Friday, 20 May 2011

A revolution needs no leaders!

The above anarchist axiom is (of course, wink wink) mine. By it I mean that as soon as 'leaders' emerge a revolution is dead and buried, because it simply becomes a matter of replacing one power structure with another. This has been the case in 17c England, 18c France, 18c America, 20c Russia, and so on and so on. When Lenin declared "All power to the Soviets" - the people's free assemblies - that was the last thing he actually meant!

I have been following a fascinating documentary series on BBC Radio 4 in which Martin Sixsmith (author, journalist, and expert on Russia) has been outlining Russian history. The thrust of the series has been to try to explain why Russia always seems to default to autocracy, and its insights are valuable to anyone who is interested in history. My major quarrel with MS is that his default position is 'liberal democracy', which he sees as normative. This is a cultural view which tends to taint his objectivity. Time and time again in the series he points to moments at which Russia might have taken steps which would have led it to become a 'liberal democracy' along the Western European model; these seem to be - to him - moments when Russia made the wrong choice, or rather did not make the right choice.

To my own mind (and I will be the first to admit that I am biased) the pivotal moments in Russia's history were those at which there may well have been a 'power vacuum' but at which people themselves, independent of ideology and 'leaders', might have taken their own destiny into their own hands. The 1917 Revolution was one such time.

Nevertheless listening to the series, conscious of MS's bias and my own, has been very rewarding. One thing it did was to point me to the entirety of Tarkovsky's brilliant film Andrey Rublyov on YouTube.

It is interesting how the meaning of words can be subtly altered by use or abuse. The hijacking by the Bolsheviks of the political autonomy of the 'Soviets' gave rise to the assumed title of their superstate, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This in turn, in late 20c American Newspeak, gave rise to the use of 'Soviet' to mean 'communist' and in particular 'Russian communist' - phrases such as "Do we want our country to be taken over by the Soviets?" could be heard. Thus a word which meant a free assembly, the absolute building block, at least in potential, of a democracy greater than we currently know and enjoy in the West, was subverted by abuse to equate to a type of tyranny.

Do I want my country to be 'taken over' (ha!) by 'the Soviets'? Damn right I do! I want those free assemblies. I want delegates I can recall. I want a loose, confederation of the lowest possible tiers of participatory democracy. I want basic, gentle administration instead of the dead hand of bureaucracy. I want an end to secrecy, to vested interest, to the theft of labour.  I am sick of the remoteness of 'representative' democracy, sick of the political class, sick of government's powerlessness in the face of capitalism. I want democracy!

Jings... sorry, I didn't mean today's entry to be such a rant...

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