Posts tagged Revolutionaries
Posts tagged Revolutionaries
The official records of governments and nations often forget and distort history, abandoning heros and their struggles to obscurity. One such individual is Nestor Makhno, leader of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine during the Russian Revolution.
Like millions of others in Czarist Russia, Nestor Makhno grew up the son of a poor peasant family. Disgusted by the conditions of life he found himself surrounded by, he became increasingly radical. As with so many of his generation, he began agitating among his fellow peasants, and forming secret societies to combat the absolutist policies of the state. In a wave of repression following the 1905 revolution, he was sentenced to death, then commuted to a life sentence. The next 9 years were spent in a state prison full of political prisoners. Here Makhno met, and learned from, several prominent Anarchist revolutionaries who helped him develop his political beliefs and ideas.
In 1917, Russia erupted. After centuries of Czarist and landlord oppression, and three years of the mindless slaughter in World War One, the people of Russia stood up. What started as a series of bread riots in February, culminated in the seizure of power by the Bolshevik (communist) party in October. Makhno, freed by political amnesty declared following the initial February revolt, left prison to return to his home town and organize the people along anarchist lines.
Makhno was an Anarcho-Communist. That is to say that he believed in an anarchist political society, devoid of coercive state forces such as police or army, and a communist economic structure of communal ownership of property. Makhno sought to liberate his fellow peasants and working class Ukrainians from the yoke of all oppression, be it that of the Landlord, the factory owner or the Politician. He boiled his message down into two principle slogans that would later be written on the jet black flag of the Anarchist forces: “The land to the peasants, the factories to the workers.”
Upon his return, Makhno helped establish a locally-controlled, democratic peasant union. Through this group, Makhno helped to systematically expropriate and redistribute the property of the wealthy landlords to their poor tenants. Following the Bolshevik seizure of power, most of the Ukraine was ceded to the central powers of Germany and Austria in an effort by the Bolsheviks to put an end to the war and fulfill one of their promises to the people. Thus, Ukraine fell once more under the domination of an imperial authority. But the people mobilized and, awakened by the revolution, did not take this new tyranny lightly. A massive insurgency arose, with guerilla armies striking at the foreign-backed puppet regime from all sides. Makhno came to lead one of the largest of these. His volunteer force of calvary and light infantry terrorized the occupying troops, striking without warning and disappearing into the sea of peasants that supported them. Their force used their knowledge of the countryside to always strike where the enemy was weakest, executing leaders of the reaction and proclaiming freedom of speech assembly and association in the villages that they entered.
With the conclusion of World War One in 1918, the foreign troops withdrew and their puppet government collapsed almost immediately. Makhno’s freedom fighters found themselves in control of a large area of the southern Ukraine centered around Makhno’s home town of Gulai-Poyle. Their position was tenuous, however, threatened by the Bolshevik (Red) armies from the north, intent upon installing a party structure loyal to Moscow, and Czarist (White) armies from the south, intent upon the return of the monarchy and feudal privilege. In the face of attack from both sides, Makhno and the anarchists chose to defend the revolution against the monarchist forces, hoping that their differences with the Bolsheviks would remain purely doctrinal. And so Red and Black armies combined to force the Czarist forces out of southern Ukraine.
While allied with the Bolsheviks against the White army, a period of peace settled over much of the territory defended by Makhno and his comrades. During this time, rather than seeking to centralize and dominate the area they led, Makhno’s forces proclaimed freedom of speech, press, association and assembly, outlawing only political parties for “having nothing in common with the free dissemination of ideas.” They encouraged the people to form local democratic committees and communes, and to begin to administer their own affairs. When they could have seized power, Makhno’s forces chose instead to give power to the people.
Makhno’s force stood out in several respects from the more traditional armies of the day. First of all, the Anarchist army operated as a democracy, with officers being elected by their soldiers. Service was also voluntary, and self discipline was emphasized over hierarchal control and coercion. In addition to this egalitarian policy for administration, the way captured enemy soldiers were treated was particularly striking. Whenever the Anarchists captured an enemy unit, they would execute the officers and set the soldiers free, suggesting that they return to their homes and carry on the revolution there. This practice was founded upon the idea that the soldiers of the opposing force were not the enemy, but fellow workers and peasants.
Their brief respite ended with the expulsion of the White armies to the south. The Bolsheviks, fearing the massive popularity of Makhno’s force, now turned on the anarchists. Makhno’s forces were declared outlaws and attacked without mercy. They, and those peasants allied with them, were slaughtered by the tens of thousands. Only in 1920 did the threat of another White army prompt the Bolsheviks to end their bloody suppression and once more seek an alliance with Makhno. Again, the anarchists joined the Bolsheviks to battle the reactionary White army, seeing in the latter a greater threat to the revolutionary masses, despite the persecution they personally had suffered.
No sooner had the White force been once more driven back, then the Bolsheviks redoubled their assault on Makhno and the peasants who supported his forces. The Reds poured 150,000 soldiers into the Ukraine, crushing any resistance. Makhno and his force, harried by a much larger and better equipped army, were chipped away at, until finally, in 1921, Makhno and less than 10% of his peak force of 20,000 escaped across the border into Romania.
Makhno eventually settled in Paris, where he lived as a poor industrial worker to support himself. Over the next few years, he and other veterans of the Russian revolution formulated a new “Platformist” theory of Anarchism, which outlined the necessity of increased organization and coordination in anarchist movements. He died virtually penniless in 1934, never able to return to his beloved Ukraine.
By: Ian Matchett
Every January, the streets of Berlin are flooded with thousands of revolutionaries, marching to commemorate the life of a great martyr for international socialism, Rosa Luxemburg. 82 years after her assassination by the Freikorps, a proto-fascist paramilitary organization sponsored by the leadership of the newly formed Weimar Republic to eliminate threats to “democratic” order, Luxemburg’s name remains synonymous with revolution.
Born on March 5, 1871 in Southwestern Poland, Rosa Luxemburg spent most of her early years in Warsaw (then a part of the Russian empire), where she joined the underground revolutionary movement at the age of 16. After attracting the attention of the authorities by her political activity, Luxemburg emigrated to Zurich, Switzerland in 1889, where she became acquainted with Marxist theory and made the acquaintance of a number of luminaries of the international socialist movement, many of whom made Zurich their home in exile.
In 1892, Luxemburg participated in the foundation of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), but soon left to form the Social-Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) after the former was taken over by Polish nationalists. In their pursuit of Polish nationhood, the PPS went on to repeatedly betray the cause of socialism and become a true force of reaction — after the First World War, they ended up supporting the reactionary dictatorship of Jozef Pilsudski. Meanwhile, Luxemburg’s SDKPiL remained fiercely committed to revolutionary internationalism. As a Polish Jew, Luxemburg was acutely aware of the poisonous chauvinism present in even the nationalism of an oppressed nation. Luxemburg and the SDKPiL maintained that the workers of Poland had more in common with their working class brothers and sisters in Germany, Russia and all other nations than with the Polish bourgeoisie.
In 1898, Luxemburg left Zurich for Berlin, where she joined the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD), at that time still revered as the biggest, strongest and most authoritative voice in the international socialist movement. Luxemburg quickly made a name for herself in the German movement – months after her arrival in Germany, she published a pamphlet, Reform or Revolution? This pamphlet was a public challenge to Eduard Bernstein, a leading figure within the SPD who asserted that socialism could be brought to Germany without revolution, and that the party should drop all calls for revolution in favor of a gradualist strategy to win social reforms within the framework of capitalism. While agreeing that socialists must be steadfast fighters for any and all reforms that would improve the lives of workers and oppressed peoples, she rejected the notion that socialism could come about relying on reformism alone and insisted that the SPD uphold socialist revolution as its ultimate aim.
Luxemburg’s pamphlet quickly catapulted her into leadership circles within the SPD. Meanwhile, she continued to play a leading role in the illegal SDKPiL. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Luxemburg moved to back Warsaw to take part in the upheaval. Impressed by the revolutionary tactics of the workers of Warsaw, Luxemburg sought to apply the lessons of the Russian revolution to Germany upon her return to Berlin. Promoting the general strike as a revolutionary tactic, Luxemburg faced resistance from an increasingly conservative layer of bureaucrats within the SPD.
Upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the slow rot of conservatism and reformism within the SPD reached a breaking point, as party leaders and parliamentarians came out in support of the German war effort. Socialist leaders of other nations followed suit, supporting their own nation’s imperialist bourgeoisie against the workers of the enemy nation. Rosa Luxemburg recognized this as a fundamental betrayal of socialist principles and the death knell for the Second, or Socialist International. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD parliamentarian to vote against Germany’s war budget, Luxemburg founded Spartakusbund, an underground revolutionary organization that called on workers to recognize their own imperialism as the main enemy. Advocating fraternization among soldiers of warring nations, Luxemburg and Liebknecht joined a small minority of socialist internationally, including Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin and American socialist agitator Eugene V. Debs, in calling for the transformation of the imperialist war into an international civil war of the working class against the bourgeoisie.
In 1918, revolution swept Germany. Mirroring the soviets, or workers’ councils, popularized by the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers’ councils were formed in Berlin and many other metropolises of Germany. To maintain order, Germany’s ruling class was forced to turn to the putrid SPD – now socialist in name only — as the only force capable of saving German capitalism. Supporters of Luxemburg’s Spartakusbund, which had joined with the Russian Bolsheviks in founding the Third (Communist) International, found themselves in a minority in calling for socialist revolution, but could not contain their revolutionary enthusiasm and sense of urgency as the bulwarks of capitalism appeared to crumble before their eyes. In the early days of 1919, Luxemburg found herself a reluctant leader of a mass workers’ insurrection which was quickly defeated. On January 15, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested at the orders of SPD leaders. Liebknecht was shot, allegedly while trying to escape. Luxemburg was shot in the head, and her body dumped in a river.
In the last days of her life, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the following words in the wake of the defeat of the January uprising: “’Order prevails in Berlin!’ You foolish lackeys! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons,’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: ‘I was, I am, I shall be!’”
By Ted McTaggart
On December 2, 1956 a boat carrying 82 men landed on the coast of eastern Cuba. By the time they made their way to safety in the Sierra Maestra mountains their number had been reduced to 20. They called themselves the 26th of July Movement and they declared their goal to be the overthrow of the Cuban government. Two years later this had been achieved, as the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled and the rebels took Havana. Although this represented the victory of the Cuban people over the economic interests of American companies that had dominated the island, the character of the revolution was still uncertain. In the following years the revolutionary government came to embraced Marxism and came into greater conflict with the United States, which was determined to crush the revolution through economic methods like the trade embargo and military means such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The Cuban people made education and healthcare the cornerstones of their revolution, with a great deal of success. In 1961, 1,000,000 Cubans were mobilized in the literacy campaign known as the “year of education.” In this single year Cuba’s literacy rate was improved from 76% to 96% and has continued to increase. The proportion of children in Cuba attending school has been raised from 55% in 1959 to virtually 100% today. Education is free for all Cubans, as is a healthcare service that is widely acknowledged as being amongst the most advanced in the world and has achieved better average lifespans and infant mortality rates than the United States. Free access to this healthcare system is guaranteed in Cuba’s constitution. Another right guaranteed by the Cuban government is the right to work, a fact which is demonstrated by Cuba’s unemployment rate of 1.6% - significantly below the world average of 8.7% and 9.3% in the U.S.
The achievements of the Cuban Revolution aren’t limited to the island itself, as Cuba has supported revolutionary movements across the globe. This support has at times involved sending weapons and volunteers to places as far away as Angola and Guinea-Bissau to aid revolutionaries fighting against European colonial powers but has had other manifestation as well. When the Sandinista government took power in Nicaragua, Cuba trained Nicaraguan teachers to participate in their own literacy campaign and even sent teachers of its own. While these were important contributions to revolutionary efforts, the most successful aspect of Cuba’s foreign policy has been its “medical internationalism” which brings medical care to places in need at no charge to the patients or host countries. Since 1963, an estimated 130,000 Cuban physicians have volunteered in Cuban medical missions in foreign countries, and in 2008 almost 25% of Cuba’s doctors were working abroad. A large proportion of these doctors are currently working in Venezuela, where they have established 6,000 clinics to serve the poorest areas of the country. Cuba also has a large medical presence in Haiti, where its doctors provide medical care for 80% of the population. One of the most successful Cuban programs is Operation Miracle, which has provided free eye surgery to over 1.3 million people from throughout Latin America. In addition to treating local populations, Cuban doctors have set up medical schools in many of the countries in which they have volunteered. Cuba also operates the Latin American School of Medicine, one of the largest such institutions in the world, which trains international students to become doctors. In 2008 there were over 8,000 students from 28 countries enrolled.
The Cuban Revolution has over the past 50 years been able to achieve all of this and more in the face of constant aggression from the world’s most powerful nation. Although errors have been made, the leadership has shown a willingness to admit when its policies have been incorrect. Two of the most well publicized cases have been the government’s previously harsh stances towards organized religion and homosexuality, both of which have been overturned and apologized for by the parties responsible. This shows that the revolutionary government has the willingness to continue to deepen the revolution and continue to build a better society. As a whole, the Cuban Revolution has been a remarkable triumph and should be an inspiration to all those who work for a better way of life.
By: Jack Hagen
At 4:45 am on December 4th 1969, Chicago Police stormed into a Black Panther Party (BBP) apartment at 2337 Monroe St. They came in guns drawn and, killing the single man on guard duty, charged into the bedroom where Fred Hampton and his pregnant girlfriend were sleeping. He was found asleep, unable to wake due to a dose of secobarbitol administered by an FBI infiltrator earlier in the evening, and wounded from barrage of agents fire as they entered the house. After being Identified as Fred Hampton He was shot twice in the head at point blank range and dragged to the doorway of the bedroom. The agent then cornered the remaining panthers in one of the other bedrooms, wounded them, beat them, dragged them into the street, and arrested them on charges of aggravated assault and attempted murder of a police officer. Not a single offensive shot was fired by the Panthers throughout the encounter.
What prompted such a violent assault and execution by the supposed representatives of law and order? This attack came at the peak of a wave of violent action by the US government against radical political groups and the Black Panthers in Particular. The Panthers had been operating in african communities since 1966 providing protection from police brutality, free medical care, soup kitchens, and political education to minority neighborhoods ignored by white society. The Panthers espoused a communist doctrine based upon their 10 point program calling for: Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace in African American communities. Militant and confrontational the Panthers defended their neighborhoods using force if necessary, armed with rifles and shot guns they “patrolled” the police whenever they entered black neighborhoods to ensure that their rights were protected.
The US government fearing a unification of the African American communities authorized a huge campaign to break up and destroy the Panthers. From 1967 onward the US Government sought to destroy the Panthers by any means necessary: double agents, unprovoked raids, and murder were all utilized to try to bring the BPP to it’s knees. At this time Fred Hampton was an up and coming member of the party. He was a pre law student, and became involved first in the NAACP before joining the Panthers in 1968 as they rose to the national stage. A charismatic organizer, Hampton organized a non aggression pact between many of the street gangs in Chicago in 1968. His goal was to form a class conscious union between the various organizations of the ghettos and the left in order to break the system of poverty and violence that gripped so many communities. As the Government began repressing the Panthers, Hampton rose quickly through the ranks until he was poised to take over as Chief of staff of the Central Committee. It was on the eve of his ascension that the FBI determined him too dangerous to live and engineered his execution.
The murder of Fred Hampton, one of the Panther’s up and coming leaders was a major blow to the organization. With his death the organization slipped into a decline that resulted ultimately in its dissolution in 1976. His murder is one of the most overt instances of oppression in living memory- a testament to the violence of the state.