In Defense of Trotsky and War Communism

I recently read this pair of wonderful articles by Leon Trotsky about the Kronstadt rebellion.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/01/kronstadt.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/07/kronstadt2.htm

I showed the second to a Christian Libertarian colleague of mine. The following discussion ensued:

ME:

I need to get out why I would defend War Communism, understanding the social conditions and relations of the time (which, I believe is key to understanding why things happened they way they did)

Only months after the October revolution in which the Provisional Government was dismantled by the Soviets (the czar had abdicated in February), a counter-revolutionary white army (armed with and supported by troops from 14 different countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany – ironic, as they were still at war with each other at the time) was raised and began a campaign in 4 different areas of the country: the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus mountains and the main cities of Petrograd (the capital at the time) and Moscow. The Bolsheviks were on the defensive against this counter revolution. Much of the White army was composed of former Czarist leaders, and former landowners (who’s land was confiscated and redistributed for the benefit of the peasants who had suffered unrelenting brutality under the czar and the provisional government and had never been allowed to till their own land) and relatively well-of peasants known as Kulaks. During the war, these landowners and Kulaks did two things. First, they supported the White army with Grain and foodstuffs, as well as guns and men (for free mostly – with a thinly veiled promise to pay once the whites were victorious) and second, they kept much of their grain and food stuffs out of the market and normal distribution methods as a way to starve the cities (which were mostly made up of pro-bolshevik workers and soldiers) as a way to wage war against the people and turn them against the Bolsheviks. In response, the Bolsheviks decreed that as a part of War Communism (whose features closely resemble almost all other war effort economies in any other nation at war) any producer of food that had hidden it or distributed it to enemy forces would be subject to future requisitioning simply for the purposes of keeping the workers and soldiers alive, literally. Trotsky and Lenin realized that this would cause unease and stress amongst even the most loyal peasants, because it seemed to be in direct contradiction to their class interests. They admitted it was. But the power of the kulaks and landowners, as well as the fight against the White Army for the survival of the revolutionary goals of 1917, demanded this heavy handed action. War Communism was a necessary evil that was the result of peasant and Kulak actions, and was never intended to last forever or be the model of a new economy.

It was successful.

In 1921, understanding that the threat of white counter-revolution had all but subsided, the Bolsheviks sought to remedy the situation, and even to appease the kulaks and landowners for whom they knew they depended on to rebound the economy. The result was the NEP, the New Economic Policy, which Lenin himself defended against those who said it was a step back from “Communism”. Lenin, and Trotsky even earlier, understood that it was not in the interest of the peasants to produce grain for which they would never benefit, and actually thought it was a show of their class strength and consciousness to not grow grain for which they knew no benefit would be conferred. But the hording of grain while other starved is indefensible. So they instituted a policy of market introduction, allowing peasants to grow and sell their grain (albiet mostly to the government for distribution but at prices comparable to the world market and higher than prewar levels) and for individuals to produce their own goods, so long as they didn’t employ wage labor to do so. This program continued, and helped Russia to rebound after the war, until Lenin’s death in 1924 and the power struggle that followed. However, one of the results was the resurgence of the Kulaks who used the opening of market forces to create a black market for grain to make ever more money, while bread prices began to rise for industrial workers (who built the tractors and machinery to produce the grain) which caused the kulaks to get richer and the workers to get poorer.

After the expulsion of Trotsky and the victory of Stalinism over “Trotskyism” the NEP was abandoned. In it’s place was the policy of  Industrialization and Collectivization through a reintroduced War Communism style model under Stalin’s bureaucracy. The result? Oppression of workers attempting to run their own factories (a mainstay of “Socialism” and Communism”) and peasants trying to keep their own land. This lead to the two main features of 1930’s USSR: The Famine in Ukraine (which was a combination of an unusually bad growing season combined with Kulak resistance to collectivization and mismanagement of Soviet bureaucrats) and the Purges of the Communist Party to remake the leadership and the Party under Stalin.

I argue this because it isn’t the disruption of the market that was the problem, the market was already destroyed by Russia’s engagement in the First World War. The need for grain requisition came a direct result of Peasant and Kulak resistance to the Revolution itself and to Bolshevik tactics in particular. Their actions (hiding grain, and supporting – for free – the white army) was the reason for their grain being “stolen” not simply the zealous actions of Soviet Revolutionaries.

My two cents.

CHRISTIAN LIBERTARIAN:

“Thou Shalt Not Murder.”   Exodus 20:13; Deut. 5:17

All war, particularly with drafts and conscripts, is state-organized murder.

“Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.”  Deut. 32:35; 1 Sam. 26;10; Psalm 94:1; Prov. 20:22; Romans 3:8.

“And why not say let us do evil that good may come?”  Romans 3:8  (unjust means can never achieve good ends)

Trotsky’s letter and fate illustrate these principles.  The letter drips with dishonesty and prevarication.  I have no doubt that he orchestrated Kronstadt as he finally admitted at the end.  He brags about warning Zinoviev about the “bad things” to come and (his revenge for being rejected by his own communist brothers; fat and dandified sailors???  really??? what a bunch of bs, he was a petulant little political punk who employed the massive and dangerous tools of the state to get revenge against the sad saps who publicly embarrassed him).  History has shown that the entire Marxist/Leninist  “you have to break eggs to get and omelet” ends justifies the means philosophy is a loser and Roman 3:8 is God’s unassailable law.  God rules, not violent political punks.  Those who willfully break His word or arrogantly think they can make rules that violate His law and do not repent (turn away from their rotten and arrogant practices) will end up with an ice pick in their head.

Trotsky was on his high horse in that letter, but I am sure on that bloody and violent day in Mexico City he realized Who was really in charge.   Trotsky no doubt felt the exact same  Zinoviev felt as he was being executed probably on Trotsky’s orders.  “he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.”   Rev. 13:10.

Those are the sad lessons of Levi Brohnstein from Brooklyn’s life.   Irony is that Levites are priests and keepers of the law.  Lev/Leon was an angry little guy who thought he could change the world through violence and making up his own rules rather than following God’s Law.   He sure made and impact (mostly negative) but he changed nothing.

ME:

I, too can find some biblical Verses:

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.  (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.  (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

    Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.  (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.  As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.  Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies.  So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever.  Amen.  That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires.  Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.  And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other.  Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.  When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done.  Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful.  They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents.  They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving.  They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway.  And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.  (Romans 1:24-32 NLT)

There was also a man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.  He brought part of the money to the apostles, but he claimed it was the full amount.  His wife had agreed to this deception.  Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart?  You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.  And after selling it, the money was yours to give away.  How could you do a thing like this?  You weren’t lying to us but to God.”  As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.  Everyone who heard about it was terrified.  Then some young men wrapped him in a sheet and took him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”  “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”  And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of doing a thing like this – conspiring together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Just outside that door are the young men who buried your husband, and they will carry you out, too.”  Instantly, she fell to the floor and died.  When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened.   (Acts 5:1-11 NLT)

These are given to show two things: 1) the bible is filled with all kinds of stuff, some of it sounds great still in the 21st century, others sound absolutely terrible and 2) it is actually a terrible means of deriving moral goods because, as the absolute version of the totalitarian state, it derives all value from Big Brother, rather than from the actual reality on the ground.

The main misunderstanding or difference in philosophy between us, which is very apparent here, is really the nature of reality and the movement of history. For you, the basis of the nature (and therefore value) of reality is that there is an immovable, pervasive and personal force which creates, destroys, gives edicts and decrees and decides based on it’s will, how the universe works, and what value can therefore be derived. For you, all value relates to God, or what you believe in your study of (I can’t say religion, because I don’t know if it’s religion in general) Christianity to be the nature and actions of God. But if that be true, are you not obligated to the verses above, as the immutable word of God and therefore, the absolute truth? I see this is problematic.

This view demands that the nature of humans beings is both unchanging (and unchangeable even with our best efforts) and bad. We are, through the sin of the first human woman, created sick, but commanded to be good. Humanity is forever doomed to be evil, cowardly and fearful. We are ignorant and have no value outside our obedience to God. This kind of thinking troubles me, because is smacks of servility, slavishness, and is direct contradiction to the advances we have made in science and technology since the good book was written in Bronze Age Palestine (or perhaps worse, in Imperial Rome). It relegates the universe and humanity to unchanging and essentially worthless play things for which the only value that can be had, is through the all powerful, all knowing master Judge who uses laws that he must know we can never achieve, and so (in bronze age form) sense a sacrifice to cleans us not of our nature as is, but of our deeds as imperfect (yet made in the image of God) beings.

For me, the nature of reality is the interaction of forces, usually two opposite forces which, in interacting, create a new force or substance, for which the process starts again. The value is derived from the advancement of nature, from the movement from simple to complex, from seemingly immovable conflict, to symmetry and harmony. This is directly related to humanity. We are not made in the image of God, we are mammals on a spec of dust in the vast cosmic ocean. But we are the most advanced, the most interesting and most successful (in terms of advancement beyond our genetics) species the planet (and the universe for all we know) has ever seen. To say nothing of the process of our evolutionary beginnings, our social relationships have always gone through the same dialectal process. We create societal structures, which have built within them, internal contradictions, or bits of irrationality that, in the course of dealing, are recognized and overcome.

It is easy to apply the ethic of a different time and a different place to the events of the past. It is even easier to do so when you reject the reasons for it, the intentions behind it, and the actual events and conditions on the ground at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight is often blind. Trotsky says very clearly in the letter that he had little more than an arms length relationship to the whole Kronstadt event. However, he rightfully takes responsibility for what he justly should as a member of the government, but is not, as so many (yourself included) often claim – without evidence – that Trotsky was himself, personally involved…which he simple as a matter of historical fact, was not.

It is again important to understand the context of his letter. Having been expelled from the Soviet Union and under fear of assassination, Trotsky was one of a small chorus trying to fight against the onslaught of disinformation coming from both the USSR and the USA about his actions, himself personally, and the intentions of a revolution he had fought his entire life to see through. As far as his use of the power of the state is concerned, the Russian state in October of 1917 and for years after, was in shambles, there was no absolute monopoly power of the state in 1917-1921. They were fighting a civil war to simply solidify the positions of power needed to facilitate the transition to a society they rightly saw as counteracting the excesses and irrationality of the Capitalist system. Again, it is important to realize how easy it is to judge the actions of others years from and totally divorced from the reality on the ground.

It’s easy to make wide sweeping judgments of those whose actions we don’t understand, or for whose causes we don’t understand or agree. It is even easier when you can claim to have the almighty, unmoving and eternally judgmental backing of God himself. My fear is that this allows one to sit on the highest of high horses, immune from any kind of criticism or argument against it, and claim that they, and they alone can be the ultimate judge of history.

I do not condone all of the actions of the Soviet Union, specifically after the rise of Stalin, neither does Trotsky, or Lenin for that matter. For them, and for me, history is not something to look back on and judge, it is something to understand and to learn from. For this, mistakes can almost be better than victories, because they allow us to evaluate more easily what to do next. This was lost after Trotsky was murdered, when Stalin became like God, unchanging, irrefutable and infallible. And there is where much of the trouble really began. Trotsky was not murdered because he was a murderer (himself admitting that although involved in many battles against the white army as a commander, can’t recall specifically seeing someone hit by his own bullet) but because he was self-critical and critical of the events in the Soviet Union. He was killed by an agent of a paranoid, power hungry monster, who was able to solidify and use the very “massive and dangerous tools of the state” to seek revenge against all those opposed, chiefly Trotsky himself, as well as the remaining members of the revolutionaries of 1917 – all of which were killed by Stalin as a means to stamp out those who carried on the banner of self-criticism, honest and sober evaluations of history, and the hope of creating a world free from the excesses and deficiencies of the modern, capitalist world.

It is Stalin who, albeit with historical understandings, deserves much of your criticism, but from a human, not godly, standpoint.

CHRISTIAN LIBERTARIAN:

You are running away from the argument.  That is the fallacy of changing the subject.  I can take out citations and the principles that Trotsky violated still stand.

You are attacking the Bible, not the argument.  Either way you lose, but you will have a much better chance attacking my argument than Gods Word.

As to citations below, so what?  So God doesnt find the concept of people owning other people necessarily morally abhorrent.  Whoopdy doo.  can it be?  no doubt yes.  Read all of Exodus.  if slaves and masters first serve God, they will both be happy and neither will abuse the other because both will recognize and respect the Eternal Spirit in the other.  Very possible for master slave relationship to please God.  If slaves serve God and masters dont, guess what?  God sets slaves free.   FYI, about 60 percent of Americans don’t care about pernicious, destructive non-consensual slavery.  IRS is living proof–ownership of people’s labor and use of proceeds to murder innocent pakistanis.  But it is even worse because IRS never obtains anyone’s consent.  In the old days a dad may be forced to sell himself or kid into slavery so at least there was something close to consent.   Not true in USA.

Being a slave to sex in any way, hetero or homo, is abhorrent.   I’ve worked with lots of gay dudes in bars and restaurants.  I don’t judge them.  But very, very few over the age of 50 are anything close to happy (same true of lots of heteros for same principle reasons).  Homosexuality is an instant gratification lifestyle that wanes as time and physical beauty fade.

ME:

There is no such fallacy of “changing the argument” and even if there were one, I am not guilty of having committed it. Instead, you commit what is the most often committed fallacy: the appeal to authority. http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html

I am attacking the argument you made, which started with appeals to the bible via biblical verses which serve as the basis for your argument. Therefore, your argument went as follows: (Proposition A)The bible is the authority for which one can derive absolute moral truths; (Proposition B) the bible has this (the verses you cite) to say; (Conclusion C) therefore, these (the verses) are absolute moral truths. This is the ultimate fallacy of the appeal to authority.  First because it demands that one accept the absolute moral truths embedded in the bible, which not everyone does. Second, I can (and did) cite other verses that – I thought – would be indefensible as moral truths. In order to use the bible or any other divine text, you first have all the work ahead of you in justifying proposition A, because it is not a universally accepted proposition. So to flip your insistence around, you’d be better to stick with your argument, rather than using God’s Word, because I’m not buying.

I have to say I find it amazing that a person as smart, as well articulated and as used to making arguments as you are is forced, through adherence to religious principles, to defend abhorrent systems such as slavery. Do you really believe that slavery can ever be justified? That the taking of one human as another’s property is morally correct, and not only correct, but mandated? Do you really think that without the biblical language of this (fairly nonsensical) idea – that “if slaves and masters first serve God they will both be happy and neither will abuse the other because both will recognize and respect the Eternal Spirit in the other” – would even be necessary? Furthermore, if in this system where “both [will] be happy and neither will abuse the other” I must ask; what would the basis for the master slave relationship be? Why would it be necessary at all? The master-slave dynamic is one of absolute dominance of one person or class over the other. This system is inherently unhappy and abusive. It contradicts our evolutionary moral compass, it violates a basic instinctual principle; that of human solidarity.

I am convinced that it is religion, and only religion (for which I believe Stalinism and Hitlerism (not necessarily fascism) are forms of religion – composed of infallible, morally good and all-powerful leaders) can make smart and rational people do, act and say irrational and ridiculous things. The brute fact is that slavery is indefensible, everywhere and always. And this line of reasoning leads people down the dark path of Homophobia at best, and Suicide Bombings at worst. Religion is the only thing that makes people do insane things.

However, I had a long discussion of how I understand, and the most beneficial way to understand, what happened in the Soviet Union – particularly the influence of Trotsky himself. I have to stand in my own defense and say that I believe I tackled both the religious and the socio-historical basis for your (with all due respect) ridiculous argument.

****If there are updates, I’ll post them here.

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