Monday, August 27, 2018

Poland: The Ultimate Sanction (1982)

From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

In declaring war on the working class of Poland, General Jaruzelski played his only trump card. His coup was prepared months in advance. While he and other politicians like Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski deceived workers, negotiated with Solidarity and even pretended to welcome the wind of change, secret contingency plans were being made to restore the status quo.

With hindsight and a little belated help from NATO and the prostitute press, we can pick up various clues to this plan. After Jaruzelski, the Defence Minister, became Prime Minister last February, the Russians set up a military communications network which, after testing, lay dormant until December. Manoeuvres involved composite regiments of Poles and Russians, enabling assessment of the loyalty of each officer. After the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) Congress, Jaruzelski held a meeting of senior officers to discuss the tactics they would use if the situation deteriorated, and in September martial law proclamations in Polish were printed in Russia. [1] Within a week of General Jaruzelski becoming First Secretary of the Party, he sent “local operational groups” of the Army into towns and villages all over Poland, able to report on local officials and Solidarity activists, and ready for the take-over of local government in “phase two” of this operation in December. On December 2 riot police and helicopters attacked the striking fire brigade cadets. The General had crossed his Rubicon: war had started. The endless talks and negotiations were over. The Gdansk Agreement was in shreds.

History has repeated itself. We are reminded, in snow, ice and famine, of Kronstadt. In February 1921 Petrograd workers struck and soon gained the support of the Kronstadt sailors; Their demands were for free elections with a secret ballot, freedom of speech, press and assembly, freedom for trade union and peasant organisations, workers’ control, the release of political prisoners and the equalisation of rations. No deal, said their Bolshevik bosses: “You are surrounded on all sides . . . Kronstadt has neither bread nor fuel. IF YOU INSIST, WE WILL SHOOT YOU LIKE PARTRIDGES.” Trotsky announced: “I am . . . giving orders that everything be prepared to smash the revolt and the rebels by force of arms.” [2] And Kronstadt was crushed.

This was done again whenever and wherever workers under Bolshevik rule dared to protest, to demonstrate or to organise against intolerable conditions. At Novocherkassk in 1962, tanks and dumdum bullets were used against unarmed men, women and children. [3] There have been many Peterloo Massacres in Russia’s vast empire, demonstrating clearly that this is a dictatorship over the proletariat. It has nothing to do with socialism. State capitalism means exploitation of workers through the wages system.

The face of counter-revolution
To justify their brutal repression, the rulers use smear tactics. Always, apparently, workers are the villains. In 1921 it was alleged by Radio Moscow: “It is clear that the Kronstadt revolt is being led from Paris. The French counterespionage is mixed up in the whole affair’’. [4]

Allegations that Solidarity was dominated by “anti-socialist” elements have been repeated, ad nauseam in the last 18 months by Moscow and the PUWP stooges. In September these accusations reached a frenzied pitch: “SOLIDARITY SHOWS ITS TRUE FACE: The first stage of Solidarity’s Gdansk congress turned into a (sic) anti-socialist and anti-Soviet gathering”. Later, a headline yelled “Solidarity? No! Counter-revolution”. [5] Beneath Jaruzelski’s statement on the imposition of martial law, the kidnapping and internment of thousands of workers (the official figure is that now, nearly a month after the coup, 5,000 are still interned, incommunicado), which he described as “a prophylactic internment of a group of persons threatening the security of the state”, Soviet Weekly headlined another analysis, “the face of counterrevolution”. [5]

Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski—supposed to favour reforms—alleged: “There is within Solidarity a very strong tendency aiming at a takeover of power”. [6]

But was Solidarity guilty? Much effort went into trying to scrape up evidence for the “counter-revolution” charge. The Chief Prosecutor’s instructions “on the present methods of prosecution of illegal anti-socialist activity” (30/10/80) were described as aiming “to show that the emergence of independent trade unions is a direct result of all ‘anti-socialist’ activity”. Yet in it we find that what evidence had been found amounted to little more than suspicion and the possession or publication of uncensored documents. [7]

It is worth noting that at the beginning of September 1980 a poll held by the PUWP’s official journal Polityka (editor’ M. Rakowski), showed that less than 1 per cent of the sample thought that “anti-socialist” or “anarchic” groups had been the cause of strikes.[8] A year later, Communist Bert Ramelson argued that Polish representatives in their speeches “stressed precisely the fact of the genuinely spontaneous and understandable eruption of the movement of discontent, and minimised as of not great significance the existence of indigenous or foreign provocative elements in it”. [9]

The military coup was not the result of foreign agents manipulating Solidarity’s ten million members for sinister political purposes. It was the inevitable result of the continued stalemate between the Party and Solidarity, the ever-worsening economic crisis and the ruling élite’s determination to crush Solidarity.

Solidarity—strikes and splits
The economic crisis that Poland was in before the Gdansk Agreement was not eased by economic and political complications which followed. The worsening shortages of raw materials and spare parts were now blamed on Solidarity’s strikes. A strike in one enterprise can disrupt production elsewhere with a “knock-on” effect. Inevitably, there were many strikes.

The workers expected the government to implement the Gdansk Agreement while the government had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort, expecting that in time the union would be weakened by splits and could then be simply slowly broken up. The government’s delaying tactics and occasional provocations led to frustration among union members, many of whom became increasingly militant. By last September, Solidarity was thoroughly divided between militants and moderates. The government’s stalling led the frustrated unionists to make political demands: free elections to the Sejm and local councils, and “self-management councils” in the factories. [10]

Meanwhile the government was caught between the hammer of workers’ demands and the anvil of Kremlin orthodoxy. Solidarity negotiators were never sure what line the government would take: one day the sun shone and talk was of “renewal”, next day the wind blew from Siberia and negotiations were back to square one.

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
Solidarity members may well have been uneasy when they realised that talks about “economic reforms” actually meant closing unprofitable enterprises and making workers unemployed. Anxiety about growing unemployment weakened Solidarity. The union was becoming increasingly involved in the decision-making process. This is always a mistake for a union: to remain united, trade unions should concentrate only on representing workers’ interests in the industrial field.
Disunity in Solidarity weakened it. So did disillusionment. In many cases, Solidarity could not deliver the goods, as expected. The never-ending strikes led also to a decline in popular sympathy for Solidarity while its leaders were at times pilloried as irresponsible extremists.

The Party could not take advantage of Solidarity’s splits since it no longer played a “leading role”; it too was split. Many of its members resigned in 1980, many joined Solidarity, while others demanded political and economic reforms. Hardliners were discredited by the exposure of corruption and privilege, or demoralised by the economic crisis and lack of popular support. “In Poland now, if you had an election to the Sejm (parliament), an anti-communist front would have the upper hand”, admitted Rakowski. [11]

Splits in the disintegrating Party and a quick-fire succession of Prime Ministers were evidence of Poland's impossible political problems.

In these circumstances, rather than pursue economic and political reforms, Jaruzelski decided to copy Lenin. In the total collapse of the economy, with the prospect that by February there would not even be bread in the shops, and industry would be in a shambles, he may have glimpsed a picture of Russia in February 1920. Lenin then announced that in order to get industry going again and provide food for the workers, “we must concentrate all our efforts on this task . . . It has to be solved by military methods, with absolute ruthlessness, and by the absolute suppression of all other interests”. [12]

But Jaruzelski was more realistic when he admitted that “in the long term not a single Polish problem can be solved by violence”. [13] The situation now is that while the working class has been terrorised into apparent submission, and some production is going on, industry is hampered by the closing of telephone lines, the fuel shortage, the blacklisting of workers who refuse to sign the government’s loyalty pledge and, even more, by the workers’ bitterness. There are rumours of “Italian strikes”, where workers go to work but do nothing unless constantly prodded.

If any one thing could have been done to reunite the workers and restore their support for Solidarity, Jaruzelski did it. The idea behind Solidarity—that workers need to defend themselves against the powers-that-be—can only be reinforced by this unsubtle, military approach to industrial relations.

Unions and state power
Most of Solidarity’s demands required legislation but Solidarity had no political power. They could not even enforce the implementation of one of their most basic demands: there has been no change in the law on trade unions, only a succession of unsatisfactory drafts. Political power was needed to put into effect the demands conceded on paper in August 1980.

Socialists have argued for years that the control of the state machine cannot be achieved by strikes, general strikes or insurrection. General Jaruzelski has made clear to workers everywhere that he who controls the state machine is able to use it against the working class. This may be a policy of last-resort but it is effective, even when the workers are well-organised nationwide. The argument that “they can’t lock us all up” is unrealistic. They did not need to lock up all Solidarity supporters. Threats and intimidation are powerful weapons. The banning of communications—radio, TV and press under strict control, all letters censored, phone lines cut, no travelling permitted—can effectively hamper any organised or united resistance, at least for a while. The “loyalty pledge” tactic will effectively blacklist all active supporters of Solidarity and inhibit the beginning of any future opposition groups.

Solidarity had no choice but to go underground again. But there will be other movements in the future. We hope they will recognise the absolute necessity of gaining political power to prevent the machinery of government, including the security apparatus and the armed forces, being used against them. Engels wrote that “something more is needed than trade unions and strikes to break the power of the ruling class”. [14] To organise only on the industrial field is to fight with one hand tied behind you.

Solidarity made other mistakes characteristic of trade unions here. They let themselves be drawn into policy-making, administrative and management questions. Talks with government ministers about economic reforms may do a lot for the vanity of people who like to see their names in the papers but they split the movement and divert attention from its real purpose the defence of workers’ interests. They also failed to realise that the strike weapon is a feeble one in a recession. They were too easily taken in by appeals to patriotic sentiment.

The best foundation for a trade union organisation is the support of class conscious workers, aware that their interests are fundamentally opposed to those of the ruling or employing class, and that within a class-divided society there can be no such thing as a “national interest". When Polish and other workers reach that stage, they will be capable of building a stronger movement, more democratically organised, without leaders, rejecting religion and patriotism, conscious of the need for political power: “every class-struggle is a political one. Whosoever repudiates the political struggle, by this very act gives up all part and lot in the class struggle". [15] Such a movement will have no time for most of the Gdansk “21 Demands": it will not be reformist. Unlike Solidarity its aims will not be “to attempt to bring the workers’ interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise" or “to cultivate an active attitude among workers for the good of the country and of all workers’’. [16] It will aim only to abolish the wages system and be fully conscious of the need to organise politically to that end.
Charmian Skelton

[1.] Financial Times, 29 Dec. '81; Sunday Times, 20 Dec. ’81.
[2.] The Kronstadt Uprising by Ida Mctt.
[3.] Workers Against the Gulag, Pluto Press, 1979.
[4.] As 2, above.
[5.] Soviet Weekly, 19 Sept. ’81; 28 Nov. ’81; 19- 26 Dec. ’81.
[6.] Interview in Marxism Today, Oct. ’81.
[7.] Full text in Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, spring-autumn 1980. quoted in Socialist Standard, Nov. ’81.
[8.] The Polish August by Neal Ascherson, Penguin 1981, p. 181n.
[9.] Marxism Today, July ’81.
[10.] Solidarity Congress declaration, 10 Sept. ’81, quoted from Socialist Challenge, 24 Sept. ’81.
[11.] Interview in Marxism Today, Oct. ’81.
[12.] Quoted from An Economic History of the Soviet Union, by Alec Nove.
[13.] Soviet Weekly, 19-26 Dec. ’81.
[14.] Engels, Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.
[15.] Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism.
[16.] Solidarity Draft Statutes, Solidarnosc Strike Bulletin, 31 Aug. ’80 (Labour Focus. 1980).

Drugs and the Death Penalty. (1956)

From the August 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the controversy about the abolition of hanging has been causing such a furore in this country, a significant change in the American law recently has passed by almost without comment. This is the passing by Congress of the Bill aimed at the drug traffic in the United States, which includes in its provisions increased penalties for trafficking in drugs and, in particular, the death penalty for those found guilty of selling heroin to young people under 18. The background of the Bill, the drug traffic, was recently reported on by a U.S. correspondent of the Economist (14th July, 1956). The picture is horrifying.

According to the Economist’s correspondent the United States is said to have more drug addicts than all the other Western nations combined, and the authorities are engaged in a constant battle against the traffic. The main impetus to it is given by the needs of 60,000 addicts who are prepared to spend anything from $10 to $100 a day to satisfy their craving. To get this money, many of than resort to crime, and it has been said that about half of the crimes committed in large cities and about a quarter of crimes in the U.S., are the result of this drive to get drugs. 

The police seem to be able to do little more than hold their own. Smuggling is fairly easy, and rife. The product is small and expensive, and profits are huge—nine ounces of uncut heroin can earn $50,000 when diluted for retail sale. New pedlars soon step in to take the places of those arrested and put in gaol.

Apart from the sale of such vicious drugs as heroin, there is a large business done in other less dangerous drugs, much of it barely legal. In the words of the Economist: -
  “But the narcotics problem extends beyond the underworld; it reaches on to the counters of unscrupulous chemists. Housewives eager to lose weight take amphetamines and do not realise that they have become addicts until it is too late. Officials are also worried about the widespread use of barbiturates (sleeping pills). In theory these are obtainable only with a physician’s prescription; in fact many chemists will sell them and users do not realise that addiction leads to grave dangers to mental health.”
Altogether a terrible story. And made even more dreadful by the extension of the death penalty to try to deal with it.
Stan Hampson

The "Clean” H-Bomb (1957)

From the August 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

But for the sobering thought that the world is governed by these dangerous clowns, the antics of the politicians over the H-Bomb would be riotously funny. Solemnly swearing that they, one and all, had no slightest intention of going to war, America, Russia and then Britain perfected the atom bomb and the H-Bomb to deter the other side from starting anything. At the same time they all assured us that if they actually started an H-Bomb war it would destroy the human race by the combined effects of the explosive destruction and by the fall-out, which would so poison the atmosphere as to make life impossible; which, if true, meant that, short of an all-round morbid desire to destroy themselves along with everybody else, the politicians dared not use their deterrent. One group might gloat over the prospect that “six big bombs . . .  would be enough to destroy central government in the Soviet empire," but it could hardly escape their notice that another dozen lobbed off in the opposite direction would simultaneously put paid to government in Europe and U.S.A.

Nice old-fashioned war
The perfection of nuclear weapons had, of course, already inspired a frothy campaign among allegedly wiser rival politicians, churchmen and "peace-lovers" calling upon the governments to abandon these caddish devices altogether so that war could be conducted with old-type, friendlier, conventional weapons. This started a new controversy with Bishops on both sides. Some argued that the greater evil is “atheistic Communism," and to fight it we must be prepared to use the Bomb; others said we must forswear the Devil's weapons no matter what the consequences, because to use them might destroy the human race. (It was only a rank and file Christian who intervened to point out that as Christians value the spirit not the body, destroying the bodies of the human race is not important).

Stop the tests and keep the bombs
Then it was realised that even without the use of bombs in war, the peacetime testing of bombs had its horrors too. So the campaign was switched to a demand that the tests be suspended. Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, endorsed this fatuity in a speech at the Vienna conference of the “Socialist International" : -
   “Mr. Hugh Gaitskell today called for a separate agreement, not tied to a general disarmament pact, to stop atomic and hydrogen bomb explosions. It would be wrongs he told the Socialist International here, to make the suspension of tests dependent on a ban on nuclear weapons, although Socialists wanted this too." (Daily Herald 4/7/57).
The “Clean" Bomb
But in the meantime American scientific experts claimed that they were on the way to producing “clean” bombs without serious fall-out (hotly disputed, of course, by other scientific experts). This highly gratifying achievement (about as consoling as “to tell a man in danger of having his head chopped off that the axe will at least be clean,” said the Daily Telegraph, 6/7/57) was marred by the further disclosure from the first group of scientific experts “that a continuation of tests is essential not only to the perfection of a “clean bomb,” but to the maximum benefits to be derived from the peaceful uses of atomic energy.” (Times, 27/6/57.)

So we are asked to carry on progress towards destroying the human race because in the long run (if there is any long run) there may be benefits from the peaceful use of atomic energy; provided, of course, that there isn't another world war with conventional weapons, which would more than swallow up all conceivable economic gains from atomic energy.

But to make it more farcical the Washington Post reached the logical conclusion that as it is to the advantage of all people everywhere that they should not be injured or destroyed by "dirty bombs” in another war, it is equally to their advantage that the enemy should wage such a war with "clean” bombs; and that consequently America, having the know-how about the production of clean bombs, should hand over information about their production to Russia and any other country. (Manchester Guardian, 9/7/57.) (And to think that there are a number of spies and traitors languishing in jails for doing this sort of thing a little prematurely!)

But do not be hasty in counting your blessings
But before we rejoice about the great superiority of the “clean” over the “dirty” bomb, we must pause to consider another disquieting view; voiced by the Editor of the Daily Telegraph (6/7/57). He fears that with the removal of the threat of universal destruction in a dirty bomb war, the Powers are more likely than before to go to war with clean bombs. (After America had set them all up with clean bombs, as the Washington Post believes). The Telegraph writes:—
   “What are the likely strategic and political implications of this new development? First, that war might once again become a conceivable instrument of policy. A war fought with clean H-bombs would do a vast amount of damage, but it would not destroy the human race, whereas the radiation effects from a similar number of dirty bombs very possibly would. Clearly, therefore, if war. must come, it will be of inestimable advantage that it should be fought with clean bombs. But the whole of Western policy to-day is based on the deterrent value of the dirty bomb. For this deterrent purpose the dirty bomb would seem far more effective than the clean. It is precisely because the dirty bomb is so uncontrollable—as likely to poison the country that used it as the country against whom it was used—that no one to-day is likely to risk thermo-nuclear war. Is it not possible that the clean bomb, by making war less terrible, will make it more likely?"
Now the “Fall-out” without The Bang
But that is not all, for America claims to have a new type, radiological weapon, which emits the radiation without the blast and which would dispose of the people in factories and industrial areas without destroying the property.
   "For some time consideration has been given to the possibility of using radio-active material deliberately as an offensive weapon in what is called radiological warfare. The basic idea is that radio-active contamination of areas, factories, or equipment would make their use either impossible or very hazardous without accompanying material destruction." (Manchester Guardian, 13/7/57.)
It is assumed in American official circles that the Russians already have this too.

Futile opponents of war
When, half a century ago, the S.P.G.B. asked the workers to recognise that capitalism causes war through its economic rivalries in the lust for profits and markets, and only the abolition of capitalism and establishment of Socialism will abolish war, this was met with the argument that as Socialism could not be achieved in a short time, it was better to concentrate on immediate, smaller social issues, and on the abolition of war. Well, not quite the abolition of war (because these Labour Party opponents of the S.P.G.B. had to admit that there was force in the contention that war would continue as long as capitalism), but at least its amelioration: let us try, they said, to abolish the more dreadful weapons, and generally humanise it. Let us support the Red Cross abolish the blockade and all attacks on civilians and see that prisoners of war are well treated—this was their line, and what has come of it? Every decade has seen new and more terrible weapons, and as each came along the same pathetically futile campaign has been organised to ban it—submarines, bombing 'planes, tanks, poison gas, incendiary bombs, germ warfare, napalm, atom bombs, H-Bombs—and all along the only real changes in weapons have been dictated not by the organised campaigns, but on purely technical and military considerations.

Decline and Fall
How far the Labour Party has declined from its illogical but at least well-intentioned position of the past is shown by the pitiful demand for stopping H-Bomb tests. (Incidentally it was the Labour Government that built the British atom bomb and started the H-Bomb and launched the £1,500 million a year rearmament of 1951). At the Vienna Conference in July Mr. Gaitskell remarked: “Before 1914 the Socialist International was a pacifist, revolutionary organisation. That is neither relevant nor practical today.” (Reynolds News, 7/6/57.)

His view of the International as it was in 1914 is certainly not warranted, except that the Labour Party’s own past must seem “pacifist” and “revolutionary” by comparison with recent and present policies of the Gaitskells and Bevans. In Mr. Gaitskell’s eyes not being pacifist or revolutionary is commendable and practical. Yet if we apply the test of being practical to the Labour Party's belief of 50 years ago that war should be tackled as a first step and Socialism left for the distant future, what has it achieved? The gain has been nothing at all the world is even more of a savage jungle of rival capitalist, states than it was then. They put the thing in the wrong order. You cannot humanise war anyway, and you cannot abolish it except by coming back to the Socialist insistence on getting rid of the cause of war—capitalism. The only way to stop war—to get Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Bloody Nicholas! (1909)

Editorial from the August 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the Labour Party engages in strenuous agitation, it is always for something that is utterly useless to the working class. It is so in its agitation in favour of the capitalist budget, and so it was also in its protest against the visit of the Tsar. Whenever the boom of the “ Labour” drum is heard it betokens an attempt to divert the attention of the workers from things that really matter, and to rally them in support of the class that battens upon their misery. This is the characteristic of the “Labour” and reform parties, and it is the reason why, even in the matter of the Tsar’s visit, we are compelled to join issue with them.

The visit of Nicholas Romanoff will doubtless have taken place before these lines appear; but supposing it had been prevented, would the working class, or even the middle class, of Russia, have been benefited in the slightest? Obviously they would no more have benefitted on this occasion than they did after his cowardly majesty abandoned his visit to Italy through dread of a hostile demonstration. Moreover, we read in the Labour Party’s advertisement of their “Protest” (in the I.L.P. and S.D.P. organs) that the Tsar is “Our Guest’’! And it is asked “Will the hand of England be stained by grasping his?” We, in turn, protest against these “protesters.” We deny that the Tsar is “our guest.” He is solely the guest of our enemies, the capitalist class. And the “hand of England” (which, to-day, is that of the class who own and rule) can hardly be further or deeper stained by grasping the bloody hand of a brother in exploitation and repression.

True the “middle” class and their hangers-on often speak as though this country were the peaceful haven of freedom and happiness, and Tsardom the only repressive State in the world. But that is only because the middle class have yet to achieve their complete emancipation in Russia, while in England they are the ruling class, and themselves make use of “Russian” methods in governing dependencies, and even in crushing workers and strikers at home. It naturally makes all the difference to the "middle” class whether they are the upper or under dogs; hut the worker is under dog all the time, and is crushed under both forms of class rule.

The capitalists of Western Europe are equally guilty with Russian despotism. Germany in S.W. Africa and Poland; Belgium on the Congo; France in Morocco; England in India and Ireland : each can parallel Russian atrocities. To take England as typical in internal affairs, capitalist rule condemns one third of the population to slow starvation, while thousands are killed or maimed yearly for the profit of the capitalist, and the mass of the people are condemned to leisureless, joyless lives of poverty, toil and suffering.

This progressive crushing of humanity by class rule is international, not local; and Russia's stain is of scarcely darker hue than the rest. It is, therefore, sheer hypocrisy to pretend that the ruling class of this country would be contaminated by the presence of the Tsar. On the other hand, in the welcome to bloody Nicholas that is given by a Government responsible for Featherstone and Belfast, there is a peculiar fitness that aptly illustrates the international character of class oppression. The ruling class of each country use the surest and most deadly means of repression that are suited to their circumstances, and the Government here would repeat the worst Russian atrocities in England if it could thus strengthen its position.

We are of and for the workers, hence as distinct from the Labour Party, we do not protest against oppression abroad and actively support the oppressor at home. We recognise (as members of a subject class) that the only effective help we can at present give to our Russian comrades is to push on faster the work of making Socialists and of exposing the rascality of the international ruling class. Indeed, before England can aid working class emancipation in Russia, England herself must be conquered by those who produce.

Angelica Balabanoff: To Bolshevism and back (2018)

Angelica Balabanoff
From the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

 Anželika Isaakovna Balabanova was born in Černigov, now Černihiv in Ukraine in August, probably around 1868. Her family was wealthy and she had a privileged upbringing. Yet, she soon realised that she did not fit in that type of high-class society and broke with her family, moving to Brussels to attend the Université Nouvelle. There she met leading figures in and around the Second International, such as Élisée Reclus, Émile Vandervelde, and Georgi Plekhanov. 

 In Leipzig, where she moved for a short while, she met Rosa Luxemburg who became her role model for the years to come. Then she moved to Berlin where she attended economics lectures and met various high-level SPD members such as Clara Zetkin and August Bebel. She heard about an Italian professor of philosophy, Antonio Labriola, who was quite well known amongst SPD students; so she decided to move to Rome where she attended Labriola’s lectures and met PSI founders Filippo Turati, Claudio Treves, and Turati’s partner, fellow Jewish Ukrainian, Anna Kuliscioff.

She became a member of the PSI in 1900. The Party asked her to move to Lausanne to educate the Italian immigrants to socialism. Here she met Benito Mussolini. She describes her first encounter with him in her book Traitor: Benito Mussolini and his ‘Conquest' of power. He was destitute. He could not work because he was ‘ill’. ‘I’m good at nothing, not even to earn a piece of bread’, the future Duce told her. He was implicitly asking her help to translate a Kautsky pamphlet from German, in which he was a beginner, to earn some money. Out of pity he was invited here and there to give speeches at socialist conferences for a few francs. As we all know, he turned out to be an effective as well as a bombastic speaker. 

 In Switzerland she also founded Su Compagne (Come on Women Comrades) and she met the Menshevik leaders Martov and Axelrod. She joined in the League of Academic Marxists led by Chicherin, and she met Trotsky in Vienna in 1906. Balabanoff probably met Lenin for the first time in Berne. In 1907, she represented the Russian Academic Students at the 5th Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Party in London. The same year she also participated in her first meeting of the Second International in Stuttgart. Here she mainly contributed as a translator, and met Karl Liebknecht.

 Together with Giacinto Serrati, future leader of the PSI, she helped Mussolini to leave Switzerland and find a good job in Trieste, a job that he was not able to keep for very long. She gave an interesting account of the day when Mussolini was elected as director of the local magazine Lotta di Classe (Class Struggle). The editor wanted to give up this position and offered it to Mussolini who he thought must be a good socialist considering his father’s politics (he had named his son after a Mexican revolutionary), and because he had no work commitments. The start of Mussolini‘s political fortune is often identified with the role he played at the 1912 Party Congress, when he proposed the motion to expel certain high-level reformists from the Party. Balabanoff tends to minimise his role. According to her, he was of course for their expulsion, but he was nominated to propose the motion to expel them only because he was pushed by the comrades of his region and because of the lack of other volunteers. 

 The victory of the intransigents in the leadership of the PSI pushed reformist Claudio Treves to resign from editing the party organ Avanti! Also in this case Mussolini was offered the job because of the lack of others without work and family commitments. When he was offered this post he was hesitant, and accepted only on condition that Balabanoff joined him. Balabanoff gives an account of Mussolini as being prone to corruption. She broke with him before his betrayal, because of his opportunistic and selfish behavior. Some believed that Balabanoff and Mussolini had a romantic relationship. This does not concern us, but what is sure is that Mussolini’s himself at the peak of his power admitted that without Balabanoff’s help he would have remained nobody. 

At the outbreak of WWI in July 1914 she was called urgently to Brussels for a special meeting of the International. She proposed mass strikes against the war, while Viktor Adler and Jules Guesde were against the idea; she was backed only by the Labourists Keir Hardie and John Bruce Glasier. In August she met Plekhanov in Geneva who hoped to see the Italian party push for Italy’s intervention on the British-French-Russian side. In Italy, by now on the verge of intervention, it was hard to be a foreigner. When the German SPD member Albert Südekum visited Italy to push the PSI to convince the masses to intervene on the German-Austrian side, she was attacked as pro-German, although she reminded the crowd that she had been expelled by Austria in 1909 and by Germany earlier in 1914.

 Balabanoff moved to Switzerland. In December 1914 she moved to Berne where she was instrumental in organising the conference of anti-war Social Democrats in Zimmerwald which took place in September 1915. She became a member of the executive bureau composed of the Swiss Social Democrat Grimm, the Italian Maximalist Lazzari and Rakovsky as secretary. The Zimmerwald manifesto, drafted by Trotsky, was the result of the clash of the moderates against Lenin’s Left fraction. The topics discussed at Zimmerwald were the peace action by the proletariat, the position with regards to the Second International, and the transformation of the war into a revolutionary civil war. The moderate view prevailed, thus Zimmerwald stood mainly for peace. It did not officially break with the Second International and did not propose to transform the war into a civil war

Balabanoff lived in Zurich until the outbreak of the Russian revolution in February 1917. As did other revolutionaries, she left Switzerland to reach Russia on a special train, travelling with Martov, Axelrod and Lunacharsky. She became disillusioned with the February revolution and began to lean toward the Bolsheviks. In this period she saw Trotsky very often. She signed a resolution together with Trotsky, Kamenev and Riazanov for an outright boycott of the Russian Provisional Government. 

She travelled to Stockholm to organise the 3rd conference of the Zimmerwald movement, which took place in September 1917. By now the moderate block was poorly represented and Lenin’s left prevailed. After the 1917 October revolution Lenin asked her to stay in Stockholm to propagate from there news about Russia, providing her with plenty of money to do this. On two occasions the Anti-Bolshevik League tried to assassinate her. In the end she tried to return to Moscow in September 1918, because Lenin had been severely injured by Fanny Kaplan’s attempted assassination. But because of the fighting between White and Red armies at the Finnish border she had to go back to Stockholm. She eventually managed to enter Russia in October. She met Lenin who was still recovering in his country house. 

 She was soon on the go again. In Zurich she was accused of carrying 100 million francs to finance the revolution in Italy. She was expelled from Switzerland, while Italy asked for her extradition to put her in jail there. She, together with other Bolsheviks, was transported to Germany where the November 1918 Revolution was taking place. However, with the victory of the SPD, they were sent to Russia. While in Berlin she was the guest of Adolph Joffe, the Bolshevik ambassador in Germany. She met some members of the Independent Social Democratic Party to convince them to follow the Bolsheviks, with no success.

When the new International, the Comintern, was established Lenin nominated Zinoviev as President and Balabanoff as secretary. Lenin needed her for her international networking. But she found herself doing mere administrative work for the Comintern. She was sent to Ukraine as commissioner of foreign affairs, but in 1920 the Bolsheviks had to flee Ukraine and she returned to Moscow. She had quite some friction with Zinoviev who tried to get rid of her in many ways. 

 In June of that year a delegation from the PSI arrived in Moscow led by Serrati, now its leader. The 2nd Congress of the Comintern was taking place at the same time, at which Lenin laid down the conditions for parties to join; for the Italians this would mean expelling open reformists like Turati. Serrati was against this and Balabanoff leant towards his position. When Lenin asked her to write something against Serrati she refused, telling him ‘I agree more with him than with you’.

 Balabanoff reported another episode of Lenin’s despotism, at the 9th Congress of the Russian Communist Party in 1921. Alexandra Kollontai, a People's Commissar, had criticised the Party for allowing very little autonomy to workers’ organisations; this was enough for Lenin to destroy her publicly. At the beginning of 1921 the peasants rose up against requisitions; many were executed. Kronstadt rose up against Bolshevik rule, leading to the bloody suppression of the local Soviet. These were the last straws that made her decide to leave Russia. Yet she needed Lenin’s permit to do so. 

 While Balabanoff was waiting to leave Russia Clara Zetkin arrived there. Zetkin stayed with her. According to Balabanoff’s account Zetkin seemed quite sensitive to and quite liked the Bolsheviks’ adulations. Zetkin tried to convince Balabanoff to remain in Russia. Balabanoff refused to be a translator at the 3rd Congress of the Comintern in June 1921. In December 1921 she was eventually allowed to leave Russia. From this point on she was an open anti-Bolshevik, though she was officially expelled from the RCP only in 1924. 

Lenin had asked her not to leave. She responded that she did not agree with the Bolsheviks’ despotic and demagogic methods. Years later when Trotsky was a refugee in Mexico she wrote to express her sympathy and she reminded him that the same methods of denigration used against him had been used by him against others. He answered: let’s not mention the past; those were different times; let’s not ruin our friendship.

 Balabanoff had seen the Bolsheviks from close quarters and was convinced that without Lenin there would have been no Stalin. She explained that Lenin’s regime and the apparatus he had created allowed creatures like Stalin to develop, with no inhibitions, no brakes; in fact, the climate created by the regime fertilised this and encouraged the immoral tendency of the future dictator.

 After leaving Russia, she stayed in Sweden and then she moved to Austria where Social Democrats like Otto Bauer were in power. Here she wrote for Arbeiter-Zeitung. In 1927 she moved to Paris, called there by the PSI in exile. She moved there, against her inclination, because the PSI lacked an old guard, Serrati having passed to the Communists shortly before his death; Lazzari had also died. At the Congress in January 1928 she was elected secretary of the Party and editor of Avanti! The party also decided to enter an anti-fascist coalition. She was against the United Front because of her anti-bolshevism and did not want to work with reformists or communists. Later, Trotsky wanted her to join his 4th International but she was not interested. 

 In November 1935 she obtained a visa to move to the US, where she got close to the rightwing Social Democrat, Gaetano Salvemini. In 1938 her autobiography My Life as a Rebel was published. In 1941 the Maximalist faction of the PSI ceased to exist and with it the legendary Avanti!

 In 1947 she returned to Italy. Balabanoff was used by Saragat to promote his Workers' Socialist Party of Italy (PSLI), a reformist party which was claiming at that time to continue the legacy of Turati’s 1892 PSI. She was in it because of her anti-bolshevism, but also because she believed that the PSLI was ideologically closer to the Italian reformists of the early 1900s. In 1955 she was invited to the Congress of the ‘Socialist International’ in Vienna where she was acclaimed as a living legend. She spent most of 1957 in Austria and Switzerland. She got close to Golda Meir and was pro-Israel. Finally, in 1960 she settled permanently in Rome. She died on 25 November 1965.

 Balabanoff was the archetype of the revolutionary maximalist Social Democrat. Her Marxism was rather idealistic and lived as a faith. She saw herself as a missionary. Her mission was to convert workers to Marxism. With this in mind, one can understand why she took to heart Mussolini’s case, helping this idle anarcho-syndicalist to become a respected socialist, how she gave in to Lenin’s Bolshevism to pursue the maximal revolutionary goal, and how, at the same time, she defended the integrity of the Second International by means of Zimmerwald. Later in life, she stood for early 20th century Marxist reformism. 

Balabanoff had the merit of exposing from first-hand experience Mussolini (Traitor), and above all Lenin and Bolshevism (Impressions of Lenin) in a period when it was not popular or even allowed. These two works are worth reading and why she is worth remembering.