marxism, also) that need to be opposed: statist ideology as being in the service of the working class; the ideology of the masses as distinct from the masses of individuals; representation of the working class; consciousness as an intellectual possession that others need to possess, as a hierarchical notion that others need to have raised, etc.

This is certainly not to imply that all Leninists are "interchangeable", but to make clear that if you oppose authority in its fascist form then it's only logical to also oppose authority in other forms.

Which doesn't mean opposition to doing things (eg participating in a strike, a riot or an occupation) with individuals who call themselves Leninists (as long as they're not in political parties), any more than it means opposition to doing things with people whom you might find have racist, homophobic, or sexist views (as long as they're not in organisations that promote such views). It just means not working with them in the sense of doing some precise conscious activity like writing a leaflet. Leninism, conjoined with private capitalism, is currently being opposed in Hong Kong. Would it make sense to work there with those who advocated a form of the same horrible system?

R Totale
Aug 20 2019 17:05

I suppose one (sort of) interesting question is, without wanting to get all "arguments about 1917/1936 101", if we agree that groups like the SRs and the POUM had the potential to play the same kind of counter-revolutionary role that the Bolsheviks and PCE did, then what measures should have been taken against them, and indeed against the Bolsheviks or PCE? Or, for that matter, if a revolution breaks out tomorrow, then what measures should be taken against Leninist groups, and how would those differ from the Leninist suppression of other revolutionary currents, beyond just "we're right and they're wrong"? I suppose there's also similar relevant questions to be asked about Rojava.

Nymphalis Antiopa
Aug 21 2019 10:39

Do you really think Leninism is a revolutionary current (though I might be misreading the insinuation implied by the use of "other" in the phrase "other revolutionary currents")?
Again, I might not understand your question "what measures should be taken against Leninist groups,and how would those differ from the Leninist suppression of other revolutionary currents, beyond just "we're right and they're wrong"? but it seems obvious that Leninists are hierarchical, manipulative and are a power-in-waiting. If you can't differ from all that crap (including opposing the absurd support for Rojava by people who pretend to be libertarians of various kinds) then you really must be going round in endless circles in your head because you can't make the slightest objectively consequential decision that would make a difference, a difference to yourself at least.

R Totale
Aug 24 2019 15:25
Nymphalis Antiopa wrote:
Do you really think Leninism is a revolutionary current (though I might be misreading the insinuation implied by the use of "other" in the phrase "other revolutionary currents")?

Well, I think it's fair to say that, for instance, Lenin's lot were "revolutionary" in the sense that they did genuinely want to overthrow the Tsar and the Provisional Assembly, and that most of his followers today want something along the same lines. But this is mostly beside the point - you and I can happily agree that Leninism is counterrevolutionary, but there's also plenty of Leninists who will explain at length how you and I are counterrevolutionary petit-bourgeois individualist CIA agents or whatever, and can back it up with the immortal science of dialectical materialism, so I don't think "can they be described as counterrevolutionary?" is much of a guide to anything.

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Again, I might not understand your question "what measures should be taken against Leninist groups,and how would those differ from the Leninist suppression of other revolutionary currents, beyond just "we're right and they're wrong"? but it seems obvious that Leninists are hierarchical, manipulative and are a power-in-waiting. If you can't differ from all that crap (including opposing the absurd support for Rojava by people who pretend to be libertarians of various kinds) then you really must be going round in endless circles in your head because you can't make the slightest objectively consequential decision that would make a difference, a difference to yourself at least.

I mean, I was kind of thinking about revolutionary situations, so having such a conversation in 2019 isn't really that objectively consequential. I was more sort of thinking, if we were in a position to decide such things, does the fact that Leninists are hierarchical, manipulative and so on, mean that, for instance, Leninist groups shouldn't be allowed the freedoms demanded by the Kronstadt rebels?
And on Rojava, I was sort of thinking about criticisms we can make of Rojava, and the fact that criticisms are only vaguely meaningful if we have some sort of idea about what we'd do differently - so, if we say the PYD is too authoritarian, statist, repressive, etc, does that mean, in contrast to them, that we'd want to give the other Kurdish factions, like the KDP-S and so on, more freedom and room to operate, or nah?

Nymphalis Antiopa
Aug 25 2019 13:14
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Lenin's lot were "revolutionary" in the sense that they did genuinely want to overthrow the Tsar and the Provisional Assembly

The rising French bourgeoisie (and the rising bourgeoisie of Oliver Cromwell 140 years before them) also genuinely wanted to overthrow their respective monarchies and the feudal system, though obviously with far less clarity and development than Lenin & co (which is to say, I'm not making a simplistic equivalent here, though there are aspects that are comparable).

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you and I can happily agree that Leninism is counterrevolutionary, but there's also plenty of Leninists who will explain at length how you and I are counterrevolutionary petit-bourgeois individualist CIA agents or whatever, and can back it up with the immortal science of dialectical materialism, so I don't think "can they be described as counterrevolutionary?" is much of a guide to anything.

It might not be a guide but it still needs to be said, and backed up by examples of how those in Leninist political organisations repress independent struggle, whether of their own members or outside their organisations. I know of one women in a Leninist organisation who was told to end a sexual/love relation with an escaped prisoner - and she chose the organisation above her individual desires (other than the desire to continue in the organisation). I've been told of how the SWP manipulated and sabotaged a hospital occupation and killed it dead (see: https://libcom.org/library/occupational-therapy-university-college-hospi... ). There are thousands of similar examples obviously.
As for

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if we were in a position to decide such things, does the fact that Leninists are hierarchical, manipulative and so on, mean that, for instance, Leninist groups shouldn't be allowed the freedoms demanded by the Kronstadt rebels?

if I ever had the luck or misfortune to live such a situation, I would not exactly be " in a position to decide such things" though I'd definitely have the power of my voice, my ideas and actions that could influence such things. Decision would (or, at least, should) be in the hands of all those concerned. And I personally would do all I could to try to make sure that the manipulations of Leninists or other political rackets were ineffectual, as I would hope you would.
The Kronstadt statement you linked to declares " Freedom of speech and press for workers, peasants, Anarchists and Left Socialist Parties" and advocates the liberation of " all political prisoners of Socialist Parties". But is it a question of "freedom of speech and press" (or nowadays, internet freedom, etc)? And why only for " workers, peasants, Anarchists and Left Socialist Parties"? People say horrible things which have horrible consequences, regardless of whether they call themselves "workers, peasants, Anarchists and Left Socialist Parties" or not. In front of me I sometimes get furious if someone advocates the kind of stuff Leninists advocate, so why would that be different in a "revolutionary" situation? There's always a difference between political manipulation and the desire to have an honest influence, and there's a danger in adopting a liberal tolerant mentality that says " who are you to decide?" when you're trying to be decisive for yourself first of all and trying to influence others to be decisive.

In May '68 the Enragés refused to participate in an occupation where Stalinists were allowed to speak and to manipulate the situation. Class struggle is a power struggle unlike normal power struggles insofar as it's not a competition for hierarchical control but a struggle against hierarchical control. Stopping some bureaucrat or professional liar speaking has often been part of struggle, and it seems you're ambivalent about the critique of the ideology of "free speech". If it was right, for instance, to subvert the disgusting discourse of Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley back in February 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/02/facism-alt-right-activists... ), wouldn't it also be right to subvert the kind of discourse that could lead to the concentration camps of Xinjiang, Stalin's gulags or Kronstadt? The ideology "I do not agree with what you say but i will defend to the death your right to say it" has always been a lie, even in the mouth olf Voltaire (who did not defend to the death many people's free speech), though it seems you reserve this right for those who declare themselves to be anarchist or socialist or XYZist. But it's not a question of "right" but a question of a sometimes ferocious argument, an argument that can sometimes lead to a physical fight.

Re. Rojava, I am in no position to give any faction "more freedom and room to operate" - and I suspect neither are you. But you are in a position to critique them and to try to influence people not to go to Rojava, or at least not to go there with any illusion that things are somehow more liberated there than under any other state. But you seem to be arguing from a position of having some hierarchical decision-making power to do this, that or the other, when, for me, it's a question of affirming and arming as much as possible my critiques and desires in situations largely out of my control in order to possibly make them less out of my control, less alien to my non-hierarchical desires and critiques, critiques based partly on a comprehension of historical precedents.
Constant ambivalence comes from an excessive self-doubt stultifying the need to make a decision, the need to overcome confusion.

R Totale
Sep 29 2019 20:28

1) Final Straw Radio did an interview with people from La Conxa, the anarchist space that's been having Maoist trouble recently, that you can listen to here. Of potential interest to people here is that they mention they're putting together a zine of essays about "red flags" to look out for (pun presumably very much intended), which anyone who's interested can contribute to by contacting them at ovarian.psycos@gmail.com

2) in the course of the interview they mention a zine called "Always Against the Tanks: Three Essays on Red Nationalism", which I'd never heard of before - looking it up, it turns out to consist of the original post here and the "Is Genocide Denial Anti-Imperialist?" rant mentioned earlier in the thread, along with another anonymous article called "Ending the Idealization of the Other" that I hadn't previously heard of.