In Defense of The French and Soviet Revolutionary Terror, and A New Dialectical Formula For Change

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Terrorism is a touchy subject these days, and I have wanted to avoid the topic of revolutionary terror for that reason. But I feel that what I have to say is important. I have, for the record, condemned all acts of individual terrorism in another post. I do not consider what we call in everyday life, terrorism, to be productive or useful and I unequivocally condemn it. What revolutionary terror is, is not terrorism to establish or make revolution, but terror done by the revolutionary government to suppress counter-revolutionary terror after a social revolution has erupted in a particular society. We see this in France with the infamous ‘Reign of Terror’ under Robespierre, the ‘Red Terror’ under Lenin in Russia, etc. These eruptions in society were not done by a malevolent bloodthirsty government but quite the opposite, these eruptions were done to quell not only counter-revolutionary violence, but to eradicate the subtle, less pronounced violence that plagued the previous epoch. In the words of Danton, the early French Republic was to “be terrible so as to spare the people the need to be so”[1]. Violence is not only direct, most of the time it is indirect, and far more sinister in nature.

In the words of my comrade and fellow blogger, Christian Chiakulas, who runs the blog Radical Christian Millennial, “In a world that produces enough food to feed each and every one of us, starvation is violence.  In a society where vacant houses outnumber homeless people six to one, homelessness is violence.  A country in which health insurance companies rake in billions in profits while leaving nearly thirty million people uninsured and unable to access medical care is a violent society. This is the everyday violence of capitalism – if it is profitable to let somebody die, or languish in abject poverty, we do so.  That is a violent society.”[2]

Perhaps Mark Twain best outlines the defense of the reign of terror when he said, “There were two ‘Reigns of Terror,’ if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”[3] For Robespierre and for Lenin, the revolutionary terror sought to eliminate the older, colder, more sinister terror brought about by the old social order. If you read the writings of Robespierre, you see that he understood that he was killing people, that his hands had blood on them. But he also understood how many more would die if the transition from feudalism to capitalism was not complete, if the old terror was not ended swiftly by the new.

For a full defense of the reign of terror, see Sophie Wahnich’s book In Defense of The Terror. The point of this post is to point out that while the Jacobin and Leninist terror was necessary due to historical circumstance, Stalinist terror was absolutely not. The two are incomparable. Let us be frank, as Robespierre himself said, “one cannot cook an omelette without breaking an egg”, but one also cannot pump a tire until it bursts and expect the car to take one to their destination, one cannot forge steel forever lest it evaporate. I will very briefly attempt to elaborate on the typical dialectics of a social revolution:

Thesis: Old society becomes outdated, is already rotten from the inside, and unable to address a crisis.

Anti-thesis: Revolution from below, typically without too much bloodshed. New government established. New constitution written and established. A revolution without a revolution.

Synthesis/ New Thesis: Old ruling classes reacts violently to social change, extreme reaction, counter-revolutionary terror. At this point the international response tends to be greatest, surrounding countries aid counter-revolutionary forces. Country breaks out into chaos/ war.

Anti-thesis: Government reacts by making government revolutionary until peacetime, temporarily suspends new constitution, initiates the terror to suppress the counter-revolution and shorten the birth pains of the new society. The real revolution begins.

At this point, depending on the circumstances, there are many potentialities for where this society can end up:

Potential synthesis: Thermidorian reaction. Nearly all the progress by the revolution is undone and the conservatives/ counter-revolutionaries take power, typically reinitiating the terror against the former revolutionaries and supporters of the revolution from above.

Potential synthesis: Stalinist terror. The revolution is over, the revolutionary terror formally ends. But a bureaucracy takes hold of the state due underdevelopment, unviability for democracy, degeneration of the revolution, etc. Formally the constitution is reestablished, but on paper only. The terror becomes unofficial, unmentionable, and far more terrible than the original. The state believes it can slaughter its way to communism or to some better society. The original democratic gains of the revolution, are, once again, lost. This is what Trotsky called the “Soviet Thermidor”.

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There is, however, another potential synthesis. For this reason, I think that in order to truly critique the Stalinist failures of the 20th century, we have to go back to Robespierre himself. Robespierre said once that, “The aim of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of revolutionary government is to lay its foundation.” Robespierre recognized that terror alone was not a means to an end. He recognized that terror was a means to a means to an end. The point of the terror was to lay the foundation for the republic. The point of the republic is to bring the society towards its end goal (i.e. a newer, better social order). As I have previously said, one cannot slaughter their way to communism. Thus,

Potential Synthesis: Peace time is established, terror ends before Thermidorian reaction takes hold. Society is developed enough and economically healthy enough to allow democracy to be established fully among the new ruling class (consisting of the proletariat, or the 99%), in order to make progress towards a stateless, classless society. The constitution is restored not merely on paper but in actuality. The state begins to establish itself in such a way that it withers away. The first act towards this end is the ending of the revolutionary terror. It is terrible not against the people but against itself as an institution of organized violence.

I recognize that the ruling class never willingly gives up political power, and in the struggle for power, sometimes revolutionary terror emerges in a particular society as a response to counter-revolutionary terror and international reaction. I do not glorify this, or portray it as something favorable. But if and when it does emerge in a later epoch, those in power must learn both from Thermidor and from the Stalinist legacy of the past in order to ensure both that it is neither abused or used to the extent that it causes all progress hitherto made to burst asunder.

 

 

Sources:

1: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/233177/in-defence-of-the-terror-by-sophie-wahnich/9781784782023

2: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/radicalchristianmillennial/2017/08/jesus-punch-nazi

3: http://www.bartleby.com/71/0530.html

Very briefly, have the basic tools of warfare not gotten more humane over the ages?

To kill with fists is more humane than to kill by starvation.
To kill with stones is more humane than to kill with fists.
To kill with swords is more humane than to kill with stones.
To kill with arrows is more humane than to kill with swords.
To kill with guns is more humane than to kill with arrows.

The most basic tools of warfare have tended to get more humane through the ages. To be shot is far better than to be cut to death with a sword, starved out, or bludgeoned with a rock. But at the same time, certain tools such as chemical weapons and radiation are far more horrible than their prehistoric counterparts. But at least today one does not have to be ripped apart in agony with a monstrous knife to die on the battlefield. Not only warfare, but society too has gotten far less violent and far more humane over time. Steven Pinker wrote a book called The Better Angels of our Nature precisely about this. Today we do not have to worry about a neighboring tribe coming over with stones to murder us all to death because we have food, nor do we have to worry about the Canadian Empire invading us, raping and pillaging its way through America. The more brutal aspects of our nature have not been abolished in regards to our affairs with society at large, but replaced with less direct forms of exploitation of foreign lands. Imperialism today has taken the place of the raping, pillaging and conquering of the middle ages. According to Pinker though, we are living in the most peaceful era of human history. We are also, though, more connected to other societies and people’s lives than in any other epoch. A terrorist attack in China would make us react on the other side of the planet!

On that age old question of existence, part 2

The formless static from which being emerges is called nothingness. The creation of nothingness separated by time (+1 and -1) is called being. The coming into being is called the birth of reality. The collision of +1 and -1 is called annihilation, or the end of being. 
Within the virtual particles, with their endless coming into being and annihilation without actually creating anything that adds up to more or less that zero, is the secret rational answer to that age old question: why does anything exist instead of nothing? For in fact, mathematically nothing does, or can exist. Everything adds up to nothing.

On existence, an answer to the question of “Why does something exist instead of nothing?”

What is said to be that which cannot be, yet is? It is existence, it is being, it is not however, nothingness. Why? There is no why, there simply is. Nothingness cannot simply be, it can only be the static from which being arises. How? Can something be created out of nothing? In principle, no, in actuality, yes. +1 and -1 can come into being simultaneously, and so long as they are separated by some variable (such as time), they can exist for a “time”. +1 and -1 can only come into being because they add up to zero, to nothingness. But time and space are relative. So, within +1 or -1, time can be infinite. +1 and -1 can infinitely approach one another without ever joining together and annihilating. It could be said that “the” universe undergoes endless cycles of deaths and rebirths, but insofar as time as relative, our universe can in essence be eternal. Does “time” exist in the void in which these infinite variables of equal but opposite values arise? In principle yes, in actuality no. Such is the answer to the grand question “Why does anything exist instead of nothing?” For nothing does exist, everything adds up to nothing! This is the answer which my existential crisis has brought me to.

Briefly, On the Sacred Nature of Literature : Books Are Thought Traps!

Long ago when someone wanted to preserve a message, they carved it on stone in the form of a picture. Today we have written language and books, allowing us to send complicated messages, thoughts, and ideas into the indefinite future. Books are thought traps! That is the essence of my appreciation of literature. You can collaborate on a project with Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, etc. without ever having met said person. When you read something, your thoughts become their thoughts, even if for just a moment. You quite literally hear the thoughts of dead geniuses in your own head, for you to freely contemplate, listen to patiently, and build off of. The thoughts of those long gone, still echo off the bookshelf. I cannot emphasize the miraculous nature of such a phenomenon enough.

Literature, and written language are the SOLE reason for human progress today. As Isaac Newton himself said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by having stood on the shoulders of giants.” This is a direct reference to the written literature of brilliant minds who had long ceased to be when Newton took up their torch. Human endeavor is a collaborative effort, stretching across both time and space. Next time you read a book, remember that whoever wrote it decided to preserve that thought, idea, or story in time indefinitely, to exist for hundreds if not thousands of years after their physical mind ceased to be. Appreciate literature, it is sacred.

On Unfiltered Thinking, The Miracle of The Psychedelic Experience and Human Genius

When you think, focus on thinking with the part of your brain that forms thoughts, not the part that says them aloud in your head. When that filter is removed in times of extreme meditation, psychedelic experiences, etc. you will find that thoughts can flow like a turbulent river, whereas before it was only a trickle. But such a skill can be cultivated in the sober mind as well. This, I believe, is a key to human genius. It exists in all of us, regardless of if we know it or not. 
In normal times of sober reflection, we notice that we think in 2 stages, first we know what we are going to say in our mind, and then we say it aloud in our head. Focus on that part that spontaneously brings thoughts into being. Listen to it, and it alone when you need inspiration, or to think quickly.
Thoughts arise naturally, independent of language. This is the realization that comes from such thinking. We imagine first the essence of what we want to think, then the words. The essence forms in our minds 50x quicker than it takes to say the thought aloud. If we focus on the essence, and not the time consuming process of putting it into words, we will find the genius of the human mind, regardless of who is thinking.
I believe such thinking can only be fully unleashed during spiritual and psychedelic experiences, when the filter between the essence of our thoughts coming into being, and it’s translation, is removed. In such a state we think of 50 thoughts per second. Incredible realizations about life, language, ordinary phenomena, inventions, being, etc. These experiences of completely unfiltered thinking under the influence of psychedelics have led to incredible innovations and discovery. I will give you several examples.
The shape of DNA was discovered on LSD. A group of scientists had been working for many months on trying to figure out the shape of DNA. They all dropped acid one day, and within several hours had discovered that the double helix was the best shape to bring the molecules of life together in a functioning pattern. Steve Jobs and Bill Gated both attribute LSD to their success. And most of the music on your phone without doubt came from someone on some form of psychedelic. 
I too have experienced the profound realizations that come under psilocybin, I speak from experience alone. Unfiltered thinking can be cultivated, I believe, in a mind that has not had such an experience. Unfiltered thinking is natural thinking, divorced entirely from language. I believe it, along with psychedelic drugs, to be keys of human genius.

We must assume the people to be good and the state evil (Reflections on our society)

“We must assume the people good and the state evil.”(1) Obviously the state, as an inherently violent institution, is a necessary evil both in our bourgeois society, and in the society which will be born of the triumph of labor under capital, it will be necessary until that day when bourgeois right ceases to be.
We say that the people are of good nature. What do we mean? Anyone who goes to a place where the poor are numerous and paupers beg for change will find abnormally high rates of crime. Everywhere the mentality will be ‘every man for himself’. The poor, who are deprived of the means of subsistence, of the means of production, are found to be in a constant state of stress and disorientation. Their concern is for themselves and their immediate relatives, for their immediate needs.
Then we go to those who own the means of subsistence, who grow extremely wealthy for owning the means of production with which the poor toil day and night without ever making a penny more than the capitalist allows. We find here an extremely wealthy fellow, whose “wealth springs quite literally from the poverty of the poor”(2). He lives off the labor of others, off the poor who have nothing to sell but their labor power as the precious commodity that it is, while he does no real work himself. We find a man who, unlike the pauper, has secured the means of maintaining his immediate survival and happiness. But even among him, selfishness runs rampant. It is a selfishness far worse than that which is forced onto the poor. He is in a state of constant struggle not only against the poor who, lacking class consciousness, want only better wages and better working conditions, but also against his fellow capitalist, both within his enterprise and in those enterprises competing against him.
If he grows concerned for the well being of his workers, for their humanity, he will certainly find himself going down a slippery slope. If he goes so far as to forfeit the means of production to the working class, then he will be forced to work like they do, under explorative conditions, with nothing to sell but his labor power. If he runs his business like the good Christian he claims to be, he will soon go out of business and become a laughingstock among the whole capitalist class.(3)
His own survival is based on his greed, on the ceaseless accumulation of capital. We see for both rich and poor alike that self-interest is compelled to become selfishness. “We see that the worker is compelled to work under feudal conditions, or die of hunger”(2), to look after only his own hide, or risk going hungry. We see that the selfishness of the ruling class becomes the ruling ideas of our age, for rich and poor alike. 
So what madness is it to assume the people good? Everywhere we look around we see that greed and selfishness are the sole motivating factors of our society. But we also know that “the ruling ideas of each age have only ever been the ruling ideas of each ages ruling class.”(4) If we imagine instead, “a free association of producers with the means of production held in common”(5), where the means of production are democratically controlled by society at large, then we see that greed ceases to be the sole motivator, the sole ruling idea of society. We see that the pursuit of meeting actual human needs instead of profits exorcizes the hold that greed has over our society.
Only in such a society can the natural virtue of the people by embodied, only in such a society can today’s rich and poor alike live free from constant want and worry, for the states of rich and poor alike will cease to be. Only in such a society can equality be real, and not “the formal inequality in spite of rich and poor, ‘equality’ in spite of inequality.”(6) Only in such a society can democracy embody the true will of all of society, and not only that of the ruling class. When man is free from manmade poverty, and from being compelled to live off of the conditions that create poverty, we will find a society in which the natural virtue of man is truly embodied. As James Connolly once said, “The.. people will only be free when they own everything from the plough to the stars”.(7)
1: Robespierre, Speech/ Rousseau

2: Kropotkin, Conquest of Bread

3: Connolly, Socialism Made Easy

4: Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto

5: Marx, Capital

6: Engels, Marx Engels Collected Works Volume 6

7: James Connolly