Monthly Archives: July 2013

Towards the History of Maoist Dissidence in the Soviet Union – an article by Alexei Volynets. Part 1

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This is a translation of an article in Russia by Alexei Volynets which appeared here: http://rusplt.ru/policy/sovetskie-hunveybinyi-sssr-nujen-mao-dzedun.html with the title: The Soviet Red Guard: The Soviet Union Needs Mao Zedong. It was published on July 10.

From the 1960s to the 1980s tens of Maoist groups operated in Russia fighting against the ‘bourgeois, degeneration’ of the bureaucracy.

When histories of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union get written the “democratic”, pro-Western sector of this movement get the bulk of the attention for reasons that are rather obvious. Far less attention is paid to the nationalists of the ‘Russian party’ and the various Left dissidents. But far the most unfortunate groups of dissidents are the followers of Chairman Mao, the Soviet ‘Red Guards’. They have been left out of the story by both the “western voices” of those years and have been ignored by the contemporary historical memory of all other groups. And yet those who attempted the repeat the lessons of the “Great Cultural Revolution” in the Soviet Union were no fewer than those who preached the models of Western-style democracy in the Soviet Union.

After the death of Stalin, and especially after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, for many citizens of the USSR who sincerely believed in Bolshevism, the leader of the ‘International Communist Movement’ naturally became Mao Zedong. Comrade Mao, an old honoured partisan, leading under his red banner the most populated country in the world, seemed to received wisdom to play far more effectively the role of world leader than a professional party apparatchik with a rather unclear biography like Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev.

Soviet People for Leninist Socialism.

And the Soviet leader certainly felt ill at ease with this fact. Like, for example, in March 1962, when a 40 year old worker named Kulakov, a member of the Soviet Communist Party, working in the construction of Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station in the Irkutsk region, sent a letter to Khrushchev. In the letter, the proletarian didn’t mix his words to the First secretary of the Central Committee: “The main mass of Soviet peoples believe you to be an enemy of the Party of Lenin and Stalin. In a word you have remained a living Trotkyist… V.I. Lenin dreamed of making China a friend of the Soviet people and this dream was realized by Comrade Stalin but you have destroyed this friendship. Mao is against your defilement of the Leninist Party and Stalin. Lenin and Stalin audaciously fought against the enemies of the revolution and were victorious in open battle not fearing imprisonment. You are a coward and an agent provocateur. While Comrade Stalin was alive you kissed his arse, and now you pour dirt on him…

For this letter the worker Kulakov was sentence to a prison term of one year, accused of ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’. And similar declarations, some of them public, were not lacking. In Kieve on March 18 of the same year (1962) during the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, a 45 year old Kolkhoz chairman by the name of Boris Loskutov and a member of the Soviet Communist Party, distributed leaflets with the text: “Long live the Leninist Party without the windbag and traitor Khrushchev. The politics of this madman has led to the loss of China, Albania and millions of our former friends. The country has reached a dead end. Let’s close ranks. Let’s save the country.

The arrested kolkhoz chairman was later sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.

In the night of June 18 1963 in the town of Mena of Chernigovskaya region in the Ukraine, a 27 year old artists of the town theatre, Ivan Panasetsky, put up some self-made placards with the slogans “Khrushchevian anarchy killed the truth during the reign of Stalin so as to grab power!” “Down with Khrushchevian anarchy! Long live the Chines Communist Party!” “Long Live Mao Zedong – the leader of workers throughout the world!”

In the night between the 3rd and 4th of August 1963 in the city of Batumi in Georgia where the once-young Stalin began his first practical activities as a revolutionary, three citizens of the Soviet Union- 28 year old G. Svanidze, his wife 24 year old L. Kizilova and their 23 year old comrade V. Miminoshvili (all three of them Komsomol members) posted up fly-sheets with the demand that Khrushchev be overthrown and to defend the memory of Stalin. In the text the young Komsomol members had written “Our leader is Mao Zedong!” and “The USSR needs Mao Zedong!”.

June 1 1964 in the town of Donetsk a 37 year old miner Vasilii Poluban’ pasted fly-sheets in the town with the call: “Support links with the People’s Democracy of China which is fighting for world peace and democracy! Lenin! Stalin! Khruschev get the hell out!”; “Lenin and Stalin will live through the ages! Down with the Khruschev dictatorship, contaminating the minds of the working class!” “The Party of Lenin and Stalin will lead us to victory, to communist unity! Down with N.S. Khruschev! Long live the friends of China!”

These were only a few examples of the red dissidence of those years when the formal leader of the USSR, Khruschev, was opposed by the informal leader of the “world communist movement”, Mao. These social moods, among other things, were also to lead to the exclusion of Nikita Sergeevich from power. But it is remarkable that even after the resignation of Khruschev those citizens of the USSR who supported the ideas of Comrade Mao still did not call an end to their activities. Moreover, it was at this very time that the “cultural revolution” in China was at its peak and many Soviet citizens were not against applying all the methods of Red Guard to their own bureaucrats…

From January to March of 1967 a 21 year old student of the aviation training college A. Makovsky was to distribute leaflets in Moscow on numerous occasions. Leaflets in which, according to the investigators of the Office of the Prosceutor General of the Soviet Union “were propagated the ideas of Mao Zedong”. Part of the leaflets were scattered in Red Square, near the Kremlin. It is worth noting that this action at the kremlin happened a year before the well-publicised “demonstration of the seven” in August 1968 praised to high heaven by the western media.

On February 13th 1967 in the city of Komsomolsk on the Amur 6,000 kilometres from Moscow, a 20 year old Komsomol member, an engineer of the city shipping club, V. Ermokhin, a 21 year old Komsomol member and student of the Medical Institute, M. Chirkov and a 30 year old communist and professional diver, P. Korogodsky, pasted fly-sheets which declared “Mao Zedong is a red sun in our hearts! Proletarian communists, struggle against this gang of modern revisionists, successors of Khrushchev!”

At almost the same time on February 16th 1967 at the other end of the USSR in the Ukrainian Donetsk a 35 year old miner P. Melnikov hung up on a billboard some leaflets written in his own hand praising Mao Zedong and calling for the overthrow of Brezhnev.

These are only a few single examples of similar actions which have been preserved for us by the Procurators Office and the Soviet KGB. But apart from the single individual actions in the Soviet Union of those years, circles of a “communist underground” also emerged and were formed which based themselves on the ideas and revolutionary slogans of Mao.

The Romanenko Brothers, Soviet Maoists who gained fame in China.

One of the first groups of this kind emerged in 1964 in Ukraine in the industrial Kharkov region where the ‘proletarian tradition’ were still not as yet a simple late-Soviet propagandistic cliché. There in the town of Balakleya, not far from Kharkov, a Marxist group was formed under the title of “Workers and Peasants Revolutionary Party of Communists”. Its founders were the brothers Adolf and Vladimir Romanenko. The 35 year old Vladimir Romanenko worked as an electrician in Kharkov and then studied in the Faculty of Journalism of the University of Leningrad. His 33 year old brother Adolf worked for a newspaper named “Hammer and Sickle” in the industrial district of the city.

In Leningrad Vladimir Romanenko get to know sudents from China from whom he received Maoist literature. Already in September 1963 the brothers wrote a declaration to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party with criticisms of the new programme of the CPSU which had been adopted at the XXII Congress in 1961. A copy of this declaration was given to the Chinese citizen Tchzan Dadi, a student of the Leningrad Institute, to be sent to China to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

As the Procurator of Kharkov region was to write later in his report to the Kremlin, the Romanenko brothers “falling under the influence of Chinese propaganda, decided to create an illegal radical leftist organization because they came to the conclusion that the CPSU had stopped representing the interests of the workers and became deformed from a revolutionary party to one representing petty bourgeois interests and ultimately becoming a reactionary force”.

In September 1964 the Romanenko had finished drawing up the programme of their “Workers and Peasants Revolutionary Party of Communists” project. The programme included the following declaration:

The gap in wages between the average worker and major specialists or bureaucratic pen pushers continues to grow day by day … and even now the service bureaucrats and even the organs of so-called party-state control thieve surplus produce from the productive classes…

The assertion that the dictatorship of the proletariat has been rendered obsolete is not needed by either for the working class, nor by the peasant classes but by those who even the mention of the term the dictatorship of the working class gives them a toothache, by those who it is more convenient to plunder the surplus product in the framework of a “national” semi-bourgeois state. And when the ruling party doesn’t struggle with this but helps to legalize it, then this party is a petty bourgeois party…

The CPSU has run its course as a political party capable of leading the masses on the path set out by the great Lenin…Therefore there is no time to lose. One must, as quickly as possible, arm the working class and the peasants of the collective farms with the authentic Marxist revolutionary theory… To do this it is necessary to create organisations in every factory, in every plant, in all the collective farms (kolkhozes) and the state forms (sovkhozes), in all the educational establishments, in the military units in order to explain the revisionist nature of the CPSU programme.

At the end of Autumn 1964 the Romanenko brothers were arrested by the KGB. During the criminal investigation Adolf Romanenko continued to speak his thoughts fully in the spirit of the “cultural revolution” of Chairman Mao:

I even now believe that up until now in our country there are all the conditions for the flourishing of petty bourgeois elements. In my view so long as the leaders of the CPSU both at the centre and in the periphery, the leaders of the Soviet government and local soviets, the leaders of the administrative apparatuses have all imaginable privileges, as long as material wealth is distributed, in my view, incorrectly, until that time, I believe, that in our country a petty bourgeois ideology will flourish. And the Soviet, Party and administrative apparatuses will try to authorize in law their privileges and inequality in the distribution of material wealth.

From this I draw the conclusion that fraternity and equality is out of the question in the present set up and believe that the CPSU can’t be an expression of the people’s will… I believe that the interests of the working people and the leadership are diametrically opposed to each other and from this, I believe, that there is no unity of Party and the People

The Romanenko brothers were saved from a long prison sentence practically through the intercession of Mao Zedong. The brothers were arrested a day before the extraordinary Plenum of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union where Khrushchev was toppled from power. The new leaders of the CPSU Brezhnev and Shelepin, organizers of the removal of Khrushchev, hoped at that moment without changing the domestic and international policies of the USSR to somehow overcome the schism with communist China. Therefore at a meeting in the Kremlin, where the managers of the Procurators Office and KGB department of the Kharkov region were specially summonsed, a decision was taken not to bring the case to court against these Soviet Maoists who were well-known in China. The Romanenko brothers after a few months were released from prison but from that time were under the close supervision of the KGB which excluded for them under possibility to continue their political activity.

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Towards the History of Maoist Dissidence in the Soviet Union -an article by Alexei Volynets. Part Two

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Against Revisionism.

A wide array of underground Maoist groups arose in the capital of the USSR in the second half of the 1960s when the example of the “Great Cultural Revolution” was especially intense. In Western Europe it played out in the guise of the Parisian student revolt, in the Soviet Union such an open revolt was impossible but the echo of the Red Guard was felt even here. Thousands of students and doctorate students from Maoist China were studying in Soviet universities and higher education establishments. And it was through these students that Red Guard literature came into the hands of our fellow citizens.

Between 1965 and 1967 a small Marxist group operated in Moscow headed by two research assistants of the Economic Institute of World Socialist Systems at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. These were a 35 year old citizen of the Peoples’ Republic of China Ho Dantsin and a 30 year old Soviet citizen G. Ivanov. Together these Chinese and Soviet communists circulated agitational literature from China in Moscow and also created a whole gamut of their propaganda material which they entitled “Manifesto of Socialism (the Programme of the Revolutionary Socialist Party of the Soviet Union)”. In February 1967 the Chinese Ho and the Russian Ivanov were arrested by the KGB.

In 1968 in Moscow a 30 year old bricklayer G. Sudakov and his 20 year old brother V. Sudakov created a small group “The Union of Struggle against Revisionism”. From February through to June 1968 they circulated literature from revolutionary China as well as their own leaflets which they produced on their own through their own primitive printing press which they had built.

On February 24th 1976 on the day of the inauguration of the XXV Congress of the CPSU, four youths scattered and stuck more than 100 leaflets to the doors of homes along the central Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad. The leaflets hand-written ended with the call “Long live the new revolution! Long live communism!”

Only after some time did the KGB manage to work out that the participants of this action were first-grade students of Leningrad universities Arkady Tsurkov, Alexander Skobov, Andrey Reznikov and a tenth-grade school student Alexander Fomenko. They were the organisers of an illegal Marxist group which called itself the “Leningrad School”. The informal leader of this group was the talented mathematics student 19 year old Arkady Tsurkov. From the beginning of the 1970s he was fascinated by the ideas of Mao Zedong and used to illegally listen in to the Russian language service of Radio Peking.

At that time Chinese students (who in the 1960s had been the main distribution source of Maoist literature amongst Soviet citizens) no longer studied in Russia. But in the 1970s a sea of published materials appeared (books and brochures) in the Soviet Union which unmasked and criticised the course of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao. At the beginning of the 1970s Soviet agitprop more actively and willingly worked against Maoist China than against “the bourgeois West”. As with all hostile propaganda in this literature it was necessary to describe those phenomena and actions which it inveighed against. But that which was a negative for the propagandists of the Central Committee became a plus for “leftist dissidents”. In this way Arkady tsurkov was to become a Maoist having read all the Soviet anti-maoist propaganda.

In 1977 and 1978 the leaders of the “Leningrad School” organised in a house in the outskirts of Leningrad a commune where young people lived together, studied and propagandised amongst students the ideas of comrade Mao. In 1978 the “Leningrad School” established links with student sympathisers’ from Moscow, Gorky (now Nizhni Novgorod), Riga and a number of other cities in the Soviet Union. While attempting to organise an illegal youth conference with the aim of creating a large association- the “Revolutionary Communist Union of Youth”- the leaders of this “Leningrad School” were arrested by the KGB.

Soon after their arrest on the 5th December 1978 in Leningrad a previously unheard of event took place: at the Kazan Cathedral (the site of the first mass student demonstration against the Czar in 1876) several hundred young men and women gathered from the institutes and schools of Leningrad to protest these arrests. About 20 people were detained. During the trial against the leader of the “Leningrad School”, A. Tsurkov, from April 3-6 1979 a large mass of protesting students gathered in front of the building. Arkady Tsurkov received a sentence of 5 years to a strict regime prison camp and a further two years of exile.

Maoists- Leaders of the Strike Movement of Soviet Workers.

But the revolutionary ideas of Mao were not confined just to school and university students. The existence of at least one illegal Marxist group not only studying the experience and ideas of Mao Zedong but also taking part in the organization of successful strikes of Soviet workers has been well documented. I am referring here to the emergence in the 1970s in the industrial city of Kuibyshev (Samara) of the political group, the “Workers Centre”. The group aimed to found an illegal Marxist Party, the “Party of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”.

In the spring of 1974 in Kuibyshev in the Maslennikov Factory a strike of the workers in one of the shop floors took place. The factory also produced equipment for the Soviet military-industrial complex. The workers didn’t make any political demands but managed to achieve some improvements in their working conditions from the administration and local authorities who were taken completely unawares by such an organised action. On the model of this successful strike during the next year in the Maslennikov factory and in a number of other enterprises in the city more than ten strikes took place. Such a significant event for the Soviet Union immediately caught the attention of the KGB but they were only able after two years of thorough investigations to establish the fact that the illegal Marxist organization “Workers Centre” was organizing in the city.

The Maslennikov Factory in Kuibyshev.

The leaders of the organization were 31 year old Grigory Isaev, a worker from the foundry shop floor of the Maslennikov factory and 39 year old Alexei Razlatsky, an oil engineer.

Alexei Razlatsky

It was Isaev and Razlatsky who were the inspirational force and organizers of a series of strikes in the factories of Kuibyshev in 1974. After two years this illegal Marxist organization could already count on more than 30 clandestine activists. One should emphasise that the “Workers Centre” was one of the most successful of dissident organizations in terms of its conspiratorial planning. Its activists carefully and persistently studied the conspiratorial experience of Russian revolutionaries before 1917 and that of Underground Partisans of the Great Patriotic War. This permitted the “Workers’ Centre” to successfully operate from 1974 to 1981.

In 1976 the leaders of the “Workers’ Centre” created a “Manifesto for a Revolutionary Communist Movement”:

The contra-revolutionary coup d’etat in the USSR has taken place so quietly and so unexpectedly that no one has realized. Today’s increasingly dictatorial Soviet administration in the course of a decade has managed to pose as Marxist-Leninist leadership, and succeeds in brainwashing the workers with their democratic play. Even the international communist movement as a whole doesn’t come near to a true Marxist evaluation of what is happening in Russia. But the counter-revolutionary coup d’etat has taken place and the first thing that we must do is to stop this very coup d’etat.

In 1961 the CPSU Programme and then the latest 1977 Constitution have stated that the tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat have been accomplished and the Soviet Union has now been declared an all-peoples state. But to Marxists it has always been clear that until the victorious proletariat can go without the need for a state, then this state can not be other than a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

The activists of the “Workers’ Centre” called for the thorough study of the experience of Communist China. Their manifesto was to include the following declaration:

Until the middle of the 1950s the political development of China at an accelerated pace repeated the experience of the Soviet Union. It is possible that other principles and possibly events linked to the arrival on the political arena of N.S.Khrushchev, forced Mao Zedong to consider the validity of the system which was able to promote such people to the supreme leadership. An analysis of the situation has confirmed our worst fears: with certain national divergences the Chinese system was a copy of the Russian one. And in China there has been a clear separation of the Party from the masses, and the formation at its apex of a parasitical organism.

The politics of the “Great Leap Forward” was an attempt to stir the initiative of the masses, arouse its conscious relation to the events taking place in comparison to a ‘peaceful’ road … The “Cultural Revolution” is a direct appeal to punish this formative bureaucracy, an attempt by crude facts to demonstrate to the masses that it is they who are the masters of the situation in the country, that in its collective actions it is all-powerful.

The death of Mao Zedong for China has meant, like the death of Stalin for the Soviet Union, the end of the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Andropov’s final rout of Maoists.

Towards the beginning of the 1980s the activists of the “Workers’ Centre” set up illegal links with their supporters in many cities of the Soviet Union from Moscow to Tyumen’. The question of the creation of an illegal revolutionary Marxist organization was raised which it was suggested would be called The Party of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. At this time the number of clandestine activists of the “Workers’ Centre” amounted to several hundred.

Thanks to the well organised conspiratorial methods the KGB didn’t manage to locate and discover the identities of a large amount of the activists. By 1981 the security services could only find out the names of the leaders of the organization even though according to the laws of the Soviet Union no facts were discovered which were sufficient to detain or arrest the leaders of the “Workers’ Centre”.

But by the end of the 1981 the international situation for Brezhnev’s USSR was growing more complicated. At the Central Committee of the CPSU they were very fearful that the mass actions of workers in Poland and the Solidarity Movement could find some support amongst Soviet workers. Therefore an order for the arrest of the leaders of the “Workers’ Centre” was given personally by Yuri Andropov even though the KGB had no proof of their illegal activity. This took place on December 14th 1981 on the day after a State of Martial Law was declared in Poland.

In Kuibyshev Isaev and Razlatsky were arrested. In spite of the fact that neither searches nor the subsequent investigation could gather any proof of their illegal activity, the leaders of the “Workers’ Centre” were condemned to long prison sentences in November 1982. Alexei Razlatsky received a sentence of 7 years and 5 years exile and Girgory Isaev 6 years prison and 5 years exile.

The frustrated Soviet Red Guards from Leningrad and Samara would only be freed after a few years at the very height of prestroika. And here begins a completely different history- Arkady Tsurkov who once propagated the ideas of Mao in Brezhnevian Leningrad would emigrate to Israel and an authentic Red Guard would establish himself in a paramilitary kibbutz…

Early Soviet Monuments.

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A few of the monuments (along with the Obelisk to Revolutionary Thinkers which was removed early this month) that were part of the early Soviet Monument Plan ratified on 12 April 1918 by the Council of People’s Commissars decree on the “removal of monuments, erected in honour of tsars and their servants and the elaboration of monuments of Russian Socialist Revolution” (On Republican Monuments). Interestingly one of the major figures involved in this plan was a former student of Auguste Rodin, Leonid Vladimirovich Shervud (or Sherwood) who was also the architect of one of Crimea’s most symbolic buildings: the Swallows’ Nest.

Monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi, inaugurated March 1919 in Petrograd.

Leonid Vladimirovich Shervud (Sherwood), a pupil of Rodin, who helped implement the Lenin plan of monument propaganda

Sherwood’s ‘Chasovoy’ (The Sentry)

V. A. Sinaisky’s monument of Heine

Mikhail Fedorovich Blokh’s monument to the Red Metal Worker.

The Unveiling of the Danton monument captured on film ;

On the removal of a Moscow statue.

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Often it is the symbolic event which describes or reveals what is happening in a country more than any one real fact. Of course, no one could be in any doubt that the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, the arrest and trial of the Bolotnaya demonstrators, the insistent, force-fed campaign of clericalisation in the country, the new reactionary ‘morality’ laws (about homosexuality and foul language) and the so-called ‘reform’ on the Russian Academy of Science which a former director of CERN and an associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Luciano Maiani, has compared to the reform of Italy’s National Academy under Mussolini are not isolated facts but something much more indicative of where the political elite is trying to take the country. However, one action, apparently insignificant in the order of things, seems to symbolize more than anything else how the ground under our feet is moving in Russia.

The Stele of Freedom or the Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers

What was known as the Stele of Freedom or the Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers has been dismantled apparently to be reinstalled in some months time as a monument to the Romanov Dynasty. This historically symbolic act was carried out on July 2 completely unannounced and within hours the site in the heart of Moscow was transferred from looking like this:02_big

to looking like this:

Site of dismantled obelisk after 2 July

The obelisk was one of the most interesting statues historically and ideologically because of the kind of names that it had on the statue. This was not simply a case of Marx, Engels, Lenin. It was (it seems) the first revolutionary monument to be opened after the revolution of 1917 and, in a non-dogmatic spirit, it included the names of anarchists, reformist socialists and even that of Thomas More. It was the least Soviet of all monuments (if one were to speak of Soviet in Stalinist, bureaucratic and dogmatic terms) and, surely, the most radical. The intent of those running the show in Russia during Putin Term III to turn to a policy of national, proto-monarchist and clericalist reaction can not have been made more clear.

As the Russian socialist and artist, Ilya Budraitskis, has argued:

the delegitimisation of revolutionary tradition – from the Decabrists to Social Revolutionnaries – will go on in parallel with the limitation of the freedom to gather, the canonisation of anti-Bolshevik martyrs for their faith will happen in parallel with the prohibition of Left-wing parties and the strengthening of the brutal struggle for ‘social morals’ and making religion safe from blasphemous attacks

In many ways the dismantling of the obelisk is a greater affront than the removal of Lenin from the Mausoleum. Whereas the Lenin Mausoleum signified the victory of a new form of religion over the initial liberatory force of the revolution (and would have had Lenin turning in his proverbial grave if only he had one) and presaged a kind of Thermidore; the obelisk signalled and symbolised this very hope of liberation. One of those healthy germs (as Victor Serge would have put it) which the Russian Revolution carried within it. So by dismantling the obelisk rather than the Mausoleum the elite have struck at the very heart of revolutionary memory and the very heart of the idea of liberation as such.

The Stele of Freedom affair is not going to lead to Moscow’s Taksim moment and yet in many ways they are linked. Force feeding of clericalism and neo-liberalism are cosy bedfellows as both Russia and Turkey are inevitably showing and consumerism and reaction live side by side here as it does elsewhere. The only benefit, though, of the dismantlement of this obelisk is that one day, when reaction is once again on the retreat and liberation once again in the air, new names can be added. I’d have a few suggestions of my own: Victor Serge, Antonio Gramsci, Jorge Semprun, Buenaventura Durruti, Guido Picelli, Guy Debord, Che Guevara, Stas Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, … well the list is rather endless.