Which is the worst communism or feudalism

The "Black Book of Communism"

“For such a phenomenon in human history is no longer forgotten, because it has uncovered a disposition and a capacity in human nature for the better, something no politician would have figured out from the previous course of things, and which only nature and freedom, internally Right principles united in the human race, but, as far as time is concerned, could only be promised as indefinite and accidental occurrences.

But if the purpose intended for this incident were not achieved even now, if the revolution or reform of the constitution of a people did fail towards the end, or, after this had allowed for some time, everything would be brought back to the previous track (as politicians now fortune telling), then that philosophical prophecy loses none of its power. - For that incident is too great, too intertwined with the interests of mankind, and its influence over the world in all its parts, to not be brought to the minds of the peoples on any occasion of favorable circumstances and for repetition of new attempts should be awakened in this way ... "

Immanuel Kant: "The dispute of the faculties" (1798)

“This problem needs to be solved: Is the course of events really a continuum, or are they two strands of events that are closely intertwined, but nevertheless refer to different causes, to two different political and moral worlds? If we fail to solve this problem, negligence can make us dangerous today. For the unreflected past revives the worst prejudices and prevents historical consciousness from penetrating the political level. "

Michail Gefter: "Staline est mort here", L’Homme et la société, No. 2/3, 1988

In 1798, in the midst of a period of reaction, Immanuel Kant wrote of the French Revolution that such an event would not be forgotten, despite defeats and setbacks. Because the torn time, even if only fleetingly, saw the promise of a liberated humanity light up.

Kant was right. Our problem today is whether the great promise associated with the name of the October Revolution, this shaking of the world, this ray of light breaking out of the darkness of the great slaughter in World War I, can also be "brought to the memory of the peoples". This is what it is about, not about a “duty to remember” (which is a well-worn word today), but about work and a fight for memory.

The 80th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 would have passed almost unnoticed. The publication of the Black Book deserves the credit of bringing the question of October back to the table. The dispute over its assessment will remain irreconcilable. Stéphane Courtois, who is responsible for the entire work, clearly stated that the objective of the operation was to establish a strict continuity and perfect coherence between communism and Stalinism, Lenin and Stalin, original revolutionary charisma and finally the end under the ice cover of the Gulag: “Stalinism and communism , it's the same, ”he writes in the Journal du Dimanche.

It is crucial to answer straightforwardly the question posed by the eminent Soviet historian Michail Gefter: “This problem needs to be solved: Is the course of events really a continuum, or are two strands of events that are closely intertwined? , but nevertheless refer to different causes, to two different political and moral worlds? "

A central question on which depends both the ability to understand the century that is coming to an end and our lines of action in the stormy century that lies ahead: If Stalinism were only, as some claim or admit, a simple "deviation" or “Tragic prolongation” of the communist project, one would have to draw the most radical conclusions to its disadvantage.

A fin-de-siècle process

This is exactly what the authors of the Black Book are aiming at. The somewhat anachronistic tone of the Cold Warrior adopted by Stéphane Courtois and some articles in the press was astonishing. Since capitalism, shamefully renamed the “democracy of the market”, was happy to proclaim itself as the only alternative after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the absolute victor at the end of the century, this bitterness in reality reveals a great repressed fear: the worry that the The wounds inflicted on the capitalist system and its vices could now be more glaringly visible now that its bureaucratic counterpart and best alibi has disappeared. It is therefore a matter of proceeding to the preventive demonization of everything that points to a possible different future.

In fact, only the catastrophic disappearance of the Stalinist rival, with which the bureaucratic usurpation ended, will allow the specter of communism to once again circulate in the world.

How many ex-zealous Stalinists stopped seeing themselves as communists when they turned away from Stalinism - because they could never tell Stalinism and communism apart - to throw themselves into liberalism with the fervor of new converts? Stalinism and communism are not only different, they are irrevocably antagonistic. And remembering this difference is not the least of the duties we have to the communist victims of Stalinism.

Stalinism is not a variant of communism, but the name for the bureaucratic counterrevolution. The fact that the honest activists in the urgency of the fight against Nazism and the consequences of the world crisis in the interwar period did not become aware in time that they were still generously giving up their torn livelihoods does nothing to change this. To answer Mikhail Gefter's question, it is very much a question of “two politically and morally different” and irreconcilably opposed “worlds”. This answer contradicts the conclusions of Stéphane Courtois in the Black Book.

Sometimes Courtois denies having asked for a Nuremberg for communism, probably because he is uncomfortable having taken up a formula that was expensive for Herr Le Pen. But the staging of the Black Book not only suggests the blurring of the differences between Nazism and Communism, but also trivializes them by suggesting that the purely "objective" computational comparison is to the advantage of Nazism: 25 million deaths against 100 million deaths, 20 Years of terror against 60 years of terror. The banderole that adorned the first edition of the Black Book in France advertised loudly with 100 million dead. The authors come to 85 million deaths. Courtois does not do much fuss about 15 million dead more or less. He moves mountains of corpses with the ladle. This macabre blanket accounting, which mixes countries, periods, causes and fronts, seems cynical and shows disdain for the victims themselves.

For the Soviet Union this bookkeeping comes to a total of 20 million victims, although it remains unclear exactly what this number refers to. In his article in the Black Book, Nicolas Werth corrects the current estimates downwards. According to him, historians today, knowing the archives, estimate the number of victims of the great purges from 1936 to 1938 at 690,000. That is a tremendous number, at which the horror is already stuck in the throat. It still comes to 2 million prisoners in the camps of the Gulag on an annual average, with a higher percentage than previously assumed was released and replaced by new prisoners. To get a total of 20 million, one would have to add to the victims of the purges and the gulag those of the two great famines (5 million in 1921/22 and 6 million in 1932/33) and the civil war. But even the authors of the Black Book could not - that is in the matter - show that this is a “crime of communism”, that is, an extermination decided in cold blood.

With such ideologically motivated procedures, it would not be difficult to write a “red book of the crimes of capital” by listing the victims of colonial looting and genocide, world wars, the factory system, epidemics, and ongoing famines not only of the past but also that adds up to now. In the all too often ignored second part of her trilogy, Hannah Arendt saw totalitarianism in modern imperialism and the prelude to many later concentration camps in the colonial concentration camps of Africa (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarism, Vol. 2: The Imperialism).

When it is no longer a question of dealing with a specific regime, period or specific conflict, but rather of criminalizing an idea, how many deaths over the centuries will one attribute to Christianity and the Gospels, how many to liberalism and its laissez-faire Ideology? Even if one were to accept the fantastic calculations that Courtois makes, it would become clear that capitalism cost Russia far more than the 20 million deaths charged to Stalinism in the course of the 20th century and in two world wars.

The crimes of Stalinism are heinous, massive and horrific enough. They do not need to be exaggerated. Unless the point is to deliberately cover up the traces of history, as was attempted on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, when certain historians made this revolution responsible not only for the Terreur or the Vendée, but also for the dead of white terror, the dead of the defense against the war of intervention of the European dynasties and even for the victims of the Napoleonic campaigns!

That it is legitimate and useful to compare Nazism and Stalinism is not new - did not Trotsky himself speak of Hitler and Stalin as "twin stars"? But comparing does not mean understanding, and the differences are just as important as the similarities. The Nazi regime carried out its program and kept its dark promises. The Stalinist regime was built against the emancipatory communist project. In order to establish itself it had to crush those active in the communist goal. How many dissidents and opponents of the interwar period symbolize this turn? Mayakovsky, Joffe, Tucholsky, Benjamin and so many others killed themselves. Is it possible to provoke this crisis of conscience among the Nazis in the face of a betrayed and distorted ideal? Hitler's Germany did not need to transform itself into a "land of great lies" like Russia under Stalin: The Nazis were proud of their work, the Stalinist bureaucrats could not see themselves in the mirror of the original communist ideas.

When the concrete story is resolved in time and space and deliberately depoliticized - as a consciously applied method (Nicolas Werth openly demands that “political history” must “step into the background” in order to better follow the thread of a history of repression that has been robbed of its context) - then there is only a shadow play left. It is then no longer a question of bringing a regime, an epoch, and identifiable executioners to trial, but an idea: a deadly idea. Some journalists have enthusiastically acted out this kind of genre literature. Jacques Amalric registers with satisfaction “the reality brought about by a deadly utopia” (Liberation, November 6th, 1997). Philippe Cusin invents a hereditary disposition for sociopolitical conceptions: "The genes of communism inscribe: It is the most natural thing to kill" (Le Figaro, November 5, 1997). And when will the proposal for euthanasia against this criminal gene come?

Bringing a lawsuit not against facts, not against certain real crimes, but against an idea, inevitably leads to the thesis of collective guilt and an offense of opinion. The history tribunal of Mr. Courtois does not only work in the past. It becomes dangerously preventive when he regrets that “the mourning work of the idea of ​​revolution is still far from being completed” and when he is outraged that “revolutionary groups are openly active and spread their positions in complete legality”!

Repentance is certainly a fashion. If Messrs. Furet or Le Roy Ladurie, Ms. Kriegel or Mr. Courtois themselves have never come to the end of their mourning work, they drag their guilty conscience as converted former Stalinists around like an iron ball, their swan song leads to resentment, then that is their business. But those who have remained communists without ever celebrating the little father of the nations or praying down the great helmsman's little red book, what, Mr. Courtois, have they to regret? You have undoubtedly been wrong many times. But in the face of social reality as it is today, they have neither waged the wrong fight nor chosen the wrong opponent.

In order to understand the tragedies of the late century and to draw useful conclusions from them for the future, one must go beyond the ideological level and the shadows that cavort on it, in order to penetrate the depths of history and the logic of political conflicts explore, in which the choice is made between different possible developments.

Revolution or Coup?

A renewed critical look at the Russian October Revolution on the occasion of its 80th anniversary raises a number of historical and programmatic questions. The stakes are high. It is about nothing less and nothing more than the question of whether the future is open to our revolutionary action - because not every past has the same future.

But before turning to the large number of documents newly accessible since the opening of the Soviet archives (which undoubtedly enable new knowledge and the resumption of some controversial debates), the discussion comes up against the prevailing ideological “taken for granted”, whose weight recently again with the unanimously honoring Necrology on François Furet became clear. In these times of counter-reform and reaction it is not surprising that Lenin and Trotsky become as non-persons as Robespierre and Saint-Just did during the Restoration.

To start clearing the ground, it is therefore appropriate to take up three prejudices that are quite common today:

1. Instead of designating a revolution, October would rather be a symbolic name for the conspiracy or coup d'état by a minority who from the beginning carried out their authoritarian conception of society in favor of a new elite.

2. The entire development of the Russian Revolution, including its totalitarian aberrations, would, in the sense of a fall, be contained in the germ already in the revolutionary idea (or "passion" according to Furet): History would then be reduced to the development and realization of this perverse idea - regardless of what happened on the great real social upheavals and events and on the uncertain outcome of every struggle.

3. And finally, the Russian Revolution would have been condemned to monstrosity because it was a “premature” production of history, an attempt to force its course and rhythm when the “objective conditions” for overcoming capitalism were not given: instead of wise To practice “self-restraint”, the Bolshevik leaders would have been the active operators of this anachronism.

A real revolutionary upsurge

The Russian Revolution was not the result of a conspiracy but, in the context of the war, the breaking up of the contradictions accumulated under the conservative autocracy of tsarism. At the beginning of the century Russia was a blocked society, an exemplary case of "unequal and combined development", a country that was both imperialist and ruled, and in which on the one hand there were feudal traits of an agrarian reality in which the physical quality was only half a century ago was officially abolished, and on the other hand the characteristics of a highly concentrated urban capitalism.

Although Russia is a great power itself, it is technologically and financially dependent. The book of complaints presented by Popen Gapon during the revolution of 1905 is an impressive list of the miserable conditions prevailing in the tsarist empire.Attempts at reform quickly fail because of the conservatism of the oligarchy, the stubbornness of the despot and the vacillations of a bourgeoisie that is already threatened by the emerging labor movement. The tasks of the democratic revolution thus fall to a kind of third estate in which, in contrast to the French Revolution, the modern proletariat is in the minority, but represents the dynamic and propulsive wing.

Because of all this, "Holy Russia" can be seen as the "weakest link" in the imperialist chain. The difficult trial of war lights the fuse on this powder keg.

The development of the revolutionary process between February and October 1917 clearly shows that it is not a matter of the conspiracy of a minority of professional agitators, but of the accelerated processing of political experience at the mass level, a change in consciousness, a constant change in the balance of power. In his masterful story of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky analyzes this radicalization process in minute detail, from one intra-union election to another, from municipal election to municipal election, among the workers, among the soldiers and among the peasants. While the Bolsheviks made up only 13 percent of the delegates at the Soviet Congress in June, the situation changed quickly after the July days and after the attempted coup by Kornilov: in October, at the second Soviet Congress, they made up between 45 and 60 percent of the delegates.

Far from being a coup d'état that succeeds because of its surprise effect, the October Uprising is the end and the preliminary result of a trial of strength that matured for a whole year and in the course of which the state of mind of the plebeian masses was always to the left of that of the parties and their leadership was located, not only to the left of the Social Revolutionaries, but even to the left of the Bolshevik Party or part of its leadership (right down to the question of the insurrection and the decision for the insurrection itself).

In general, historians agree that the October Uprising - by no means more violent than the storming of the Bastille - saw the result of a year of disintegration of the old regime. For this reason, it cost comparatively fewer human lives than the acts of violence that were later perpetrated. The relative “ease” of the Bolsheviks' seizure of power through an uprising illustrates the impotence of the bourgeoisie between February and October, their inability to realize the project of a modern bourgeois nation-state on the ruins of tsarism. Therefore there was not a choice between revolution and “democracy” per se, but between two authoritarian solutions, the revolution or the military dictatorship of Kornilov or any other similar subject.

If revolution is understood as an impetus for social change from below that comes from the deep aspirations of the exploited and oppressed people, rather than the realization of some fantastic plan devised by an enlightened elite, then the Russian revolution was without a doubt a real revolution full sense of the word, behind which above all the need for peace and land stood. It is enough to review the measures taken by the new regime in the first few months and in the first year to understand that they represent a radical upheaval in property and power relations, sometimes faster than anticipated and wanted under the pressure of circumstances , sometimes even faster than desirable. Numerous books testify to this break in the world order that existed until then (e.g. Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed) and its immediate international response (see La Révolution d’Octobre et le mouvement ouvrier européen, Paris 1967).

Marc Ferro (especially in La Révolution de 1917 and Naissance et effondrement du régime communiste en Russie) emphasizes that at that time only a few shed tears after the tsarist regime and the last tsarist autocrat. Rather, he emphasizes the upheaval in social reality that is so characteristic of an authentic revolution, right down to the details of everyday life. In Odessa, students prescribe a new history program for professors; in Petrograd the workers force their employers to adopt the "new labor law"; In the army, the soldiers invite the chaplain to their meeting in order to “give him a new meaning in life”; some schools require students to be taught boxing in order to be heard and respected by the great ...

The Trial of Civil War

Despite the terrible conditions, this original revolutionary vigor was still effective during the civil war that broke out in the summer of 1918. In his contribution, Nicolas Werth lists the forces against which the new regime had to defend itself with evidence: not only the white armies of Kolchak and Denikin, not only the foreign Franco-British intervention, but also against massive peasant uprisings against the grain acquisitions and against workers' protests against rationing. Reading this, one cannot see what forces the revolutionary government could actually rely on to defeat such powerful opponents. Apparently it was only able to do this through the terror carried out by a minority and through the establishment of the Cheka with the help of a ragged proletariat prepared for anything. This explanation is too simple. It does not explain the establishment of the Red Army within a few months and its victories. It comes closer to the truth to give the civil war its full value and to assume that in it antagonistic social forces were mercilessly opposed to one another.

According to the authors of the Black Book, the Bolsheviks wanted civil war and the terror that has been practiced since the summer of 1918 is the archetype of all crimes committed in the name of communism since then. Real history, with its conflicts, struggles, uncertainties, victories and defeats, cannot be narrowed down to this sinister legend of the self-development of a concept, as if the world emerged from the idea.

The civil war was not wanted, but foreseen. It's more than just a nuance. All revolutions since the French Revolution had confirmed this painful lesson: the emancipatory movements encounter the conservative reaction; the counterrevolution follows the revolution like a shadow - 1792, when the dynastic troops marched on Paris, 1848 with the June massacres (on the cruelty of the bourgeoisie read again Michelet, Flaubert or Renan), 1871, when the Commune was suffocated in blood. Since then, there have been no exceptions to this rule, from Franco's Pronunciamiento in 1936 to the Suhartos coup d'état in Indonesia in 1965 (with a million deaths) or until the 1973 Pinochet coup in Chile. The Russian revolutionaries did not declare civil war in 1918 any more than did the French revolutionaries in 1792. They did not call on the French and British troops to intervene to overthrow the revolutionary regime! From the summer of 1918, Nicolas Werth reminds us, the white armies stood solidly on three fronts, and the Bolsheviks “only controlled an area no larger than the old Principality of Moscow”. The decisions in favor of terror were made in August and September 1918, when foreign aggression and civil war had already begun. In the same way, Danton proclaimed terror in 1792 in order to channel the terror that came from the people with the September massacres, which arose as a reaction to the threat to Paris from the approach of the coalition led by the Duke of Braunschweig.

Werth therefore admits that the revolutionaries are not responsible for the outbreak of the civil war. If the terrible acts of violence of the civil war are distributed between “reds” and “whites” on the basis of this, all subsequent terror seems to be an expression of a hidden war, a war within a war, against the peasantry. In order to be able to book the victims of the famine of 1921 and 1922 into the account of the crimes of communism, Nicolas Werth sometimes tends to portray them as the result of a voluntary decision to exterminate the peasantry. Many of the documents that prove the repression in the villages are depressing. But is it therefore possible to separate the two problem areas of the civil war and the agricultural question?

In order to counter the aggression, the Red Army had to mobilize, equip and feed 4 million fighters within a few months. Within two years, Petrograd and Moscow lost over half of their populations. The orphaned industry was no longer producing. Under these conditions, was there any other solution than the requisitions to feed the cities and the army? One can certainly imagine other approaches and, in retrospect, consider the intrinsic logic of a political police force and the dangers of bureaucratic arbitrariness exercised by improvised pocket tyrants. But it is a concrete discussion about political decisions and conceivable alternatives in view of the real challenges, and not about abstract judgments.

At the end of the civil war, it is no longer the grassroots who are in charge, but the leadership that tries to pull them along. Hence the mechanism of substitution: the party acts on behalf of the people, the bureaucracy for the party, the wise leader for all. In the course of this process, a new bureaucracy emerges, fruit of the legacy of the old regime and the accelerated social advancement of new leaders. After the massive recruitment of the "Lenin contingent" in 1924, the few thousand active members of October no longer bear much weight in relation to the hundreds of thousands of new Bolsheviks, among whom there are many careerists who come to the aid of the victors and many turned elements of the old tsarist administrative apparatus.

The heavy legacy of the civil war

The civil war is a terrible founding experience. He creates a hardened habit to the most extreme and inhuman forms of violence, which are added to the atrocities unleashed in the world war. He forges as his legacy a bureaucratic brutality, of which Lenin became aware during the conflict with the Georgian communists, and which Trotsky describes in his Stalin biography. Lenin's Testament and the Secretaries' Diary attest to Lenin's passionate awareness of this problem during his agony. While the revolution is the cause of the peoples and the great masses, the dying Lenin is thrown back from weighing the vices and virtues of a handful of leaders on whom everything seems to depend from now on.

After all, the civil war meant a “big leap back”, an “archaization” of the country measured by the level of development it had achieved by 1914. He bled the land to death. Of the 4 million inhabitants of Petrograd and Moscow at the beginning of the revolution, only 1.7 million remained by the end of the civil war. In Petrograd, 380,000 workers had left the production facilities and only 80,000 remained. The depopulated cities had become parasites of agriculture, forcing authoritarian confiscations to ensure supplies. And the Red Army had grown to 4 million members. “When the new regime was finally able to start leading the country to its stated goal,” writes Moshe Lewin, “the starting point turned out to be much more backward than it would have been in 1917, not to say 1914.” Arises through the civil war “A backward” and statist “socialism”, a new state on ruins: “In reality the state was formed on the basis of a regressive social development” (Moshe Lewin, Russia, USSR, Russia, London 1995).

Herein lies the essential root of bureaucratisation, of which some Soviet leaders, including Lenin, became aware very early on and at the same time despaired of their failure to contain it. Here, the terrible pressure of the conditions and the absence of a democratic culture mutually amplified their effects. There can be no doubt that since the seizure of power the confusion about the relationship between state, party and working class - in the name of the desired rapid death of the state and the overcoming of contradictions within the people - favored the nationalization of society and not the socialization of state functions .

The democratic learning process is a difficult and lengthy affair. It did not follow the rhythm of the decrees on economic change, especially since the country had almost no democratic and pluralistic tradition. Democratization takes time, energy and also material resources. The lively life in the factory committees and soviets (councils) in 1917 showed the first steps in such a learning process, in the course of which a civil society emerged. In view of the civil war, the path of least resistance was to subordinate the organs of popular power, the councils and self-organization structures, to an enlightened guardian: the party. In practice, it also consisted of replacing the principle of eligibility and control of those responsible with their nomination by the party, in certain cases as early as 1918. This logic ultimately led to the abolition of political pluralism and freedom of expression - both indispensable for a democratic life - and also in the systematic subordination of law to violence.

The entanglement is all the more terrible as the bureaucratization does not only arise from manipulation from above. It is also sometimes a response to a desire coming from below, to a need for peace and order, because one is fed up with the oppression of war and civil war, the hardships and hardships and because the democratically fought controversies, the political agitation, the constant Pressure to take responsibility disrupts this need for peace and order. Marc Ferro has very convincingly underlined this terrible dialectic in his books. He recalls that at the beginning of the revolution there were actually "two homesteads - a democratic-authoritarian one at the base, a centralist-authoritarian one at the top", while in 1939 there was only one. But for him the matter is practically decided after a few months, as early as 1918 or 1919, with the death or the dissolution of the factory and district committees (see Marc Ferro, Les Soviets en Russie). Similarly, but even more explicitly, the philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe declares Bolshevism “counterrevolutionary from 1920/21” (Lignes, May 1997), i.e. from the time before the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising.

The question is extremely important. It is not a question of contrasting a gilded legend of “Leninism under Lenin” with Leninism under Stalin in a Manichean way, point by point, the glowing 20s to the dark 30s, as if nothing had started to rot in the country of the Soviets before them. Bureaucratisation was certainly at work right from the start, the Cheka's police activity certainly developed its own logic, the political penitentiary in the Solovsky Islands was certainly put back into operation after the civil war and before Lenin's death, party pluralism was certainly suppressed and freedom of expression restricted and restricted the democratic rights in the party itself from its 10th congress from 1921 on.

But the process we call bureaucratic counterrevolution is not a simple and dated event like the October Uprising. It does not take place on a specific day. It takes place through decisions, fights, events. The actors themselves did not stop discussing its periodization, not out of the need for historical meticulousness, but in order to be able to better derive political tasks from it. Witnesses such as Rosmer, Eastman, Souvarine, Istrati, Benjamin, Zamyatin and Bulgakov (in their letter to Stalin), the poems of Mayakovsky, the torments of Mandelstam or Tsvetaeva, etc., can contribute to the many facets of this problem, its development, his To lighten progression.

So, when the catastrophic repression of Kronstadt in the spring of 1921 made the necessary reorientation of the economic course conscious and when the civil war was victoriously over, the democratic freedoms were again restricted instead of extended: the 10th party congress banned tendencies and factions.

Given the historical distance, it is necessary to return to the questions of representative democracy, political pluralism, censorship, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, in order to raise the theoretical problems encountered by the pioneers of socialism and to discuss the doctrines to think about it. Without a doubt, four years of World War I slaughter, in which over 15 million Russian soldiers took part, and the violence and atrocities of the civil war weighed infinitely more heavily on the future of the revolutionary regime than the theoretical mistakes of its leaders, however serious they may have been. The democratic questions in the revolution are very important, not to rewrite history, but to draw conclusions from them for the future.

Anatoly Lunacharsky, who later became Minister of Education, began an article published by Pravda on December 1, 1917 (!) With the statement: “A society is not a seamless entity.” It took a lot of time and many tragedies to get all of this small sentence out of it Draw conclusions. Because a society is not a seamless whole, not even after the overthrow of the old order, one cannot presume to socialize the state through decrees without running the risk of actually nationalizing society. Because society is not a seamless whole, the unions must remain independent of the state and the parties, and the parties must remain independent of the state. The conflicting interests that are effective in society must be able to find their expression in an independent press and in representative organs. That is why the autonomy of legal forms and norms must guarantee that the law is not reduced to the perpetuated arbitrariness of power.

So the defense of political pluralism is not a matter of circumstance, but an essential condition for socialist democracy. This is the conclusion Trotsky draws in the Betrayed Revolution: “In reality, classes are heterogeneous, torn by internal contradictions; They cannot solve their common tasks other than through the internal struggle of the directions, groupings and parties. ”This means that the collective will can only express itself mediated through a process of free elections, in whatever institutional form, with elements direct participatory democracy can be combined with representative democracy.

Answers and an orientation can be developed from historical experience, even if there are no absolute guarantees against bureaucratisation and against the professional risks of power.

- The strict distinction between classes, parties and the state must be reflected in the recognition of political and trade union pluralism, the only guarantee for the free confrontation of programs and alternatives in all major social questions. The simple exchange of points of view developed in local authorities is not enough.

- The aim is to achieve a democracy that combines councils at company and territorial level, whereby not only parties, but also trade unions, associations and women's movements find their direct expression in them and have control rights.

- Responsibility of the elected towards their voters and the possibility of voting out at any time instead of imperative mandates that would deprive the elected assemblies of any advisory function.

- Limitation of the accumulation and repeated exercise of electoral offices and limitation of the income of the elected to the level of the wages of skilled workers or civil servants in order to limit the personalization and professionalization of power.

- Decentralization of power and redistribution of competencies, which must be brought as close as possible to the citizens at local, regional or national level, with the lower levels having a suspensive right of veto on all decisions that affect them directly. In addition, instruments such as referendums and referendums must be available.

A democracy of associate producers is perfectly compatible with the exercise of universal suffrage. Local councils or territorial peoples' assemblies can be composed of representatives from workforces and neighborhoods and put any important question of the respective population concerned to a vote.

More recent experiences, such as that of Poland in 1980/81 or Nicaragua in 1984, have suggested the possibility of a two-chamber system, with one being elected directly according to universal suffrage and the other directly representing the workers, the peasants and, in a broader sense, all self-organized forms of popular power. This solution (whereby a nationality chamber can be added in multinational states) theoretically takes into account both the demand for general elections and a democracy exercised as directly as possible by the population. It makes it possible to avoid mixing social reality and the sphere of the state by decree, the latter gradually dying out as self-government expands and generalizes.

These approximate landmarks summarize the lessons of a painful historical experience. They are not an infallible remedy for the professional risks of power, nor are they a blueprint for every concrete situation. Looking back, one can discuss the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by the Bolsheviks, the respective representativeness of this assembly and the Soviet Congress towards the end of 1917. One can discuss the question of whether it would not have been better to permanently offer a double form of representation received (a kind of extension of dual power). One can also ask whether free elections should not have been organized immediately after the civil war, also at the price that the militarily defeated whites could have gained the upper hand in the context of the devastation and international pressure. Every particular situation depends on specific national and international balance of power. But the entire historical experience confirms the warning issued by Rosa Luxemburg in 1918: “Without general elections, unrestrained freedom of press and assembly, free struggle of opinion, life in every public institution dies, becomes a sham life in which the bureaucracy alone remains the active element” ( On the Russian Revolution). The widest possible democracy is inseparably a question of freedom and a condition for economic efficiency: only this alone can allow the superiority of self-administered planning to develop over the automatisms of the market.

Will to power or bureaucratic counterrevolution?

The fate of the first socialist revolution, the triumph of Stalinism, the crimes of the totalitarian bureaucracy are among the most important facts of the century.

For some, the principle of evil resides in a bad disposition of human nature, in an unrepressible will to power, which can appear under various masks, including the striving to achieve the happiness of peoples against their will and their preconceived schemes of a perfect To impose society.

The polemical aim of the Black Book is to postulate a strict continuity between Lenin and Stalin by "destroying the old legend of the October Revolution betrayed by Stalin": "The horrors of Stalinism are part of the essence of Leninism" (Jacques Amalric); "The first criminal impulse came from Lenin" (Eric Conan, L’Express, November 6, 1997). Those in charge of the pcf, who have failed to criticize their own past up to a rigorous examination of the periodization of the Russian Revolution and the orientations that rivaled each other in the 1920s and 1930s, are content with a vague self-criticism ; they even dare to speak of the crimes of Stalinism as a "tragic extension" of revolutionary events (Claude Gabanes, L’Humanité, November 7, 1997). If a merciless fate as the bearer of such catastrophes took its course from day one, why then still pretend to be a communist?

The 20s: a “break” or a crossroads?

Despite the bureaucratic reaction, which very soon "freezes the revolution", despite the scarcity and cultural backwardness, the initial revolutionary momentum is still noticeable throughout the 1920s in the pioneering attempts to change the way of life: reforms in pedagogy and teaching, urban utopias, graphic and film-artistic innovations. This explains to us the contradictions and ambivalence of the painful “great transformation” that took place in the interwar period, in which bureaucratic terror and the energy of revolutionary hope were still mixed. It was not the slightest difficulty in becoming aware of the significance and historical scope of the phenomenon.

It is therefore important to track down the roots and mainsprings of what has sometimes been called "the Stalinist phenomenon" in the forces that are being constituted and are fighting each other. Stalinism, in its concrete historical terms, points to a more general tendency of bureaucratization that exists in all modern societies. It is basically nourished by the increase in the social division of labor (especially between manual and mental work) as well as by the immanent “professional risks of power”. In the Soviet Union this dynamic was all the more powerful and quicker as the bureaucracy developed against a background of destruction, scarcity, cultural backwardness and the lack of democratic traditions.

From the very beginning, the social base of the revolution was both broad and narrow at the same time. Broad in that it was based on the alliance of workers and peasants - the vast majority of society. Narrow in that their proletarian component, the minority, was quickly decimated by the devastation and losses of the civil war. The brutality of the bureaucracy is proportional to the weakness of its social base. It is an essential part of their parasitic function.

Nonetheless, there is a rupture between the early 1920s and the terrible 1930s, a clear discontinuity in both domestic and foreign policy. The authoritarian tendencies have certainly already gained the upper hand. Obsessed with the (albeit real) “main enemy” of imperialist aggression and capitalist restoration, the Bolshevik leaders have begun to ignore or underestimate the “side enemy” - the bureaucracy that crushed them from within and eventually devoured them. This previously unseen scenario was hard to imagine. It took time to understand it, to interpret it, and to learn the lessons from it. If Lenin undoubtedly perceived the first alarm signal that the Kronstadt crisis signaled and went so far as to initiate a comprehensive economic reorientation, it was still quite a long time before Trotsky achieved a principled political pluralism in the Revolution Betrayed [1936] - derived from the heterogeneity of the proletariat - justified, including for the time after the seizure of power.

The majority of contemporary witnesses and studies of the Soviet Union or the Bolshevik Party itself (see Moscou sous Lénine by Alfred Rosmer, Le Léninisme sous Lénine by Marcel Liebman, L'Histoire du parti bolchevik by Pierre Broué, the Stalin biographies by Boris Souvarine and Trotsky, the works of EHCarr, Tony Cliff, Moshe Lewin and David Rousset) do not allow one to ignore the great turning point of the 1930s, which was closely related to rupture and continuity. The rupture outweighs by far, witnessed by the millions of starvation deaths, the deportees, the victims of the trials and the purges. The unleashing of such violence was necessary in order to get to the “party congress of the victors” of 1934 and to consolidate bureaucratic power.

The big turning point

Between the terror of the civil war and the terror of the 1930s, Nicolas Werth prefers continuity. To do this, he must relativize the importance of the 1920s, the alternatives that presented themselves, the directional struggles in the party, and reduce them to a mere “break” or “ceasefire” between two terrorist attacks. However, it itself provides the elements that testify to a (quantitative) change in the scale of repression and a (qualitative) change in its content. In 1929 the plan of "mass collectivization" set the goal of 13 million forcibly collectivized farms. This operation caused a great famine and the mass deportations of 1932/33: "The spring of 1933 undoubtedly marked the peak of a great cycle of terror that began at the end of 1929 with the launch of the deculacization" (N. Werth). After the murder of Kirov, the second major cycle began in 1934, which was marked by the great trials and above all by the great "purge" (Yeshovshchina) from 1936 to 1938, the victims of which are estimated at 690,000. The forced collectivization and accelerated industrialization resulted in a massive shift in the population, a "ruralization" of the cities and a dizzying increase in the size of the Gulag.

In the course of this process, the repressive legislation developed and tightened. In June 1929, at the same time as the mass collectivization, a major reform of the detention system came into force: detainees who had been sentenced to more than three years were to be sent to labor camps. In view of the importance of internal migrations, it was decided in December to introduce a domestic passport. A few hours after the assassination of Kirov (the Leningrad party leader), Stalin drafted a decree known as the "Law of December 1, 1934," which legalized express proceedings and was an important instrument of great terror.

Beyond the annihilation of urban and rural popular movements, this bureaucratic terror liquidated what remained of the legacy of October. We know that the trials and purges left the ranks of the Party and the army clearly wounds. The majority of the cadres and leaders of the revolutionary period were deported or executed. Of the 200 members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, there were only three survivors. Up to 30,000 of the total of 178,000 cadres were arrested in the army. At the same time, the administrative apparatus required for repression and the control of a statist economy was inflated. According to Moshe Lewin, the administrative staff rose from 1,450,000 in 1929 to 7,500,000 in 1939. The total number of employees rose from 3.9 to 13.8 million.

Bureaucracy is not an empty word. It became a social force: the bureaucratic state apparatus devoured what was left of the party in terms of political activists.

This counter-revolution could be felt in all areas, in economic policy (forced collectivization and huge development of the Gulag), in international politics (in China, Germany, Spain), in cultural policy (see the book by Varlam Chalamov, Les Années vingt, where emphasizes the contrast between these still fermenting years and the terrible 1930s), in everyday life, with what Trotsky called the “domestic thermidor”, in the field of ideology (with the crystallization of a state orthodoxy, the codification of the “Diamat” and the Writing an official party history).

Call a cat a cat and a counterrevolution has to be called a counterrevolution much more massive, much more visible, much more incisive than the authoritarian measures which, unsettling as they were, were taken in the fire of civil war. As for Nicolas Werth, he is torn between recognizing what was radically new in those 1930s and intending to construct a continuity between the revolutionary promise of October and the victorious Stalinist reaction. He speaks of "the decisive episode" in the establishment of the repressive system or of "the last episode of the confrontation that began 1918–1922". Episode or decisive turn, one has to decide on one.

Taking sides for continuity leads to skipping the 20s and its controversies as if it were a simple parenthesis. The linear history of repression thus leaves its context.It banishes the conflicts over the decisive alternatives - in international politics (the orientation during the Chinese revolution, the attitude towards the rise of Nazism, the civil war in Spain) as in domestic politics (the Trotskyist and Bukharinist opposition to forced collectivization, economic and social Alternatives suggested in the name of another idea, the idea of ​​communism!) In a diffuse background.

Counterrevolution and Restoration

The idea of ​​counterrevolution worries some on the pretext that it has not led to a restoration of the former conditions. Historical time is not reversible like that of mechanical physics. The film does not run backwards. After the Thermidor, Joseph de Maistre, a conservative ideologist during the revolution and a real connoisseur of reaction, already aptly remarked that a counter-revolution is not a revolution in the opposite sense, but the opposite of a revolution. The two processes are not symmetrical. A counter-revolution can create something so new and unprecedented. That was the case in Bismarck's Germany after the failure of the revolution of 1848. Likewise, the Thermidor was not yet the restoration. The empire represented a long gray area where revolutionary aspirations mixed with the consolidation of a new order.

Countless upright communists who have been impressed by the successes of the “fatherland of socialism” without knowing or assessing their costs have strayed into an analogous gray area. Even if you didn't know everything about the Stalinist terror in the 1930s, you knew a lot, provided you wanted to know. There was the testimony of Victor Serge, of Anton Ciliga, the counter-trial led by John Dewey, the testimony of the repression against the anarchists and against the POUM in Spain. But in these times of anti-fascist struggle and “bureaucratized heroism” (a formula by Isaac Deutscher) it was often difficult to fight against the main enemy and the not so secondary enemy who triumphed from within. Numerous actors (Jan Valtin, Elizabeth Poretsky, Jules Fourier, Charles Tillon, the survivors of the “Red Chapel” and many others) bear testimony to these “torn existences”.

In fact, the Soviet Union under Stalin was not the Soviet Union of Breshnev's stagnation. It changed rapidly under the control of a vigorous bureaucracy. The secret of this energy is not unrelated to that Napoleonic energy that fascinated Chateaubriand: “If the bulletins, the speeches, the speeches, the proclamations of Bonaparte are characterized by energy, it was by no means his own energy; Rather, it stems from his time, it came from the revolutionary inspiration, which weakened in Bonaparte because he went in the opposite direction ”(Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe). Incidentally, this is not the only striking analogy between these two personalities: "The revolution, which was Napoleon's wet nurse, soon appeared to him like an enemy: he did not stop attacking it" (ibid.).

Never has a country in the world undergone such a brutal metamorphosis as the Soviet Union in the 1930s under the thumb of a pharaoh-like bureaucracy: from 1926 to 1939, the cities grew by 30 million inhabitants and their share of the total population rose from 18 to 33 percent . During the first five-year plan the growth rate was 44 percent, practically the same as between 1897 and 1926. The number of wage workers rose by more than 100 percent (from 10 to 22 million). It meant the massive "ruralization" of cities, an enormous effort in literacy and education, the rapid implementation of a work discipline. This great upheaval was accompanied by a rebirth of nationalism, a blossoming of careerism, the emergence of a new bureaucratic conformism. In this great confusion, ironically Moshe Lewin, this was in a certain sense a "classless" society, because all classes were informal in the process of merging (La Formation de l’Union Soviétique, 1985).

The analysis of the Stalinist counterrevolution gives a clear answer to Michail Gefter's essential question - a “continuous development” from October to the Gulag or “two different political and moral worlds”. The periodization of the Russian revolution and counterrevolution is not a purely historical curiosity. It determines the political positions, orientations and tasks. Before that one can speak of an error to be corrected, of alternative orientations in one and the same project; later these are forces and projects that diverge, organizational alternatives. It is not a family quarrel that makes it possible in retrospect to present the victims of yesterday as evidence of a “communist pluralism” that unites victims and executioners. The rigorous periodization thus makes it possible, to take up Gefter's formula, “to penetrate historical consciousness onto the political level”.

A “premature” revolution?

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one thesis has found support again: the revolution was from the beginning a doomed adventure because it started too early. So Henri Weber in Le Monde (November 14, 1997). This thesis can be found very early, in the statements of the Russian Mensheviks and in Karl Kautsky's analyzes since 1921. The latter wrote that a lot of blood, tears and debris could have been avoided if the Bolsheviks had the same understanding of "self-restraint" like the Mensheviks, since this is where the master shows himself (From Democracy to State Slavery, 1921).

The wording is revealing. Kautsky polemicizes against the idea of ​​an avant-garde party, but envisions an omnipotent party that, as a teacher and pedagogue, is capable of regulating the course and rhythm of history. As if the struggles and the revolutions didn't also have their own logic. Submitting them to "self-restraint" while they are developing means quickly finding oneself on the side of the established order. It is no longer a question of “self-restraint” of the party's goals, but simply of restricting the aspirations of the masses. In this sense, when they murdered Rosa Luxemburg and smashed the Bavarian councilors, Ebert and Noske proved to be the virtuosos of “self-restraint”.

The seizure of power in October 1917 was the result of the inability of the liberal bourgeoisie and reformists to respond to the crisis of society and the state. Mikhail Gefter's answer to the question “Was there an election in 1917?” Is far more fruitful and convincing than the thesis of the “premature revolution”: “The question is of crucial importance. After thinking a lot about the problem, I dare to give a categorical answer: there was no choice. What happened then was the only solution that resisted a change that would have been infinitely bloodier ... The choice was yours afterwards. Not a choice concerning the social regime, not the historical path to be taken, but a choice made within that path. It was not about variants (the problem was more extensive) nor about steps that one had to climb to reach the summit, but about a crossroads, crossroads. ”These crossroads kept coming up and they evoked different and contradicting answers: 1923 before the German October, the NEP and economic policy, forced collectivization, accelerated industrialization and the forms of planning, democracy in party and state, the rise of fascism, the war in Spain, the Hitler-Stalin pact. Each of these audits faced different proposals, programs and orientations, which testified to different options and other possible developments.

In reality, the idea of ​​a “premature” revolution inevitably leads to the idea of ​​a well-ordered and regulated story where, like clockwork, everything happens on time and just in time. This way of thinking goes to the level of a flat historical determinism that the Marxists have so often been accused of, according to which the base would produce exactly a corresponding superstructure. One simply forgets the fact that history is not a power of fate, that it is full of events that open up a range of possibilities - certainly not all, but a certain range of possibilities.

On reading the Black Book one gets the impression that after their successful coup the Bolsheviks clung to power for the sake of power at all costs. It is forgotten that they never imagined the Russian revolution as an isolated adventure, but as the prelude to a European and world revolution. If Lenin, as it is said, performed a joyous dance in the snow on the 73rd day after seizing power, it was because he had not expected to hold out longer than the Paris Commune. In his view, the future of the revolution depended on the expansion of the revolution on a European scale, especially in Germany.

The tremors in Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary between 1918 and 1923 bear witness to a real European crisis. The multiple failures of the German revolution [1918, 1923] or the Spanish civil war, the developments of the Chinese revolution, the victory of fascism in Italy and Germany - none of this was predetermined. The Russian revolutionaries were not responsible for the withdrawals and cowardice of the German and French Social Democrats.

From 1923 it became clear that a short-term expansion of the revolution in Europe was no longer to be expected. A radical reorientation prevailed. The theses of “socialism in one country” and the “permanent revolution”, which divided the party in two in the mid-1920s, came up against each other.

Without denying the initial legitimacy of the Russian Revolution, some claim that it was based on an erroneous forecast and an impossible bet. It was not a prediction, however, but an orientation aimed at eliminating the causes of the war by overturning the system that had spawned it. The shock wave at the end of the war - from 1918 to 1923 - confirmed this. After the failure of the German October [1923], however, the situation had stabilized permanently. So what to do Trying to buy time without the illusion of being able to "build socialism in a country" that was also ruined? That was all the fighting of the 1920s was about. That is the whole political dimension of the question, the crux of the matter. On an economic and social level, the NEP brought an element of an answer. But that would have required a more cultivated staff than those who were shaped by the ruthless methods of war communism. At the political level, a democratic orientation would have been necessary, which would have sought legitimation by the majority through elections under conditions of Soviet pluralism. At the international level, an internationalist policy was required which would not have subordinated the various Communist parties - mediated through the Comintern - to the interests of the Soviet state. These options presented themselves, at least in part. They did not take the form of peaceful debates, but relentless confrontations.

Those who lost in these battles were not wrong. If you want to keep a macabre record of the revolutions carried out, how much easier it is to calculate the cost of the failed or defeated revolutions: the strangled German revolution of 1918–1923 and the defeated Spanish revolution of 1937 are related to the victory of the Nazism and the catastrophe of World War II.

In order to determine real responsibility and periodize history around the major political alternatives, one must pick up and examine this thread. To speak of a premature revolution amounts to pronouncing a verdict from the standpoint of a historical tribunal, instead of facing the inner logic of the conflict and the opposing directions. For the defeats are just as little evidence of errors or injustice as the victories are evidence of the truth: "If success were counted as innocence, if it captured posterity in such a way that it would chain them up, if the future, in this way from the The past enslaved, bribed, as it were, and an accomplice in every success, where is the right? Where would the price of sacrifice go? Good and bad would only be relative, all morality of human action would disappear "(Chateaubriand, Mémoires d'outre tombe).

If there is no Judgment Day, the important thing is to point out the path of another possible story step by step at each major fork. This allows one to understand the past and learn lessons from it for the future.

What shook the world in ten days cannot be erased. The promise of humanity, universality, and emancipation that appeared in the fire of the event is "too intertwined with the interests of humanity" to be forgotten. As the responsible guardian of a legacy that is threatened by conformism, it is our task to bring about conditions where it can be "remembered" again.

First publication: Daniel Bensaïd: Communisme et Stalinisme. Une Réponse au Livre noir du communisme. Supplement à rouge, No. 1755 of November 20, 1997. (Translation: Manuel Kellner and Hans-Günter Mull.)

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