Monday, December 31, 2018

Trotsky, Fanatical Revolutionary

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was a close associate of Lenin during the Russian Revolution and Early days of the Bolshevik State. He held a seat on Russia’s powerful Communist Party eight member Politburo until 1926. He shared Lenin’s undying belief in the Dictatorship of the Proletariat through violent revolution and class struggle. He held to that fanatically until his last day. He wrote voluminously throughout his life in newspapers, journals and books, including his own biography and an extensive history of the Russian Revolution.

The Bolsheviks, who undertook a successful coup in Petrograd in November 1917, began immediately to stifle democratic governance. The first day that the popularly elected Constituent Assembly convened, of which the Bolsheviks were a minority, they used the military to shut it down and dispersed it (January 1918).  

Karl Marx promoted a hypothesis, based on Hegelian dialectics, which presumed historical determinism would inevitably be the end of capitalism. Feudalism is succeeded by Bourgeois society then subsumed by large capitalist enterprises that dominate the society. However, Capitalism’s increasing efficiencies will predictably impoverish the working class or rather Imperial competition will lead to international warfare, both would precipitate a revolution led by this Revolutionary Proletariat. This revolutionary proletariat over a period will produce a classless society.

Lenin advanced the idea a small, disciplined revolutionary Marxist Party could become the vanguard of the proletariat and conduct a society into a Communist utopia, skipping the stages that included Bourgeois parliamentary politics. Russia as you would know had a tiny working class of a couple million industrial workers and 100 million peasants. It was far from a state typified by Marx that was heavily industrialized and would be expected to see this transition into revolution and a communist classless society. Under Lenin’s ideas this revolutionary Proletariat would violently struggle against counter-revolutionary forces, using whatever means necessary for their success.

Trotsky, while ostensibly a Menshevik (Minority) since the 2nd Party Congress of 1903, joined the Bolsheviks(Majority) in the 1917 after the overthrow of the Romanov monarchy and the institution of parliamentary government. From then on he clung to Lenin’s nostrum of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the justice of violent class struggle against counter-revolutionary forces. Bolsheviks had abjured any participation with parliamentary government, in opposition to the Mensheviks. Bolsheviks insisted on a party of highly disciplined, dedicated revolutionary workers, not simply political supporters.

The handles for each of the factions of the Russian Socialist Party were due to the boycotting of the 1902 Congress by the Mensheviks that left the Bolsheviks the majority of the party at the Congress.

Trotsky, who was already well known for his energetic work in the 1905 failed Revolution, participated in the coup d’etat of November 1917 that overthrew the Provisional government and for his leading military role in the Russian Civil war. His energy at rallying the Red Army Forces contributed significantly to the Bolsheviks regime to survive and led to great popularity with Russian people. In an army that lacked strictness, he was not above using violent measures including summary execution to enforce military discipline.

Trotsky had asked Stalin to be removed from the Southern Front for insubordination but Lenin and the leadership never consented for his removal. During this conflict Stalin had reached out to Trotsky to make some tentative amends but was rebuffed, according to Volkogonov in his biography, Trotsky, Eternal Revolutionary. This certainly contributed to the animosity between these two future candidates for the leadership of the Party. 

In March 1921 when it appeared that the Bolsheviks had won the Civil War, Trotsky endorsed the crack down on the Kronstadt naval rebellion that protested violent suppression of strikes in Petrograd and demanded democratic reforms. Kronstadt sailors had been one of the first to support the 1917 Revolution. The Bolsheviks took 12 days of fighting to suppress the rebellion. 3,000 sailors were killed or wounded and more than 1,200 were executed afterwards. For many this was the end of the hopes for a truly democratic revolution. Trotsky, a member of the Politburo, condoned the crackdown. 

At that very same time in 1921 the 10th Party Congress banned dissent; internal factions were forbidden. These included the Workers Opposition that promoted syndicalism and Democratic Centralists that desired more power to the Soviets (Councils). The party becomes dedicated to being monolithic. Discussion, dissent or disagreement becomes forbidden unless directed by the leadership of the Party. Lenin and Trotsky sanctioned this regime. By the Civil War (1918-1921) Lenin and the Bolshevik party, along with Trotsky, had built a one-party state, ready, willing and able to crush opposition. It would come to haunt Trotsky in the power struggles between him and the leadership in the Politburo.

Trotsky believed in the justice of using terror and repression in Class Struggle against counter-revolutionaries, as mentioned above with the crackdown on the Kronstadt naval base. And he was additionally amoral when it came to economic matters. Trotsky wrote in Terrorism and Communism (1920):

Repression for the attainment of economic ends is a necessary weapon of the socialist dictatorship.

The same Party he did so much to support would come to crush him, his family and his associates. Ironically, his prescription for Stalin’s ever increasing control over the party was to demand more democracy in the Party. It was this same Party he helped create that had violently suppressed opposition and had outlawed dissension, internal factions, within the Party at the 10th Party Congress.

One of the first glaring missteps to claim Lenin’s mantel was Trotsky’s absence from Lenin’s funeral. He was on holiday in Odessa and was told that the funeral was Saturday when in fact it became Sunday. Nonetheless, Trotsky should have made all efforts to reach Moscow at the earliest hour, instead of consigning himself not to be present. Trotsky’s absence made a very bad impression on the Party.

After Lenin’s early death in January 1924, a power struggle began for leadership of the Bolshevik party and the leadership of Soviet Russia.  Earlier Lenin had asked Trotsky to be his deputy in the government (Sovnarcom), basically second in line, but he demurred; he was too busy with his publishing activities. This was a colossal blunder.

Stalin, named General Secretary of the party, had control of the membership and was ready to join with Kamenev and Zinoviev within the Politburo to outnumber Trotsky. Trotsky found himself outvoted 7-1 immediately in issues before the Politburo. Critically, Trotsky held himself above the fray and chose to absent himself for long periods from Moscow, mostly excusing himself for health reasons and occupying himself with his writing. He was a haughty, prima donna and I wonder if he in some way expected the party to recognize he was Lenin’s successor by acclamation, due to his popularity based on roles in the Revolution and the Civil War.

Nearing death, Lenin had written a testament with negative characterizations of Stalin, calling for his removal from the General Secretariat, but the testament was never allowed to be released to the party faithful. The Testament was read out to the 13th Party Congress Central Committee after Lenin’s death, but Party members were not allowed to take notes. Little was made of it, contrary to Trotsky’s expectations. Enough criticism was leveled to others in the leadership beside Stalin that few wanted dwell on his testament. Stalin’s position in the Party was not shaken.

Trotsky, ever the revolutionary, insisted that Soviet Russia needed Permanent revolution to be successful, a revolution rolling across national boundaries. This view was not nearly as popular with the Party as Stalin’s claim that Russia could successfully build socialism in the one country of Russia without an expanded Permanent revolution. Trotsky assumed without it, Soviet Russia would be in the throes of militarism, defending itself from capitalist attack.

Not engaged in any effective political coalition building, he was continually outmaneuvered my Stalin. Trotsky was ousted from the Politburo in 1926; he was removed from the Central Committee in October 1927. Trotsky hadn’t made alliances in the military, either, despite his leading military role in the Revolution and the Civil War.

Trotsky and his small faction of Oppositionists resorted to attempting to ignite an uprising against the Party, so securely ensconced in power. His supporters went to factory gates, trying to stir up the workers. At the 10th Anniversary of the November 1917 revolution parade in Moscow supporters of Trotsky, Kamenev (his brother in law) and Zinoviev attempted to publicly protest. The troika is said by Trotsky to have been driving around Moscow, stopped by police, they were led to the Platform to the accompaniment of cheers. These types of demonstrations were utterly futile and Trotsky was deluded to think otherwise.

This public disruption (November 1927) was not taken kindly by the leadership of the Party. Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev were expelled from the Communist Party. Kamenev and Zinoviev recanted their opposition soon after and was graciously allowed to return to the Party; they will fall under Stalinist oppression nonetheless in 1936 at the Show trials.

Trotsky had little respect people of lesser intellect, unless they were assisting him with his writing. Note Trotsky, Jewish from Odessa region, had to enhance his Russia, and went on to learn to speak and write German and French and some English; he studied mathematics and physics until politics took over his life. He had a brilliant intellect. This is a classic case of high IQ and mediocre emotional intelligence, something Stalin was superb at. In his ascent to dictatorship, no one allied with Stalin thinking here is some sinister monster who’s going to kill us all. Later in the purges in the 1930’s he eliminated all of his prior allies and a couple of his secret police henchmen like Yagoda and Yezhov, who were executed as well after they had fulfilled their usefulness. Stalin was a master manipulator. 

Trotsky was essentially a polemicist and historian. Not a great theoretician, his one contribution to Communist thought was the aforementioned idea of Permanent Revolution. He wrote voluminously, much of which was to pay the bills after his exile.

After his expulsion from Soviet Russia, Trotsky began to advocate violent overthrow of the Stalinist regime. He had virtually no means to see this accomplished, but paranoid Stalin was incensed at his rhetoric and insisted on him being silenced. Stalin’s paybacks were legendary. Trotsky himself had to take ever increasing safety measures and often moved. He first took up residence, after being expelled from Soviet Russia, on the island Prinkipo, in the Sea of Marmara in Turkey in 1929, deemed sufficiently safe. But there were exiled White Russians who would have loved to see his death as well. Something Stalin would love to blame Trotsky’s death on. He remained there for 4 years hoping some western country would accept him. He subsequently went from France to Norway then in 1937 to Mexico and lived with Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican painter for two years. They had a falling out, due to it seems his too intimate relationship with his artist wife Frieda Kahlo.  In May, 1940 a group of assassins led by the KGB, shot up his house with over a hundred bullets and a couple bombs that failed to explode. He miraculously survived. He was assassinated in August 1940 at his heavily guarded house by an ice pick of an associate of his trusted female assistant, she being unaware of his true identity as KGB agent.

Stalin wouldn’t be satisfied with Trotsky’s death. His entire family fell under the wheel of Stalin’s organs of oppression except for his second wife, Natalia. His youngest daughter succumbed to tuberculosis for lack of medical care in 1928. His eldest daughter Zinaida committed suicide in 1933, out of despair in Berlin. Zinaida left her young daughter in Russia, never to be heard from again. His first wife, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, who introduced him to Communism and he abandoned in 1902 in Siberia with two children, was swallowed up by the Gulag and died sometime around 1938. His son, Lev Sedova, from his second marriage, who worked closely with him, died after complications from an operation for appendix, in a private clinic, in 1938. He went to the private facility under an assumed name fearing discovery by the NKVD. His operation, initially successful, turned to fatal complications. Some point to the NKVD as possible agent in his death. Sergei, his younger son, was apolitical became an engineer, but Stalin came for him nonetheless and died in the Gulag in 1937, charged with a trumped accusation of poisoning co-workers. His wife died in the Gulag. His sister, Olga, wife of Kamenev of Show Trial fame, was executed in 1941 in the Medvedev Forest. Her sons were executed in 1937 and 1938. Wives of his sons, uncles and aunts, sisters and their husbands all went under the maw of Stalinist oppression. His parents who help support him throughout his adult life died prior to the rise of Stalin’s full power, his father in 1920’s and his mother in 1910.

Finally, Trotsky was dedicated to violent class struggle, command control of the economy, a one Party Communist State. It is not very likely his rule would have been radically different than Stalin’s. He advocated collectivization of agriculture and the rapid industrialization of the economy before Stalin began to implement them in the late 1920’s after his exile. Even after being exiled from Soviet Russia and advocating leadership change, he makes no mention of the ghastly effects of the collectivization of agriculture or the extensive Stalinist purges.
 “Above all [the Proletariat] must be completely free from the fictions of religion, ‘democracy’ and transcendental morality- spiritual chains forged by the enemy to tame it and enslave it…..Welfare of the revolution – that is the supreme law!” He and his family died under that law.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Rise of the German Empire: 1864-1871

Two massive world wars were fought in the 20th century that caused millions of deaths and permanent injury of millions more and widespread destruction. A united Germany was the center of it. Europe had always known that a united Germany would rival anything on the continent. France had joined the 30 Years War 1618-1648 to stymie Charles VI who as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire represented a resurgent Germany. One result of this conflict France garnered Alsace and Lorraine from the Germans. Centuries earlier, the Popes fought the Holy Roman Emperor in the Investiture controversy back in the 11th and 12th centuries. Struggling over who had control over the appointment of Bishops, essentially the Popes generated chaos and upheaval in Germany in a 50 year Civil War; inciting German nobles to revolt against the central authority of the Emperor. That was the end of a united Germany that had been gradually falling apart after Charlemagne built his grand Empire in the 9th century. The kingship began to be elective in 919. In contrast the French Capetians were fortunate enough to maintain their dynasty long enough through the centuries to gain a hereditary crown, avoiding the vagaries of election like the Germans. A loosely integrated Germany would be the rule for centuries.

Question here is who was asleep when Germany was allowed to unify in the mid-19th Century? The united Germany created in the mid-19th century would become a ticking time bomb in the center of the continent. 

The real tragedy is the malfeasance and neglect that allowed Germany to be united in the first place during 1866-1871. It wasn’t until the first decade of the 20th Century that the United Kingdom suddenly discovered Germany as the menace to world peace, dare I say. Of a sudden addressing the issue of a dominant power in the heart of Europe becomes of paramount importance for the British Empire. The blunder was committed 50 years earlier in the period 1864-1871, when Germany was allowed to unite.

It was tiny Belgium to which the UK sprang to the aid in 1914, based on a treaty agreed to in 1839, ignoring the fact that they didn’t have an army to defend them. Of course the treaty was meant to protect them from the clutches of the French not the Germans who didn’t even have a nation at the time.  It reminds one of Britain’s pledge to Poland prior to WWII, that was utterly betrayed. The result was Poland completely devastated and crushed by the NAZI’s and Soviets and then placed under the thumb of the Soviets for close to a half a century with Churchill’s complicity.

In addition the British volunteer army before WWI was a fraction of one needed to defeat Germany. Their guarantee of Belgium’s security was largely mythical. They relied on France to bear much of the burden with conscription finally initiated in 1916.

That unleashed a war hitherto unknown in its ferocity and carnage. A war that toppled four empires. Resolved by American involvement in 1917, the first war simply created the environment for an even bigger war 20 years later. But I digress.
France had been energized by nationalism subsequent to the 1789 Revolution; Napoleon used this popular force to conquer Europe. Germany as well as the rest of Europe had been overrun by the Napoleonic armies. After a great struggle Napoleon was finally subdued in 1815. The Congress of Vienna was an attempt to build a coalition of powers to restrain France. A Bourbon monarchy was reconstituted in France. But the nationalism that ignited France spread to other regions including Germany.

Would Britain notice? In 1832 the United Kingdom had widely broadened its franchise. No longer was it the anointed aristocracy imagined by Edmund Burke ruling the country. The Kings and Aristocracy of Europe in days past were fully aware of the need for balance of power of the continent and the danger a united Germany would represent. And as mentioned above, they did all they could to keep Germany divided, at one point composed of 300 various kingdoms and principalities. Napoleon reduced this to 38 separate jurisdictions, governing bodies. 

The broaden electorate in UK was not attuned to these things. The UK existed in its “Splendid Isolation” unconcerned with the power relationships of continental Europe. The UK rather was concerned with its vast colonial empire and even fought what is called Opium Wars in 1839-1842 with decaying Imperial China on the other side of the world and was engaged maintaining order in the Jewel of the Crown, India. Three hundred thousand British servants ruling three hundred million Indians, the British really did know how to run an empire. Consider United States, with some 150,000 troops struggling to run Iraq, a nation of 17 million. We, democrats, have little idea how to administer an empire. We desire to transform not administer.

France by 1851 was led by Emperor Napoleon III, a nephew of his famous namesake. He was sympathetic to nationalistic urges in Italy and Germany, symbolizing the curtailment of the Peace of Paris 1815 that was to straightjacket France. They would be fellow nation states sympathetic to France. This policy had critics. Thiers, future President of the Third Republic, tried to explain that it was against the interests of France to help Italy and Germany unite. But allowed to unite they were.
Despite UK’s Splendid Isolation they joined Napoleon III in the senseless Crimean War 1853-56 to stop Russia from having undue influence and control over the “Sick man of Europe”, the Ottoman Empire. The British public initially fully supported the military adventure, incensed by the slaughter that accompanied the sinking of 11 Ottoman battleships by the Russians at Sinop in November 1853 on the Northeast coast of Turkey. The main battlefront was the great fortress at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. The French and British could do little else. It held out under siege for 11 months. Meanwhile French and British soldiers died in the thousands by disease. Deaths totaled around 118,000 for French and British. Russia is said to have encountered far more causalities. Military adventures are for keeps. Intervention to save the Ottoman Empire was considered critical…to the maintenance of the British Empire. The British will ignore the nationalism that was transpiring on the European Continent.

In contrast to the British Empires’ ardent interest with a decrepit Ottoman Empire, we will see some years later UK will ignore the process of the unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia. Something that should have been deemed far more dangerous. A foolish geopolitical error that will have monstrous consequences decades later. Germany, united, would be a powerhouse poised to dominate Europe as the British Empire had dominated the globe.

After the Crimean War, Russia is duly chastised for its aggression toward the failing Ottoman Empire. Once the policeman of Europe after 1815, even saving the Austrian Empire by suppressing the Hungarian revolt in 1848, it remained isolated during the unification of the Germans under Prussia, licking its wounds. Another tragic result of that ludicrous War.

German Nationalism had been kindled by the Napoleonic armies, who conquered Germany. 30 years later 1848 nationalistic revolts broke out throughout Europe. Germany nationalists gathered itself together at Frankfort Parliament in 1850 with the desire to unite Germany under the aegis of Prussia to no result. Another effort under the Erfurt Union that excluded Austria, by the free agreement of the German princes, was put forward by Prussia Foreign Minister Radowitz. This scheme was squelched by the King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria-Hungarian Empire at the Punctuation of Olmutz. Prussia, acquiesced to Austrian concerns and power, backed out of any agreement for a constitutional monarchy of a united Germany. Austria, a multi-ethnic Empire alarmed at nationalism, wanted to retain its ascendant position in Germany and to continue to rule by divine decree not under a constitution with the consent of the governed. The fallout resulted in many German patriots, being forced to emigrate, most of whom to America.

You must understand that republicanism let alone democracy was looked upon with horror after the example of mob rule of the French Revolution. It was an executive branch led by a monarch under a constitution, produced under the consent of the governed that was the accepted form of European Liberalism. France had tried radical republicanism and produced mob violence then an emperor in 1799 and 1851. And even the France Third Republic teetered, on prospect of a very popular Right Wing strong man Georges Boulanger in 1889, who nonetheless lacked the courage to effect a coup d’etat. Note the fall of the monarchs in Europe after WWI resulted in mostly popular dictatorships NOT Jeffersonian Democracies. Even France had a feeble democracy, that couldn’t face the juggernaut of NAZI Germany.  Part of the success of your government depends on how willing your citizens are to fight for it. Soviet Russia demonstrated that its citizens for numerous reasons could fight to the death of millions for the Communist regime. France not so much, fell in 6 weeks to the Germans.

Despite the Prussian diplomatic retreat away from unification in 1851, when King Wilhelm I (ruling in his brother’s stead since 1857) took the crown in 1862 he appointed Otto von Bismarck as his President and Foreign Minister. Bismarck was a brilliant, unprincipled diplomat. In 1864 he first engaged to join Austrian in a territorial dispute with Denmark over Schleswig, a German duchy, of which Denmark had sovereignty. Contrary to the London Protocols of 1850, the King Christian IX of Denmark declared Schleswig part of Denmark, not simply a duchy ruled by the person of the prior King Frederick VII, who died without heirs.

In 1864 Austria and Prussia came to an agreement under the Gastein Convention to act in concert against Denmark. Austria and Prussia overwhelmed Denmark to force it to relinquish control of Schleswig-Holstein.

The diplomatic response to the dismembering of Denmark was censorious. The French Foreign Minister, Drouyn, said, “We regret to find no other foundation for the Convention than force, no other justification than the reciprocal convenience of co-sharers”. Lord Clarendon, Foreign Minister of Britain, called the annexation of the Duchies the most infamous act since the partition of Poland (1795). Here’s where Britain, in its “Splendid Isolation”, needed to intervene diplomatically or militarily with France. They had already allied with France in the mindless Crimean War. Tragically, the theft of Denmark was not requited.

As important as Bismarck’s brilliant diplomacy, it must be noted that King Wilhelm I had made major steps to upgrade the military, which will be used in the next decade to confront Austria, the leading element of Germany and before 1806 the Holy Roman Empire. (I know you’ve all heard it but I can’t resist: neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire.)

In 1866 Bismarck, brilliantly used Italian nationalist desires for control over Italian Venetia, under sovereignty of Austria since 1815, plus disagreements regarding Schleswig-Holstein to confront Austria about the future of a united Germany under Prussian leadership. Newly united Italy attacked Austria’s Venetia (Venice) territory. Meanwhile, Bismarck took over Austrian controlled Holstein, claiming meddling by Austria in Schleswig and Austria declared war on Prussia. The remainder of the states in the German Confederation (39 total), established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, remained neutral and Austria faced Prussia alone. Austria had already alienated Russia in the Crimean War by remaining neutral and France was sympathetic to Italian nationalist ambitions. 

Britain in its oblivious “Splendid Isolation” ignored continental issues. The French attempted to gain territory as a negotiating ploy, the German states on the left bank of the Rhine. This was dangled as a diplomatic enticement to keep France neutral, and then rebuffed after the Austrian Empire was defeated.

The Prussians soundly beat the Austrians at Koniggratz, July 3, 1866 in today’s Czech Republic. Bismarck quickly settled a peace in what is called the “Seven Week’s War”. Any promised French aid arrived too late. Prussia, enlarged itself and led a group of German States into what was now called the Northern Confederation, in which Austria was excluded. A military union was affected as well by separate treaties with the southern states of Germany outside the Northern Confederation.

And France is presented with a growing peril on its borders. As it happens, a Roman Catholic cadet branch the Hohenzollern, the dynasty of which King Wilhelm IV of Prussia was member, was offered the throne of Spain.  France objected to Hohenzollerns, the Prussian royal family, being on both sides their borders. The offer was withdrawn, but France wanted assurances from King Wilhelm himself. Bismarck was absent at Ems. King Wilhelm sent him a telegram describing the disavowal of claims to the Spanish throne. Bismarck altered the telegram to make the King sound more hostile to French desires. It was published. The seemingly hostile response from King Wilhelm outraged the French public of whom Napoleon III was sensitive. France declared war on July 16, 1870.  

Germany invaded three days later. The French suffered military defeat after military defeat, resulting in the Emperor Napoleon III himself being captured along with his army of over 100,000 at Sedan on September 2, 1870. The famous Commune in Paris with its republican elements carried on the hopeless war for another 5 months, and eventually capitulated. A lesser Germany was united under Prussia; Austrian Hungarian Empire was excluded from the union.

All of Germany including southern states outside the Northern Confederation joined the war. Austria remained neutral, having lost their northern Italian provinces, granted to them under the Congress of Vienna 1815 in the conflict with Prussia in 1866.  Britain in its “Splendid Isolation” didn’t discover Germany until the 20th Century. Russia chastised by France and Britain in the ludicrous Crimean War of 1853-56 stayed on the sidelines. France was isolated against a united Germany.

Later in WWI, largely due to war time propaganda, Germany becomes viewed as an ogre, utterly opposed to higher civilization, represented by the allied democracies, which in fact included the Russian Czar ruling by divine right. Germany had a representative parliament and a constitutional monarchy, which made the misstep to compete against the pretensions of the vast British Empire. Admittedly it was not a Jeffersonian Democracy, but that includes virtually most of the world even today. Thanks to the military intervention of the United States in 1917 the allies won the war to make the World Safe for the British Empire, not as President Wilson claimed to make the World Safe for Democracy.  This only setup another war twenty years later, all the more terrible, that put totalitarian Soviet Russia in control of half of Europe for close to a half century. And Britain would soon give up their Empire, despite the wars they fought to save it.