Five Minute Polemic №8: We Will Not Apologize for the Terror
To paraphrase a likely apocryphal quotation from Chairman Mao: communism is love, our love for the masses, but it is also a hammer with which to smash the enemy of the masses. Shall we regret this, shall we beg forgiveness for smashing the enemy, shall we bend our knees and forget all thoughts of revolution when the liberals and advocates of bourgeois “civility” point out our revolution shall be violent? No.
Terror is a part of revolution as surely as revolution is a part of history. Robespierre and Saint-Just, great leaders of the revolution that first challenged feudalism and brought capitalism and a bourgeois republican social order to France (which later collapsed in the Thermidorian reaction and the betrayal of Bonaparte, which brought a sort of partial feudal resurgence), led the masses and the young revolutionary bourgeoisie in a campaign of terror against the reactionary old noble classes, as did other bourgeois revolutionaries (such as those who revolted even earlier against the HRE’s and the Byzantines’ feudal systems to establish Italy’s bourgeois “merchant republics”). Mao Zedong did much the same against the imperialist and bureaucrat bourgeoisie and the lackeys of their semifeudal capitalist colonial system in China, in the modern era in which it is now capitalism that is reactionary and must be overthrown, just as feudalism was. Dare anyone ask these great leaders to apologize? Yes, many do; what these do not realize is that the violence and terror of these revolutions was the antidote to the far greater violence and terror of the systems of economics and class rule they ended. Who but a fool or a feudal-apologist could dare ask Robespierre to apologize for terrorizing the nobility, when this terror was the antidote to the centuries for which they had terrorized the masses?
The cultural superstructure of a reactionary political-economic system succeeds in denouncing revolutionary violence, even as it is itself more violent, because revolutionary violence is new and novel while the violence of an existing system becomes so entrenched people begin to tune it out of their perception altogether, and because revolutionary violence happens necessarily in extremely public view while systemic violence in a reactionary and wizened exploitative system of political-economy tends to happen either at a great distance or in private. This latter fact is most true of highly developed imperialist capitalism- while the execution of the major bourgeoisie must of necessity happen in view of the public, both the revolutionary proles who cheer for it and the reactionary elements that denounce it, the violent and often fatal exploitation of child labour that pervades (for instance) the cacao industry under capitalist-imperialism happens on the other side of the world from those who consume the chocolate said labour produces, and so is easily ignored and hand-waved out of discussion. The capitalists’ media and the reactionary intellectuals (as compared to revolutionary anti-bourgeois ones, like the great teachers of Marxism) will denounce communists for the violence necessary to carry out and cement a revolution in society, yet ignore the crimes of capitalism: the Bhopal gas disaster; Japan’s “four big pollution diseases,” all products of poisoning by profitmongering negligence; the Thalidomide profit-poisoning; the starvation-for-profit of the Irish, and of the Bengali, by English capitalists and their imperialist state; the US-Saudi imperialist invasion of Yemen, and resultant genocide of the Yemeni people and mass famine in their country; the Russian and European and US imperialist pillagings of Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq, Grenada, Nicaragua, Laos, Vietnam, etc. etc.; the disposal and waste of tons upon tons of unsold foodstuffs in rich imperialist countries even as millions starve in poor (semi)colonized ones and the poorer parts of the rich ones; the genocide of indigenous nations and peoples in South America by logging capitalists and their state lackeys; the ongoing destruction-for-profit of environmental systems everywhere and the resulting mass death of persons in the poorer countries and the poorer areas of the rich ones by air poisoning, by hunger, by flooding, by illness; the deaths every year by cold of destitute poor persons living unhoused in cities overflowing with empty houses; the production of products by child labour throughout the colonized countries under the aegis of the imperialist international bourgeoisie and their imperialist capitalist system; the bloody fascist coups effected for profit’s sake by the US imperialist bourgeoisie across the world, from Chile in 1973 to Bolivia in 2019, and in many many many countries in between; the brutalization of striking or revolting workers in such instances as the Battle of Blair Mountain, the Pullman Riots, and the collapse of Fordlandia; the financing of the holocaust by German and American bourgeoisie like (once again) Ford, and its orchestration for their interests against social progress in Europe, exemplified in its intimate involvement with major German capitalist H. Quandt, whose exploitation of concentration camp torture-labour produced much of the capital of BMW, the value produced for him by the work of brutalized genocide victims still being in the coffers of his descendants today; the comparable, or worse, genocide of African peoples under capitalist colonialism by various bourgeois and bourgeois-state entities, such as the so-called “Congo Free State” of Leopold II and its several corporate co-masters, like the infamous ABIR, all run for profit by him and his fellow imperialist bourgeoisie; the trade in slaves by the bourgeoisie to supplement the labour-power stolen from the proletarian class, which inaugurated racism and brutality against black workers in the US and continues even today in semicolonized and semifeudal countries like Mauritania and (thanks to US imperialist pillaging) Libya; and so very many more crimes for which the blame can be placed squarely at the feet of the big bourgeoisie. The same who would denounce us for killing a million bourgeoisie kill a million proletarians every year! If we must commit acts of violence to end a system of greater violence, and history shows we must, then this is what we will do.
There are excesses in every revolution, moments in which the violence of the revolutionary class’s historic movement exceeds that necessary to topple the reactionary class’s rule and political-economic system. Revolutionaries admit this, and strive to minimize excesses; at the same time, though, they must admit that historical progress has never come without excesses. Did every person guillotined need to die for France to fully cast off feudalism? No, probably not. But this does not mean the terror of the French revolution was mistaken or was unnecessary for the historical movement beyond the Ancien regime, and the same is true of the terror that has and does and will continue to occur in the name of proletarian revolution for socialism. The Lucanamarca massacre, in which the just punishment of fascist rondero militants spiraled out of control and unfortunately killed some innocents, is an example of a revolutionary act in which excesses occurred. But we must be willing to suffer a hundred Lucanamarcas to win a communist future for humanity, to win our children a future without exploitation or imperialist war. Is it callous to say this? Yes, perhaps; but how much more callous, then, is the one who says that we must accept, because capitalism is “the best system we’ve got, however bad it is,” the annual death toll of imperialism, of climatic brutalization and constant war, which is measured not (as Lucanamarca’s excesses are) in dozens, but rather in millions‽
On some level the bourgeois intellectuals seem to know that the violent excesses of revolution are not enough to make it an unworthy project, for they are obsessed with laying the blame for other things, completely absurd things, at the feet of the communists as well. They blame the Bolsheviks and heroic CPC (not the revisionist Deng-Xi CPC of today) for, for instance, weather-related famines that occurred under their economic supervision. They ignore, of course, firstly that China, Ukraine, and Russia are all countries that had long histories of drought and famine under feudalism and capitalism well before socialism was established there, and secondly that these histories actually ended under socialist industrial agricultural policy. The last few famines may have been especially large under socialism before that system finally beat them, but of course size variation is to be expected in weather events, and the population was also growing- blaming Chinese socialism for drought is, ultimately, like blaming US capitalism for tornadoes and earthquakes. The unfortunate truth is that for most of history weather-related famine was a perennial problem in many countries, regardless of economic system. Socialism did not cause this, but it did help, in some places, to end it.
There is an eagerness also to slander the communists, in history and the now, as perpetrators of various supposed bigotries.
There is that inexplicable old slander, for instance, which seeks to paint Stalin as an antisemite. There has never been any even half-decent evidence for it, of course- the bourgeois “historians” once found themselves so desperate for evidence that they declared a car crash was a secret Stalinist assassination of Solomon Mikhoels, a claim the anti-Stalin Khrushchevites later “confirmed.” The origin of these claims, probably, lies in the arrests of certain Jewish activists in the USSR after World War Two… but these arrests had nothing to do with their Jewishness and everything to do with their acting as agents of the bourgeois US; a state can only be expected to arrest hostile foreign agents within its borders, and must do so to survive, especially when it is a bastion of socialism clinging to life under assault on all sides from imperialist capitalism. They have also proclaimed communism homophobic. There is some precedent for this; there were homophobic laws in the USSR, for example, although they were no worse than those in bourgeois European states; also a document for purposes of revolutionary marriages drawn up for the PCP in the (probably) 80s mentions only men and women (but, realistically, it seems unlikely it would even have occurred to them to write it any other way; demands for not simply tolerance but actual marriage for homosexuals are pretty recent in the modern era, even within queer circles, and started in the US). But horrific claims of persecutions by the PCP made in the 1980s-2000s by the Peruvian army are wholly unsubstantiated save by the testimony of singular, unnamed and probably nonexistent, witnesses ostensibly interviewed by the “truth and reconciliation committee.” These claims are refuted in a 1994 letter from the MPP and PCP to the US newspaper Prison Legal News. They are the product of conflation with the revisionist “MRTA” and “MPCP” and of the dementedness of the bourgeois state’s own minds; they have nothing whatsoever to do with the communists. The PCP were never oppressors of queer people. Furthermore, the MPP has since signed a leaflet together with Norway’s Tjen Folket league and other communist groups calling for the liberation of queers as a common cause against patriarchy to be united with that of proletarian women, and groups such as TKP/ML have resolved to support the “secondary†” queer “struggle for rights” in subordination to the proletarian struggle against capitalism, patriarchy, and the oppression of women. There continue to be flawed lines which must be overturned by struggle, particularly in Germany, but the idea of systemic persecution of queers by communists in the modern day is totally unfounded; we are for the liberation of the queer masses as much as for that of the rest of the masses.
And, of course, if we are to talk of persecution we must say that it is in capitalist Iran and the capitalist gulf states where the oppression of queers is probably worst, as well as in the region of Chechnya within capitalist-imperialist Russia; it is in capitalist Israel where the slow genocide of Palestine is underway, in Brazil where tribal populations are routinely slaughtered by logging companies. Demographic persecutory violence is a weapon of the bourgeoisie, not of the revolutionary proletariat.
History is a violent process, a long protracted process of developing contradictions and dialectical relations. Nobody likes violence, but in the long chronology thereof we must every time prefer the explosive, fair violence of a revolution that ends a violent system to the systemic violence of that system itself. Charu Majumdar reportedly said that “no one may call himself a communist unless he has dipped his hands in the blood of class enemies”; I think this is hyperbolic and perhaps a little mistaken, as ultimately the primary goal of a People’s War is constructing people’s power, and annihilating enemies is necessary only in service to this. I think, though, that Majumdar is right to a point: the communist must be willing to shoulder the burden of revolutionary violence. The communist must be able to pull the lever, to pull the trigger, to kill one parasite to save the million workers the parasite would starve. Again, nobody likes violence, and in a perfect world there would be none. But in order to get there we must be willing to use violence to dismantle the capitalist system, which is a system of violence, and the violent contradictions in it. To deny this, to call for communists to fight through bourgeois elections and “harm reduction” instead of violence or for us to give up entirely on abolishing capitalism, is to liquidate our principles, which are the highest and best of any political movement, entirely.
† I want to make a small note about this word. Some people become offended at the thesis of queer oppression as a secondary aspect of the patriarchy which oppresses women because they misunderstand what is meant by “secondary” and thusly take this thesis to mean the queer struggle for rights is unimportant or insignificant. It does not mean this; the queer struggle is certainly very important for we whose struggle it is. But we say that the oppression of queer people is secondary in the same way we say a disease has secondary symptoms: it is a problem that stems from another problem. Patriarchy is a primary symptom of the disease of an unjust and exploitative social order, the primary aspect of patriarchy being the oppression of women; it is this oppression of women that is the essential function of patriarchy in bourgeois or other exploitative societies, allowing for the control of property within nuclear family units to be tightly maintained by a parasitic minority ruling class. The additional oppression of queers, because we by and large do not fit into patriarchal norms established for this function, is thus a secondarily arising aspect of patriarchy. Both it and the oppression of women, though, are essentially reactionary and must be destroyed in the process of proletarian socialist and cultural revolution, as humanity moves toward the horizon of full communism and the abolition of states, classes, and patriarchy. Only in this shared and common struggle can any victory of resolution over the myriad contradictions of class society be achieved, and so specific struggles must unite around and under the fundamental struggle of the working class against capitalism and the bourgeois social order, in which working women and their struggle against patriarchy have a special role which queers must also be united with. This is the difference between Marxist scientific understanding and postmodern understanding of social issues††: we do not try to make every issue the focus of its own identitarian cause, as the postmodernists and anarchists do, but rather practically subordinate secondary struggles to primary ones, not because they are less important, but because only by destroying the root cause through the principal struggle can the secondary problems also be resolved, just as the secondary symptoms of a disease are cured by eliminating the root cause. As such we subordinate and unite the causes of all who are oppressed into and under a common cause, the struggle of humanity for freedom from class society, the struggle of the revolutionary working class for socialism and ultimately communism. The queer struggle for liberty and liberation from patriarchy must be united with and subordinated to the struggle to destroy bourgeois patriarchy and oppression of women, and this itself made a vital part of the struggle to build communism through socialist revolution by People’s War, and through cultural revolution.
†† A footnote to a footnote: The distinction between the view of social issues held by Marxists and that held by postmodernists, anarchists, and liberal “intersectional” theorists is significant. These lot are right to a point: social issues do intersect. But they intersect at a central point from which they diverge; as historical materialist analysis shows, all these social issues emerge out of contradictions of class society and as such the class struggle to resolve these contradictions is the unifying point around which they can be united. The postmodernist view of intersection, though, is what they might call “rhizomatic” (after the fashion of Deleuze and Guattari, two postmodern ideologues); they recognize no common origins and no common ends, only myriad strands of phenomena intersecting aimlessly on journeys from and to nowhere. This of course is silly, but more to the point it is also unhelpful: it gives no real basis for organizing for common goals, and indeed- as Ghandy (a great Indian Marxist) has pointed out in Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement- postmodernism has a fundamentally anti-organizing bent. Conversely, Marxism points out the common origin of all oppressions under class society in its fundamental class contradictions, and thus paves the way for all anti-oppression causes to unite around resolving these contradictions by class struggle.