Anarchism and Council Communism on the Russian Revolution
Memos, Christos, Anarchist Studies
The Russian Revolution, being part of the revolutionary tradition of the exploited and oppressed, encompasses sufferings, horrors and tragedies, but also unfulfilled promises, hopes and revolutionary inspirations. The subversive heritage includes, among others, the largely neglected radical critiques of the Russian Revolution that preceded analogous Trotskyist endeavours. All these forgotten critiques, unrealised potentials and past struggles could act as a constandy renewed point of departure in the fight for human emancipation. This essay examines the two radical currents of anarchism and Council Communism and their critical confrontation with the Russian Revolution and the class character of the Soviet regime. First, it oudines the major anarchist critiques and analyses of the revolution (Kropotkin, Malatesta, Rocker, Goldman, Berkman and Voline). Following this, it explores the critique provided by the Council Communist tradition (Pannekoek, Gorter and Rühle). The essay moves on to provide a critical re-evaluation of both anarchist and councilist appraisals of the Russian Revolution in order to disclose liberating intentions and tendencies that are living possibilities for contemporary radical anti-capitalist struggles all over the world. It also attempts to shed light on the limits, inadequacies and confusions of their approaches, derive lessons for the present social struggles and make explicit the political and theoretical implications of this anti-critique.
Keywords: Anarchism, Council Communism, Russian Revolution
'Russia must return to the creative genius of local forces which, as I see it, can be a factor in the creation of a new life ... If the present situation continues, the very word 'socialism' will turn into a curse. This is what happened to the conception of 'equality' in France for forty years after the rule of the Jacobins.'
Kropotkin to Lenin, Dmitrov, 4 March 1920.
Prevailing ideas and analyses diat deal with the historical and political significance of the Russian Revolution tend to reconstruct its history as past history, which is indifferent to current social and political conditions. There is an attempt for an image of a frozen past to be constructed that is separated from the present. The past is recognised only as past. The Russian Revolution is perceived as dead, past time that generated a monstrous totalitarian regime. According to this logic, it can only serve as an example to avoid. Having been disassociated from the present, then, the memory of the past struggles is expropriated by the status quo, the victors of history and it is utilised to legitimise the exploitation and domination of the ruling class. The demise of the Soviet regime is seen as being the tragic consequence of a pre-determined historical course that substantiates the triumph of western type liberal democracies. It also justifies neo-liberal policies even when neo-liberalism is going through a tremendous crisis: there is no alternative. Nothing important has survived from the Russian Revolution except the suffering and pain caused by the 'red terror'. In contradistinction to this approach, which reflects the idea of history as the history of the rulers and dominant, the history of the exploited and oppressed indicates that 'nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost to history'.1
For this concept of history, there is a continuity of the revolutionary struggles that breaks the homogeneous time of official history and unifies the militant legacy, arguing that 'most of the past is interrupted future, future in the past'.2 Searching in the past for radical elements which are of vital importance for present and future anti-capitalist struggles, this paper presents and discusses the critique of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union developed by the two largely neglected political and theoretical traditions of anarchism and Council Communism. It argues that despite their theoretical and political inconsistencies, ambiguities and mistakes, both trends have provided valuable insights that could contribute to our better understanding of the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union. …