The Russia We Love and Defend

(From Prometeo 2 (December 1943) - This article was the first Onorato Damen wrote in Prometeo the still clandestine publication of the newly-formed Internationalist Communist Party. Its context is the opposition to the wartime Allies of the USSR, the USA and the UK in the imperialist war against the Axis powers. After the fall of Mussolini all sectors of the Italian bourgeoisie were flocking to support the Allies. The newly formed Italian Communist Party of Togliatti actively encouraged this as it took on the mantle of “defending democracy”. The article here was intended to emphasise the need for the working class to fight for its own revolutionary programme like that of the early years of the Russian Revolution after 1917 and against the degeneration that had occurred under Stalin.

It is no accident that today we communists, the unwavering supporters and defenders of the Russian Revolution, of its ideas and of its first actions, have to defend ourselves from the accusation of now being against this great historic experience. This accusation is thrown at us by those who were the Revolution‘s most open and ferocious enemies during the period when the bourgeois liberal and social democratic coalition tried to strangle it either militarily with mercenary banditry or through starvation; and sought to isolate it from the capitalist world behind a barbed wire fence of defamation and conspiracy.

Such a complete change of mind, and of political sympathy, towards Russia is much less surprising than may be imagined. In the light of Marxism it is easily understandable. Today this sympathy and solidarity runs from the Church to the captains of industry, from the Socialists to the magnates of high finance.

We are not amongst these; and the workers who have defended, and still defend Russia as the first great experiment of their class, have to finally understand the reason why we communists do not hesitate to state our opposition to the Russia of Stalin while, at the same time, we proclaim ourselves faithful fighters for the Russia of Lenin.

For us the revolutionary events were not insignificant trifles and we adhere completely to the ideas of October through our absolute dedication to the cause of the Russian Revolution, the beginning of the international revolution. For more than twenty years most of us have given everything to its cause: financial interests, family affections, freedom, often ending up in prison, internment or concentration camps. And so it is that the thankless, but necessary and inescapable task of not remaining silent on the truth about Russia therefore falls to us. We have learned in the school of Marxism to struggle openly and firmly against myths, against any kind of ’taboo', and for the most concrete truths of the class struggle.

And before we set out our ideas we would like those workers who have held on to their critical capacities, and whose class instincts have not been contaminated, to consider the real reasons which lie behind the profound and sudden solidarity of so many bourgeois reactionaries with the Russia of today, and from which we can define its true nature. For ourselves, we want to clarify here some aspects of this vexed problem and we are sure we shall all reach the same conclusions.

  1. The bourgeoisie's passionate and noisy love for Stalin's Russia is a direct result of their interest in preserving the capitalist system. It follows from this that what we love, the bourgeoisie through class antagonism, naturally hates. When our theoretical critique and our Party’s actions put us at the forefront of the class struggle, the bourgeoisie cannot stomach it.
  2. The legitimisation of the Second imperialist war in Stalinist “people's war for democracy”, and the official recognition by the Orthodox Church which naturally supported the war for the great Slav fatherland, has deeply impressed the honest bourgeois who are always full of love for the fatherland. To legitimise the war meant to tie the working masses to it, to chain them to that most brutal and hateful force, chauvinism, in order to make victory certain, and with it the salvation of capital.
  3. The bolshevisation of the Russian (Communist) Party and the International, the liquidation in these bodies of leading organised expressions of the proletariat and their substitution by the stupid servants of opportunism, the inequalities in wages which inevitably restored social differences; the role assumed by the State and party bureaucracy, the dominance of the class of technicians which came from forced industrialisation and the rise of the Church as a prominent force; the pre-eminence of the State in the place of the dictatorship of proletariat; the Five Year Plans for the intensive exploitation of a re-created subject class of workers - these are all the surface features which confirm that the interests of Russia are no longer those of the proletariat ... At this point those who have ditched the revolution deemed it opportune to demonstrate their loyalty and consistency of the new direction in Russian policy to the international bourgeoisie, sacrificing on the alter of democratic concord the men of the old guard, the incorruptible builders of the October Revolution. This is the Russia dear to the hearts of Roosevelt, of Churchill and all international radicals - but it is not ours.
  4. The Russia which we love and defend, as a revolutionary achievement, is that Russia of the proletariat and poor peasantry who under the guidance of Lenin and the revolutionary party dared to break the framework of feudalism and capitalism and to pose the class dictatorship - the transitional proletarian state power whose goal has to be to signal the destruction of that very state and that very class, The Russia which we love and defend is that Russia which for years its proletariat and to the international proletariat the consciousness of its force, the historic sense of its revolutionary role, the organic demonstration of the new workers' world that has its creative heart in the 'Soviets'.

The Russia which we love and defend is that Russia which for years had to operate clandestinely in the shadow of the present 'Bolshevik' Party and which in the prisons, in the deportations throughout the Russian wastes preserved intact its faith in the principles of October and which is waiting for the time when it will be able to unite its revolutionary re-awakening with that of the international proletariat. This is the Russia of our anti-bourgeois struggle, the Russia of our unchanging revolutionary passion.

Onorato Damen

Comments

Damen critized consequences of the previous policy of bolshevisk but not the the policy since october to, as you can choose, till 1921 or 1924,or...Lenin as the top of fragile but still bourgeois state was in Damen view ok and then something was wrong.

You can be incorruptible builder of the October Revolution but if you are manager of the capitalist state then you must behave like manager (doesnt matter if managening runing in the left way) and its no important which kind of ideas you have.

It is impossible to say that October ideas was something like betrayaled because it means that you agree with managers of the russian feudalist/capitalist state what they did till betrayal day.

  1. Anyone could expectate after government change that is possible to make dictatorship of the proletariat or destroy the state in case that main part of the proletariat not fighting against the state and not establish soviets without and against the state delegates (bolsheviks members).
  2. It is not possible for succes in case that army and work running in capitalist modus (iron discipline at work and in army with accepting managers/leaders). If the main goal is only managing capitalists relationship by workers or state administrators and not to try directly destroy wage slavery and destroy class system include working class then revolution will failed. Failed revolution was also rooted in October ideas and Lenins practisces which must be critised and not to be adore.

Renoir

Thnaks for your comments. I think English is not your first language but if I understand you you criticise Damen for not saying that the Bolsheviks were counter-revolutionary from the first day of the Russian Revolution. Is that what you mean. Damen doesn't claim that the Bolsheviks established socialims. He does not claim even that they established the dictatorship of the proletariat. They only "posed" it and he makes it clear that the greatest gain of the October Revolution is the establishment of "soviets". Furthermore he, like the early Bolsheviks did not base his support for the Revolution on what it did or did not do in Russia but on the Revolution as the first step in an international revolution of the working class. As this failed so the counter-revolution gathered pace in Russia and the tragedy for the working class is that many today still think this was socialism. Damen did not live in Russia and fought the revolution (with the rest of the Left) in the one place where he could - the International which, from being a tool for world revolution, soon became the foreign policy arm of the Russian state, expelling those internationalists who wanted to maintain revolutioanry principles.

Your criticism that Damen did not criticise the state capitalism in Russia after 1917 seems ahistorical (since the mode of production coud not be changed in one country alone) and "national". It is the same sort of arguments the anarchists and councilsts use to denounce the entire October Revolution. Which leaves us with what?

Damen's short statement about the Russian Revolution does not deal with the question of Lenin (which all the Communist left have a critical relationship of one degree or another - the adoption of the United Front was in Lenin's time and Damen rejected at the same time as this document was written Lenin's position on the national question. The Russian revolution did not fail through Lenin's ideas but through isolation. The way in which it failed was not even due to Lenin's ideas but to a whole series of circumstances and factors one of which were the hangovers Bolshevism retained from social democracy. Lenin's ideas were very revolutionary at some points (especially in early 1918) but became less so after the civil war began but there is no simple relationship here.

Thanks for quick reaction.

You are right. English is not my first language and will make probably some mistakes again.

I think, you can not easily outflank my comment by labeling ,,...sort of arguments the anarchists and councilsts...“.

Damen's argument: ,,Russia of the proletariat and poor peasantry who under the guidance of Lenin and the revolutionary party“ is not innocent and seems that refer to his understanding of the party, revolutionary process, etc.

I could understand that some progressive manager can help workers with the strike in some company, but manager never ever could be a leader of that strike from his manager position, because practicaly it could be only employees who will leave the role of the employee against the company during the strike and who could be practically leader of the strike (most radical part of them). In the same way you can for example fight against the state as a striking bureaucrat against the condition of bureaucracy. But you can not use your manager position or position in bureaucracy or in parliement for revolutionary act, so practically you can not be leader of the strike or revolution. In that case you can only help with that process, but vanguard will be practically only on the side of striking proletarians not on the side of radical left wing politicians in the state. These critic already exists in proletarian movement in this time (before 1917) so it is not ahistorical.

Reaction to what did you say. We talk about past from contemporary period, we see many experiences in past but I dont want to put present conclusions from class struggle back to the situation in 1917. On case of russia we can only talk in abstract way what we will have to do in future.

I dont think that the mode of the production could be totally changed in one country alone and "national" but... communization is activity which try to going forward and it is mean that solution laying only in attempt to change mode of the production. If you will be in uprising time you will not think if you are isolated or not. You have to try change the mode of the production as it possible, but movement in russia mainly didnt do that and this is the main mistake of the russian movement. Arguments which try to explain failed through isolation are arguments of secondary level and I agree that it is complicated.

Renoir

When you say that Damen is not making an innocent reference to the October revolution "under the leader of Lenin and the revolutionary party" what are you trying to say? Was the October Revolution led by some other group we did not spot? Damen is merely stating a fact. You perhaps don't know that Damen came to see one of the problems in Russia was that it became an affiar only of the party and no longer of the class. This is why he insisted in 1952 that "the class does not delegate its power to anyone not even its class party". Perhaps you are reading too much into what was a very short article aimed at distinquishing the October revolution from Stalinism.

And looking at the Russian Revolution cannot be done "in an abstract way". On the contrary it has to be done in the most concrete way in order for us to understand the real choices facing the working class at that time. Most of what we have learned from the Russian experience is negative and we also have to look at it dialectically (ie.e in context) - we are unlikely to be in an exact situation again. However there will be an isolated class outbreak somewhere and as long as it is isolated it will face similar problems of how to confront the economic challenges of a revolution in any one place. The Bolsheviks had no policy for this (they had ditched their old programme in April 1917 and had not yet forged a new one beyond the April Theses). In a future situation revolutionaries will at least have some principles which they can work on as a result of the experience of 1917-21 (e.g. state ownership is not solution but workers self activity is the key to the success of any process of transformation). Revolutionaries elsewhere will have to do all they can to break that isolation but not through absurd insurrection (as in Germany in 1921) rather through preparation of the wider working class. But we can only learn anything by the most detailed study. Indeed it is largely through the detailed studies that have been made that we can understand the process of how the revolution was lost (and not just dismiss the experience in a formula like "oh they never went beyond state capitalism").