Wednesday, December 13, 2017

On China Miéville’s “October”

By Kamran Nayeri, December 13, 2017 


There has been a flurry of books and articles published on the centenary of the 1917 Russian revolutions and for good reason. The Russian revolution continues to be a source of historical and political debates about feasibility and desirability of socialism and the Bolshevik legacy.  Were the horrors of Stalinism that followed, not just in the Soviet Union but also in Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cambodia, and elsewhere the logical outcome of Bolshevism? Was the October 1917 revolution a Bolshevik coup? What was the role of the masses of Russian people, especially the proletariat, in the 1917 revolutions? How should we appraise the Cuban revolution in light of the Bolshevik legacy? What can we learn from the Russian revolutions and the Bolshevik legacy in preparation for ecological socialism? These and other similarly strategic questions require us to examine or re-examine the lessons of the Russian revolutions of 1917.

China Miéville’s “October” is a captivating and well-thought-out telling of the story of the nine months of the Russian revolutions of 1917.  The events of these nine months, each told in a chapter, are set in between the first chapter, “The Prehistory of 1917,” which offers a succinct explanation of the root-causes of the February revolution that overthrew the Tsar Nicholas II’s regime and ended the centuries-old absolute monarchy in one the most vast empires in history, and an epilogue about the demise of the historic gains of the October revolution and the rise of Stalinism. A revolutionary socialist, Miéville is not an “impartial observer” of such monumental historic events. But he also pledges “to be fair, and I hope readers of various political hues will find value in this telling.”  I think his telling is consistent with the best histories of the Russian revolutions of 1917 and the more recent scholarship of the Bolshevik party, especially about Lenin’s in it.   “October” reads like a historical novel with many well-developed characters while offering proper attention to social and political forces in play and at times incorporate recently resurrected scholarly controversies about related political, historical, and theoretical questions. 

A reader of “October” will come away with her own lessons of the Russian revolutions of 1917.  Below are a few that I think may be useful to those committed to radical social change.

The revolutionary potential of the working class: A revolution is a radical reordering of power structures.  Class societies are social organizations for the expropriation of nature through the exploitation of oppressed classes and strata for the benefit of the ruling elite.  A revolution can disrupt such power structures either in favor of another exploiting ruling strata without changing the dominant eco-social mode of production (political revolution) or it can bring a new class to power to that would inaugurate a new eco-social mode of production (social revolution).  The February revolution was a largely spontaneous movement of the working and oppressed masses. It empowered workers, soldiers, peasants, women, oppressed nationalities, and religious minorities as detailed in “October.” Central to these was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies which was emulated throughout Russia (see below).  This interpretation that appears also shared by Miéville is at odds with Trotsky’s assessment.  Trotsky’s account tends to enhance the role the Bolshevik party played in the February revolution:

“The struggle in the capital lasted not an hour or two hours, but five days. The leaders tried to hold it back; the masses answered with increased pressure and marched forward. They had against them the old state, behind whose traditional facade a mighty power was still assumed to exist, the liberal bourgeoisie with the State Duma, the Land and City Unions, the military-industrial organizations, academies, universities, a highly developed press, and finally the two strong socialist parties [i.e., the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. KN] who put up a patriotic resistance to the assault from below. In the party of the Bolsheviks the insurrection had its nearest organization, but a headless organization with a scattered staff and with weak illegal nuclei. And nevertheless the revolution, which nobody in those days was expecting, unfolded, and just when it seemed from above as though the movement was already dying down, with an abrupt revival, a mighty convulsion, it seized the victory.”  (Trotsky, 1930, chapter 8, “Who Led the February Insurrection”)

Trotsky’s argument rests on the proposition that the vanguard of the Russian working class was trained in the school of Bolshevism.  It is true that the 1905 revolution brought a wave of radicalized workers into the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) which was largely a socialist propaganda group before 1905.  Trotsky (1938/1947) estimates that as the result of this the Bolsheviks had about 10,000 members and the Mensheviks 10,000-12,000 because of the 1905 revolution.  With the defeat of the 1905 revolution, some members of the RSDLP left. Paul Le Blanc (1990, pp. 190-198) suggests that the intellegencia were highly represented among those who left the party, leaving the smaller party more proletarian in the composition in the 1907-1912 period.  At the same time, it is also true that the workers in the Bolshevik party were schooled in revolutionary socialism thanks to Lenin’s strategic view of the coming Russian revolution and his advocacy for a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” to carry forward the historical democratic tasks while the Mensheviks preached an alliance with the Russian bourgeoisie who they saw as the natural leader of the comping bourgeois democratic revolution.  As the above quotation from Trotsky makes it clear, the Mensheviks and SRs worked to limits the February revolution to the formation of a bourgeois government which the masses of the working people pushed to go further and make deeper inroads into the power structures leftover from the Tsarist regime. 

Still, there are reasons to doubt the weight of workers-Bolsheviks in the working people's leadership of the February revolution and find confirmation of the revolutionary potentials of the workings class. First, we know that the Russian working class formed the soviets independently in the 1905 revolution.  Second, the Bolsheviks obtained a small minority of 10% of the deputies in the Petrograd Soviet in February 1917. The rest went to the labor leaders who were influenced by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. Yet, it was still the Petrograd Soviet that pushed the revolution to go further.  Third, workers’ councils have been formed in other revolutions elsewhere in the world without a Bolshevik-type party.  Through the general strike, especially by the oil workers, making the February 11 insurrection in Tehran possible.  Further, the insurrectionary weave took three days to cover the entire country. Not only there was no Bolshevik-type proletarian party present in Iran, Stalinism, which preached a two-stage theory similar to the Menshevik’s vision of the Russian revolution, ruled the Iranian left.  Yet, the February revolution triumphed despite Khomeini leadership’s attempt to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power with sections of the Shah’s regime. The reason for the leadership role of the Iranian working class was its ability able to organize and mobilize independently because of the severe damage to the Stalinist Tudeh Party in the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup which left the Iranian workers to organize under a new leadership not trained in Stalinist class-collaborationist politics.  Once the Shah’s rapid pace of the industrialization picked up in the 1960s and the industrial working class grew two-folds to 3 million by mid-1970s, they began organizing their own unions despite severe repression (for a brief biography of the oil workers central leader, Yadullah Khosroshahi, see, Nayeri, 2016). When the mass movement against the Shah’s regime erupted in the city of Tabriz in February of 1976, advanced sections of the Iranian working class began to organize for the revolution which resulted in their general strike, and in October 1976, the oil workers strike that paralyzed the regime.  As in 1905 revolution in Russia, after the February 1979 revolution, the vanguard of the Iranian working class began to organize their own Shoras (councils) to run workplaces as the capitalists and managers fled the country. The Shoras expanded across the country until they were repressed by the clerical Islamic Republic that crushed the revolution by the end of 1982 (Nayeri and Nassab, 2006).  I think both the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 as well as the Iranian revolution of 1979 confirm Marx’s conception of the working class potential for self-organization and self-activity (I will return the key role of the Bolshevik party soon).

To return to the 1917 experience, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was founded in a conference organized by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SR) of the leaders of the labor movement in the city in the Tauride Palace on February 27. The conference empowered these labor leaders as “deputies.” By the end of March 600 soviets of workers’, soldiers’, sailors’, peasants’, and Cossacks’ deputies were in existence in Russia.   

“The Sovietization of Russia continued over the following months. The most widespread type of soviets were soviet of workers’ deputies, of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, of peasants’ deputies…, of sailors’  deputies…, of Muslim workers’ deputies (in Central Asia), as well as unified soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies.” (Smirnov, in Acton, et. al., eds., 1997, p. 429)

Smirnov reports that according to incomplete data, there were 1,429 functioning soviets in Russia in October 1917.  Of these 706 were workers’ and soldiers’, 235 were united workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’, 455 were peasants’, and 33 were soldiers’ soviets. As I will briefly discuss below, gradually the Bolshevik influence in the Petrograd Soviet and in others across the country increased while those of the class-collaborationist Mensheviks and SRs declined.  By October, the Bolsheviks has strong enough majority that Lenin brushed for a Bolshevik organized armed uprising that overthrew the Provisional Government and transferred the power to soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies. In fact, Lenin tried to time the uprising to coincide with the opening of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies which took place in Petrograd from October 25 to 27 (Of course, there were hiccups in the actual carrying on of the armed uprising. But the Provisional Government found little mass support and surrounded). The Congress created the Council of People’s Commissars chaired by Lenin who was subordinated to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) set up by the Congress and declared to be that highest executive organ of power. 

The oppressed and exploited rose up:  Miéville tells us how in Petrograd on February 23, the International Women’s Day (old calendar), radical agitators went to factories that employed mostly a female workforce to speak about women’s rights, the war, and high cost of living. 

“As the meetings ended, women began to pour from the factories into the streets, shouting for bread. They marched through the city’s most militant districts…hollering to people who gathered in the courtyards of the blocks, filling the wide streets, in huge and growing numbers, rushing to factories and calling for the men to join them.” (Miéville, p. 41)

The February revolution politicized women in great number and from all social classes. But the Provisional Government avoided the question of women’s suffrage and many in the revolutionary movement were hesitant, some arguing the Russian women were too politically backward to vote.  The Bolshevik leader Alexandra Kollontai took them to task:

“But wasn’t it we women, with our grumbling about hunger, about disorganization of Russian life, about our poverty and the suffering born of the war, who awakened a popular wrath? And didn’t we women first out to the streets in order to struggle with our brothers  for freedom, and even if necessary to die for it?” (quoted in Miéville, p. 94)

On March 19, 40,000 people, mostly women descended on the Tauride Palace demanding universal suffrage.  A banner proclaimed: “If the woman is a slave, there will be no freedom.” Miéville notes that pro-war banners were also present at this demonstration reflecting the presence of middle-class women.  Barbara Evans Clements similarly notes: 

“From February 1917 to the end of the civil war women from all walks of life became politically engaged in ways that would have been impossible under the old regime. Female revolutionaries worked within their movements, as did female Cadets (albeit in far lower numbers.) Blue- and white-collar workers joined political parties, organized exclusively female trade unions and professional associations, demonstrated, attended meetings, and voted.  Peasant women participated in the confiscation of the landlords’ land and in village meetings where the land was partitioned. They also asserted themselves within their families by urging their husbands to leave their parents’ households in order to set up farming on their own.” (Clements, in Acton, et.al, eds. 1997, pp. 595-96) 

Radicalization even reached the Muslim women in Central Asia and the Caucasus.  Miéville writes:
“Buoyed by the February revolution, and feeling it vindicated their own programme, members of the progressive, modernizing Muslim Jadidist movement set up an Islamic Council in Tashkent, Turkestan, and across the region, helping to dismantle the old government structures—already undermined by the spread of local soviets—and enhancing the role of the indigenous Muslim population.
“…[O]n April 23, delegates [from the Muslim Duma deputies]  gathered in Kazan in Tatarstan for the All-Russia Muslim Women’s Congress. There, fifty-nine women delegates met before an audience 300 strong, overwhelmingly female, to debate issues including the status of Sharia law, plural marriage, women’s rights and the hijab.” (Miéville, p. 121) 
Clements also reports that in 1920, 66,000 women were in the Red Army which had about 3 million soldiers. Thirty-thousand women joined the Communist Party between 1917 and 1921. 

As Miéville notes, the Petrograd was a cosmopolitan city with people talking politics in Yiddish, Polish, Latvia, Finnish, German, and many other languages.  That reflected the ethnic composition of the Russian empire, which was a prison house of nations.  Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, Russia ceases to be a relatively homogenous ethnic polity as the empire was gradually extended to include many ethnic, national, and religious groups. Of these, the Jews, Muslims, and Armenians were the most oppressed. Thus, the February revolution engendered revolutions in Central Asia with its Turkic speaking Muslim population and the Caucasus that included Azerbaijanis, Armenians, and Georgians, as well as the Baltic.

The revolution empowered these oppressed nationalities and religious minorities.  “And whether or not dissent took socialist forms,” writes Miéville, “the national aspirations of Russia’s minorities were amplifying.”  In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Muslim Uzbeks formed their own revolutionary committees expelling representative of the central government on September 10. 

“From the 8th to the 15th [of September], the Ukrainian Rada [parliament, KN] provocatively convened a Congress of the Nationalities, bringing together Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Tatars, Turks, Bessarabian Romanians, Kazakhs, Cossacks, and representatives of various radical parties. The Congress, in an escalation from the language of ‘cultural autonomy’, agreed that Russia must be a ‘federative-democratic republic,’ each component part to decide how it would link to others. Except in the case of Poland, and to a lesser extent Finland, the orientation (let alone formal demand) was not full independence…” (Miéville, 2017, p. 242)

Bolshevism and the October revolution:  A central question in the history of the Russian revolution is the role played by the Bolshevik party. Marcel Liebman expressed a widely held view in his much-praised book, Leninism Under Lenin (1975, first published in French in 1973) about the Bolshevik party: 

“It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Lenin’s chief contribution to the political reality of our time was the creation of the Bolshevik party, of a tool to make revolutions with—indeed, the tool for making revolutions.” (Liebman, 1975, p.25, emphasis in the original)

But in what sense was the Bolshevik party the tool for making the Russian revolution? And, in what sense the Bolshevik party is a generalizable model for the rest of the world? I will briefly touch upon the second assertion in at the conclusion of this essay. But the answer to the first question may be gleaned from Miéville’s telling.   As pointed out earlier, the Bolshevik party’s influence in the working class and among soldiers increased between February and October while those of its two key competitors, the Mensheviks and SRs declined.  While socialist currents had hegemony over the Russian proletariat on the eve of the February revolution and both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were proletarian parties, they were still of modest size. But by the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had 300,000 members, heavily working class (Service, in Acton, et.al., 1997, p. 235).    This was a significant portion of the the Russian working class which numbered between 4.2 to 4.4 million. The Bolshevik party also exerted much influence among soldiers and had some influence even among the peasantry.  How did this happen? 

Miéville’s account vividly reveals the immediate reasons for their ascendency: their opposition to the Provisional Government (there were three reincarnations of it as the revolution radicalized), their revolutionary defeatist position on the imperialist war, including their demand for democratization of the armed forces, and their consistent agitation that to secure “peace, land, and bread” (demands of the February revolution), the working class must take power in alliance with the (poor) peasantry.  The Bolsheviks also had theoretically, programmatically, and politically prepared and presented themselves as the revolutionary proletarian socialist in support of the unconditional right of nations to self-determination. 

The October insurrection was organized by the Bolshevik party led by Lenin to coincide with the opening of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies on October 25.   As the ministers of the Provisional Government surrounded to the revolutionary armed forces of workers, soldiers, and sailors, Lenin sent the following proclamation to the Congress that was presented by Lunacharsky on his behalf.  It states in part:

The Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers' Deputies has opened. The vast majority of the Soviets are represented at the Congress. A number of delegates from the Peasants' Soviets are also present. The mandate of the compromising Central Executive Committee has terminated. Backed by the will of the vast majority of the workers, soldiers, and peasants, backed by the victorious uprising of the workers and the garrison which has taken place in Petrograd, the Congress takes power into its own hands.
The Provisional Government has been overthrown. The majority of the members of the Provisional Government have already been arrested.
The Soviet government will propose an immediate democratic peace to all the nations and an immediate armistice on all fronts. It will secure the transfer of the land of the landed proprietors, the crown and the monasteries to the peasant committees without compensation; it will protect the rights of the soldiers by introducing complete democracy in the army; it will establish workers' control over production; it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the time appointed; it will see to it that bread is supplied to the cities and prime necessities to the villages; it will guarantee all the nations inhabiting Russia the genuine right to self-determination.
The Congress decrees: all power in the localities shall pass to the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, which must guarantee genuine revolutionary order.
The Congress calls upon the soldiers in the trenches to be vigilant and firm. The Congress of Soviets is convinced that the revolutionary army will be able to defend the revolution against all attack of imperialism until such time as the new government succeeds in concluding a democratic peace, which it will propose directly to all peoples. The new government will do everything to fully supply the revolutionary army be means of a determined policy of requisitions and taxation of the propertied classes, and also will improve the condition of the soldiers' families. (Lenin, 1917) 
In contrast, both the Mensheviks and SRs joined alliances with the Russian bourgeoisie to maintain capitalism through participation in the Provisional Governments and they supported the unpopular imperialist war effort. Thus, they gradually lost the confidence of the workers and soldiers, and eventually many of the peasants as well as reflected in the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.  This change in the mood of the masses is revealed in the declining political fortune of Alexander Kerensky, a lawyer and a leader of a small SR faction, the Trudoviks.  In the morning of March 2, Pavel Milyukov, the prominent historian and a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party [K-Ds in Russian but written and pronounced Kadets in English. KN]), that encompassed constitutional monarchists and right-wing republicans, read a negotiated list of the first Provisional Government ministers to the revolutionary crowd gathered in the Tauride Palace.   Miéville writes: “As he listed the cabinet, the room jeered in bewilderment at the names that were unfamiliar, and in disgust at those they knew.”  He adds: “There was one appointment, though, that drew applause: the role of justice minister has been filled by the popular SR… Alexander Kerensky.”  Kerensky also was on the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet which had agreed its members would not take cabinet positions.  It turned out the Kerensky’s charm persuaded the Soviet to make an exception. He managed to become the Minister of Justice as well as the President of Petrograd Soviet, the two poles of the dual power, at the same time!  He then went on to become the defencist Minister of War who worked to undermine democratic aspiration of the ranks of the armed forces and during after the events of July appointed the rightist General Kornilov, a counter-revolutionary, as the commander-in-chief of the Russian army.  Soon, a power struggle developed between the two men as Kornilov responding to the deepening polarization decided to crush the Petrograd Soviet and take charge of the government.  While Kerensky was aware of his plans he proved incapable of acting to stop Kornilov. Meanwhile, the Petrograd Soviet-led by the Bolsheviks organized a defense force and crushed the coup.  The Bolshevik leading role in defending the revolution paved the way for the October revolution that resolved the dual power in favor of the soviets when the third Provisional Government ministers were arrested in the Winter Palace. Kerensky himself escaped and in November began organizing an armed counter-revolution. 

Let us return to Liebman’s first assertion: in what sense was the Bolshevik party the tool for making the Russian revolution? Only in the sense that given the spontaneous rise of the soviet power in Petrograd, the Bolshevik program, strategy, and tactics, help direct the working people so organize to take power from the capitalist Provisional Government. Those “Leninists” who focus attention on the Bolshevik party as the “tool for revolution” often forget that without the working people and their soviets there would have been no revolution in Russia in 1917. 

The revolutionary role of Bolshevism then can only be assessed in such context.  To this, we must add a number of observations that defies the too often dominant view of the party and its leaders.  As Trotsky told us earlier, the Bolshevik party in Petrograd was a “headless” organization.  Reading “October” also reminds us that the top leaders of the party were far from in agreement in their opposition to the Provisional Governments. While Lenin was consistently on the leftwing of the leadership, others like Kamenov were conciliatory.  But even Lenin was sometimes a sectarian in his relentless opposition to the Mensheviks and SRs.  And even Lenin sometimes wrongly to the right of the revolutionary workers.  At the same time, the reader of October sees in the Bolshevik party deliberations a very living democratic atmosphere where different and sometimes sharply at variance views were presented, debated, and decided after a vote and carried out.  Even when Kamenov and Zinoviev who disagreed with Lenin’s position for enacting the October insurrection and lost the vote and published their opposition in the Gorky’s paper subsequently remained as Bolshevik leaders despite Lenin’s call for their expulsion. Such was Democratic Centralism in a mass proletarian revolutionary socialist party on the even of October 1917. 

The legacy of Bolshevism: To discuss Liebman’s second proposition, that to make revolutions there must be Bolshevik parties in place as the “tools of revolution,” we must first see what happened to the Bolshevik party of Lenin after the October revolution.  There are numerous places in “October” where the reader learns Lenin’s view that a workers and peasants power in Russia can only be sustained with the extension of the revolution in particular to Europe.  This is particularly part of Lenin’s political calculation in organizing the October revolution.  As we know, despite a number of revolutionary upsurges in Europe, none was victorious. Young Soviet Russia remained isolated and was besieged by the counter-revolutionary (White) armies and its imperialist allies.  The White armies engaged in 

“indiscriminate butchery, burning villages and killing some 150,000 Jews in enthusiastic programs, performing exemplary torture—mass flogging, burial alive, mutilation, dragging prisoners behind horses— and summary execution. Their instruction to take no prisoners are often graphically explicit.” (Miéville, 2017, p. 311) 
And:
“Under such unrelenting pressures, these are months and years of unspeakable barbarity and suffering, starvation, mass death, the near-total collapse of industry and culture, of banditry, programs, torture and cannibalism. The beleaguered regime unleashes its own Red Terror.” (ibid. pp. 311-12).

In 1917, there were between 4.2 to 4.4 million workers in Russia out of an estimated population of less than 98 million. In 1918, it has fallen to 2.5 million, and in 1919, it had fallen further to 1.4 million.  The “rundown of military production,  the fuel and raw materials crisis, the call-up of workers to the front. And their flight from hunger in towns to the countryside” as well as agricultural workers becoming self-employed peasants were responsible for this trend (Iarov, in Acton, et. al. 1997, p. 604). At the same time, the militarization of industrial production and reintroduced military command hierarchy in the Red Army contributed to undermining of workers and soldiers democracy.  The soviets largely ceased to exist or function properly. The Bolshevik party substituted itself for the working class.  After the end of the war which Soviet Russia won militarily, the Red Army demobilized and many officers became the leaders of the existing soviets undermining their militancy.  “The party apparatus grew by leap and bounds, from a few hundred full-time functionaries in 1919 to 15,000 in 1992.” (Mandel, in LeBlanc, 1990, p. xxi) 

Ernest Mandel argues that the Bolsheviks made critical policy errors.  As they won in the war and substituted the New Economic Policy for War Communism, the Bolshevik-led by Lenin “decided to narrow democracy in a decisive way, by banning all opposition soviet organizations (Mensheviks, anarchists) and by banning factions inside the Bolshevik party, although not banning ‘tendencies’”. (ibid. p. xx). He argues persuasively that what was need was, in fact, the revitalization of soviet and party democracy. 

“Under a one-party regime, the decline of the working class political life unavoidably hits the party and its working-class members as well.  De facto exercise of power by paid functionaries thereby becomes the most ‘realistic’ stopgap solution, independent of any calculation by unprincipled maneuvering of the Stalin type. The formula ‘workers’ power equals party power equals party cadre power equals party leadership power’ becomes transformed into ‘workers’ power equals party power equals party leadership power equals party apparatus power equals bureaucracy’s power.’ The party bureaucracy rapidly fuses with the state bureaucracy and identifies itself with it.  Far from playing the leading role, the party becomes more and more a tool of the bureaucracy in its totality.” (ibid. p. xxi) 
Despite Lenin’s last struggle directed against the bureaucracy and of Left Opposition fight that continued it, Stalin heading the rising bureaucracy was able to overthrow the Bolshevik program, strategy and norms while consolidating his totalitarian rule through bloody purges of the Bolshevik leaders and cadres and resistance from workers and peasants.  Stalinism was born as the ideology and rule of the conservative bureaucracy. 

While Trotsky’s Left Opposition maintained and developed the Bolshevik legacy in line of recent events (e.g., Stalinism, Fascism), and eventually founded the Fourth International in 1938, revolutionary socialist currents that followed Lenin’s teachings have never become proletarian mass parties.  Posting as the heirs to the October revolution, Stalin and his cohort purged the Communist International and the leadership of the revolutions in Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam, and Korea, not mention the Eastern European countries where there was a “socialist overturn” were schooled in Stalinism, not Leninism.   Despite the collapse of the Stalinist ruled “existing socialisms” and embracing of capitalism in these counties by their current elite (some still using the “Communist Party” to rule over the working people), there has not yet been a resurgence of Bolshevik-type parties anywhere in the world.  Yet, as in the Iranian revolution, the working people have self-organized and self-mobilized to fight for their demands, including through the formation of councils that as in October revolution could serve as the basis of the government of workers and poor peasants. 

The Russian revolutions of 1917 and the Bolshevik legacy remain as an inspiration for those who are engaged in confronting the current social and planetary crisis through developing a worldwide ecological socialist movement.  China Miéville’s “October” offers an engaging window to that critical part of modern revolutionary history. 

References:
Clements, Barbara Evans. “Women and the Gender Question,” in Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution: 1914-1921.  Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, William G, Rosenberg, editors. 1997, pp. 592-603.
Iarov, Sergi V. “Workers,” in Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution: 1914-1921.  Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, William G, Rosenberg, editors. 1997, pp. 604-620. 
Le Blanc, Paul. Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. 1990. 
Lenin. V.I. “To Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants!”, October 25, 2017.
Liebman, Marcel. Leninism Under Lenin. 1973/1975. 
Mandel, Ernest. “Introduction,” in Le Blanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. 1990. 
Miéville, China. October, 2017. 
Nayeri, Kamran, and Alireza Nassab. “The Rise and Fall of the 1979 Iranian Revolution: Its Lessons for Today.” 2006. 
Service, Robert. “The Bolshevik Party,” in Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution: 1914-1921.  Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, William G, Rosenberg, editors. 1997, pp. 231-244. 
Smirnov, Nikolai N. “The Soviets,” Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, William G, Rosenberg, editors. 1997, pp. 429-437. 
Trotsky, Leon. The History of the Russian Revolution. 1930. 
———————. “Discussions with Trotsky on the Transitional Program,” Fourth International. 1947 (recorded in June 1938).


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Farewell to My Beloved Sunny

By Kamran Nayeri, November 29, 2017

I am tempted to find ways
to say that “I love you”
but Nature has already 
said them all.

Let us then surrender,
all together,
to the bright beaches
and the rugged mountain tops.

Let us lay in leaf beds
and meadows of tender
new grasses courting
delicately budding flowers.

From “Simply Divine,” Jaime K. Reaser, Scared Reciprocity: Courting Beloved in Everyday Life, 2012. 


I lost my beloved Sunny on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017.  Sunny suffered from chronic kidney disease (CKD) and lung cancer.  The night before her death she had trouble breathing probably due to the spread of her lung cancer.  She was euthanized at about 9:30 in the morning while resting on my lap.

Sunny’s troubles surfaced on the day before Christmas 2016, when she stopped eating.  Her veterinarian tried everything in the book to find out why and couldn’t. Finally, a barium x-ray showed a possible obstruction in her stomach.  Sunny was referred to the best surgeon in the area who suggested “exploratory survey.”  As I found out later, that meant opening up Sunny’s underside with a long incision to examine the inside of her GI tract and take biopsies for pathological examination.  The only thing they found was “moderate irritable bowel disease” (IBD), a form of allergy to food protein in various meats the cat eats. Of course, one does not need such an invasive surgery to diagnose IBD.  The IBD diagnosis seemed to explain Sunny’s refusal to eat her old favorites and her lack of appetite.  To recover from the surgery, Sunny was fitted with a feeding tube which I used to give her liquid food, water, and medication for a month.  Sunny was now on a lifelong daily dose of Prednisolone to control her IBD.  

In June, Sunny was found to suffer from moderate chronic kidney disease (CKD), the number one cause of feline mortality.  The prognosis for Sunny changed from a chronic but manageable IBD to terminal CKD.  Typically, a cat with CKD is placed on special “kidney friendly”diet and supplements to help flush out toxins from her body. But Sunny was a finicky eater and would not eat a “kidney friendly” diet. And, the supplements I had to shove down her throat twice daily gave her a bad case of diarrhea.  So, we settled for any food she would eat and stopped giving her the supplements.   Thus, her prognosis became more dire. Still, finding food that Sunny liked and getting her to eat “just a bit more” became a constant concern of mine. And, she gradually ate less and less even of things she liked, except for rodents and birds. 

In September, an x-ray taken for another purpose showed a dark spot in her lungs.  The radiologist confirmed a rare lung cancer that afflicts mostly female cats.  Sunny was now cornered by two terminal diseases.  In late October, her veterinarian found a mass in Sunny’s mammary glands.  Whether this was new cancer or metastasis of her lung cancer we did not know and had no practical value for her care. It was merely another sign the Sunny’s life is about to end. 

Sunny was receiving subcutaneous (SQ) fluids four times a week, something like dialysis for cats, for which we made trips to her veterinarian hospital.  Meanwhile, Sunny had lost more than 3.5 lb. since June. With about 6.5 lb. of weight, she was skin and bones.  Still, Sunny ventured outside, enjoyed the garden, and hunted. A week before her demise, I found her munching on a field mouse under the rosemary bushes. 

Sunny’s excellent veterinarian had warned me that if she began having a problem breathing, it would the time to let her go. The night before Thanksgiving at about 9 p.m., Sunny who laying my lap choked.  In reaction, she jumped off the bed and returned to the closet where she had camped the past few days and nights.  Her eyed looked terrified and she seemed sick and in pain.  I tried to calm her down giving her a dose of pain medication.  She slept in the closet the rest of the night.  

Thanksgiving Day morning, I took Sunny to the VCA Animal Center about 8 miles away that is open for emergency care all year round. Very caring and sensitive staff attended to Sunny and me.  The technician and the veterinarian who examined and treated Sunny had tears in their eyes when they were caring for Sunny. Their examination room looked more like a cozy living room with a love-seat.  I sat on the sofa and placed Sunny on my lap on a soft blanket.  She seemed comfortable and resigned.  After examining Sunny, the veterinarian concurred that it is time to let Sunny go.  Sunny was given a pain medication and within 10 minutes she was relaxed and sleepy. Then her right forearm was fitted with a catheter.  After once again asking for my agreement, the veterinarian gave Sunny another dose of strong pain medication through the catheter that relaxed her completely. The veterinarian again with my permission and then injected Sunny through the catheter with the medication that stopped her heart.  Sunny gave a slight sigh and I was all alone to pick up the pieces of my broken heart.

        *

I first met Sunny on Christmas morning of 2011. Returning home from serving breakfast to Lulu and Calico (see, “The Feral Cat Colony on Darby Road,” Part 1, and, Part 2), I stopped by the mailboxes to pick up my copy of the New York Times. I noticed a tiny orange cat disappearing behind the blackberry bushes.  The next day, I called her and she stopped under the first row of the bushes. I opened a can of food and served it in a bowl to her.  She quickly came and ate what I had served.  She was not satisfied until she had eaten three 5.5 oz cans of cat food.  Within days, she was comfortable enough with me to eat her food inside a cat carrier. The next day, I closed the cat carrier door and took her to the veterinarian hospital.  She was examined, tested for infections (negative), given a rabies shot, and we went home where Mooshi and Sayda, both female cats, both very domineering, also lived.  Sayda, a badly mistreated feral cat from Darby Road, lived upstairs away from the rest of us and Mooshi lived downstairs.  Sunny spent her first night in the master bathroom. On the second night, I left the bathroom door open and sat on the sofa near it watching a rented Netflix movie.  Sunny stepped out and soon enough jumped into my lap.  We became movie buddies for the rest of her life.  Every night, Sunny patiently waited for me to finish my dinner, clean up, wash the dishes, and take a little fruit to have while watching part of a movie and Sunny would jump on my lap to watch it together.  Six years later, I cannot really enjoy watching a movie nearly as much without her on my lap. 

Sunny now was free to explore inside of the house but she preferred spending most of her time hiding behind the books on the bookshelves (she preferred the philosophy section). She was tiny enough to fit there and was out of Mooshi’s way who was not entirely happy that I bought in another female cat. 

Sunny’s demeanor helped explain why she was so tiny. The more aggressive feral cats ate whatever was available to them first and Sunny went on deprived. But that also helped her avoid getting bitten by other cats who often carry infections (most feral cats are feline immunodeficiency virus—FIV—positive). Soon, I let Sunny venture outside.  She promptly went to the blackberry bushes on the opposite side of Darby Road, where a gate close off the road and there is no car traffic and few people go by.  At the end each day, I had to “recapture” Sunny and carry her in my arms home for the night.  Sometimes, Oliver, the neighbor’s dog, barked at us from behind the fence causing Sunny to sink her sharp claws into my body.  After about three months of doing this Sunny went out and came back home on her own.

She also put on a fair amount of weight having a regular supply of food. She even developing a bit of love-handles.  Mooshi also accepted Sunny’s presence.  Both of them eventually slept on my bed, each in her own cat bed.  But it was Mooshi who would come to lay across my legs at night. Unbeknown to me, Sunny also wanted to do that but not as long as Mooshi was around.  When Mooshi was incapacitated enough not to want to come to my bed, Sunny began laying on my legs facing the opposite direction until my legs were tired.  This became our nightly routine.  

For her entire life, Sunny remained shy of other people.  When someone visited me Sunny disappeared into the garden. And when the visitor left, she would magically reappear.  This limited my ability to invite people for dinner or when the weather was too harsh for Sunny to be outside.  A few of my friends understood the circumstances but most did not. Some friends even felt insulted that I would inconvenience them “for a cat.”  While I fully understand the reasons for their feelings, that our culture gives priority to humans over all other beings, I simply explained why I felt Sunny’s feelings were as important to me as their feelings. I have found few really understand my reasoning. The notion of human superiority is deeply ingrained in our culture.

*          *

Like all relationships, those with cats can evolve and become richer.  A difference with human relations is that those with nonhuman animals never fall apart, not at least because of their failings.  Thus, all my relationships with cats continually enriched throughout their lives. That is one reason it is hard for me to see them die even when they have lived a long and happy life.  I miss our relationship that we built together for as long as I had have known them.  I have little doubt that Sunny loved me perhaps more than I loved her as she always sought to be with me whenever she thought I was available. For some reasons from our initial meeting, she decided that I was worthy of her trust.  Over time, Sunny’s trust in me increased even when she became increasingly ill and I had to force her to take medications which she did not like, take her the hospital where she was handled by various people even though she was very shy of other people, or when she was subject to harsh intervention from frequent administration of SQ fluids which required the insertion of a large needle in her back to major abdominal surgery and having to live with a feeding tube in her neck for a month. We humans justify such harsh interventions as treatment for our illnesses.  There is no evidence that cats and other nonhuman animals understand that such treatments are “for their own good.”  But they put up with it.  And Sunny never lost her trust in me despite all hardships I put her through.

Like all other beings that I have known, Sunny had her routines which she enjoyed.  Each morning after I had my breakfast, Sunny expected me to sit on the sofa so she can jump on my lap and have her fur brushed.  She really enjoyed this even though in the last year of her life it meant also being forced to take medications she did not like.  Sunny also liked laying on my legs facing the other way as I stretch on the sofa or on the bed to rest or when I was sleeping.  She had her favorite spots in the garden where she could “hide” from the danger which included under the rosemary bushes, deer grasses, and Mexican grasses, and under the low-hanging branches of the redwood tree by the road where there is often a warm afternoon sun.  She also liked to have her meals served in the garden or on top of one of the chairs around the dining table.  When I arrived home after being away for a few hours, Sunny greeted me under the pineapple agave bush that if I had a better sense of smell would still have her scent as she rubbed her chin against it hundreds of time as a way to greet me. Sunny had graceful movements that began with making an arch in her back by extending her forearms way in front of her while raising her tail into the sky above. She was a patient hunter spending a lot of time focused on rodents’ hole.  Once she was hunting where I spread seeds for wild turkeys and other birds.When the turkeys arrived Sunny would not budge. Interestingly, the turkeys ate seeds around her but did not mind her being next to them.  

Sunny yielded to other cats.  Mooshi who was the dominant cat in the house soon accepted Sunny even though they were both females.  She felt no threat from Sunny and decided to let her live in the house and share my care and affection.  Panther who is a younger, much stronger, tomcat and likes to bully more submissive cats chased Sunny many times despite my protest.  But gradually two things happened. Sunny began to stand her own ground somewhat. And Panther began to heed me to stop harassing Sunny.  Sunny actually liked Panther and given the chance she liked smelling his face.  Earlier, that was followed by Panther chasing Sunny to beat her up.  One day about a year ago a deflection point was reached. When Sunny went to smell Panther’s face, Panther reached out to her by licking Sunny’s forehead.  Panther’s aggression towards Sunny subsided.

Sunny was a gentle, feminine soul who often felt at ease sitting in the garden in a warm spot or “watching” a movie with me at night or being in my company anytime. Perhaps because of this strong bond of friendship between us I miss her very much.  There is a constant gap in my daily life. I miss her gentle soul, her devotion, and the warmth of her body close to mine.  There is a world of difference between watching a movie or watching a movie with Sunny on my lap.
My beloved Sunny, you will be in my heart and mind for as long as I live. 

Notes:

I am grateful to a host of people who cared for Sunny at Analy Veterinary Hospital in Sebastopol, California, especially to Dr. Jessica Baldwin, her regular veterinarian, and Dr. Patricia Alexander, who was there for us when we needed help.
The following video is 3 minutes 39 seconds long with 72 photos of Sunny and Frank Sinatra's "This Love of Mine" as the soundtrack. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gardening, Ground Squirrels and Crisis of Civilization

By Kamran Nayeri, February 2, 2014
Ground squirrel


No doubt, gardening is among modern human activities that arises a feeling of warmth and pleasure and begets admiration. Even in the dry discipline of neoclassical economics gardening is assumed to provide a public good. A gardner creates beauty that all passerby will enjoy at no charge.  

When I arrived in my current home outside the small town of Sebastopol (pop. fewer than 8,000) over two years ago, I came to garden for the first time in my life as a way to get closer to nature.  In January 2013, I joined a group of 33 volunteers in an intensive course to become a Master Gardner in Sonoma County, a program of the Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of California Cooperative Extension that educates and advises home gardeners.  

Surprisingly, I have learned a thing or two not just about gardening but also about the crisis of civilization.  As I wrote in Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline (Part 1Part 2), humanity is not just facing an economic crisis or even a crisis of capitalism but a crisis of civilization.  It all began with the shift from ecocentrism to anthropocentrism when early farmers emerged from bands of foragers some 10,000 years ago.  The shift reflected alienation from nature that goes hand-in-hand with a compulsion to control and dominate nature.  It was on the basis of systemic exploitation of domesticated animals and plants that a surplus economy arose. What followed was social alienation and segmentation and the rise of the early class societies. Early civilizations institutionalized alienation from nature and social alienation. The rest is history. 

There has been no civilization that has not experienced social and ecological crises.  In fact, most civilizations have succumbed to such crises and have vanished. The capitalist civilization based on fossil fuel driven industrialization is the first to link up and dominate the entire world and its inhabitants. Its rhythm of life is the rhythm of capital accumulation, its culture shaped with commodity fetishism. 

Now, let me get back to gardening, generally regarded as a peaceful, nature-loving activity.  In the October 2013 Newsletter of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, in a regular column where useful examples of responses of my peers provide to home gardeners we find the following recommendation to a home gardner on how to mange ground squirrels in her garden:  
Assuming that you would like to get rid of the squirrels, the best approach for most people is to trap themUsing poison bait is another option, but the possible collateral damage that can occur to other species is not something that you would want to see happen. Traps are available that work very well on squirrels and the only bait needed is regular peanuts. The only unpleasant part of trapping is the need to kill the squirrels, unless you want to take a long ride everyday to relocate them which is only dumping your problem onto someone else. Most accomplish the task of killing the squirrels by drowning themIf left in the trap, they will die fairly quickly if left in the sun, but this seems like a cruel thing to do since it takes time and is hard on the animals. Shooting them is another option, but then a lot of people don’t like using guns and it can get messy.”  (emphases are mine)
There is no doubt that this response speaks in the language of war against another species. In this anthropocentric discourse, the ground squirrel who shares the same geographic location as the gardner is treated as an enemy to be extinguished. My Master Gardner colleagues are mostly older, female and generally very nice and kind hearted fellows.  The fact that they can prescribe such methods against another species has little to do with their conscious ethical lives. It has to do more with the underlying unspoken anthropocentric ethics of our civilization that gives moral superiority to humans over any other species.  So, if there is a conflict between our interests and theirs, it is they who will lose. 
California Master Gardeners agree to dispense advice based on scientific views of the Agriculture and Natural Resources unit of the University of California.  But science itself is an anthropocentric ideology of modernity.  In fact, the general sense of disposing of ground squirrels is from a pest note from the University's website.  Thus, this war-like approach to “pests” is sanctioned by the university even though it runs entirely contrary to the discipline of ecology taught at the same university where species are understood as part of ecosystems, not as pests.  
I need not take your time to argue that the above example can be generalized to the entire activity of conventional gardening.  Just visit the gardening section of any hardware store and look for shelves of war material against other species: animal, plant, fungi, etc. 

To save the world, the humanity must return to ecocentrist ecological socialism.