Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism is to be tested. V. I. Lenin Economic & Philosophic Science Review No 1151 September 10 2002
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[P&P Bulletin Publications PO B0X 50, London SW 17 9NL] [ Post Office Regd.] 25p SW seminar Sep 21. Rcpts pse. 2 pm As the vast misery from ever-deepening global economic crisis continues to mock capitalist 'civilisation', petty-bourgeois 'lefts' and scribblers continue to pour out grotesque ideological confusion to make it easier for imperialism's warmongering 'solution' to everything to gain acceptance. But although Western monopoly-capitalist world domination is not yet threatened by fake-'lefts'with the revolutionary overthrow which is the only future, insoluble inter-imperialist differences and spontaneous anti-imperialist revolt around the world are confirming class-war as the only way ahead. Trot and scribbler anti-Sovietism and ludicrous re-writing of history is on its last legs as the "freedom" from the dictatorship of the proletariat brings far worse results than even the foulest bourgeois lies and distortions against the workers states have been able to invent.
The anti-human and foully reactionary book by Martin Amis, sneering at all attempts by massed working-class resistance to curb imperialist rottenness in history, emerges to meet US ruling-class needs at a very delicate time for the West. Never before, since capitalism began 800 years ago, has colonial-warmongering adventurism to cover over domestic economic crisis been such a difficult stunt for the bourgeoisie to unleash. The Amis attempts to improve on the 1930s Hitler-Goebbels levels of anti-communist propaganda (in the interests of a general imperialist war-drive to help the capitalist racket survive the system-threatening slump, the Great Depression, then spreading economic disaster), are designed to take the world's mind off the coming US imperialist war-crimes by (a) philosophically pretending that it is a total delusion anyway to even think of trying to "improve" civilisation in any way through deliberate political struggle; and by b) recycling ludicrous Nazi lies that all plans for "socialism" have easily been the worst things ever inflicted on mankind anyway. This disgusting gibberish on behalf of Western monopolists' preparations to blitzkrieg Iraq and to step up the genocidal slaughter of the Palestinian nation, depends (for any 'logic' it pretends to) on Amis imposing a child's level revision on history so as to imply that "violence" was never a threat to civilisation until the Bolsheviks invented and perfected it; and on one-sidedly arguing against all revolutionary struggle as though Western imperialism simply has no violent history (or perspectives) at all. Such an extraordinary display of ignorance, class-hatred, and philistine biliousness from a supposed "man of letters" shifts all of the attention immediately onto what must be eating this pampered posturer. One can only assume that his petty-bourgeois anxiety about capitalism's insoluble crisis reflects the despair and gloom of the whole rotten upper-class system, used to getting its ludicrously vast wealth and social privileges exploited out of the Third World and the proletarian billions, who are now seen as moving towards total revolt everywhere against Western imperialist domination. What else could explain the following typical samples of Amis Junior's shallow sourness as he reinterprets the history of the world for us: Bolshevism presents a record of baseness and inanity that exhausts all dictionaries; indeed, heaven stops the nose at it. Isn't unpunctuated self-righteousness, in a man presiding over the less than perfect world of the Soviet Union, 1917-24, automatically not not hypocritical? Off the record, Lenin was capable of telling the truth, blandly conceding that certain policies had had certain (unpleasant) results. But nothing here qualifies Bunin's judgement, with which I increasingly concur: Lenin that congenital moral imbecile. Seen in terms of freedom alone, October 1917 was not a political revolution riding on the back of a popular revolution (February). It was a counter-revolution. The "unrest" of 1921 in the armed forces (mutiny at Kronstadt and elsewhere), in the-post-Civil War remains of the proletariat (strikes, demonstrations, riots), and in the countryside (peasant rebellion involving millions) - constituted a popular revolution far more thoroughgoing than those of 1917 and 1905. The Bolsheviki called this a counter-revolution, and bloodily suppressed it. Whereas, in fact, their revolution was the counter-revolution. What they had in mind was vanguard violence: a violence "not seen for centuries" (Conquest); a violence, said Martin Malia (in The Soviet Tradegy: A History of Socialism in Russia), "whose scope and inhumanity far exceeded anything in the national past". To glance quickly at a crucial dissonance: it has always been possible to joke about the Soviet Union, just as it has never been possible to joke about Nazi Germany. This is not merely a question of decorum. In the German case, laughter automatically absents itself. Pace Adorno, it was not poetry that became impossible after Auschwitz. What became impossible was laughter. In the Soviet case, on the other hand, laughter intransigently refuses to absent itself. Immersion in the facts of the Bolshevik catastrophe may make this increasingly hard to accept, but such an immersion will never cleanse that catastrophe of laughter . . . Is that the difference between the little moustache and the big moustache, between Satan and Beelzebub? One elicits spontaneous fury, and the other elicits spontaneous laughter? And what kind of laughter is it? It is, of course, the laughter of universal fondness for the old, old idea about the perfect society. It is also the laughter of forgetting. It forgets the demonic energy unconsciously embedded in that hope. It forgets the Twenty Million. This isn't right: Everybody knows of Auschwitz and Belsen. Nobody knows of Vorkuta and Solovetsky. Everybody knows of Himmler and Eichmann. Nobody knows of Yezhov and Dzerzhinsky. Everybody knows of the six million of the Holocaust. Nobody knows of the six million of the Terror-Famine. Russia. 1917-53: what is its genre? It is not a tragedy, like Lear, not an anti-comedy, like Troilus and Cressida, nor yet a problem comedy, like Measure for Measure. It is a black farce, like Titus Andronicus. And the black farce is very Russian, from Dead Souls to Laughter in the Dark .. . It seems that humour cannot be evicted from. the gap between words and deeds. In the USSR, that gap covered 11 time zones. The enemy of the people was the regime. The dictatorship of the proletariat was a lie; Union was a lie, and Soviet was a lie, and Socialist was a lie, and Republics was a lie. Comrade was a lie. The Revolution was a lie.
In the real record of human civilisation, the bourgeois-capitalist growth of society had swelled the coffers and the egos of the "winning" nations to unstable monopoly-imperialist war conflicts by the end of the 19th century, giving rise to mass socialist movements to end ruling-class domination and its system of arms-race colonial injustice; and to the Marxist-Leninist science which explained the ineradicable cause of regularly-recurring monopoly-imperialist economic crises, and made conscious the class revolutionary basis for all major social transformations hitherto in history, which the now-international working class would eventually have to support in order to halt capitalist warmongering tyranny for good. The Bolshevik Revolution quickly forced the major imperialist powers to curtail the mindless slaughter of World War I for fear of further spreading communist insurrections. That world's first workers state survived the intervention and massive destruction by the invading armed forces of the 14 leading capitalist-imperialist states after 1917, and then survived the renewed imperialist warmongering conspiracy built up around Hitler's rearmed German imperialism plus 7 other Axis powers, designed by the Munich Agreement (signed by the West in 1938) to destroy the Soviet workers state once and for all in WWII. The World War II triumph for the USSR and the ideas of self-financed non-imperialist development then led to the spread of proletarian revolution (most significantly to China) and to the spread of national-liberation revolution which used similar mass guerrilla-war tactics to bring down one physical Western colonial empire after another. Against continued imperialist disruption, the Soviet Union, on the contrary, generously aided scores of the newly-independent countries in the world, laying the basis for the delusion that an entirely new era had dawned for mankind of a United Nations democratic and peaceful resolution of all civilisation's problems henceforth on Earth. It was the "violence" objected to by Amis which had alone made that delusory dawn possible - by defeating imperialist counter-revolution everywhere, and by making continued anti-imperialist development possible everywhere. The Amis diatribe is all directed against the many grotesque distortions and mistakes in that violence, obviously and inevitably committed by this first wave of workers states in history, desperately and inexpertly trying to stabilise themselves in appalling war-destruction conditions and in the face of ferocious imperialist counter-revolutionary subversion aid disruption. To achieve this effect, Amis totally ignores the monstrously inhuman and indescribably despotic violence of Western imperialism's colonial-war-controlled world which gave rise to history's first great communist revolutionary movement and sustained it for more than a century of bourgeois abuse and vilification. This routine "democracy" brutality is admitted freely in many current capitalist press articles but systematically ignored when anti-Soviet polemics are required, - and ignored by Amis:
Complacency about Britain's imperial record lingers on. In the post-September 11 orgy of self-congratulation about the west's superiority, Blair's former foreign policy guru, Robert Cooper, and a host of journalistic flagwavers were urging us not to be ashamed of empire. Cooper insisted empire was "as necessary now as it had been in the 19th century". The British empire was, we were assured, a generally well-intentioned attempt to inculcate notions of good government, civilised behaviour and market rationality into less well-favoured societies. Is such a rosy view of British imperialism justified? Many argue that it is. After all, surely the British have less blood on their hands than the French and the Belgians? Wasn't the British . addiction to the free market a prophylactic against the horrors of forced labour?
While the complex consequences of colonial economic policy require extended analysis, it is possible to dispel more swiftly the myth that the British Empire, unlike King Leopold's, was innocent of atrocities.
It has become a modern orthodoxy that Europe's 20th century was the bloodiest in history and that atrocities just be recorded and remembered by society as a whole. But while a Black Book of Communism has been compiled and everybody is aware of the horrors of nazism, popular historians have been surprisingly uninterested in the dark side of the British Empire. There are exceptions, such as Mike Davis's powerful Late Victorian Holocausts, but much else still lies buried in the academic literature. Davis and others have estimated that there were between 12 and 33 million avoidable deaths by famine in India between 1876 and 1908, produced by a deadly combination of official callousness and free-market ideology.
But these were far from being a purely Victorian phenomenon. As late as 1943 around 4 million died in the Bengal famine, largely because of official policy. No one has even attempted to quantify the casualties caused by state-backed forced labour on British-owned mines and plantations in India; Africa and Malaya. But we do know that tens of thousands of often conscripted Africans, Indians and Malays - men, women and children - were either killed or maimed constructing Britain's imperial railways. Also unquantified are the numbers of civilian deaths caused by British aerial bombing and gassing of villages in Sudan, Iraq and Palestine in the 1920 and 1930s. Nor was the supposedly peaceful decolonisation of the British Empire without its gory cruelties. The hurried partition of the Indian subcontinent brought about a million deaths in the ensuing uncontrolled panic and violence. The brutal suppression of the Mau Mau and the detention of thousands of Kenyan peasants in concentration camps are still dimly remembered, as are the Aden killings of the 1960s. But the massacre of communist insurgents by the Scots Guard in Malaya in the 1950s, the decapitation of so-called bandits by the Royal Marine Commandos in Perak and the secret bombing of Malayan villages during the Emergency remain uninvestigated. One might argue that these were simply the unfortunate consequences of the arrival of economic and political modernity. But does change have to come so brutally? There are plenty of examples of wanton British cruelty to chill the blood even of a hardened Belgian. Who, after all, invented the concentration camp but the British? The scandalous conditions in British camps during the Boer war, where thousands of women and children died of disease and malnutrition, are relatively well known. Who now remembers the Indian famine-relief-cum-work camps, where gentlemanly British officials conducted experiments to determine how few calories an Indian coolie could be fed and still perform hard labour? The rations in these camps amounted to less than those at Buchenwald. There is Churchill's assiduous promotion of schemes to cut the costs of imperial defence in India and the Middle East by using aerial bombing, machine gunning and gassing for the control of rebellion, political protest, labour disputes and non-payment of taxes. There is the denial of free food to starving south Asians on the grounds that it would simply hasten a population explosion among India's "feckless poor": There is the extraordinary British justification for bombing Sudanese villages after the first world war: Nuer women were, officials claimed, of less value to their community than cattle or rifles. These facts and figures are not easily culled from textbooks on empire. We don't have a dedicated museum of empire, but our nearest equivalent, the new Imperial War Museum North, would leave the impression that Britain's colonial subjects had been enthusiastic participants in its wartime crusades to rid the world of want and evil. Does it matter that the British are smug about their imperial past, that British atrocities have been airbrushed from history? One can't help thinking that Jack Straw's pious missions to India to broker solutions to the Kashmir crisis might have more credibility if the British had the good grace to apologise for such imperial crimes as the Amritsar massacre. But a more worrying symptom of this rosy glossing of the imperial past is the re-emergence of a sort of sanitised advocacy of imperialism as a viable option in contemporary international relations. The point of cataloguing Britain's imperial crimes is not to trash our forebears, but to remind our rulers that even the best-run empires are cruel and violent, not just the Belgian Congo. Overwhelming power, combined with a sense of boundless superiority, will produce atrocities - even among the well intentioned. Let's not forget that Leopold's central African empire was originally called the International Association for Philanthropy in the Congo.