Communism and Mass Starvation

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Ugg
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Oct 10 2018 20:02
Communism and Mass Starvation

Are there any good libertarian-communist perspectives on mass starvation that occurred under so-called "communist" regimes?

I'm interested in why they happened and what could have been done differently to prevent a bunch of people starving to death.

Thanks!

radicalgraffiti
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Oct 10 2018 22:17

well, those regimes where basically capitalism with the state as the sole business, and they were the successor regimes to regimes that had a history of similar mass starvation, as did other capitalist regimes eg, the British empire.
the mass starvations in all these cases happened as a result of state policies, eg preventing grain stockpiles, refusing famine relief or ensuring any relief was inadequate and only functioned contain the population and imo can be seen as using natural events to wipe out internal enemy populations and or force modernisation ie converting peasant farmers to landless workers

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Oct 10 2018 23:13

Did the peasants in the USSR oppose collectivization because of the brutal demands that were put on them like having to give up all their grain, being displaced or were there other reasons as well? Also how poor were peasants in comparison to people living in the cities?

I've read that collectivization in Anarchist Spain happened in a voluntary way and it didn't lead to mass starvation. Could have this been possible in places like the USSR?

Mike Harman
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Oct 11 2018 09:40
Ugg wrote:
I've read that collectivization in Anarchist Spain happened in a voluntary way and it didn't lead to mass starvation. Could have this been possible in places like the USSR?

Marx very late in his life learned Russian, did a lot of research into the Russian Mir, and decided that the Mir/Obschina could provide the basis of communism if it was possible to also introduce mechanisation in the context of a revolution - with no transition to capitalism necessary. He says this in a few places, but https://libcom.org/library/marx-russian-mir-misconceptions-marxists is one of the clearer ones.

So the idea that capitalism had to be introduced into Russia or that the peasants were 'backward' was not direct from Marx, but rather an superimposition of his ideas about Western Europe onto Russia without taking into account the different context - but this is one that was popular while Marx was still alive, and continued to be promoted up until 1917 and long afterwards.

Whether something else could have happened is a hard question to answer and not really the point, but there were clearly people around who thought so at the time.

There's a paper on peasant attitudes to land reform in 1917 here, only skimmed it but maybe useful.

http://web.mit.edu/russia1917/papers/0901-PeasantViewsonLandReforms&Governance.pdf

Also worth mentioning there were strikes in Petrograd in 1918 and 1919, so it wasn't only peasants who were resisting. https://libcom.org/library/the-bolsheviks-and-workers-control-solidarity-group is good summary of ground-up self-organisation by workers and the way the Bolshevik government undermined it.

Also Trotsky in his own words discussing compulsory labour both in industry and agriculture in 1920: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/terrcomm/ch08.htm

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Oct 12 2018 02:43

Thanks for the reading suggestions! I'm making my way through them.

I've always been concerned with this quote I've read on Wikipedia:

"The small shares of most of the peasants resulted in food shortages in the cities. Although grain had nearly returned to pre-war production levels, the large estates which had produced it for urban markets had been divided up.[4] Not interested in acquiring money to purchase overpriced manufactured goods, the peasants chose to consume their produce rather than sell it. As a result, city dwellers only saw half the grain that had been available before the war.[4] Before the revolution, peasants controlled only 2,100,000 km² divided into 16 million holdings, producing 50% of the food grown in Russia and consuming 60% of total food production. After the revolution, the peasants controlled 3,140,000 km² divided into 25 million holdings, producing 85% of the food, but consuming 80% of what they grew (meaning that they ate 68% of the total).[5]"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collectivization_in_the_Soviet_Union

Is there a way the USSR could have increased food supply without harming the peasants?

Tom Henry
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Oct 12 2018 05:10

Bakunin actually had a clearer sense of the dangers of the ‘transitional state’ and the dictatorship of the proletariat (the proletariat seizing state power) than did Marx – as is borne out by the events in Russia after 1917. Marx’s ‘fantasy’ of a ‘Russian Path’ (the mir system making capitalism redundant as a precursor to communism) was confusion and prevarication on his part.

He wrote the letter mentioned above in 1877.

But he wrote this in 1873-4:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1874/04/bakunin-notes.htm

In his critique of Bakunin’s Statehood and Anarchy 1873 – linked to above - Marx took Bakunin to task for his belief that “radical revolution,” or communism, was possible in systems other than the capitalist one, which in Marxism, as we have (correctly) inherited it, is the only system that provides the necessary economic prerequisites for communism.

Marx went on to further disparage Bakunin’s suggestion (in the linked text) that in the Marxian revolution the formation of a workers’ State would entail the continued or intensified subjugation of agricultural labour. Marx referred to this as “schoolboy drivel.”

The ‘problem of the peasantry’ is described by Marx here:

Quote:
Where the peasant exists in the mass as private proprietor, where he even forms a more or less considerable majority, as in all states of the west European continent, where he has not disappeared and been replaced by the agricultural wage-labourer, as in England, the following cases apply: either he hinders each workers' revolution, makes a wreck of it, as he has formerly done in France, or the proletariat (for the peasant proprietor does not belong to the proletariat, and even where his condition is proletarian, he believes himself not to) must as government take measures through which the peasant finds his condition immediately improved, so as to win him for the revolution; measures which will at least provide the possibility of easing the transition from private ownership of land to collective ownership, so that the peasant arrives at this of his own accord, from economic reasons. It must not hit the peasant over the head, as it would e.g. by proclaiming the abolition of the right of inheritance or the abolition of his property.

Not hitting the peasant over the head – a nice idea but a little idealistic - turned out not to be the practical reality – and it was Bakunin that kept on about this blind spot in Marx’s adherence to the idea of the State (not that Bakunin would have not faced the exact same problem that the French Revolution did, and the Bolsheviks did, if he had led a revolution, but at least he demonstrated a realistic prescience here).

As we know, the problem of the peasantry - unsolved in France in the 1790s - was solved in the 1920s and 1930s by the forced collectivization of rural Soviet Russia beginning in 1928.

This problem is still a concern for modern theorists of communism such as Théorie Communiste who write: “The essential question which we will have to solve is to understand how we extend communism […] how we integrate agriculture so as not to have to exchange with farmers” (Théorie Communiste in 'Communisation and its Discontents,' B. Noys, 2011).

Mike Harman
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Oct 12 2018 12:56
uggg wrote:
Is there a way the USSR could have increased food supply without harming the peasants?

Not sure about the USSR, but this was the problem that pre-occupied Kropotkin, and he talks about it a bit in either Conquest of Bread or Fields, Factories, and Workshops or both (long time since I've read either of them). He was very interested in high-intensity urban gardening (based on the Parisian market gardens) as one way of reducing the town/countryside division.

Would also recommend reading this from AWW which tries to think through some of these issues in the UK: https://libcom.org/blog/insurrection-production-29082016

There's also Cuban urban gardening: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/28/organic-or-starve-can-cubas-new-farming-model-provide-food-security

And Co-operation Jackson's 'Freedom farms': https://cooperationjackson.org/blog/2017/12/27/food-desert-engaging-in-jacksons-food-system

It's not a panacea but it's probably also a requirement for there to be a lot more of this sort of thing - shorter nitrogen cycles, some percentage of calories available within walking distance etc.

Mike Harman
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Oct 12 2018 13:05
Tom Henry wrote:

The ‘problem of the peasantry’ is described by Marx here:

Quote:
Where the peasant exists in the mass as private proprietor, where he even forms a more or less considerable majority, as in all states of the west European continent, where he has not disappeared and been replaced by the agricultural wage-labourer, as in England, the following cases apply: either he hinders each workers' revolution, makes a wreck of it, as he has formerly done in France,

So that's "where the peasant exists in the mass as private proprietor", it does not therefore extend to the Russian Mir where there was some form of communal land ownership, or to Africa for example.

He's talking about France, Spain, the Netherlands etc. You can completely disagree with the assessment of France/Spain et al but it's silly to repeat the error that Leninists made and apply this to the entire world, when it's a factional argument between Marx and Bakunin about the countries they had organisational contacts in.

Tom Henry
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Oct 12 2018 20:52

Do you really think Lenin and the Leninists made a mistake ('error')? Bless their little cotton socks.

My point, if you had read closer, was that Bakunin was on the money about what would happen and he was proved right by Collectivisation (as well as the opposition to the Bolsheviks in the cities). The mir was, in reality and unavoidably, seen as nothing else than, at best, a collective form of private ownership - so therefore it was necessary to pursue the educative program of de-kulakization.

And Africa?

Mike Harman
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Oct 12 2018 22:00
Tom Henry wrote:
Do you really think Lenin and the Leninists made a mistake ('error')? Bless their little cotton socks.

An error simply means 'wrong', it does not mean 'mistaken'. I do think if you repeat Lenin's mis-representation of Marx then you're repeating that error (whether mistakenly or on purpose), 'bless your little cotton socks'.

Tom Henry wrote:
And Africa?

Africa in the 19th century wasn't feudal. There were multiple different social systems co-existing both across the continent, and also in close proximity to each other, everything from communal agrarianism to pastoralism, with some areas beginning to approach feudalism. Therefore talking about peasants as small proprietors doesn't map onto the systems there at the time. In other words you think the 1873 comments are incompatible with the later ones, whereas they're not incompatible at all given he's restricting his comments in 1873 to Western Europe.

The British in Kenya (and other places, but Kenya's the area I've been reading up on) embarked on a massive programme of forced proletarianisation from about 1918-1960, i.e. a similar timescale to what happened in Russia.

Tom Henry
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Oct 13 2018 00:41
Mike Harman wrote:
Tom Henry wrote:
Do you really think Lenin and the Leninists made a mistake ('error')? Bless their little cotton socks.

An error simply means 'wrong', it does not mean 'mistaken'. I do think if you repeat Lenin's mis-representation of Marx then you're repeating that error (whether mistakenly or on purpose), 'bless your little cotton socks'.

Your original sentence is quite badly written then:

Mike Harman wrote:

Quote:
You can completely disagree with the assessment of France/Spain et al but it's silly to repeat the error that Leninists made and apply this to the entire world,

In your sentence it is most likely that one would infer that the Leninists made a ‘mistake’ in interpreting Marx. But now you are saying that they did not make a mistake in interpreting Marx, but were simply ‘wrong.’ (in what sense were they 'wrong'?)

Mike Harman writes:

Quote:
In other words you think the 1873 comments are incompatible with the later ones, whereas they're not incompatible at all given he's restricting his comments in 1873 to Western Europe.

What I am saying is that Bakunin understood the problem on a deeper level than Marx and, also, that it was therefore predictable (to some, eg Bakunin) that collectivisation and labor discipline would be enacted by a revolutionary government that followed Marx.

My ‘And Africa?’ question was simply to indicate that Africa is a continent with diverse histories.

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Oct 13 2018 16:22

Tom Henry how do you think an anarchist Russia would have handled the same issues differently?

Tom Henry
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Oct 13 2018 21:41
Ugg wrote:
Tom Henry how do you think an anarchist Russia would have handled the same issues differently?

The answer to this hinges on two questions.

The first is whether communism/socialism can be produced in ‘one country.’ The closest the world has come to a ‘world revolution’ was in the later stages and direct aftermath of WW1, but this was only in Europe. The first world war was a great calamity that opened up possibilities. The second world war did not produce the same instability in the ruling classes. Whether the fast-approaching ecological Armageddon will provide similar global ruling class instability to that witnessed in WW1 and, therefore, similar opportunities, is anyone’s guess.

The second question revolves around the problem of the ‘transitional state.’ The anarchists have always argued against the transitional state: the educative and productive period that is claimed by Marxists as necessary not only to secure the dictatorship of the proletariat and to escalate production and infrastructure to a level suitable for communist living, but also to ensure that the whole population has developed a communist consciousness.

They have argued against it because they equate the notion of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ with the dictatorship of party leaders and experts. And their historical precedent for this prior to 1917 were the events of the French Revolution of 1879 (Jacobinism/Leninism). The Paris Commune of 1871 indicated famously for Marx the possibility that the dictatorship of the proletariat could be something different to that which occurred in 1879, but the Commune did not have enough time to play itself out for any real proof to be provided. More recently, the Badiouan Maoists and the Communizers have decided that the transitional state is an idea or aim that does not belong in modern revolutionary praxis, but they provide nothing real to back this up.

But can the transitional state be avoided, even for the anarchists, in the unlikely event of a ‘successful’ revolution? This is something worth thinking about. And one needs to factor in how one thinks the majority of people’s consciousnesses can be raised sufficiently prior to a revolutionary event, in order for it to happen, and after a revolutionary event, to ensure it is maintained. History tells us that the two key features needed to maintain the impetus towards communism proper, after the revolution, are labor discipline and Red Terror.

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Oct 13 2018 22:43
Tom Henry wrote:
And one needs to factor in how one thinks the majority of people’s consciousnesses can be raised sufficiently prior to a revolutionary event, in order for it to happen, and after a revolutionary event, to ensure it is maintained.

[my bold]
Always be trolling right?!

pi
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Oct 15 2018 15:54

I'd be very interested to read something about how an anarchist revolution might play out.

Does the Spanish revolution show a way? I understand it was preceded by years of widespread anarchist activity that provided the workers with a good understanding of anarchist ideas. Is this what Tom Henry means by people's consciousness? Perhaps Cooked you (or someone) might explain your (seeming) dismissal of this.

Any links/comments which, as simply as possible, explain how an anarchist revolution might be achieved would be much appreciated. Ta.

Mike Harman
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Oct 15 2018 16:02

The idea that you have to persuade a majority of people of revolutionary consciousness prior to an event is what's being dismissed. A good piece by Glaberman on consciousness is here https://libcom.org/library/working-class-social-change-martin-glaberman. A very short version is that action and consciousness are inter-related, and people act in very contradictory ways.

For a long term view of what 'anarchist revolution' might look like an suggested strategy to get there, I would look at https://libcom.org/library/fighting-ourselves-anarcho-syndicalism-class-struggle-solidarity-federation and also https://libcom.org/blog/insurrection-production-29082016

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Oct 17 2018 06:23
radicalgraffiti wrote:
well, those regimes where basically capitalism with the state as the sole business, and they were the successor regimes to regimes that had a history of similar mass starvation, as did other capitalist regimes eg, the British empire.
the mass starvations in all these cases happened as a result of state policies, eg preventing grain stockpiles, refusing famine relief or ensuring any relief was inadequate and only functioned contain the population and imo can be seen as using natural events to wipe out internal enemy populations and or force modernisation ie converting peasant farmers to landless workers

Your position has always made the most sense to me but some of the stuff I've read makes it seem like it was more complicated than this.

I know Rosa Luxemburg wasn't really a libertarian-communist but is there any truth to what she says about wealthy peasants in her essay on the Russian Revolution?

"The French small peasant become the boldest defender of the Great French Revolution which had given him land confiscated from the émigrés. As Napoleonic soldier, he carried the banner of France to victory, crossed all Europe and smashed feudalism to pieces in one land after another. Lenin and his friends might have expected a similar result from their agrarian slogan. However, now that the Russian peasant has seized the land with his own fist, he does not even dream of defending Russia and the revolution to which he owes the land. He has dug obstinately into his new possessions and abandoned the revolution to its enemies, the state to decay, the urban population to famine." - https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch02.html

I can't tell at all if peasants were an impoverished, oppressed population that was having completely unreasonable demands placed upon them or if they were more like upper-middle class people in the United States who get mad that their taxes are going to help poor people.

If it's the former preventing famines like this could be prevented by just making sure society operates according to libertarian-communist principles as much as possible. I don't think socialism in one country is truly possible but I don't think that this means that a revolution that fails to spread worldwide means that the countries in which revolution did occur must inevitably become brutal authoritarian regimes.

However if the latter was the case it seems like even in a libertarian-communist society poor peasants and workers would arguably be justified in asking for wealthy peasants to provide more surplus in order to alleviate the poverty and malnutrition of those less well-off. I think that peasants should have been fairly compensated and included in the decision-making for this though.

But this is a problem if wealthy peasants were so opposed to giving up their privileged position that they then further decreased the food supply by destroying crops, livestock, deliberately not producing enough or resorting to violence.

How could people in a libertarian-communist society have encouraged wealthy peasants to give up some of their surplus or to reasonably reorganize their farms into a more efficient manner?

I've read that one of the supposed goals of collectivization was to get enough grain to pay for agricultural mechanization like tractors which were supposed to make the lives of peasants easier. But it seems like even this wasn't enough to convince peasants to try to help the poor peasants and workers. I might be wrong but I think I also read that they tried to use incentives to get people to join collective farms but this was also ineffective.

Taking property away from just moderately wealthy masses of peasants seems way more dangerous than taking it away from rich capitalists.

I don't think you can say that the collectivization process was done to help poor peasants considering they were probably the biggest victims of the famines. I don't think the government did enough to make sure that everyone had enough to eat during the famines. Nonetheless it seems like even in a libertarian-communist society the underlying conditions that led to food scarcity would still be there, and I'm not sure once a famine starts they are easy to cope with.

I also know that Stalin tried to demonize the peasants as being counter-revolutionaries as he was starving them to death. So I don't know if there is any truth to the idea that peasants were wealthy people basically keeping all the arable land to themselves while refusing to produce for others is just stalinist propaganda. But I also don't want to just believe that peasants were an oppressed minority because it's convenient for me to believe that all the problems surrounding the famines were caused simply because there was an authoritarian state-capitalist regime.

I'm currently reading Robert Conquest's Harvest of Sorrow and in the introduction he says that dekulakization as well as collectivization could have been done basically non-violently/without starvation but he doesn't say how.

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Oct 15 2018 19:25
Tom Henry wrote:
The first is whether communism/socialism can be produced in ‘one country.’ The closest the world has come to a ‘world revolution’ was in the later stages and direct aftermath of WW1, but this was only in Europe. The first world war was a great calamity that opened up possibilities. The second world war did not produce the same instability in the ruling classes. Whether the fast-approaching ecological Armageddon will provide similar global ruling class instability to that witnessed in WW1 and, therefore, similar opportunities, is anyone’s guess.

I don't think socialism in one country is possible either but does it necessarily entail that any failed revolution should become authoritarian regimes? I understand that international market competition, trying to provide for everyone as well as political/military threats to a country are really difficult obstacles, especially in poor (and often unstable) countries where revolutions typically occur.

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Oct 15 2018 23:39
Ugg wrote:
Are there any good libertarian-communist perspectives on mass starvation that occurred under so-called "communist" regimes?

I'm interested in why they happened and what could have been done differently to prevent a bunch of people starving to death.

Thanks!

mass starvation in communist china was generally brought on by communist intellectuals deciding they could run farming better than farmers.

They had a series of mad policies aboutagriculture which you can read about on wikipedia herehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine these were mostly based on weird pseudo-science, crazy ideas about optimism and tragets and maoist theories about ''mass'' everything being best

the most utterly loopy bit of maoism was obviously this
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjRZIW_hRlM

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Oct 16 2018 06:21

This is another thing. Why were "communist intellectuals" convinced they could run farms better than anyone else? I also remember reading an article (I can't remember where) that said no one in Stalin's government had any expertise on agriculture.

ZJW
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Oct 17 2018 05:33

TH: Who are some of the Badiouist Maoists who hold that 'the transitional state is an idea or aim that does not belong in modern revolutionary praxis'. Can you provide a link? (Preferably not to the sometimes unreadable Badiou himself.) Thanks.

Tom Henry
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Oct 17 2018 09:48

ZJW.

I do not have lists of Badiouan Maoists who follow his prescriptions, because I have better things to do, but what Badiou himself writes is very interesting. There is a good amount of Badiou on this in his writing and it dovetails nicely with what Endnotes argue. And also Hardt and Negri in their acclaim for the Cultural Revolution.

See:
My comment on this piece:
https://libcom.org/library/communism-attack-communism-withdrawal-marcel

then:
https://libcom.org/forums/north-america/maoism-american-left-22102016#comment-586525
and particularly
https://libcom.org/forums/north-america/maoism-american-left-22102016#comment-586577

Also check out the ‘post-Party’ organization Badiou works with:
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organisation_politique

Tom Henry
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Oct 17 2018 09:49
Ugg wrote:
Tom Henry wrote:
The first is whether communism/socialism can be produced in ‘one country.’ The closest the world has come to a ‘world revolution’ was in the later stages and direct aftermath of WW1, but this was only in Europe. The first world war was a great calamity that opened up possibilities. The second world war did not produce the same instability in the ruling classes. Whether the fast-approaching ecological Armageddon will provide similar global ruling class instability to that witnessed in WW1 and, therefore, similar opportunities, is anyone’s guess.

I don't think socialism in one country is possible either but does it necessarily entail that any failed revolution should become authoritarian regimes? I understand that international market competition, trying to provide for everyone as well as political/military threats to a country are really difficult obstacles, especially in poor (and often unstable) countries where revolutions typically occur.

There is too much not said in your question to answer. So forgive me for breaking down the ‘problems’ I perceive in your paragraph above:

Firstly, if, as you say, socialism in one country is not possible, then how could it not entail that the ‘failed’ socialism would become authoritarian?
Secondly, when did the Russian Revolution fail? 1918? 1921? 1924? 1928? 1940? 1989?
Thirdly, how does a revolutionary society cooperate with international market competition?
Fourthly, how does a revolutionary society maintain a constant war with outside forces?
Fifthly, how does a revolutionary initiative maintain the revolution when a large percentage of the population do not immediately have the right theoretical tools and attitudes to ensure that capitalism does not creep, or flood, back in?

Tom Henry
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Oct 18 2018 05:01
Mike Harman wrote:
The idea that you have to persuade a majority of people of revolutionary consciousness prior to an event is what's being dismissed. A good piece by Glaberman on consciousness is here https://libcom.org/library/working-class-social-change-martin-glaberman. A very short version is that action and consciousness are inter-related, and people act in very contradictory ways.

For a long term view of what 'anarchist revolution' might look like an suggested strategy to get there, I would look at https://libcom.org/library/fighting-ourselves-anarcho-syndicalism-class-struggle-solidarity-federation and also https://libcom.org/blog/insurrection-production-29082016

The first sentence above is incorrect, I am in no way arguing now, or ever previously, that “you have to persuade a majority of people of revolutionary consciousness prior to an event.”

Such an argument has no relation to events in history, but it might be what the SPGB argue (?).

Your ‘short version’ of the text: “that action and consciousness are inter-related, and people act in very contradictory ways,” does not do justice at all to his text, in which it is written, for example:

“An important distinction between teachers or social workers [and ‘college professors’] and manual workers is that workers manipulate things and teachers and social workers manipulate people. And although they are exploited and underpaid and should unionize and strike, they perform certain functions of control in this society which cannot be ignored by simply defining them as working class.”

And:

“Working class reality is a totality that goes far beyond the ordinary intellectual view of consciousness. The usual way to view consciousness is in terms of formal statement of belief. Unfortunately, or fortunately, in terms of the working class and its living reality, that simply does not work.”

But the disconnect between Glaberman’s insightful definition of an ‘organic,’ visceral, resisting, consciousness, formed by the ‘working class’ position of someone in society (very different to the consciousness of a ‘college professor’ who feels underpaid, undervalued, and overworked) and ‘revolutionary consciousness’ is to be found every time in the actual revolutionary event – when it does indeed come down to a question of ‘belief,’ and when the ‘college professors’ or intellectuals take charge because they know best.

It is at this time, then, that the leaders and experts of the revolution (the college professors, teachers, social workers, union bosses, and a whole host of other managers) complain that the consciousness of ‘the masses’ – essentially everyone who is not in ‘the party’ and saying the right things – is inadequate, and forceful educative and disciplinarian measures need to be taken to prevent everything being lost.

In the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks were alarmed that people kept bunking off work and going to discussions (see the interview with Lenin by Zetkin, for example) and that they weren’t pulling their worker weight. They worried that the momentum would be lost and capitalism would creep or flood back in. This is still a problem for revolutionaries today who discuss how people will be fed and who will take out the garbage etc in the revolutionary society. There is usually simply the hope that everyone will do the right thing and pull their weight because they will know what is best for them…