The Place of the October Revolution in World History and Contemporary Politics

By David North
13 November 2017

On the last day of 1917, Franz Mehring—the great socialist historian, journalist and theoretician, who had, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, opposed the German Social Democratic Party’s vote for war credits in August 1914—appraised the events in Petrograd, where only six weeks earlier the Bolsheviks had led the insurrection that overthrew the bourgeois Provisional Government. While recognizing the immense political implications of the Bolsheviks’ accession to power, Mehring emphasized that what had occurred in Petrograd would likely prove, in time, to have been only the beginning of a protracted and arduous struggle. He wrote:

Revolutions have a long breath, if they are real revolutions; the seventeenth-century English Revolution, the eighteenth-century French Revolution each took about forty years to work themselves out, and the challenges that confronted the English and even the French Revolution were almost child’s play compared to the tremendous problems that confront the Russian revolution. [1]

In fact, the seizure of power, which had been achieved almost bloodlessly in Petrograd, was immediately followed by an uninterrupted succession of political crises. First, there was the conflict over the formation of a government. This was followed soon after by the confrontation with the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks decided to disperse. Then came the bitter controversy over the negotiations with the Germans, and the decision—amidst bitter divisions within the Bolshevik leadership—to accept the drastic concessions demanded by the German imperialists and to sign the peace treaty. By the spring of 1918, Soviet Russia was being engulfed by full-scale civil war. In July, Lenin was shot twice by a member of the Socialist Revolutionary party, an assassination attempt that he barely survived. Nevertheless, in countless historical narratives, the Bolsheviks are presented as bloodthirsty fanatics, indifferent to even the most reasonable appeals. Their opponents, on the other hand, especially among the Mensheviks, are portrayed as paragons of compromise. This has little to do with reality. Let us review the first of the post-insurrection crises.

The Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties demanded at once that the Bolsheviks end their “adventure” and relinquish power. They declared that they would not even negotiate with the Bolsheviks unless the Military Revolutionary Committee—which had organized the insurrection—was disarmed. Its leaders (such as Trotsky) would receive temporary guarantees for their personal safety until their fate was decided by a future session of the Constituent Assembly. [2] Judging from their insolent demands, it seems that they did not really understand the balance of power in Petrograd.

The intransigence of the so-called “moderate” socialist parties, who were supported by the right-wing leadership of the railway workers union (known as Vikzhel), was encouraged by the presence within the Bolshevik Central Committee of a substantial faction, led by Lev Kamenev, who were prepared to make massive compromises in order to broaden the base of the government. In response to the demand by the “moderate” socialists and the City Duma that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from leadership positions in a new coalition government, the Bolshevik Central Committee issued a statement (in the absence of the two principal leaders of the revolution) that “some reciprocal give and take on party nominations was permissible.” [3]

As explained by historian Alexander Rabinowitch, the position of the Central Committee, which was explicitly reiterated in a subsequent statement by Lev Kamenev, “was a signal that Lenin and Trotsky were not untouchable and that even a Bolshevik majority in a government which included all socialist parties might not be an absolute requirement.” [4] The Menshevik demand that Lenin and Trotsky be excluded from power was, in essence, a call for the political and physical decapitation of the working class. Theodore Dan, one of the main Menshevik party leaders, actually called for the disarming of Petrograd workers.

The anti-Bolshevik frenzy of the “moderate” socialists frightened a section of the more left-wing Menshevik-Internationalists, led by Martov. One representative of this faction, A. A. Blum, asked the right-wing “moderates:” “Have you given any thought to what the defeat of the Bolsheviks would mean? The action of the Bolsheviks is the action of workers and soldiers. Workers and soldiers will be crushed along with the party of the proletariat.” [5]

Despite the capitulatory sentiments within the Bolshevik Central Committee, there remained strong support for Soviet power among Petrograd workers. Lenin was unyielding in his defense of the insurrection and the establishment of a genuinely revolutionary government. In an explosive meeting of the Central Committee on November 1, 1917, Lenin unleashed a furious verbal assault against Kamenev and other capitulators in the Party leadership. He cited reports of the shooting by bourgeois Junker military officers of soldiers taken captive in Moscow, where bourgeois forces were bitterly resisting the revolution. Invoking the fate of defeated working-class uprisings, which had been drowned in blood, Lenin reminded the capitulators, “[I]f the bourgeoisie had triumphed, it would have acted as it did in 1848 and 1871.” [6] The historical references were to the massacre of Parisian workers by General Cavaignac in June 1848 and the shooting of at least 10,000 workers by the bourgeois army of the Versailles government during the suppression of the Paris Commune in May 1871.

Compromise and coalition with the very parties that had supported the Provisional Government was tantamount to renunciation of the October Revolution. Of all the members of the Central Committee, there was only one who unequivocally and forcefully defended Lenin’s refusal to accept a coalition with opponents of the insurrection: “As for conciliation, I cannot even speak about that seriously,” Lenin declared. “Trotsky long ago said that unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this, and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik.” [7]

Lenin insisted that the Party was obligated, as the leadership of the working class, to defend its interests. Answering Zinoviev, who once again was allied with Kamenev in demanding compromise with the right, Lenin stated:

Zinoviev says that we are not the Soviet power. We are, if you please, only the Bolsheviks, left alone since the departure of the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, and so forth and so on. But we are not responsible for that. We have been elected by the Congress of the Soviets. This organization is something new. Whoever wants to struggle enters into it. It does not comprise the people; it comprises the vanguard whom the masses follow. We go with the masses—the active and not the weary masses. To refrain now from extending the insurrection [is to capitulate] to the weary masses, but we are with the vanguard. The Soviets take shape [in struggle]. The Soviets are the vanguard of the proletarian masses. [8]

In support of Lenin’s position, Trotsky presented a clear and unsentimental appraisal of political realities:

We are told that we are incapable of building up. In that case we should simply surrender power to those who were correct in struggling against us. But we have already performed a great labor. We are told that we cannot sit on bayonets. But neither can we manage without bayonets. We need bayonets there in order to be able to sit here. One should imagine that the experience we have already gone through has taught us something. There has been a battle in Moscow. Yes, there was a serious battle with the Junkers there. But these Junkers owe allegiance neither to the Mensheviks nor the Vikzhel. Conciliation with the Vikzhelwill not do away with the conflict with the Junker detachments of the bourgeoisie. No. A cruel class struggle will continue to be waged against us in the future as well. When all these middle-class lice, who are now incapable of taking either side, discover that our Government is a strong one, they will come to our side, together with the Vikzhel. Owing to the fact that we crushed the Cossacks of [General] Krasnov beneath Petersburg, we were showered on the very next day with telegrams of congratulation. The petty-bourgeois masses are seeking that force to which they must submit themselves. Whoever fails to understand this cannot have the slightest comprehension of anything in the universe and, least of all, in the state apparatus. Back in 1871, Karl Marx said that a new class cannot simply make use of the old apparatus. This apparatus engenders its own interests and habits which we must run up against. It must be smashed and replaced; only then will we be able to work.

If that were not so, if the old Czarist apparatus suited our new purposes, then the entire revolution would not be worth an empty eggshell. We must create such an apparatus as would actually place the common interests of the popular masses above the proper interests of the apparatus itself.

There are many in our midst who have cultivated a purely bookish attitude towards the question of the classes and of the class struggle. The moment they got a whiff of the revolutionary reality, they began to talk a different language (i.e., of conciliation and not struggle).

We are now living through the most profound social crisis. At present the proletariat is effecting the demolition and the replacement of the state apparatus. The resistance on their part reflects the processes of our growth. No words can moderate their hatred of us. We are told that their program is presumably similar to ours. Give them a few seats and that will settle everything… No. The bourgeoisie is aligned against us by virtue of all its class interests. And what will we achieve as against that by taking to the road of conciliation with the Vikzhel?… We are confronted with armed violence, which can be overcome only by means of violence on our own part. Lunacharsky says that blood is flowing. What to do? Evidently we should never have begun.

Then why don’t you openly admit that the biggest mistake was committed not so much in October but towards the end of February when we entered the arena of future civil war. [9]

The struggle within the Bolshevik leadership raged for more than a week. It required the greatest effort by Lenin, with Trotsky’s support, to overcome the demands for a coalition government with the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and other opponents of the Bolshevik-led insurrection of October 24-25.

What underlay the conflict within the Bolshevik leadership—which once again brought the party to the verge of a split—was the extent to which a substantial section of the Central Committee remained opposed, not only to the October seizure of power, but to the entire political orientation that had been introduced by Lenin following his return to Russia in April 1917. Kamenev’s demand that the Bolshevik Party accede to a coalition, even if that meant barring Lenin and Trotsky from positions in the new government, recapitulated the positions that he had advanced, together with Stalin, in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution.

Let us recall that prior to the return of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party—under the leadership of Kamenev and Stalin—had adapted itself to the political arrangements that had emerged in the immediate aftermath of the February Revolution. It accepted the authority of the bourgeois Provisional Government. The newly formed Soviet was to do no more than attempt to assert left-wing influence on the formulation of the policies of the democratically refurbished bourgeois state. The inescapable corollary of the acceptance of bourgeois rule was support for the continuation of Russia’s participation in the imperialist war, which was repackaged, since the overthrow of the tsarist regime, as a war in defense of democracy.

The political perspective that underlay this initial Bolshevik response to the February upheaval was that Russia was undergoing a bourgeois democratic revolution, whose goal was the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, akin to that existing in Great Britain or France. The fight for a workers government—i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat—was rejected as historically and economically premature. Russia—economically backward and with a population whose majority was comprised of peasants—was not ready for socialism. To be fair to Kamenev and other Bolshevik leaders who held this position, they could—and, in fact, did—legitimately claim that their response to the February Revolution was based on the long-established Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

This program was, at best, ambiguous as to the class nature of the regime that was to arise on the basis of the overthrow of the tsarist government. Moreover, the program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry differed fundamentally from the perspective of permanent revolution, which had been formulated by Trotsky during and in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution of 1905. As is well known, Trotsky’s theory anticipated that the democratic revolution against tsarism would develop rapidly into a socialist revolution, requiring the working class to take power into its own hands, begin the implementation of socialist policies, and make deep and even fatal encroachments on bourgeois-capitalist property.

Trotsky’s prediction that the coming Russian Revolution would assume a socialist character was dismissed by virtually all his political contemporaries on the left, including the Bolsheviks, as an unrealistic, even utopian, appraisal of Russian conditions. It was simply not possible to advocate the direct seizure of power by the working class in a country whose economy was not sufficiently prepared for socialist measures.

However, Trotsky’s critics paid insufficient attention to his underlying argument. Trotsky’s anticipation of a socialist revolution was derived, not from a nationally based appraisal of Russian conditions, but, rather, from an analysis of the twentieth century development of the capitalist world economy and its impact on the political life of all countries. The global development of capitalism, Trotsky had argued in 1907, “has transformed the entire world into a single economic and political organism.” The complex interlocking network of economic relations would inevitably draw all countries “into a social crisis of unprecedented dimensions.” The eruption of the unavoidable crisis would lead to the “radical, worldwide liquidation” of bourgeois rule. Trotsky’s analysis of the global crisis determined his strategic conception of the Russian Revolution. The “international character” of the capitalist crisis would open up “majestic prospects” for the Russian working class. “Political emancipation, led by the Russian working class,” Trotsky wrote, “is raising the latter to heights that are historically unprecedented, providing it with colossal means and resources, and making it the initiator of capitalism’s worldwide liquidation, for which history has prepared all the objective preconditions.” [10]

Prior to 1914, Lenin had rejected the strategic orientation that flowed from Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. But the outbreak of World War I, and the immediate capitulation of the Second International to national chauvinism, had a profound impact on Lenin’s conception of the Russian Revolution. To the extent that any one event could “change everything,” the outbreak of the world war was such a development. From August 1914 on, Lenin’s analysis of the causes of the world war and the betrayal of the Second International became the foundation of his understanding of all political developments. The war was not simply an event, after which, as Karl Kautsky hoped, everything would return, more or less, to what it was prior to August 1914. The world war signified, for Lenin, the beginning of a new epoch in world politics.

Just two years before the war, the delegates attending the 1912 Basel Congress of the Second International had passed a resolution in which they pledged to exploit the crisis created by the outbreak of war to carry out the worldwide liquidation of the capitalist system. One may safely assume that the vast majority of delegates viewed the resolution as nothing more than a politically meaningless rhetorical exercise. Lenin, however, viewed the resolution as a serious statement of policy, binding on all the sections of the Second International.

Moreover, as analyzed by Lenin, the war was not an accident, the outcome of the mistakes and miscalculations of one or another national government. The war represented nothing less than a devastating system-wide disruption of the economic and geopolitical equilibrium of the capitalist-imperialist world order. The outbreak of war, drawing millions of people into the vortex of horrific and unprecedented violence, was the response of the capitalist ruling classes of Europe to this system-wide failure. War was their method of a “system reset,” requiring a new division of colonial possessions and spheres of influence, upon which a new economic and political equilibrium would be eventually established.

In opposition to the capitalist solution, the necessary and unavoidable response of the working class in all the imperialist countries was world socialist revolution. The systemic breakdown that assumed, in the objective practice of the imperialist ruling classes, the form of war, would assume, in the objective practice of the international working class, the form of intensifying anti-capitalist class struggle and socialist revolution. The ending of the war required the overthrow of the capitalist classes, the abolition of the economic system based on capitalist property and the profit system, and the destruction of the nation state. It was to the conscious development of this objective tendency of social and economic development that the policy of the world socialist movement had to be oriented, both in program and practice.

From the standpoint of an understanding of the imperialist war from within this global framework, it was clear that those who argued that Russia—as an isolated “national” unit of world economy—was not “ready” for socialist revolution really missed the point. Lenin was not advocating a program of nationally based socialism. For Lenin (and, of course, Trotsky) Russia comprised a critical front in what was a worldwide struggle. A complex set of circumstances had placed before the Russian working class the task of opening up the first great front in the world socialist revolution.

Once Lenin returned to Russia, he was compelled to conduct an intense political struggle against all those tendencies within the Bolshevik Party who viewed the revolution in a national framework. Lenin opened the Seventh All-Russia Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, on April 24, 1917, with the following statement:

Comrades, we are assembled here as the first conference of the proletarian party in conditions of the Russian revolution and a developing world revolution as well. The time is approaching when the assertion of the founders of scientific socialism, and the unanimous forecast of the socialists who gathered at the Basel Congress, that world war would inevitably lead to revolution, is being everywhere proved correct…

The great honor of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of the world revolutionary proletarian movement, which in Germany, for example, is gaining momentum with every passing day. Only from this angle can we define our tasks. [11]

Lenin continued:

From the point of view of Marxism, in discussing imperialism it is absurd to restrict oneself to conditions in one country alone, since all capitalist countries are closely bound together. Now, in time of war, this bond has grown immeasurably stronger. All humanity is thrown into a tangled bloody heap from which no nation can extricate itself on its own. Though there are more and less advanced countries, this war has bound them all together by so many threads that escape from this tangle for any single country acting on its own is inconceivable. [12]

Even after Lenin had won the party to the perspective of the struggle for power, he continued relentlessly to stress the internationalist foundations of the party’s strategy. He explained in articles, speeches at mass rallies and in scholarly lectures that the war and the revolution in Russia arose out of the crisis of world imperialism. In a lecture delivered on May 4, 1917 on the subject of “War and Revolution,” Lenin declared:

The war which all capitalists are waging cannot be ended without a workers’ revolution against these capitalists. So long as control remains a mere phrase instead of deed, so long as the government of the capitalists has not been replaced by a government of the revolutionary proletariat, the government is doomed merely to reiterate: We are heading for disaster, disaster, disaster…

The only way to end this war is by a workers’ revolution in several countries. In the meantime, we should make preparations for that revolution, we should assist it. [13]

The Bolshevik decision to take power was a demonstration of extraordinary political courage and, one must add, political “will,” in the best sense of the term. In this historical situation, the Bolshevik “will to power” was not the expression of any sort of subjective voluntarism, but the necessary alignment of political practice with objective reality. Critics of the October Revolution, even those professing sympathy with its socialist aspirations, argued that the decision to take power involved too many risks. Given the fact that Lenin and Trotsky believed that the fate of Soviet Russia depended upon the extension of the socialist revolution into Central and Western Europe, and especially Germany, was it not dangerous, even reckless, to base Bolshevik policy on the conquest of power by the workers of another country? Were the Bolsheviks not placing too great a bet on the successful outcome of the German revolution? Would it not have been wiser to delay revolutionary action in Russia until the development of the revolutionary movement in Germany made the prospects for success less problematic?

This skeptical outlook betrays a poor understanding of both the historical process and the dynamic of the international revolutionary struggle. In a pamphlet written shortly before the October Revolution, titled Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, Lenin mocked those who were prepared to sanction a social revolution only “if history were to lead to it in the peaceful, calm, smooth and precise manner of a German express train pulling into a station. A sedate conductor would open the carriage door and announce: ‘Social Revolution Station! Alle aussteigen!” [14] Everyone must leave the train.

Lenin also cited another argument that was often raised against the taking of power. The revolution would be a highly recommended course of action if the political situation were not so “exceptionally complicated.” Barely restraining his sarcasm, Lenin replied to the “wise men” urging that the Bolsheviks wait for the emergence of an “uncomplicated” situation.

Such revolutions never occur, and sighs for such a revolution amount to nothing more than the reactionary wails of a bourgeois intellectual. Even if a revolution has started in a situation that seemed to be not very complicated, the development of the revolution always creates an exceptionally complicated situation. A revolution, a real, profound, a ‘people’s’ revolution, to use Marx’s expression, is the incredibly complicated and painful process of the death of the old and birth of the new social order, of the mode of life of tens of millions of people. Revolution is the most intense, furious, desperate class struggle and civil war…

If the situation were not exceptionally complicated there would be no revolution. If you are afraid of wolves don’t go into the forest. [15]

History in general, and revolutions in particular, would be very simple affairs if they always offered clear-cut alternatives with absolutely predictable outcomes, and if the most farsighted and progressive courses of action were always the least dangerous and least demanding. In reality, great historical projects present themselves in the form of excruciating problems, demanding painful decisions, involving great risks and requiring immense sacrifices.

The October revolution, establishing the first workers’ state, was precisely such a great and, if I may use the word, complicated project. Let us keep in mind certain important conditions affecting the course of events in October 1917 and the months and years that followed. The revolution occurred in the midst of a global conflagration that accelerated the disintegration of a vast and archaic empire that sprawled across one-sixth of the land surface of the earth. The scale of the geopolitical, social and economic crisis that overwhelmed Russia in 1917 determined the astonishing pace of events between February and October. When Lenin warned of an “impending catastrophe” in the autumn of 1917, there was not a trace of exaggeration in his choice of words. The bourgeois Provisional Government and its allies among the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviet were unable to formulate, let alone implement, any coherent set of policies to deal with a crisis of such a monumental magnitude. In his only comment on the centenary of the October Revolution, Vladimir Putin voiced the regret that a more peaceful solution had not been found to the crisis of 1917:

We have to ask the question: was it really not possible to develop not through revolution but through evolution, without destroying statehood and mercilessly ruining the fate of millions, but through gradual, step-by-step progress? [16]

One can imagine Putin, had he been alive in 1917, as a functionary in some police-connected department of the Provisional Government, indignant over the popular repudiation of the old institutions of the state, horrified by the violence in the streets, disappointed by the failure of General Kornilov to restore order, and bitterly hostile to the Bolsheviks.

An evolutionary and peaceful solution to the crisis was simply not to be found in 1917. The failure of the Provisional Government and the entire reformist perspective of the “moderate” socialist leadership of the pre-October Soviets testified to the fact that the crisis could not be solved on a capitalist basis, or within the framework of Russian nationalism.

The program of world socialist revolution, advanced by Lenin and Trotsky, was the only viable strategic response to the systemic breakdown that began with the outbreak of the European war. Notwithstanding her own criticisms of certain aspects of Bolshevik policies, Rosa Luxemburg wrote: “That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies.” [17]

Had history been kinder to the Bolsheviks, the conquest of power by the working class in Germany would have preceded, or, at least, occurred simultaneously with the October Revolution. But, as Trotsky was to write, history was not kind. It was a “wicked stepmother.” The betrayal of the German Social Democratic Party foreclosed that possibility. That betrayal not only delayed the German revolution; it also introduced confusion and division into the German working class.

Particularly in the aftermath of the attempted counterrevolution by General Kornilov in the late summer of 1917, it had become clear that only by overthrowing the Provisional Government could the revolution be saved. Thus, the Bolsheviks were placed in the position of assuming state power under conditions of political isolation. They confronted the dual task of defending the revolution against counterrevolutionary forces within Russia (which received the backing of world imperialism) and, at the same time, doing all that was possible to advance the cause of the world socialist revolution. These two inseparably connected aspects of their revolutionary policy found expression in the creation of the Red Army and the founding of the Communist (Third) International. The first congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow in March 1919. The next three congresses—whose debates and resolutions remain to this day essential elements of the theoretical and political education of revolutionary Marxists—were held on an annual basis, in 1920, 1921 and 1922.

The survival of the revolution—particularly under conditions of the defeats suffered by the working class beyond the borders of Soviet Russia—would not have been possible without the creation of the Red Army. And here it is necessary to refer, if only briefly, to the critical role of Trotsky as commissar of war and the Red Army’s principal commander. Historian Jonathan D. Smele, the author of a valuable study of the Russian Civil Wars (he uses the plural), writes that “Trotsky’s transformation from a propagandist, with a few month’s experience as a war correspondent in the Balkans in 1912, to the organizer of a multimillion-strong army was remarkable.” Smele calls attention to “Trotsky’s ability to inspire loyalty” and his “ability to choose wise advisers” as important characteristics of his leadership. [18]

In another study, Colonel Harold W. Nelson (who taught at the United States War College) stresses Trotsky’s exceptional skills as a military strategist and leader. “He had a more perfect understanding of the need for speed rather than tactical victories, and he sensed the importance of massing troops in the critical theater rather than detaching troops to take political objectives.” His earlier writings on the Balkan Wars revealed an intense interest in the impact of war on those who were compelled to fight. Trotsky “wanted to know what men did in combat and he hoped he might discover what combat did to men. His was not the idle curiosity of the observer, but the passionate interest of the student… This passionate interest in vital social problems was Trotsky’s nature, and he studied war with the same consuming desire that he had brought to his earlier contacts with economics, languages and revolutionary theory.” [19]

Trotsky possessed extraordinary administrative and organizational abilities. But the key element of Trotsky’s leadership of the Red Army was his unequaled historical and political comprehension of the complex interaction between social forces operating within Russia, the ever-shifting geopolitical and economic interests and antagonisms that were operative within the world imperialist system, and the influences of all these global processes upon the class struggle within different countries and the development of the world socialist revolution as a whole. Within this process, moreover, the struggle of the working class and, especially, the political initiatives of the Marxist vanguard played a significant and, under certain exceptional conditions, decisive role in determining the course of world history.

As he directed the struggle of the Red Army against multiple enemies and across numerous military fronts that spanned thousands of miles, Trotsky was continuously seeking to understand the place of the October Revolution within the global development of socialist revolution. Despite setbacks in one sector of the vast battlefield of world revolutions, strategic opportunities for a breakthrough might arise in another sector.

After the defeats of uprisings in Germany and Hungary, the Bolsheviks realized that the victory of socialist revolution in Europe would be a more protracted process than they had originally hoped. However, the stirring of the masses in the East, awakened to political life by the victory of the Bolsheviks, provided new possibilities for the development of the world revolution. In August 1919, Trotsky sent a lengthy memo from his military train to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (as the party had been renamed). He wrote:

There is no doubt at all that our Red Army constitutes an incomparably more powerful force in the Asian terrain of world politics than in the European terrain. Here there opens up before us an undoubted possibility not merely of a lengthy wait to see how events develop in Europe, but of conducting activity in the Asian field. The road to India may prove at the given moment to be more readily passable and shorter for us than the road to Soviet Hungary. The sort of army which at the moment can be of no great significance in the European scales can upset the unstable balance of Asian relationships of colonial dependence, give a direct push to an uprising on the part of the oppressed masses and assure the triumph of such a rising in Asia…

Our military successes in the Urals and in Siberia should raise the prestige of the Soviet Revolution throughout the whole of oppressed Asia to an exceptionally high level. It is essential to exploit this factor and concentrate somewhere in the Urals or in Turkestan a Revolutionary Academy, the political and military headquarters of the Asian Revolution, which in the period immediately ahead may turn out to be far more effectual than the Executive Committee of the Third International. [20]

The setbacks suffered by the working class in Europe in the period between 1919 and 1921 made it clear that the development of the socialist revolution would be a more protracted process than the Bolsheviks had originally expected. This did not mean that the decision to take power in Russia was based on an incorrect appraisal of European conditions, as bourgeois historians generally claim. In fact, the October Revolution contributed to an immense radicalization of the working class in Europe, and there were uprisings (as in Germany and Hungary) and massive strikes (as in Italy). But the defeat of these movements required the reworking of certain elements of the revolutionary perspective.

Crucial lessons had certainly emerged from the October Revolution and its aftermath. First, that the victory of the socialist revolution is dependent, to a degree that could not have been appreciated prior to 1914, upon the existence of a revolutionary Marxist party capable of providing leadership to the working class. The fact that the fate of the revolution for an extended political period could be decided within just a few critical days imparted to the issue of leadership an extraordinary political and historical significance. Second, the experience of the October Revolution had made more acute the capitalists’ fear of socialist revolution.

Once the ruling elites realized that the Bolshevik victory would not be overturned and recognized what it meant to lose power, they were determined to prevent at all costs a repetition of the experience. This heightened awareness of political danger led to an enormous mobilization of counterrevolutionary violence against the working class and its political vanguard. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in Berlin in January 1919 during the bloody suppression of the revolutionary Spartacist uprising. Fascist movements were built up throughout Europe.

The bourgeoisie, Trotsky warned in July 1921, “attains its greatest concentration of forces and resources, of political and military means of deception, of coercion, and provocation, i.e., the flowering of its class strategy, at the moment when it is most immediately threatened by social ruin.” The epoch of capitalist crisis and breakdown finds expression in the flowering within the bourgeoisie of its counterrevolutionary strategy, which Trotsky characterized as “the art of waging a combined struggle against the proletariat by every method from saccharine, professorial-clerical preachments to machine-gunning of strikers…” [21]

How was the working class to respond to the determination of the bourgeoisie, using all methods at its disposal, to destroy all threats to its rule? Trotsky answered: “The task of the working class—in Europe and throughout the world—consists in counterposing to the thoroughly thought-out counterrevolutionary strategy of the bourgeoisie its own revolutionary strategy, likewise thought out to the end.” [22]

* * * * *

The years between 1921 and 1924 marked a critical period of political transition in the Soviet Union. During the previous seven years, from 1914 to 1921, Russia had experienced a staggering level of political and social upheaval. The defeats of the working class in Europe meant that the political and economic isolation of the Soviet Union would continue, though it was still hoped that the time frame would involve Union would last years, if not decades. The introduction of the New Economic Policy in March 1921 involved substantial concessions to capitalist market forces, which were justified, and entirely legitimately, as a necessary retreat. However, the ensuing strengthening of capitalist forces, interacting with the growing bureaucratization of the Communist Party and the state apparatus and the temporary stabilization of capitalism in Western Europe, had significant political consequences. By late 1922, there were growing indications that the revolutionary spirit present in the early years of the Soviet state was ebbing. This found political expression in the resurgence of national chauvinist tendencies within the Party leadership.

Lenin had suffered a serious stroke in May 1922 and did not return to political activity until October 1922. He was shocked by the change in the political environment within the party leadership. Lenin vehemently objected to Stalin’s disrespectful treatment of representatives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Georgian Republic, and described him as a “Great Russian chauvinist bully.” In one of his last political acts, in March 1923, Lenin threatened to sever all personal relations with Stalin. But just a day later, he suffered a massive stroke that ended his political life. On January 21, 1924, Lenin died.

In October 1923, the Communist Party squandered another major revolutionary opportunity in Germany. Another major failure occurred in Bulgaria. These defeats were widely interpreted as the end of the period of revolutionary upheavals in Central and Western Europe that had begun six years earlier in Russia. Within the Russian Communist Party and broad sections of the working class, there was a loss of confidence in the possibility that a victorious revolution in a major capitalist country would end the isolation of Russia and provide resources for the development of a socialist economy.

With Lenin now removed from the scene, Leon Trotsky—who more than any other leader personified the link between October and the World Socialist Revolution—was increasingly isolated within the Russian Communist Party. The publication of Lessons of October in the autumn of 1924, in which the leader of the insurrection reviewed the political struggles within the Bolshevik Party that preceded the insurrection, unleashed a venomous political attack on Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution. Not only was Trotsky’s central role in the organization and success of the insurrection and the subsequent victory of the Red Army over counterrevolutionary forces denied. His enemies in the Political Committee of the Communist Party—principally Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin—claimed that his theory of permanent revolution was a revision of what was now being referred to as “Leninism” and had nothing whatsoever to do with the strategy pursued by the Bolshevik Party in the preparation of the struggle for power.

Lenin’s political struggle against the line of Kamenev and Stalin in April 1917 was dismissed as nothing more than a minor squabble. They claimed that the perspective introduced by Lenin’s April Theses developed logically from the old Bolshevik program of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry and had nothing whatsoever to do with the conceptions of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

The era of the “Big Lie” had begun. A lengthy report given by Kamenev in November 1924, entitled Trotskyism or Leninism, initiated the unrestrained falsification of history, aimed at discrediting and demonizing Trotsky. This was to become the chief characteristic of Soviet political life. Trotsky, Kamenev asserted,

did not understand the basics about the Leninist theory of the relations between the working class and the peasantry in the Russian revolution. He did not understand this even after October, and he did not understand it at each turning point made by our party, when it maneuvered to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat without any separation from the peasantry. He had been prevented from understanding this by his own theory, which, in his opinion, had been ‘confirmed entirely.’ If Trotsky’s theory had proven correct, this would have meant that any kind of Soviet power in Russia would have long since ceased to exist. [23]

The political and theoretical essence of Kamenev’s assault on Trotsky and denunciation of the theory of permanent revolution was an attempt to restore, within the context of the New Economic Policy, the nationally oriented perspective that had been rejected in 1917. Kamenev’s attack was directed, above all, against Trotsky’s insistence on the primacy of the perspective of world socialist revolution in the determination of national policy. Kamenev objected to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution because it “would make the workers’ government in Russia wholly dependent on the immediate proletarian revolution in the West.” [24] What was particularly objectionable about Trotsky’s theory, Kamenev asserted, was its insistence that there can be no solution to the problem of Russia’s capitalist development “within the framework of a national revolution.” [25]

Kamenev’s denunciation of Trotsky in November 1924 cleared the way for Stalin’s explicitly nationalist revision, in December 1924, of the perspective and program of the October Revolution. In an article titled “The October Revolution and the Tactics of Russian Communists,” Stalin called attention to Trotsky’s pamphlet, Our Revolution, published in 1906, in which Trotsky had written: “Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class in Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialist dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one moment be any doubt.” Stalin continued:

What does this quotation mean? It means that the victory of socialism in one country, in this case Russia, is impossible “without direct state support from the European proletariat,” i.e., before the European proletariat has conquered power.

What is there in common between this “theory” and Lenin’s thesis on the possibility of the victory of socialism “in one capitalist country taken separately?”

Clearly, there is nothing in common. [26]

Stalin’s substitution of a form of national messianism in place of revolutionary internationalism was summed up with the following indictment of Trotsky’s views:

Lack of faith in the strength and capacities of our revolution, lack of faith in the strength and capacity of the Russian proletariat—this is what lies at the root of the theory of “permanent revolution.” [27]

The 1924 assault on Trotsky and the repudiation of the theory of permanent revolution signified the resurgence of the nationalist tendencies that Lenin had fought as he sought to break the party’s adaptation to national defensism and direct attention toward the international revolutionary struggle against imperialist war. The promulgation of the program of socialism in one country marked a decisive step in the alienation of the Soviet Union from the World Socialist Revolution, from which it had emerged. As Trotsky had warned, this nationalist regression—which found political support in a rapidly growing bureaucratic elite—separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the fight for world socialism. The Communist International, which had been founded in 1919 as the central strategic headquarters of the world socialist revolution, was degraded into an appendage of the Soviet Union’s counterrevolutionary foreign policy. Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929 symbolized the rupture between the bureaucratic regime and the World Socialist Revolution. Ensconced in his Kremlin office, Stalin ruled a national state with the support of the secret police. But Leon Trotsky, in exile, led and inspired the continuing historical process of world socialist revolution with far more powerful weapons: his ideas and his pen.

* * * * *

Stalin’s treacherous and disorienting policies led to devastating defeats of the working class in Germany, France, Spain and many other countries during the 1930s.

Within the Soviet Union, the counterrevolutionary nationalist reaction assumed the form of the destruction of the entire generation of Marxist-educated workers, party activists and revolutionary intellectuals and artists who had been politically educated on the basis of socialist internationalism. The Moscow Trials and the Great Terror between 1936 and 1940 were a form of political genocide, specifically targeting for physical annihilation all those who had been identified with the internationalist program and intellectual culture upon which the founding of the Soviet state was based.

It is critical to understand the relationship between the October 1917 Revolution and the Soviet Union. The latter emerged out of the former. But the October Revolution and the Soviet state were not coequal phenomena. The October Revolution marked the beginning of the historical epoch of World Socialist Revolution. The history of the Soviet state was a major episode of that epoch. The recognition of the distinction between October Revolution as the expression of an epoch and the creation of the Soviet state as a specific political episode was reflected in political language. Anticipating the future overthrow of the capitalist system in their own countries, revolutionaries would speak not of their future “Soviet Union,” but of their coming “October.”

Of course, the achievements of the revolution within the Soviet Union were immense. The October Revolution radically transformed what had been the Russian Empire. Prior to the revolution, approximately 80 percent of the population had been illiterate. Within substantially less than one generation, illiteracy had been virtually eradicated. The nationalization of the means of the production, a product of the October Revolution, made possible significant economic advances. The possibility of establishing an advanced society on a non-capitalist basis was demonstrated in the course of the 74-year history of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was not a socialist society. As Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, it was a transitional regime, between capitalism and socialism, whose fate was still to be decided. The nationalist policies of Stalin, implemented on the basis of savage terror, were a mockery of socialist planning, which requires the workers’ democratic control over decision-making processes. What Trotsky described as the “irresponsible despotism of the bureaucracy over the people” resulted in a horrifying waste of human life, which was as needless as it was brutal, and the grotesque squandering of material resources.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, which had usurped political power and utilized its control of the organs of state repression to assure for itself a privileged position within society, violated the most basic principles of socialist egalitarianism. Stalin, who personally ordered and directed the torture and murder of former comrades and countless Marxist revolutionists, ranks among the worst criminals in history.

The Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 defended all the social conquests that were achieved as a consequence of the October Revolution. But its defense of those achievements—that is, the elements of social and economic progress made possible by the Revolution—was carried out on the basis of implacable opposition to the Stalinist regime, by fighting for its political overthrow.

* * * * *

What we have celebrated this year is the centenary of World Socialist Revolution. It is within this historical context that we have examined and explained the momentous events that occurred in Russia between February and October 1917. These lectures have provided a vital political and intellectual antidote to the endless falsifications and slanders of the reactionary academics and the antisocialist mass media.

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was hailed as a momentous victory for world capitalism. At long last the specter of communism and socialism had been eradicated. History had come to an end! The October Revolution had ended in ruins! Of course, such proclamations were not supported by a careful examination of what had occurred during the previous 74 years. No account was given of the enormous achievements of the Soviet Union, which included not only its central role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also the immense advances in the social and cultural conditions of the Soviet people.

But aside from the efforts to obliterate from collective memory all recollection of Soviet achievements, the essential falsification of twentieth-century history has been the effort to define the fate of socialism on the basis of a nationalist narrative of the October Revolution, in which the Bolshevik seizure of power is presented as an aberrant, illegitimate and even criminal event in Russianhistory. The original Bolshevik conception of October must, in turn, be either ridiculed or ignored. No enduring historical and political relevance can be attributed to the October Revolution.

This reactionary narrative, aimed at divesting the October Revolution of all legitimacy and relevance, depends, however, on one small thing: that the world capitalist system has resolved and transcended the contradictions and crises that gave rise to war and revolution in the twentieth century.

It is precisely here that the efforts to discredit the October Revolution and all future efforts to realize socialism fall apart. The quarter-century that has passed since the dissolution of the USSR has been marked by intensifying social, political and economic crisis. We live in an age of perpetual war. Since the initial US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the number of lives destroyed by American bombs and missiles easily surpasses one million. With geopolitical conflicts intensifying, the outbreak of a third world war is seen more and more as inevitable.

The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the fragility of the world capitalist system. Social tensions are mounting against the backdrop of levels of inequality that are the highest in a century. The three richest people in the United States, it has recently been reported, possess greater wealth than the bottom 50 percent of this country’s people. The rich are not merely “different.” They all but live on a different planet, utterly remote from the reality that the great mass of people lives every day.

They themselves know that this state of affairs cannot go on forever. The ideas and ideals of social equality and democratic rights are too deeply embedded in mass consciousness. As the traditional institutions of bourgeois democracy are unable to bear the pressure of escalating social conflict, the ruling elites turn ever more openly to authoritarian forms of rule. The Trump administration is merely one disgusting manifestation of the universal breakdown of bourgeois democracy. The role of the military, police and intelligence agencies in the running of the capitalist state is becoming ever more open.

Throughout this centenary year, innumerable articles and books have been published whose aim is to discredit the October Revolution. But the declarations of the “irrelevance” of October are belied by the tone of hysteria that pervades so many of these denunciations. The October Revolution is treated not as a historical event, but as an enduring and dangerous contemporary threat.

The fear that underlies the denunciations of the October Revolution found expression in a recently published book by a leading academic specialist in historical falsification, Professor Sean McMeekin. He has written:

Like the nuclear weapons born of the ideological age inaugurated in 1917, the sad fact about Leninism is that, once invented, it cannot be uninvented. Social inequality will always be with us, along with the well-intentioned impulse of socialists to eradicate it… If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection. [28]

In an essay published in the New York Times on October 27, columnist Bret Stephens warned:

Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results… A century on, the bacillus [of socialism] isn’t eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.

On the centennial anniversary of the October Revolution, the anti-Marxist hysteria of the ruling elites acquired a distinctly homicidal character. Finally abandoning the post-1991 pretense of the irrelevance of socialism, the New York Times published a column by Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of an admiring biography of Stalin. He wrote:

The October Revolution, organized by Vladimir Lenin exactly a century ago, is still relevant in ways that would have seemed unimaginable when the Soviet Union collapsed…

One hundred years later, as its events continue to reverberate and inspire, October 1917 looms epic, mythic, mesmerizing. Its effects were so enormous that it seems impossible that it might not have happened the way it did…

The [Provisional] government should have found and killed him [Lenin] but it failed to do so. He succeeded. [29]

With this statement, published in the most influential American newspaper, the difference between liberal anticommunism and fascism is all but obliterated. Lenin, who was the popular leader of a mass working-class movement, should have been murdered. He should have been dealt with, Montefiore writes, with the approval of the liberal editors of the New York Times, as the fascists dealt with Luxemburg and Liebknecht. What is the message? To the extent that socialism threatens capitalism, hunt down the leaders of socialist movements and kill them. So much for the “End of History” and the triumph of liberal democracy!

Statements such as that of Montefiore testify not only to the moral degeneracy of the intellectual defenders of bourgeois society, but also to their demoralization and desperation.

Despite all efforts to discredit Marxism, socialism and communism, working people still yearn for an alternative to capitalism. A newly published poll shows that among American “Millennials” (people below the age of 28), a greater percentage would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one.

Franz Mehring was right. Revolutions have long breaths. The October Revolution lives not only in history, but in the present.

* * * * *

Throughout this centenary year, the International Committee of the Fourth International has celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution by studying and explaining its origins and significance. It has conducted this important historical work as the only political tendency in the world that represents the program of international socialism upon which the October Revolution was based.

The Fourth International is the contemporary expression of the program of World Socialist Revolution. In the present period of insoluble capitalist crisis, this program once again is acquiring intense relevance.

We call on workers and youth throughout the world to join the fight for world socialism.

Long Live the Example of the October Revolution!

Long Live the International Committee of the Fourth International!

Forward to the victory of the World Socialist Revolution!

**

Notes

[1] “Neujahr 1918,” in Franz Mehring Gesammelte Schriften, Band 15 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1977), p. 759.

[2] Quoted in Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd (Bloomfield: Indiana University Press, 2007), p. 28.

[3] Ibid, p. 27

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, p. 29

[6] Session of the Petersburg Committee of the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia (Bolshevik), November 1 (14), 1917, cited by Leon Trotsky in The Stalinist School of Historical Falsification, accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/ssf/sf08.htm

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid. The bracketed extrapolations are in the transcript published in The Stalin School of Falsification.

[9] Ibid

[10] Leon Trotsky, “Introduction to Ferdinand Lassalle’s Speech to the Jury ,” in Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, edited by Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 444-45

[11] Lenin, Collected Works, (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Volume 24, p. 238

[12] Ibid, p. 238

[13] Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), pp. 416-19

[14] Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress, 1977), Vol. 26, p. 119

[15] Ibid, pp. 118-19

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/06/revolution-what-revolution-russians-show-little-interest-in-1917-centenary

[17] https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/russian-revolution/ch01.htm

[18] The “Russian” Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years That Shook the World(Oxford: University Press, 2017), p. 131.

[19] Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection 1905-1917 (London: Frank Cass, 1988), pp. 63-64

[20] The Trotsky Papers 1917-1922, Volume I, edited and annotated by Jan M. Meijer (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1964), pp. 623-25

[21] The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume Two (London: New Park, 1974), pp. 2-4

[22] Ibid, p. 7

[23] Trotsky’s ChallengeThe “Literary Discussion” of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution, edited, annotated and introduced by Frederick C. Corney (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017), p. 244

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid, p. 442

[27] Ibid, p. 447

[28] The Russian Revolution: A New History (New York: Basic Books, 2017)

[29] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opinion/russian-revolution-october.html

WSWS

Advertisements

Mounting political crisis in Washington amidst talk of removal of Trump

By Patrick Martin
12 October 2017

The conflict within the American state apparatus reached a new level of intensity this week, after a leading Senate Republican, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, warned that President Trump was risking “World War III,” and Trump responded to media reports about internal conflict within his administration by suggesting that NBC could have its broadcast license revoked.

The recriminations between the White House and Congress and within the Trump administration itself are particularly explosive since they take place amid rising tensions between the US government and North Korea, in the wake of Trump’s repeated threats of nuclear war against the regime of Kim Jong-un.

Corker made the warning about Trump’s foreign policy producing World War III, and he has previously criticized what he called the lack of stability and competence in the Trump presidency. Trump responded with vulgar insults on Twitter, while White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders falsely claimed that Corker was responsible for the US nuclear agreement with Iran, which Trump appears ready to revoke as early as today.

Insider accounts of seemingly uncontrolled rages and wild mood swings on the part of the “commander in chief” have fueled a new round of discussion in the corporate media about the possibility of removing Trump from office, either through impeachment, which requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, or through invoking the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can declare the president incompetent to continue in office.

An extraordinary editorial published Tuesday in the Post was run under the headline, “What to do with an unfit president.”

The editorial concluded that impeachment was not likely, and urged congressional action to counteract Trump’s policies in a range of areas (all important to corporate interests), including reinforcing US trade deals like NAFTA, and maintaining foreign aid programs that spread US political influence abroad.

That the leading newspaper in the country’s capital—read by everyone in Congress and the Trump administration—proclaimed the president “unfit” for office reflects the extraordinarily sharp divisions within the ruling class, only hinted at in the Post editorial.

The corporate media has been targeting the Trump White House, in part because of concerns over his expressions of sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and professed reluctance to continue the Obama administration’s campaign of confronting Russia in Syria, Eastern Europe and the Baltic.

But there is a deeper concern that the policies and methods of the Trump administration, and particularly its increasing appeals to ultra-right, racist and fascistic forces, such as those which rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia two months ago, risk destabilizing the United States politically.

There is particular concern in corporate and banking circles that Trump’s deteriorating relations with top Senate Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker may hamper efforts to push through a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, the main item on the agenda of the Republican-controlled Congress this fall.

On Wednesday a group of six right-wing lobbies allied to the White House, including the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, the Media Research Center and ConservativeHQ.com, called for McConnell to step down due to the failure to repeal Obamacare or enact other right-wing measures, and threatened campaigns against incumbent Republicans in primary elections next year.

They were echoing former White House counselor Steve Bannon, who is threatening to back anti-McConnell candidates in the Republican primaries, and who called Tuesday for Corker’s immediate resignation.

NBC triggered the latest round of internecine warfare with a report last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” after a high-level discussion of foreign policy and nuclear strategy on July 20 at the Pentagon. This was followed by a series of denials by Tillerson and tirades by Trump, culminating in his remark Tuesday, in an interview with Forbesmagazine, that if IQ tests were administered to the two men, he would come out on top.

On Wednesday the network added further details, reporting that Tillerson was provoked to an explosion of frustration by Trump’s suggestion that the US should reverse 50 years of declining numbers in its nuclear weapons stockpile, and revert to the level of weaponry amassed in the 1960s, which would require a ten-fold increase.

Trump then launched into a diatribe against NBC, claiming that it was fabricating “fake news” about his administration, and calling for the network’s broadcast license to be revoked, apparently ignorant of the fact that there are no licenses for the networks and the federal government has no such legal authority.

This was not merely a manifestation of Trump’s authoritarian proclivities. The White House is in deep internal crisis, with top officials leaking unflattering and alarmed comments about Trump’s state of mind, inability to maintain a coherent policy, and tendency to fly off the handle over any public criticism.

The NBC report was based, according to the network, on three officials who attended the top-secret Pentagon meeting in the war room, and heard both Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons and Tillerson’s “moron” comment.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday, in a remarkable front-page article, on the president “lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda,” citing “numerous White House officials and outside advisers.

“Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts,” the Post reported. “One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. ‘I think we are in pressure cooker territory,’ said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.”

At least one of the “18 White House officials, outside advisers and other Trump associates” interviewed for this highly unflattering portrait was identified the following day as Thomas Barrack, a real-estate multi-millionaire and longtime Trump crony and adviser, who chaired the fundraising committee for his inauguration, but now describes himself as “appalled” by the tone of Trump’s tweetstorms.

WSWS

The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Photo by August Kelm | CC BY 2.0

Like too many nations, the United States likes to think of itself as a chosen nation and a chosen people.  Presidential inauguration statements are typically an exercise in proclaiming American exceptionalism, and this mentality has far too much influence in the United States.  It’s particularly regrettable when individuals who should no better indulge the kind of hubris and triumphalism associated with American exceptionalism.

An excellent example of our exceptionalism appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post in the form of an op-ed by Tom Malinowski, the former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the Obama administration.  In a fatuous display of ignorance, Malinowski lambasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for stating that the United States frequently meddles in the politics and elections of other countries.  Malinowski argued that it is Russia that interferes in democratic elections, such as the U.S. presidential race in 2016, but that the United States consistently “promotes democracy in other countries.”

One of the reasons why the United States has so little credibility in making the case against Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election is the sordid record of the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency in conducting regime change and even political assassination to influence political conditions around the world.  In 1953, the United States and Great Britain conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran; the following year, the Eisenhower administration backed a coup in Guatemala that led to the introduction of Central America’s most brutal regime in history.  Similarly, Eisenhower’s willingness to pursue the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo led to the installation of the worst tyrant in the history of Africa, Sese Seku Mobutu.

The Bay of Pigs is the “poster child” for American operational failure, and the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General put the blame squarely on what it described as “arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence” within the CIA.  Ten years later, however, another American administration and the CIA tried to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, a leftist, as president of Chile.  After Allende’s election, the CIA moved to subvert his government.  CIA director Richard Helms was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the operation in Chile.  But it was national security adviser Henry Kissinger who ordered the operation and explained that he couldn’t “see why the United States should stand by and let Chile go communist merely due to the stupidity of its own people.”

The revelation of assassination plots in Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam finally led to a ban on CIA political assassination in the mid-1970s.  Nevertheless, when Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi was killed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted that “we came, we saw, he died.”  In an incredible turn of events, the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, although it was a CIA-sponsored coup against Colonel Abdul Kassem that led to the emergence of Saddam Hussein in the first place.

Vladimir Putin is certainly aware of CIA intervention of behalf of the Solidarity movement in Poland to destabilize the communist government there in the early 1980s; to bolster the regime of former president Eduard Shevardnadze in the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s; and more recently to undermine the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 was designed in part to make sure that the U.S. history of regime change didn’t included another chapter in the Middle East.

Before former U.S. officials such as Tom Malinowski decide to lambaste Putin for cynicism and treachery, it would be a good idea to become familiar with U.S. crimes and calumny. Forty years ago, former senator Frank Church said the United States “must never adopt the tactics of the enemy. Each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong; our inner strength, the strength that makes us free, is lessened.” Malinowski should ponder William Faulkner’s admonition about the land of his birth: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. His latest book is A Whistleblower at the CIA. (City Lights Publishers, 2017).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/27/the-myth-of-american-exceptionalism/

Leading Republicans knew about Russian hacking long before Trump’s nomination. They said nothing and did nothing

Russia scandal goes well beyond Trump: GOP leaders definitely knew about hacking — did they benefit too?

Despite Europe’s clear disdain for President Trump it seems as though he’s over there every other week. In fact he’s arriving in France on Thursday at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron to help celebrate Bastille Day and have dinner at the Eiffel Tower. Considering that Trump has implied repeatedly that Paris is nothing but a hellhole these days, it’s a testament to just how desperate he is to get out of Washington. The heat is on and he wants out of the kitchen.

You have certainly heard that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer to get some promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was represented as being part of a Russian government program to help Trump get elected. Now we know their breathless protestations that they didn’t know nothin’ about no Russians were lies, and we also know that this particular tawdry scheme reached into the highest levels of the campaign. We’ll have to wait for the next shoe to drop. There is always another shoe.

There was one new story on Wednesday that added an interesting detail to the saga and points to a possible larger conspiracy. McClatchy reported that House and Senate investigators as well as the Justice Department are looking at the Trump campaign’s digital operation, one of Jared Kushner’s pet projects (financed by big-daddy benefactor Robert Mercer), to determine if it may have worked with Russia’s sophisticated micro-targeting and propaganda program during the 2016 campaign.

McClatchy also reported that the Justice Department is looking into “whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.” That’s an issue I’ve written about previously here on Salonbased on some post-election investigative reporting by the New York Times.

This raises once again the question of just what was going on in the Republican Party during this period. After all, it wasn’t just Donald Trump who benefited from Russian hacking. The GOP-dominated House majority was a major beneficiary as well.

Remember, the congressional leadership knew in 2015 that it was happening. Reuters has reported that the so-called Gang of Eight (Republican leaders in Congress) was told that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party but that the information was so top secret they could not share it. As we know, hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee and the personal email of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. But they also hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and information gleaned from that hack was put to use in some 2016 campaigns for Congress.

Also recall that one month before Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting with the Russian lawyer, House Majority Leader Kevin “loose lips” McCarthy was talking about Trump’s connections to Vladimir Putin in a room full of Republicans:

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. […]

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

This was the day after news had broken that the Russians had hacked the DNC and Ryan and McCarthy had just come from a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister, who “had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.”

Republican leaders kept this from the public for a year, then lied repeatedly about it when confronted until someone produced an audiotape, at which point McCarthy, Ryan, et al., said it was just a joke. Maybe it was. But we know for sure that this idea about Trump being under Putin’s thumb was in the ether in GOP circles even as the party was getting ready to nominate him as its presidential candidate.

Fast forward to late August when the intelligence community was becoming frantic over the evidence of Russian interference and Director of National Intelligence John Brennan held private classified briefings with eight top congressional leaders, telling then that there was evidence the Russians were helping Donald Trump and that unnamed advisers to the Republican nominee might be working with them. In September, intelligence officials convened a big meeting with the Gang of 12, meaning the House and Senate leadership along with chairmen and ranking members of committees on intelligence and homeland security. It was assumed this would result in a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” to protest this threat to the integrity of the American democratic process.

That was an erroneous assumption. The Republicans refused to sign anything that implicated the Russian government, only agreeing to tell state elections officials to beware of “malefactors” attempting to hack election software. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly “an act of partisan politics.” That was that.

Since the election, when Republican officials aren’t actively helping the White House cover up and misdirect, as House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes did, with a few exceptions they still dismiss the scandal, even in the face of documentary evidence like the Donald Trump Jr. emails.

There’s a lot of punditry every day bemoaning the fact that President Trump refuses to admit that the Russian interference in the campaign happened, seeing it as a stubborn (and insulting) rejection of the U.S. intelligence community and a dangerous unwillingness to take needed action to prevent it happening again. But really, why is Trump the only one on the hook? The Republican leadership has turned a blind eye to what was happening since 2015. They knew. They may have even known more about it than Trump did, at least in the beginning. They did nothing about it then and have shown no signs that they plan to do anything in the future.

It’s not all on Donald Trump. He may been the principal beneficiary but the leaders of his party aided and abetted the crime. We may just learn that they benefited from it too. 

 

Now we see collusion: Will Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a shadowy Russian lawyer unlock the mystery?

How the tragic story of Sergei Magnitsky led to Donald Trump Jr.’s fateful encounter with a Kremlin-friendly lawyer

A lawyer and whistleblower named Sergei Magnitsky spent 358 days in one of the most notoriously deadly Russian prisons, where he was tortured and eventually died from untreated internal ailments, including pancreatitis, as well as injuries from routine torture incurred at the hands of Russian law enforcement.

Throughout his harrowing incarceration, Magnitsky provided a detailed narrative of his abuse in prison, covered in 450 letters. His stomach-churning story eventually led to a bipartisan American law passed in 2012 known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which applied hard-hitting sanctions against a roster of Russian officials linked to a $230 million kleptocratic tax fraud scandal Magnitsky was endeavoring to uncover. After last year’s election, President Barack Obama signed a second law, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, extending the original law to apply to any foreign person found to have links to human rights abuses similar to those inflicted upon Magnitsky.

Russia’s response was typically, well, Russian. The Kremlin blacklisted a menu of American officials, while restricting the adoption of Russian babies by American couples. One of the blacklisted officials, oddly enough, was a prosecutor who’s more than familiar to anyone who’s been following the increasingly breathtaking Trump-Russia scandal: Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York. Among myriad other probes, Bharara was said to have been investigating the Trump Organization’s links to Russian money laundering. He was suddenly and personally fired by President Trump after having apparently been assured by Trump himself, during the transition, that he’d be allowed to remain at his post.

According to a Saturday evening article in the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort apparently met in Trump Tower last June with a Russian lawyer with “connections to the Kremlin” named Natalia Veselnitskaya. Before we continue, it’s crucial to note that both Trump Jr. and Kushner confirmed the meeting with Veselnitskaya to the Times. Likewise, Manafort confirmed his participation in the meeting. Manafort also confirmed that Trump Jr. spearheaded it. (In other words, this isn’t “fake news.”) Not insignificantly, Bharara was responsible for pursuing Veselnitskaya’s client, Preveson Holdings, a company linked to the $230 million scam Magnitsky was exposing. The case was settled for $6 million.

Veselnitskaya, the Times reported, is a vocal opponent of the Magnitsky Act and, for her part, told the Times that “the meeting lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the Magnitsky Act and the adoption issue.” Trump Jr. also explained that the meeting was “primarily about an adoption program.” (Keep reading — there’s much more to this explanation.) So it seems more than obvious that the discussion had to do with Veselnitskaya conveying a message to the then-presumptive Republican nominee for president that either the Kremlin wanted the Magnitsky Act fully repealed or sanctions lifted from Russian officials impacted by the law or both.

Not only is this highly suggestive of collusion between Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin, it could also represent the first real journalistic evidence of a possible quid pro quo arrangement between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, the lifting of sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act could be seen as a partial payment to Russia for helping Trump during the campaign, either politically or financially or both.

But wait. Hang onto your hats. There’s more.

second New York Times story dropped on Sunday, lending an almost cataclysmic detail to the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and Veselnitskaya. The Times reported that Trump Jr. convened the June 9, 2016 meeting after Veselnitskaya informed him that she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The following paragraph ought to send chills down your spine:

The meeting — at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trumpclinched the Republican nomination — points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

The Times added that it’s unclear whether Veselnitskaya handed over the opposition research on Clinton, but “the people interviewed by The Times about the meeting said the expectation was that she would do so.”

This is collusion. Hands down. It appeared more than obvious following the initial Times story on Saturday, but now, with Sunday’s pulse-pounding article, it seems blindingly clear that the meeting was at least intended to be either an offer or a negotiation: Give the Trump campaign Russian-sourced dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for the lifting of sanctions outlined in the Magnitsky Act and beyond.

Adding to the profoundly urgent nature of this news, we learned that during their summit in Hamburg, President Trump agreed to form a joint task force on cybersecurity with Putin. To overstate the obvious here, this would be like the George W. Bush administration entering into a joint task force on airport security with Osama bin Laden. Worse, Trump continues to deny or dispute that there was any collusion at all, while accepting Putin’s word over the word of former President Obama, countless former and current government officials, and the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Incidentally, Trump has repeatedly insisted that only four intelligence agencies agreed that Russia hijacked the 2016 election, when in fact the Oct. 7, 2016, assessment by the director of national intelligence represented the analysis of the entire U.S. intelligence community. In fact, the report began with these words: “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” Then again, words have no meaning in the age of Trump.

Making matters even more desperate, it appears as though the Russian government is attempting to compromise our nuclear energy facilities.

Ultimately, there is no doubt that we were attacked, and based on the words of James Comey and others, it appears the attack will continue and worsen as time rolls on. Yet we have a president who not only accepts Putin’s explanation, but who may have cooperated with Putin in that sinister enterprise. Simply put: American democracy is under severe threat and the president seems to be acting almost as an enemy combatant, openly hostile to anyone who’s sounding the alarm about the increasingly treacherous Russian crisis.

It can’t be stressed enough that any and all legal and constitutional mechanisms for thwarting Trump’s continuing efforts must be triggered by the proper authorities, be they members of Congress, the Justice Department or the special counsel. The future of American sovereignty is hanging in the balance and we can no longer rely on the White House for aid.

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

The Reichstag Fire Next Time

The coming crackdown

When each day brings more news than we are used to seeing in a week, and the kind of news that only the most catastrophic imagination can accommodate, we find ourselves talking about the Reichstag fire. Time feels both accelerated and slowed down, and so we imagine that we have been talking about the fire for years. It is the new president’s new clothes: invisible, yet always present in our perception of him.

The Reichstag fire, it goes almost without saying, will be a terrorist attack, and it will mark our sudden, obvious, and irreversible descent into autocracy. Here is what it looks like: On a sunny morning you turn on the television as you make coffee, or the speaker in your shower streams the news, or the radio comes on when you turn the ignition key in your car. The voices of the newscasters are familiar, but their pitch is altered, and they speak with a peculiar haste. Something horrible has happened—it is not yet clear what—and thousands are dead, and more are expected to die. You hear the word “terror.” You feel it.

Illustrations by Lincoln Agnew. Source photographs: Adolf Hitler © Hulton Archive/Getty Images; crowd saluting Hitler © Visual Studies Workshop/Getty Images

You reach for your cell phone, but the circuits are busy, and will be for hours—it will take you the rest of the day to check in with your loved ones. They are safe, but changed. And so are you. So are all of us. Tragedy has cast its shadow over every space where you encounter strangers: the subway, your child’s school, your lunch spot. People are quieter, less frivolous, yet they are not subdued. They share a sense of purpose that is greater than their fear. They are experiencing something they’d only read about: War has come to their land. Everyone is a patriot now.

You used to scoff at that word, or argue that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. But now you find that the word expresses what you are. Now is not the moment for dissent. A couple of public intellectuals insist that it is, and you feel embarrassed for them. They quickly fade from the scene, and this serves to underscore an unprecedented sort of unity.

Nowhere is this unity more evident than in Washington. Bills are passed unanimously. These laws give new powers to the president and his security apparatus. The president, unpopular and widely considered incompetent before the attack, now steps up to direct the war effort. His demeanor—which some used to deride as primitive—is well suited for this new black-and-white era. His administration institutes sweeping surveillance to ferret out enemies at home, and wages one war and then another abroad.

American public life is profoundly transformed. The press becomes uncritical of the government. There is no outright censorship; correspondents are part of the effort now, as they were during the Second World War. American casualties pile up, the foreign carnage is enormous and unmeasured, but there is scant domestic resistance. Only at the margins of politics and the media do some people question the usefulness and legality of the war effort.

The government pushes the limits further, cutting off access to the judiciary for those deemed the enemy. The president is no longer unpopular, and he can impose his will on Washington and the country. The country is in a forever war, a state of exception that has taken away many American freedoms, some of which were ceded voluntarily.

That is what we talk about when we talk about the Reichstag fire, and it has already happened. Like sad versions of the characters in The Wizard of Oz, who set off in search of traits they already possess, we are living in fear of an event that will catapult us into a terrifying future, when the event has already occurred—and has given us our terrifying present.

The actual fire in the Reichstag—the German parliament building—burned on the evening of February 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler had been appointed chancellor four weeks earlier, and already he had begun placing restrictions on the press and expanding the powers of the police. Yet it is the fire, rather than Hitler’s toxic first steps, that is remembered as the event after which things were never the same, in Germany or in the world.

Hitler capitalized on the fire by taking an uncompromising militant stand: “There will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.” This, in turn, probably boosted his popularity, paving the way for a victory for the Nazi Party in parliamentary elections a week later.

Hitler immediately began cracking down on the political opposition. The day after the fire, the government issued a decree allowing the police to detain people without charges, on the grounds of prevention. Activists were rounded up by his paramilitary forces, the SA and the SS, and placed in camps. Less than a month later, the parliament passed an “enabling act,” creating rule by decree and establishing a state of emergency that lasted as long as the Nazis were in power.

Anschluss—the annexation of Austria—was still five years away, and the start of the Second World War six and a half, but the Reichstag fire was used to create a state of exception, as Carl Schmitt, Hitler’s favorite legal scholar, called it. In Schmitt’s terms, a state of exception arises when an emergency, a singular event, shakes up the accepted order of things. This is when the sovereign steps forward and institutes new, extralegal rules. The emergency enables a quantum leap: The sovereign has to have enough power to declare a state of exception, and then by that declaration he acquires far great­er, unchecked power. That is what makes the change irreversible, and the state of exception permanent.

Every galvanizing event of the past eighty years has been compared to the Reichstag fire. On December 1, 1934, Sergei Kirov, the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad, was murdered by a lone gunman. The killer, Leonid Nikolaev, was arrested and executed, but the assassination is remembered as the pretext for creating a state of exception in Russia. Show trials and mass arrests followed, swelling the gulag with people accused of being traitors, spies, and terrorist plotters. To handle the volume, the Kremlin created troikas—three-person panels that doled out a sentence without reviewing the case, much less hearing from the defense.

More recently, Vladimir Putin has relied on a succession of catastrophic events to create irreversible exceptions. In 1999, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and cities in southern Russia killed hundreds. This allowed Putin to proclaim that he could summarily execute those deemed “terrorists” and became a pretext for a new war in Chechnya. In 2002, the three-day siege of a Moscow theater served as a demonstration of the principle of summary execution: Russian law enforcement pumped the theater full of sleeping gas, entered the building, and shot the hostage-takers as they lay unconscious. The Kremlin also used the theater siege as a pretext to ban the already cowed media from covering anti-terrorist operations. Two years later, more than three hundred people, most of them children, died following an attack at a school in Beslan, in southern Russia. Putin used this catastrophic event to cancel the elections of local governors, effectively abolishing the country’s federal structure.

The thinking that transforms tragedy into crackdown is not foreign to the United States. During the crisis that followed the Alien and Sedition Acts at the turn of the nineteenth century, the ruling Federalists and the opposition Republicans accused each other of treason and a fatal lack of vigilance, of being Jacobin puppets. The courts, stacked with Federalist appointees, wasted no time shutting down opposition newspapers.

Half a century later, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without civilian judicial review. He did this to be able to indefinitely hold rebels whom he judged a danger to the Union—but whom, he said, “the courts, acting on ordinary rules, would discharge.” It wasn’t until 1866 that the Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional.

By the next major war, the First World War, speech perceived as critical of or detrimental to the American war effort was punished with prison sentences as long as ten years. Historian Geoffrey Stone has called Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act of 1918 “the most repressive legislation in American history.” Thousands of people were arrested—many without a warrant—and 249 anarchist and communist activists were deported to Soviet Russia. It wasn’t until later that Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis started on a dissenting streak that ultimately restored and clarified free-speech protections.

The Second World War brought another presidential assault on the Constitution: the internment of more than a hundred thousand Americans of Japanese descent. Then came the ­McCarthy era, when the government took up spying on the enemy within and accusations of treason, whether or not they were supported by evidence, ruined life after life. The next generation of Americans lived through the secrecy, deceit, and paranoia of the Vietnam War years, which culminated in a president who had his opponents prosecuted and wiretapped. For Americans in the twentieth century a state of exception came close to being the rule.

Not all the periods of exception are remembered as repressive: In State of Exception, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben notes that Franklin Roosevelt invoked emergency powers for the passage of the New Deal in 1933, arguing that economic catastrophe warranted “broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” Writing in 2005, Agamben drew a narrative line from the state of exception in Europe following the First World War to that in America following 9/11.

As long as war is raging, political consensus supports the crackdowns. Legal scholar Stephen Holmes calls this wisdom “the intuitive claim that grave emergencies require discretionary authority to act outside and against inherited rules and standard operating procedures.” There is no proof that such a response is effective—and there is even copious evidence that it leads to abuse of power and damage to society—but the temptation to both seize and cede power in the face of fear proves irresistible time after time.

Source photographs: Donald Trump © JB Lacroix/WireImage; Vladimir Putin © Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images; Barack Obama © Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images; George W. Bush © Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images; protest © Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto/Getty Images; drone © Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

The war that began in 2001 is unlike other wars: The enemy is not a nation or an army but a tactic, one that has existed for millennia. This war cannot be won, because a tactic cannot be eradicated. A war that cannot be won cannot end, and so it has not. Nor have the liberties surrendered by Americans in response to 9/11 been restored. Under President Obama, the war on terror morphed into the more grammatically sensible war on terrorism. The Patriot Act became the Freedom Act. The use of torture appears to have been largely discontinued, but the camp at Guantánamo Bay continues its shameful existence—with a reduced number of inmates, though numbers are never a good measure of liberty. Millions of Americans who voted in the last election have lived with the war on terror for as long as they can remember.

In his farewell address in Chicago, Obama could claim only that he had “worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said, interrupted by cheers before continuing, “who are just as patriotic as we are.” Over the course of more than fifteen years, the essential premise—that the United States is at war, and that the Other in this war is Muslims—has remained unchanged. Trump claims that Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11, while Obama says that they are just as patriotic as we are; that they are not us is one of the few things the two men agree on.

The current state of exception rests in part on the national state of emergency, which George W. Bush declared three days after the September 11 attacks, which he renewed every year of his presidency, and which Obama also renewed every September of his. The president’s ability to impose and renew a state of emergency is technically limited by the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which requires Congress to vote on the state of emergency within six months of the day it is imposed. But such a vote has never occurred—even though the act has been invoked at least fifty-three times. In practice, the president wields unilateral power over emergencies.

The National Emergencies Act can be invoked for disasters beyond an actual war—Obama declared a national emergency in anticipation of the swine flu epidemic in 2009—but it invariably represents both an outsized reaction to a perceived threat and a journey outside what we maintain is normal national and social conduct. At any given time in the past decade, roughly thirty simulta­neous states of emergency have been in effect. Dozens of executive orders, and numerous other directives and regulations, have stemmed from these states of emergency—all of them creating powers that would be impossible in the increasingly illusory normal state of things. A state of emergency allows the president to unilaterally seize control of the media, food supplies, and commercial vessels, for instance. The fact that Bush and Obama did not utilize some of the more extreme possibilities of the state of emergency testifies only to their restraint, not to the legal limitations. At the same time, we know less and less about the powers the government has exercised; since 2001, an ever-increasing number of these emergency powers have been classified.

The state of exception also rests on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed by Congress three days after the attacks in 2001. It gives the president sweeping power to

use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.

The law, passed with a single dissenting vote, remains in force as the nation enters its fourth post-9/11 presidential term.

Today, when it is said that a terrorist attack is sure to happen, it is assumed that the attack will be carried out in the name of the Islamic State. The premise of inevitability is notable—one would think that such acts of terror occurred in the United States on a regular basis. Since September 11, 2001, however, there have been eleven attacks ostensibly driven by jihadist ideology; they have claimed a total of ninety-five lives. “The death toll has been quite similar to other forms of political—and even non-political—violence Americans face today,” a recent report from the New America foundation summarized. The report referred only to domestic terrorism and mass shooting incidents, but many more Americans have died at the hands of the state: In the first four months of this year, the use of deadly force by police claimed three times as many lives. These killings, extrajudicial by definition, are a symptom of the state of exception, which has turned the police into a military force. As a nation we insist on being united in fear of the one-in-millions chance of a particular kind of violence. That we seem so certain of the outlines of the Reichstag fire to come reveals the fact that it has already occurred.

Among the victims of the sixteen-year-old state of exception are hundreds of individuals identified, prosecuted, and sentenced under emergency rules. Since the war on terror began, the United States has prosecuted an average of forty terrorism cases per year, about half of them on the basis of informant operations. Convictions that result from such cases—and convictions result almost without fail, usually as the result of a plea bargain—fetch higher sentences because of something known as the terrorism adjustment in federal sentencing guidelines. The adjustment went into effect following the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 but was used most widely after 9/11. This was a law passed by Congress, yet it created an exceptional category of crime that could not be addressed by normal law. One example is the prosecution of two Iraqi refugees who were tried in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for allegedly intending to help insurgent fighters battling U.S. forces back home. The men were convicted of terrorism, even though the accusation against them—that they aided fighters confronting an army—doesn’t fit standard definitions of terrorism. They were sentenced to life in prison, in the case of a man arrested at the age of twenty-three, and forty years behind bars, for the one who cooperated with the prosecution. This was the case that Trump aide Kellyanne Conway presumably had in mind when she conjured the memory of the Bowling Green Massacre—something that never happened but, according to the logic the country has applied over the past decade and a half, could have happened.

A key characteristic of the most frightening regimes of the past hundred years is mobilization. This is what distinguishes the merely authoritarian regimes from the totalitarian ones. Authoritarians prefer their subjects passive, tending to their private lives while the authoritarian and his cronies amass wealth and power. The totalitarian wants people out in the square; he craves their adulation and devotion, their willingness to fight and die for him. Mobilization was just as important an element of Hitler’s 1933 consolidation of power as his crackdown. Victory rallies, national holidays, and parades demonstrated, even forced, the unity of a nation. In Germans into Nazis, historian Peter Fritzsche makes no mention of the Reichstag fire but devotes a chapter to the May Day parade of 1933, a daylong, citywide spectacle “carefully choreographed to .?.?. demonstrate the national sense of purpose that was now said to animate the German people.”

To totalitarianism watchers, Trump’s campaign rallies, which segued into his victory rallies, including his “America First” inauguration, have looked familiar and perhaps more worrisome than an imaginary future fire. To historians of the twenty-first century, however, they will likely look like logical steps from the years of war rhetoric that preceded them, not quantum leaps. A nation can be mobilized only if it knows its enemy and believes in its own peril.

It is not clear how many Germans attended that May Day parade because the spirit moved them and how many were compelled by fear or force. Four and a half decades later, in “The Power of the Powerless,” the Czech dissident Václav Havel described an individual who “lives within a lie,” the lie of the official ideology, without consciously accepting or rejecting it. Totalitarianism robs a person of the very ability to form an opinion.

Fear has a way of catapulting citizens into the inside of a lie. Following the apartment-building bombings of 1999, Russians huddled together, forming neighborhood patrols, eyeing strangers and neighbors alike with suspicion, and then threw their support behind the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In one of his first public statements, the unknown, gray little politician promised to hunt down terrorists and “rub them out in the outhouse,” rhetorically trampling the foundations of the justice system.

Americans, too, have finely honed instincts for banding together in the face of an attack. Within hours of the September 11 attacks, 150 members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps and sang “God Bless America.” Some of them held hands. The strongest country on the planet was making a spectacle of fear and resolve. The following day, a train traveling between Boston and New York was stopped because passengers had been alarmed by the presence of a Sikh man; he was removed. Two days later, enabling legislation—bills on war powers and the state of emergency—were passed.

Trump does not have to declare war—this has already been done—or even proffer an assessment of the danger. But he has already shown that he can deftly use the coercive power of the state of being at war—this is, possibly, the only political tool of which the president has instinctive mastery. During his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump orchestrated more than two minutes of applause for the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL. It was 125 seconds of naked cynicism that left no one in the audience any choice but to stand and applaud. The following day Breit­bart falsely claimed that several top Democrats had refused to do so. This was a preview of the coercion by national unity that we talk about when we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, but it was also reminiscent of the early weeks and months following 9/11, when Bill Maher and Susan Sontag were shamed for breaking rhetorical ranks.

In Russia, it took many years for Putin to consolidate power, and it wasn’t until 2012 that his regime assumed its current retro-totalitarian character. Over the years, the use of terrorist attacks to justify successive crackdowns has grown familiar and gradually transformed the country’s thinking. The lack of logical connections between events and their ostensible consequences, along with the general degradation of the judicial system and law enforcement, eroded all trust in the government—to the extent that every time a terrorist attack occurred, many Russians assumed that the government, no matter what it said, was behind it. When a bomb went off in the St. Petersburg Metro in April, killing fourteen people, journalists and Russia watchers instantly assumed that the Kremlin had organized the attack in order to detract attention from or to stifle emergent anti-corruption protests.

Over the years many Russians, including me, have come to believe that the apartment-building bombings in Moscow and elsewhere were organized and carried out by the FSB, the intelligence agency, in order to shore up Putin’s power grab. There has never been a transparent and satisfying investigation of the blasts, but the available evidence stacks up in favor of this theory.

When we talk about the Reichstag fire, we speak not only about an event that precipitates a state of exception and launches coercive national mobilization but also of a conspiracy. Many Germans were certain that the Reichs­tag fire was set by the Nazis themselves. So much evidence supported this theory that for decades after the Second World War a Nazi conspiracy was the historians’ consensus. During the same period, it was generally accepted that the Kirov murder was a secret-police assassination. But when all the available information on the Kirov murder was excavated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no proof to back up the conspiracy theory: It is now believed that Kirov was killed by his assistant’s jealous husband. In the 1960s, reporting cast doubt on the theory that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag, but in the 1990s, a new wave of evidence suggested they may have been involved after all. Historians continue to debate the issue. (A young Dutch Communist was apprehended at the scene, tried, and sentenced to death by beheading.) It is certainly too early to exonerate Putin and the FSB for the apartment bombings, but the Russian autocrat may eventually be proved to have simply seized an opportunity, as he has done many times since. For now, though, we do not know enough, and this paucity of information, too, is one of the signs of an autocracy.

Autocracies thrive on and engender fear, ignorance, and—their combined product—conspiracy theory. Writing in his diary in January 1934, the linguist Victor Klemperer assessed a genre of joke. “Conversations in heaven are popular. The best one: Hitler to Moses: But you can tell me in confidence, Herr Moses. Is it not true that you set the bush on fire yourself?” The joke shows Hitler and the satirist sharing a conspiratorial worldview: The person telling the joke believes that the führer set the Reichs­tag fire and also that Hitler sees the world through the lens of his own deception. Everyone is both a conspirator and a conspiracy theorist.

The September 11 attacks, like all unimaginable events, spawned conspiracy theories. Trutherism spread far and wide; its younger cousin, birtherism, grabbed hold of a smaller but more vocal constituency. By the time Trump was elected president, America was living through an epidemic of conspiracy thinking. Some were convinced that Hillary Clinton ran a child-sex ring from a pizza shop in Washington; others that every recently dead Russian man was connected to Trump’s election victory. No one now seems to believe that most things are what they seem: usually, a mess.

When we talk about the Reichs­tag fire, we talk about the consequences of a catastrophic event. But in our case, these consequences—a legal state of exception, a sense of living under siege, popular mobilization, and an epidemic of conspiracy thinking—are already in place. Indeed, they are the preconditions of our current predicament. Trump used the conspiracy thinking and the siege mentality to get himself elected. Once president, he used the state of exception to begin lobbing missiles, dropping bombs—nothing less than the so-called Mother of All Bombs. Mobilization, the popular sense of being together in constant battle, ensured that Trump’s first forays into war looked good on TV. At the same time, Trump overestimated the power given to him by the siege mentality. When he attempted to ban Muslims from entering the United States, for example, he encountered great popular and institutional resistance.

Here lies our best hope for reversing the effects of the next Reichs­tag fire: American civil society is strong—far stronger, paradoxically, than it was before the election. And something remains of what Hannah Arendt observed in a letter from 1946:

People here feel themselves responsible for public life to an extent I have never seen in any European country. For example, when all Americans of Japanese descent were locked up willy-nilly in concentration camps at the beginning of the war, a genuine storm of protest that can still be felt today went through the country.

What struck Arendt was the spontaneous and active expression of solidarity on the part of ordinary Americans who “declared that if something like that could happen, they no longer felt safe themselves.”

The comparison to contemporary protests may not be entirely straightforward. Leading arguments rested on the impossibility of religious discrimination; popular protest relied on a general sense of injustice and the rational argument that banning the entry of people from seven majority-Muslim countries would do little to protect Americans from terrorism. But by pointing to the ineffectiveness of the proposed ban, some of these arguments unwittingly reinforced the idea that Americans can make themselves safer by shutting out some part of the world.

Most recent protests share a fundamental flaw: They project the assumption that things were fine until America inexplicably elected Trump. The women’s marches, the immigrants’ marches, the scientists’ marches, the protests in defense of the Affordable Care Act and freedom of speech, and the earliest of the protests, which simply expressed outraged disbelief at the results of the election, all serve the purpose of staking out the current norms and vowing to defend them. It’s hard to argue with the urge; all indications are that the current norms are far preferable to the reality of the near and distant future. Yet most of the protests live within a lie—the fiction that the threats of the Trump presidency are not only grave but also new. His war against the national press is a grotesque blowup of many years’ worth of growing regimentation of access, concentration of power, and government opacity. Trump’s war on immigrants builds on the mass deportations of the Obama years, which were themselves built on the siege mentality of the Bush years. Trump’s casual bomb-throwing is enabled by the forever war begun nearly sixteen years ago.

To confront the threat we face, it is not enough to advance the rational argument that an American has a lesser chance of dying in a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee than of being struck by lightning. Nor is it enough to focus on the grave injustice of tarnishing immigrants as potential criminals and Muslim refugees as potential terrorists. It is most certainly not enough to revel in the beauty, intelligence, and wit of the many people who have come out to protest Trump’s attacks on humanity and its planet. There is, in fact, no room for self-congratulation in the actions we need to take.

To be worthy of the lofty name “resistance,” the opposition to Trump must aim to break the country’s post-9/11 trajectory. It must question the very premise of the war on terror, challenge the very fact of a perpetual state of emergency, and confront not only the Trump presidency but the legacy of the Bush and Obama Administrations. Organizations such as the A.C.L.U. have been doing this for years. The Trump presidency has not only, paradoxically, brought the group millions of dollars, it has also, potentially, rallied millions of people to the cause. Now is the time to stop waiting for the Reichs­tag fire and start battling the consequences of the one we already had—Trump and the legal and public conditions that are enabling his presidency.

 

 

America’s Real Red Scare

We’re witnessing the slow-motion collapse of the American empire.

America’s Real Red Scare

US and Russian flags wave in the wind upon US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s arrival in Moscow on April 11, 2017. (Photo by Gleb Schelkunov/Kommersant via Getty Images)

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Jump into your time machine and let me transport you back to another age.

It’s May 2001 and The Atlantic has just arrived in the mail. I’m tantalized by the cover article. “Russia is finished,” the magazine announces. The subtitle minces no words: “The unstoppable descent into social catastrophe and strategic irrelevance.” Could it be that the country I had worried most about as a military officer during all those grim years of the Cold War, the famed “Evil Empire” that had threatened us with annihilation, was truly kaput, even in its Russian rather than Soviet guise?

Sixteen years later, the article’s message seems just a tad premature. Today’s Russia surely has its problems — from poverty to pollution to prostitution to a rickety petro-economy — but on the geopolitical world stage it is “finished” no longer. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has recently been enjoying heightened influence, largely at the expense of a divided and disputatious superpower that now itself seems to be on an “unstoppable descent.”

More than a generation after defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States of 2017 seems to be doing its level best to emulate some of the worst aspects of its former foe and once rival superpower.

Sixteen years after Russia was declared irrelevant, a catastrophe, finito, it is once again a colossus — at least on the American political scene, if nowhere else. And that should disturb you far less than this: more than a generation after defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States of 2017 seems to be doing its level best to emulate some of the worst aspects of its former foe and once rival superpower.

Yes, the US has a Soviet problem, and I’m not referring to the allegations of the moment in Washington: that the Trump campaign and Russian officials colluded, that money may have flowed into that campaign via Russian oligarchs tied to Putin, that the Russians hacked the US election to aid Donald Trump, that those close to the president-elect dreamed of setting up a secret back channel to Moscow and suggested to the Russian ambassador that it be done through the Russian embassy or even that Putin has a genuine hold of some sort on Donald Trump. All of this is, of course, generating attention galore, as well as outrage, in the mainstream media and among the chattering classes, leading some to talk of a new “red scare” in America. All of it is also being investigated, whether by congressional intelligence committees or by former FBI director — now special counsel — Robert Mueller.

When it comes to what I’m talking about, though, you don’t need a committee or a counsel or a back channel or a leaker from some intelligence agency to ferret it out. Whatever Trump campaign officials, Russian oligarchs or Vladimir Putin himself did or didn’t do, America’s Soviet problem is all around us: a creeping (and creepy) version of authoritarianism that anyone who lived through the Cold War years should recognize. It involves an erosion of democratic values; the ever-expanding powers exercised by a national security state operating as a shadow government and defined by militarism, surveillance, secrecy, prisons and other structures of dominance and control; ever-widening gaps between the richest few and the impoverished many; and, of course, ever more weapons, along with ever more wars.

That’s a real red scare, America, and it’s right here in the homeland.

In February, if you remember — and given the deluge of news, half news, rumor and innuendo, who can remember anything these days? — Donald Trump memorably compared the US to Russia. When Bill O’Reilly called Vladimir Putin “a killer” in an interview with the new president, he responded that there was little difference between us and them, for — as he put it — we had our killers, too, and weren’t exactly innocents abroad when it came to world affairs. (“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”) The president has said a lot of outlandish things in his first months in office, but here he was on to something.

My Secret Briefing on the Soviet Union

When I was a young lieutenant in the Air Force, in 1986 if memory serves, I attended a secret briefing on the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan was president, and we had no clue that we were living through the waning years of the Cold War. Back then, believing that I should know my enemy, I was reading a lot about the Soviets in “open sources”; you know, books, magazines and newspapers. The “secret” briefing I attended revealed little that was new to me. (Classified information is often overhyped.) I certainly heard no audacious predictions of a Soviet collapse in five years (though the Soviet Union would indeed implode in 1991). Like nearly everyone at the time, the briefers assumed the USSR would be our archenemy for decades to come and it went without saying that the Berlin Wall was a permanent fixture in a divided Europe, a forever symbol of ruthless Communist oppression.

Little did we know that, three years later, the Soviet military would stand aside as East Germans tore down that wall. And who then would have believed that a man might be elected president of the United States a generation later on the promise of building a “big, fat, beautiful wall” on our shared border with Mexico?

I wasn’t allowed to take notes during that briefing, but I remember the impression I was left with: that the USSR was deeply authoritarian, a grim surveillance state with an economy dependent on global weapons sales; that it was intent on nuclear domination; that it was imperialist and expansionist; that it persecuted its critics and dissidents; and that it had serious internal problems carefully suppressed in the cause of world mastery, including rampant alcohol and drug abuse, bad health care and declining longevity (notably for men), a poisoned environment and an extensive prison system featuring gulags. All of this was exacerbated by festering sores overseas, especially a costly and stalemated war in Afghanistan and client-states that absorbed its resources (think: Cuba) while offering little in return.

This list of Soviet problems, vintage 1986, should have a familiar ring to it, since it sounds uncannily like a description of what’s wrong with the United States today.

This list of Soviet problems, vintage 1986, should have a familiar ring to it, since it sounds uncannily like a description of what’s wrong with the United States today.

In case you think that’s an over-the-top statement, let’s take that list from the briefing — eight points in all — one item at a time.

1. An authoritarian, surveillance state: The last time the US Congress formally declared war was in 1941. Since then, American presidents have embarked on foreign wars and interventions ever more often with ever less oversight from Congress. Power continues to grow and coalesce in the executive branch, strengthening an imperial presidency enhanced by staggering technologies of surveillance, greatly expanded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Indeed, America now has 17 intelligence agencies with a combined yearly budget of $80 billion. Unsurprisingly, Americans are surveilled more than ever, allegedly for our safety even if such a system breeds meekness and stifles dissent.

2. An economy dependent on global weapons sales: The US continues to dominate the global arms trade in a striking fashion. It was no mistake that a centerpiece of President Trump’s recent trip was a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. On the same trip, he told the Emir of Qatar that he was in the Middle East to facilitate “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.” Now more than ever, beautiful weaponry made in the USA is a significant driver of domestic economic growth as well as of the country’s foreign policy.

3. Bent on nuclear domination: Continuing the policies of President Obama, the Trump administration envisions a massive modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, to the tune of at least a trillion dollars over the next generation. Much like an old-guard Soviet premier, Trump has boasted that America will always remain at “the top of the pack” when it comes to nuclear weapons.

4. Imperialist and expansionist: Historians speak of America’s “informal” empire, by which they mean the US is less hands-on than past imperial powers like the Romans and the British. But there’s nothing informal or hands-off about America’s 800 overseas military bases or the fact that its Special Operations forces are being deployed in 130 or more countries yearly. When the US military speaks of global reach, global power and full-spectrum dominance, this is traditional imperialism cloaked in banal catchphrases. Put differently, Soviet imperialism, which American leaders always professed to fear, never had a reach of this sort.

5. Persecutes critics and dissidents: Whether it’s been the use of the Patriot Act under George W. Bush’s presidency, the persecution of whistleblowers using the World War I-era Espionage Act under the Obama administration or the vilification of the media by the new Trump administration, the US is far less tolerant of dissent today than it was prior to the Soviet collapse. As Homeland Security Secretary and retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly recently put it, speaking of news stories about the Trump administration based on anonymous intelligence sources, such leaks are “darn close to treason.” Add to such an atmosphere Trump’s attacks on the media as the “enemy” of the people and on critical news stories as “fake” and you have an environment ripe for the future suppression of dissent.

In the Soviet Union, political opponents were often threatened with jail or worse, and those threats were regularly enforced by men wearing military or secret police uniforms. In that context, let’s not forget the “Lock her up!” chants led by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at the Republican National Convention and aimed at Donald Trump’s political opponent of that moment, Hillary Clinton.

6. Internal problems like drug abuse, inadequate health care and a poisoned environment: Alcoholism is still rife in Russia and environmental damage widespread, but consider the US today. An opioid crisis is killing more than 30,000 people a year. Lead poisoning in places like Flint, Michigan, and New Orleans is causing irreparable harm to the young. The disposal of wastewater from fracking operations is generating earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma. Even as environmental hazards proliferate, the Trump administration is gutting the Environmental Protection Agency. As health crises grow more serious, the Trump administration, abetted by a Republican-led Congress, is attempting to cut health-care coverage and benefits, as well as the funding that might protect Americans from deadly pathogens. Disturbingly, as with the Soviet Union in the era of its collapse, life expectancy among white men is declining, mainly due to drug abuse, suicide and other despair-driven problems.

7. Extensive prison systems: As a percentage of its population, no countryimprisons more of its own people than the United States. While more than two million of their fellow citizens languish in prisons, Americans continue to see their nation as a beacon of freedom, ignoring Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In addition, the country now has a president who believes in torture, who has called for the murder of terrorists’ families, and who wants to refill Guantánamo with prisoners. It also has an attorney general who wants to make prison terms for low-level drug offenders ever more draconian.

8. Stalemated wars: You have to hand it to the Soviets. They did at least exhibit a learning curve in their disastrous war in Afghanistan and so the Red Army finally left that country in 1989 after a decade of high casualties and frustration (even if its troops returned to a land on the verge of implosion). US forces, on the other hand, have been in Afghanistan for 16 years, with the Taliban growing ever stronger, yet its military’s response has once again been to call for investing more money and sending in more troops to reverse the “stalemate” there. Meanwhile, after 14 years, Iraq War 3.0 festers, bringing devastation to places like Mosul, even as its destabilizing results continue to manifest themselves in Syria and indeed throughout the greater Middle East. Despite or rather because of these disastrous results, US leaders continue to over-deploy US Special Operations forces, contributing to exhaustion and higher suicide rates in the ranks.

In light of these eight points, that lighthearted Beatles tune and relic of the Cold War, “Back in the USSR,” takes on a new, and far harsher, meaning.

What Is to Be Done?

Slowly, seemingly inexorably, the US is becoming more like the former Soviet Union.

Slowly, seemingly inexorably, the US is becoming more like the former Soviet Union. Just to begin the list of similarities: too many resources are being devoted to the military and the national security state; too many over-decorated generals are being given too much authority in government; bleeding-ulcer wars continue unstanched in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; infrastructure (roads, bridges, pipelines, dams and so on) continues to crumble; restless “republics” grumble about separating from the union (Calexit!); rampant drug abuse and declining life expectancy are now American facts of life. Meanwhile, the latest US president is, in temperament, authoritarian, even as government “services” take on an increasingly nepotistic flavor at the top.

I’m worried, comrade! Echoing the cry of the great Lenin, what is to be done? Given the list of symptoms, here’s one obvious 10-step approach to the de-sovietization of America:

1. Decrease “defense” spending by 10 percent annually for the next five years. In the Soviet spirit, think of it as a five-year plan to restore our revolution (as in the American Revolution), which was, after all, directed against imperial policies exercised by a “bigly” king.

2. Cut the number of generals and admirals in the military by half, and get rid of all the meaningless ribbons, badges and medals they wear. In other words, don’t just cut down on the high command but on their tendency to look (and increasingly to act) like Soviet generals of old. And don’t allow them to serve in high governmental positions until they’ve been retired for at least 10 years.

3. Get our military out of Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Reduce that imperial footprint overseas by closing costly military bases.

4. Work to eliminate nuclear weapons globally by, as a first step, cutting the vast US arsenal in half and forgetting about that trillion-dollar “modernization” program. Eliminate land-based ICBMs first; they are no longer needed for any meaningful deterrent purposes.

5. Take the money saved on “modernizing” nukes and invest it in updating America’s infrastructure.

6. Curtail state surveillance. Freedom needs privacy to flourish. As a nation, we need to remember that security is not the bedrock of democracy — the US Constitution is.

7. Work to curb drug abuse by cutting back on criminalization. Leave the war mentality behind, including the “war on drugs,” and focus instead on providing better treatment programs for addicts. Set a goal of cutting America’s prison population in half over the next decade.

8. Life expectancy will increase with better health care. Provide health care coverage for all using a single-payer system. Every American should have the same coverage as a member of Congress. People shouldn’t be suffering and dying because they can’t afford to see a doctor or pay for their prescriptions.

9. Nothing is more fundamental to “national security” than clean air and water. It’s folly to risk poisoning the environment in the name of either economic productivity or building up the military. If you doubt this, ask citizens of Russia and the former Soviet Republics, who still struggle with the fallout from the poisonous environmental policies of Soviet days.

10. Congress needs to assert its constitutional authority over war and the budget, and begin to act like the “check and balance” it’s supposed to be when it comes to executive power.

There you have it. These 10 steps should go some way toward solving America’s real Russian problem — the Soviet one. Won’t you join me, comrade?

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a regular contributor to TomDispatch. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, and now teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

http://billmoyers.com/story/americas-real-red-scare/