The Seizure of Power June 13, 2005 by RedStar2000
Lenin's coup of October, 1917, popularized a phrase that has been part of the revolutionary vocabulary ever since..."the seizure of power".
One of the key Leninist criticisms of anarchism is that "they have no plan to seize power".
Indeed, if you lack such a plan or even such a perspective, then you are not, in Leninist eyes, a "serious revolutionary" at all.
In the Leninist paradigm, power has meaning only in the sense of something seized and wielded by a small, disciplined group.
Like a sword.
And after all, we "know" that human societies can "only" be ruled by elites...and the "only" question is will it be a capitalist elite or a Leninist elite.
Is that true?
quote (Bob Avakian):
There must be a vanguard party capable of turning the mass upheaval and rebellion into an organized insurrection and giving it overall leadership and direction; and there must be a backbone force of proletarians and other oppressed masses who have been systematically trained in the line of the party and in work carried out according to this line. What other force will be capable of carrying out the necessary preparations, of determining when the time is right to go over to the insurrectionary struggle, and of enabling this struggle to take an organized and disciplined character, guided by a vision, of fighting to break all chains of enslavement, abolish all forms of exploitation and oppression?
That is the question, isn't it?
The "explosive mix" must indeed be present...but what sets it off? What causes it to detonate?
Are insurrections "launched"? Can a vanguard party send around instructions -- next Tuesday morning at 3:00 am?
A "protracted people's war" is different; it begins small, in an area difficult for the ruling class to reach, it builds up slowly, etc.
A revolutionary insurrection is, well, explosive...it erupts with little or no warning, spreads very rapidly, rolls over everything in its path with irresistible momentum. The ruling class is "shocked and awed"; its forces of repression are uncertain and demoralized -- some even abruptly defect to the side of the insurrection.
How are insurrections defeated? They "lose momentum"...their aspirations for a new society stop expanding and even begin to contract. Voices are heard within the revolutionary camp itself in favor of "realism" and "consolidation" (meaning retreat).
If communists are present in significant numbers, their voices will be heard saying something entirely different: Advance even further! No half-measures! Go for "the whole thing"!
So far, so good.
But Avakian, in accordance with the Leninist paradigm, thinks even more can be done: an organized and disciplined vanguard party "can" and even "must" organize and lead the insurrection if it is to be victorious.
He intends to "saddle the storm".
Lenin himself was the only Leninist ever to pull that off...and it was a near thing at that -- there was almost a proletarian insurrection in Petrograd in July 1917 which the Bolsheviks were barely able to contain. All other attempts in the west to "organize" an insurrection were abysmal failures.
It's clear (to me at least) that the insurrection must indeed develop organized and coherent forms in order to overthrow the bourgeoisie and destroy its state apparatus. Power cannot be taken by spontaneous insurrection alone...no matter how wide-spread.
But is it not more reasonable to advocate that power be taken by those newly organized forms than by a vanguard party? This was actually Lenin's "public position" leading up to October 1917 -- "All power to the Soviets".
His "private" or at least "less public" position was that only he and his party could be trusted to do "the right thing"...the masses and their soviets and factory committees were "unreliable". As soon as he had the opportunity, the soviets were converted into ceremonial bodies without real power and the factory committees were replaced by "one-man management".
And that's the question that underlies Avakian's commentary: can the masses be trusted to "do the right thing"?
quote (Bob Avakian):
And even if it could be conceived that this first, insurrectionary struggle, as pictured here, could succeed, there would still be the question of actually waging a revolutionary civil war against the imperialists, a war in which they would bring to bear a massive and powerful machinery of death and destruction.
This, I think, is just wrong.
If the old ruling class is allowed to "gather its strength" to the point where it is capable of waging civil war, then we lose. A predominately civilian force, regardless of its leadership, cannot defeat a modern military force...though it can sometimes mount an effective resistance for a considerable period of time.
The insurrection must proceed with sufficient rapidity and audacity that the old ruling class never gets a chance to "catch its breath" and organize a counter-attack.
Some people shrink from the idea of a "red terror" against the bourgeoisie and its lackeys...but I think it will be a vital necessity.
Any "softness" in this regard risks a truly horrible outcome: the "white terrors" of counter-revolution are far worse than anything communists have ever done...they usually quickly become indiscriminate mass murders.
Once the insurrection is actually under way, there can be no "fooling around" about this stuff.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on June 3, 2005
I confess that I grow weary of these stale formulas and honestly wonder what purpose is served by endlessly debating their "merits".
1. In some fashion, we will attain power by winning a bourgeois "election".
Verdict of history: bourgeois "elections" are not "fair" and "honest" for us. It will never happen.
2. A small vanguard party will "organize" and "lead" a massive insurrection.
Verdict of history: only worked once (in Russia) and led to despotism. Has never had any significant appeal for the "western" working class at all.
3. A small vanguard party will "organize" and "lead" a "protracted people's war" based on the peasantry.
Verdict of history: has worked in several "third world" countries and is still in use today. But does not apply in the "west" where a landless peasantry no longer exists.
There is a fourth option, of course -- a spontaneous uprising of the working class that creates its own organs of power while destroying the old capitalist organs of power. The verdict of history is mixed -- these attempts were sometimes able to set up functioning societies but ended up being militarily defeated.
I think the fourth option is clearly superior to the others and worth exploring.
But I also think that this question evades our current responsibility as conscious revolutionaries.
What we need now is more resistance to capitalism. How can we get more ordinary working people (and even middle-class people) to stand up in a stronger and more militant way against the capitalist system?
Telling people to "vote for socialism" or "join the real party of Lenin" simply isn't going to cut it. At least it never has and I see nothing to indicate any change in that regard.
I don't have an answer to this quandary...and I don't think anyone does. But if we don't figure out some answers...then the question of "taking power" will always be "academic".
First posted at RevLeft on June 5, 2005
Back into the muck, eh?
...it's not going to be spontaneous, a violent revolution will have a definite leader and plan. No revolution is spontaneous...
Petrograd, February, 1917.
No leader, no plan,...and no Czar!
The simple rejection of political action because 'they won't allow it' wastes a valuable advantage that we have: most rich capitalist countries have citizens who value democracy.
Yes...very foolish of them. Like you, they imagine that they live in a "democracy" where they could elect "anyone they wished."
That was an understandable illusion before 1914...but not since. A revolutionary party has never come to power as a consequence of winning a capitalist election and I see no reason to think it ever will happen.
A ruling class does not permit itself to be "voted" out of power.
It's worked so far in Venezuela and Belarus.
Chavez is, at best, a social democrat. Belarus is a corrupt despotism.
What do those places have to do with us?
There was a socialist government in Chile that came to power through "bourgeois" election...
A left bourgeois reformist government.
What's that have to do with us?
It is pure dogma to say that workers can't come to power through elections, if the circumstances are right and the ruling class is isolated politically...
Dogma it may well be...it just happens also to be the fucking truth.
If the ruling class is "isolated politically", they will declare a "state of national emergency" and cancel the elections.
Allende who is often cited as the only historical case of a Marxist coming to power through elections, out did all Anarchist accomplishments, so it's historically a more viable option then Anarchy provides.
The working class in Barcelona probably accomplished more in a week than Allende (who was not "a Marxist") would have achieved had he lived to be 100!
You make it a self-fulfilling prophecy because you define all states as "despotisms."
The Paris Commune was not a despotism. It's not easy to do, but a "quasi-state" can emerge from a "leaderless" and "unplanned" revolution that does not result in despotism.
Mass behavior, especially aggressive behavior, is always organized by someone or some group, it's never spontaneous.
In a literal sense, that's quite true. But I think you know what's being discussed here -- can a small group "plan" and "lead" a proletarian revolution in the "west"?
The answer is no.
The three incidents that Anarchists typically cite as examples of this...resulted in a bourgeois republic, a fascist regime, and a Marxist-Leninist workers state, respectively.
Is that not all "resulting in despotism" in your opinion?
Sure. If you lose and the bad guys win, then despotism is a highly probable outcome.
Is that to mean that we should not try for what we really want because we "might lose" and end up with despotism?
My point is that Leninism ends up in despotism as a consequence of victory, not defeat!
Basically if only a "spontaneous uprising" works for you, you have the luxury of waiting for the revolution to just 'happen.'
You're in the same boat, kiddo! Whenever the Leninist party has tried to "jump out in front" and "organize" a revolution, you've fallen flat on your ass!
You are "waiting" for a spontaneous revolutionary upheaval just like me.
The difference is that you want to "capture it" and "ride it into office".
And I'm telling people not to allow that to happen!
Well it's purely academic if you keep telling yourself that any revolution that could be accomplished in the real world leads to "despotism" and "good" revolutions just kinda happen, all by themselves, spontaneously, as if through some mystical process that you don't feel a need to understand well enough to say anything practical about it.
The phenomenon of real world uprisings is very complicated and we don't have a real understanding of why they happen in one place and not another or at one time and not another time.
The Leninist conceit that "they, and only they, know how to do it" is certainly one of their most irritating characteristics...as it's obvious that they don't know crap.
Maoists do know something about how to organize successful peasant revolutions...but that's no help for us.
Social democrats can win elections (occasionally)...but that's no help for us either. They not only cannot "build socialism"...they end up, sooner or later, as rotten and corrupt as any conservative party.
Spontaneous proletarian insurrection is the only option that gives us a chance at what we really want.
All the rest of that 20th century trash is useless!
Unless, of course, despotism is what you really want.
First posted at RevLeft on June 6, 2005
Redstar, what exactly do you mean by 'spontaneous proletarian insurrection'?
There's no "hidden significance" in those words -- I mean just what they say.
For reasons unclear to us, a small proletarian insurrection (in one city or even one neighborhood or one workplace) sets off a storm which may grow so powerful that the old social order is simply swept away. There are lots of plans, but no PLAN. There are lots of individual leaders, but no LEADER.
One reason that this may happen so unexpectedly is that we have no tools to perceive the "invisible weaknesses" of the old order. It "looks" as strong and powerful as it ever did...but it really isn't. It's a shell, a collection of stage-settings that no longer have any material strength behind them...they topple and crash with a single blow.
You must have heard that famous story about Lenin speaking to the young comrades in Switzerland...how he said "we older comrades may not live to see the revolution". When was it, November or December of 1916? The 300-year-old Romanov dynasty had but a few weeks of life remaining!
That is not to say that conscious revolutionaries have no role to play up to that point. It is our responsibility to educate people with revolutionary ideas; it is part of our task to encourage and participate in popular resistance to the despotism of capital.
We distribute as much firewood as we can and nurture every tiny spark of rebellion that we find...because we don't know which tiny spark will explode everything.
All we know is that sometimes...it happens.
Dismissing the possibility of political revolution is, as they say, not giving peace a chance.
Peace has no chance.
It never did.
First posted at RevLeft on June 7, 2005
So would this revolution take place worldwide?
I doubt it.
What I do expect is that Western Europe will experience such a proletarian upheaval more or less "all at once"...France will be "first" followed quickly (I hope) by Italy and Germany -- and then the smaller countries. I am uncertain about the U.K. -- it depends on how much it has been integrated into the American Empire. (And it's not impossible that Eastern Europe could be drawn in as well.)
After that, much depends on the world-wide reaction to that...will people in Southeast Asia (Japan) or North America (Canada & Mexico) or South America (Brazil) be inspired to do likewise?
And my crystal ball is not clear enough to predict that.
Come to your senses, man, there will be no instant transition from capitalism to communism through revolution.
There are no such things as "instant transitions".
But "socialism" as it has been traditionally conceived is probably obsolete...and that is even more likely to be the case by the second half of this century.
Think Paris Commune or anarchist Barcelona -- not the dead ends like the USSR or China.
But, that being said, you ideas, now that you've explained it a bit, don't seem so crazy, as long as your talking about socialist revolution...are you?
And I'm not really surprised when people initially say my ideas are "crazy"...I'm trashing the whole Leninist paradigm and this is bound to be somewhat "shocking".
I no longer see any material reason why the advanced capitalist countries cannot proceed to the immediate construction of communist societies...understanding that it may take several decades or even somewhat longer to "get it right".
The point being that we attempt to achieve what we really want rather than merely settle for what the ideologues of the last century told us "was all that we could have".
First posted at RevLeft on June 8, 2005
But either way, socialism is a prerequisite for communism. Also, note that this socialism of which I speak is not the same as the so-called socialist countries like the USSR and China.
Well, all of the Leninist parties that I know of advocate a "socialism" based on the Russian-Chinese model...even the Trotskyists. They fiddle around with the details -- a little more of this, a little less of that, etc.
But the basic model stands...
1. A new and permanent state apparatus.
2. With a professional army and police force.
3. Under the permanent leadership (control) of the Leninist party.
4. Nationalization of the means of production and the introduction of centralized economic planning/management on a professional basis.
5. Continued production of commodities for sale; continued use of money; continued inequality of wages; appropriation of surplus value by the state apparatus.
I believe there are some Trotskyists who've backed down on point 3 -- they are willing to permit multi-party elections for public office under socialism...but, in a way, that's actually worse: they are willing to permit capitalist and even fascist parties to run for office.
But I think that's a "pseudo"-position (a.k.a., a lie); once their party got into power, I think they'd break their promise and decide that, after all, the revolution "needs" their permanent "guidance".
This is what we have all been told is a "prerequisite" for communism.
Like you have to take "Algebra 101" before you can take "Algebra 102".
So if you mean something "different" by the word "socialism", then you have to explain how you depart from this basic and widely-accepted Leninist model.
Keep in mind that you can't just say "I want the USSR plus workers' power"...those are incompatible objectives, as any good Leninist would quickly remind you.
First posted at RevLeft on June 9, 2005
1. A new and permanent state apparatus.
1. A permanent state? How permanent? We have to destroy the state when world socialism comes, since after world socialism the goal is communism.
Ah, but when will that be? There are plenty of countries in the world which are just beginning to tentatively enter modern capitalism...and plenty of others still stuck in neo-colonial dependency. It will be a long time before such countries develop to the point where they are "ready" for socialism.
So do we put communism on "indefinite hold" in the countries where proletarian revolution has taken place and wait for the rest of the planet to "catch up"?
That's really what Leninists in the "west" propose...though almost never in plain words.
5. Continued production of commodities for sale; continued use of money; continued inequality of wages; appropriation of surplus value by the state apparatus.
5. I agree with this one, except that I must make clear that extensive redistributive policies will exist to ensure that combined with salaries, all workers have the means to living a.k.a. a living wage.
Yes, that's the real "worm" in the Leninist "apple".
Socialism, like capitalism, is a society in which the more money you have, the better you live.
Therefore, everyone has a direct material incentive to do whatever it takes to acquire more money.
The material foundation for the restoration of capitalism remains in place...all that's required is time and corruption and you end up with a new capitalist ruling class.
Most of the illicit wealth goes to leading members of the party and state apparatus...but the rot spreads all the way to the bottom -- pilfering public goods becomes common practice.
So while Leninist socialism is "marking time" waiting for "world socialism", it decays from within. At some point, a political tendency emerges that represents corruption and the class interests of the most corrupt (Maoists call it "revisionism")...and they proceed to actually restore capitalism.
Ongoing economic inequality is the "Achilles' heel" of socialism...it means that you will never reach communism but, instead, will always regress to capitalism.
Accordingly, I conclude that we must try to build a communist society from day one after the revolution.
Otherwise, our hopes are doomed.
First posted at RevLeft on June 10, 2005
I completely disagree. I think that poorer states could effectively be socialist. Any state would prosper from socialism, I think. You misread the global economy...there are no states in the world that aren't capitalist. Globalization has taken care of this.
There are no countries in the world that do not possess at least "islands" of capitalist development. But, for example, Angola is not a capitalist country...even though it has a modern oil-extraction development and a tiny industrial workforce. Most of Angola is a lot closer to the 7th century CE than it is to the 21st. There are many such countries and not just in Africa.
Sure, you could impose a "socialist structure" on such a country -- look at the 'People's Republic of Mongolia". They had all the stage-sets of a socialist country...but most of the people there still lived in tents and herded domestic animals for a living.
Is Afghanistan a capitalist country? Or anywhere even close? *laughs*
Therefore, no capitalist ruling class in reality exists, since this class is directly controlled by the proletariat.
You miss my point. This is not simply a question of how you structure a socialist society (more democratic or less democratic).
It's a matter of the psychological impact of commodity circulation, money, a market, etc.
In a society where some people make more money than others, and hence live better than others, the primary motive for corruption is "in place" and "ready to go to work". No matter where you happen to be located in the process of production and distribution, the incentive to "skim" is present. Many people who are highly motivated by the promise of socialism will resist that incentive...at least for a long time.
Others won't resist...they'll start taking "a little bite" at once. Eventually, the impression will arise that "everyone does it" so "why not me?".
You can slow this process down at the price of draconian measures...people caught stealing public property, giving or taking bribes, etc. are summarily shot. But that just means your repressive apparatus will also start taking bribes and cutting themselves in on any racket that happens to be going.
And eventually, capitalism is restored.
But there are no answers with your ideology, there's no material signs of it, really. Do you have any idea when or where or even if your revolution will begin? Where are the revolutionaries to lead such a revolution? Do you think such a revolution can be successful? Lastly, most importantly, how do you plan on gaining the support of at least a majority of the global proletariat?
True, the idea of a communist revolution has no support at all beyond an insignificant handful of people scattered about the "west".
The shadow of Lenin et.al. is a long one...and most of the people who are opposed to capitalism cannot see (at this time) any "realistic" alternative except socialism...capitalism without capitalists. (Many present-day opponents of capitalism are so demoralized that they actually want to have "a free market" in their version of socialism.)
IF Marx was right about the source of proletarian class-consciousness, however, then the present situation will change over the course of this century. The "signs" that you are looking for will emerge.
I expect those signs to emerge first in western Europe...where capitalism is old and well-developed.
And the support of the global proletariat is not something that I have to "obtain"...it's something that emerges naturally in response to capitalism itself.
First posted at RevLeft on June 11, 2005
This wasn't a change in the class that controlled the state, it was a change in administration, from one royal, Czar Nicholas II, to another royal, Prince Georgy Lvov, both of whom led liberal governments protecting private property of the proto-capitalist ruling class.
There was a plan, the Czar's plan! There were leaders, the capitalists!
Makes the whole thing sound utterly pointless, doesn't it? *laughs*
Except the "new Czars" couldn't do anything without getting the Petrograd Soviet to go along with it...and couldn't do anything in the countryside at all -- where the peasantry were enthusiastically liquidating the private property of the aristocracy along with any aristocrats that they could catch.
In a formal sense, it was a period of "dual power" (as Lenin put it). In practical terms, the old regime could have been dispersed at any time after February 1917.
One of the provisional government members commented later on that he was surprised it lasted as long as it did.
Chavez is in no way a 'social democrat', he is a self-declared socialist and a self-declared revolutionary...
Here we go again...I suppose there will be Chavez t-shirts next. *laughs*
Can you even remotely grasp the idea that Marxists look past what people "self-declare" about themselves to examine the material reality?
Venezuela remains a capitalist country. The means of production remain privately held. There are no functioning organs of working class power there.
That's not socialism...it's social democracy.
Okay, let's just suppose that Allende and his government was a bourgeois government. If the bourgeoisie didn't want Allende, their guy, to do something, why didn't they just call up his offices and simply explain that they needed him to protect their business interests or they would back another bourgeois politician next election cycle, you know the way they do it in bourgeois 'democracies.' If Allende was working for the bourgeois, why couldn't they have just given him instructions or pressured him to follow their interests, why did they have to kill him?
Because the bourgeoisie are not "super-human" and, on occasion, act counter to their own class interests, that's why.
We have an example of that in American history. J.P. Morgan tried to organize a military coup against Franklin D. Roosevelt (General MacArthur was going to be the dictator)...but it got squashed before it could ever really get off the ground.
Does that make Roosevelt a "revolutionary socialist"?
...and I have never argued that a proletarian revolution can happen in the west at all.
Then perhaps we are arguing at cross-purposes. With Marx, I don't expect proletarian revolutions in backward and semi-developed countries. I expect "third world" revolutions to be anti-imperialist bourgeois revolutions in effect if no longer in name. I expect those revolutions to modernize their countries, get rid of the old parasitic elites, prepare the way for those countries to return to the world market as real "players" (with the leading figures of the "revolutionary party" becoming modern bourgeoisie).
They are historically progressive revolutions and I support them for that reason. But they are not socialist...much less communist.
They can't be...the material basis doesn't yet exist.
No, no, I'm really not, because I know that there are not spontaneous revolutionary upheavals...there are just organizations that choose to exploit opportune moments to stage a revolution, to MAKE it happen.
To "roll the dice" and see what happens, eh? If you win, it's because "you really knew what you were doing". And if you don't win, well...
Well I'll take your word for it that you don't have a real understanding of why uprisings happen but people who understand Marxism do. Revolutionaries who actually make revolutions and counter-revolutionaries who try to prevent them have damn good understandings of why they happen in one place and not another, their futures depend on understanding it.
Do you imagine that if you yell that real loud, people might believe it? Might just ignore all the "makers of revolution" who never made shit? Who "miscalculated" the objective conditions?
Marx and Engels, widely reputed to have a pretty decent "understanding of Marxism", made a fair number of predictions about forthcoming revolutions.
Most of them wrong.
I repeat: we do not know why revolutions happen in one place and not another and at one point in time and not another.
That includes both you and your "makers of revolution".
Marxist-Leninists, the ones who actually deal with the reality of power politics, not Trotskyists or post-Mao anti-Revisionists, never think that only Marxist-Leninists know how to make revolutions that lead to the types of societies we want. Allende, Chavez, Saddam, Nasser, Arafat and Qaddafi, for instance, are widely supported by that sort of Marxist-Leninist as being legitimate revolutionaries fighting for the same class of people that Marxist-Leninists do...
I like that phrase "the reality of power politics"...it sounds so, um, real. *laughs*
And if your "Marxist-Leninist big tent" can include all those guys, they can surely squeeze in a few more. Certainly Peron of Argentina would qualify. Assad in Syria? Milosevic in Serbia? Even Batista should get in before 1952, right? (He had a good working relationship with the Popular Socialist Party -- pro-USSR Leninists -- before then.)
Your criteria are so generous that it's difficult to imagine who would be excluded from your pantheon of people who "fight for the same class".
I wonder, in fact, just what class that might be. *laughs*
If a revolutionary movement ends up with a socialist or near-socialist society it really doesn't matter if they think of it as Marxist-Leninist or not, the benefits to the people who live there are the same.
Ah, a new category for "Marxist-Leninist" analysis: near-socialism.
Ok, I'll take the plunge: near-socialism is a capitalist society in which there are some nationalized industries and an extensive welfare-system but all substantive political power remains in the hands of the capitalist class.
Does that sound right?
Sounds like social democracy to me.
I said in another thread to you that what I really want is "a society where everyone has a decent standard of living, people don't have to compete with one another to survive or live in acceptable comfort, people are free to conduct themselves in their personal lives as they choose as long as they don't interfere with other's rights to do the same, material wealth is distributed comparatively evenly, where utilities, health care, education, housing, food and employment are guaranteed as rights by the government."
Now if that's your definition of "despotism" then I guess I do want "despotism" but I think most people would find that to be a fairly esoteric definition of what most would call "socialism" or "democracy."
So...move to Sweden. They have all that stuff.
I can't help what "most people think", try as I might.
I can only point out that nothing of "what you want" suggests the abolition of wage slavery.
You just want velcro chains and shaded auction blocs.
Red flags are optional.
I mean why wasn't there a French revolution from Paris in 1871 or 1968?
As I've already said, we don't know.
Revolutionaries make revolutions...people who pass out literature, commie newspapers, and try to give away anarchist stuff, aren't doing anything "revolutionary." What you're describing isn't being a revolutionary, it's being a provocateur...you don't want to throw a molotov cocktail at a police car, you want to put up someone else to doing it, or whatever symbolic example you'd prefer.
Yes, I intend to do whatever I can to provoke active resistance to the despotism of capital.
Shame on me.
You, I presume, have other ideas...perhaps a seat in the legislature? *laughs*
And yet you're waiting for someone else to disrupt the peace, you're not willing to do it yourself...so maybe you like peace more then you think!
Well, I am 63...and a pretty damn feeble 63 at that!
But in my time (60s and 70s), I "did my bit" in the class struggle and the movement of which I was a part (SDS) managed to stir up a considerable fuss.
And I can still pass on the same message that I did in my "glory years"...resist!
In "big ways" if you can, in small ways if that's all that's practical.
But always resist!
First posted at RevLeft on June 11, 2005
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