The Bolshevik “betrayal” of anarchists during the Russian Revolution is a commonly known, and almost overly debated instance where anarchism has come into open and bloody conflict with leftism.
There is no end to the accusations of murder at Kronstadt, or in Ukraine, and no end to the leftist rationalization and dismissal of the same events as necessary or even desirable.
The Russian Revolution serves as a flashpoint for tension between those who consider themselves leftists and anarchists, and one’s opinion on the revolution’s events can often serve as indicative of their politics as a whole.
But why is this the case? Why is a relatively singular historical event, or even the actions of one man (Stalin), what things get boiled down to? While a particularly terrible set of events, the “betrayal” of anarchists by communists during the Russian Revolution is just another instance of leftist forces crushing anarchistic movements.
Everyone seems to be mostly aware of the events at Kronstadt, or the betrayal of Ukrainian anarchism by the Bolsheviks, but these are only links in a larger chain of betrayal. Could it be that people are ignorant of this history? Could it be that some don’t want the trend to be exposed? Could it be that some may even see nothing wrong with it? All three are likely true, but instead of erring on the side of malice, we shall assume ignorance of such consistency.
Perhaps ignorance is why people refer to the Haitian Revolution as “successful”. Was it successful in expelling white people from the island? Sure. Did it end slavery? Absolutely not! At the end of the revolution, people were still slaves to the plantation system. instead of being forced to work by white people with the now abolished whip, they were being clubbed into submission by Louverture’s military state. His logic in doing this? As he stated, “Liberty cannot exist without industry.”
When plantation workers rose up against this “new” form of slavery, they were suppressed. When it became clear that Louverture’s nephew Moyse was involved, and was advocating away from industry, away from cash crops and towards self sufficiency, Moyse was executed. When push came to shove, the liberal logic of Louverture could not bring itself to abolish slavery and truly challenge rulership over people. His successor, Dessalines would drop any left wing pretenses and declare himself emperor.
As will be shown here, this lack of ability to challenge the fundamental aspects of rulership is inherent to leftism, and demonstrates a clear historical trend which still repeats itself. While cloaked in slogans like “liberty, equality, fraternity”, leftism frequently ends up being the force that crushes these sentiments.
If the left wing were serious about ideas like this, then why did the French Revolutionists only “abolish” slavery in the colonies after years of bickering? Why did this ostensible abolition only happen after the slaves had revolted and tangibly abolished slavery by forcing their former owners to flee the island?
The liberatory rhetorics of leftism always only goes as far as it needs to to keep up with the demands of people, and is in a constant struggle to keep up with radical demands, while always trying to tie things back to the status quo. It is not leftist politicians or revolutionaries that push forward emancipation of people, but the people themselves who break free of the limits leftism attempts to impose.
The French Revolution is another revolution looked to by leftists as some sort of inspiration, instead of the abject failure it actually was. Leftists praise it for abolishing feudalism, but what good is abolishing one system of oppression when all you’ve done is create new forms? The French Revolution liberated people from the yoke of feudalism, but immediately bridled people with capitalism, and began inventing new rationalizations against true freedom.
One such rationalization has embedded itself in politics to this day, and is often espoused by socialists, Marxists, and even many anarchists. This rationalization is inherent to leftism, and one of its fundamental tenets. Leftism attempts to justify rulership by claiming that its rulership is “of the people”, and not actually rulership.
This sort of mental gymnastics was pioneered by Robespierre, and later stolen by Engels, to be made part of Marxist canon in the idea of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. It is laughable that Marxists often call anarchism “liberal” when their entire set of ideas is based on liberal bourgeois logic. In fact, one of the very first statues in the emerging USSR that Lenin had built, was of Robespierre!
Leftism does not oppose authority or rulership, it simply wishes to invert the currently existing hierarchy. It does not oppose policing, representative politics, or even outright murder, as long as these things are done by some establishment claiming to act in the name of the people. It is with this logic that leftist movements often crumble under their own weight, or simply end up opposing the revolutionary forces they claim to support. With this logic, it is acceptable to create things like secret police forces.
It is acceptable to implement state run execution systems via guillotine (and far worse in the countryside of France). It is acceptable to attack forces that might oppose your own domination in the name of “the people”. By not fully admonishing authority and rulership, leftism ensures that it has ample footing to violently oppose anyone that they disagree with by simply labeling them a “counter-revolutionary”.
It is no coincidence that almost always, these “counter-revolutionaries” have more in common with the stated goals of the revolutionary situation than the leftists. Those who would pursue revolution to its complete extent, and abolish ALL rulership, threaten the leftist, who believes that they deserve to rule in the name of the people, instead of the people ruling themselves.
Echoing the production-centered authoritarian state created after the Haitian Revolution, we see similar events happening in the Mexican Revolution. The concept that “Liberty cannot exist without industry” not only led to continuing slavery in Haiti, but also to the failure of the Mexican Revolution to truly liberate people.
The “radical” left-wing of Mexican politics during the time was centered around an organization called the Casa del Obrero de Mundial(COM). Rather than believing that the people should be allowed to rule themselves, the COM believed that the peasantry could not be trusted to fully make a revolution, as they had bought into the Marxist notion that the urban proletariat was the only proper revolutionary subject. In this line of thought, the COM formed the Red Battalions, and allied themselves with the liberal bourgeois government of Carranza.
They proceeded to play a vital role in opposing Zapata and Villa’s largely peasant forces, and absolutely opposed these forces which were truly trying to upend rulership.
As is consistent with leftism, the Red Battalions allied themselves with the status quo of rulership, and ended up opposing those who truly wanted a free life. As with the Haitian revolution, the leftist forces could not see past the status quo, and fought to reestablish it in the face of a revolution that threatened to upend the way of life completely.
Of course, after the Red Battalions played their part of traitors to the revolution, they were systematically dismantled, disempowered, and murdered by the now victorious liberal establishment they helped achieve power. As seen by Moyse earlier, and later the majority of the Old Bolsheviks murdered by Stalin, no good revolutionary deed goes unpunished in leftism.
The Spanish revolutionaries in the Spanish Civil War were also witnesses to this type of leftist betrayal. Despite nominally being an ally to the anti-fascist forces of the civil war, the USSR under Stalin acted with its own benefits at the forefront, rather than out of any sort of altruism or actual desire to oppose authority.
Stalin gladly took the majority of Spanish gold reserves, and in return, gave what were often criticized as inadequate or shoddy arms, and plenty of bad political advice. Numerous leftists who disagreed with the USSR’s policies, and spoke out in favor of trajectories that would favor the Spanish people instead of simply safeguarding Soviet positions, would be assassinated by Soviet agents.
Outside betrayal by Stalin aside, the CNT’s more leftist elements committed an internal betrayal themselves. Despite much opposition and criticism from anarchists in general, the CNT sealed its fate by agreeing to work alongside the Republican government.
The liberal Republicans, as with the Mexican liberals, viewed the anarchist forces as simply pawns to be used in their struggle, and never had any intention of taking their ideas seriously. Anarchist groupings like the Iron Column were denounced as “bandits” by the Republicans, and any revolutionary spirit was crushed by communists and liberals alike. As a leader of the communist party stated…
“If in the beginning the various premature attempts at “socialization” and “collectivization”…might have been justified…at the present time, when there is a government of the Popular Front, in which all the forces engaged in the fight against fascism are represented, such things are not only not desirable, but absolutely impermissible.”
In the face of revolution, the leftists of Spain opposed anarchist ideas wholesale, and the communists even abandoned communism in favor of bourgeois liberalism. Instead of embracing anarchistic policies, which would have drawn popular support away from the fascists, and created opportunities for the growth of anarchist positions, the leftist Republicans and communists decided that fascism was preferable to anarchy. As Geoff Bailey writes…
“An immediate redistribution of the large landed estates would have won the support of millions of peasants to the government, including many conservative peasants who had joined the clerical and monarchist forces in Franco’s army.
A declaration of independence for Morocco would have undercut Franco’s support in North Africa, and even opened up a second front against his forces in Morocco. The immediate nationalization of industry and banking would have prevented the bourgeoisie from sabotaging war production by reopening closed plants and seizing money that could be used to purchase arms.“
Again, we see the left clearly organizing itself against anarchism. Despite the claims of many that anarchism exists on the left wing, this simply cannot be so when anarchistic movements are consistently opposed by leftism. Again, leftism would rather cling to the status quo, then embrace any sort of truly liberatory ideas.
We see Soviet involvement in crushing anarchy abroad again in the case of the Shinmin Commune. The Shinmin Commune sprang up in Manchuria around 1929, and consisted of a series of village councils that focused more on meeting the immediate needs of the people, rather than building some sort of productive infrastructure to chain people to.
As we have seen, leftists cannot stand when industry is ignored, and had to do something about that. After one major figure was assassinated by Japanese Imperialists, another leading figure was assassinated by a Soviet agent. This will not be the first case of near-fascists and communists sharing the same goals in opposing anarchism.
Anarchism in Greece was nearly completely eradicated by both nationalists and communists during World War 2, and the subsequent Greek Civil War. Even libertarian communists, and those leftists who were not anarchists were targeted for liquidation by the Communist Party of Greece. As Agis Stinas wrote…
“During the First World War, the executioners who governed the people put specially trained police units and professional killers in charge of the massacre of the internationalists. During the Second World War, the Stalinists took this responsibility upon themselves.“
We can even see a modern continuation of these actions by the KKE. In a 2011 general strike in Greece, anarchists attempted to storm the parliament building, and were stopped by, KKE members. Again, we see leftists falling over themselves to protect the status quo from anarchists, to the point of physical confrontation. In 2012, during a strike, the KKE happily allowed a member of the fascist Golden Dawn a platform to address the striking workers.
Yet again, fascism and leftism are very willing to jump into bed together in the face of anarchism, or any event that threatens to truly upset things. Leftists do not want to upset things any farther than they can control them, and are willing to ally themselves with any party that may assist them in keeping a lid on any true unrest.
Russia, Spain, Mexico, Haiti, Manchuria, Ukraine, Greece…This larger picture shows that leftist opposition to anarchism is not some sort of aberration, but a consistent trend.
Some may desire to dismiss these events as ancient history, but they are absolutely a trend that continues to this day. Just a few weeks ago, communists attacked an anarchist bookstore in Hamburg, Germany. The actions of the left show that they are in no way interested in upending the state of things. They are purely interested in control.
The left has no desire to create a new world, yet merely desires control of the existing world. Rather than dismantle systems of control, they simply wish to take the reins. This is not an issue of overzealous Bolsheviks, as many believe, but an issue inherent to the logic of leftism. Any set of ideas that does not completely oppose authority and rulership, will be dominated by a desire for authority and rulership. It will, by the nature of its leftist logic, jump to oppose anyone that threatens authority and rulership.
Leftism is incapable of truly liberatory ideas, because it cannot extricate itself from the current state of rulership. To leftism, authority is not something to be opposed, but something to be harnessed. The left has consistently defended liberal capitalism because it hopes to use it as a method to gain power. Because of this, anarchism has always existed as an enemy of the left, not as part of it. While the left seeks power over existing structures in order to direct society towards its aims, anarchism seeks to empower people to create new forms of living themselves.
The Red Batalions were hired to defeat Zapatism
The typical leftist response to an absolute opposition to authority is to cry about defense from reactionaries. This argument is, first of all, a pathetic appeal to people’s fears, positing outside forces as some sort of boogeyman that can only be opposed by a state or statelike entity.
Secondly, it is proven false by history.
- The Ukrainian anarchists did a fine job of opposing the White armies, and were not defeated by them, but by the Red Army. Worker control in Russia certainly wasn’t dismantled by reactionaries!
- The forces of Zapata and Villa performed remarkably well in defending themselves, and the Red Battalions played an important role in tipping the scales towards their defeat.
- The Shinmin Commune suffered blows from reactionary forces, but the crucial blow in its defeat was dealt by communists, not by the Japanese.
- Greek anarchism was defeated by being crushed between communists and nationalists.
- The Spanish anarchists were, in fact, defeated by fascists, but only after continual sabotage from leftists, and a complete rejection of anarchist initiatives.
Leftists maintain that some sort of statelike entity is necessary to protect against reaction, but reaction has historically not been the only force that has opposed anarchism.
Given the history of leftist violence against anarchists, it should be asked, “Who exactly do we need to protect ourselves against?”
Other books readers may be interested include:
Russian Nightmares–American Dreams by Edith Saposnik Kaplan
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
10 Days that Shook the World by John Read
The Unknown Revolution by Voline