Introduction: communism and political violence

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Author: Matthew Worley
Date: Annual 2010
From: Twentieth Century Communism(Vol. 2)
Publisher: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,129 words

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Communist history is violent history. Communism was, after all, envisaged as a revolutionary creed committed to the forcible overthrow of one class by another. Integral to communism was the notion of revolution and class conflict; the communist recourse to violence became one of the key factors separating it from social democracy over the twentieth century. True, Marx only fleetingly countenanced the use of revolutionary terror, just as he toyed with the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism under certain circumstances. Taken generally, however, the spectre that Marx claimed to be haunting Europe brought with it the promise of intensive social conflict and a subsequent dictatorship of the proletariat. (1) The economic basis on which the class struggle and the existence of classes depended would have to be 'removed by force', Marx insisted, and its transformation 'speeded up by force'. (2) As this suggests, Marx presumed the victory of the proletariat to be dependent on the utilisation of violence in some form or other.

Lenin, of course, was far less circumspect. Like Marx he took inspiration from the French Revolution. Unlike Marx, he proved unequivocal in his enthusiasm for the methods of the Jacobins. (3) Come the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian civil war, moreover, and Lenin showed little to no hesitation in introducing policies of revolutionary terror to ensure the retention of Soviet power. Victory was all but impossible, Lenin reasoned, 'if we don't [make] the harshest use of revolutionary terror'. (4) Trotsky, too, by as early as December 1917, stated in reply to Bolshevism's critics: 'You wax indignant about the naked terror which we are applying against our class enemies, but let me tell you that in one month's time at the most it will assume more terrible forms, modelled on the terror of the great French revolutionaries. Not the fortress but the guillotine will await our enemies.' (5)

Thereafter, the history of the Soviet Union would be stained with the blood of countless victims, left strewn across the Bolshevik road to socialism. Violence--or at least the threat of violence--became an integral part of the Soviet state's modus operandi, with the Great Terror of the late 1930s serving as the most extreme example of its potential fervour. And if the people's democracies that formed across eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War did not quite descend into such a fury of state repression, they retained the Russians' resort to coercion in order to maintain their authority. Similarly, the communist regimes established in China and south-east Asia were quick to add a violent touch to their own particular variants of the communist creed. In Pol Pot, perhaps, we have the communist psychopath par excellence.

But communism's relationship with violence was not one-sided. Communists were themselves the victims of often bloody repression. Those communist parties that formed in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution found their efforts to harness history both resisted and repelled. If communism was forged as a response to the iniquities of capitalism, its...

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Source Citation
Worley, Matthew. "Introduction: communism and political violence." Twentieth Century Communism, vol. 2, 2010, p. 5+. Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.
  

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