In Defense of Red Guardism-Chekism-Red Armyism

In Defense of Red Guardism-Chekism-Red Armyism

Michael Hough

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged” Heinrich Heine

The dictatorship of the proletariat continues to haunt those who so passionately desire and so desperately need there to be some other way. They want a Bread and Roses revolution; and like the descendants and perpetuators of the so-called model victory of the Lawrence textile strike, only care about the movement, not the end goal—even if that means the liquidation of the victory.

Maybe the next Syriza, the next Bolivarism, the next Rojava, the next Sanders, the next Corbyn, the next Occupy—the next popular front, the next permutation of social democracy, the next national liberation movement, the next social movement– will open a new road for the working-class; anything but the revolution, anything but the proletarian dictatorship.

It’s been 146 years since the proletarian revolution first showed its face in Paris, but it’s now been exactly 100 years since proletarian revolution first showed its teeth in Russia:

“The dictatorship of the proletariat is the continuation of the class struggle of the proletariat in new forms. That is the crux of the matter, and that is what they do not understand.

The proletariat, as a special class, alone continues to wage its class struggle.

The state is only a weapon of the proletariat in its class struggle. A special kind of cudgel, rien de plus!” [1]

The whole world got to see what the end of Western Civilization looks like; and it was good.

We forget the Petrozavodsk Extraordinary Commission who shot 14 of its bourgeois hostages as revenge for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht [2].

We forget the extirpation of the Romanov family line with revolvers and bayonets.

We forget that the euphoria of emancipation was necessarily underwritten by class violence (organized force) in its most highly developed, acute forms.

In a letter to Weydemeyer, Marx characterized and distilled his unique contribution down to three particular areas: “(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society” [3]

Behind the gratuitous excesses of October is an affirmation of the second unique contribution by Marx—that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. When you prorate the disparity in depth and extent, the developmental path to the Red Terror starts from the same fundamental process found in labor’s class struggles in its non-revolutionary manifestations.

The proletarian dictatorship is but another form of labor organization produced and reproduced from the unalterable process characteristic of the daily class struggles of organized and organizing labor under the capitalist social relation.

Organized force—class violence—is compliment and companion to that perpetual motor force of labor’s class struggles: the definition, consolidation and defense of material gains.

What separates a chekist executing a capitalist hostage in 1919 from the Jones Boys of UMWA District 19 burying a coal operator alive in 1955 [4], or a red guardsman breaking up a counter-revolutionary meeting in 1917 from a Teamster blackjacking a group of union wreckers in 1968 [5], or a Red Army solider firing on Yudenichites in 1919 from a union electrician firing a deer rifle at a scab construction site in 1987 [6], is merely the depth and extent of the class movement behind them and the scale of the material gains they are defending. The fundamental process underlying both forms of organized force (revolutionary and non-revolutionary) is identical.

When we consider the words of the Bolshevik press the day after the assassination of Uritsky and attempted assassination of Lenin– “The anthem of the working-class will be a song of hatred and revenge!” – it applies equally to the proletarian reflex of organized force to every blow struck by the bourgeoisie.

When members of the Allied Printing Trades Council in New York struck the Daily News in 1990 and burned two delivery trucks and disabled upwards of 40 more by puncturing their radiators and tires while also confiscating scab-printed and scab-delivered copies of the newspaper from vendors and destroying them, it was to defend the material gains they had previously defined and consolidated that their employer sought to take back (worth approximately $50 million) [7]. The revolutionary workers during and after October 1917 had defined and consolidated the highest material gain that can be extracted from the class struggle: state power; and they defended it with a proportional level and proportional forms of violence.

We can see the bare kernel of October, the primordial singularity of October, in every strike, in every act of class violence, in every instance when 2 workers talk negatively about their employer. The forms of October were derivative; the process produced the forms of the proletarian revolution and the forms of the proletarian dictatorship.

Of course, that doesn’t matter when the movement is everything and the end goal is nothing. That sentiment tells us: remember Bread and Roses, remember the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, with its apparently revolutionary content and forget the collapse of the Industrial Workers of the World in short order which liquidated the gains won in the strike. But it also tells us to forget the Lawrence textile strike of 1919, when the workers were forced to reappropriate what they had already won (and then lost) in 1912, and successfully did so on a durable basis through the United Textile Workers.

That sentiment tells us to remember the radical democracy of the soviets that displaced the provisional government, to remember the revolutionary factory committees that seized workplaces and restarted production under workers’ control, to remember the slogan All Power to the Workers’ Councils—but to forget the dictatorship of the proletariat which consolidated and defended the material gains of the revolution: the organization of power by and for the working-class.

Bolshevism was nothing more than the ability of socialists to learn from the class struggle on the basis of the Marxist method, and the capacity to apply those lessons in real time. There is only one criterion proving the validity of that statement: the consolidation and defense of state power as material gain from labor’s class struggles was an accomplished fact. No amount of ideological philosophizing can ever erase that fact. Despite what the Ruehle’s and Gorter’s and Goldman’s and Berkman’s and Lih’s and Zizek’s and all the rest have said or say about October, no matter how voluminous or layered their narratives are, they simply have no choice but to swallow that fact. Unlike what’s been done to the Paris Commune (that great ventriloquist’s puppet for every political identity), no lie or innuendo can make the proletarian dictatorship, the Soviet Republic, disappear from the history of October.

Exaltation of the emancipatory qualities inherent to the proletariat and condemnation of its inherent class instinct which transcends means and ends (in other words, subordinates its movement to its goal) is a rejection of what is for what “should be”.

Raya Dunayevskaya once wrote, “Marx, from the very start of being a revolutionary, declared, “The proletariat is revolutionary, or nothing.” He said so not only because he was so set on spontaneity and what he called “the self-organization of the proletariat,” but because, again from the very beginning, he considered the proletariat not only as revolutionary force, but as Reason,”

The proletariat as Reason, in fact, repulses her, just as it has repulsed all the other red-washed liberals and nominal socialists throughout history who reject the working-class as it is for a moral vision of the class struggle and a moral portrait of the proletariat as history’s Noble Savages.

They find October both titillating and repugnant, just as they find other manifestations of labor’s class struggles both titillating and repugnant.

Politicizing this reaction is dangerous. It’s how we ended up with over a century of the theory of the ‘labor aristocracy’. It’s how we ended up with gushing praise for the legacy of Eugene Debs. It’s how we ended up with:

“The historical appeal of Trotskyism in the United States was largely based on its claim to combine what was liberating in the experience of the October Russian Revolution and subsequent, similar social transformations, with a rejection of what was negative”

To hell with all political morality on this centenary. Behold and marvel at the revolutionary subject in all of its ugliness.

After all, it is going to be worse next time.

[1] V. I. Lenin, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1919)

[2] S. Gompers, Out of their Own Mouths: A Revelation and an Indictment of Sovietism, p.54 (1921)

[3] Letter from Karl Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer (03/05/1852)

[4] T. Ambrister, Act of Vengeance, p.82 (1975)

[5] blackjack


  1. A leather-covered bludgeon with a short, flexible shaft or strap, used as a hand weapon.

tr.v. black·jacked, black·jack·ing, black·jacks

  1. To hit or beat with a blackjack.
  2. To coerce by threats.

[6] A puppet website run by the non-union contractor that was on the receiving end of the IBEW

[7] Violent Strike at N.Y. Daily News