Paweł Krawczyk

Marxism

In late 1910's the Western views on the #Bolshevik Revolution in #Russia were, as usual, divided. Criticism from anti-communists was quite predictable, while people with broadly socialist views at minimum saw it a chance for an actual social change and watched curiously, granting it the benefit of the doubt, even if a bit concerned about its violent character. Reports about Red Terror atrocities were well-known in the West, but if you believed in the revolution, it was easy to dismiss them using popular fallacies such as “but both sides are violent” or “but violence is just a transitional step in the eradication of the bourgeoisie”.

The more respect should be paid to the voice of Bertrand Russell, who being an active member of British socialist movements, produced a painfully honest record of what he saw during his 1920 trip to Soviet Russia (there was no #USSR yet). His position is not anti-communist at all, quite the opposite – he openly declares he's “one with Bolsheviks” as it comes to their goals, but their political reality he saw, and the impression of the leaders he had, seem to be both largely repugnant to him.

Russell also avoids the trap of many anti-communist intellectuals, that is tribalism: while seeing the whole “cruelty, perfidy or brutality” of other, predominantly capitalist countries, he doesn't allow himself drift into the instinctive position of defending Bolsheviks as the only major political force able to oppose them, which was one of the primary forces driving pro-Soviet denialism in the West through 20th century.

For start, Russell makes one more interesting observation: he describes Bolshevik's approach to #Marxism as “religious”, if not “fanatical”, including “elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures”. Oh, irony – one of the most anti-religious movements in history is being described as yet another quasi-religious one:

Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. A full-fledged Communist is not merely a man who believes that land and capital should be held in common, and their produce distributed as nearly equally as possible. He is a man who entertains a number of elaborate and dogmatic beliefs—such as philosophic materialism, for example—which may be true, but are not, to a scientific temper, capable of being known to be true with any certainty.

There's another fragment that perfectly combines two observations: that Soviet communists have already moved (we're talking about 1920!) to a “life after life” mode of justification of their miserable choices and methods; and that the Western communists, left with Soviet propaganda as primary source of information, are much more inspired by the Bolshevism than the people on the ground there:

The effect of Bolshevism as a revolutionary hope is greater outside Russia than within the Soviet Republic. Grim realities have done much to kill hope among those who are subject to the dictatorship of Moscow. Yet even within Russia, the Communist party, in whose hands all political power is concentrated, still lives by hope, though the pressure of events has made the hope severe and stern and somewhat remote. It is this hope that leads to concentration upon the rising generation. Russian Communists often avow that there is little hope for those who are already adult, and that happiness can only come to the children who have grown up under the new régime and been moulded from the first to the group-mentality that Communism requires.

And then this rather outright criticism on hypocrisy of Western communists justifying Soviet methods:

Western Socialists who have visited Russia have seen fit to suppress the harsher features of the present régime, and have disseminated a belief among their followers that the millennium would be quickly realized there if there were no war and no blockade.

Russell also dismisses a popular (even today) argument that the Bolshevik violence was somehow provoked by opposition of the “White” supporters of the Tsar, and by the Allied intervention in Russia:

The expectation of such opposition was always part of Bolshevik theory. A general hostility to the first Communist State was both foreseen and provoked by the doctrine of the class war. Those who adopt the Bolshevik standpoint must reckon with the embittered hostility of capitalist States; it is not worth while to adopt Bolshevik methods unless they can lead to good in spite of this hostility. To say that capitalists are wicked and we have no responsibility for their acts is unscientific; it is, in particular, contrary to the Marxian doctrine of economic determinism. The evils produced in Russia by the enmity of the Entente are therefore to be reckoned as essential in the Bolshevik method of transition to Communism, not as specially Russian.

It's also worth placing the Allied intervention in a context: when it started, the rightful government of Russia was pluralist Russian Provisional Government, which was recognized internationally, and it was that Government, not Tsar (who abdicated earlier), that Bolsheviks have overthrown in October Revolution, and then left Allied forces fighting Germany. Therefore the Allied intervention was intended primarily on preventing German return to power by strengthening the “White” army who at the same time was fighting Germany and Bolshevik on the orders of the government perceived as rightful government of Russia.

Most importantly however, Russel in that paragraph made a fundamental observation about the type of people that most revolutions bring to power:

A condition of widespread misery may, therefore, be taken as indispensable to the inauguration of Communism, unless, indeed, it were possible to establish Communism more or less peacefully, by methods which would not, even temporarily, destroy the economic life of the country. If the hopes which inspired Communism at the start, and which still inspire its Western advocates, are ever to be realized, the problem of minimizing violence in the transition must be faced. Unfortunately, violence is in itself delightful to most really vigorous revolutionaries, and they feel no interest in the problem of avoiding it as far as possible. Hatred of enemies is easier and more intense than love of friends. But from men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.

About the delusional perception of Western supporters of Bolshevik he has to say this:

Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that “proletariat” means “proletariat,” but “dictatorship” does not quite mean “dictatorship.” This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the “class-conscious” part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party.

Just remember, Bertrand Russell wrote these words in 1920, less than three years after the October Revolution, already predicting the direction in which the Soviet system was heading, as well as its ultimate collapse.

— Paweł Krawczyk https://krvtz.net/ Fediverse @kravietz@agora.echelon.pl

If you were ever wondering how it was even possible that well-educated people in Eastern Bloc countries for over a half century denied the basic facts about the reality that surrounded them and marched towards a predictable failure, the answer is Marxist #dialectics. It was an intellectual instrument designed specifically for that purpose.

As a philosophy “dialectics” has many definitions, some of which describe useful or at least interesting techniques of confronting arguments. In #Marxism however dialectics was used predominantly as a tool for blocking basic reality checks and logical constraints that every human being develops in order to survive in life. Dialectics allowed die-hard Marxists to believe they're just a few steps from communist utopia when everything around witnessed to the opposite, gave a helping hand in breaking all promises they made previously to themselves, and justified radical course changes down to its complete reversal.

At the base of the technique lie “laws of dialectics” invented by Marx and Engels and claimed to be fundamental laws of nature, remaining beyond even laws of physics. Some of the laws (words capitalised to indicate highest respect) include:

  • The Law of Transformation of Quantity into Quality
  • Everything is Unity of Opposites
  • Everything Changes

If these don't sound extremely innovative to you, that's because they aren't. Leszek Kołakowski in “Main currents of Marxism” rather brutally described these as a mix of “tautologies, banal and nonsense”. As used by Hegel to describe high-level evolution of abstract ideas, these certainly could make some sense. When applied by Marx and Engels to describe the physical world, they were effectively just another pseudo-scientific mysticism, not any different from mesmerism or homeopathy.

Just like homeopathy draws people with serious conditions away from actual life-saving therapies, Marxian dialectics had drawn its believers away from life-saving reality checks, sending them into a deadly spiral of delusion.

Ignore today, see into future

What was equivalent to denial of the surrounding reality, dialectical thinkers believed that the reality is not what you see around you, but what will be surrounding you in future, assuming of course the utopia materializes. The latter however was never doubted due to another set of “iron laws” called historical materialism.

Polish logician and philosopher Józef Maria Bocheński explained this thinking with the following example:

When you say: this is an old, badly painted wall, you judge it metaphysically, extract the instant state. When you say: this is a nice, shiny and new wall, you're of course wrong from current perspective, because the wall isn't like that at all. But from dialectical point of view you are right, because it will be made such tomorrow.

And then he moves to a more specific case of Soviet reality:

If you said Soviet people live in old houses infested with pest, you would be lying, even though this is usually the case. If you however say Soviet people live in new, shiny houses you're telling the truth, even though in reality very few actually live in such conditions. To see today what will be tomorrow – it's to see dialectically. Communists in the first place admit any lies are moral as long as it serves the Party, and secondly, they tend to see things “dialectically”, or to claim they are today what per their doctrine they become only in future.

This technique effectively prevents any learning process – if you always see things as they would be if your theory was right, any corrections in the course are obsolete.

Twisting words for the win

Philosopher Alexander Zinoviev introduces a much more popular use of the “dialectic technique” in Homo Sovieticus:

Do not even try to understand. There are things that by their nature cannot be understood. Just wait. And from many of such cases you will learn the habit of taking this specific position about current events. And you will be never wrong. The wonder method is called: Dialectics. Dialectics is a method of walking blind, in unknown empty space filled with imaginary obstacles, moving without a place to stand, without resistance, without aim.

What Zinoviev describes here is a habit fundamental for survival in Soviet society: don't ask, don't question, don't think and don't logically analyse. Simply accept what is said, including sudden changes of meaning of words and policy.

You don't have a political majority support? No problem (Kołakowski, “Main currents of Marxism”):

Because communists never had majority behind them, they claimed the majority they have is a deeper, dialectical concept: the latter can never be falsified as it's deduced from theory that claims that communism by its very nature represents the interests of humanity.

Want to prosecute a political opponent who hasn't broken the law? No problem (Tony Judt, “Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956”):

The desire to grant all possible privilege to Stalin was based on complex, abstract arguments – the “dialectical thinking”. If Kostov pleaded guilty, then he was guilty. If he pleaded not guilty (which he obviously tried), then it proved the trial was fair and he was guilty anyway. In the same way, rationing of food in France was a “restriction”, but in [communist] Poland it was “widely accepted practice”.

Revolutionary dialectics uses the same trick as Scientology language – it tends to use terms that have well-established meaning, but redefines them in its own unique way.

Crude propaganda

At the end of this spectrum, dialectics has been used simply as a technique to obscure double standards and simple lies, yet another technique of propaganda and manipulation of ideas.

Arthur Koestler in “Scum of the Earth” describes his 1939 shock of learning that USSR, who so far presented itself as the main world's anti-fascist force, has just signed a pact with the Third Reich:

Next morning, August 24th, the news had spread from the third to the front page. We were spared none of the details. We read about von Ribbentrop’s lightning visit to Moscow and about his cordial reception—and I remembered what fun our Party papers had made of the ex-commercial traveller in champagne who had been promoted chief diplomatic salesman of Genuine Old Red Scare, bottled in Château Berchtesgaden. We learned all the picturesque details of how the swastika had been hoisted over the Moscow aerodrome and how the band of the revolutionary Army had played the Horst Wessel song—and I remembered the whispered explanations of the Party officials after the execution of Tukhachevsky and the other Red Army leaders. The official explanation (Version A, for the pious and simple-minded) stated that they were ordinary traitors; Version B (for the intelligentsia and for inside use) informed us that, although not exactly traitors, they had advocated a policy of understanding with the Nazis against the Western Democracies; so, of course, Stalin was right to shoot them. We learned of the monstrous paragraph 3 of the new treaty,1 a direct encouragement to Germany to attack Poland—and I wondered how this time the Party was to explain this latest achievement of Socialist statesmanship to the innocent masses.

Apparent contradictions, change of course? If you were a Soviet citizen, Zinovievs recipe applies – don't question, just accept. Koestler however was an European communist, and they demanded a more convincing argument. Dialectics to the rescue:

Next morning we knew it: Humanité, official organ of the French Communist Party, explained to us that the new treaty was a supreme effort of Stalin to prevent the threatening imperialist war. Oh, they had an explanation ready for every occasion, from the extension of capital punishment to the twelve-year-old to the abolition of the Soviet workers’ right to strike and to the one-party-election-system; they called it ‘revolutionary dialectics’ and reminded one of those conjurers on the stage who can produce an egg from every pocket of their frockcoats and even out of the harmless onlooker’s nose. They explained everything so well that, during a committee meeting, old Heinrich Mann, at one time a great ‘sympathiser,’ shouted to Dahlem, leader of the German Communists: ‘If you go on asking me to realise that this table here is a fishpond, then I am afraid my dialectical capacities are at an end.’

But Soviet leadership had a good teacher in dialectics. On 15 August 1857 no one else than Karl Marx himself chuckled in a letter to Engels about how he outwitted any possible criticism of this political analysis:

As to the Delhi affair, it seems to me that the English ought to begin their retreat as soon as the rainy season has set in in real earnest. Being obliged for the present to hold the fort for you as the Tribune’s military correspondent I have taken it upon myself to put this forward. NB, on the supposition that the reports to date have been true. It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way.

🤷🏻

— Paweł Krawczyk https://krvtz.net/ Fediverse @kravietz@agora.echelon.pl

A spectre is haunting Europe – a spectre of political ignorance*. And those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it**.

I'm stumbling upon these phrases again and again: alt-right is accusing #BLM movement of being “Marxist”, while less perceptive BLM supporters innocently ask “what's wrong with it, #Marxism is for equality after all”.

As often, both claims have some clue but completely miss the point. One of BLM founders, Carol Swain, said in an interview she's a “trained Marxist”. Politfact ran a pretty good fact-check on all these “he said, she said”, but then it does what everyone does today:

Marxism usually means analyzing social change through an economic lens, with the assumption that the rich and the poor should become more equal

Sorry, but no.

Marxism, as conceived by Marx and Engels, had a number of very specific postulates that distinctively differentiated it from other socialist movements in mid-19th century.

Marx and Engels specifically, and categorically, required that two things happen in order:

  • violent revolution,
  • dictatorship of the proletariat.

As result of these two, the #bourgeoisie would be destroyed as a class, the state would “wither away”, and only then whoever was left alive would be equal. These items were subject of fierce debates between Marx, Engels and social democrats, who believed an evolutionary way to equality is indeed possible without violence.

These specific features of Marxism — fixation on violent #revolution and class conflict as some kind of “cleansing agent” for society were its distinct and fundamental postulates.

Each time you propose “evolutionary Marxism” or something like that, Marx and Engels turn in their graves, as you are undermining the very basics of what they were arguing for their whole lives.

How does Marxism fit BLM?

In short, it does not, not even slightest.***

For BLM to be Marxist, it would need to propose a violent revolution of Black people against White (and insist on it categorically), dictatorship of Blacks over Whites and eventually eradication of White people as a race.

If this sounds like nonsense regardless of you being a supporter or opponent of BLM, it's because it is. Nonsense created by mixing a century-old radical political philosophy that responded (poorly) to then-challenges, with a modern political movement operating in a society created almost entirely to the recipe of Marx's primary adversaries — the social democrats.

Footnotes

  • * Paraphrase of the starting sentence of the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”
  • ** George Santayana
  • *** Black Lives Matter UK has a nice summary of BLM postulates: “Those of all ethnicities and from all nations who believe in racial equality are anti-racists, they stand together, can choose to kneel together in peace and solidarity asserting black people are treated as equals to white people and is a human right to receive racial equality, social and criminal justice”.

— Paweł Krawczyk https://krvtz.net/ Fediverse @kravietz@agora.echelon.pl