Monday, November 12, 2012

On The October Revolution by Duci Simonovic

Comrades Max and Duci

[I first met Simonovic (most of his friends, family and colleagues call him 'Duci' {pronounced ‘Dootzi’}, but out of respect—and because he still strikes me as a serious character out of a great Russian novel—I call him by his family name] at the first meeting of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM) at the Sava Center in Belgrade, 21 October 2001.  I had just presented a paper comparing the 78-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia/Serbia over Kosovo in the Spring of 1999 with 911 attacks on Lower Manhattan that had just taken place the month before.  

When he approached me, his gaze was absolutely riveting:  I figured he had to be either some kind of tortured genius or just another fellow-bat-shit-crazy Slav.  In the last decade or so of close, invaluable collaboration and, for both Max and me, a dear friendship, he has demonstrated a sort of dialectical synthesis of those two character traits:  like he's an artistically enraged and philosophically and politically engaged mad-genius.  And most importantly, especially as regards the whole body-mind continuum thing, Simonovic is a world-class ex-jock.  His critique of Fascism in the Olympic Movement gains a great deal of its authority and authenticity from his actually having been on the Yugoslav Olympic basketball team in the late 60s and early 70s.

What follows is Simonovic’s piece on the October 1917 Russian Revolution.  I found this writing the perfect decompression chamber for my post electorum blues.  As always, my great hope is that our President Obama is concurrently aware of this history (as he has suggested by inviting survivors of the Tuskegee airmen to his inauguration and making tender gestures toward Russian Presidents Medvedev and Putin) and how its dynamics might play in his second term.  

And, tangentially, that somehow the Ni-Ni's who make up such a large part of the revisionist opposition to the Historical record, with their false antitheses, their negations of the negation (Adorno's thumbnail description of Fascism), in the ongoing global debate to save Humanity from itself (you know, Ni-Ni’s, right? Ni-Romney, Ni-Obama, Ni-NATO, Ni-Gaddafi or Assad, like those nutless fence-sitters of the castrati Left, the Groucho Marxist bourgeois non-conformists who wouldn’t work with any party that would have them as a member?), that they we recall and even revisit their roots in Marxist-Freudian critical thinking and realize that the game being played on the field is the only game in town:  Fascism v Communism, no third or fourth side, no bystanders, no excuses, no one gets out alive.

Now, I’m lighting all my candles in the hope that, in five years, Duci and I can celebrate the Centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution together in Moscow.  –mc]


                          By becoming a totalitarian destructive order, capitalism called into question the modern way of thinking based on existential apriorism and the corresponding idea of progress. In that context, humanism with its essential character and its critique of capitalism that departs from the essential criteria were also called into question. By increasingly destroying life on Earth, capitalism abolishes that ontological relativism based on existential certainty. What indeed exists is, thus, determined by capitalist annihilation with its totalitarian character. Nothing is no longer just not being or existential nothingness, but a complete and final perishing of humankind.

                        It is necessary to create a way of thinking that will enable proper understanding of the ruling tendency of global development and, on the basis of the humanist legacy, establish a broad social movement that will work to prevent the destruction of life. From a historical point of view, the mind acquired self-consciusness from man's struggle for freedom. Considering the fact that capitalism dramatically threatens the survival of the living world, the contemporary mind can acquire self-consciousness from the struggle of humankind for survival. The criticism of capitalism based on essential relativism should be replaced by a criticism that departs from the existential challenges capitalism poses for humankind. Instead of a dominating destructive mindlessness, which leads to total annihilation, a life-creating mind should be affirmed, a mind that can create a humane world.

                         The life-creating quality as a universal and totalizing principle should become the starting point in the struggle against capitalism. It acquires a concrete historical meaning relative to capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order from the life-creating potential of nature and man. The life-creating quality means bringing to life this life-creating potential of the matter, living nature, man, history, human society .... The most important result of the practice of life-creating must be a society that is a community of free and creative people and nature as a cultivated life-creating whole. Capitalism does not animate but rather destroys the life-creating potential of matter, living nature, history.... It instrumentalizes and degenerates man's life-creating powers: they arel used to create a „technical world“, where there is no place for either nature or man.

                         The human life-creating quality involves freedom, which means overcoming  sheer naturalness through an active and changing relation to nature and through the creation of a new world. The specific life-creating potentials of man, as the highest form in the evolution of nature, represent a bond between nature and man and are the bases for the evolution of man as a specific natural being. It is about turning man from a sheer natural being into a libertarian being. Through a cultivated life-creating practice, man turns from a generic being into an emancipated life-creating being, which does not only reproduce its life-creating capacity, but creates his own world. In that sense, we should differentiate between the life-creating quality as the creation of sheer life and the life-creating quality as the creation of a humane world. In other words, a difference should be made between naturalistic and historical life-creating principles: the essence of the naturalistic life-creating principle is determinism; the essence of the historical life-creating principle is freedom.

                          The life-creating nature of man, as a natural and human being, can be realized only in nature as a life-creating whole. Man's  active relation to nature gives a possibility to overcome sheer naturalness, if that means the preservation and development of nature's life-creating powers. The life-creating principle is the umbilical cord connecting man and nature and turning them into a life-creating whole. Living nature is not mere matter, but, through the life-creating process of evolution,  a formed and thus specific matter, which as such forms the basis of the human world as a specific universe. It is organized as a life-creating organic whole that creates higher living forms, which means that it is characterized by a life-creating activism. Man is the highest life-creating form in the evolution of living matter through which nature became a self-conscious, life-creating whole. Man's libertarian and creative practice is the power which gives matter a historical dimension, which means that through it a meaningless mechanical movement becomes a meaningful historical movement. Man's universal and creative being, which has limitless self-reproductive potential, represents the basis of the human life-creating principle. Each creative act opens in man a new creative space, and so on, ad infinitum. Man's becoming a self-conscious historical being, which means a being of the future, is the most important result of the realization of nature's life-creating potentials, and the ability to create its future is the most authentic expression of the life-creating force of human society.

                         Not only does capitalism, as a totalitarian destructive order, destroy history, it also destroys the evolution of living beings, which above all means the evolution of human beings as the highest form of life on the Earth. It is a capitalistically conditioned mutation of man, which amounts to a his degeneration as a natural, creative and social being. Capialism destroys man's naturally- and historically-conditioned life-creating potential and reduces him to a technically organized entity, at the same time reducing human society to a mechanical ant colony. Thus, it degenerates and destroys the life-creating potential of living matter accumulated in the human genome over more than three billion years of evolution, as well as man's creative capabilities, which are the product of historical development and can only be realized within society as a humanized natural community. In essence, capitalism devalues and abolishes man as a humane and natural being. The ever more present thesis that “traditional humankind” has become obsolete and that a race of cyborgs should be created, indicates that man as a human and natural being has become an obstacle to the further development of capitalism and, as such, is an unnecessary being.

                         The bridge to the future man has built during his historical existence has begun to crumble. The capitalist propaganda machinery works to prevent man from becoming aware of that process. To make matters worse, capitalistically degenerated life creates a type of consciousness that prevents people from realizing the nature of the looming threat against humankind. Capitalism imposes a way of thinking that does not allow man to pursue answers to questions that are of vital importance to his survival and freedom. At the same time, the economic downfall of capitalism, which directly threatens the lives of an growing number of people, marginalizes the questions which are of paramount importance to the survival of humankind and relativizes their dramatic character. How important is the destruction of forests and the melting of glaciers to a man whose family is dying in poverty? The most fatal consequences come from the fact that the existential challenge posed by capitalism to humankind stands in complete contradiction to the nature of man created by capitalism. That man is a petty bourgeois, who does not feel any responsibility for the survival of the world or for whom the question of survival comes down to the question of his personal survival. A spontaneous reaction of the atomized petty bourgeois to the increasingly realistic possibility of global annihilation is not to prevent global demise, but rather to find a safe retreat for himself. All the more so as the preservation of the bridge poses a challenge which far surpasses man's individual powers,  and man, as a lonely individual, feels helplessness before the imminent cataclysm. The most important task of the life-creating mind is to point out the existential importance of sociability and, thus, to increase the need of man for his fellows. Without an emancipated and fighting sociability, man is condemned to a solitary and lethal hopelessness.                                                               

                                                                   x          x         x

                                                       ОCTOBER REVOLUTION

                           Considering Marx's notion of history, are the socialist revolutions that took place in the 20th century still historically legitimate? According to Marx, not every existential crisis of capitalism presents a historical an opening door for a socialist revolution; it is more likely to be that crisis that presents the productive (proprietary) relations developing as obstacles to the development of the productive forces with fully developed capitalist contradictions. Social conditions are neccesary but insufficient precursors to a revolution. Socialist revolution is possible only upon the creation of appropriate historical conditions. According to Marx, a possible socialist revolution in the Russian Empire would have had historical legitimacy solely if it had been the spark that ignited the fires of socialist revolutions in the most developed capitalist countries of Europe. In other words, it is only through the emancipatory legacy of the most developed capitalist countries, those brought to full expression by a socialist revolution, that a revolution in under developed capitalist countries could acquire the character of a socialist revolution.

                   In view of Marx's notion of a socialist revolution, the Russian Empire in 1917 had none of the historical conditions for a socialist revolution, possessing only the historical conditions for a civil and anti-colonial revolution and the social conditions for a workers' and peasents' uprising. In the Russian Empire, the existential crisis did not occur because productive relations had become an obstacle to the development of the productive forces, and, above all, because of the war. Instead of the capitalist contradictions reaching their full intensity in the economic crisis of capitalism due to a halt in the development of productive forces, these contradictions resulted from a general social crisis brought on by the war. The war, as the most lethal form of class exploitation of workers and peasents by capitalists, made the class struggle so acute that it became a class war. The deaths of millions of workers and peasents, military defeats, poverty and mass starvation, brought about the existential crisis that led to a general upheaval of the peasents and workers, directed by the bolsheviks towards revolutionary changes. In the Russian Empire, swept by the storm of the First World War, there were no pertinent historical conditions, but there were existential conditions, and they created the political conditions for a socialist revolution.

       The Russian Empire was not overthrown by the bolsheviks. The October Revolution was not the cause but the consequence of the fall of the Russian Empire, just as the Munich Revolution was not the cause but the consequence of the fall of the German monarchy. The defeat in the war with Japan, just as the bourgeois revolution of 1905 that was drenched in blood by the Romanovs, foreshadowed the collapse of the Russian Empire in the First World War and the bourgeois Revolution which broke out in February 1917. The bolsheviks did not build the Soviet Union on the foundations of the Russian Empire, but on its rubble.

                         Since for Marx the most important criterion for determining the historical legitimacy of any order is whether it advances the development of the productive forces, the October Revolution has the utmost historical legitimacy. In the Russian Empire, capitalism did not develop autonomously. The Russian Empire was a Western colony, and its economic development depended on the economic expansion of the West. The anti-colonial character of the October Revolution was of crucial importance since it enabled the independent development of the Soviet Union and, thus, the development of education, science, the economy, military and industry. It enabled the Soviet Union to go from being a backward agricultural country to being a developed industrial country. By relying exclusively on its own forces and in complete economic isolation, the Soviet Union, 20 years after the October Revolution, became the first scientific and the second economic power in the world. During the Second World War (in spite of over 25 million war dead) it was the strongest military power in the world, which destroyed over 75% of Nazi Germany’s military assets  and captured Berlin. 
                        With capitalism becoming a totalitarian destructive order, the October Revolution acquires a new dimension. If the historical development of humankind is viewed in an existential context, and bearing in mind that the development of capitalism is based on the destruction of nature and the entire human race, the October Revolution has a supreme historical legitimacy. Its most important quality is that it abolished capitalism and, with it, the colonial domination of Russia by the most developed capitalist powers. In Russia, as well as in other countries where workers' revolutions broke out under its influence, the full development of the contradictions of capitalism was halted as an ecocidal and genocidal order, the capitalist destruction of the natural environment in Russia and of its population was stopped. Without the October Revolution and the Soviet Union’s economic, scientific and military potential, the Slavic (and Asian) peoples would have faced the same destiny in the 20th century that befell the original North American peoples in the 19th century. Hitler's Drang nach Osten was but a continuation of the genocidal march by the capitalist West on the East, beginning in the second half of the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution in Germany, then with the First World War, and continued after the onset of the October Revolution. The western interventionist troops in WWI did not „defend“ the Russian Empire, they rather used the uprising of the bolsheviks as an excuse to deal with the creative potential of the Russian people (and, in that context, with the Russian bourgeoisie), in order to prevent Russia from becoming a power capable of opposing the West in the struggle for global domination. Ultimately, the interventionist countries did not seek to preserve the Russian state, but rather to divide it into protectorates, just as they have done in China, in the Arab world, in Africa, Central and South America, and in the Balkans. The relation of the West towards Russia was based on the ruling principle of monopoly capitalism „Destroy competition!“, as it had an ecocidal and genocidal nature. The same can be seen today. The West supports only those political powers in Russia which seek to turn Russia into a colony of the most powerful capitalist corporations in the West, those whose intention is to destroy the biological, creative and libertarian potential of the Russian people.

                          As far as the humanist legitimacy of the October Revolution is concerned, the Revolution enabled free education for all, resulting in the eradication of illiteracy, which, at that time, afflicted over 80% of the population; universal free healthcare; full employment, the eight-hour work day and the humanization of working conditions; equal value to male and female work (something still non-existent in the most developed capitalist countries); sufferage and other political and civil rights for women; free housing.  Most importantly, child labor, which in the Russian Empire as in the West, was exploited up to 14 hours a day, was also abolished. During the industrialization of England, the USA, France, the Russian Empire and other capitalist countries, tens of millions of children died in factories and mines from exhaustion, illness and starvation. As far as the humanist legitimacy of bourgeois revolutions is concerned, the French still celebrate the French Bourgeois Revolution today, although the number of its fatalities far exceeds the that of the October Revolution, with over 36 000 members of the French aristocracy being  publicly guillotines! And what about the First World War, provoked by capitalists in order to “overcome” the economic crisis of capitalism, in which over 20 million workers and peasents were killed, with the same number wounded; in which millions of children died of starvation and diseases, and whose direct consequence was the “Spanish fever” causing the deaths of over 20 million people? Is this not the crime of capitalists? Another humanist characteristic of the October Revolution was the fact that it pulled the Russian people out of the slaughterhouse of the First World War and, thus, prevented the deaths of millions of people.

          In the 1930s, Leon Trotsky, commander of the Red Army, published the book „The Revolution Betrayed“, in which he questioned the socialist character of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union for having departed from the revolutionary ideals of the October Revolution. Trotsky does not question the historicity of the revolution, and he deals with the political voluntarism of the party leadership that led to the perversion of ideals and compromised the goals of the revolution. The October Revolution, according to Trotsky, had historical legitimacy as a socialist revolution because it was a mass workers' revolution, while in the post-revolutionary period the goals of the Revolution became distorted by the party leadership’s seizing the power that the workers had won in the Revolution and becoming a power alienated from the workers. Trotsky does not understand that the nature of the Revolution conditioned the nature of post-revolutionary developments. It does not mean that there were no alternative political ideas, only that there were no political forces strong enough to redirect the course of events. The Kronstadt rebellion is a typical example. By viewing the event through an ahistorical lens, some theorists oppose a revolutionary romanticism to the voluntarism of the party leaders and turn the Soviet working class at the beginning of the 20th century into a mythological power that embodies not ony the emancipatory legacy of the workers' class struggle in the most developed capitalist countries, but also the humanist ideals set forth by Marx as the guiding idea for the workers' movement. According to these ideal, by being able militarily to defeat the bourgeoisie (and the interventionist Western powers), the workers and peasents were able to create a socialist society. Actually, the seizure of power by the workers was only a first step toward the development of the socialist society that was supposed to eventuate from the socialist revolution.

                          The “Cult of the Party” and the “Cult of the Leader”, which were created during the Revolution, were possible because there were no historical conditions for a true socialist revolution. There was a revolutionary party, but there was no revolutionary working class. The uprising of the workers and peasents started from “below”, but the revolution started from “above”. The fanaticism of revolutionary voluntarism was based on the human endeavours needed to bridge the gap dividing a backward Russian Empire from the developed industrial West. Lenin maintains that: “Socialism is electrification plus industrialisation!”. The reality of the undeveloped Russian Empire, devastated by the First World War and then the civil war, had to be “adjusted” to the historical conditions neccesary for a socialist society to be created (and to survive). Socialism in the Soviet Union did not occur at the peak of the development of capitalism or as a product of a historical, and in that context, a general social development; it was rather a politically founded “project” that was to be realized by the Party. The party leaders literally acquired the status of “social engineers” whose task was to “build socialism” in the Soviet Union, while the “working masses” became the means to that end. One of the most important of Lenin's theses from that period was that of “taking from capitalism everything that enables the development of socialism”. The mechanicistic nature of this way of thinking indicates the ahistorical nature of the “building of socialism” in the Soviet Union. The voluntarism of the party leaders, instrumentalised in the apparatus of the state, was primarily conditioned by the fact that capitalism was not eradicated by the Revolution. The struggle against the restoration of capitalism was a strategic point of reference for the ruling order up until its downfall.

        The ruling order in the Soviet Union had historical legitimacy only until productive forces were sufficiently developed. When state ownership became the chief obstacle to economic development, it became a burden. Instead of a “corrective” socialist revolution, where the workers would seize power from the corrupt bureaucracy and then directly take over production and the overall processes of social reproduction, those with executive power carried out a coup d'etat that restored capitalism and turned the Soviet Union into the colony of the most powerful capitalist countries in the West. What Nazi Germany failed to do was acomplished by the “red bourgeoisie” embodied in the corrupt and alienated leaders of the Communist Party. Instead of growing the productive forces, the newly established private ownership led to widespread plundering and the economic, scientific, ecological and biological downfall of the former republics of the Soviet Union. The destruction of the Soviet Union and the “introduction” of capitalism without a mass opposition by the working class was possible because, on the one hand, the ruling political structure was entirely aliented from the workers and had unchallenged power, while, on the other hand, workers in the Soviet Union as abstract “citizens” lost their class authenticity and, thus, their ability to have a say in the life of the country as an organized political force. The disintegration of the Soviet Union by the “red bourgeoisie” marked, in fact, the ultimate defeat of the Soviet working class – a defeat from which it has not yet managed to recover. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, along with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, were the final phase in the destruction of the emancipatory potential of the socialist movement and the establishment of a capitalist dictatorship over workers.

       In spite of ever more radical demands for change, the growing existential crisis created by capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order, more and more dramatically destroys any humanist vision of the future. Everybody is drawing a sword. Some intent to kill, some in self-defence. Instead of essence, existence is becoming an unquestionable imperative. The ruling capitalist corporations in the West brought humankind to the brink of the abyss, and the struggle for survival is being carried out on the edge of a cliff.  Those who are the weakest will be the first to fall into the void and perish forever. That is the main reason why in Russia, despite the crimes of the Stalinist regime, the “Cult of Stalin” is being revived. The ever deeper crisis of the West and the increasingly aggressive policies based on it, aimed at destroying billions of “surplus” people and seizing foreign territories, has caused Russia  to attach great importance to the historical figures who managed to build its economic, scientific and military power and to oppose the West. Stalin is a symbol of victory, which, above all, is a symbol of the existential power of the Russian people, and this is what makes him popular. The same goes for Lenin. His popularity in Russia, as well as in those countries fighting against contemporary imperialism, is based not only on a social (class) character, but, even more, on the anti-colonial nature of the October Revolution and the foundations of the economic, scientific and military power established by it. When the Russian Empire is being commended, the periods referred to are mostly those of state formation. In that context, Peter the Great acquires substantial importance.               

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