Were the Mensheviks a real alternative?

November 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm (democracy, Eric Lee, history, imperialism, Marxism, national liberation, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, trotskyism, USSR, war)

Eric Lee is a journalist and historian who has spent over thirty years researching independent Georgia, and has himself been active in trade union and political struggles in both the US and UK. His previous works include Saigon to Jerusalem: Conversations with Israel’s Vietnam Veterans (1993) and Operation Basalt: The British Raid on Sark and Hitler’s Commando Order (2016).

Paul Vernadsky reviews The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-21 by Eric Lee; followed by a response from Eric (the review first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, which will also carry Eric’s reply)


Eric Lee’s mischievous new book, argues that the Georgian Menshevik republic was an alternative to the Bolshevik-led workers’ government, which came to power in October 1917.

This is absolute fantasy, which confuses discussion of working-class politics at the time and the importance of the Russian revolution for today’s class struggles.

Russia annexed Georgia in 1798 and the Transcaucasia region remained a largely underdeveloped part of the tsarist empire until the discovery of oil in the late nineteenth century. In 1892, Noe Zhordania founded the first Georgian Marxist circle, the “third group”. It played a key supporting role in the Gurian peasant uprising between 1902 and 1906. Lee’s book explains the origins of the revolt over grazing rights, as well as its limits (its courts dwelt heavily on punishing adultery). Zhordania’s social democrats won a wide base of support during the struggle.

In 1903, Zhordania took part in the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, joining the Menshevik faction against the Bolsheviks. Georgian social democrats backed the central tenet of Menshevism: that the Russian revolution would be bourgeois and the socialists’ primary task was to promote a bourgeois republic. In Georgia, the Mensheviks won landslide victories in elections to the tsarist Duma. Most of the prominent Menshevik leaders became Duma members, including Zhordania, Irakli Tsereteli and Noe Ramishvili. Zhordania led the social democratic faction in the short-lived First Duma, while Tsereteli headed the much larger united social democratic faction in the Second Duma.

Lee’s book is strangely reticent about the First World War.

He says that a number of Georgian Mensheviks including Zhordania were sympathetic to the Allied cause. However the picture was worse than that. Tsereteli and other Mensheviks took a more internationalist position — at least until the tsar was overthrown. Zhordania fought for a “defencist” position and even wanted the Menshevik Duma fraction to vote for war credits.

Lee’s book also brushes over the importance of Georgian involvement in the events of 1917. Tsereteli was freed by the February revolution and went to Petrograd, where he was the architect of Menshevik participation in the provisional government (he became a minister) and support for the war, known as “revolutionary defencism”. Carlo Chkheidze promoted the same politics as chair of the Petrograd Soviet until September. As such they were responsible for the disastrous Menshevik orientation during the revolution.

Lee reports that in Tiflis after the February revolution, the local tsarist official Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich announced that he would be leaving, but expressed confidence that Zhordania and other social democrats could be trusted with power. As he put it, they were “on the side of order”. On 16 March 1917, the Tiflis Soviet was established. Zhordania was elected chair and promoted class collaboration.

The Georgian Mensheviks were united in their opposition to the Bolshevik-led seizure of power in October 1917. It was their visceral hostility to the Russian socialist revolution that dictated their course in the years afterwards. Lee admits that Georgia’s separation from Russia was not part of socialist agitation before 1917. The rejection of separatism was so strong that Georgian social democrat speeches would end with “Down with Georgia! Long live the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party!” Nevertheless, Zhordania and the Mensheviks embraced separatism.

On 22 April 1918, Georgian, Armenia and Azerbaijan proclaimed their independence, forming the Democratic Federative Republic of Transcaucasia. It dissolved five weeks later and the National Council of Georgia, chaired by Zhordania, made its declaration of independence on 26 May 1918. Immediately faced with attacks by Turkey, the new Georgian government turned to Imperial Germany for support. Lee argues that Georgia had no choice, because “small nations can only defend themselves if they have strong allies”. But Georgia could have remained part of Soviet Russia, rather than run into the arms of the imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hal Draper: an eye witness account of the Russian Revolution

November 7, 2017 at 4:17 pm (history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, socialism, war)

The following discussion by the American Marxist scholar Hal Draper is of a book written by a non-Bolshevik member of the government that took power in October 1917, I N Steinberg. Steinberg was a leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, of the faction known as the Left S-Rs, who were in coalition with the Bolsheviks for a few months after October 1917, from soon after the establishment of the Soviet Government.

Steinberg’s book, In the Workshop of the Revolution, was published in 1954 long after he left Russia. Despite the Left S-Rs’ split from the Bolshevik-led Soviet Government, Steinberg tells the truth about the Bolshevik seizure of power and about the early months of Soviet Government.

Even when he subscribes to anti-Bolshevik propaganda about the period after the S-R-Bolshevik coalition broke up, he does it in such a way that the truth, as Hal Draper demonstrates in the following article (Labor Action, 14 and 21 June 1954), is still visible.


In the “Workshop of the Revolution”, Steinberg presents the 1917 upheaval not as a conspiracy but as a real people’s revolution. And he is very inconsiderate of the myths about the “democratic” Kerensky regime which the bad Bolsheviks overthrew, as well as the Menshevik and Right Socialist Revolutionary allies of Kerensky.

Actually Steinberg’s language about the “moderate socialist parties” (Menshevik and Right SRs) is very mild, but the outline of the picture he pains is damning enough. That picture is of an elemental revolutionary upsurge of the masses from blow, determined to throw off all oppression and equally determined to end the war, which the rights and moderates tried to oppose, and which the Bolsheviks (and left SRs) supported. This was the simple difference between the historic reality and the anti-Bolshevik myth of a “conspiracy”.

Of the right wing socialists, Steinberg writes that they believed “that the necessary conditions were not yet in evidence to realise the programme of the people. They conceived it impossible to end the war without the co-operation of the Allied powers. They thought it utopian to transfer political power to the working classes since, in their view the capitalist order in Russia was inevitable. Their interpretation of the revolution as only a democratic bourgeois succession to Tsarism, demanded, of course, a corresponding strategy — the strategy of class compromise and political compliance. This strategy put the moderate two parties (Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries) halfway between the bourgeois and the working-class programmes, gave their activities an air of vacillation and, in fact, fortified the position of the bourgeois camp.”

Now to be sure, the anti-Bolsheviks argue strenuously that anything beyond a bourgeois revolution was indeed impossible, but what Steinberg point up sharply is that this line meant that the right-wingers had to set themselves against and get ready to suppress the revolutionary dynamism of the people. It is because the anti-Bolsheviks have to get around this inconvenient fact that the myth of a “conspiracy” was born.

By the time of the new Kerensky government of 10 July, Steinberg relates, “Kerensky had lost hold of the ties of confidence which once had bound him to the people.” Discreditment rebounded not only against Kerensky but also against the Menshevik and Right SR ministers who joined his cabinet.

“The main speaker for an exponent of this rootless coalition”, writes Steinberg “was the Social-Democrat (Menshevik) Tseretelli. As minister of the interior, he dispatched a circular to the whole country designed to redouble the power of the government commissars against the active local soviets. He ordered these commissars to block the ‘illegal distribution of landed properties,’ the ‘appropriation, ploughing and sowing of other people’s lands.’ He thus sustained the policy of his predecessor, Prince Lvov. Every circular of this kind was like a match thrown into the powder keg of the revolution.”

Being highly concerned with the democratic forms of the revolution, Steinberg especially emphasises the transformation of the Kerensky regime into a “quasi-dictatorship” — with the consent and support of the very democratic Mensheviks and S-Rs who were later to issue howling blasts of anguish at every step the Soviet government took even to defend itself against armed insurrection.
Steinberg’s general sketch of the whole development, of course, contributes nothing new to historical knowledge, its main interest lying the character of the narrator. There are vignette touches here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

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The mighty cry of “All power to the Soviets”

November 4, 2017 at 11:47 am (history, Lenin, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, workers)

Book excerpt: Through the Russian Revolution by Albert Rhys Williams

The US SocialistWorker.org (nothing to do with the UK-based SWP) is running a series 1917: The View from the Streets with excerpts from a firsthand account of the revolution by socialist journalist Albert Rhys Williams, written for the New York Evening Post and published as a book in 1921. Along with the more famous Ten Days That Shook the World by fellow journalist John Reed, Williams’ Through the Russian Revolution provides a riveting picture of the struggle to create a new society as Russian workers, soldiers, sailors and peasants began seizing control over every aspect of their daily lives.

In the excerpt below from chapter six, Williams describes the final days before the insurrection that toppled the Provisional Government on October 24-25 (November 6-7 on the calendar we use today) as the workers and peasants of Russia put their hopes in the workers’ councils. SW‘s series on 1917 is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

The soviets of the Russian Revolution provided a model of the basic building block of workers' democracy
Above: The soviets provided a model of basic workers’ democracy

ANOTHER WINTER is bearing down upon hungry, heartsick Russia. The last October leaves are falling from the trees, and the last bit of confidence in the government is falling with them.

Everywhere recklessness–and orgies of speculation. Food trains are looted. Floods of paper money pour from the presses. In the newspapers endless columns of hold-ups, murders and suicides. Night life and gambling-halls run full blast with enormous stakes won and lost.

Reaction is open and arrogant. Kornilov, instead of being tried for high treason, is lauded as the Great Patriot by the bourgeoisie. But with them patriotism is tawdry talk and a sham. They pray for the Germans to come and cut off Petrograd, the Head of the Revolution.

Rodzianko, ex-President of the Duma, brazenly writes: “Let the Germans take the city. Tho they destroy the fleet they will throttle the Soviets.” The big insurance companies announce one-third off in rates after the German occupation. “Winter always was Russia’s best friend,” say the bourgeoisie. “It may rid us of this cursed Revolution.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Despair Foments Rebellion

Winter, sweeping down out of the North, hailed by the privileged, brings terror to the suffering masses. As the mercury drops toward zero, the prices of food and fuel go soaring up. The bread ration grows shorter. The queues of shivering women standing all night in the icy streets grow longer. Lockouts and strikes add to the millions of workless. The rancor in the hearts of the masses flares out in bitter speeches like this from a Vyborg workingman:

“Patience, patience, they are always counseling us. But what have they done to make us patient? Has Kerensky given us more to eat than the Tsar? More words and promises–yes! But not more food. All night long we wait in the lines for shoes and bread and meat, while, like fools, we write ‘Liberty’ on our banners. The only liberty we have is the same old liberty to slave and starve.”

It is a sorry showing after eight months of pleading and parading thru the streets. All they have got are lame feet, aching arms, and the privilege of starving and freezing in the presence of mocking red banners: “Land to the Peasants!” “Factories to the Workers!” “Peace to all the World!”

But no longer do they carry their red banners thru the streets. They are done with appealing and beseeching. In a mood born of despair and disillusion they are acting now–reckless, violent, iconoclastic, but–acting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump: the net closes

October 31, 2017 at 2:47 pm (corruption, crime, Jim D, populism, Putin, Republican Party, Russia, Trump, Ukraine, United States)

The net is closing, thanks to special counsel Robert Mueller’s relentless investigation: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted for money-laundering, tax evasion, failure to register as agents of foreign interests and conspiracy to defraud the US government. Michael Flynn (fired in May after he was exposed as having lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador), Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence, have all been involved in the Russia scandal. These were not rogue individuals acting independently on their own.

The former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with the FBI on the Russia investigation, was supervised by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the campaign.

A March 2016 Washington Post story listed the members of Trump’s foreign policy team who worked under Jeff Sessions, “For the first time, Trump also listed members of a team chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that is counseling him on foreign affairs and helping to shape his policies: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.”

It was revealed on Monday that George Papadopoulos took a plea from the FBI and had been cooperating with law enforcement for two months. Interestingly, as this news broke Trump was scheduled to have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The White House has been trying, desperately, to create a wall of denial between the President and the scandal, but there is path running through the Russia scandal that runs straight into the Oval Office and stops at the desk of Donald Trump. The odds on impeachment have just shortened again.

Trump won’t go quietly and the ace up his sleeve is the movement behind him. It is a genuine mass movement, plebeian in character (often sole traders, shop keepers, small business owners, lumpen blue collar workers, the unemployed, farmers, etc) and radical in the sense they don’t defer to authority. If he wanted he could probably mobilise enough of them to turn up outside the Capitol with guns and set up camp. There is a history of this kind of thing happening in the US at state level.

The impeachment of Trump would in all likelihood enrage his mass base, fuelling ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories and resentment against bourgeois democracy: fertile ground for American fascism.

That doesn’t mean that the left shouldn’t use the charge of treason and collaboration against Trump, or not campaign for his impeachment. Some on the left (and even the liberal-left) have recoiled against this, on grounds of supposed “McCarthyism” (a claim that Trump himself has raised): but that’s nonsense. The suggestion of collusion with Putin is not comparable to the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and ’60’s: Putin is behind an ultra right wing international campaign to promote reaction, nationalism and isolationism wherever he can. He’s backed Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and a host of other ultra-right and semi-fascist movements.

It’s not McCarthyism to denounce Trump for his links with Putin, up to and possibly including outright treason. But it’s not enough: the US left must also engage with Trump’s working class base and convince them that this billionaire racist, shyster and charlatan offers nothing worthwhile to American workers.

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Matgamna and Hornung on Lenin and the Russian Revolution

October 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm (AWL, class, From the archives, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia)

Above: the young Lenin’s police mugshot when arrested in 1895.

By Sean Matgamna and Andrew Hornung (adapted from a series of articles first published in Workers’ Fight in 1974).

Read online (below), or download pdf

Who was Lenin? He led the workers of the Tsarist Russian Empire to make the most profound revolution in history in 1917. He was the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Party, without which the workers would have been defeated.

Of Karl Marx’s fate at the hands of his alleged followers in the early socialist movement, Lenin wrote that it was often the fate of revolutionaries that after their deaths their names were made into legends to console the oppressed, while their ideas — their real politics, what they had stood for in life — were thrown out and replaced by something else. Something very like that happened to Lenin himself. It happened to him almost immediately after his death. The bureaucracy which ruled the USSR mummified his poor physical remnants, built a great ‘Lenin Mausoleum’ and created an obscene national shrine around the mummy.

Lenin had stood for maximum working class democracy. The rulers who made him — and Marx — into a holy icon of their pidgin-Marxist state religion, proceeded in the decades after his death to build an anti-socialist totalitarian state on the groaning backs of the people of the USSR. Lenin had liberated the many oppressed nationalities of the Tsarist empire: Stalin put them back under the control of Great Russian chauvinist jailers and oppressors. Lenin had stood for the international socialist revolution. Stalin tried to build ‘socialism’ in backward Russia, substituting “socialism in one country” for Lenin’s programme of international socialism. Lenin had defended the right of independent trade unions to exist in the USSR: everywhere Stalinists ruled and rule, such organisations of the working class are systematically and brutally rooted out.

At every important point the Stalinists, who lyingly call themselves Leninists, radically cut away what Lenin had really stood for and adopted anti-working-class policies — the very opposite of those which Lenin spent his life fighting for. Now that Stalinism has fallen in the USSR and Eastern Europe, we have the inverse process. Lenin, who spent his last crippled years fighting incipient Stalinism, is scapegoated for the discredited despotic system which rose up on the defeat of Lenin’s last struggle, continued after Lenin’s death by Trotsky and others.

This pamphlet is offered to the reader as an introduction to what Lenin — the man who led the greatest working class revolution so far — really did in his life, what he said and what he fought for and against.

The contents were published as a pamphlet in 1987, based on articles in the weekly Socialist Organiser in 1982 (nos. 108-113). They have been slightly edited for this reprinting. The 1982 text was adapted from a series of articles in the paper Workers’ Fight in 1974.

The beginning of Bolshevism

Born in the provincial town of Simbirsk, into the family of a schools administrator, Lenin was no stranger to revolutionary ideas other than Marxism. His brother Alexander had been hanged in 1887 for planning the assassination of the Tsar. Alexander had been a member of the populist, agrarian socialist Narodnik organisation. But if the execution of his brother sharpened Lenin’s sense of injustice, it was not the views or the methods of the Narodniks that influenced him, but those of Marx, Engels and Plekhanov. By the time he was 19 Lenin had already read Marx’s Capital and begun to ground himself seriously in its scientific method. Read the rest of this entry »

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The “erratic and chaotic” Trump administration

August 13, 2017 at 7:24 pm (identity politics, nationalism, plutocrats, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Republican Party, Russia, strange situations, Trump, United States)

 Martin Rowson 05.08.2017 Illustration: Martin Rowson (The Guardian)

Martin Thomas spoke to Andrew Gamble about the character of the Trump government. Andrew Gamble is a Professor in Politics at the University of Sheffield and the author of many books on political economy. [The interview was recorded at the end of July, before the North Korea crisis blew up, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website]

MT: Since the 1940s the world markets have been structured by a series of institutions: the WTO, the IMF, the G20, the G7, NATO. The USA has been central to all of these. Is Trump going to blow them up?

AG: He hasn’t been tested by a major international crisis yet, but almost certainly there’ll be one during his presidency. How he will react is unclear: how much he will be guided by people like Mattis and McMaster and how much he’ll do something unpredictable. There is a risk it could be the latter. While he hasn’t done much that’s very radical yet, he has certainly disoriented the complex web of international alliances that the US has put so much store by over the last 70 years. He has upset Australia and Germany: very long-standing allies. He has given comfort to Russia and some other states which are normally not close to the US at all. This has been very unsettling for lots of other states. The likelihood is that that’s going to continue because of the erratic and chaotic way the Trump administration works.

MT: The Economist (26/1/17) commented that Trump was bringing to political dealing his approach from business bombast and brokering: “he aims high, pushes and pushes, but then settles for less than he originally sought”. But, as the Economist comments, “dealing with countries is a higher-stakes game than bargaining over Manhattan building plots”.

AG: I think it is partly that. He clearly had so little actual political experience. His business background was fairly low-level – real estate – he wasn’t CEO of a major international company or anything like that. Tillerson is a different category of a businessperson from Trump. Trump’s experience was as a reality TV host. That too has coloured how he has approached things. He approaches relations with other leaders with an eye on how it’s going to play with his base and how he can make himself look good. He uses bluff and does outrageous things partly in the belief that this will enhance his ability to do deals. This is in itself a very unsettling way of conducting relations.

In the first six months he sent out more than a thousand tweets. These things are superficial in one way, but they betoken a style which is deeply unsettling: the fact that he is prepared to put things into tweets which normally, in previous presidencies, would have been private communications, the fact that he’s prepared to go public. I had wondered whether his behaviour might start to change as he learnt more about what the US Presidency was like. But it seems at the moment that this doesn’t seem to be happening. Every time his behaviour has become a bit more normal it has been followed by reverting to some of his old techniques and habits. I conclude that he probably isn’t going to learn very much and what we’ve seen in the first six months is likely to carry on.

All US Presidents have had courts. But Trump’s court is particularly fluid and has some very opposed factions within it, which, in policy terms, point in quite different directions. Trump seems to pivot from one of these factions to another, so that no faction is dominant for very long, and he plays the factions off against one another. That makes the policy even more erratic and hard to read for foreign observers. Where this is all going is strange. We should expect some major shocks, and particularly if crises of one kind or another test Trump.

MT: The Russia connection? What’s in it for Trump? And what’s in it for Russia?

AG: It is mysterious how difficult it is for Trump to shake the Russia connection off. That has led me to believe that there is something going on which we don’t understand yet. The likely thing, although there isn’t firm evidence for this yet, is that Trump’s business empire is reliant in some way on Russian money – not government money, but oligarch money. There were stories at one time, of links through Deutsche Bank, which is one of the main funders of the Trump business empire.
The multiple links of people associated with Trump with Russia are extraordinary. There is probably something of substance behind it all. He has also got people, particularly Mattis and McMaster, who represent the American political security establishment and a traditional US policy towards Russia, and that of course chimes with what a lot of Republicans want.

So Trump has been forced to concede on the sanctions. But it doesn’t stop him! The latest revelation, that at the G20 meeting [7-8 July in Hamburg] he had a second 60-minute chat with Putin in which Putin used a Russian translator and Trump wasn’t accompanied by a translator. That in itself was a breach of state department protocol. What is going on? Why would you do that, when there is so much focus on his links with Russia and his associates? Read the rest of this entry »

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Eric Lee debates the AWL on ‘1917: Freedom or Tyranny?’

July 4, 2017 at 3:57 pm (AWL, democracy, Eric Lee, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

From Eric’s blog:

Last night I participated in a debate with the Alliance for Workers Liberty in central London on the subject of “1917: Freedom or Tyranny?”. The following is the text of my opening remarks.

I want to begin by congratulating Paul (Hampton) and the AWL on the publication of this book. While we will disagree on some important things – which we will come to this evening – we agree on the enormous historic importance of the 1917 Russian revolution, and I welcome any attempts to grapple with the issues raised.

Paul’s book offers new insights, such as the critical discussion about Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism”. And of course I welcome all the very positive references to Karl Kautsky and the German Social Democracy, which are often lacking in the writings of those who come from the Leninist tradition.

Let me very briefly comment on four of the questions that were posed for this evening’s debate:

Was the Bolshevik party of Trotsky and Lenin a conspiracy of elitist “professional revolutionaries”, or a mass movement organically rooted in the Russian working class?

Maybe it was both.

The Bolsheviks were elitist and conspiratorial and this was pointed out by such leading revolutionary Marxists of the time as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky himself.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote a blistering critique of Lenin’s view of the Party way back in 1904. She ended her essay, which had the catchy title of “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy” with this memorable sentence:

“Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

In that same year, Trotsky wrote this memorable critique of Lenin:

“these methods lead … to the Party organisation ‘substituting’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”

Yet thirteen years later, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Party, and tragically witnessed his own prophecy come true.

But it was not all about conspiratorial elites.

As the Provisional Government in 1917 failed to deal with the challenges facing the peoples of the Russian empire, in particular ending the war and dealing with the peasant hunger for land, the Bolsheviks picked up considerable support among workers in Petrograd and, most importantly, in the army garrison in the imperial capital.

In other parts of the empire, most notably in Georgia, the Bolsheviks had hardly any support at all.

In other words, there are aspects of the October revolution that resembled a popular uprising and others that look more a military coup.

There were elements of both. Read the rest of this entry »

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Israeli intelligence expert Melman on Trump’s “dangerous amateurism”

May 18, 2017 at 2:42 pm (israel, Middle East, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, Trump, United States) ()

By Yossi Melman (17 May 2017) at Yedioth  Ahronoth: Dangerous Amateurism

  • Israeli officials were very careful yesterday not to comment even implicitly on reports from the US, according to which US President Donald Trump shared top secret intelligence in his meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrof and with the Russian ambassador to Washington. That’s all senior officials need, to get into trouble with the unpredictable Trump prior to his visit to Israel next week.
  • .

  • American media outlets assessed yesterday that the secret information came from Jordan or from Israel — two countries whose intelligence  communities have very close ties with American intelligence. Both also have good capabilities. The Jordanians [specialize] more in handling agents; Israel, presumably [specializes] in technological intelligence — in coverage of Syria and ISIS. Lat night the New York Times already reported that the information came from Israel, which had requested that the US handle it with extreme caution.
  • .

  • In any case, the information, irrespective of its source, dealt with ISIS terror plots. We can assume that Trump said what he said in order to mobilize and spur the Russians into taking action against the terror organization, which is a front on which they are dragging their feet. However, sharing the information is a double-edged sword. The Russians, who are working in Syria to fortify Bashar Assad’s regime, might share the information to him and perhaps even to his allies/their allies in the civil war in Syria — Iran and Hizbullah. Each of these could make use of the information, if it comes to their attention, in such a manner that would jeopardize intelligence operations and expose sources of information. And in this shadow world, there is no worse sin than failing to protect sources and exposing agents — as in the affair involving Eli Zeira, the Mossad and Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan.
  • .

  • In democratic countries, the intelligence communities are committed to give all the information at their disposal to the political echelon. There are leaders, in Israel too (such as the late Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin), who insist on receiving not only the executive summary, but also knowing about the sources that are behind the information. Presumably, Trump delivered the information not out of malice, but simply because of his lack of understanding of the rules of the game in the [sphere of] intelligence. If he did this with malicious intent, then that is a different story, which borders on treason and espionage.
  • .

  • Sharing the information with a third party without permission from the supplying source undoubtably undermines trust between the two countries. And intelligence cooperation is based first and foremost on trust. There is no doubt that officials in the US intelligence community are also embarrassed by the president’s amateurism. But at this point what can they do? They are on a collision course with him in any case, and the affair of the dismissal of former FBI director James Comey is only one example. Besides, after all, he is the elected president and commander-in-chief of the military.
  • .

  • Before being elected president, Trump had already become entangled in slips of the tongue and leaking intelligence, to which he was exposed in briefings that he received.
  • .

  • Now there are reports in Europe that following the incident, some countries are weighing the option of scaling down their cooperation with the United States. This is empty talk. The US is an intelligence power, and all the intelligence communities in the Western world, certainly small countries like Israel, are more dependent on it than it is on them. The relationships here are not among equals, and are more similar to the relationship between horse and rider. Even those who are angry at Trump will not be able to take counter-measures, since then they would be exposed to American revenge and punitive action. If the information is indeed from Israel or Jordan, have no fear — both countries will continue to cooperate with the United States, mainly because they have no alternative. However, they will be more cautious.

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The net closes on Trump: either a traitor or a useful idiot

May 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm (Asshole, corruption, fascism, Jim D, nationalism, plutocrats, populism, Putin, reaction, Russia, strange situations, Trump)

It’s pretty obvious that former FBI director James Comey was sacked because the FBI’s investigation of Russian government interference in the 2016 election was closing in on Trump. All other explanations – and in particular, that the cause was Comey’s handing of the Hillary Clinton email affair – are simply preposterous.

Trump has denied any collusion: but he would, wouldn’t he? All the (admittedly, so far largely circumstantial) evidence points to Trump being either a traitor or Putin’s useful idiot.

Putin has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election: but he would, wouldn’t he? Albeit, with a smirk.

Comey spoke in March at a rare open hearing of the congressional intelligence committee, which is also investigating the links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give the committee details that were not already publicly known. He also said he could not give a timetable for its completion. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

Also testifying before the committee was National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to damage the presidential  prospects of Hillary Clinton.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing ones in order to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

Since then, Trump has faced well-sourced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he is in no doubt that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic Party during the election, but that at the time he left his post in January, he’d seen no evidence of collusion.

However, Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said the material he had seen offers circumstantial evidence that US citizens collaborated with Russians to influence the vote.

If the Trump campaign were found to have colluded with Russia it would eclipse the Watergate scandal and be the most outrageous act of treason in US history.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election, because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, but now – outrageously – turns out to have been heavily involved in the Comey sacking.

Flynn was fired after he was exposed as having lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser. Flynn has a long history of close and friendly relations with the Putin regime, and has received payments from the regime’s propaganda channel RT.

flynn.jpg Flynn (left) dines with Putin

He lied about having discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January, when he said he had “no communications with the Russians”:  it later emerged that he had met Kislyak during the campaign.

Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed (‘recused’) himself from the FBI inquiry into Russia’s interference in the election: now it transpires that he’s played a key role, at Trump’s behest, in getting rid of Comey.

Trump could be heading for impeachment over his corruption and treacherous links to Russia. But, unlike even Nixon, Trump doesn’t play within the rules of bourgeois US politics.

Trump is still very popular with his base. He can argue plausibly that he has tried using Executive Orders to do what he said he would do. Where these orders are being reversed by the courts or bureaucracy he will point to the key idea that the system is broken and dominated by a liberal elite.

The Russian issue doesn’t currently  impinge on his supporters’ admiration for him as they are in general isolationists. He’s on 80% approval ratings with Republican voters.

Trump won’t go quietly and the ace up his sleeve is the movement behind him. It is a  genuine mass movement, plebeian in character (often sole traders, shop keepers, small business owners, lumpen blue collar workers, the unemployed, farmers etc) and radical in the sense they don’t defer to authority. If he wanted he could probably mobilise enough of them to turn up outside the Capitol with guns and set up camp. There is a history of this kind of thing happening in the US at state level.

The impeachment of Trump would in all likelihood enrage his mass base, fuelling ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories and resentment against bourgeois democracy: fertile ground for American fascism.

That doesn’t mean that the left shouldn’t use the charge of treason and collaboration against Trump, or not campaign for his impeachment. Some on the left (and even the liberal-left) have recoiled against this, on grounds of supposed “McCarthyism” (a claim that Trump himself has raised): but that’s nonsense. The suggestion of collusion with Putin is not comparable to the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and ’60’s: Putin is behind an ultra right wing international campaign to promote reaction, nationalism and isolationism wherever he can. He’s backed Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and a host of other ultra-right and semi-fascist movements.

It’s not McCarthyism to denounce Trump for his links with Putin, up to and possibly including outright treason. But it’s not enough: the US left must also engage with Trump’s working class base and convince them that this billionaire racist, shyster and charlatan offers nothing worthwhile to American workers.

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Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1932 – 2017)

April 15, 2017 at 6:41 pm (Guest post, humanism, literature, poetry, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

 Yevgeny Yevtushenko seen in January 1972, as he arrives at JFK in New York during a four-week tour of the US.

Yevtushenko, January 1972. Photo: Dave Pickoff/Associated Press

Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1932 – 2017)

By John Cunningham

I can’t exactly remember when I bought my first copy of the Selected Poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Soviet/Russian poet who died two weeks ago. It must have been in the late Sixties. I think it was the first poetry book I ever bought and the main poem in that collection, Zima Junction, has stayed with me over the years and I have regularly returned to it. Somewhere between moving to the USA and living in Hungary, I lost my copy. A few years ago I bought a new one. Zima Junction was first published in the Soviet Union in 1956, three years after the death of Stalin and reading the poem today it is difficult to see why it caused as much controversy as it did; maybe it was because the small town, homey, messy reality of the world it portrayed did not conform to the neat, tick-the-box unities of Stalinist (and post-Stalinist) social formulae. Zima Junction (which translates as ‘Station Winter’ –Stantsiya Zima) is in Siberia, a few hundred miles from Lake Baikal, where the poet was born and in the poem he returns there from Moscow where he is a student. He revisits his old haunts, meets old friends and is feted by his family but he is torn between this old, comfortable world where everything has its place and time and the new world he has embraced in Moscow. Eventually he settles for the latter.

Some commentators have described Yevtushenko as a loyal oppositionist, not a dissident. He believed that the Soviet Union could be changed for the better and in this was he joined by people like the Soviet filmmaker Elim Klimov and the composer Dimitri Shostakovich. He can be considered naive; a loyal opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy was never going to be able to achieve much but Yevtuschenko ‘came of age’ – he was 20 – in the wake of the death of Stalin. The desire for and expectation of change was understandable. Things appeared to be shifting as Stalin’s eventual successor, Nikita Krushchev, introduced reforms and prisoners were released from the Gulag. It would be only a few years before Sputnik was launched putting the Soviet in front in the space race.

Yevtushenko’s most notable work was with Shoshtakovich on his 13th Symphony Babi Yar. Using Yevtushenko’s poems as its basis, the symphony recounts the horrors of the Nazi massacre of thousands of Jews near Kiev. He continued to write poetry and his A Precocious Autobiography appeared in 1963 much to the outrage of the Soviet authorities. An excellent novel, Wild Berries, was published in 1993. In all likelihood Yevtushenko’s international fame prevented the Soviet authorities from stifling his voice and he was a consistent critic of many aspects of Soviet and later Russian policy, not least the war in Chechyna.

Looking back I’m not really sure why Zima Junction made such an impact on me, one that has stayed with me all my life. Maybe it is the final section of the poem and the last seven words:

And the voice of Zima Junction spoke to me

And this is what it said.

‘I live quietly and crack nuts.

I gently steam with engines.

But not without reflection on these times,

These modern times, my loving meditation.

Don’t worry, yours is no unique condition,

Your type of search and conflict and construction,

Don’t worry if you have no answer ready

To the lasting question.

Hold out, meditate, listen.

Explore, explore. Travel the world over.

Count happiness connatural to the mind

More than truth is, and yet

No happiness to exist without it.

Walk with a cold pride

utterly ahead

wild attentive eyes

heads flicked by the rain-wet

green needles of the pine,

eyelashes that shine

with tears and with thunders.

Love people.

Love entertains its own discrimination.

Have me in mind, I shall be watching.

You can return to me.

Now go.’

I went, and I am still going.

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