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HISTORY OF COMMUNISM IN RUSSIA UNTIL 1917: CZARIST AND MARXIST ORIGINS - PART I

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HISTORY OF COMMUNISM IN RUSSIA UNTIL 1917: CZARIST AND MARXIST ORIGINS - PART I

Mensaje por El Compañero el Vie Jun 27, 2008 11:12 am

CZARIST ORIGINS OF COMMUNISM



Not only the Communists but many of their critics (such as Solzhenitsyn) have swiftly dismissed the idea that czarism was an important influence upon Communist theory and practice. But the evidence is compelling.


"By God's grace we have been lords in our land since the beginning of time, since the days of our earliest ancestors. God has elevated us to the same position which they held, and we beg him to grant it to us and our children. We have never desired and do not now desire confirmation of this from any other source - Ivan III"

Communism first took hold in Russia, a nation with a centuries-old reputation for despotism, servility, and brutality. The Marquis de Custine, whose Letters from Russia (1839) led many to dub him "the de Tocqueville of Russia" observed that "Government in Russia is military discipline in the place of civil order, a state of siege which has become the normal state of society." This authoritarian tradition strongly influenced the Russian Marxists, and through them much of the world socialist movement. Some of the important features of czarism that Communism drew upon and intensified included:

Absolute Power

The histories of most of the nations of Europe are marked by multi-polar and limited centers of power. King, church, and nobles usually had to share power to a significant extent. As legal historian Harold Berman writes:

The pluralism of Western law, which has both reflected and reinforced the pluralism of Western political and economic life, has been, or once was, a source of development, or growth - legal growth as well as political and economic growth. It also has been, or once was, a source of freedom. A serf might run to the town court for protection against his master. A vassal might run to the king's court for protection against his lord. A cleric might run to the ecclesiastical court for protection against the king.

Law and Revolution

"The Russian form of government is an absolute monarchy, tempered by assassination."
The Marquis de Custine, Letters from Russia

Russia, in contrast, was for centuries marked by the extraordinary concentration of power in the hand of a single man, the czar. Ivan III began the use of the term, a Russified version of "caesar." From the Byzantine Empire, the Russians acquired not only the Eastern Orthodox faith, but also a careful theoretical defense of absolute and undivided power.


Peter the Great
When one of the czars went too far, dissidents normally had to submit or turn to violent rebellion. Before 1917, the last truly significant civil unrest ended in 1613, when the Romanov dynasty assumed the throne. The Romanovs carefully cemented their nation's tradition of total and autocratic power. Within a generation, the Romanovs cast off the oversight of the nobility; Czar Peter the Great, assuming power in 1696, tightened the monarchy's grip even further:

At the head of the state was the tsar or emperor, possessing absolute, unlimited powers. An ancient assembly, or Duma, of nobles, which had formerly exercised vague legislative rights, was practically abolished, its place taken by an advisory Council of State whose members, usually noblemen, were selected by the tsar. All traces of local self-government were similarly swept away, and the country was henceforth administered by the tsar's personal agents.

Carlton Hayes, A Political and Social History of Modern Europe

While the rest of Europe, under the influence of the Enlightenment, slowly moved to limit monarchical power and protect human rights, Russia's czars showed their determination to resist unwanted foreign influences. Catherine the Great, eager to improve her international reputation, postured as an "Enlightened monarch"; but as serfdom faded away in the rest of Europe, "...Catherine was extending the scope of serfdom. Her vast grants of crown estates to her officials and lovers clamped the fetters of bondage on a multitude of hitherto free crown peasants. Without opposition from Catherine, the nobility began to impose serfdom in newly annexed lands such as the Ukraine." (William Langer, Western Civilization)


Tsar Nicholas II
When the French Revolution and its aftermath placed absolute monarchy at risk all over Europe, the czars doggedly suppressed dissent. As de Custine put it, "In Russia, despite their limitless power, the rulers have an extreme fear of criticism, or even of plain speaking." Opponents of the status quo risked banishment to the harsh prison camps of Siberia. Only defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 sufficed to pressure Czar Nicholas II to recognize civil liberties and create an elected assembly to limit his power. It appeared that Russia might finally be on the road toward modern limited government, but by 1907 the czar had reneged on many of his concessions. The czarist system overthrown in 1917 was not as autocratic as that of Czar Peter or Czarina Catherine, but it had resisted change like no other monarchy in Europe.

---

MARXIST ORIGINS OF COMMUNISM



Even the most cursory student of Communism is familiar with the seminal role of Karl Marx in the development of Communist ideology. The practical results of Communist revolutions have been so dreadful that Marx scholars have been at pains to point out the numerous doctrinal points on which Communist revolutionaries came to deviate from the teachings of Marx. Yet on an important collection of fundamental issues, the profound influence of Marx on Communist theory and practice is easy to detect.

The Attack on "Bourgeois Freedom"

Marx was a German of Jewish origin who lived much of his life in exile in France and Great Britain. He found much to object to in the prevalent political philosophy of his host countries - a philosophy then known generally as liberalism, as elaborated by such thinkers as John Locke, Adam Smith, Voltaire, and Jean-Baptiste Say. Liberals saw themselves as advocates of liberty, and by liberty they meant the right of individuals to do as they pleased with their own lives and their own property. (Today, these "liberals" would probably be called "libertarians.")

While liberalism in the modern sense of the term tends to see the freedom to live as one pleases as quite distinct from the freedom to dispose of property as one pleases, the liberals of Marx's time usually saw these freedoms as closely connected. Personal freedom, as Locke for example saw it, was nothing else than self-ownership:

[E]very Man has a Property in his own Person. This No Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property...

Second Treatise of Government
Or as Robert Overton, one of Locke's predecessors explained it:

To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature, not be to invaded or usurped by any: for everyone as he is himself, so he hath a self-propriety... No man hath power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man's; I may be but an individual, enjoy myself and my self-propriety, and may write myself no more than myself, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man's right.

An Arrow Against All Tyrants

Marx did not deny the close connection between personal freedom and property rights. Rather, he accepted their connection, and denounced both as manifestations of what he called "bourgeois freedom." The doctrine of the rights of man was faulty, according to Marx, because:

None of the supposed rights of man, therefore, go beyond the egoistic man, man as he is, as a member of civil society; that is, an individual separated from the community, withdrawn into himself, wholly preoccupied with his private interest and acting in accordance with his private caprice... Thus man was not liberated from religion; he received religious liberty. He was not liberated from property; he received the liberty to own property. He was not liberated from the egoism of business; he received the liberty to engage in business.

On the Jewish Question

To succeed in chaining the multitude, you must seem to wear the same fetters. Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

For Marx, freedom of religion or the freedom to own property are hollow freedoms, or at least grossly inadequate stepping stones to something better: "political emancipation itself is not human emancipation." "ourgeois 'freedom of conscience' is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part [socialism] endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion." (Critique of the Gotha Program). Rather than advocating freedom for all people, liberals really value only the freedom of the ruling class of capitalist society, viz., the bourgeoisie:

But don't wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class.

[b]Manifesto of the Communist Party


Marx accuses the liberal tradition of slighting the social nature of man. "Liberty is, therefore, the right to do everything which does not harm others... It is a question of the liberty of man regarded as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself." Marx elaborates: "The right of property, is, therefore, the right to enjoy one's fortunes and dispose of it as he will; without regard for other men and independently of society... It leads every man to see in other men, not the realization, but rather the limitation of his own liberty." (On the Jewish Question)

Marx's solution, the route to human emancipation, was Communism, which would give people the freedom that bourgeois society denies them. Communism is, he explains, "the positive transcendence of private property, or human self-estrangement, and therefore the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man... the complete return of man to himself as a social being..." (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Innumerable social thinkers disagree with much of Marx's thought, but praise his reflections upon human freedom, the depth of his insight in contrast to the shallowness of liberalism. Yet it is difficult to understand how Marx's concept of freedom is anything more than a defense of tyranny and oppression. No dissident or non-conformist can see society as the "realization of his own liberty." And what can the attack on "the right to do everything which does not harm others" amount to in practice, except a justification for coercing people who are not harming others? The problem with "broad" notions of freedom is that they necessarily wind up condoning the violation of "narrow" notions of freedom. Under "bourgeois" notions of religious liberty, people may practice any religion they wish ("a private whim or caprice" as Marx calls it); how could this liberty be broadened, without sanctioning the persecution of some religious views?

Earlier anti-liberals directly attacked liberty as an evil. Marx adopted a different stance - to attack liberty under the guise of expanding it. In so doing, he re-packaged despotism to please modern sensibilities - a feat of intellectual marketing which would have profound consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the next century.

El Compañero
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