Friday, 13 December 2013
Whites And Reds
The human characters in the story are either "Whites" or "Reds." These terms are neither racial nor chess-related but political. In this context, "White" means "libertarian" and "Red" means "pro-Soviet." However, both "White" and "Soviet" have changed their meanings, historically.
"White" originally meant "Tsarist." If the White general, Kornilov, had succeeded in his attempted military coup in 1917, then he would not have liberalized Russia.
"Soviet" means "council." The Russian soviets of 1905 and 1917 were elected from mass meetings in large factories whose work forces were resisting Tsarism. Thus, these councils democratically represented a socially progressive class, industrial workers with modern ideas, but not the Russian population which was overwhelmingly peasant. Against both workers and peasants were Tsarist aristocrats and a small, weak bourgeoisie dependent on foreign capital and afraid to press for parliamentary reforms in case these incited more radical demands from below.
Bypassing ineffective bourgeois leadership, the soviets overthrew first the Tsar, then the duma (parliament). Some workers' leaders wanted to democratize, modernize and emancipate Russia with material support from similar workers' organizations elsewhere in Europe but, instead, several years of isolation, blockades, military interventions and civil wars physically destroyed industry and either killed workers or drew them into the growing, besieged bureaucracy.
What began as a workers' democracy became, first, an unwilling dictatorship industrializing in order to restore workers' democracy, then a willing dictatorship industrializing in order to increase exploitation for the purpose of military competition, therefore needing to crush any workers' resistance despite still calling itself "Soviet"...
Thus, it is a coherent (minority) position to say: "I would have supported workers' councils in 1917 but would have regarded them as defeated, strangled, crushed, transformed into their opposite, by about 1927."
I think it is necessary to discuss how terms have changed their meanings because the changes are historically significant. "Social democracy" changed from "revolutionary socialism" to "parliamentary socialism" and "communism" changed from "common ownership" to "bureaucratic dictatorship." The next post or two will have more to do with the content of the story!