“Democratic traditions” and socialist revolution (a reply to John Bachtell)

BY:Lowell B. Denny, III| June 11, 2019

John Bachtell’s piece seeks to do two things any historian should do: look to and assess the past, so as to avoid repeating the mistakes of history.

He establishes the environment under which the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded, touches on its achievements, references its excesses, then establishes a framework for us to look at our future goals and ambitions.

But his assessments are misleading, and they are meant to guide us to the conclusions he himself wants us all to draw, which is not an indictment: this is what persuasive writing is supposed to do. These just happen to be the conclusions of decent, Middle America liberalism, which cannot comprehend the levels of violence being exacted on the working classes of the global South, parts of the former socialist bloc, and increasingly in the global North, and so, moderate, within the beltway responses that don’t frighten the horses are perfectly acceptable.

If we only knew how many slaves we have outsourced to make our T-shirts.

Bachtell is correct that there were “mistakes and errors in policy,” “which contributed mightily to” the Soviet Union’s “downfall.”

He just names the wrong ones. The abandonment of the class war, the appeal to that Middle America/Middle England/Middle NoWhere sensibility are among the key things that brought down that epic Revolution.

Without irony he refers to our Party’s “Bill of Rights of Socialism,” – a term I’ve never liked but not worth a civil war over -to “US history and its traditions.” That word “traditions” makes me think of the word used by my white Southern neighbors when I lived in Tennessee – neighbors who still lived on the other side of the racial dividing line of Main Street. The schools were not forced to integrate until the early 1970’s, and I was among the first classes to attend “integrated” schools by the late 1970’s.

The USSR, under Stalin’s leadership is characterized in the usual vein. You cannot, among Middle America liberals, say anything nice about Cde. Stalin without coughing up the requisite hairball. Curious, because Stalin was part of an international struggle of the working class, while his US counterparts were exacting genocide and westward/Pacific expansion. He should be a hero.

One man’s traditions is another man’s bourgeois revolution to create a genocidal slave state.

Why don’t we equivocate when we say the names of Washington, Lincoln, or Andrew Jackson? I don’t want to take a tangent into Abraham Lincoln, but the contrasts between two, otherwise unrelated figures of him and Stalin, is revealing how history has duped us into disempowerment. Not for African forced laborers, as his own writings reveal, but rather to be a Bismark before there was a Bismark and “force march” the settler-colonial conglomeration of prairie territories into centralized financial state power within the industrial revolution – which is why the Republicans ultimately abandoned their promised 40 acres and the mule to us. This is what drove Honest Abe. The railroads wanted the land; the Republicans handed it over.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the USSR, including Stalin, were continuing to bring a feudal people into the modern world, mold together a 20th century workers state out of the Medieval epoch, internationalize their example rhetorically and materially to working and oppressed people, all the while they prepared to fight fascism.

And yet which of the two men has to be apologized for, if he is mentioned at all? Cde. Stalin, that’s who. The example of the USSR is not only being dismantled from the front by predictable reactionary forces, but also from the rear by the “Yes, but … ” crowd. Marxist Margot Honecker of the GDR lamented shortly before her death that the further we got from the demise of the socialist bloc, the more lies that are said about it.

Bachtell writes that “instead of continually revolutionizing itself … forces within the CPSU resisted change … ” A few lines later, he names the PRC, Vietnam, and Cuba as having “abandoned” the old “socialist economic model in favor of mixed economies … ” If these are the “revolutionizing” examples he likes, they need a deeper look.

The discussion piece is not meant to be a dissertation, but I wonder why the negative consequences of these so-called “mixed economies” wasn’t better fleshed out. Why aren’t African trades-unions, communist and workers parties, and civil society organizers ever mentioned in talking about the PRC’s programs in Africa? These people have very negative things to say about the impact Xi’s China has had in parts of Africa.

Why is it rarely mentioned how, since Raul’s reforms in Cuba, Black Cubans have suffered the worst statistically not only because of lingering racism, which the Revolution was combating, but denied more and more state supports, and lacking Miami relatives with US cash to help them start independent businesses, Black Cubans are falling quickly behind. I daresay we will be hearing that they’re emulating pre-Revolution statistics in another decade.

These criticisms cannot be aired in certain circles because the Kingian mountaintop is the platform of any liberal political party. This is not a course we need to follow. We don’t have to speculate this comes at a great price: we see it among working people all over the global North, particularly where the old welfare state is similarly demonized as it is downsized, resulting in horrors. We saw it in the beginnings of the demise of the Bolshevik Revolution.

No surprise at this point I disagree that the communist parties of the cited countries “are seen as central in mobilizing the working classes.” Rather, they’ve proven very adept at managing capitalism. I would argue that this is essentially what imploded the Soviet Union, and it is far too early to tell what its contradictions will produce in the named countries.



    Lowell B. Denny, III, has a degree in political science from Washington University. His political education began with his membership in Queer Nation-San Francisco, spending two months of work and study in Cuba in the early 1990s, then three months hitchhiking around Mexico where he got to spend a day in jail, and now living in Hawaii where the sovereignty movement is strong. He has worked in publishing, retail, as a school teacher and restaurant waiter. He is a member of AFGE Local 1234.

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