Home > Politics (general) > The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

October 17th, 2005

Now seems as good a time as any to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This upsurge of revolt against Czarism was the occasion of some of the most tragic and inspiring scenes in the revolutionary drama: the “Bloody Sunday” march to the Winter Palace, Trotsky’s leadership of the St. Petersburg Soviet and the Potemkin mutiny. The revolution seemed likely to prove successful when the government agreed to a parliamentary constitution (October 17 in the Julian calendar), but once the threat was over, the autocracy reasserted itself, and the Duma was reduced to a talking shop. Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore, and for much of the 20th century, they appeared to many to have history on their side. After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.

The failure of Leninism is obvious enough in Russia and in the other countries where Communist parties came to power (and in the case of China still hold it). Nothing much is left of the Communist era except decay and corruption. Inequality and economic injustice are far more prevalent than in countries that never experienced “actually existing socialism”.

But the Leninist legacy has been little better in the rest of the world. From 1917 until the end of the Cold War, Communism was an albatross around the neck of socialist, social-democratic and progressive movements around the world, causing division and strife everywhere. Admittedly, Communism attracted some of the brightest and most idealistic opponents of capitalism, and Communist parties often took brave and idealistic stands while mainstream labour parties dithered and temporised. But this only increased the damage that was done when these talents and ideals were used to serve the interests of totalitarian regimes and ideologies.

Meanwhile, those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side, or working with the Communists, accepting the resulting opprobrium and running the risk of being left high and dry by a shift in strategy (until the 50s mostly arising from a change in the Comintern line and after that from the internal vicissitudes of revolutionary politics).

Even more lasting damage has been done by the rhetoric of revolution itself. The idea that a single violent irruption, followed by a (supposedly temporary) revolutionary dictatorship, can break unending cycles of oppression, and achieve permanent change for the better is intuitively appealing and gains support daily from the failures of more modest attempts at reform, from the peaceful protest march to the Winter Palace in 1905 to the shoddy compromises of day-to-day democratic politics (and particularly in this context, social-democratic politics).

Yet the appeal of revolution is an illusion. Most attempts at revolution fail, leaving the participants and the oppressed worse off than before. Even where revolution is successful, attempts by the revolutionary party to hold on to power usually lead to reactionary dictatorship in short order. The French Revolution, the model on which Marxist analysis was based, lasted five years from iberation of the Bastille to Thermidor, and ten years to the 18 Brumaire seizure of power by Napoleon. The Bolshevik revolution lasted four years until the adoption of the New Economic Policy and seven years before Stalin’s rise to power.

The successful revolutions have mostly been those where the ancien regime collapsed under its own weight, and where those who came to power did not try too hard to hold on to it when, inevitably, the wheel of public support turned against them[1]

At a deeper level, the appeal of revolution has a substantial residue of aristocratic sentiment. In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on. Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on. Gains that are ground out in this way are not noble enough for an aristocratic sensibility: far better to fail gloriously.

As far as the main body of the left is concerned, this has ceased to matter: the appeal of revolution is pretty much dead, and the symbols of Bolshevism are more likely to appear in vodka advertisements than in progressive pamphlets these days. But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power. In the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Mussolini, converts of this type mostly went over to Fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, ex-Communists supplied much of the firepower of McCarthyism and its variants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the same tendency (frequently moving via Trotskyism) became neoconservatism. Most recently, the membership of the “decent left” is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George Bush as the agent of revolution.

I’ve made some pretty broad generalizations above, and there are plenty of exceptions. Sometimes peace is not the answer: there are just wars, and necessary revolutions. But the great problem in politics has almost never been inadequate willingness to resort to violence[2]: rather it has been an excessive belief in the potential of war and revolution to achieve desirable goals.

fn1. The February 1917 revolution might perhaps have turned out like this, if only the Kerensky government had been willing and able to extricate Russia from the bloodbath of the Great War.

fn2. Since it will undoubtedly be raised, let me concede in advance that the Allies should have gone to war against Hitler in September 1938 rather than waiting until September 1939. Against this example, there are the vast numbers of cases of decisions to go to war in which neither side was justified, most importantly the Great War beginning in 1914 (and, arguably, continuing in one form or another until 1989) which set off the whole tragic story of the 20th century.

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  1. Terje Petersen
    October 17th, 2005 at 20:59 | #1

    My parents come from Scandinavia (which is near Russia). However I was born in Australia. When I was a kid my mother had a Norweigen relative living in Australia who was old enough to be a surrogate grandparent but we called her Aunt. She spent 20 years in China as a Christian missionary before the communists kicked out all the foreigners. Being kicked out of China did not dampen her enthusians for communism and she remained commited to the cause until her death. She married an Australian man (who we called uncle) who was a former member of the Australian communist party and very commited to the cause.

    I remember well the polite Sunday afternoon debates that Uncle and Aunt would have with my Mum and Dad. Mostly they were debates between Uncle and Dad, and mostly they were about politics and economic systems. Dad was not a free market guru but as a self-emloyed carpenter he new a little bit about incentives and he felt that communism was flawed. They were formative debates and I enjoyed them a lot.

    I note a big difference between these old time lefties (Uncle and Aunt) and todays lefties. My Uncle was convinced that Communism would ultimately win out because the benefits were so undeniable. His view was that communist nations would become so wildly rich that we would all want to move there and our governments would have no choice but to become communist or lose all its citizens. The debate was very much about prosperity in a material sence. Todays lefties seem to avoid discussions about material prosperity and prefer to point out that there is more to life than a nice house and a good pay packet (which of course there is).

    Whether it is the left or the right it does not take a revolution for freedom to be sucked away. Violence is always a matter of degree and sabre rattling will often make unwilling citizens fall in line. As we do when it comes to the welfare state.

  2. October 17th, 2005 at 21:54 | #2

    I think we’ve all had enough “politics by other means” to last us a lifetime. I agree there is such thing as a just war, but only at absolute last resort.

    Diplomacy may not work all the time, and in many circumstances it works excruciatingly slowly, but it is infinitely more civilised. War exists under the false premise that it is okay to ignore the rules of the game when things don’t go your way. Like coming out swinging with a caveman’s club in the middle of a chess match.

  3. October 17th, 2005 at 22:02 | #3

    It’s important to remember the shifts in meaning of the word “revolution”, mostly caused by attempted revolutions of the new form degenerating into other behaviour which then kept the name revolution.

    In particular, the old meaning still has force even if the word “revolution” can be confusing. It essentially meant a revolution of the mind and of the body politic that was merely given expression in a visible way, like the “glorious revolution”. When this sort of thing happens, soldiers do not fight, resistance melts away, and so on. It can be a very real stage, and it is useful in considering the distinction between that sort of thing, civil wars proper (where the disagreement is over the form of the identity but not the fact of it), and wars of independence (disagreeing over the fact of the identity).

    With revolution (old form) there is no disagreement left to express; it degenerates into new form revolution when civil war is precluded, but the revolutionaries discover that their coup assumed that all the work was over. They then go into denial and behave in a procrustean way.

    Sadly, the likes of social democracy are all about manufacturing change, waiting “until the people are ready” and so on, and never pause to consider whether their aspirations are actually correct. They too end up procrustean, but generally use less violent techniques. They still end up in denial of the harm they do to others’ legitimate personal dreams.

  4. Louis Hissink
    October 18th, 2005 at 00:43 | #4

    Interesting.

  5. October 18th, 2005 at 05:22 | #5

    Nicely put John. Although, rather than having a go at the neo-cons (who certainly derserve it) it might have been more appropriate to discuss the dillemmas encountered but left-wing reformers:

    i.e.

    a) Working within a system that still retains much of the framework established when it was based purely about serving the needs of elites.

    b) The risk of co-option.

    c) The fact that there is no end of history for reformers (i.e. no victory just the perpetual act of acting as a countervailing force to that of the right)

    d) The fact that the reforms that we get may not be enough, particularly with things like climate change.

    e) The potenital for the power of reformers to be limited by technological and political change – i.e. the – much debated – phenomenon of policy convergance in a globalising world.

    In saying this I am not advocating revolution over reform, just detailing some of what I see as the challenges in the long and winding road of reform.

    With resepect to point c) Brad Delong has an excellent book review of the recent biography of John Kenneth Galbraith – titled ‘Sisyphus as Social Democrat’ it’s available here

  6. GDP
    October 18th, 2005 at 07:20 | #6

    Very well put, PrQ. Articulated what I have always felt in my gut: revolutions generally merely serve to replace one group of opressors with another. Maybe the fundamental reason why revolutions fail is that revolutions don’t change social attitudes – that takes decades of painstaking education and effort.

    As for what you describe as the “defeats of the last 20 years”, I tend to believe that the left simply went too far and a lot of the last 20 years has been about finding a more balanced middle-ground. I regularly reflect on the justice of a society that provides me and my family with excellent free healthcare, rent support if I need it, family tax payments that mean I pay no effective tax until my income hits around $50,000, subsidized childcare, and a very good state-funded education for my children (the latter not as good as it could be in my opinion, but still pretty good). Add on to that an excellent private superannuation system, and you have all the ingredients of great social justice. Note that Australia is way ahead of the US in this regard – Americans enjoy almost none of these benefits. And also note that many of these social justice programs have been instigated or dramatically expanded in the last 20 years. That may not represent success for the Left when perpetrated by a conservative government, but it certainly represents success for social justice, which I would contend is more important.

    However, we don’t need unions controlling work conditions in every industry, a social welfare system that provides no incentive to work, wrongful dismissal laws that discourage small business from hiring, political correctness that prohibits free speech on the genuine differences between men and women, a family court beholden to the radical feminists that treats men as superfulous to their children’s lives and whose only purpose in life is as a life-support-system for a wallet, etc, etc. Most of the “defeats” the left has suffered (and continues to suffer) are just a healthy rollback of some of these more extreme elements.

  7. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 09:08 | #7

    As a one-time revolutionary socialist who has often wanted to write a substantive piece explaining why I am now not a revolutionary, I congratulate John for elegantly and rigorously pre-empting me.

    Revolutionary hostility, across the political and ideological spectrum, to the constraints of democratic constitutionalism and democratic civility is frequently underpinned by two discourses:

    1. The Discourse of Emergency. That is, there is some clear and present danger to the physical survival of our society and ourselves which must be responded to, and encroachments on democratic processes and freedoms can be justified as part of that response because our right to life precedes and supersedes rights to free speech, due process, rule of law, etc. The discourse of emergency is evident in the approaches of our Federal and State governments to the “war on terror”, but can also be found in the prescriptions of some “deep green” elements for dealing with peak oil, ecological crisis, etc., which I sometimes find myself having to refute in certain forums.

    2. The Discourse of Defending the Defenceless. This entails the claim that there is some important group of moral subjects who are excluded from being political subjects in democratic polities, and whose rights are violated by the claims to equality and freedom, or the exercise of democratic sovereignty, by the adult human citizens of such polities. However, unlike (say) Athenian slaves, women pre-suffrage, or black South Africans under apartheid, for one reason or another these groups of defenceless non-citizens cannot have their disempowerment remedied by including them as democratic citizens. Therefore, the discourse of defending the defenceless is invoked by some self-selected group of impresarios to justify them in speaking and acting on behalf of the defenceless others in ways which violate democratic processes and infringe the rights of adult human citizens (or particular groups thereof).

    The discourse of defending the defenceless underpins acts of vandalism, intimidation and violence by “animal rights” and “right-to-life” movements, and is also part of the toolkit of those who oppose full equality for women in the public sphere, marriage rights for same-sex couples, etc., in the name of the purported interests of children. Example: at the height of the WA debate on that state’s abortion laws in 1998, WA right-to-life leader Richard Egan declared expressly that elected parliaments did not have the right to legislate to allow, in his opinion, “the killing of babies”.

    I don’t wish to trigger the application of Godwin’s Law, but there is a well-known 20th century revolutionary and anti-democratic movement which was very big on being kind to animals, banning abortion and queer sex, and excluding women from spheres other than “Kirche, Kueche, Kinder”.

  8. wilful
    October 18th, 2005 at 10:05 | #8

    Aye, Terence makes me think of an interesting point. Humans have driven their own progress for several thousand years now, creating technological revolutions (agricultural, industrial etc) that have been big drivers of social revolutions. But now it seems to me that the Earth is biting back, and proving the limits of our consumption. The necessary revolutions of the next century (when all the water, oil and fish are consumed) are going to be just as profound, but I suspect quite different in their character as they’re responses to contracting not expanding opportunities.

  9. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 10:09 | #9

    It’s worthwhile to point out, in relation to 1905, that Lenin’s Bolsheviks were a tiny splinter of the Russian revolutionary movement. Far more numerous were the Mensheviks, who were “revisionist” to the extent that they trusted in the power of popular mandates to bring about fundamental social change. (“Bolshevik” means “majority”. “Menshevik” means “minority”. These ters were misleading because they referred to the status of the two wings of the RSDLP when they split at a Congress in London in 1902. An executive meeting of exiles almost self-selects for fanaticism.)

    The Bolsheviks remained on the fringe of Russian political life until deep into the revolutionary crisis of 1917. Only the pusillaminity of the Mensheviks and the still more numerous Social Revolutionaries in supporting continued prosecution of an absurd and murderous war against the might of the German Empire enabled the Bolsheviks to grab control of the Soviet or workers’ council. (Thereafter, the Mensheviks and the SRs were, as the saying goes, the first to go.)

    The lesson for social democrats arising from this is that very infrequently their most dangerous enemies are on the Left. On those infrequent occasions it ill-behooves social democrats to seek to become “small targets” for the Right. The biggest challenge for social democrats is to determine when “politics as usual” ceases to be a productive option and “politics by other means” points the way forward.

    Lenin got into the habit of state terrorism in response to the foreign and White threat during the appallingly bloody Russian Civil War.

    Would Lenin have resorted to state terrorism anyway? Quite possibly.

    Would the Bolsheviks have survived without state terrorism the efforts of the rest of the world to smother communism in its cradle? Almost certainly not. The Bolsheviks were acting in legitimate self-defence.

  10. jquiggin
    October 18th, 2005 at 10:14 | #10

    Good points, Katz, reinforcing my belief that that the Great War was the disaster from which so much else flowed.

  11. wilful
    October 18th, 2005 at 10:33 | #11

    All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.
    – John Kenneth Galbraith

  12. not working
    October 18th, 2005 at 11:06 | #12

    testing

  13. Dogz
    October 18th, 2005 at 11:21 | #13

    Katz:

    Would the Bolsheviks have survived without state terrorism the efforts of the rest of the world to smother communism in its cradle? Almost certainly not. The Bolsheviks were acting in legitimate self-defence.

    jquiggin:

    Good points, Katz

    Oh dear. State terrorism by the Bolsheviks was legitimate self defence? And PrQ supports this view??

    We’re talking about an unelected political party. What part of an unelected political party terrorising its own citizens is legitimate? Should we apply the same principle in Australia today? Would it be ok for the communist party of Australia to conduct terrorism against Australians?

  14. RoD
    October 18th, 2005 at 11:55 | #14

    those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side…

    Hmm… I was under the impression it was the Leftists who had rejected Communism (on religious grounds) that were the ones expelled from the labour movement.
    One can argue a Split was inevitable as two exclusive forces fought for control of the labour movement, but the ‘fellow travellers’ need to take responsibility for their part in handing victory to the other side.

  15. October 18th, 2005 at 11:59 | #15

    Wilful – good point about the environment – I am inclined to agree.

  16. Troglodite
    October 18th, 2005 at 12:00 | #16

    It is my belief that the welfare state in the west was a direct result of having communist countries in the east.
    Without a communist Russia to scare the bejesus out of the rulling classes welfare would not have grown to the extent that it did between 1920 and 1980. We would have had our choices in employment from 1920. We would have people starving on the streets of London, Paris, New York, Sydney and Melbourne.
    Without a communist Russia we are now heading that way.

  17. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 12:05 | #17

    Hi John,

    What happened to the comment I posted around 9am this morning?

  18. October 18th, 2005 at 12:31 | #18


    Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

    The Great War was certainly the central disaster that befell our civilization in modern times and toppled the Proud Tower that was European power. The irony was that it lead to the down fall of five Imperial Monarchies (Romanov, Ottoman, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg and ~Savoy).

    It was an act of civlizational suicide which was undertaken by the leaders of civilization. Proving that conservative tories can match “constructive” liberals in their tolerance of the civlizational Death Wish.

    Dr Knopfelmacher pointed out that the WWI bloodbath was promoted by reactionary “God, King and Country” types. It brought forth a revolutionary response from what I would call the “Party, Leader and State” types. A reformatory middle way (social democracy, Christan Democracy or liberal nationalism) was indicated.


    The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore,

    The Great War also caused decent 19th C political movements to spawn monstrous ideological mutations that deformed the second quarter of the 20th C. Liberalism mutated into stock market speculation. Nationalism mutated into fascism. And socialism mutated into communism.


    those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side, or working with the Communists, accepting the resulting opprobrium and running the risk of being left high and dry by a shift in strategy

    It is an open question whether communism or fascism has done more damage to the cause of social democracy. My money is on the communist as the worser evil because they had greater organizational staying power, were a source of divide and rule and recruited some of the best and brightest on the Left.

    The communist’s betrayal of democracy was its greatest sin against the Left. The Left exists to support lower-status groups – workers, women, coloureds, gays, non-human animals – against the depredations of the higher-status groups (white male capitalists, militarists and ecclesiasts).

    Thus the non/anti-democratic Left – bolsheviks and anarchists – have done extreme damage to the cause of the democratic Left. This is because they have delegitimised the Lefts most potent political weapon: democratic public choice. That is why the connection between democracy and the Left is organic: the lower-status always outnumber the higher-status.

    The passage of the Left through History continues to generate ironies. Some parts of the New Left now bear similarity to the Blakian Old Right. They have degenerated into reflexive hostility to the institutions of modernity eg anti-capitalism, anti-American, anti-science, anti-industry. Which is why Nader and Buchanan sometimes seem to get along.


    But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power…Most recently, the membership of the “decent leftâ€? is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George Bush as the agent of revolution.

    Some parts of the New Right have adopted Leninist Old Left methods, in particularly the idea of class war, withering away of the state and revolution. This is most obviously the case with Bush’s starve the beast tax cuts, regime change and investor politics. It is why Hitchens and Kristol seem happy to share a stage.


    Yet the appeal of revolution is an illusion. Most attempts at revolution fail, leaving the participants and the oppressed worse off than before…The successful revolutions have mostly been those where the ancien regime collapsed under its own weight, and where those who came to power did not try too hard to hold on to it when, inevitably, the wheel of public support turned against them1

    Revolutions only work when they have the backing of a majority of the population and are carried out by enlightened rulers, without internal secession or external intervention. Only the Japanese revolution (1868+) worked out without massive social costs. Even the American revolution did not properly work itself out until after the US Civil War. The Velvet Revolution is in post-communist Eastern Europe is the best example of a good revolution, an irony that Trotsky might have appreciated.


    In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on.

    The Lefts achievements over this period have been substantial, although Pr Q seems to be a little silent on the perverse consequences of some of the Left’s liberal welfare and “lawfare” policies. Not to mention the disastrous effects of Left wing social constructivism when framing cultural policies for racial, gender and sexual minorities.

    The single greatest factor improving mankinds well being over the past generation has been the unfettering of industrial capitalism in China and India. This is a right wing, not left wing, achievement.

    Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on.

    “Politics is the slow boring of hard boards.”
    Max Weber

  19. October 18th, 2005 at 12:41 | #19

    I tend to take a more ecological view.

    The gains of the Left in the 20th century were largely made possible due to the optimism brought by the Soviet revolution. Even for non-revolutionaries, there was a geneeral feeling that the world could be changed for the better by fighting the Power.

    Would the welfare state etc. have even been on the agenda in Australia if there hadn’t been a hint of revolutionary ambition in the working class movement.

    Now this spark has gone out what is the future of Reformism?

    Work-place “Reform”?

  20. October 18th, 2005 at 12:43 | #20

    (ahem) what Troglodite said.

  21. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 12:43 | #21

    “We’re talking about an unelected political party. What part of an unelected political party terrorising its own citizens is legitimate? Should we apply the same principle in Australia today? Would it be ok for the communist party of Australia to conduct terrorism against Australians?”

    Dogz, surveying the sweep of human history from his olympian viewpoint, expects Lenin and all other historical actors to apply Dogz’s standards of morality to their actions. If only, everyone agreed with Dogz, wouldn’t the world be a peaceful place? Lenin did what he had to do to survive.

    1. Yes, Lenin did lose an election in early 1918 to the SRs. But the folks who sent vast armies and assassins and saboteurs all over Russia mostly weren’t interested in restoring representative democracy.

    2. As to the Australian situation, couple of small bombs in some faraway countries is all that was required to convince our own federal government to dip its toe into the muddy pool of state terrorism. Just think of the response if some bombs actually went off in Australia. Yes that may be state terrorism in defence of democracy, and it may be justifiable self-defence, but it’s still state terrorism.

    3. How can my comments about the legitimacy of Lenin’s actions in 1918-1921 possibly be seen as justifying communist or any other terrorism in Australia in 2005?

    If, however, an Australian (or any other) government were determined to use extreme violence against a group, that group has the right (Jefferson called it an inalienable right) to rebel. Rebellion, by its nature, entails terrorist acts. No violent rebellion has been without them.

    Nevertheless, Just War Theory 101 tells us that war is unjust unless there is a reasonable prospect of success. So, even if the Australian Communist Party (if it still exists) considered itself morally justified in waging civil war on the Australian ruling class, its extremely low likelihood of success would disqualify it as a just war.

  22. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 13:05 | #22

    Katz, in 1983 the Security Appeals Tribunal found that the Communist Party of Australia did not intend to wage civil war on the Australian ruling class.

  23. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 13:07 | #23

    Thanks for that snippet, PN. Do you have a reference, I’d like to use it for certain purposes.

  24. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 13:11 | #24

    Dogz, I think the “good points” John Q refers to were Katz’ comments regarding the disastrous error of the SRs and Mensheviks in supporting the Provisional Government’s policy of continuing to participate in World War I.

    That said, I think a better outcome for all concerned would have arisen from Kamenev’s proposal for a coalition government of all the left parties, rather than seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.

  25. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 13:12 | #25

    Katz, I’ll try to find a reference. The ruling was part of a decision by the SAT upholding the right of a CPA member (Steve Rix) to be employed by a Commonwealth agency despite an adverse assessment by ASIO.

  26. Betty
    October 18th, 2005 at 13:41 | #26

    Terje Petersen Says: October 17th, 2005 at 8:59 pm
    My parents come from Scandinavia (which is near Russia).

    Useful to know in case I ever lose Scandinavia. MMMM. I always thought it was near Europe.

  27. Terje
    October 18th, 2005 at 14:21 | #27

    Europe is also pretty close to Russia. Just thought you should know in case you were at risk of losing Europe also.

  28. Betty
    October 18th, 2005 at 14:49 | #28

    Sorry Terje, I couldn’t resist. Isn’t Russia pretty close to Asia as well? lol (To paraphrase Keating – I love flying over Asia on the way to Paris)

  29. Paul Norton
    October 18th, 2005 at 14:51 | #29

    JQ wrote:

    “the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on. Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on.”

    And I would add: the inevitably gradual processes of creating new institutions and social practices, modifying extant ones, learning through trial and error how to make them work, and acculturing people over time to be comfortable and competent in living and working with reformed social arrangements. This is how most constructive social change has to happen, and further mitigates against the romantic notion that an entirely new form of society and economy can be created wholesale in a Jacobin/Bolshevik foundational moment.

    As an old CPA member once said of a document produced by a group of revolutionary discontents in the party in 1988: “They have a lot to say about the overthrow of capitalism, but not much about what happens before it or after it.”

  30. Razor
    October 18th, 2005 at 14:53 | #30

    An interesting point about 1938 JQ. It is all very hypothetical – but the reality of the situation was that the UK was not militarily ready to do that, France wasn’t about to and the US certainly wouldn’t have committed at that point in time. So while going to war may have been justifiable, the correct question is would it have been winnable? I am happy to be corrected, however I believe that Germany would have been much harder to beat in a war started in 1938 than one starting just a year later. Maybe Russia would have stayed out of it for longer or Germany been more effective in Operation Barbarossa.

  31. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 15:09 | #31

    Challenging thoughts Razor.

    If Britain, and at a stretch France, had gone to war against Germany in 1938, probably outcomes wouldn’t have been any different.

    The first big consideration is the nature of the government of France. Left and Right were so divided at that time, and governments were so unstable, it may have been difficult to unite France in a war against Germany. The French Right hated and feared the French Left more than they hated and feared Hitler. To many on the Right Hitler was seen as a bulwark against the rise of the French Left. The Right graffiti of the day put it succinctly: “Pour qui? Pour quoi?” In other words, who ought we be fighting, and for what reason.

    But assuming French compliance, where might the British and the French have attacked Germany? Probably, a declaration in 1938 would have resulted simply in a longer “Phoney War”, allowing the Germans all the time they needed to attack when the time seemed right for them.

    The French mounted their infamous “Saar Offensive” in 1939, taking over a few metres of German territory and a railway station. They went no further. Is it likely that they would have gone any further in 1938?

    Maybe a declaration of war in 1938 would have forestalled the Hitler-Stalin pact. Although Stalin is unlikely to have been less covetous of Eastern Poland in 1938 than he proved to be in 1939. And Hitler proved to be quite impervious to warnings against two-front wars. It’s likely that he would have invaded Poland either before or after a declaration of war by Britain or France.

    Counterfactuals are always slippery things, but it appears to me that the underlying dynamics were not much different between 1938 and 1939

  32. Razor
    October 18th, 2005 at 15:16 | #32

    Katz, I can’t argue with you on the politics of the situation, however on the military side of the equation, the re-armament of the UK forces was only just picking up pace in 1938. If a Battle of Britain scenario had happened in ’39 rather than ’40, then I doubt the RAF would have stood a chance.

  33. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 15:45 | #34

    The military situation is worth consideration Razor.

    Chamberlain understood just how impotent Britain was in 1938. His “appeasement” policy was acknowledgment of that reality, and he did accelerate re-armament after Munich.

    Perhaps the Luftwaffe would have achieved air superiority if war had broken out in 1938. However, don’t forget that the Phoney War was Hitler’s call. He too had very little offensive capability even in 1939. To bomb Britain, Germany had to control France, and control of France could only come with a land victory.

    Hitler wasn’t in a position to achieve that until 1940.

    Meantime, a British declaration of war in 1938 may have much concentrated the minds of Britons. Perhaps they would have been better prepared to meet the German onslaught under the conditions of the 1938 Counterfactual than they proved to be in the 1939 Reality.

    Dunno.

  34. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 15:55 | #35

    “Lenin did not do what he had to do to survive. He did what he did in order to ensure that his competitors did not survive”

    In the context of the very recent memory of “Total War”, where “attrition” was openly promoted as the means for victory, the distinction between one’s own survival and the annihilation of one’s enemies has the effete ring of an Edwardian ladies’ parlour game.

    Remember, Jack, “Total War” was invented before “Totalitariansm”. In the light of the former, the latter seemed to many to be the lesser of two evils.

  35. Dogz
    October 18th, 2005 at 16:52 | #36

    Katz:

    Dogz, surveying the sweep of human history from his olympian viewpoint, expects Lenin and all other historical actors to apply Dogz’s standards of morality to their actions. If only, everyone agreed with Dogz, wouldn’t the world be a peaceful place? Lenin did what he had to do to survive.

    Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Katz. And your sarcasm may equally be directed against yourself: why is your judgement of Lenin’s actions superior to mine? I suppose if mine is olympian, then yours must be positively divine!

    “Lenin did what he had to do to survive” says it all.

    Not “Lenin did what he had to do to help the people of Russia”, or “Lenin did what he thought was best for Russia”. No, he just did what he had to do to keep himself in power. How noble of him.

  36. jquiggin
    October 18th, 2005 at 17:16 | #37

    Dogz, don’t you think it’s fairly unlikely that in a post that includes the sentence

    “After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.”

    that I meant to endorse Lenin’s policies?

    As PN inferred, the points I wanted to endorse were those concerning the failure of the Menshevik/PR leadership and the disastrous consequences of that failure.

  37. October 18th, 2005 at 17:28 | #38

    Katz Says: October 18th, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    In the context of the very recent memory of “Total War�, where “attrition� was openly promoted as the means for victory, the distinction between one’s own survival and the annihilation of one’s enemies has the effete ring of an Edwardian ladies’ parlour game.

    The Western intervention into Russia was limited in its aims, and not an example of “Total War”. Churchill sought the restoration of the legitimate democraticly elected government and the “throttling of the Bolsheviks in their cradle”. It is a great pity that he did not succeed.

    No doubt Lenin et al would have been shot by the Allies or the Whites had they been apprehended. But there would have been nothing specifically 20th C “total war”-ish about that kind of state reprisal. That is the fate of all insurrectionists, traitors and deserters during war-time all throughout recorded history. Lenin managed to score the trifecta in that race.

    The real “total war” was launched by Lenin against the bourgeois, peasants and provinces of Russia after WWI. The Russian Civil War killed millions of people totally unnecessary given the establishment of a democracy.

    Kerensky’s Mensheviks and the SR’s were not planning to liquidate the Bolsheviks in an all-out war of political attrition. They were the people that Lenin set out to preemptively destroy.

    The Red Terror was central to Bolshevik’s MO. Kolchak and Denikin used White Terror in response to Red Terror. Felix Dzerzhinsky was always the Bolshevik closest to Lenin’s heart.

  38. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 18:06 | #39

    Jack, I’m no apologist of Lenin,

    1. Russia’s so-called democracy lasted one day in 1918 and died without friends.

    2. Perhaps you haven’t read much about the Russian civil war. The White forces were so bestial they made communists wherever they went. It looked like a war of annihilation if you happened to be unfortunate enough to live in a village visited by the White forces. The point is that the people of Russia voted with their feet. But my general point about total war is that the experience often brutalised the people it touched. A new bench mark for evil seemed to have been established.

    3. Churchill was associated in the minds of the world with total war tactics. A reputation which Churchill soon after burnished when he authorised the use of chemical warfare against civilians in Iraq.

    4. On a single day in Moscow in August 1918, the first head of Cheka was assassinated and Lenin took an assassin’s bullet in the neck, which he carried until his dying day. John Howard’s enthusiasm for the Coalition of the Willing is explained by his presence in the US in September 2001. An assassin’s bullet concentrates the mind. It was only after those outrages that Lenin unleashed the Red Terror. Sound familiar? Lenin and the Bolsheviks perfected the totalitarian MO, but under provocation. Dzerzhinsky became Head of Cheka because of the events of that day.

    On a more general plane, I’m often struck by the way social scientists (economists and political scientists) often assume that historical actors had perfect knowledge about the nature and consequences of their actions, or knew as much as the later observers knew, (which often, not coincidentally, amounts to the same thing). Historians, on the other hand, tend to be more concerned with what historical actors didn’t or couldn’t know. Historians tend to study the relationship between what actors knew and how they evaluated the conflicting and incomplete evidence to adopt a course of action.

    Lenin was fighting for his life and for his life’s work, and at enormous cost he won. He won because millions of Russians preferred the Bolsheviks to everything else that was on offer.

  39. Stephen L
    October 18th, 2005 at 19:01 | #40

    I haven’t studied it deeply, but am inclined to think that the major difference between a war in 1938 and 1939 would have been Czecheslovakia. As I understand it this was the most industrialised country in Eastern Europe at the time, and represented a huge asset to the German war machine. Had those resources been in the hands of the allies, or at least neutralised by active conflict, it might have been much harder for Germany to take over Europe.

    However, the more important point is the one JQ makes – that this is the extreemly rare exception. It was hard to find a pro-war article in the lead up to the Iraq invasion that did not rely on the claim that Hussein needed to be stopped just like Hitler, and that anyone who did not support the war had not learnt from Munich.

    Some are still spouting this rubbish. The fact that 100 examples, many far closer to the real situation in Iraq at the time, could be produced didn’t matter. The logic seemed to be – war against a dictator was right in 1938, therefore it is right in every case we choose to look at.

  40. October 18th, 2005 at 20:32 | #41

    Stephen L: I fail to see even the loosest connection to the 1905 uprising of the Russian serfs/peasantry in your post. Run it by us again just what impact was had on the 1938 annexation of Czechoslovakia by someone slaughtered by a cavalry sword in 1905?

  41. Joseph Clark
    October 18th, 2005 at 20:58 | #42

    Who would have thought there were so many keen students of Bolshevism hanging around at johnquiggin.com.

  42. Katz
    October 18th, 2005 at 22:36 | #43

    “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Katz. And your sarcasm may equally be directed against yourself: why is your judgement of Lenin’s actions superior to mine? I suppose if mine is olympian, then yours must be positively divine!”

    I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic Dogz.

    The problematic matter between us concerns the nature of the word “judgement”.

    This word has both analytical and moral components.

    I guess we could spend the rest of our lives drawing up two lists: one containing all the Good People and one containing all the Bad People. It is said that St Peter has such lists at the Pearly Gates.

    But historians are less concerned with who is “good” and who is “bad” than they are with who is successful and who is unsuccessful. Correctly, historians are interested in the conditions of success and the conditions of failure. This is because, with distressing frequency Bad People are successful people. The practical task of historians who are interested in promoting liberty in their own societies is to show how Bad People and the Bad ideas and Bad institutions that they promote can be understood so they can be defeated.

    Little is learned if historians become fixated on the moral aspects of actions in the past if that fixation clouds understanding of reasons for success. If we became fixated on moral aspects, then every breath our historical villain took would be an affront to moral sensibility and we’d have to demand to know how a demon like Lenin could be allowed to take every breath. This moral quest quickly becomes absurd.

    To understand human actions, therefore, historians concede that the actions of even the worst villain should be analysed in terms of their appropriateness in terms of achieving their ambitions, regardless of how evil they may seem.

    Lenin is long dead. The regime he spawned is no more. The totalitarian system he pioneered proved to be incapable of reproducing itself. It took 80 years to die and destroyed the lives of hundreds of millions. A proper understanding of this failure relies on analysis rather than moral judgement.

    This is because analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future.

  43. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 00:36 | #44

    Katz, there’s no need to lecture me on historical analysis: I understand the point of “in-situ” analysis versus moral judgement imposed from a later era.

    However, I disagree that “analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future”. I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course – they just don’t get anywhere today because the lessons have been absorbed into the institutional, social, moral, and cultural fabric of society. Pretty hard to start a totalitarian revolution in an educated, wealthy, modern country like Australia.

    My objection to your original post was precisely because you apparently made a moral judgement in favour of Lenin’s actions:

    The Bolsheviks were acting in legitimate self-defence.

    The use of “legitimate” is unfortunate if you meant to pass no moral judgement on their behaviour.

    jquiggin, apologies for misinterpreting your endorsement. In my defence, you didn’t qualify it; on face value you were also endorsing the above quote.

  44. October 19th, 2005 at 03:19 | #45

    “3. Churchill was associated in the minds of the world with total war tactics. A reputation which Churchill soon after burnished when he authorised the use of chemical warfare against civilians in Iraq.”

    The “chemical warfare” he authorised was the use of teargas. Don’t believe everything you read on Indymedia.

  45. October 19th, 2005 at 03:57 | #46

    Dogz: I think the rest of us “got” JQ’s meaning. This is abstract discussion of historical events, no need to lay the boot too vigorously into Katz for freudian slips in favour of Lenin. We all deserve our dreams, & we can afford to indulge the dreams of those who follow a failed ideology.

    The maligning of Winston Churchill is a different matter. Leaving aside his historical achievements, This man saw more action than Katz has had hot dinners. He also had the strength of character to own up mistakes.

  46. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 08:30 | #47

    1. “I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course”

    Maybe you need a refresher course Dogz. Lenin was an avid student of history. In fact he developed his revolutionary methods by studying the mistakes of the Decembrists and Narodniks.

    But credit where credit is due: “doubt” is a very appropriate starting point for anyone seeking to educate themselves.

    2. “The use of “legitimateâ€? is unfortunate if you meant to pass no moral judgement on their behaviour.”

    This comment is based on a false premise, as discussed in earlier posts.

    3. SATP never disappoints expectations in the appositeness of his comments.

  47. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 09:37 | #48

    Katz, I said “would-be Lenins”, ie modern-day revolutionaries, not Lenin himself. If you’re going to be supercilious and patronizing, at least get your facts straight.

    We all deserve our dreams, & we can afford to indulge the dreams of those who follow a failed ideology.

    If indulging those dreams requires treating state-sponsored terrorism by unelected governments as legitimate, then I disagree.

  48. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:10 | #49

    Dogz, why would you expect today’s “would-be Lenins” to be any less interested in learning from history than the original?

    How could you be an apostle of Lenin without knowing about Lenin?

    This conversation has taken a turn for the bizarre.

    “We all deserve our dreams, & we can afford to indulge the dreams of those who follow a failed ideology.”

    I belivee that SATP, who is the actual author of this sentiment, was trying his hand at a little sarcasm. Thus, I believe he actually believes the opposite. But who can tell for sure?

    “If indulging those dreams requires treating state-sponsored terrorism by unelected governments as legitimate, then I disagree”

    Are we to infer from this comment that you believe that state-sponsored terrorism executed by elected governments is somehow more legitimate than that sponsored by unelected governments? And if you are happy to impose different standards on democratically elected governments, would you be happy weighting the scales in favour of Protestants, Crusaders versus Muslims, Conquistadors versus Indians, etc., etc, thus turning the whole sweep of human history into a vast morality tale.

    The thinking behind this statement gets us a bit closer to your difficulty. Once you start trying to impose different moral standards on the behaviour of historical actors according to their supposed motives, as opposed to assessing the actual nature of their acts you quickly wade into moral quicksand. Proper grown-up historians tend to avoid the temptation for indulging in self-congratulatory moral superiority in preference for the rather more modest task of seeking to understand how a particular course of action was chosen.

  49. Paul Norton
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:19 | #50

    On a lighter note, is there anyone out there who, after watching this morning’s TV programs and reading this morning’s papers, does not regret that the Danes haven’t got around to the revolutionary overthrow of their monarchy?

  50. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:33 | #51

    Proper grown-up historians tend to avoid the temptation for indulging in self-congratulatory moral superiority…

    Let me guess Katz, you count yourself amongst those “proper grown-ups”? Now there is a self-congratulatory and superior statement if ever I read one. You really should apply your own character assessments to yourself sometime.

    Dogz, why would you expect today’s “would-be Lenins� to be any less interested in learning from history than the original?

    I don’t. What I said was:

    However, I disagree that “analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future�. I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course – they just don’t get anywhere today because the lessons have been absorbed into the institutional, social, moral, and cultural fabric of society. Pretty hard to start a totalitarian revolution in an educated, wealthy, modern country like Australia.

    The key clause is: “I doubt would-be Lenins study history _and_ choose a different course”. So I doubt they do both. That doesn’t mean I doubt they study history. I am sure they do. To borrow some of your patronizing air Katz, its logic 101: “A _and_ B” is true if and only if A is true _and_ B is true. So “not A _and_ B” can mean anyone of three things: A is true but B is false, A is false but B is true, or both A and B are false. Confused? Draw yourself a diagram.

    “If indulging those dreams requires treating state-sponsored terrorism by unelected governments as legitimate, then I disagree�

    Are we to infer from this comment that you believe that state-sponsored terrorism executed by elected governments is somehow more legitimate than that sponsored by unelected governments?

    Yes, but I would put it in the double negative: if people vote for terrorism against themselves then that is less illegitimate than if they never got to vote at all. But neither case is legitimate.

  51. gordon
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:43 | #52

    I suppose this is Prof. Quiggin’s little contribution to the war on terror. I don’t think retreat to legitimism under the aegis of a new Holy Alliance in which the USA plays the role of Tsarist Russia could be seen as much of an advance from any sort of “social-democratic perspective”.

    Prof. Quiggin is careful to avoid mention of the English Revolution of the 1640s, the US’ own Revolutionary War, the revolutionary struggle for Italian independence and nationality, the revolutionary wars of independence in South America in the 19th Century, the Chinese revolution or the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions. Less overtly violent revolutionary movements such as the campaign for Indian independence and more recent mass movements in pursuit of democracy and self-determination in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine are ignored. Nor does Prof. Quiggin raise the problem of the distortion of revolutionary movements in response to foreign hostility.

    Prof. Quiggin is talking through his hat.

  52. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 11:31 | #53

    “I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course – they just don’t get anywhere today because the lessons have been absorbed into the institutional, social, moral, and cultural fabric of society. Pretty hard to start a totalitarian revolution in an educated, wealthy, modern country like Australia.”

    Your additions and elaborations make your statement more absurd than the abbreviation I dealt with in a previous post.

    1. When did Australia ever have a would-be Lenin? There is no evidence at all of left-wing paramilitary and terrorist activity and formation underground cells. Most Australian marxist-leninists were nothing more than armchair revolutionaries. You’ve created a fantasy version of Australian history that is laughable in its ignorance of the world of facts.

    2. Even if we concede that there might be some would-be Lenins lurking out there today (have you looked under your bed Dogz?) do you believe that they would be impervious to the knowledge that Australians are overwhelmingly happy with present arrangements? What odd proto-Lenins they must be: both cunningly ruthless and almost unbelievably stupid.

    Give it up Dogz.

  53. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 12:43 | #54

    Katz, your original statement was:

    … analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future.

    Who is being deterred? “anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future”. Your words. Describing such people as “would-be Lenins” (my words) seems pretty faithful to your description, yet you serve me with this:

    1. When did Australia ever have a would-be Lenin? There is no evidence at all of left-wing paramilitary and terrorist activity and formation underground cells. Most Australian marxist-leninists were nothing more than armchair revolutionaries. You’ve created a fantasy version of Australian history that is laughable in its ignorance of the world of facts.

    I merely coined “would-be Lenins” as a shorter term to describe “anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future”. So any fantasy version of Australian history somehow implied by that coinage, must also be implied by your original description. Needles to say, the implication fails regardless of the name you use.

    Then this:

    2. Even if we concede that there might be some would-be Lenins lurking out there today (have you looked under your bed Dogz?) do you believe that they would be impervious to the knowledge that Australians are overwhelmingly happy with present arrangements? What odd proto-Lenins they must be: both cunningly ruthless and almost unbelievably stupid.

    That was pretty much my point. Originally it looked as though you were claiming that part of the value in analysing history is that it teaches would-be Lenins to follow a different course. My point was that it doesn’t matter whether the would-be Lenins study history or not – they’re not going to get very far inciting a revolution in modern societies today, and a big part of the reason is that the lessons of history have been absorbed into the culture – our institutions, education, democracy, etc.

    Or to put it another way, my argument is that the value of historical analysis is not as a direct deterrent to the nutcases amongst us – after all, the nutcases are going to do crazy things no matter what you right about history – but the buttressing of society as a whole against such nutcases.

  54. Paul Norton
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:15 | #55

    gordon, the various “revolutions” which you cite, and which you accuse JQ of deliberately ignoring, either:

    (a) predate the emergence of the modern liberal-democratic state which (as Engels and later Gramsci noted) is not susceptible to overthrow by the revolutionary methods employed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, but which (as Engels and also Marx noted later in their lives) is susceptible to capture and transformation for social-democratic purposes by non-violent and democratic means; or

    (b) can be criticised, in terms of their human consequences and the forms of societies which they produced, on similar grounds to the Bolshevik Revolution; or

    (c) were not revolutions, but synergies between mass social movements and reforming initiatives from within the regimes.

    Democratic and progressive social change in advanced capitalist democracies like Australia has (and will have) some affinities with (c), as it results (and will result) from the interplay between the radical and reforming initiatives and demands of mass social movements such as feminism, environmentalism, etc., the programs and policies of reforming governments, and the accumulation of changes at the “molecular level”, i.e. the day-to-day decisions and practices of people’s lives. But (a) and (b) have little to offer progressive movements in our current context, except (in the case of (b)) examples of what is *not* to be done.

  55. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:25 | #56

    Nutcases don’t learn from history. I agree.

    But whatever else Lenin was, he wasn’t a nutcase.

    To pathologise Lenin’s talents is to utterly misunderstand and to trivialise both his accomplishments and the nature of the threat that he posed to long-standing social, political and economic arrangements.

    He was a brilliant fanatic who analysed with clear-eyed precision the weak-points of his opponents and then ruthlessly exploited them. And his understanding of history served as a basis for this precision of understanding of his enemies.

    Thus, to return to the salient point about any “would-be Lenins” (i.e., persons who are brilliant and ruthless, but NOT nutcases: they’d look at the facts on the ground in a place like Australia and say, “Jeez, it doesn’t matter how much I learn about the failings of the Decembrists and the Narodniks, these lessons don’t seem to apply to Australia. Maybe I’ll become an investment advisor instead.”

    Indeed the real Lenin said something like that about Australia in 1913. Here’s an extract:

    “Australia is a young British colony.

    “Capitalism in Australia is still quite young. The country is only just beginning to take shape as an independent State. The workers, for the most part, are emigrants from England. They left England at the time when Liberal-Labor politics held almost unchallenged sway there and when the majority of the English workers were Liberals. Even up to now the majority of the skilled factory workers in England are Liberals and semi-Liberals. This is the result of the exceptionally favorable, monopolist position England occupied in the second half of the nineteenth century. Only now are the masses of the workers beginning to turn toward Socialism.

    “And while in England the so-called “Labor Party” represents an alliance betwen the socialist trade unions and the extreme opportunist Indendent Labor Party, in Australia, the Labor Party represents the purely non-socialist trade unionist workers.

    “The leaders of the Australian Labor Party are trade union officials, an element which everywhere represents a most moderate and “capital-serving” element, and in Australia it is altogether peaceful, and purely liberal.

    “In Australia the Labor Party has done what in other countries was done by the Liberals, namely, introducing a uniform customs tariff for the whole country, a uniform Education Act, a uniform land tax and uniform Factory Acts.

    “Naturally, when Australia is finally developed and consolidated as an independent capitalist State the conditions of the workers will change, as also will the Liberal Labor Party which will make way for a Socialist Labor Party. Australia serves to illustrate the conditions under which exceptions to the rule are possible. The rule is: A socialist Labor Party in a capitalist country. The exception is: A Liberal Labor Party which only arises for a short time as a result of the conditions which are abnormal for capitalism.”

    Case closed.

  56. Roberto
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:37 | #57

    On the point of the Danes’ new little royal sprog, (Denmark is next to Germany!) why are so many Australians doing cartwheels in celebration.

    ‘Our’ Mary volunteered to marry into this family of Viking remnants, and coverted to Lutheranism (leave it to others to comment) renounced her citizenship (Australia), and then renounced future custodial care over any future sproggies in the event of the dissolution of the marriage.

  57. October 19th, 2005 at 14:48 | #58

    Paul Norton Says: October 19th, 2005 at 10:19 am

    is there anyone out there who, after watching this morning’s TV programs and reading this morning’s papers, does not regret that the Danes haven’t got around to the revolutionary overthrow of their monarchy?

    I dont regret the persistence of the Danish monarchy. It shows that they care for their constitutional lineage and national identity. Australian republicans, by contrast, mostly peddle warmed over anglophobia to titillate the unreconstructed Feinians and/or are making a crude attempt at status climbing by the Big End of Town/Smart Set.

  58. jquiggin
    October 19th, 2005 at 15:07 | #59

    Paul has largely anticipated my response to Gordon, but let me explicitly say that I regard the Chinese and Cuban revolutions as Leninist disasters and the Nicaraguan revolution as an example of the failure of the revolutionary party to relinquish power when the time came to do so . I haven’t got on top of the current deal between the Sandinistas and the rightist Aleman, but it is regrettably par for the course.

    As Paul says, the regime collapses in Poland, Ukraine and Czechoslovakia were synergies between mass social movements and reforming initiatives from within the regimes – revolutions in the pre-Leninist or maybe pre-1789 sense of the term, but not in the sense it’s commonly used today.

  59. October 19th, 2005 at 15:37 | #60

    Katz Says: October 18th, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    I’m no apologist of Lenin,

    I believe Katz means this when he says it. Its just that all his arguments so far have been apologetics for Bolshevik misbehaviour, based on the moral equivalence supposition. But this is exactly what the critics of Bolshevism in particular, and totalitarianism in general, reject.

    Moreover, Katz’s position is in contradiction to Solzyenitsen’s argument, that the Bolsheviks were always totalitarian, from the moment they were formed until Brzhenev died. Stalin was not an aberration, he was the Bolshevik “Full Monty”.

    1. Russia’s so-called democracy lasted one day in 1918 and died without friends.

    No. The Constituent Assembly sat for one day. But Russia’s first democratic regime lasted for two months. The CA had plenty of friends amongst the non-Bolshevik majority.

    A total of 703 candidates were elected to the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917. This included Socialist Revolutionaries (299), Bolsheviks (168), Mensheviks (18) and Constitutional Democratic Party (17).

    The Bolsheviks were bitterly disappointed with the result as they hoped it would legitimize the October Revolution. When it opened on 5th January, 1918, Victor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, was elected President. When the Assembly refused to support the programme of the new Soviet Government, the Bolsheviks walked out in protest.

    Later that day, Vladimir Lenin announced that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved. Soon afterwards all opposition political groups, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and the Constitutional Democratic Party, were banned in Russia.

    Bolsheviks do not like it because they return the wrong result ie not “all power to the Soviets”.

    3. Churchill was associated in the minds of the world with total war tactics.

    No. Churchill was associated in most minds with the attempt to avoid total war and attrition. Thus the Gallipoli adventure was an attempt to circumvent the Western Front and “knock over the props” of the Central Powers. And in WWII he was always trying to “attack the soft underbelly of the Axis” through Italy, never get any where near the Eastern Front, delay the Second Front etc.

    4. On a single day in Moscow in August 1918, the first head of Cheka was assassinated and Lenin took an assassin’s bullet in the neck, which he carried until his dying day….

    …It was only after those outrages that Lenin unleashed the Red Terror. Lenin and the Bolsheviks perfected the totalitarian MO, but under provocation. Dzerzhinsky became Head of Cheka because of the events of that day.

    No. The Bolsheviks were committed political terrorists and totalitarians from the word go ie 1903. That was the issue on which they split from the Mensheviks ie dictatorial revolution or democratic evolution.

    Lenin’s committment to state terrorism and repression only deepened after that. He realised that the Bolshevik aims were so extreme that they could only be pursued by massive repression.

    We must proclaim from the house-tops the need for a bold offensive and armed attack, the necessity at such times of exterminating the persons in command of the enemy,

    “We would be deceiving both ourselves and the people if we concealed from the masses the necessity of a desperate, bloody war of extermination, as the immediate task of the coming revolutionary action.

    Excerpts from V.I. Lenin, “The Lessons of the Moscow Uprising� (1906).

    Lenin was already prepared for a Red Terror well before the assasination attempt. Why else would he create a Secret Police force in the first place? The Bolsheviks had already set up proto-GULAGs in late 1917.

    Lenin was fighting for his life and for his life’s work, and at enormous cost he won. He won because millions of Russians preferred the Bolsheviks to everything else that was on offer.

    Yes and No. Yes, Lenin’s repressive actions were definitely done fighting for his lifes work. But his life’s work was so repugnant – the forceful abolition of Russian society in favour of a totalitarian despotism – that they required unprecedented repression. Which is why the stakes were so high.

    No, Lenin won because of his more ruthless use of state terror not because “millions of Russians preferred the Bolsheviks to everything else that was on offer.” His brutal policy repulsed many more millions of Russians than it attracted. He denied Russians a democratic political choice and employed massive terror to effect that denial.

    As the situation in the ME shows, a small bunch of violent fanatics will tend to prevail over a large number of less violent moderates. Where terrorist totalitarians are concerned, one counts balls, not heads.

  60. wilful
    October 19th, 2005 at 17:02 | #61

    [blockquote]Australian republicans, by contrast, mostly peddle warmed over anglophobia to titillate the unreconstructed Feinians and/or are making a crude attempt at status climbing by the Big End of Town/Smart Set.[/blockquote] What an insulting load of utter tripe. Republicanism is motivated by Austrophilia not anglophobia. The crown is a relict of a bygone age that says nothing to the vast majority of Australians. It well acknowledged that about 90% of Australians are in favour of a republic, it’s only the mechanism that’s in question. Monarchists are dinosaurs that don’t think Australia is grown up enough to have it’s own head of state.

  61. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 18:38 | #62

    At the nadir of Bolshevik fortunes during the Russian Civil War, anti-Bolshevik forces controlled seven-eighths of Russian territory. The country was in turmoil. The way was open for many who had a mind to vote with their feet to desert the Bolshevik cause. Yet Bolshevik support remained firm. This behaviour may seem odd, contrary, and even “immoral” in our eyes, having gained so much acuity by our knowledge and innate wisdom. Yet this is what happened.

    A high proportion of these supporters were peasants who had just been given land by the Bolsheviks in accordance with the “Peace! Bread! Land!” slogan. The White forces made themselves obnoxious by telling these peasants that they intended to give the land back to their legal owners, the Russian aristocracy.

    Lenin didn’t live long enough to participate in the dispossession of these peasants. Perhaps he would have done exactly wha Stalin did. We don’t know. Perhaps Lenin could exculpate himself by proclaiming that the “Land!” bit wasn’t a core promise.

    To return, once again, to the point of controversy. The question is: “What actions taken by a totalitarian dictator can ever be said to be “justified”?

    Some might say that even his decision to feed himself so that he can continue with his beastly work is “unjustified”. If one is determined to take moral arguments back to the past, one is compelled to draw the line somewhere. None of my interlocutors has come close to defining a position on this necessary question.

    To state my position one more time: success or failure is a much more important matter for analysis than attempting to measure the precise measure of evil entailed in the actions and motives of an historical actor.

    Perhaps Lenin didn’t require as much terror as he meted out in order to survive, but how would he know in the midst of the emergency he faced in 1918?

    Note also that I draw a distinction between the terror used to ensure survival and the terror that became routine after the civil war emergency ended. Note that this policy was a remote cause of the erosion of legitimacy of the Soviet regime. The Russian people eventually stopped believing in a system that required their oppression in order to survive. Terror could no longer be justified as a successful mechanism for social control, and by the end of the 1980s and because of the erosive effects of terror, there were no other ways in the Soviet Union of inviting compliance from the Russian masses.

  62. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 22:22 | #63

    Biographers of Hitler and historians of the Nazi rise to power often follow the same methodology as I outlined above. They swallow their distaste for their subject matter to the extent that is required to analyse such matters as:

    How Hitler took control of and transformed the fledgling Nazi Party.

    How Hitler shaped and honed his public persona, which he recognized correctly to be his major political asset.

    How Hitler tailored his appeal to major capitalist backers.

    How Hitler tricked the Right into thinking that he was their useful idiot.

    How Hitler concocted a terrorist scare to abolish parliamentary democracy.

    All of these achievements were signal successes. As one historian of the Nazi spy service observed, “every success I discuss represents a disaster for humanity”. But this historian recognises that 400 pages of ranting about how evil Hitler and the Nazis were tells us nothing.

    Rather, David Kahn in “Hitler’s Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II” dispassionately demonstrates how Hitler’s megalomania and Nazi racist ideology so poisoned the spy service that it was rendered almost completely useless.

    Thus, mirroring the points I made above about Lenin, the very features of Nazism that made it so successful as a political force — Hitler’s charisma and the Nazi appeal to German racism — proved to be the achilles heel of the German espionage service when it was tasked with discovering, among othe things, the Allies’ plans for D-Day.

    This is an example of excellent history that avoids the temptation to indulge in moral preening.

    I hope I won’t be accused of being an apologist of Hitler if I show, in his quest for political leadership of Germany, how justified Hitler was in his belief in his own charisma and in his belief in the pervasive racism of the German people.

  63. October 20th, 2005 at 12:41 | #64

    Katz Says: October 19th, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    To return, once again, to the point of controversy. The question is: “What actions taken by a totalitarian dictator can ever be said to be “justified�?

    Some might say that even his decision to feed himself so that he can continue with his beastly work is “unjustified�. If one is determined to take moral arguments back to the past, one is compelled to draw the line somewhere. None of my interlocutors has come close to defining a position on this necessary question.

    I will attempt to “define a position on this necessary question”. The problem that Katz addresses is a real one, the statesman’s Machiavellian problem: how bad far means may be used to achieve good ends. It never really goes away, as disputants on the morality of Iraq attack understand more or less.

    The debate was formalised in post-Enlightenment philosophy, as articulated by Kantian deonotological “autonomism” and Millian teleological utilitarianism. But these differning ideological positions typically collapse into the same institutional practices when push comes to shove.

    Weber addressed the key problem in “Politics as Vocation” with his distinction between the “ethic of responsibility” and “ethic of ultimate ends”, which was designed to update Machiavelli for the totalitarian age. He drew this distinction with the problem of the Bolsheviks/Spartakist revolutionaries very much in mind.

    Popper suggested a solution that seems plausible to me. Ideological revolutionaries (such as Lenin, Hitler) and theological reactionaries (such as Khomeni or Bin Laden) use a form of mythological historicism to justify the crimes they commit in the name of their eschatological futurist political vision.

    The political ethic of “historicist-futurists” is by definition immoral. The supposed laws of history that they invoke is bogus. And the vision of a future state that they imagine will always exist only in a utopian never-never land.

    Katz is free to speculate on the real politics of Orwellian “police statesmen”. But he is wrong to put them on a morally equivalent plane to the Machiavellian “civil statesman”.

    This just opens the door to a perverse Darwinian world where “survival of the nastiest” ensures that “the worst always get to the top”. The agencies of the Closed Society, following that historicist-futurist logic, will unleash total war within society on spurious grounds: the unconscionable doing the unspeakable in pursuit of the unattainable.

    The institutions and ordinances of the Open Society deliberately constrain elites from using totalist methods. This prevents social conflict from degenerating into an uncontrollable war of the top-dog elites against the under-dog populus.

    This is the political ethic that guides “ethico-logical” reformers to solve real problems in the here and now, in accordance with democraticly sampled social norms. And this requires the use of the scientific method to engage in partial, rather than general, social engineering.

    Dr Knopfelmacher argued that the statesman defending the Open Society’s meta-institutional interests is allowed, pace Machiavelli, “some slippage” from the norms prescribed by intra-institutional civil morality (a la Kant or Mill).

    There is no precise quantum of moral slack that can be cut to the crafty politician seeking to protect national security and cultural identity. His very job always involves “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Roosevelt was prepared to nuke Berlin, so one presumes quite a bit of moral slippage is permissable.

    Dr K. (con Strocchi) suggest that the economy of force that the civil Machiavellian may use should always be proportionate to the:

    – proximity and scale of the threat being projected
    – durability and viablity of the Good Society being protected

    The key point to remember is that the interests being defended are “actual and existing” not potential and imaginary. And the instruments being used should be proportionate to threat.

    Russia in the early part of the 20th C was certainly not a perfect society. But it was evolving towards a better state, under the inluence of industrial capitalism, democratic socialism and liberal nationalism.

    That benevolent potential was swept away when Lenin decided to import the totalist methods of inter-state conflict (per the Great War) to prosecute the partisan problems thrown up by intra-state conflict (per the Class War). This was the moral logic behind his slogan “Turn an imperialist war into a civil war”.

    Lenin coined this slogan well before anyone decided to put a bullet into him. Indeed, this slogan was very much the reason why so many people wanted to knock him off.

  64. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 13:51 | #65

    Most thoughtful Jack.

    “This just opens the door to a perverse Darwinian world where “survival of the nastiestâ€? ensures that “the worst always get to the topâ€?.”

    However, I take issue with this generalisation. The world did go through a nasty totalitarian patch during the “Short Twentieth Century”. The biggest international war in history was required to get rid of fascist regimes, the second most pervasive of those totalitarianisms. The most pervasive, Communism, collapsed from internal sclerosis and erosion of legitimacy. Apart from the bullets that terminated the Ceausescus, hardly a shot was fired.

    Memory of the consequences of those regimes, it can be argued, has innoculated citizens of countries around the world against acceptance of totalitarian “solutions” to class, race, or national problems.

    (Of course, some people never learn, or don’t want to learn. Hence German neo-nazi skinheads, etc. But in the West these are pathetic fringedwellers. And Islamic exceptionalism does appear to be a rising passion.)

    And among the most potent agents of that knowledge of the consequences of totalitarianism are historians. And their message is: “Once upon a time intelligent people hoped and believed that totalitarianism would work to satisfy the legitimate needs of the people. It didn’t work.”

    With that memory so firmly implanted in the collective memory, the nastiest still might get to the top, but they are unlikely to be as nasty as Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler.

  65. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 14:21 | #66

    Jack’s discussion is an interesting exercise in clarifying what we should think about totalitarian dictators, but I doubt that the arguments would impress the dictators themselves very much.

    Let us indulge in a little thought experiment.

    Suppose Jack was able to transport himself back through time to lecture Lenin on the inherent evils of his closed ideology, it is likely that Lenin would still argue that he had no choice but to act as he did for the reasons of eschatalogical necessity outlined by Jack. In other words, dictators are likely to be impervious to moral suasion, and they are likely to be contemptuous of moral positions that they would see as spineless.

    Suppose, on the other hand, that an historian was able to transport herself back to Lenin’s side with proof positive of the disastrous consequences of soviet communism. I believe that Lenin would be more amenable to practical argument. He might even resolve to redouble his efforts and be still more ruthless in the application of his methods, on the understanding that post-Stalin Soviet leaders were just big softies.

    This is a roundabout way of saying that what we think about the moral status of actors in the past contributes little to an understanding of how they decided on one course of action rather than all other courses of action.

    Moreover, that knowledge is the sine qua non of any interpersonal understanding, whether between epochs, or between individuals sharing the same time and space.

  66. Rob
    October 20th, 2005 at 16:38 | #67

    Troglodite said: It is my belief that the welfare state in the west was a direct result of having communist countries in the east.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. My understanding is that the roots of the modern welfare state, at least in Britain, lie in an examination of socieity undertaken in the UK during WWII. It was called the Beveridge Report (sp?). The whole idea was to determine what social conditions had led to the rise of Nazism in Germany, and to configure British society such that they could not take hold there and provide fertile soil for the rise of similar totalitarian idologies. This study led to the post-war construction of the British welfare state.

    Such is my understanding, anyway. I may be wrong.

    Great post, JQ.

  67. gordon
    October 20th, 2005 at 16:58 | #68

    Prof. Quiggin and Paul Norton seem to believe that the modern social-democratic National State could have emerged without the French Revolution, and that working class political influence (including parliamentary representation) could have come about without that revolution (and others), and without the long tradition of egalitarian/socialist and revolutionary thought in which Marx participated and which might be traced at least as far back as the English revolution of the 1640s. These are some of the “ifs” of history; we must note that as a matter of fact the social-democratic National State and working-class political influence emerged after these things (and after an industrial revolution).

    Prof. Quiggin and Paul Norton may believe that some other processes would have occurred which would painlessly, and maybe even more quickly, have brought about the social amelioration we have seen since, say, 1789. If so, bully for them. Maybe they could collaborate on an alternative history. But such an alternative history had better be clearly labelled “fiction”.

    Actually, Prof. Quiggin has already made a start on this project, by lumping the many and varied participants in securing “the achievements of the Left” all together. I wonder what the philosophical radicals of the early 19th century in England, later 19th century Christian Socialists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, French and German socialists of all colours, Karl Marx, Trade Unionists, Malcolm X, Teddy Roosevelt, and the hundreds of thousands of anonymous individuals who have had their heads broken, been sent to prison, and died for the “achievements of the Left” would all find to say to each other? It wasn’t a smooth, coordinated process, you know. Then we could add in Garibaldi and his Thousand, and Bolivar and his gangs of cutthroats…

    In his comment of Oct. 19, Paul Norton tries to redefine “revolution” in ways which he thinks would undermine my previous comment. I think Paul Norton really only want to talk about the Russian revolution of 1917. But the original post was framed in terms of revolution in general, so I’ll just quote some relevant remarks from the Introduction to Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution” (Vintage, 1965):

    “But our focus is on drastic, sudden substitution of one group in charge of the running of a territorial political entity by another group hitherto not running that government. There is one further implication: the revolutionary substitution of one group for another, if not made by actual violent uprising, is made by coup d’etat, putsch, or some other kind of skulduggery” (p.4).

    Brinton also reminds me to mention the Irish revolution.

  68. Dogz
    October 20th, 2005 at 18:45 | #69

    Rob says:

    Troglodite said: It is my belief that the welfare state in the west was a direct result of having communist countries in the east.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. My understanding is that the roots of the modern welfare state, at least in Britain, lie in an examination of socieity undertaken in the UK during WWII.

    Hmm, my (folk) understanding has always been that industrialization followed by the depression kick-started the welfare state. Industrialization moved everyone off the land into the cities so they could no longer feed themselves without jobs, and then the depression took most of the jobs away.

    I doubt Roosovelt would have had much chance at getting the New Deal or Social Security through Congress without something like the depression fresh in everyone’s mind.

  69. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 19:43 | #70

    The search for “causes” of the emergence of the welfare state may well prove to be futile.

    “Conditions”, “middle class paternalism”, “fabianism”, “fear of the left”, “fear of the right”, “emulation by one nation of another” all make up part of what may well prove to be a Melbourne Cup field.

    One thing is true: its emergence was protracted and piecemeal, sometimes led by the Left, sometimes championed by the Right.

    Just about anything you can say about the emergence of the Welfare State is correct in some place at some time.

  70. Tracy
    October 22nd, 2005 at 14:08 | #71

    I hate to say this, but I think John (and most of these posts) have missed the main point about revolutions. Locke was right; humans will put up with bad governments almost indefinitely. But not indefinitely. Carl Oglesby had the sequence right a long time ago. Revolutions take place because people find their backs to the wall and their way of life under threat. In some situations like this, the sequence of events allows an opportunity for change. It is usually seized. When you are in Hell, any alternative looks like a good one. I might add that Oglesby very astutely points out that the Lenin’s of the world usually come on stage after the real business has started; indeed, after it is to all intents already over. When they do arrive, people will put up with them, even if things don’t work exactly as they please. The reason for this is straightforward: the new regime is usually better than what they left behind. Admittedly, this sometimes isn’t the case and the USSR under Stalin is probably the best example. Still, as I tell people like John who point out that revolutions are violent and can lead to authoritarian governments that the revolutionaries didn’t anticipate, “tell that to the people in Hell.” There will always be revolutions because we will always create Hells and sometimes the only way out of them is to recombine societies through war.

    I wish this wasn’t the case, but human history argues that it is. I doubt that the changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years have altered that. We need to come to terms with the role of violence in societal reform, not argue that it is of no use or that it has been rendered obsolete. Those are two propositions that we can be sure will not be sustained over the long term.

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