Stalinist mind at the end of its tether/ 5

Submitted by AWL on 12 April, 2004 - 10:12

October 1917 was a "coup"

J-J, blindly cribbing, now presents his "cover version" of Emine Engin on coups and revolution - including her bizarre idea that Otto von Bismarck organised a coup and the no less bizarre idea that Frederick Engels discussed "Bismarck's coup".
"A coup d'état, a blow against the state, by definition involves a plot against the existing state in isolation from any section of the masses. It originates within the state: e.g., military or palace coups. Examples from European history would be Louis Bonaparte and Otto von Bismarck. They elevated themselves into dictators by relying upon 'organised state power', not the 'unorganised, elemental power of the popular masses' (F Engels, Collected Works Vol 26, Moscow 1990, p479).

"In 1978 there existed a revolutionary situation in the urban centres. The old regime was turning to assassinations, arrests and bannings. [This is in itself no part of a revolutionary situation; if they can do it vigorously enough they can snuff it out.] The masses for their part were mobilised and demanding radical change.… Under such circumstances revolution is a matter of art and while the form [!] of an uprising can be that of a coup - like the October Revolution of 1917 [my emphasis] and the storming of the Winter Palace by red guards and pro-Bolshevik army units - the key question is social content."

Emine Engin's version is better: in his "cover" version J-J tries to prove too much. When he "improves" what he cribs, here as on the 1916 Rising, he tends to get into new difficulties.

Even if one accepts that the 'form' of the transfer of power in October 1917 was that of a coup - which I emphatically do not - when you ask the Marxist questions, 'Who? Whom?', of which Lenin truly said that in politics they are always the defining ones, the decisive differences become clear: these were red guards (and rank and file soldiers). They acted on behalf of and in the name of soviets, which already covered the whole country, where they - with their left SR allies - had a majority. The regime they set up was based on the soviets, etc., etc.

Here J-J draws out Engin's logic, describing October as in 'form' a coup, defining it by that form.

The logic of J-J's general "Right Communist" politics is to break from even notional commitment to Bolshevism. I'm not sure there is not some of that here.

Certainly the old Engin version of this that J-J used to hold to only used rhetoric - was October a coup? - to argue that Saur was not a coup. The argument about the 'form' of a coup was subordinate, indeed, throwaway. Here with J-J it is up front in the plain assertion that October was a "coup".

Karaoke Jack makes as bad a job of singing Engin as he does singing Lenin! He here presents positively what Engin only did negatively and rhetorically, with the question, was October also a coup answered in the negative. J-J answers it in the positive: October was a coup but, like Saur, its social content was revolution.

The continuity here with J-J's old politics lies in substitutionism. The Bolsheviks, in October 1917, like the PDPA and its officers substituted for the working class in making a revolution.

J-J seems to have abandoned this account of Saur together with the idea that Saur was a social - working class! - revolution. The political infection is still there, eating away at the foundations of his "Bolshevism", which anyway was always a somewhat kitschy "Bolshevism".

"The newly installed PDPA government - overwhelmingly civilian - enacted far-going reforms. Usury was abolished in the villages - debt crippled the peasantry. Rigorous ceilings on private land ownership, along with the encouragement of cooperatives and offers of cheap credits, fertilisers, seeds and agricultural implements, were intended to free 'millions of toiling peasants from the yoke of exploitation' (quoted in B Sen Gupta Afghanistan London 1986 p50). The government envisaged land confiscation and redistribution, not collectivisation."

If he were serious he would feel obliged to respond to my account of, for example, what happened when they "abolished" usury. It is to miss the point to define the PDPA government by its programme and enactments.

Their real social character, the elitist militarist ideas and attitudes, lethally twinned with the state's violence, defines what they were and explains what they did.

It is utterly meaningless to say that they wanted land redistribution not collectivisation.

There is evidence, which I cited in "Afghanistan…", otherwise - and in fact once the people had been disarmed and Stalinist power consolidated, they could have done anything they liked. Or isn't the history of Stalinism in power relevant here? They would have used land redistribution to give themselves a base, wipe out the old rulers, and then…. It is not as if one can say the Khalqis in power showed judgment and restraint in other fields and that therefore we can assume they might also show these qualities in this area…

Belated criticism of the PDPA

"The PDPA responded with arrests and torture. That only multiplied their enemies and supplied fresh recruits to the mujahedin groups. When the PDPA was physically driven out of the villages, it fell back on the methods employed by the old royalist governments - artillery and air strikes. As Jonathan Neale emphasises, it is 'not possible to wage class war by bombing a village'. Bombs hit rich and poor alike and unite them. Hence in one area after another the PDPA 'found themselves fighting the people they had meant to free' (International Socialism No93, December 2001, p34)."

What has happened to J-J, the doughty champion of the good "red terror" in Afghanistan, the panting admirer of Amin's strong mailed fist?

The point he still cannot grasp is that bombing villages flowed from the nature of the coup and the Stalinist attitude to self-sufficient state power.

Again J-J's curious and mysterious way with quotations - he needs to cite a recent article in IS Journal for this… I said that in Workers' Action in January 1980. It has taken J-J 23 years to recognise a self-evident truth!

"That the PDPA government survived till 1992 - after the Soviet Union's collapse - testifies to a residual, but nonetheless real, base of popular support. [IS Journal], which still characterises the 1978 revolution as a 'coup', nevertheless owns up that 'the PDPA demonstrated that it did have a serious base in Afghanistan' (September 30 1992). Ditto Socialist Organiser - the forerunner of the AWL's Solidarity - 'The fact that the Afghan regime the Russians left behind them did not collapse for over three years indicates that it was not only a creature of the Russians' (April 23 1992)."

He is boneheadedly hewing to a line that is foolish given the facts, which depends entirely on a definition of a coup so narrow that it effectively defines out of existence the very concept of a coup.

This was originally adopted for the ideological purpose of strengthening the case that this was a workers' revolution, though to the naked eye it was neither a popular revolution nor a working class one.

He holds to it long after he has, or seems to have, abandoned the original framework. It is now what it always was, a factional badge of honour, shielded from critical erosion by narcissism raised to the height of political idiocy!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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