One hundred years ago, on 1 March 1921, sailors at the Kronshtadt naval base took up arms against the Russian Soviet government. In 1917, those sailors were on the front lines of Russia’s two revolutions, which overthrew tsarist autocracy and the capitalist government that succeeded it. Those struggles brought to power the Soviet government, the first in the world claiming to rule on behalf of working people. (The soviets were workers’ councils.) After defeating the counter-revolutionary “Whites” in the civil war of 1919-20, that government’s Bolshevik leaders faced an explosion of protest by the very workers they claimed to speak for, that culminated in the Kronshtadt revolt. The movement demanded not only action against economic inequality, but also the restoration of the soviet democracy and free speech won in 1917. Today People & Nature publishes an article by Simon Pirani, describing the 1921 workers’ movement, its political aspirations, and how the Bolsheviks, by suppressing it, took a decisive step towards authoritarianism. The article builds on research for Pirani’s book, The Russian Revolution in Retreat: Soviet workers and the new communist elite (2008). CONTINUE HERE
On 22 July the city court in Petrozavodsk, north-west Russia, sentenced Yuri Dmitriev – a historian of Stalin era repression, who works excavating the remains of political prisoners killed in local camps – to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.
Dmitriev was found guilty of forced sexual activity with his underage adopted daughter, and cleared of charges of creating pornographic material, possession of weapons and indecent acts. He has always denied all these charges. Taking into account time served, Dmitriev is expected to be freed in November – although the prosecutor had called for a 15-year sentence.
Dmitriev, who was acquitted of similar offences at a previous trial, has won support internationally as a victim of political persecution.
People & Nature today publishes an article by Nikita Girin, examining the charges in detail, that first appeared in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 13 July. It reflects the view of Russian human rights defenders and free speech advocates – that these charges were contrived, with a view to silencing Dmitriev’s authoritative, determined voice on Stalinist repression.
The article shines light on the brutal and cynical methods used by the state to protect its Stalinist predecessors from Russians determined to understand their own history. Please read and share.
Today I am very pleased to publish Barbara Harriss-White’s discussion of Kohei Saito’s book, Marx’s Eco-socialism: capital, nature and the unfinished critique of political economy (Monthly Review Press, 2017) on People & Nature. It is based on her talk at a panel at the Historical Materialism conference in London, on 8 November 2019 that reviewed the book, which won the 2018 Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize. Please read and share!
A response to Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto by Aaron Bastani (Verso Books, 2019)
Communist utopias are the stuff of life. They have given hope, widened horizons and fired imaginations, from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done (1863) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) through to Woman On the Edge of Time (1985) by Marge Piercy.
So when my copy of Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto arrived, I had high hopes. They were not all realised.
There were things in Bastani’s book I really liked: his optimism, and his conviction that any communist society – that is, any society free of exploitation and hierarchy – will be based
on material abundance. But his ideas about how this might be achieved were unconvincing.
Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC), he writes in the concluding chapter, is
a map by which we escape the labyrinth of scarcity and a society built on jobs; the platform from which we can begin to answer the most difficult question of all, of what it means, as [the economist John Maynard] Keynes once put it, to live ‘wisely and agreeably and well’ (p. 243).
Bastani writes that FALC, unlike the world of actually existing neoliberalism,
will not demand constant sacrifices on the altar of profit and growth. Whether it’s ‘paying down the debt for future generations’, as our politicians are so keen to repeat, or growth and rising wages always coming ‘next year’ it’s becoming ever clearer that the good times aren’t coming back. What remains absent, however, is a language able to articulate that which is both accessible and emotionally resonant.
Bastani aspires to provide that language – by identifying political principles for a movement beyond capitalism; by returning abundance to a central place in socialist Read the rest of this entry »
Recent advances in the science of human origins refute racist ideology, writes STEVE DRURY in this guest post
We are in the midst of a resurgence of racism, white supremacism and all the other trappings of right-wing populism, together with growing physical threats from some who adhere to those ideologies. This trend depends on a morass of origin myths, pseudoscience, denialism and conspiracy theory – an “intellectual” foundation that actually permeates more widely than merely in overtly far-right fringe groups. Sadly, it is part of the cultural baggage of a majority.
Yet rapid advances in the science of human origins have been providing powerful refutations of all kinds of nonsense and mindless prejudice.
Britain has long been a relatively quiet repository of day-to-day, casual racism and ideas of supremacy that stem from its former possession of colonies, together with the idea of an
island fortress against all comers, benign or malevolent. So how the “British” and their early culture came into existence is an excellent starting point for countering the insidious backwardness of this politics.
Evidence for the presence of humans in Britain goes back about a million years. For most of that time, however, any occupation was probably temporary. Stone tools are the most durable signs that early humans paid the British landscape a visit, fossil remains being rare and generally just a few fragments.
The earliest known traces occur in ancient river deposits exposed by wave erosion on the Norfolk coastline. Pear-shaped, double-edged stone tools, known as “bifacial axes” (archaeologists are uncertain about how they may have been used) turn up there from time Read the rest of this entry »
The vindictive, cowardly racism that black Britons face on the streets is rooted in empire, the hip-hop artist and writer Akala insists in his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.
The argument that racism is shaped by imperial oppression, and by class relations – that it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere in people’s heads – runs through the book. And so
does the theme that struggles against empire are a key part of the path to a better world.
“As much as a tendency to dominate, divide and brutalise has been a seeming constant for the past few millennia at least, so too has the tendency of sharing and co-operation, of rebellion against dominant powers and attempts to create a more just order”, Akala writes (p. 148).
“The degree to which humans have secured a more just world has been born out of the struggles against empires as much as anything else.”
Akala recounts the British empire’s crimes – from slavery, through colonialism in Africa to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for the genocidal onslaught in Yemen right now – and Read the rest of this entry »
The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s stage adaptation of Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman’s epic novel about the holocaust, the second world war and Stalinism, above all brings hope for the future.
The play, being shown this month (in Russian, with English captions) at the Theatre Royal in London, portrays the darkest days of 20th century European history. What conveys hope is how determinedly its director, Lev Dodin, and its cast stare Soviet history in the face.
The impact was especially forceful last week, when Russian officialdom was as usual celebrating the “great patriotic war” with vast, aggressive displays of military hardware (on 9 May, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany).
Russian and Ukrainian friends have been sharing on social media, with horror, photos and video clips of kindergarten children, encouraged by teachers and parents to parade with models of tanks, armoured cars and heavy weapons. (See for example videos here from Piatagorsk, or here from Krasnodar.) All while real Russian bombs are killing kindergarten children in Syria. …
But that’s only one Russia. The Maly Drama Theatre reminds us of another, where past wars are not justified or reproduced, but thought about, along with the repression and prison camps that accompanied them. Such thought is a precondition for making a future without any of these things.
The Theatre has put on its adaptation of Grossman’s masterpiece every year since 2007. It was developed out of a theatre school course taught by Lev Dodin, the theatre’s director. (He talked in an interview at the time about how that happened. See below.)
Life and Fate was written in the 1950s, suppressed in Soviet times, and published in Switzerland in 1980 and Moscow only in 1988. It is set in 1943, when the battle of Stalingrad turned the tide of the Read the rest of this entry »
Remember past heroes by pausing to reflect, TERRY BROTHERSTONE argues in this guest post, marking one hundred years since John Maclean’s speech from the dock
On 9 May, 2018, it will be 100 years since the Clydeside Marxist revolutionary, John Maclean, stood in the dock in the Scottish High Court in Edinburgh, refused to recognise its authority by making any plea in his defence against a charge of sedition, and instead delivered an audacious, hour-and-a-quarter-long speech denouncing World War I as a murderous capitalist enterprise inflicting death and disaster on the working people of Europe.
“I have taken … unconstitutional action … because of [these] abnormal circumstances”, he said. “I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the
benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place.”
You can read his speech, with some contextual analysis, in a recent edition here.
The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The sentence was five years with hard labour. When the war ended, and in the light of a growing protest movement in Maclean’s support, and Government fears that his continued persecution might stimulate more serious working-class disaffection – the Russian Revolution was much in their minds – he was released after only a few months.
However, there is little doubt that Maclean’s several terms of imprisonment in the harsh conditions of Scotland’s jails contributed to his early death in 1923, aged only 44.
At the time of Maclean’s 1918 trial, the outcome of the War – which by then had been waged for over three and three-quarter bloody years – was still in the balance. The German Spring offensive, which Read the rest of this entry »
Go and see Armando Iannucci’s dark political comedy The Death of Stalin, if you can. And if you think blood-drenched dictators and their henchmen are beyond parody, think again.
Iannucci’s satirical eye, cast so effectively over Westminster in The Thick of It and Washington in Veep, focuses in The Death of Stalin on the Soviet (“Communist”) party and state leaders as they struggled with the fallout from the dictator’s demise in March 1953.
Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Lavrenty Beria, who headed Stalin’s secret police, stole the film, in my eyes. Playing a psychotic,
sadistic mass murderer and rapist for laughs isn’t easy, and he shifts through the gears – menacing to manipulating to cynical – in fractions of a second.
If Malcolm Tucker, the deranged Alistair-Campbell-esque The Thick of It character played by Peter Capaldi, said he was going to gouge someone’s eyes out, you’d know he could not do, and never had done, such a thing. When Russell Beale’s Beria says it, you know he could, and has, done it. And not just once.
There are many strong performances in The Death of Stalin. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, who eventually rose to succeed Stalin as general secretary: not as stupid as he seems. Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy: hollowed-out, gaunt and guileless. Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter: on the edge of a nervous breakdown (and Rupert Friend as her brother Vasily, who had one long ago.) Jason Isaacs as Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who rose to power and popularity after leading the Soviet army in the second world war: myth-rich hero played as swashbuckling Yorkshireman.
Iannucci’s humour works because there is a serious thread in it. When Beria reminds Khrushchev and Vyacheslav Molotov (played by Read the rest of this entry »