Polemic on Syria; Alan Woods : Defend the revolution or contribute to its defeat

The following is a polemical article written by comrades J.M Pau and Juan P of the International Worker’s League – Fourth International. The original text may be found here :

http://litci.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2342:alan-woods-defend-the-revolution-till-the-end-or-contribute-to-its-defeat&catid=41:world&Itemid=113

The following article is important not only because it exposes the reactionary politics of the IMT over Syria but also because it deals with the vital question of revolutionary leadership. We repost this article on our blog expressing full agreement with the positions expressed herein :

The positionof Alan Woods and his international political organization on the Syrian Revolution.

Alan Woods wrote last June an extensive article on Syria, to which we will respond with this text.

Many articles have been written on Syria on these years of revolution and civil war. Most of the left, starting with the Castro brothers and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, openly stood beside the dictator Bashar al Assad and his regime. Alan Woods (who supports Chavez and Chavists governments, and appeared as Chavez’ left adviser) – who runs the IMT on an international level -, changed hispositions, on the assumption that previously he had placed himself in favor of the Syrian Revolution. [1]

Below, we summarize the arguments used by Alan Woods to justify his position with quotationsfrom his own article:

1. The movement in Syria began as a popular revolution with mass support. If that movement had been armed with a genuinely revolutionary programme, it could have succeeded in winning over those sections of society that backed Assad for fear of the alternative. However, in the absence of clear leadership, the movement was hijacked by reactionary elements and pushed in a sectarian direction.

2. America’s regional allies, those bulwarks of reaction, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have been pouring in money, weapons and mercenaries into Syria from day one. Their objective was not at all to help the rebels who were fighting for change in Syria, but on the contrary, to crush the revolutionary elements and transform what began as a popular uprising into a civil war with sectarian connotations.

3. To the degree that the whole thing became militarised, the struggle was deprived of any revolutionary content. Those who controlled the money and arms were able to dictate terms. The counterrevolutionary Salafists and Jihadis, lavishly backed with money and arms from their billionaire paymasters in Riyadh and Doha, seized control. That determined the nature of the so-called opposition.

Based on these arguments, the conclusion drawn is: “The truth is that the Syrian Revolution has suffered defeat,”and everything now would sum up to an imperialist intervention against the country through its allies. In other words, according to Alan Woods, it does not matter which side wins the war: the immediate task of the revolutionaries in Syria would be only to wait for better days.

The truth is that after reading these paragraphs there is no more doubts that Alan Woods or his political current have never supported the Syrian Revolution. But for us, who know his trajectory, it is not surprising that they have gotten to this point, although on this occasion they have been forced to beat around the bush and to tailor some of their positions over time, hiding and changing others to finally have arguments to continue supportingthe ones they regard as their guides for the international revolution: Chavismo without Chavez.

Let us see, at first, Alan Woods’ arguments on the Syria situation.

The article begins by stating that the Western press (let’s say pro-imperialist) only mentions the government’s actions, concealing the Jihadists and Salafists’ brutality. This is not true, because we have all seen the pictures of a Salafist militiaman plucking and eating the heart of a dead soldier of the regime.

Alan Woods, however, does not say a single word about what the Western press did not publish on this macabre fact. On the internet it can be found statements of Abu Sakkar (the militiaman who ate the soldier’s heart) saying that he did it because when they (the rebels) captured that soldiers they watched the videos that were recorded on their cell phones where they (the regime soldiers) showed how they raped rebel women or murdered children.

According toWoods, the Western media only covers the government atrocities, when in fact, what happens is that the media works to amplify the Salafists and Jihadists’ actions, causing civil war looks like a sectarian war, in which the medicine can be worse than the disease itself. And every day, further and further pieces of news appear in this regard: on the financing of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, on the front Al Nusra which states to be linked to Al Qaeda. In other words, Western media does the same advertising job as Alan Woods.

The process of the Syrian Revolution and the Salafists

In March 2011, large demonstrations were held calling for the fall of al Assad’s regime. After eight months of brutal repression, the Revolution began to arm itself and ended up provoking a civil war that still lingers in the country which is now divided into zones controlled by the regime and liberated zones. Alan Woods says that because of its militarization, the revolution has suffered a defeat, after being dominated by the Salafists. This assessment, in our opinion, is flatly wrong.

Firstly, it is necessary to analyze who is actually fighting on the ground. The largest rebel military force in Syria is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group of militiamen and battalions relatively heterogeneous, but who keep a common standard. The estimated current soldiers of FSA areof 80,000 men. The largest Salafist group is JabhatAl Nusra, which has about 7,500 troops. As we can see, despite the Salafists progress in recent months (thanks to the international support they have, against the isolation of the FSA), the non-sectarian forces are largely dominant in the military rebel field.

Secondly, in the liberated areas with a major presence of Salafist forces there have been frequent confrontations of the population against them. Lately, even armed clashes have occurred in the city of al Dana or in the Kurdish areas. The Salafists murdered a FSA’s battalion chief and the Local Coordination Committees have spoken against them. In Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib (the most important liberated zones), there have been streets demonstrations for the same reasons. The Syrian people are far from joyfully accepting the Salafist guardianship, and there is a vivid struggle in the rebel field against the enforcement of the fanatic precepts of these currents.

Third, every Friday demonstrations keep happening throughout Syria. Although they do not count on as many participants as at the beginning, due to the forcible exile, people continue to occupy the streets every week. For instance, on July 19, the Independent Syrian Center for Statistics recorded 73 Syrian demonstrations.

Finally, we want to highlight that organizations which were created by the Syrian masses as from their mobilization, still exist, just as at the beginning. For instance, the extensive network of the Local Committees – the organizations that began coordinating the demonstrations – also took the tasks of supplying the people’s needs (and even being the government in the liberated areas). There is also the Union of Free Students of Syria, dozens of newspapers, many initiatives of the press giving to the world insights of what goes on inside Syria, humanitarian assistance through professional doctors, nurses, psychologists and volunteers, cultural initiatives, etc…

Among the arguments used by Allan Woods, one is worth mentioning:

“To the degree that the whole thing became militarised, the struggle was deprived of any revolutionary content. Those who controlled the money and arms were able to dictate terms. The counterrevolutionary Salafists and Jihadis, lavishly backed with money and arms from their billionaire paymasters in Riyadh and Doha, seized control. That determined the nature of the so-called opposition.”

It is the first time that we read that when a revolution is militarized, it loses its revolutionary content. We revolutionaries believe that it is precisely the opposite: to destroy a regime it is necessary to destroy the key support of the Bourgeois State, which are itsArmed Forces. To achieve this feat, the masses arm themselves or manage to get the Army troops to come over to the revolution side and thus fight the regime with their arms. Therefore, a revolution that manages to destroy the regime’s Army challenges the very Capitalist State. On the other hand, a revolution which leaves intact the Army cannot be more than a “democratic revolution” which, if stalled at this point, will not be able to move to a social revolution.

With all of this, we want to conclude that the Syrian revolution is alive, and that the Salafists are a minority faction from all points of view. To say, as Alan Woods does, that the money and the weapons are in the hands of the Salafists and therefore the efforts of the revolutionaries have been in vain is the greatest contempt of someone who claim to be a Marxist could send to the poor masses and exploited people of the whole world. It is clear that without money and weapons it is more difficult, but if it was the decisive factor there would never have been any revolution in the world, for money and weapons have always been in the hands of the minority, the bourgeois.

Would Assad be”secular” or “progressive”?

AlanWoods acknowledges in his text that the Syrian government commits atrocities. In previous articles of his own organization, Assad was denounced as a capitalist government that implements neoliberal plans. However, in the latter article, when criticizing the Muslim rebels, Woods slips and unveils the characterization that the Syrian regime is “progressive”, and that “the victory of the Jihadis would represent reaction in its blackest and most vicious form. It would signify the liquidation of all the gains of the last 50 years, pushing what was a civilized and decent country back into barbarism. It would mean a savage bloodbath of ethnic cleansing of Alawites, Christians and secular people. The slogan “Alawites to the grave, Christians to Beirut!” gives us fair warning as to the character and intentions of the jihadis. Their aim is to provoke a Sunni/Shia war of extermination.”

We have already responded to one of the main arguments which is the base for those who argue that the Syrian revolution would be a reactionary process for being “under the control” of Salafists. Now we want to give the question back: What about the government side? Would it be “secular” or “progressive”?

Although apart of the left spread this regime’s image, the answer is categorically No. Assad and his regime are not progressive nor in the content, and they do not even worry about hiding it in the form. And the proof of that was the fatwa read by the Mufti [2] of the Republic on television, calling a jihad to defend the regime. Further proof can be seen in the way the Army generals call upon the Syrian youth to enlist to fight “on behalf of Hussein” (son of Ali, the central figure of Shiite Islam). We can also mention the fact that after the conquest of Qusayr, the first thing that the regime troops did was to unfurl an offensive flag on a Sunni mosque. And finally: the government’s bombardments had already destroyed at least 800 mosques in April, to sow fear, but above all sectarian hatred.

Someone could say that this occurs because of the war and as a reaction to the Salafists’ actions, but the Syrian regime could not be characterized as “secular” even before the war.

The Syrian regime is not a secular state where wouldn’tmatter the religion a particular person professes. Religious leaders play a major role in the Syrian regime. The regime has fostered the splitting and has leaned on one of the Muslim factions, the Alawites (10% of the population) in order to control the Army and State institutions. Civil marriage is prohibited and those who want to get married can do it only if they profess the same religion. Syrian Kurds were massacred and discriminated for decades, and only with the beginning of the revolution the citizenship was provided to them, in order to neutralize them.

If any doubt remained about al Assad’s regime, simply look at their allies to dismiss it completely. On the battlefield, the Hezbollah troops serve as the regime ground troops. And the word Hezbollah, literally translated, means “Party of God”.

On the international stage, al Assad’s main support is the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ayatollah (which translated means “sign of God”) as “the supreme leader”.

It is ridiculous to try to justify the support to Bashar’s dictatorship for being a “secular” regime fighting against “reactionary Islamists”. In fact, it is the regime that makes more efforts to convert the Revolution in a sectarian fighting, in order to weaken it.

Nor does Bashar hesitate to promote massacres against the Palestinians in Syria (which stem from the 1948 refugees. All his speeches in support of Palestine were definitely thrown into the dustbin of history when it started the bombing on the Yarmuk neighborhood (originated from a refugee camp), where more than 150,000 people live, including Palestinians and Syrians. Palestinians in Syria are part of the revolution, because they suffer the same misery and lack of freedoms that affect the entire population.

50 years of accomplishments?

This is the second statement that stands out most in the arguments of Alan Woods: why is it that the Syrian people rose up massively against the regime, if the country had, according to Alan Woods, 50 years of accomplishments, being a ‘civilized’ country in which there were acceptable living conditions?

A few months earlier, on March 1st, 2013, Fred Weston, also of Alan Woods’ current, explained in an article the nature of Al Assad’sregime, showing the unemployment growth, especially among youth, the dominant role ofthe private industry and the fall in the purchasing power of the population, in other words, a situation similar to the rest of the countries in the region.

“The truth, however, is very concrete: there is not a single gram of anti-imperialism in al Assad regime. There is nothing of progressive in which he could somehow justify a possible support from the socialists, including the most critical of the ‘critical support’ “. [3]

If Alan Woods had a minimum of seriousness he would have, before beautifying the regime which his Bolivarian friends support, to say that his own comrade was mistaken, and demonstrate, if possible, where are the “50 years of accomplishments.” Let us remember that they are 50 years of military dictatorship, during which Bashar al Assad’s father held massacres in which thousands of people died. The current dictator “inherited” from his father the country presidency.

The lack of a revolutionary leadership in accordance with the standards required by Alan Woods

It is typical of the propagandists to criticize the masses for not doing whattheir schemes determine, beforehand. That’s exactly what Alan Woods does in his article, even though we have already seen this phenomenon in other texts by his current about the Syrian Revolution.

The above mentioned article starts as it follows:

“The movement in Syria began as a popular revolution with mass support. If that movement had been armed with a genuinely revolutionary programme, it could have succeeded in winning over those sections of society that backed Assad for fear of the alternative. However, in the absence of clear leadership, the movement was hijacked by reactionary elements and pushed in a sectarian direction.”

In at least one point we agree: there is not a revolutionary leadership in Syria whose program aims at the socialist revolution. However, for sure the Syrian masses have a revolutionary program: to overthrow the bloody regime of Bashar al Assad. It is lacking the program of the social revolution and it is lacking the building up a revolutionary party to defend this program, but this can only be built in the trenches of the revolution, as it happens in reality.

Indeed, a good part of the Syrian revolutionaries can be considered politically as “moderate Islamists”. How could we ask the masses to be on the “leftist” side if most of the worldwide “left” has been supporting the capitalist dictatorship which is promoting massacres against the masses? Much of the blame of the Salafists’ progress or the advance of political Islamism is of that very “left” who condemns the revolution just for this reason. How can Woods be so hypocritical to the point of accusing the Syrians of not following the direction he proposes, when his own current collaborated with the late President Chavez, the known friend and collaborator of the Syrian dictatorship?

Revolutions are as they are: they do not follow a predetermined pattern. It is necessary to look at them objectively, to see how they develop in practice in the real world. The Syrian masses rose up peacefully first, however, seeing themselves repressed and murdered, they took up arms to defend themselves and wipe out the regime. The Syrian people could not build a revolutionary leadership to the taste of some and others. This leadership has to be built in the midst of the government bombings and in a scenario in which there are many interests at stake. And amid all of this the Syrian people have been building their own bodies of power, with all its strengths and weaknesses: local committees, the Free Syrian Army, their Free Students organizations…. It is therefore a living process which should be known and supported by all the workers and peoples of the world.

The anti-imperialism of Alan Woods

We leave for the end what isthe justification of the text we criticize: Obama’s statements saying that U.S.would directly subsidize the Syrian opposition with weapons and resources. There are several statements that have not been fulfilled. However, for Alan Woods this is a scandal, because it would mean an imperialist intervention.

We denounce precisely the opposite. The imperialism has long been intervening in Syrian conflict and has done it mostly in favor of the regime. The arms embargo has benefited so far only the Syrian dictatorship, which continues to be armed by countries such as Russia and Iran, through subsidized fuel from Venezuela and the economic support from China, as well as a true foreign intervention, that of the Hezbollah. This is because the imperialism’s policy, which has not yet been changed, is of forcing a deal between the opposition and the regime, to make a transition that would leave intact the current regime foundations, but without the presence of Bashar al Assad. What worries the imperialism the most is the instability of the region. This stability, which Assad had been ensured for the past 40 years, along with the Egyptian regime, has been one of the mainstays of the State of Israel survival.

On the other hand, the imperialism most direct “allies” (as they are defined by Alan Woods) in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been financing the Islamist factions with the clear objective of perverting the revolution and weakening the Syrian masses. Incidentally, neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia have never sent heavy weapons to the militias they support, which demonstrates that their real intention is far from the prompt and effective overthrow of the regime.

And why wouldn’t the Syrian rebels have the right to receive weapons from the U.S. or Europe? The Syrian masses have the right to arm themselves, no matter where the weapons come from. Let us remember that during the Civil War or the Spanish Revolution, all the left demanded an end to the arms embargo that had been decreed by the “democracies” of Europe. The government of the Spanish Republic requested arms fromFrance and fromEngland. The Syrian people have the same right, otherwise the ones who will be armed to the teeth will be only the military dictatorship and, to a lesser extent, the Salafist militias – and that is what is actually happening.

That “left”ends up by playing the same role as the imperialism in order to isolate the revolution, echoing the U.S. propaganda when they (the U.S.) declare that they will arm the rebels, but disregarding the fact that these statements are never carried out.

A curious omission in all texts of Alan Woods and his current

In March, Fred Weston denounced the Communist parties for giving support to Bashar al Assad’s regime, when he quoted a statement by the Israeli Communist Party who said that Assad was preferable to a rebels’ triumph. As said above, Alan Woods’ collaborator explained that the regime of Bashar al Assad was at all, nor anti-imperialist nor progressive. Eventually he denounced the Communist parties, but never mentioned either the Castro brothers, of the Cuban regime, or the Venezuelan Chavez or his heir, Mr. Maduro.

However, supposing that Alan Woods is right and that the revolution is defeated, we should ask him what were the role of the left in this process, and especially the role of the government he so much defends. Why does Alan Woods say nothing about the role of Chavez and of the Castro regime in the Syrian Revolution?

Both governments have declared themselves friends of Bashar al Assad and Venezuela sends directly the fuel that moves the Syrian tanks and its air force. Both governments are the ones who led the toxic ideological campaign on the Syrian Revolution. These two governments have supported the thesis that the demonstrations and the revolution were an imperialism conspiracy. This is the “left” which declares Bashar as anti-imperialist, as a defender of the Palestinian people and as an enemy of Israel and even as “socialist” and “humanistic”. These are the figures of whom Alan Woods and his friends have forgotten, who helped the isolation of the Syrian revolution on an international basis, isolation that led to the lack of support by the workers and peoples of the world, as happened with Tunisia or Egypt. These two governments are also responsible for the fact that the Syrian people look suspiciously the left because they have seen the way large part of the “left” has supported and continues to support the dictatorship.

We do not condemn Allan Woods and his current for changing their position. Everyone has the right to do so, if convinced by the arguments, and especially if the reality proves that the point of view they previously advocated is wrong. What is not correct is to try to show up as a revolution supporter and then do everything possible to demoralize it, using precisely the arguments of the imperialism, and demoralize the revolutionary summoning them implicitly to accept the “defeat”.

Alan Woods has once again demonstrated that he has abandoned Marxism, which he claims to defend. We, who are Marxists, on the contrary, as it should be, we support the revolution, we are unconditionally with the Syrian people, for the defeat of the dictatorship and we will do whatever is possible, no matter how humble our own possibilities are, to surround them in internationalist solidarity.

__________________________________________

[1] For those who have not read Alan Woods’ article, the full text can be found at the link:

http://www.marxist.com/no-to-imperialist-intervention-in-syria.htm

[2] Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, referred to as”The Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic.” “Mufti” is a state-religious or academic authority, responsible for interpreting the Islamic law (Sharia) and to issue official statements (fatwas) on controversial issues.

[3] Available at: http://www.luchadeclases.org/internacional/oriente-medio/1181-regimen-de-al-assad-que-se-ha-convertido.html

Lenin on Guerrilla warfare

– V. I Lenin

( The text was originally written in 1906 in the context of the raging guerrilla warfare in the Russian countryside. This was Lenin’s position on the same which we believe to be the correct and more consistent revolutionary Marxist position on the issue of Guerrilla warfare. Seen in the Indian context this text assumes a more profound importance in the light of the intensifying guerrilla warfare lead by the Naxalites in East and Central India ) .

The question of guerrilla action is one that greatly interests our Party and the mass of the workers. We have dealt with this question in passing several times, and now we propose to give the more complete statement of our views we have promised.

I

Let begin from the beginning. What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle? In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies. We know—said Kautsky, for instance, when examining the forms of social revolution—that the coming crisis will introduce new forms of struggle that we are now unable to foresee.

In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their ·turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.

These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided. The history of Marxism in Western Europe provides an infinite number of examples corroborating what has been said. European Social-Democracy at the present time regards parliamentarism and the trade union movement as the principal forms of struggle; it recognised insurrection in the past, and is quite prepared to recognise it, should conditions change, in the future—despite the opinion of bourgeois liberals like the Russian Cadets and the Bezzaglavtsi. Social-Democracy in the seventies rejected the general strike as a social panacea, as a means of overthrowing the bourgeoisie at one stroke by non-political means—but Social-Democracy fully recognises the mass political strike (especially after the experience of Russia in 1905) as one of the methods of struggle essential under certain conditions. Social-Democracy recognised street barricade fighting in the forties, rejected it for definite reasons at the end of the nineteenth century, and expressed complete readiness to revise the latter view and to admit the expediency of barricade fighting after the experience of Moscow, which, in the words of K. Kautsky, initiated new tactics of barricade fighting.

II

Having established the general Marxist propositions, let us turn to the Russian revolution. Let us recall the historical development of the forms of struggle it produced. First there were the economic strikes of workers (1896-1900), then the political demonstrations of workers and students (1901-02), peasant revolts (1902), the beginning of mass political strikes variously combined with demonstrations (Rostov 1902, the strikes in the summer of 1903, January 9, 1905), the all-Russian political strike accompanied by local cases of barricade fighting (October 1905), mass barricade fighting and armed uprising (1905, December), the peaceful parliamentary struggle (April-June 1906), partial military revolts (June 1905-July 1906) and partial peasant revolts (autumn 1905-autumn 1906).

Such is the state of affairs in the autumn of 1906 as concerns forms of struggle in general. The “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy is the Black-Hundred pogrom, from Kishinev in the spring of 1903 to Sedlets in the autumn of 1906. All through this period the organisation of Black-Hundred pogroms and the beating up of Jews, students, revolutionaries and class-conscious workers continued to progress and perfect itself, combining the violence of Black-Hundred troops with the violence of hired ruffians, going as far as the use of artillery in villages and towns and merging with punitive expeditions, punitive trains and so forth.

Such is the principal background of the picture. Against this background there stands out—unquestionably as something partial, secondary and auxiliary —the phenomenon to the study and assessment of which the present article is devoted. What is this phenomenon? What are its forms? What are its causes? When did it arise and how far has it spread? What is its significance in the general course of the revolution? What is its relation to the struggle of the working class organised and led by Social-Democracy? Such are the questions which we must now proceed to examine after having sketched the general background of the picture.

The phenomenon in which we are interested is the armed struggle. It is conducted by individuals and by small groups. Same belong to revolutionary organisations, while others (the majority in certain parts of Russia) do not belong to any revolutionary organisation. Armed struggle pursues two different aims, which must be strictly distinguished: in the first place, this struggle aims at assassinating individuals, chiefs and subordinates in the army and police; in the second place, it aims at the confiscation of monetary funds both from the government and from private persons. The confiscated funds go partly into the treasury of the Party, partly for the special purpose of arming and preparing for an uprising, and partly for the maintenance of persons en gaged in the struggle we are describing. The big expropriations (such as the Caucasian, involving over 200,000 rubles, and the Moscow, involving 575,000 rubles) went in fact first and foremost to revolutionary parties—small expropriations go mostly, and sometimes entirely, to the maintenance of the “expropriators”. This form of struggle undoubtedly be came widely developed and extensive only in 1900, i.e., after the December uprising. The intensification of the political crisis to the point of an armed struggle and, in particular, the intensification of poverty, hunger and unemployment in town and country, was one of the important causes of the struggle we are describing. This form of struggle was adopted as the preferable and even exclusive form of social struggle by the vagabond elements of the population, the lumpen proletariat and anarchist groups. Declaration of martial law, mobilisation of fresh troops, Black-Hundred pogroms (Sedlets), and military courts must be regarded as the “retaliatory” form of struggle adopted by the autocracy.

III
The usual appraisal of the struggle we are describing is that it is anarchism, Blanquism, the old terrorism, the acts of individuals isolated from the masses, which demoralise the workers, repel wide strata of the population, disorganise the movement and injure the revolution. Examples in support of this appraisal can easily be found in the events reported every day in the newspapers.

But are such examples convincing? In order to test this, let us take a locality where the form of struggle we are examining is most developed—the Lettish Territory. This is the way Novoye Vremya (in its issues of September 9 and 12) complains of the activities of the Lettish Social-Democrats. The Lettish Social-Democratic Labour Party (a section of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) regularly issues its paper in 30,000 copies. The announcement columns publish lists of spies whom it is the duty of every decent person to exterminate. People who assist the police are proclaimed “enemies of the revolution”, liable to execution and, moreover, to confiscation of property. The public is instructed to give money to the Social-Democratic Party only against signed and stamped receipt. In the Party’s latest report, showing a total income of 48,000 rubles for the year, there figures a sum of 5,600 rubles contributed by the Libau branch for arms which was obtained by expropriation. Naturally, Novoye Vremya rages and fumes against this “revolutionary law”, against this “terror government”.

Nobody will be so bold as to call these activities of the Lettish Social-Democrats anarchism, Blanquism or terrorism. But why? Because here we have a clear connection between the new form of struggle and the uprising which broke out in December and which is again brewing. This connection is not so perceptible in the case of Russia as a whole, but it exists. The fact that “guerrilla” warfare became wide spread precisely after December, and its connection with the accentuation not only of the economic crisis but also of the political crisis is beyond dispute. The old Russian terrorism was an affair of the intellectual conspirator; today as a general rule guerrilla warfare is waged by the worker combatant, or simply by the unemployed worker. Blanquism and anarchism easily occur to the minds of people who have a weakness for stereotype; but under the circumstances of an uprising, which are so apparent in the Lettish Territory, the inappropriateness of such trite labels is only too obvious.

The example of the Letts clearly demonstrates how incorrect, unscientific and unhistorical is the practice so very common among us of analysing guerrilla warfare without reference to the circumstances of an uprising. These circumstances must be borne in mind, we must reflect on the peculiar features of an intermediate period between big acts of insurrection, we must realise what forms of struggle inevitably arise under such circumstances, and not try to shirk the issue by a collection of words learned by rote, such as are used equally by the Cadets and the Novoye Vremya-ites: anarchism, robbery, hooliganism!

It is said that guerrilla acts disorganise our work. Let us apply this argument to the situation that has existed since December 1905, to the period of Black-Hundred pogroms and martial law. What disorganises the movement more in such a period: the absence of resistance or organised guerrilla warfare? Compare the centre of Russia with her western borders, with Poland and the Lettish Territory. It is unquestionable that guerrilla warfare is far more widespread and far more developed in the western border regions. And it is equally unquestionable that the revolutionary movement in general, and the Social-Democratic movement in particular, are more disorganised in central Russia than in the western border regions. Of course, it would not enter our heads to conclude from this that the Polish and Lettish Social-Democratic movements are less disorganised thanks to guerrilla warfare. No. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that guerrilla warfare is not to blame for the state of disorganisation of the Social-Democratic working-class movement in Russia in 1906.

Allusion is often made in this respect to the peculiarities of national conditions. But this allusion very clearly betrays the weakness of the current argument. If it is a matter of national conditions then it is not a matter of anarchism, Blanquism or terrorism—sins that are common to Russia as a whole and even to the Russians especially—but of something else. Analyse this something else concretely, gentle men! You will then find that national oppression or antagonism explain nothing, because they have always existed in the western border regions, whereas guerrilla warfare has been engendered only by the present historical period. There are many places where there is national oppression and antagonism, but no guerrilla struggle, which sometimes develops where there is no national oppression whatever. A concrete analysis of the question will show that it is not a matter of national oppression, but of conditions of insurrection. Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly large intervals occur between the “big engagements” in the civil war.

It is not guerrilla actions which disorganise the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control. That is why the anathemas which we Russians usually hurl against guerrilla actions go hand in hand with secret, casual, unorganised guerrilla actions which really do disorganise the Party. Being in capable of understanding what historical conditions give rise to this struggle, we are incapable of neutralising its deleterious aspects. Yet the struggle is going on. It is engendered by powerful economic and political causes. It is not in our power to eliminate these causes or to eliminate this struggle. Our complaints against guerrilla warfare are complaints against our Party weakness in the matter of an uprising.

What we have said about disorganisation also applies to demoralisation. It is not guerrilla warfare which demoralises, but unorganised, irregular, non-party guerrilla acts. We shall not rid ourselves one least bit of this most unquestionable demoralisation by condemning and cursing guerrilla actions, for condemnation and curses are absolutely incapable of putting a stop to a phenomenon which has been engendered by profound economic and political causes. It may be objected that if we are incapable of putting a stop to an abnormal and demoralising phenomenon, this is no reason why the Party should adopt abnormal and demoralising methods of struggle. But such an objection would be a purely bourgeois-liberal and not a Marxist objection, because a Marxist cannot regard civil war, or guerrilla warfare, which is one of its forms, as abnormal and demoralising in general. A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not social peace. In certain periods of acute economic and political crises the class struggle ripens into a direct civil war, i.e., into an armed struggle between two sections of the people. In such periods a Marxist is obliged to take the stand of civil war. Any moral condemnation of civil war would be absolutely impermissible from the standpoint of Marxism.
In a period of civil war the ideal party of the proletariat is a fighting party. This is absolutely incontrovertible. We are quite prepared to grant that it is possible to argue and prove the inexpediency from the standpoint of civil war of particular forms of civil war at any particular moment. We fully admit criticism of diverse forms of civil war from the standpoint of military expediency and absolutely agree that in this question it is the Social-Democratic practical workers in each particular locality who must have the final say. But we absolutely demand in the name of the principles of Marxism that an analysis of the conditions of civil war should not be evaded by hackneyed and stereo typed talk about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, and that senseless methods of guerrilla activity adopted by some organisation or other of the Polish Socialist Party at some moment or other should not be used as a bogey when discussing the question of the participation of the Social-Democratic Party as such in guerrilla warfare in general.

The argument that guerrilla warfare disorganises the movement must be regarded critically. Every new form of struggle, accompanied as it is by new dangers and new sacrifices, inevitably “disorganises” organisations which are unprepared for this new form of struggle. Our old propagandist circles were disorganised by recourse to methods of agitation. Our committees were subsequently disorganised by recourse to demonstrations. Every military action in any war to a certain extent disorganises the ranks of the fighters. But this does not mean that one must not fight. It means that one must learn to fight. That is all.

When I see Social-Democrats proudly and smugly declaring “we are not anarchists, thieves, robbers, we are superior to all this, we reject guerrilla warfare”,—I ask myself: Do these people realise what they are saying? Armed clashes and conflicts between the Black-Hundred government and the population are taking place all over the country. This is an absolutely inevitable phenomenon at the present stage of development of the revolution. The population is spontaneously and in an unorganised way—and for that very reason often in unfortunate and undesirable forms—reacting to this phenomenon also by armed conflicts and attacks. I can under stand us refraining from Party leadership of this spontaneous struggle in a particular place or at a particular time because of the weakness and unpreparedness of our organisation. I realise that this question must be settled by the local practical workers, and that the remoulding of weak and unprepared organisations is no easy matter. But when I see a Social-Democratic theoretician or publicist not displaying regret over this unpreparedness, but rather a proud smugness and a self-exalted tendency to repeat phrases learned by rote in early youth about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, I am hurt by this degradation of the most revolutionary doctrine in the world.

It is said that guerrilla warfare brings the class-conscious proletarians into close association with degraded, drunken riff-raff. That is true. But it only means that the party of the proletariat can never regard guerrilla warfare as the only, or even as the chief, method of struggle; it means that this method must be subordinated to other methods, that it must be commensurate with the chief methods of warfare, and must be ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism. And without this latter condition, all, positively all, methods of struggle in bourgeois society bring the proletariat into close association with the various non-proletarian strata above and below it and, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become frayed, corrupted and prostituted. Strikes, if left to the spontaneous course of events, become corrupted into “alliances”—agreements between the workers and the masters against the consumers. Parliament becomes corrupted into a brothel, where a gang of bourgeois politicians barter wholesale and retail “national freedom”, “liberalism”, “democracy”, republicanism, anti-clericalism, socialism and all other wares in demand. A newspaper becomes corrupted into a public pimp, into a means of corrupting the masses, of pandering to the low instincts of the mob, and so on and so forth. Social-Democracy knows of no universal methods of struggle, such as would shut off the proletariat by a Chinese wall from the strata standing slightly above or slightly below it. At different periods Social-Democracy applies different methods, always qualifying the choice of them by strictly defined ideological and organisational conditions.

IV

The forms of struggle in the Russian revolution are distinguished by their colossal variety compared with the bourgeois revolutions in Europe. Kautsky partly foretold this in 1902 when he said that the future revolution (with the exception perhaps of Russia, he added) might be not so much a struggle of the people against the government as a struggle between two sections of the people. In Russia we undoubtedly see a wider development of this latter struggle than in the bourgeois revolutions in the West. The enemies of our revolution among the people are few in number, but as the struggle grows more acute they become more and more organised and receive the support of the reactionary strata of the bourgeoisie. It is therefore absolutely natural and inevitable that in such a period, a period of nation-wide political strikes, an uprising cannot assume the old form of individual acts restricted to a very short time and to a very small area. It is absolutely natural and inevitable that the uprising should assume the higher and more complex form of a prolonged civil war embracing the whole country, i.e., an armed struggle between two sections of the people. Such a war cannot be conceived otherwise than as a series of a few big engagements at comparatively long intervals and a large number of small encounters during these intervals. That being so—and it is undoubtedly so—the Social-Democrats must absolutely make it their duty to create organisations best adapted to lead the masses in these big engagements and, as far as possible, in these small encounters as well. In a period when the class struggle has become accentuated to the point of civil war, Social-Democrats must make it their duty not only to participate but also to play the leading role in this civil war. The Social-Democrats must train and prepare their organisations to be really able to act as a belligerent side which does not miss a single opportunity of inflicting damage on the enemy’s forces.

This is a difficult task, there is no denying. It cannot be accomplished at once. Just as the whole people are being retrained and are learning to fight in the course of the civil war, so our organisations must be trained, must be reconstructed in conformity with the lessons of experience to be equal to this task.

We have not the slightest intention of foisting on practical workers any artificial form of struggle, or even of deciding from our armchair what part any particular form of guerrilla warfare should play in the general course of the civil war in Russia. We are far from the thought of regarding a concrete assessment of particular guerrilla actions as indicative of a trend in Social-Democracy. But we do regard it as our duty to help as far as possible to arrive at a correct theoretical assessment of the new forms of struggle engendered by practical life. We do regard it as our duty relentlessly to combat stereotypes and prejudices which hamper the class-conscious workers in correctly presenting a new and difficult problem and in correctly approaching its solution.