North Korea: the Beginning of the End

In the preface to ‘Communism: A Very Short Introduction’, Leslie Holmes writes:

‘The overwhelming majority of states that were Communist as recently as the late 1980s have moved on. While, formerly, five communist states remain, the two successful ones (China and Vietnam) are so largely because they have jettisoned many of the original basic tenants of communism and are in some important areas – notably the economy – already post-communist’.

The communist world today

The communist world today

First published in 2009, such a view presented in Holmes’ book is already proving to be especially discerning. Only in late 2014 did the USA and Cuba set aside their long-enduring hostility towards one another, an action which, as I’ve earlier said, I believe will mark the start of socialism’s decline in the Caribbean. Arguably, with China and Vietnam already long gone, this leaves just one state that exists according to strictly socialist principles; North Korea, or officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Ironically, what could be perceived to be the last untarnished communist regime has formally abandoned communist philosophy, a political step on the road to capitalism which the other four countries have yet to take, with their constitution of 2009 describing their country as one ‘guided in its activities by the Juche idea and the Songun idea’. However, Juche, the school of thought based upon ideas of self-sufficiency, and Songun, the national policy of ‘military first’, contribute little in the way of altering the country’s strictly-centralised economy. From the outside, it would appear that the economic situation has persisted without interruption, leaving a country with an equally ‘communistic’ system to the other four, and even more so today, with the relaxations in policy within China or Vietnam. But is all this about to change?

A surprising event in recent news may indicate exactly that, depending on what angle you look at it; North Korea is currently experiencing a nationwide property boom, a concept we’d associate with the capitalist west. In itself, this may not provide a strong enough argument to suggest a foreshadowing of the regime’s collapse, but an article published in the South Korean newspaper ‘The Hankyoreh’ explains how this may be the case. The author references research professor Jung Eun-yi, a leading expert in the field, who ‘argues that there are signs that the housing market in North Korea is turning into a real estate market, rather like South Korea’.

Verkehr_in_Nordkorea_06

As I’ve said, it’s still only a minor alteration, yet change has to begin somewhere, and it isn’t always as dramatic as the Romanian Revolution of 1989, or even the lifting of the trade embargo against Cuba by the USA. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be underestimated how provocative such a change could be; the article explains how Jung believes this style of market ‘will continue to expand for a significant period of time’, allowing it time to seriously transform the nationwide economy, paving the way for further relaxations on the road to a free market. In short, we learn that Jung thinks 2013’s establishment of the housing delegation offices proves that ‘both central planning and market forces are at work in the North Korean economy today.’, and that, in her opinion, the incorporation of the latter alongside the former into the market also provides evidence for a reformist trend developing under Kim Jong-un’s government; she informs us that ‘the regime is going beyond the military-first policy known as Songun that was instituted by Kim’s father and moving down the path toward socialist capitalism’.

The timing certainly seems right, with the DPRK standing as the last of its kind, and I believe this is exactly the kind of trigger such transition requires. Once more opportunities arise for personal financial gain, enabling the individual, rather than the state, to profit, the iron grip the government maintains over the economy will begin to loosen; like the other socialist states whose colours have somehow clung to the mast after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the DPRK’s regime shall eventually crumble. One question, however, remains unanswered: is the fall of Korean communism to be rejoiced or lamented?

There’s obviously no one answer, and it depends not only on your attitude towards communism on the whole, but also towards the North Korean regime. I can’t imagine many conservatives, liberals, or even socialists saddened at the prospect. A dispute could arise among the far left, however, and opinions on North Korea vary from a communist perspective.

Personally, I’d definitely support the ousting of the current leadership, which operates as an absolute monarchy, enjoys luxurious privileges unheard of by the workers it claims to represent, looks to the leader like a prophet, Kim Il-sung like a God, and all in a perverted fashion which contradicts multiple tenants of Marxism. As for the loss of a communist system in the economic sense, I feel much the same as I did for the potential loss of Cuba’s. Yet it doesn’t take an expert to realise that the North Korean system is already flawed, given the famine it produces, the corruption it’s tainted by, and the seemingly endless funding it directs towards the military at the expense of the populace. In fact, if you take all its flaws into consideration, it would even seem sensible to argue that North Korea’s economy has already strayed too far from the communist model it was built upon.

 

The featured image was provided by User:SKopp from Wikimedia Commons. It was licenced under the following: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

The image depicting the current communist states was provided by Ichwan Palongengi from Wikimedia Commons, and was also licenced under the above.

The image depicting the apartments in North Korea was provided by Nicor from Wikimedia Commons, and was also licenced under the above. 

On Patriotism

As I write, patriotic thought is on the rise.

From the nationalist, anti-US current developing in Russia to the successes of far-right parties across the UK with the increase in foreign immigration, the country one belongs to surfaces more and more amongst other political issues. The reason behind this is probably due to a variety of factors, perhaps as a reaction against the political and economic unions of today, such as the EU, or in the form of national self-determination, opposing the rule of other nations, such as in Scotland or Kashmir. It would thus seem difficult to make assumptions or generalisations for such a vague and simple manner of political thought, though there is an underlying definition to be understood.

If you simply type in the word ‘patriotism’, here’s what Google will give you:

patriotism

 /ˈpeɪtrɪətɪz(ə)m/

 Noun

  1. the quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one’s country.

“a highly decorated officer of unquestionable integrity and patriotism”

In the entry ‘Nationalism, Imperialism, and Communism’ I made clear my hatred for nationalism. Today, against the backdrop of increasingly-patriotic world, I’ll take that one step further and explain why I believe patriotic thought, even in casual circumstances, is unhealthy, damaging, and also completely irrational.

Take Russia for an example, a country in which ‘vigorous support for one’s country’ is actually able to translate itself into ‘hatred of another’. Is this not proof that patriotism is a corrupting manner of thought; one that is able to completely distort perceptions of the world? It would even be possible for any leader could cultivate such a force, using it to brainwash their population and justify inhumane actions ‘for the glory of the motherland’. Patriotism, capable of arising in any country under any regime, can serve to counteract the process of fair, logical decision-making, when an individual will side with their country no matter what. Even ‘weaker’ patriots, happy to draw limits on their support for the nation, fall into the same trap: if you belong to a country, if you believe in that country, then imagine how readily biased you’d be in the need to choose a side.

This can be clearly seen in the example of the Vietnam War, in which many atrocities, violations of international treaties, and inhumane acts of violence were committed by the United States in the invasion of an innocent country thousands of miles offshore. This war in particular suffered a great deal of internal opposition, yet a proportion of society managed to be persuaded, and that was enough. If these people were born without a nationality, without any reason to side with the U.S. government, I’m certain that fewer would chose to do so. Thus, many that could prevent authorities from committing such atrocities do not, merely because they blindly support the country of their birth, for no real reason whatsoever.

Yet this isn’t even the worst of it; to develop a true understanding of this idea, I believe it’s necessary to consult history, and what does this tell us?

Well, as you might have expected, it’s not good news…

The twentieth century saw the establishment of patriotism in its most extreme format, with the global rise of fascism. A fascist regime is an example of patriotism taken to the furthest extent possible, with nationalistic thought not only embedded in the regime, but existing as the basis upon which the government, the military and the economy all stand. The ideas that motivated Hitler, Mussolini or Franco were not only patriotic in nature, but they placed the idea of national glory where the communists of the day placed the achievement of a classless society. In other words, they valued their nation more than anything.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1980-081-05A,_Postkarte,_-H.J._Schwaben-

To reach conclusions, however, we must look at the regimes from which these movements arose, for a trend between fascist nations such as the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy or imperial Japan is clearly visable: each one of them quite simply formed out of a miserable society. This could be due to a disaster, such as the horrific earthquake experienced by Japan in the 1920’s, which has been thought to have sparked the rise of Japanese imperialism, or just a general want for change, such as that in post-1918 Germany. Either way (doubtless, there are also many other ways), we can see a trend developing here. Nationalism, like a political tumour, has a tendancy to arise out of chaos. It ties the people of a nation together using an already-existing middle ground, and gives them something to believe in when nothing else will. It isn’t surprising then, that Germany and Italy (two nations where nationalism burned as brightly as ever) were countries in which a revolution was most expected. Instead of staging one, however, the people resorted to an easier form of change, looking to nationalism as a ‘cheap’ alternative.

Whilst these three countries are obviously extreme examples, it says a great deal on patriotism in general. The idea develops as a creed the populace will turn to when they have nothing left to believe in, so they chose to place their faith in the most simple idea available, this being their own country. It has the potential to curb real political change and distracts the population from the truth of the matter, despite how appaling such truth may be. Just look at the military, who often endure horrific conditions whilst living in fear of their lives, and desperately need something to believe in, something to fight for, something which enables them to keep pushing on. It’s thus no surprise that patriotism is not only rife among the fighting forces but is implemented artifically by those in command.

Patriotism_Runs_True_at_380th_Air_Expeditionary_Wing_in_Southwest_Asia_DVIDS287854 (1)

I think I’ve made my point clear as to why such thought is far from healthy and should be considered dangerous, but I’d like to finish by pointing out the true nature of the idea, and why this is relevant in discussing the concept.

What does it mean to be a patriot?

For the simple definition of the term, the one given above is adequate, yet what a ‘vigorous support for one’s country’ actually consists of is an entirely different matter.

I’d consider it vital to understand that ‘one’s country’ consists of no more than several hundred square kilometres inside an artificially-drawn borderline, somewhere in which they live their life. It may sound like a romantic idea, yet the actuality is plainly ridiculous, despite how many continue to cling to it.

On that note, coming back to the UK, several informative leaflets on the United Kingdom’s Independence Party (UKIP) recently came through my door in the run-up to the General Election. Reading through what the party had to say, I noticed that the slogan ‘Believe in Britain’ was used (well, in fact it was proudly displayed in capitals).

‘Why?’ I found myself asking. ‘What is there to believe in about Britain? In itself, the United Kingdom is merely a relatively small nation-state off the North-western coast of Europe. Within this country there are many greats, yet there are also many wrongdoers, and I’m not too sure what makes the general spread of the population so special. Perhaps you should tell me to ‘Believe in UKIP’, but what is there to glorify about one country out of hundreds, which just so happens to be the one in which I live and which you intend to govern?’

It certainly seems odd. Surely we’re too intelligent a being to devote ourselves entirely to an area of land, simply because it was one we grew up on, or live in today.

Sadly though, this just isn’t true.

The image depicting an individual playing a brass instrument was provided by Wikimedia Commons, on which it was uploaded by the German Federal Archives under the following licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en

The Pull of the Centre

As all the voters in the UK will know, May the 7th is approaching and tensions are running high. The first TV debate between party leaders has been aired, the first signs of future change on ground level appearing, and policy announcements are growing even more forceful, more desperate, as the day nears.

Of course, I’m talking about the British General Election, but I’m not about to take a side. Rather, I’m writing to talk about the turning point this election presents, and what it could mean for the future of British politics. Specifically, I want to address the question brought forward by the establishment of the current coalition government: is traditional left/right politics in Britain on the decline?

One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the coalition established after 2010’s vote was cast is the first to have arisen since 1945, yet it seems unlikely that this shall be the last. The usual distinctions between a Labour and a Conservative voter are wearing away rapidly, possibly alongside the obvious social distinctions that once separated the two groups, and it now seems inconceivable that the population could be divided between the supportive realms these two parties once possessed. Really, if we look at it from this angle, it doesn’t seem surprising that nobody in 2010 could secure an outright majority, and it suggests that nobody will this year either, but what does this say about the future of party democracy?

256px-David_Cameron's_visitEd_Miliband_(2010)_cropped

The latter half of the previous century has seen, among many other phenomena, party politics drift slowly towards the centre; once in a position where they could be viewed as the country’s answer to the radical European worker’s movements on the eve of the Russian Revolution, the Labour Party has grown so moderate in their approach that they could be seen to have rejected socialism entirely; once truly conservative, the Conservative Party recently legalised homosexual marriage, straying far from what once were core, underlying values of traditon and, well, conservatism. Assuming such a trend continues, we can logically predict a point in the near future where the current necessity of a party to vote for is no longer apparent, where left/right politics is no longer existent. So, to answer the question, I believe that the political divide in Britain is, in fact, on the decline, and has been for some time.

I understand that this view seems contradicted by the increase in popularity of smaller parties (The Green Party or the United Kingdom Independence Party providing examples in Britain’s case), which are often more firmly rooted in the philosophies that once drove the Labour or Conservative parties. I wouldn’t see this as a contradiction to my view, rather a side-effect of the model that it proposes. In other words, I believe it’s natural that as the mainstream parties lose their ideological ground, vast territories in the left and right are left unoccupied, which other movements will rise to claim. I don’t, however, believe that the cycle will repeat, that UKIP will become the ‘new Conservatives’, and I think the fact that no serious movement on the left or right has arisen proves this; all we are seeing is splinter factions take a temporary stand as the original political ties fragment, as the original divisions crumble, but they too will either move towards the centre or be reduced to insignificance.

On that note, if such a trend represents the political situation of western democracy as a whole, rather than just a one-time occurrence in Britain, then the UK as a country is by no means at the forefront of this change. Europe, for example, is a continent used to the rule of coalition governments, even those which constitute polar opposites. Just look at Greece, in which the latest General Election brought to power a coalition between a radical leftist, neo-communist party and a centre right movement, linked only by their opposition to austerity imposed by the European Union.

So, if such change, is occurring worldwide, and democracy is slowly becoming a battle between individuals rather than ideologies, then what can be done about it? Should we resist the change? Should we back the smaller, radically orientated parties just to repel the pull of the centre? I suppose it’s up to you, but the way I see it, there’s not a lot we can do to change things. I believe that, like the issues caused by voting inequality roughly a century ago, we’ll get over this issue by confronting it head-on.

Of course, I may be entirely deluded, in which case there’s nothing to worry about, and even if I’m right, it can’t be all bad news; it may even be refreshing to break the ties people once had with their parties. After all, this needn’t be viewed as the end of one political era. Rather, you could see it as the start of a next.

Either way, keep voting and we’ll soon see what happens!

The image of David Cameron was provided by the user ukhomeoffice from Wikimedia Commons.

The image of Ed Miliband was provided by the user Ed Miliband for Leader, also from Wikimedia Commons.

Both images are licensed under the following:

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

The Third ‘Bloc’ That Never Happened: Tito and the Non-Aligned Movement

The idea of socialism outside of the Eastern Bloc has surfaced multiple times in history, perhaps most famously among the communist left, and later the followers of Mao Tse-tung or, to a lesser extent, Che Guevara. It will have undoubtedly intrigued many intellectuals and revolutionaries since the birth of the USSR, one of whom I will focus on in particular…

Josip Broz Tito, the Croatian-born leader of Yugoslavia did something both extraordinary and also somewhat reckless, which, I’ve decided, shall be the subject of this entry: he led the first state in Eastern Europe, then in the grip of Soviet influence, to become ‘socialist, but independent’.

Josip Broz Tito

What relevance does this have? Well, April is the month which, twenty-three years ago, saw the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On April 28th, 1992, Serbia (the last of the Yugoslav republics) became an independent nation, serving as the final nail in the coffin for the great communist federation of South-eastern Europe. This was a country fundamentally different to many others: it was among the first to have been liberated by the Red Army, yet to reject the USSR, and operated under the system that could have been described as ‘council communism’, where worker’s councils and unions would provide the basis for socialist transformation, which could be seen in contrast to that of the Soviet Union.

Yet equally interesting are the social and political ideas of international socialism Marshall Tito upheld, for he was an active member, and later leader, of the Non-Aligned movement. This is an ongoing organisation representing the interests of developing countries, with the founding aim of ‘opposing imperialism and neo-colonialism, especially from western domination.’ Such an idea was most apparent in the Cold War’s polarisation of political identities, with the desire to create an ‘independent pathway’ for these states so that they would adhere to neither the USA nor the USSR.

I’ll say this now: this entry is not an opinionated one; I won’t go into depth about my personal views on the subject or on the political views of Tito generally. Rather, I’m writing discuss this idea of an ‘independent pathway’, and its relevance to both communism and capitalism respectively.

The Movement's Member States

The Movement’s Member States

Coming back to the Cold War, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to consider a third power arising in the world, combatting both the Eastern and Western Blocs with a newly-developed idea of proletarian internationalism. It would also provide an opportunity to oppose what could have been perceived as Soviet imperialism (a particular criticism which did gain a degree of popularity) whilst remaining true to the principles of communism. In other words, you would no longer have to bear the label of ‘Soviet sympathiser’ to consider yourself a communist.

In the latter half of the previous century, however, history seems to have had other ideas. The two ‘Blocs’, the great realms of power split Europe down the middle similarly to how the Triple Entente once calved Imperial Germany and its neighbours out of the rest of the continent, only such a division was far clearer easily distinguishable now that it adopted political connotations. Yet it was surely obvious that such a scenario, this is to say Europe’s division into a communist east and a capitalist west, could never have been a permanent situation, making the arisal of a third power bloc perfectly possible. Why then, in a climate of hate and tension, when a third way was definitely on the cards, didn’t this new union form?

I’ve been thinking, and here are the reasons I’ve managed to come up with:

Five Reasons as to Why the ‘Third Bloc’ Never Arose

  1. A lack of information of Marxist philosophy or communism as a political theory within these countries (especially in the less-well-developed nations).
  1. A lack of the necessary conditions for communist revolution due to the existence of less-advanced methods of production.
  1. The development of a view picturing both west and east alike as ‘similarly evil’ threats to these nations and cultures, without adequate consideration of the political climate, and thus the demand for the national sovereignty against the two powers compromising proletarian revolution.
  1. The division of these nations by the two powers, directing them against each other and against the respective power blocs, as the west and the east’s sphere of influence adapts the political climate of these countries to their immediate needs, an example of which would the United Kingdom’s influence over the former British colonies.
  1. The tendency of the division separating the capitalist and the communist world to polarise political thought worldwide, rendering the construction of a third power increasingly difficult.

While we’re at it, we may as well look at the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc as well:

Five Reasons as to Why the Eastern Bloc Fragmented

  1. The development of nuclear weapons west of the division, and thus the rising possibility that a war may result in apocalyptic outcomes, preventing the socialist states from military advancement.
  1. The general lack of evidence pointing to an improvement in the economic circumstances within the communist world, causing a lack of faith and enthusiasm for communist lifestyle and the idea of reaching ‘true communism’.
  1. The decline of ideological stability among the populace as what have been recognised as capitalist principles, e.g. corruption and inequality, became apparent in communist regimes.
  1. The development of western capitalism to a stage regarded as acceptable by many of the would-be exploited in the west, internally strengthening capitalist society and removing the strong base of proletarian support the socialist states could have relied upon for revolution, or at least sympathy, within these countries.
  1. The struggle for the stagnating autocratic regimes to maintain power over the populations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the face of modernisation, coupled with the weakening of their authority in general.

I’ll finish with this thought: Tito is long dead, and Yugoslavia dissolved over two decades ago. Yet if such hadn’t happened, that is to say, if the political climate was such that the new state was able to arise, who knows what the result would be. Perhaps the proletariat of these nations would line up under Tito’s leadership, against the troops of the USA, the USSR, Great Britain, the People’s Republic of Poland, France and Hungary; perhaps the task of revolution would entail a struggle against not only the capitalist, but also the communist world.

It’s ironic, when you think about it, and fairly shameful for both sides of the Berlin Wall. Just imagine how Stalin, the man who is quoted to have said ‘I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito!’ would have reacted.

Russell Brand and the British Revolution

About a century ago, the majority of the British population earned their bread by toiling long hours in the factories, only just able to keep themselves afloat, under the grasp of the obscenely-wealthy bourgeois. Where disaffection would appear commonplace and poverty was accepted as the standard, proletarian rebellion, even communist revolution on the streets of Manchester or East London would seem entirely possible. So much so, in fact, that Marx himself regarded England as the most likely candidate for such a revolution to occur.

Today, the small island off the North-western coast of Europe is certainly a changed one. The traditional image of the London Docklands as a sprawling mass of smog-ridden factories has been replaced by that of an economically-prosperous, market-thriving metropolis. The prospects of socialist revolution today may seem a ridiculous idea, but recently, a whole new wave of ‘revolutionary’ populism has arisen.

Who are these twenty-first century revolutionaries? And, more importantly, who exactly are they fighting for?

Russell Brand, the actor and comedian recently ranked the fourth most influential thinker by Prospect magazine, has become a voice of revolution in the United Kingdom, an idea that attracts many. Leftist culture among the student population has always been present, yet today it seems that radical ideas have taken a turn worth mentioning. Now, individuals like Brand alongside ‘Anonymous’, a network of associated activists, have taken to protest and public demonstration. Against what, it isn’t always clear, but their broadly liberal and socialist aims seem to point to something larger than their cause, this being a general shift in attitude, with radicalism starting to make a slow reappearance in the country.

Anonymous Street Art

Anonymous’ signiture logo portrayed in the form of street art

As I’ve previously mentioned, our capitalist enterprise was, not so long ago, a worker-dominant state under the shackles of the capitalist giants. Such a transformation, from this situation to the present one, was made peacefully, during the process of ‘de-industrialisation’ which the country has experienced. These demonstrations, however, are small reminders that the revolutionary culture has not deserted society. And of course, every revolution needs a target, so once again we are forced to realise that the achievement of human rights, liberty, and justice for the oppressed in Britain, is by no means complete.

Yet should it be the task of Russell Brand and all the alike to complete it?

I recently came across an organisation in the UK known as the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), who, in a video, pointed out that the Labour Party has betrayed socialism and no longer represents the working class as a whole. Now, this ‘revolutionary’ movement has embraced populism in a similar manner, and it’s just a case of whether or not they will do justice for those they represent. Today, I don’t feel I need to spend a great deal of time discussing why the Labour Party in Britain have turned their back on true leftism, an issue on which I agree with the RCG. Will the new branch of ‘revolutionaries’ do the same? Judging by their superficiality, their lack of direction or dogmatism, and their somewhat casual attitude towards the revoution, I’d say so.

Whilst ‘the Labour Party clearly demonstrates such misrepresentation, I believe it’s only one example; whilst Britain has been entirely transformed over the past century, it seems those who truly deserve justice have simply been transferred from one manner of life to the next, with their political and social representation taken care of by those above them in the economic pecking order. If anybody wants to see a difference made to British society similar to that which these liberal and socialist organisations advocate, this must change. Revolution must lose its superficially-attractive shine, and activism will take on genuinely-motivated qualities.

Though I don’t necessarily believe members of other classes cannot partake in or assist the socialist movement (if this was the case, how would movements such as the Bolsheviks in Russia have managed to seize power?), we could learn a lesson from Karl Marx, who stated that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself’. If such an idea was applied in Britain, real change might just occur.

The featured image was provided by KylaBorg from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to the image’s licence:

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

The image depicting Anonymous’ logo was provided by r2hox from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to the image’s licence:

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Imperialism, Isolationism and Communism

The way I see it, all communist states, (and in fact, all communists) embrace elements of one of the following ideas: isolation or imperialism. Which one exactly depends on the conditions of the state or the individual concerned, yet both can be exemplified, which seems odd, as both are similarly unpopular ideas among the communist movement.

National isolation is an idea which communism has grown to frown upon for multiple reasons. Such a rule cannot be applied to every situation, yet in general, the separation of one portion of the proletariat through the artificial division of states can be seen in contrast to class struggle, especially since Marx himself believed the nation-state was a bourgeois creation. In the Communist Manifesto, it is written that ‘National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.’

Equally, communism rejects imperialism – the practice of constructing an empire – probably more profoundly so. This can be seen most clearly from a Maoist (Third-Worldist) perspective, known for its fierce opposition to the exploitation of the third world by nations of the first, perhaps even more so than to labour exploitation in general. Even outside of Maoism, one would struggle to identify an openly imperialist advocate of Marxism. Long before Mao’s theories gained significance, Vladimir Lenin referred to imperialism as the ‘Highest phase of capitalism’, probably eliminating all prospects of its official establishment among the communist world.

The prospect is simple: both ideas appear counter-revolutionary in the field of Marxism. Yet, if you examine the communist and formerly-communist world, it appears that every state will have fallen into one of these traps…

The reason for this is as follows: I believe that the following two theories have split communism down the middle more drastically than any others: world socialism, and Socialism in One Country. This division has it’s roots back in the Bolshevik power struggle of the 1920s, in which Trotsky, an outspoken internationalist, talked of spreading the revolution whilst Stalin spoke of cultivating Russian communism independent of the outside world. It appears that Stalin’s ideas proved far more influential, for the majority of socialist states seem to have followed the path of building socialism independently. Thus, as independent communist states in a capitalist world, they took on an increasingly isolationist approach, setting themselves apart from their neighbours. Often, this lead to the rise of heavily nationalistic views within the regime, as has been the case in various communist states across east Asia.

256px-Yao_Ming_with_the_Chinese_flag_2008_Summer_Olympics_-_Opening_Ceremony

By contrast, the communist world has also embraced ideas of world socialism, which can be seen again in the example of the USSR (prior to Stalin’s leadership) which existed not as one nation, but a network of states bound together by the common leadership of Moscow. Critiques of such a system highlight the fact that this was achieved by the repression of what have become known as the Russian ‘satellite states’, reducing them to mere provinces in the power block and thus robbing them of the national identity they once possessed. This has been criticised as an imperialist idea, for obvious reasons, allowing countries like the early Soviet Union to acquire negative connotations. So there you have it, on one end of the spectrum you have Lenin’s Soviet Union, and on the other, North Korea. As a communist country is, by nature, an enemy of the international capitalist world, a revolutionary state has two choices: they can fight capitalism, or they can hide from capitalism. Either way, it involves going to one of two extremes, for (not including the westernised and, let’s be honest, post-communist nations like China) they can’t just simply exist, but either extreme entails an ugly scenario.

The Commercialisation of Communism

Best part about them: Made in China

Best part about them: Made in China

East German Postcard One

Cuban Revolution T-shirt

East German Postcard Three

Since everything I’ve posted so far is fairly dense, I thought I’d post something slightly more light-hearted. It would make a perfect opportunity, I’ve decided, to address an issue that’s been on my mind lately: if communism exists to dismantle the capitalist mode of production, and tear down every corporate empire on the face of the earth, then when and why has communist imagery found its way into the market?

The jokes surrounding Che Guevara T-shirts are an example of the extent to which this is happening, yet the printing and selling of these T-shirts, whilst perhaps so, well, blatantly wrong to have attracted attention, is not the only example. The market today is full of these products, from Commie Mints to Maoist messenger bags, and they’re not always where you’d expect. Whilst the postcards shown above were bought from the DDR Museum in Berlin, the T-shirt came from a village market in the south of France, the mints from a branch of the sweet shop Candy Hero.

The deliberate commercialisation of such icons is actually just the start, for images such as the red star have been sold in a subtler way, probably without deliberately selling the communist associations it has. It just goes to show the variety of meanings these images can posses, all depending on the person viewing them: even to the extent at which it becomes a corporate branding technique and an icon used by anti-corporatist revolutionaries.

San Pellegrino Bottle

Yet what really puzzles me is how the capitalist world can endorse communist imagery in such a way. Yes, it’s joked about, but not in a way that seems nearly sufficient given what the industry is actually doing. It also seems as if, by promoting the ideas of revolution, even in the shallowest sense possible, the capitalists are advertising the struggle against capitalism itself, yet I think the manufacturers (who would probably rather view themselves as someone simply building their own business and making a living, rather than a link in the global capitalist network) are probably too short-sighted to care.

In any case, I certainly believe that whoever has managed to pull this off deserves a reward. Nothing in the communist world, not even the Stalinist regime of terror and political repression, claiming to act in the interests of socialism – and thus humanity – has managed to get away with such blatant irony. Those behind the manufacturing of these products have exemplified something fascinating: they have clearly demonstrated capitalism’s remarkable ability to sell you absolutely anything, even the face of its greatest opposition.

The photo featuring the San Pellegrino bottle was provided by Фёдор Гусляров of Wikimedia Commons. Below is a link to the photo (first) and its license (second):

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SanPellegrinoBottle.jpg

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

The Russian Revolution in Nine Stages

Sunday will mark the 98th anniversary of the Russian February Revolution, as a consequence of which the tsar was overthrown in a flurry of populism, eventually leading to the communist takeover the following October (November in the Gregorian calendar), and the rise of the world’s first socialist state.

This is undisputedly one of the greatest moments of the twentieth century, on which so much history rests. The Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the division of Germany, for example, would never have occurred had the revolution not taken place, and the same goes for the revolutions in nations like China or Cuba. Had communism surfaced at all, it would have done so in drastically different circumstances, without the theoretical and practical guidance provided by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

I won’t lie; I’ve been wanting to write about this event since I began posting entries, and now that the anniversary of the occasion is (almost) upon us I have an excuse; I thought, in commemoration of the event, I’d post a short history of the Russian Revolution in nine, condensed stages.

So here goes…

1. The Final Years of Tsarism

Nikolay Aleksandrovich Romanov

Russia was the last Absolute Monarchy in  Europe, and, stretching from the Baltic to the Chukchi Sea, the leadership of what Marx referred to ‘the chief of European reaction’ was struggling to maintain power over a steadily modernising population, growing ever more dissatisfied with conditions in the Russian Empire. The Romanov family had ruled the country for roughly 300 years, yet Nikolai II’s reign was soon to draw to a close, marking the end of the monarchy altogether. But he wasn’t easily broken; first, he had to endure a great deal of uprisings, protests, and foreign aggression.

In the year of 1904, the Russo-Japanese war broke out. Despite Russian military superiority, the conflict resulted in a Japanese victory, w hich coincided with what later became known as the Failed Revolution of 1905. What occurred didn’t gain nearly the significance of the events in 1917, but could well have done, if circumstances were different. One key difference between the revolt of 1905 and that of the February revolution was that the latter had gained the support of the army, whilst the former had not, which could well have been the primary reason why it didn’t achieve what it planned to.

In any case, Nikolai watched the revolution’s defeat at the hands of the military, and continued his reign. In order to ease the growing tensions, he signed the October Manifesto, promising change, and thus created the Duma, a legislature which would limit the extent of his power. Nonetheless, he was naturally opposed to reform, and has been quoted to say “I cannot squander a legacy that is not mine to squander.” He may well have only signed the Manifesto in order to prevent a second revolution, which he might have realised would be, as it eventually was, successful.

2. War, Women and Industrialisation: the Causes of the February Revolution

February Revolution 1917

In spite of the reforms following the events of 1905, Romanov could not secure his own autocracy. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been the case if it weren’t for the greatest conflict of the twentieth century: World War One. Personally, I believe that if the army was not subject to such a war, neither the revolutionary movement in February nor the Bolsheviks in October would have gained popularity, or at least not on the massive scale in which this occurred.

Having just endured the war with Japan and the Revolution of 1905, and now (as the leader of a nation bound to France and Britain by the Triple Entente) on the brink of a global conflict, Nikolai waged total war, and many suffered as a consequence (the majority of which were peasants, who comprised 85% of the Russian population).

Simultaneously, the industrialisation which took place throughout the Russian Empire may have served to Romanov’s disadvantage. The expanding industrial proletariat provided a basis for communism, perhaps directing or at least contributing to Russia’s direction beyond the post-Febuary period, since the Bolsheviks found their bastion of support in the industrial proletariat. Railways were constructed, too, which contributed to the revolutionary cause in an entirely different and unforeseeable way, as the railway and transport lines were seized on the night of the October Revolution.

On February 23rd (Julian calendar), many partook in a demonstration in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), the then-capital of Russia, for International Women’s Day and in protest against bread shortages, an event which was followed by strikes and other protests in the city. Realising that what was unfolding in front of them had the potential of overthrowing the Russian monarchy altogether, the Mensheviks (the moderate wing of the defunct Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party, after the party split into the Bolshevik (‘majority’) and Menshevik (‘minority’) factions), established the Petrograd Soviet. Soviets (elected councils) existed throughout the Russian Empire, but this one’s role was significant; it existed with the intent of directing revolution.

Meanwhile, Nikolai was visiting troops on the frontline, and once hearing of the events in Petrograd, ordered his own soldiers to fire upon the crowds of protesters. The real trouble occurred at that moment, as many of the soldiers sympathised more with the crowds than with the tsar, and so joined in, often firing directly at police officers. As he no longer had the support of the army, Nikolai could not quash the revolt, and so abdicated, ending the three-hundred year Romanov dynasty of Russia.

3. From Populism to Socialism: the Rise of the Bolsheviks

Hammer and Sickle on Flag

Much happened in the period after the February Revolution that would change Russia forever. The Provisional Government, a temporary parliamentary body comprising many members of the tsar’s former parliament, assumed leadership, but overall power was shared between two movements; after the revolt, Russia entered a period known as Dual power, referring to an effective coalition between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. The popular demands were, to some degree, met, yet Dual Power existed only for eight months (before a second revolution was carried out). Nonetheless, the period in which Russia was in such a state marked some of the most dramatic changes seen in the nation’s history.

As the New Year progressed, whatever liberal intentions the Provisional Government had were being increasingly balanced by their autocratic and conservative policies. Whilst they declared an amnesty for all political prisoners charged prior to the revolution, they refused both Poland’s and Finland’s appeal for independence. Whilst they addressed the ‘people of the whole world’, stating their demand for peace and calling for an end to the war, they made no efforts to stop the war effort. In fact it was partly the issue of war which worked to determine the government’s fate, which can be seen most clearly when it became known that Russia was promised the straits at the Black Sea’s mouth were she to be militarily victorious, sparking mass street protests.

Throughout February, Russia’s future leader watched from a distance. Vladimir Illych Ulyanov, or Lenin, was exiled in Switzerland due to revolutionary activities. There, he would write the April Theses, denouncing an alliance with the Provisional Government and insisting upon a second, socialist revolt, a demand which was to change the face of the revolutionary movement entirely. He returned shortly thereafter, smuggled onto a train to Russia, and from that moment on, he was able to influence Russian politics directly. Another side to the revolution – the radical left -, was about to emerge.

Upon his return, the Bolsheviks (the party of which he was the leader) grew massively in numbers. Many workers joined the Bolsheviks without knowledge of the party’s political stance, yet realising the support they would provide for the working people. If it weren’t for the sudden growth in membership across the year, it could be argued that the party would not have the national recognition to successfully take control of the country later that year. Yet as the significance of the Bolsheviks grew, distinguishing the party from the other faces in the revolutionary crowd, the popularity of the Provisional Government declined, which becomes clear in examples like the July Days, when anti-war protesters were fired upon by soldiers under the government’s leadership. What fuelled the protest was the fact that the new Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky had just conducted a failed offensive resulting in the death of roughly twenty thousand Russians.

Meanwhile, the other revolutionary parties were divided by the issue of whether to continue fighting Germany, which also worked in Lenin’s favour. The Socialist Revolutionaries, for example, split into Right and Left factions; the Right SR’s, as they became known, supported the war effort whilst the left, who occupied similar ideological ground to the Bolsheviks and would later become their coalition partner, opposed it. Many in the country, after facing years of the misery brought about by external conflict, grew sympathetic towards Lenin’s cause.

Come October, the Bolsheviks were a leading party in Russia capable of staging revolution, and it was evident that the Provisional Government didn’t embrace or act on behalf of the populism which brought down the former regime, providing them with a noble cause. Lenin acknowledged the government’s true colours early on, and whilst in Switzerland, (only two months after they assumed power) he stated that there should be no support or alliance with them. Once again, Russian capitalism was about to suffer an equally catastrophic defeat, this time fatally.

4. One Night in October…

The Patrol of the October Revolution

The Patrol of the October Revolution

Two revolutions make up what we know as the ‘1917 Russian Revolution’, one of which occurred in February, the other, in October. The October Revolution is perhaps the most-famous of the two, partly because of its significance in marking the birth of the world’s first socialist state, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). As it successfully brought down the Provisional Government, this revolution could be seen to be completing the tasks of February. One key difference between the two, however, was the fact that the October revolution was coordinated; what occurred in February was a popular uprising, which, whilst directed and supported by many parties (specifically the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries) it was not sparked or led by any, yet this time, the overthrow of a government took place in the form of an organised coup d’état.

On the night of October 25th, or November 6th in the Julian Calendar, the Bolsheviks, Red Guards (soldiers assisting the Bolshevik cause) and Kronstadt sailors stormed Winter Palace, with a shot fired from the ship Aurora serving as the signal. Whilst protected by the Women’s Battalion, the palace was poorly defended, allowing the seizure of power to occur. On the same night, the Bolsheviks took control of railway lines, along with other crucial locations in the city of Petrograd, effectively seizing the capital’s infrastructure.

Whilst referred to as the Great October Socialist Revolution, it’s worth noting that the October Revolution was significantly less dramatic or symbolic than what one might imagine it to be. It was almost bloodless, was carried out by only a small handful of devoted revolutionaries, and only in the space of twenty-four hours. Come the following morning, however, the new government which was to last up until Gorbachev’s leadership in the early 1990’s, would take its first breath.

5. A Nation Divided

A Stamp Depicting a Soldier in the Red Army, Marking its 20th Anniversary

A Stamp Depicting a Soldier in the Red Army, Marking its 20th Anniversary

Soon after November 6th, the political situation stooped to the level of crisis. Those who were to form the volunteer armies constituting the Russian ‘White Army’ opposed socialism from the start, yet the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, two parties considered to be central in the February revolution and the post-February period, were quickly alienated from Russian socialism, leaving the Bolshevik regime almost subject to collapse. One reason for this was the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, which omitted the moderate socialists from government.

This was a body of elected representatives forming a coalition government, and was created shortly after the October Revolution, when the Russian population participated in what is considered the first ever practice of democracy in the country. It was drafted under Lenin, who had frequently criticised the Provisional Government’s refusal to do so, and thus, when he assumed power, had no choice but to do so himself. The results of the election preceding the Constituent Assembly saw the Bolsheviks receive only a quarter of the vote, despite being the most-popular party among workers and soldiers. The assembly met only once, as it was dissolved by Lenin after the Socialist Revolutionaries (the winners of the election) refused to accept the Bolsheviks’ ideas on issues such as soviet power.

As a result of both this and many other unpopular actions committed by the party, alongside the ideological opposition they faced, they soon grew highly unpopular. War broke out almost instantly, and the White Army formed as a voluntary militarist movement fighting against the Bolsheviks. Consequently, the Red Army (founded and led by former Menshevik Leon Trotsky) significantly grew in numbers to the point where it became the largest organ of the state, consuming a desperately large proportion of funds that almost drained the Russian economy. After several years of fighting, the result was a red victory, but how and why this occurred is a more complex matter.

A contributing factor is organisation: the Red Army was efficient and well-disciplined, fighting for a communist Russia (under Trotsky’s autocratic leadership, discipline even extended to decimation within the ranks in order to eliminate conspiracy). Meanwhile, the White Army fought for ‘Russia: One and Indivisible’, in other words, the existence of a country along the lines of Orthodox Christianity, operating in a similar fashion to the pre-revolutionary empire. They were largely nationalistic and conservative, sharing similar views on most areas, but, as a voluntary army, they lacked direction and failed to organise themselves sufficiently.

On top of this, the Red Army fought for the state, yet existed only as one of multiple state organs. In other words, the Bolsheviks could defeat the Whites through other means. The Cheka (Bolshevik secret police) was one, and the programme it carried out, known as the Red Terror, worked to eliminate dissidence through political terror. Hangings, shootings, and imprisonment were carried out upon the civilian population, in order to fight communism’s enemies before they would rise up against it. In comparison, the White Army carried out the White Terror, yet since their members had to resort to the use of militarism alone, this consisted only of the brutality exemplified by their fighting forces.

Whilst bringing about the near-collapse of the Bolshevik regime, the events of this period actually assisted the state in many ways. Namely, it worked to polarise political views, eliminating the moderate socialists who had become alienated from the radical left after October, for the conflict was very much a battle between Reds and Whites. Those occupying the middle ground were either to choose a side, where that of the Red Army (who, at the very least, would fight to defend the revolution), would seem the logical side to take, or they were reduced to insignificance. This was due to multiple reasons, but strategy played a key role: they were less-inclined to resort to brutality, yet couldn’t fight effectively without doing so. Whatever the reasons, they became ever less of a threat as that of radical counter-revolutionaries grew.

The war finally drew to a close and the Bolsheviks emerged ever stronger and more ruthless than before. They operated bureaucratically, and hierarchy quickly developed within the party, whilst their grip on the populous tightened into strict authoritarian rule. This is likely a consequence of the tragic outcomes brought about by counter-revolution, both during and after the war, and the realisation of the regime’s insecurity due to threats from the outside world. Prior to 1917, for example, it was possible that the party intended for a politically liberal society, yet this changed dramatically after the events following the revolution. When an opponent once challenged Lenin’s policies, advocating the right to freedom of speech, Lenin’s responded by stating that ‘we are not going to commit suicide!’

6. War Communism and the Russian Economy

Victims of the 1921 Famine

Victims of the 1921 Famine

The economic strategy which the Bolsheviks adopted became known as War Communism, which consisted of a strictly centralised economy, in which commerce was illegalised and all means of production were nationalised. It is unknown whether such a format was introduced in the name of reaching true communism, or as a pragmatic solution to the economic crisis Russia was submerged in.

The state’s complete and utter control over all means of production can be seen most clearly in the policy’s effect on the peasantry, which had their grain seized mercilessly in the hope that it would be later repaid. We now know that this wasn’t the case, and in many examples, much of the grain that they relied upon as a food source was used for other purposes with none of it returned.

The result of this was a famine in which millions died, and the necessity for intervention by the west (the American Relief Administration was a significant contributor). The implementation of a policy which even banned the word ‘trade’ also gave rise to a fresh wave of state dissidents, and those who refused to hand over their grain were punished.

Eventually, the catastrophic effects of the policy were too great, even for Lenin, and a seperate policy was introduced, known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). The fact that such a significant change had been made to the country’s economic system highlights the true nature of War Communism, for Lenin wasn’t somebody to give up, especially when the matter concerned socialism. Yet this matter was different: he recognised that if he was to maintain leadership he would need to adapt to the climate.

Despite the need to adjust policies, many believed that the NEP was simply a re-introduction of capitalism into the economy, and rejected the idea that the ideas it proposed should be implemented in a communist Russia. Supporting such an argument is the fact that, under the policy, several small businessmen (the NEP men) were able to profit in a manner akin to those in the free-enterprise economy prior to this one.

The policy itself was fairly relaxed in comparison, and permitted free-enterprise capitalism to operate on a small scale. Whilst the NEP was mocked as the New Exploitation of the Proletariat, and the introduction of which invited criticism of Lenin by more ‘radical’ communists, it served its purpose in kick-starting the Russian economy, since, at this point, production had dropped lower than in the pre-revolutionary period.

7. The Formation of the Soviet Union

Russian Map

Central to the concept of Marxism is the idea of global revolution, and the Bolsheviks recognised this from the start. Thus, their invasions of the neighbouring territories soon followed their rise to power. Ideally, what we recognise as the Soviet Union would only be the starting point, and once communism was established initially it would spread on a worldwide scale, yet of course, a lot can still be learnt by studying what they did manage to achieve.

The Soviet Union, or formally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) consisted initially of Russia and the surrounding states, including modern-day Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. The fact that Russia had previously established an empire in the region probably assisted their cause in the invasion; if such an empire had never existed, nationalism (which had been surpressed in these nations during the days of Empire) may well have restricted the Red Army significantly.

Nationalism, as a movement, did actually help to compromise the invasion somewhat, for the Bolsheviks were originally opposed to the idea federalism, yet only accumulated the Russian satellite states after drawing borders along those of ethnicities and former nationalities. Nonetheless, the Red Army covered significant ground marching beyond the Russian borders, establishing not only one, but a union of communist states.

It is worth noting that whilst it happened to be these states which fell under communist leadership, communism did not enjoy exclusive popularity among the workers of the eastern world. There was a time when a French communist newspaper, L’Humanite was the most widely-read newspaper in the country, when many in the west admired the USSR and the principles on which they stood, and when communist revolutions in countries such as Germany (which did very nearly occur) were not only anticipated but expected. In fact, after the Bolsheviks took power, the proposal to continue the war effort against Germany, with the hope of establishing a revolutionary German state, received four votes when Lenin’s proposal for peace received seven. If this wasn’t the case, or if the European left had pursued a more militant strategy, the borders of the USSR may have been drastically different.

8. Post-1924 Tensions and the Rise of Stalin

An Informative Poster Explaining Lenin's Death

An Informative Poster Explaining Lenin’s Death

Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, died of a stroke in 1924.

Just before his death, he wrote a testament, which was, as Trotsky said ‘Lenin’s last advice on how to organise the party leadership.’ One particularly perceptive recommendation he made was that Stalin should be removed from his post within the party ‘to prevent a split’ from occurring; something we know is exactly what happened following his death. Prior to this point, differeces of opinion had organised the party into obvious factions and divisions; moderates such as Rykov had feuded with Lenin on issues, and equally Lenin had feuded with the left on others, yet the party always remained unified, perhaps because they always existed under a common leadership.

When that leader died, however, tensions began to surface, becoming evident in the power struggle which followed. It could also be argued that before this point, the Bolsheviks had found themselves in the midst of situations either so dire or so important for any real rivalry to occur. Prior to October, they planned communist revolution and in what manner it would take place. Shortly following their success, Civil War had broken out almost instantaneously, and fighting continued until the years prior to 1924. Naturally, differences of opinion often sparked disagreement and debate, yet the ‘split’ which Lenin had warned of had not yet occurred.

Another factor that may not have been foreseen, except perhaps by Lenin, was Josef Stalin’s steady rise to power. It would seem, in retrospect, that he wanted nothing but authority and strove to achieve it. Stalin established alliances within the party, siding with different members at different times for tactical purposes. He also led the mourning at Lenin’s funeral, and, in an attempt to disgrace Trotsky, his greatest opponent within the party, told him the wrong date for the occasion. First he sided with the left, to weaken moderates like Bukharin, before siding with Bukharin to compromise the ‘Left Opposition’ (Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev). Eventually, after him and Bukharin won the power struggle, he took control of the party and sided with neither faction, expelling those who opposed him, erecting a personality cult around himself, and transforming the party apparatus drastically, as I shall now explain…

9. The Red Tsar

Isaak_Brodsky_stalin02

Russia took a sudden turn away from reform under Stalin’s leadership: the NEP was replaced by forced collectivisation, and the liberal and progressive attitudes of the Bolshevik party, which legalised homosexuality, abortion, no-fault divorce, and promoted the emancipation of women, were replaced by far more conservative ones. Reliance upon the use of the Gulag network increased, alongside the degree of censorship employed by the party, and authoritarianism seeped into dictatorship as his power increased steadily.

The ‘Red Tsar’, as he is sometimes referred to, actually demonstrated a sympathy for the reactionary views of the tsars before him, and on the question of brutality, demonstrated a capability and a passion far greater than any of them. Stalin also took actions which could be seen in contradiction to Marxism, such as the practice of ‘Socialism in One Country’, an idea he proposed in opposition to the Marxist concept of world revolution. Unlike the causes of the initial invasions of the first Soviet Republics, he eventually established the communist states of Eastern Europe as more of a buffer zone than anything else. In what was largely an attempt to consolidate power, the majority of old Bolsheviks were also purged under Stalin’s regime, and his old opponent Trotsky, who was exiled and resided in Mexico, was assassinated alongside most of his family.

Stalin’s actions, viewed by the majority of the world with exceptional controversy, gave rise to an ongoing debate as to whether they are the product of Stalinism alone, or the inevitable outcomes of Bolshevism. A viewpoint known as the totalitarian model argues that Stalin’s leadership merely exemplifies what communist rule would have unquestionably come to, and that the atrocities for which he is blamed; the terror, the strict economic centralisation, and the rise of the police state, would have been committed by the government regardless of who won the power struggle. The alternate viewpoint – the revisionist model – argues that Stalin alone is responsible for the chaos he caused, that this period of history, a particularly fluid and unpredictable point in time, could have given rise to a completely different form of leadership. After all, the principles that drove Russia to revolution, also the underlying principles of Bolshevism, were not those of authority, order and obedience but freedom and equality.

Another popular question raised is that of whether or not Stalin betrayed Lenin, who did, we mustn’t forget, recommend that Stalin left the party before his early death. Obviously, profound links can be seen between the Stalinist terror and the Bolshevik Red Terror, which was enacted on Lenin’s orders, or perhaps between Stalin’s policy of collectivisation and that of War Communism, also implemented under Lenin, but again, profound differences can be seen between the two. Lenin was not noticeably power-obsessed, for example, he seeked to end racial antagonisms when Stalin is accused of promoting them (Stalin has been frequently accused of antisemitism), and he upheld liberal and progressive views when Stalin did not. As I’ve said, Stalin was unusual in this respect, as, unlike many other Bolsheviks, his social beliefs orientated him to the right. An unlikely advocate of Russian nationalism, the Georgian revolutionary incorporated patriotic ideas into the communist regime when Lenin would never have done (this being an area in which such betrayal is obvious) though he nonetheless managed to effectively combine political conservatism with economic socialism, very definitely taking Lenin’s contributions on board. As the historian Steve Smith said in ‘The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction’, Stalinism ‘synthesized many elements of the Russian national tradition with Leninism, its character as a mobilizing party-state making it very much a creature of the 20th century.’

For further reading on the subject, I would recommend ‘The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction’ by Steve Smith.

The photograph depicting a hammer and sickle was provided by Ericmetro, from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a link to the photo (first) and its licence (second):

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Islamic State From a Worldwide Perspective

In recent years fresh terror has arisen in the Middle East, as one of the most brutal organisations on the planet occupies vast areas in both Iraq and Syria. During 2014, recordings showing the decapitations of western journalists and reports highlighting the brutal treatment of local enemies began to stir tensions in the west. Now, as a great chunk of northern Syria and Iraq has fallen under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the organisation, such tensions are higher than ever.

Islamic State (IS), also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic Caliphate, formed in 1999, and shares its roots with the infamous al-Qaeda. Since then, the organisation has committed many despicable acts, both to locals and to foreigners. The decapitation of western journalists is one example, along with the fact that, according to the Moscow Times, the group has openly declared war on the United States and, in a video depicting a member sat in a military aircraft, threatened Russian president Vladimir Putin. The United States and Russia have had a bitter relationship for over half a century, and even after the end of the Cold War diplomatic relations are precarious, especially with the current crisis in the Ukraine. Islamic State, however, has taken the side of neither: they’ve even gone as far as to threaten both.

What does this say about the organisation’s politics? Well, we can determine one thing: the fact that they’ll always take their own side highlights both the incompatibility of their ideology with the political systems of the world’s powers, and for that matter, the rest of the world. No national military will fight alongside their armies, and yet Islamic State continues to commit despicable acts independent of any other regime.

The haunting flag of this 'rouge terror'

The haunting flag of this ‘rouge terror’

Because of the inhumane brutality employed by the organisation, their lack of any real justification for their actions, and their continuing hostility towards the rest of the world, this is an issue on which I feel the different powers of the world must put aside their differences to combat. Left and right, east or west, all states can share a common viewpoint on the organisation, and thus should all work to secure the safety of innocent civilians in Iraq, Syria, and the bordering states, alongside that of whoever Islamic State may threaten in their own countries.

I’ve made my point clear, but I’ll conclude the entry by addressing the leftists specifically: I feel that it’s essential to understand Islamic State in order to develop a rational answer as to how one should approach the issue, and so it must be made clear that the organisation is certainly not a socialist one, nor one fighting merely for justice or populism. This would seem obvious, but I imagine it would be easy for one to fall into the trap of believing that I.S. militants, existing in an area with a history of atrocities committed by multiple powers in the world (take the recent war in Iraq, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for examples), and one which exists within borders drawn up by the western world, are actually combatting imperialism.

It is definitely true that the area is subject to ongoing foreign mistreatment, including acts that could be considered disgraceful, and the fact remains that Islamic State exists as a militant organisation which opposes those who have treated the citizens of the region in such a way. This alone, however, does not mean that they fight to prevent these acts from being committed. It is essential to remember that amongst the beheadings of journalists, they have terrorised the local population in a similar way. To give an example, the BBC News’s website states that an activist claims they have abducted up to 285 Christians who were seized in the Hassakeh province in Syria, with reports initially placing the number at 90. The website also states that ‘some local 1,000 Assyrian families are believed to have fled their homes in the wake of the abductions.’  Even if other religions are taken out of the picture, their own religion and thus their central ideology (surely a community among which they would find solidarity) condemns Islamic State, showing that they have no true ideological ground to occupy, and certainly no justification for their actions.

This is the reason why this debate is not a political one; there is only a moral and an immoral side. It is an issue in which all sensible individuals, no matter where they stand on the majority of political issues, should chose the moral decision. Thus, discussing the question of Islamic State militarism, communists should come to the same conclusion as their capitalist opponents. It by no means requires an alliance with or respect for the capitalist world, rather the simple recogniton that this is an issue which everyone, from both political extremes, should be able to agree on. Military intervention, on behalf of all those Islamic State threatens, should seem the obvious conclusion.

Mao, Xi, and the Worst of Both Worlds

Thursday marked the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of the year 4713, making this an appropriate time to reflect on history and tradition, and a suitable(ish) time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for a while; the politics and the economy of modern China.

The country, being the world’s most heavily populated, is home to one of the largest armies, an ever-expanding economy, and a haven of science and technology. Nowerdays, it’s even become fashionable to argue that China will soon overtake the United States in terms of power and world influence. Yet there is another side to the country, this being the political philosophy that drives its leaders: communism.

So, if it’s actually the case that China is not only experiencing great economic and military prosperity but has managed to achieve such through the means of a communist economy, is China not a perfect example of a utopian socialist society?

If you’ve been reading my comments on China in previous entries, you’ll know that the answer is, in my opinion, no. Finally, I have the oppertunity to explain why…

To start with, let’s look to the Chinese revolution, an act that would transform the country and the world, changing the shape of East Asia dramatically. The second independent communist state followed a similar path to Russia, its northerly neighbour: First the monarchy was overthrown by popular revolt (the Boxer Rebellion, or, in Russia’s case, the February Revolution), then the bourgeois by communist takeover (the Revolution of 1949, or the October Revolution) all with the help of an invasion from another imperialist country (Japan, or Germany) in the midst of an international war (World War Two, or World War One). Soon after, strict economic policies (the Great Leap Forward, or the Five Year Plans) were to be introduced, which would transform the economically-backward peasant nations into giant industrial powers, at the cost of millions of lives. After the result was achieved and the chaos healed, relaxations in the policy followed, (the thaw under Deng Xiaoping or Nikita Khrushchev), and the two nations progressed respectively from then onwards. One major difference exists between Sino and Soviet communism, however: the latter collapsed whilst the former did not.

As I stated in my last entry, the period of thaw under Khrushchev gradually saw the withering away of the socialist state, setting the Soviet Union on a one-way road to its eventual dissolution. Strict economic regulations appeared to thaw after Mao’s death, too, yet these reforms didn’t lead the state to its downfall, only to the adoption of very relaxed, market-orientated policies, allowing China to succumb to what can only be described as ‘sort-of socialism’. In other words, unlike the USSR, which collapsed honestly, openly rejecting the philosophy it was founded upon, communist China retained its superficial character whilst the regime suffered internal destruction. To understand what this actually means for the Chinese people, we must examine conditions in China today, sixty-six years after the People’s Republic of China was declared, under the leadership of Xi Jinping…

The initial problem ‘sort-of socialism’ presents in the case of China is the fact that the socialist state is really nothing but an emerging capitalist one. Today, China is home to HSBC, Sinopec Limited, and many other brands, corporations and features we would regard as a central or vital aspect of the capitalist world. Whilst ‘Made in China’ may remain printed on the majority of everyday accessories, ‘Designed in China’ is becoming an equally suitable one. It’s evident that, from what Xiaoping referred to as ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’, corporate empires have emerged, and thus the Chinese bourgeois, a class to whose elimination Mao dedicated his life, have been reborn.

It’s not only the owners of production, however, that profit from the situation, for China has a severe problem in deciding who, as a nation, it works for – the liberal, capitalist west may frown upon their record of human rights abuses, yet it’s this region of the world which exploits the labourers of nations such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and, unfortunately, China too; many workers produce iPads, iPhones, and iPods for little wages and long hours, under a government claiming the moral stance when it comes to justice for the proletariat, and a merciless stance when it comes to capitalist exploitation. In the country whose underdogs fought a bloody war to have their voices heard in the name of communism, children toil in factories which have begun the process of installing giant nets outside the buildings to prevent successful suicide attempts, and in which workers are paid $1.50 per hour.

The Clean Room of the Seagate Factory, Wuxi, China

Astonishingly, the aspect of the Chinese society which still exists according to socialist principles, the communist leadership, simply allows both atrocities to occur. The Chinese Communist Party is perfectly capable of writing these wrongs; if he chose to, I’m completely confident that Xi Jingping could rid his nation of the such oppression, and ensure that no factory worker was ever subject to the demands of international ones again. If they were truly devoted to the cause, I don’t doubt that the party could even ensure a consistent, sufficient income for even the hardest-hit labourers.

Perhaps the thorough transformation of the Chinese economy akin to that of the Great Leap Forward would not be possible, or not without another several million deaths for the authors of the Black Book of Communism, and all their sympathetic readers to wave in the face of Karl Marx and all his. After all, modern-day China has evolved this way, and their system of governance has moulded as a capitalist one, and therefore I’d argue that communism could no longer be reached without proletarian revolution. However, if the CCP wished to eliminate child labour of any sorts, or to ensure justice for the workers who toil in the factories producing products to be sold globally, I’m confident that this would happen. Businesses would lose out in this scenario; China’s economy may shrink; the western corporations (whom the Communist Party undoubtedly claim to despise in the first place) would lose a chunk of their colonial overseas supply of workers, yet China could try and occupy a marginally-better position on the international scale of morality.

We must keep in mind remember that Mao Tse-Tung, or Chairman Mao fought long and civil war, introducing ruthless policies to combat counter-revolutionaries, and revolutionised the Chinese economy for a reason. I do not necessarily support such actions, and nor do I defending them, but if Mao was alive today, I’d be intrigued to see what he thought of modern-day PRC. Would he tolerate the exploitation currently in existence? Frankly, I can’t imagine him doing so. I’d like to that that if nothing else, under Mao, the achievement of a proletarian dictatorship would have been wholeheartedly attempted.

Mao Tse-Tung Portrait

Yet, as many critisize Mao as authoritarian, it’s important not to be deceived by the idea of a thawing China, for whilst Mao’s legacy may have come to an end, authoritarianism, or perhaps even totalitarianism, has certainly not. The period of thaw consisted of an ever-expanding economy’s construction, or, in other words, the destruction of the socialist one Mao tried to achieve during the Great Leap Forward, yet politically, China remains a highly-censored and autocratic state. You only have to take a look at the persecution of those who practice Falun-Gong (a form of yoga) – something that would appear entirely unrelated to communism, capitalism, or any issue which may concern the CPC -, to be sure of the degree to which the Chinese people are tyrannised.

This is the reason as to why I believe the People’s Republic of China is an embarrassment to socialism: it appears that the climate has been altered in one major way since Mao’s leadership. That is to say that on the issue of achieving a true, communist society, the state appears to have given up trying, leaving a country in which only the red flag, the party logo, and the second ‘C’ in the party’s name indicate a socialist society. Despite this, however, it is clear that the autocratic bureaucracy has not shifted with the economic climate, leaving nothing more than an authoritarian and tyrannical state which, whilst claiming a party name so untrue it would almost appear sarcastic, governs a country under the shackles of the new bourgeois, leaving China with the worst of both worlds. Top put this into context, In Russia, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ soon gave way to regular dictatorship. In China, on the other hand, the former has managed to transform itself into ‘Dictatorship of the Bureaucrats and Those who Happened to Benefit From Various Relaxations of Economic Policies, Partially Responsible (Alongside Foreign Exploitation Which the State Appears to Condone) for the Exploitation of the Chinese Workers.

So there you have it. ‘Sort-of socialism’ is simply capitalism under the existance of an autocratic regime. No matter how hard they try, the Chinese Communist Party cannot justify their actions, or not, at least, in the name of communism. China’s political history, from Mao Tse-Tung to Xi Jinping is a history of injustice, tyranny and, despite the great industrial and technological advancements the country has made, failure.

The photograph depicting factory labourers was provided by Robert Scoble from Wikimedia Commons. Below is a link for the photograph (first) and its licence (second):

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en