So you say you don't want a revolution?
21 July, 2015
Over the past few months we have been forced to bear witness to a humiliating farce unfolding in Europe. Greece, which was first accepted into the European Monetary Union under false pretenses, then saddled with excessive levels of debt, then crippled through the imposition of austerity, finally did something: the Greeks elected a government that promised to shake things up. The Syriza party platform had the following planks, which were quite revolutionary in spirit.
- Put an end to austerity and put the Greek economy on a path toward recovery
- Raise the income tax to 75% for all incomes over 500,000 euros, adopt a tax on financial transactions and a special tax on luxury goods.
- Drastically cut military expenditures, close all foreign military bases on Greek soil and withdraw from NATO. End military cooperation with Israel and support the creation of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders.
- Nationalize the banks.
- Enact constitutional reforms to guarantee the right to education, health care and the environment.
- Hold referendums on treaties and other accords with the European Union
Of these, only the last bullet point was acted on: there was a lot made of the referendum which returned a resounding “No!” to EU demands for more austerity and the dismantling and selling off of Greek public assets. But a lot less was made of the fact that the results of this referendum were then ignored.
But the trouble started before then. After being elected, Syriza representatives went to Brussels to negotiate. The negotiations generally went like this: Syriza would make an offer; the EU officials would reject it, and advance their own demands for more austerity; Syriza would make another offer, and the EU officials would reject it too and advance their own demands for even more austerity than in the last round; and so on, all the way until Greek capitulation. All the EU officials had to do to force the Greeks to capitulate was to stop the flow of Euros to Greek banks. Some revolutionaries, these! More like a toy poodle trying to negotiate for a little more kibble to be poured into its dish, if it pleases the master to do so. Stathis Kouvelakis (a Syriza member) summed up the Greek government's stance: “Here’s our program, but if we find that its implementation is incompatible with keeping the euro, then we’ll forget about it.”
It is not as if revolutions don't happen any more. Just one country over from Greece there is a rather successful revolution unfolding as we speak: what used to be Northern Iraq and Syria is controlled by the revolutionary regime variously known as ISIS/ISIL/Daash/Islamic Caliphate. We can tell that it is a real revolution because of its use of terror. All revolutionaries deserving of the name use terror—and what they generally say is that their terror is in response to the terror of the pre-existing order they seek to overthrow, or the terror of their counterrevolutionary enemies. And by terror I mean mass murder, expropriation, exile and the taking of hostages.
Just so that you understand me correctly, let me stress at the outset that I am not a revolutionary. I am an observer and a commentator on all sorts of things, including revolutions, but I choose not to participate. Remaining an observer and a commentator presupposes staying alive, and my personal longevity program calls for not being anywhere near any revolutions—because, as I just mentioned, revolutions involve mass murder.
In the case of the French revolution, it started with liberté-égalité-fraternité and proceeded swiftly to guilliotiné. The Russian revolution of 1917 remains the gold standard for revolutions. There, thanks to Uncle Joe, so-called “red terror” went on and on, eventually claiming millions of victims. Mao and Pol Pot are also part of that revolutionary pantheon. The American revolution wasn't a revolution at all because the slave-owning, genocidal sponsors of international piracy remained in power under the new administration. Nor does the February 2014 putsch in the Ukraine qualify as a revolution; that was an externally imposed violent overthrow of the legitimate government and the installation of a US-managed puppet regime, but, as in the American Colonies, the same gang of thieves—the Ukrainian oligarchs—continue to rob the country blind just as before. But if the Nazi thugs from the “Right Sector” take over and kill the oligarchs, the government officials in Kiev and their US State Dept./CIA/NATO minders, and then proceed with a campaign of “brown terror” throughout the country, then I will start calling it a revolution.
* * *
The fact of mass murder does not automatically a revolution make: you have to make note of who is getting killed. So, if the dead consist of lots of volunteers, recruits, mercenaries, plus lots of nondescript civilians, that does not a revolution make. But if the dead include a good number of oligarchs, CEOs of major corporations, bankers, senators, congressmen, public officials, judges, corporate lawyers, high-ranking military officers, then, yes, that's starting to look like a proper revolution.
Other than big huge pools of blood littered with the corpses of high-ranking representatives of the ancien régime, a revolution also requires an ideology—to corrupt and pervert. In general, the ideology you have is the ideology you make revolution with. It stands to reason that if you don't have an ideology, it's not really a revolution. For instance, the American Colonists had no ideology—just some demands. They didn't want to pay taxes to the British crown; they didn't want to maintain British troops; they didn't want limits on the slave trade; and they didn't want restrictions on profiting from piracy on the high seas. That's not an ideology; that's just simple old greed. With the Ukrainian “revolutionaries,” their “ideology” pretty much comes down to the statements “Europe is wonderful” and “Russians suck.” That's not an ideology either; the former is wishful thinking; the latter is simple bigotry.
Taking the example of ISIS/ISIL/Daash/Islamic Caliphate, they are Islamists, and so the ideology they corrupt and pervert is Islam, with its Sharia law. How? Islamist scholars have been most helpful by compiling this top-ten list:
1. It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as “People of the Scripture.”
2. It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
3. It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
4. It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
5. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
6. It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat Christians or any “People of the Scripture.”
7. Jihad in Islam is a purely defensive struggle. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose, and the right rules of conduct.
8. It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats — hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
9. Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
10. It is forbidden in Islam to declare a Caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
But, as Lenin famously put it, “If You Want to Make an Omelet, You Must Be Willing to Break a Few Eggs.” And if you want to make a revolution, then you must be willing to pervert your ideology. Those Islamist scholars who eagerly exclaim “That's not Islam! Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance!” are missing the point: the ideology of ISIS/ISIL/Daash/Islamic Caliphate is still Islam—revolutionary Islam.
The example of ISIS/ISIL/Daash/Islamic Caliphate is germane to the topic of Greece, because it is a contemporary example of what is definitely a revolution, and it is taking place just one country over from Greece. But the ideology of Syriza is not Islam—it's socialism, and philosophically they are Marxists. And so a better example for Syriza to follow, were they to suddenly stop being Europe's pathetic poodles and don the mantle of fearless, heroic revolutionaries, is still the good old Russian revolution of 1917.
* * *
As I mentioned, one of the most important tools of a revolution is terror. In Russia, revolutionary terror was called “red terror,” which, the revolutionaries claimed, arose in opposition to “white terror” of the Russian imperial regime, with its racist bigotry (Jews weren't allowed in any of the major cities), numerous forms of oppression, some major, some quite petty, and rampant corruption. An interesting feature of the Russian revolution is that the terror started several years prior to the event.
Let us pause for a second to consider why revolutionary terror is necessary. A revolution is a drastic change in the direction of society. Left alone, society tends to worsen its worst tendencies over time: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the police state becomes more oppressive, the justice system becomes more riddled with injustice, the military-industrial complex produces ever less effective military hardware for ever more money, and so on. This is a matter of social inertia: the tendency of objects to travel in a straight line in absence of a force acting at an angle to its direction of motion. The formula for momentum is
where p is momentum, m is mass and v is velocity.
To make a radical course change, revolutionaries have to apply force, counteracting the social inertia. To make it so that it is within their limited means to do this, they can do two things: reduce v, or reduce m. Reducing v is a bad idea: the revolution must not lose its own momentum. But reducing m is, in fact, a good idea. Now, it turns out that, with regard to social momentum, most of the mass that gives rise to it resides in the heads of certain classes of people: government officials, judges and lawyers, police officers, military officers, rich people, certain types of professionals and so on.
The rest of the population is much less of a problem. Suppose some revolutionaries show up and tell them that
- they don't have to worry about paying taxes (because we are confiscating the property of the rich),
- medicine and education are now free,
- those with mortgages can stop making payments; they automatically own their real estate free and clear
- renters now automatically own their place of residence,
- employees are automatically majority stockholders in their businesses,
- they should fill out an application if they want a free (newly liberated) parcel of land to farm,
- there is a general amnesty and their loved ones who have been locked up are coming home,
- ration cards are being issued to make sure that nobody ever goes hungry again,
- the homeless are going to be moving in with those whose residences are deemed unduly spacious,
- they are now their own police and are in charge of patrolling their neighborhoods with the revolutionary guards available as back-up, and
- if any non-revolutionary authorities, be they the former police or the former landlords, come around and bother any of them, then these traitors and impostors shall face swift, on-the-spot revolutionary justice.
Most regular people would think that this is a pretty good deal. However, government officials, the police, military officers, judges, prosecutors, rich people whose property is to be confiscated, corporate officers and shareholders, those living on fat corporate or government pensions, etc., would no doubt think otherwise. The revolutionary solution is to take them as hostages, exile them, and, to make an example of the most recalcitrant and obstructive, kill them. This dramatically reduces m, allowing the revolutionaries to effect drastic course changes even as v increases. I compiled this list because it would be such an easy sell—piece of cake, a slam-dunk, a no-brainer. But I lack the uncontrollable desire to smash eggs and the insatiable appetite for omelets. As I mentioned, I am no revolutionary—just an observer.
In the run-up to the Russian revolution, from 1901 through 1911, there were 17,000 such casualties. In 1907, the average toll was 18 people a day. According to police records, between February 1905 and May 1906, there were among those killed:
- 8 governors
- 5 vice-governors and other regional administrators
- 21 chiefs of police, heads of municipalities and wardens
- 8 high-ranking police officers
- 4 generals
- 7 military officers
- 79 bailiffs
- 125 inspectors
- 346 police officers
- 57 constables
- 257 security personnel
- 55 police service personnel
- 18 state security agents
- 85 government employees
- 12 clergy
- 52 rural government agents
- 52 land-owners
- 51 factory owners and managers
- 54 bankers and businessmen
Good old Zinka
Schoolteacher, Revolutionary, Assassin
Clearly, these terrorist acts must have had some not inconsiderable effect in softening the target, making the government overthrow easier. This was not an accident but a matter of well-articulated revolutionary policy. The concept of “red terror” was first introduced by Zinaida Konoplyannikova, a rural schoolteacher who first got on the police radar for being an atheist and was later convicted as a terrorist for shooting a notorious general-major at point-blank range. At her trial in 1906, she said this: “The [Socialist-Revolutionary] Party has decided to counter the white, yet bloody, terror of the government with red terror...” She was executed by hanging that same year, aged 26.
After the revolution, red terror became government policy. Here is Lenin's response to being questioned by Communist party members about his “barbaric methods”: “I reason soberly and categorically: what is better—to imprison a few tens or hundreds provocateurs, guilty or innocent, acting consciously or unconsciously, or to lose thousands of soldiers and workers? The former is better.
Let them accuse me of any deadly sins and violations of liberty—I plead guilty, but the interests of the workers win.”
Grandpa Lenin belting out a tune
Grandpa Trotsky going wild on the harmonica
Grandpa Trotsky going wild on the harmonica
Trotsky produced a particularly crisp definition of “red terror.” He called it “a weapon to be used against a social class that has been condemned to extinction but won't die.”
Estimates of the exact number of victims of “red terror” vary. Robert Conquest claimed that between 1917 and 1922 the revolutionary tribunals executed 140,000 people. But the historian O. B. Mozokhin, after an exhaustive study of the data available from government archives, put the number at no more than 50,000. He also noted that executions were the exception rather than the rule, and that most of those executed were sentenced for criminal rather than political acts.
But this was nothing compared to what Stalin unleashed later on. The ideological foundation of Stalin's terror was “intensification of class struggle at the culmination of the building of socialism,” which he articulated at the plenum of the Central Committee in July of 1928. According to his logic, USSR was economically and culturally underdeveloped, surrounded by hostile capitalist states, and as long as there remained the threat of foreign military intervention with the goal of reestablishing the bourgeois order, only the preventive destruction of the remnants of “bourgeois elements” could guarantee the security and independence of the USSR. These elements included former police officers, government officials, clergy, land-owners and businessmen. The peak of Stalin's repression occurred in 1937 and 1938. During these two years 1,575,259 people were arrested, of which 681,692 were shot.
You may be forgiven for thinking of Stalin as a psychopathic murderer, because he was certainly that, but more importantly he was a competent, and sufficiently ruthless, head of a revolutionary state. For a revolutionary regime, killing too many people is rarely a problem, but killing too few can easily prove fatal. To play it safe, a revolutionary should always err on the side of murder. This attitude tends to pervade the entire power pyramid: if you give Stalin a memorandum recommending that 500 priests get shot, and Stalin crosses out 500 and pencils in 1000 in red pencil, then you better find 500 more priests to shoot, or the number becomes 1001 and includes you.
This guarantee of security and independence did seem to hold. After all, there was a subsequent invasion by a hostile bourgeois capitalist state (Germany) and bourgeois order was temporarily reestablished on the territories it occupied. But there was nobody left to instigate anti-revolutionary rebellion elsewhere in the USSR because most of the would-be counterrevolutionaries were by then dead.
Of course, this took a terrible toll on society. Here is what Putin had to say on the subject of “red terror”: “Think of the hostages who were shot during the civil war, the destruction of entire social strata—the clergy, the prosperous peasants, the Cossacks. Such tragedies have recurred more than once during the history of mankind. And it always happened when initially attractive but ultimately empty ideals were raised above the main value—the value of human life, above the rights and liberties of man. For our country this is especially tragic, because the scale was colossal. Thousands, millions of people were destroyed, sent to concentration camps, shot, tortured to death. And these were primarily people who had their own opinions, who weren't afraid to voice them. These were the most effective people—the flower of the nation. Even after many years we feel the effect of this tragedy on ourselves. We must do a great deal to make sure that this is never forgotten.”
Given that the price is so high, perhaps it would be better after all if we just sat quietly, allowed the rich get richer as the poor get poorer, watched listlessly as the environment got completely destroyed by capitalist industrialists in blind pursuit of profit, and eventually curled up, kissed our sweet asses good-bye and died? Good luck selling that idea to young radicalized hotheads who have nothing to lose—except maybe you, if you happen to stand in their way as they change the world! No, revolution is here to stay, and one of its main weapons is terror. No matter how well we remember, the annihilation of counterrevolutionary social elements is bound to recur.
* * *
Getting back to Greece and Syriza: what if Syriza were not just a particularly fluffy breed of miniature Europoodle but actual honest-to-goodness revolutionaries, ready to do whatever it takes? How would they act differently? And what would be the result?
Well, one thing that comes to mind immediately is that they wouldn't try to stay in the Eurozone—they would seek to destroy it. The solution is simple: no Eurozone—no Euro-debt—no problem. There is a general principle involved: never accept responsibility for that which you cannot control. Speaking from experience, suppose you invite a plumber to fix your toilet, and the plumber finds that the toilet has been Mickey-moused in multiple ways by an incompetent amateur. In this situation, the professional thing for the plumber to do is to completely obliterate that toilet. Now the solution becomes simple: install a new toilet.
Here's a very simple one-two punch which Greece could have delivered instead of futile attempts at negotiation:
1. Immediately announce an open-ended moratorium on all debt repayment, taking the position that Greece has no legitimate creditors within the Eurozone—it's all financial fraud at the highest levels. After a few months, the fake bail-out financial entities that magically convert garbage Eurozone debt into AAA-rated securities (because they are guaranteed by Eurozone governments) are forced to write off Greek debt. In turn, Eurozone governments, being pretty much broke, balk at refinancing them out of their national budgets, showing to the world that their guarantees aren't worth the paper they are written on. There follows a bond implosion. Shortly thereafter, the Euro goes extinct, and along with it all Eurozone debt.
2. Start printing Euros without authorization from the European Central bank. When accused of forgery, make the forgery harder to detect by changing the letter at the front of the serial number from Y (for Greece) to X (for Germany). Flood Greece and the rest of the Eurozone with notionally counterfeit (but technically perfect) Euro notes. As the Euro plummets in value, institute food rationing and issue ration cards. Eventually convert from the now devalued and debased Euro to a newly reintroduced Drachma and reestablish trade links with the now “liberated” former Eurozone countries using trade deals based on barter and local currency swaps with gold reserves used to correct any minor imbalances.
Could this have been done without any “red terror”? I doubt it. Greece is very much oligarch-ridden; even the celebrated former Syriza FM Yanis Varoufakis is the son an industrial magnate. The Greek oligarchs and the rich would have had to be rounded up and held as hostages. Numerous people in the government and in the military have a split allegiance—they work for Europe, not for Greece. They would have had to be sacked immediately and held incommunicado, under house arrest at a minimum. No doubt foreign special services would have run rampant, looking for ways to undermine the revolutionary government. This would have called for drastic preemptive measures to physically eliminate foreign spies and agents before they could have had a chance to act. And so on. This wouldn't have been a job for fluffy mini-poodles. As Stalin famously put it, “Cadres are the key to everything.” You can't make revolution without revolutionaries.
But is this a job for anyone? Anyone at all? I leave this question as an exercise for the reader.