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So like a lot of communists, I get tired of constant debates about 'was X historical figure mostly good,' (leaving out those who choose to worship any world leader who claimed socialism and deny any faults at all.) We should borrow what worked, recognize their mistakes, and move forward rather than get into pedantic bullshit about where they fit on a d&d alignment chart.

And it's bad strategy. Maybe people like Che can be rehabilitated, but with the exception of some of the shit going down in a few places in Asia right now, trying to prove Stalin did far more good than bad is a waste of time, (also inaccurate, which I'm sure I won't get much debate from other anarchists on.)

Regardless, it comes up a lot, and I probably lean more Marxist then most of y'all and find myself wanting to defend the Soviet Union and Cuba etc. not for sentiment so much as frustration that people make sweeping, inaccurate claims about communist states not realizing everything they criticize is done on a larger scale in their own nation, (these are usually Americans, and of course the gulags and UMAP never touched the scope of labor camps that exist in the US.)

Even though I don't like bringing up these things, they will come up, and I've recently realized almost all the info I have on major communist leaders comes from either;

Western propaganda trying to spin things to look as bad as possible, or just making shit up

Hardcore Leninists and apologists who will go to any lengths to defend their heroes.

And I'm left trying to parse what is what. All this to say, do you guys know of the least biased, (note, I didn't say the most balanced, balanced reporting is a crock of horse shit,) sources on the following people? Like, dispassionate stating of the facts best we can figure them and the reasons things happened. Usually I can tell the authors bias by the second paragraph on any of these things.

I'm interested in the most famous ones, just because they are more likely to come up, and I don't need obscure examples because the kind of anarchy/communism I prefer has never really existed, anyway.

Lenin, Mao, Chavez, Guevarra, Stalin, and Castro are probably good places to start.

I'm asking this on an anarchist board not a Marxist one because if I hear the, 'Stalin did nothing wrong, kulaks deserved it,' joke (? how often is it a joke?) one more time I'm going to explode. Also I think I'll get slightly less biased sources, and I'm an anarchist myself.

Thanks.
by (360 points)
i surely don't have an answer to this question, but i do have a thought.

you obviously have some strong ideas around the kind of communism you are interested in. based on your own readings and actual experience and interactions, what if you were to try coming up with your own book/essay/something on revolutionary communism? make believe YOU are a writer that others in the next few generations will be reading. how would YOU present and articulate YOUR ideas?

keeping in mind that any "evidence" presented (as historical "fact") in support of one's ideas will always be suspect and critically assessed, as you seem to have done with what you have read.
Hmm, good question. I'd have more to say on what doesn't work and why systems of power need to be dismantled, but critique is easier, yeah? And I doubt I'd have anything knew. So I'd probably let Foucault and the like do that and focus on what might work in my country since I'm not interested in telling other cultures what they should do.

As far as communist revolutions go, what worked for an early 20th century agrarian country, or an island caught in between superpowers during the Cold War, won't be effective for a 21st century service economy where the internet and flying space controlled death robots exist. It's tempting to point to what's happening in Chiapas or Rojava or one of several mid 20th century European anarchist movements but again; the context of indigenous decolonization groups or communities that sprung up around or between the world wars is radically different.

The closest thing to a communist uprising in the USA was probably the series of mini-civil war union revolts, most notably centered around mining but not exclusively. The bloodiest of these took place in Appalachia, and as a rural West Virginian by birth I learned from word of mouth what they whitewash in public school.

The Bible Belt scoffs at socialism but the union fighters are folk heroes, despite many of them getting communist support or aid from red sympathizers like the IWW. It's still union country and this seems the best in road to open their minds to abolishing capitalism. Unions are viewed slightly more favorably than negatively, I think, and so mobilizing them to seize the means of production has the clearest line from vision to reality.

I'd rather hijack existing infrastructure than create it from scratch. Still, modern unions are for the most part state stooges and soft as hell, existing mainly just to keep existing. But I wager they are still our best bet, if we can remove the hierarchy from them, and I'd love to see more union owned companies and co-ops challenge the traditional corporate model even if long term most of those have to go, too, (or radically change.)

This sort of revolution ideally ends in syndicalism, and there are other models of anarchy with a slightly more individualistic bent that I would probably enjoy more, personally, but with our history and climate I figure syndicalism would work best in the US.

I'm not, say, a syndicalist for England or South Africa or Sri Lanka.

Maybe that answers your question and I appreciate you encouraging me to think about it. I doubt I'd have enough to say to write a whole book.

This is not an answer to your question D332, but based on your interest in the miner's strikes in Appalachia, I would sugeest checking out the book Dixie be Damned (AK Press) if you haven't yet. I haven't fully dug in to it yet (read the intro and skimmed some chapters), but you might find it interesting as a history of insurrections in the Southern US.

That sounds right up my alley, thank you.
d332: i guess if you are solely interested in that political current from a historic perspective, then i guess you are stuck searching out and finding the writings of others.

what i was suggesting was to do your own writing: not necessarily a full book; not necessarily rooted in the historical/political interpretations of others; not even necessarily non-fiction. i was thinking of taking YOUR ideas, exploring, critiquing and working with them creatively; and presenting them in whatever form and format feels good to you. but that is apparently not your intent or desire, so that's cool. writing is clearly not something that everyone has a desire or knack for - i have tried numerous times (and still do rather often), and i cannot ever seem to find the sustained focus (discipline?) to bring my ideas to fruition anywhere but inside my head. :-)

edit: while clearly not a historical writing (and therefore perhaps not of interest to you in this context), the small book bolo'bolo (by p.m.) is an interesting place to start if thinking of a new and different world rooted in a rather communistic ethos (as opposed to looking backward into history). then again, if mass (industrial) society is something you consider a given - or desirable - for your desired world, then you might not find it all that interesting.
Actually I went to school in screenwriting, I still write and have even had shit published before. Down the road, maybe I could write a book if I thought of something no one has written before, I just don't think I have enough knowledge right now. It's a good idea, though, even if I never publicly share what I wrote.

I don't think I have any particular affection for industrialized society, and I spent a large amount of my time in the woods and mountains, lumberjacking professionally, hunting, etc. I can track game, skin and flesh an elk or deer for the hide and meat, fish, create temporary structures, that sort of thing. It was part of my upbringing and subculture. I would probably fair better than most in an anti-civ world but I would likely die young because medical shit I developed early in adulthood that makes me reliant on modern medicine.

I figure environmentally speaking we have to ditch the mass city model, where a million+ people live in close proximity, but I think scattered communities and villages with population centers that are large, (but not by modern standards,) but allow for people to specialize in medicine and science and learning institutes, (not structured like modern colleges, thiugh, ugh,) and offer those services to nearby peoples who give food, mostly, in return could maybe be sustainable. Ideally we could introduce this model as gradually as possible so no one has to starve to death in the meantime and a more industrialized, decentralized socialist society could bridge that gap. But that gradual change won't be possible if we keep razing our atmosphere and oceans.

I sympathize with a lot of things I don't agree with, including anti-civ anarchists and even fucking tankies a decent amount of the time. I'm not sure if my hodgepodge of ideas is because I don't fit well into any anarcho-ism, or because I haven't read enough to know where I stand and form a consistent ideology, so I want to read more and find out.
"I'm not sure if my hodgepodge of ideas is because I don't fit well into any anarcho-ism, or because I haven't read enough to know where I stand and form a consistent ideology, so I want to read more and find out."

i would caution against trying to fit your ideas into some single, "consistent" ideological box. that is the seed of dogmatism, imo, and not at all a path towards (what i think of as) freedom. i prefer the approach of looking at any and all ideas that are of interest, and picking what you like and don't like from each, given any particular context. there is no requirement to cram yourself into one of a pre-determined set of boxes. dip your philosophical hands into whichever one(s) make sense in a given situation, but don't get pulled in.

of course, that is just my anti-ideological dogma speaking.
No, that makes sense. I find labels/identifies useful sometimes, but not accurate. It's like when people go 'oh you sleep with men and women sometimes? So you're bi?' and I usually get slightly annoyed and will just shrug and be like 'sure, why the fuck not.' I suppose it doesn't make sense to treat my political views any differently.

I really like The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh. It is addressing the historical period leading up to the 20th century, so not directly addressing the Soviet Union etc. but is coming from a very interesting perspective influenced by marxism and anarchism.

Also, I would second Dixie Be Damned, which is great.

It sounds interesting, thanks!
counter-revolutionary :P

The best abridgement of Das Kapital is "The Reproduction of Daily Life" by Fredy Perlman!

1 Answer

+1 vote

These debates you're describing sound awful. Are you sure you want to continue hanging out in those spaces?

As to your question, my answer won't actually point to any biographies of these authoritarians, but I hope it will serve as an answer anyway. First it sounds like you would get a lot out of "A History of Separation" in Endnotes 4. It does not deal with the various leaders and figures, but the main argument is that we should not try not to look at historical moments through the lens of our own principles -- which, they argue, are too informed by our benefit of hindsight.

I have to add, since I am recommending the essay, that I actually hated it, or at least it left a very bad taste in my mouth, because it treats "the class" as a homogeneous consciousness and essentially erases anarchist and other libertarian thought from history. In other words, it chalks up all the communist atrocities to "well this is just where the class consciousness of the time was at, and who are we to judge that, we're standing on their shoulders" or some such bullshit. The fact that many people -- anarchists, but also many communists (though apparently not of the Endnotes sort) and also just regular people -- were definitely not in agreement with Leninism, Bolshevism, with Castro or Mao, is grossly waved away. It's also bonkers to me that they treat the authoritarians' actions as a pure expression of the class consciousness, but maybe that comes with the territory of believing in class consciousness at all?

Anyway, it is very much aimed at the sentiment you express of being tired of debates about whether certain historical figures were mostly good or not. So I do recommend it. But then you should also check out Dauvé and Camatte, who are two of the theorists that Endnotes are positioning themselves against in this debate. I'd also recommend reading Monsieur Dupont, and definitely, definitely check out "The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism" by Fredy Perlman, which is like a breath of fresh air in these musty rooms you seem to be hanging out in.

Edit: I thought of another source that's worth checking out, and more to the point of the question asked, as it talks about Bolshevik stuff from the inside: Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge.

by (20.5k points)
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