“According to a communique of the Cheka dating from 1 May (Note 1)1921, 6,528 rebels were arrested, 2,168 executed, 1,955 sentenced to forced labour (1,486 for five years), and 1,272 freed. The families of the rebels were deported to Siberia, and 8,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians managed to escape to Finland.”
The "extraordinary commission to combat counter-revolution, speculation and sabotage", was much better known and infamous by its acronym Cheka.
As understandable as its creation may have been, it was nevertheless a mistake and a grave error.
The "Extraordinary Commission" was also established very early after the October Revolution(October 25 according to the Julian calendar and November 7 according to the Gregorian calendar),namely as early as December 20, 1917.
Doesn't this also show how much even the working class,the progressive and revolutionary class of today and its vanguard are often very much, to much determined by history,by what preceded it and by what it considers (more or less consciously) as its predecessors ?
See also in this regard :
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
Marx,“The Eighteen Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, 1852 https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm (Note 2)
Lenin knew his "classics" and certainly the history of the Paris Commune was not foreign to him.This must also have been the case for many Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries,eg.Trotsky.
(See possibly the thread "Did Marx change his vision on the Commune ?")
In the bourgeois French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, a "Comité de Salut Public" (“Committee of Public Salvation ”) was set up in 1793, which also functioned as a court of justice, the verdict of which could only be : acquittal or death (i.e. beheaded by the guillotine).
And so it was that during the Paris Commune of 1871, a body called the "Comité de Salut Public" was set up on May 1, 1871.(Note 3) This creation was certainly not unanimously approved by all the Communards (43 for and 23 against in the Commune). In particular, many militants of the International Workingmen's Association, the First International (Note 4), opposed this deviation from the rules of the "Commune State" (or of the later Soviets), that is, the election of delegates and the permanent accountability of these delegates by those who elected them and every body, every "committee" and every "commission" under the effective control of "the base".
“For them [the minority]the Committee of Public Safety will be only the dictatorship of a handful of men without any control from the Council of the Commune, the only body elected by the Parisians. Moreover, the name of this Public Safety Committee is too reminiscent of the one of 1793-1794, which had sent Jacques Roux and his supporters (considered the most authentic representatives of the Parisian Sans-culottes) to the guillotine.”
Translated from Wikipedia (French)
The Wikipedia page on Jacqueq Roux says : “On 14 January 1794 Roux was informed that his case was going to be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Upon hearing this news, Roux pulled out a knife and stabbed himself several times, but failed to land a fatal blow. Less than a month later, on 10 February 1794, while recovering in prison, Roux stabbed himself again, this time succeeding in killing himself. He was 41.”
The Cheka is, of course, not fully comparable with the "Comité de Salut Public" of 1793-1794, nor with the "Comité de Salut Public" of 1871 (only already territorial : the first one could only act in France and possibly in the conquered territories, the second only in one city), but despite that there are similarities.
The name "extraordinary commission"(chrezvytsjajnaja komissija" ) actually also sounds so "innocent" compared to the horror it would very quickly become.
And this was even the case long before Stalin came to the head of the party.
To mention this fact is not the same as saying that "there is an uninterrupted chain linking Marx and Lenin to Stalin and the Gulag" (4th paragraph in the article).
In particular, as early as the events in Kronstadt in 1921, the Cheka showed its pernicious role very clearly.
It would require further study,but probably at its inception the "Cheka" seemed to be one of the many "extraordinary commissions" that were created.
Probably there were also "extraordinary commissions" for e.g. literacy,for hospitals,for propaganda in the countryside, for propaganda to the national minorities,etc.,etc.
The "Cheka" was headed by the experienced revolutionary Feliks Dzerzhinsky, someone who, like so many other revolutionaries, had suffered greatly under the tsarist regime and had spent many years in prisons because of his struggle in the workers' movement.
This past would also have played an important role in his election or appointment as head of the Cheka.This gives at least the impression that there was an element of revenge, of vengeance, in the sense of "Now we can pay back our enemies with equal currency, now we will make them feel it".
Now feelings of revenge, of vengeance are probably an understandable human reaction (see e.g. the reaction of "the people" against murderers, rapists, etc. (certainly against murderers and rapists of children). Think also of the repression by "the people" of real or alleged "collaborators" during the "liberation" in 1944-1945 (whereby one can also ask the question to what extent this was really a "spontaneous" discharge of "popular anger" and not something to which people had been whipped up years before by the clandestine press and by the official radio broadcasts of the Allies).
It is an established fact that revenge, vengeance, is constantly present in the attitude of the bourgeoisie, already there in the struggle against its competitors, but certainly there in the face of the struggle of the working class.
Once it has recovered from its surprise that these "rascals" dare to rebel, the bourgeoisie, once it has the situation somewhat under control, releases the brakes and opens wide the floodgates of revenge.
The repression of the Paris Commune of 1871 is one of many examples, the repression of the workers and revolutionaries of the international revolutionary wave of 1917-1923 is another example, a repression that continued into the 1930s and 1940s (with Nazism and in particular Stalinism with, among others, the "trials" in Moscow and elsewhere (in which the convicted were often only a shadow of themselves, of the courageous and steadfast revolutionaries and defenders of the proletarian cause that they once were, but the point was to erase any idea of, any memory of a truly revolutionary proletariat and a truly proletarian revolution)).
Revenge, vengeance, however, has no place in the working class struggle.
See in this context also “The ABC of Communism” , written already in 1920 by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky.
Chapter 9: Proletarian Justice
§ 74. Proletarian penal methods
“In the sanguinary struggle with capitalism, the working class cannot refrain from inflicting the last extremity of punishment upon its declared enemies. While the civil war continues, the abolition of the death penalty is impossible. But a dispassionate comparison of proletarian justice with the justice of the bourgeois counter-revolution shows the marvellous leniency of the workers' courts in comparison with the executioners of bourgeois justice. The workers pass death sentences in extreme cases only. This was especially characteristic of the legal proceedings during the first months of the proletarian dictatorship. It suffices to recall that in Petrograd the notorious Purishkevich (Note 5 )was condemned to only two weeks' imprisonment by the revolutionary tribunal. We find that the progressive classes, the inheritors of the future, have dealt very gently with their enemies, whereas the classes that are dying have displayed almost incredible ferocity.
When we come to consider the punishments inflicted by proletarian courts of justice for criminal offences which have no counter- revolutionary bearing, we find them to be radically different from those inflicted for similar offences by bourgeois courts. This is what we should expect. The great majority of crimes committed in bourgeois society are either direct infringements of property rights or are indirectly connected with property. It is natural that the bourgeois State should take vengeance upon criminals, and that the punishments inflicted by bourgeois society should be various expressions of the vengeful sentiments of the infuriated owner. Just as absurd have been and are the punishments inflicted for casual offences, or for offences which arise out of the fundamentally imperfect character of personal relationships in bourgeois society (offences connected with the family relationships of society; those resulting from romanticist inclinations; those due to alcoholism or to mental degeneration; those due to ignorance, or to a suppression of social instinct, etc.). The proletarian law-court has to deal with offences for which the ground has been prepared by bourgeois society, by the society whose vestiges are still operative. A large number of professional criminals, trained to become such in the old order, survive to give work for the proletarian courts. But these courts are entirely free from the spirit of revenge. They cannot take vengeance upon people simply because these happen to have lived in bourgeois society. This is why our courts manifest a revolutionary change in the character of their decisions.” (put in bold by me)
I do have my doubts whether the working class in its struggle, even "if the civil war continues" (beginning of the quotation above) has to apply the death penalty, to what extent the application of it, however "radical" and "revolutionary" it may seem, is not also always a copy of (early) bourgeois revolutions (the Dutch in the 16th century, the English (British) in the 17th century and especially the French at the end of the 18th century) and thus in no way a reflection of a completely different society which communism has to be.
Capitalism, regards also people as merchandise, as utensils and even as ballast and waste.
In contrast,in the struggle for communism, do we need evryone,can everyone make his or her contribution, possibly,for some people, also for the shorter or longer term through some form of work as prisoner.
To clarify, by capital punishment I understand here the killing (taking the life) of people who at that moment are no danger to yourself or here for the struggle of the working class, because they are imprisoned and unarmed.
I realise that whether or not capital punishment is used in relation to the working class struggle can be a subject in itself.
“ The families of the rebels were deported to Siberia”
This is a foreshadowing of the later accusation and persecution under Stalinism of entire families (including underage children).
See also for example the persecution of Trotsky's family by Stalinism (largely successful).
(Both his 2 sons (Lev (1906 - 1938) and Sergei (1907/1908 - 1937)), his first wife (1872 - 1938) and his sister (who also had the "bad luck" of being the first wife of Kamenev) (1883 - 1941) almost certainly all fell victim to the Stalinist purges).
It is also reminiscent of the "sippenhaft" of the Nazis and of the "ordinary" criminal policy of many sections of the bourgeoisie of threatening measures against family members (partners, children, parents).
“8,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians managed to escape to Finland.”
The disastrous policy of the "right of self-determination of peoples" (propagated by Lenin and the majority of the Bolsheviks) which helped to isolate Soviet Russia from Germany and Austria and its proletarians by a patchwork, a "cordon sanitaire" of "independent" states (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia,Belarus,Ukraine,etc.) still had an advantage for some survivors of the Kronstadt massacre.
They could now seek refuge in “independent” Finland.
(For December 1918-January 1918 Finland was as a semi-autonomous grand principality a part of the Great-Russian Empire.) The Kronstadters ended up in the anti-Russian, "white" Finland that was still busy digesting a bloody civil war it had fought and won against the "Reds", with also many deaths in the concentration camps after the civil war.
And whether the Kronstadters, as defenders of a real power of the workers' councils, were really welcome or could really feel welcome in that Finland, is questionable.
For now i want to close with some quotes from the “Italian Left”.
”The Italian Comm. Left 1927-’45” ,ICC, 1992
p.136 “...there is no possibility of reconcilling these two organs and and that there is an irreconcilable opposition between the nature ,function and objectives of state and party” (Bilan,no 26,Jan.1936, “Parti - Internationale - Etat (chap. VII - 5e et dernière partie) : l’Etat soviétique"
("...The Soviet state")
p.137 “YOU CANNOT IMPOSE SOCIALISM ON THE PROLETARIAT BY FORCE AND VIOLENCE” Octobre no 2,March 1938 “La question de l’ Etat” ( ("The issue of the state" ) (set in capitals by Octobre)
And very clear, very concrete :
p.138 “It would have better to have lost Kronstadt than to have kept it from the geographical point of view when substantially this victory could have one result : altering the very basis and substance of the action carried out by the proletariat ...it would have a thousand times better to have taken on the state with the certitude of being beaten than to have stayed in power by inflicting a defeat on proletarian principes. (Octobre ,no 2),March 1938
“La question de l’ Etat”
It is my intention to continue this.
There is still a lot to say,to discuss about these topics.
Most probably not by accident dated on 1 May.
The crushing of the "counter-revolutionary uprising" could then be presented as a "May 1 gift" to the Bolshevik Party and the "Soviet government".
And it continues :”And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.”
I plan to write about this subject in more detail later, more specifically about the influence of the bourgeois French revolution on the labour movement, at least on their image and their symbols.
For now one example: the proclamations of the Commune appeared under the heading "Republique Francaise Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", just like during the bourgeois French revolution at the end of the 18th century, just like during the Third French Republic (1870-1940) and just like the proclamations of the Thiers government in Versailles !
Minority against the installation “Comité de Salut Public”(CdSP)
Of the 23, a majority (16) belonged to the IWMA (1st Int.)including Leo Frankel , the man of whom Marx said "The Commune made a German working man [Leo Frankel] its Minister of Labor."
"The Civil War in France", "The Third Address",May, 1871 [The Paris Commune].
(...) was born in 1844, in Újlak [hu] (now part of Budapest, Hungary). Trained as a goldsmith, he first went to work in Germany in 1861, where he became involved with Ferdinand Lassalle's Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein sometime between 1865-66. In 1867, he was appointed as the Paris correspondent for the Sozialdemokraten, a Lassallist journal published in Switzerland. In Paris he participated in the work of the First International, organizing German, Hungarian and other foreign workers within the city. Arrested in early 1870 for his political activity and being a member of the International, he was liberated by the revolution on 4 September 1870.” (Wikipedia)
On 1 May, he voted for the establishment of the CdSP, but soon changed his mind.
As already said were not all opponents of the creation of the CdSP "Internationals",but there were also "Internationals" members of the CdSP :
– Antoine Armand Jules Arnaud , also Arnault (1831-1885)
Before the Commune already a member of the International and president of a section.Member of the General Council of the IWMA and signatory of the 3rd French edition of “The Civil War in France”, delegate to the Hague congress in 1872 ,voted for the exclusion of Bakunin and for proxies for the General Council, left shortly afterwards the International with his blanquist friends.
See “Le Maitron” (French)
– Léo Melliet (1843-1909)
“Léo Melliet studied law and belonged to the Schools section of the International (see Dict., vol. IV, p. 63). He was also one of the founders of the Democratic Socialist Club of the 13th district (see Dict., vol. IV, p. 49), whose meetings he usually chaired and which joined the International en bloc on 25 November 1870.”(Translation from “Le Maitron” (French))
– ”Louis Charles Delescluze (...) 1809 – (...) 1871) was a French revolutionary leader, journalist, and military commander of the Paris Commune. (...)”Publisher “of the Réveil, a radical newspaper supporting the new socialist International Workingmen’s Association.”
Maybe it is different for many, but for me Puriskevich, despite his "brilliant record" in the service of the counter-revolution, was totally unknown.
Hence this copying of almost the full Wikipedia page on him.
“Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich (...) 24 August [O.S. 12 August] 1870, Kishinev – 1 February 1920, Novorossiysk, Russia)(...) a right-wing politician in Imperial Russia, noted for his monarchist, ultra-nationalist, antisemitic and anticommunist views.(...) At the end of 1916, he participated in the killing of Grigori Rasputin.(...)During the Russian Revolution of 1905, he helped organise the Black Hundreds (...) He was a hardline supporter of sacerdotal autocracy, and of Russification to create a unity.Purishkevich's hostility to the Jews was caused by his perception of them to be the "vanguard of the revolutionary movement". He wanted them to be deported to Kolyma. He believed that the "Kadets, socialists, the intelligentsia, the press and councils of university professors" were all under the control of Jews. (...)During the February Revolution in 1917, many right-wingers were arrested but Purishkevich was tolerated by the government and so was "virtually the only former national Black Hundred leader to maintain an active political life in Russia after the Tsar's downfall". However, the revolution meant that Purishkevich initially had to moderate his politics. He called for the abolition of the Soviets, who were, in turn, calling for the abolition of the Duma.
In August 1917, he wanted a military dictatorship; he was arrested over the Kornilov Affair but was released. Following the failure of the putsch, he collaborated with Fyodor Viktorovich Vinberg in forming an underground monarchist organisation. During the October Revolution, he organized the "Committee for the Motherland's Salvation". He was joined by a number of officers, military cadets, and others.
At the time, Purishkevich was living in the Hotel Russia at Moika 60. He had a false passport under the surname "Yevreinov". On 18 November 1917, Purishkevich was arrested by the Red Guards for his participation in a counterrevolutionary conspiracy after the discovery of a letter sent by him to General Aleksei Maksimovich Kaledin in which he urged the Cossack leader to come and restore order in Petrograd. He became the first person to be tried in the Smolny Institute by the first Revolutionary Tribunal. He was condemned to eleven months of 'public work' and four years of imprisonment with obligatory community service, and won the admiration of his fellow prisoners in the Fortress of St Peter and St Paul by his courageous bearing. He was given an amnesty on May 1 after the mediation of Felix Dzerzhinsky and Nikolay Krestinsky, as he refrained from any political activity. (...)After his release, he moved to White Army controlled Southern Russia. There, during the Russian Civil War he published the monarchist journal Blagovest and returned openly to his traditional political stance of support for the monarchy, a unified Russia and opposition to the Jews. In some of the towns occupied by the Volunteer Army, he gave lectures in which he denounced the British policy towards Russia. In 1918, he formed a new political party, the People's State Party, and called for an "open fight against Jewry"; the party collapsed after his death.” (Wikipedia)(put in bold by me)