The Importance of Voluntary Organisation

In 1917, a young Harvard graduate and poet named John Reed was in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, he had played a role in making it happen.

In 1919 he wrote a book about it called Ten Days That Shook the World. Someone has pasted inside the front cover of my copy a little magazine summary of the book. It reads as follows:

John Reed’s eye-witness account of the ten most decisive days of our time has become an authentic historical document and a vivid, moment-to-moment narrative of the Bolshevik Revolution. Reed, now buried beneath the Kremlin wall in Moscow, is a national hero and martyr in Russia. His book, unreservedly recommended by Lenin, is used as a text in the schools of the Soviet Union and is recognized everywhere as a stirring and faithful record of the events leading to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

In his preface, Mr. Reed describes the circumstances in Russia in 1917 and earlier that led to the revolution. Quoting from a 1905 book written by William English Walling and titled Russia’s Message, he points out that

They (the working people) saw it was possible that even under a free Government, if it fell into the hands of other social classes, they might still continue to starve….

The Russian workman is revolutionary, but he is neither violent, dogmatic, nor unintelligent. He is ready for the barricades, but he has studied them, and alone of the workers of the world he has learned about them from actual experience. He is ready and willing to fight his oppressor, the capitalist class, to a finish….

They were all agreed that our (American) political institutions were preferable to their own, but they were not very anxious to exchange one despot for another (i.e., the capitalist class)….

Mr. Reed summarizes the situation, saying, “And so developed in Russia, in the midst of a foreign war, the Social Revolution on top of the Political Revolution, culminating in the triumph of Bolshevism.”

One sees, by skimming the surface, the class warfare language at the heart of Marxism/Bolshevism. The Russian people “agree that or political institutions were preferable to their own.” Yet they feared freedom because they saw that if a free Government “fell into the hands of other social classes, they might continue to starve.”

Notice that they cannot think clearly about freedom or about government because of their fear of starvation. Since many of them had starved, this is not hard to understand. Nevertheless, the failure to think clearly is never helpful when someone is asking you to give them total power over you.

Something about liberty or death here, I think.

I would urge two points on your attention. First, notice that what they feared was a “free Government.” Yes, well, in that they were quite wise. I fear a free government too. The strange thing is that, for whatever reason, they equated a free government with a free people. These are, in fact, opposites. The freer, that is to say, the more undefined, unrestricted, unlimited the government, the less free the people.

For this reason, it serves the totalitarian state well to turn the working people’s attention to some other enemy than itself. I do not know Russian history well enough to know how the capitalists actually conducted themselves there or whether they could be considered a “class” that was at war with the “working class.” I do know that the only capitalists that would find it profitable to be at war with the working class are those who don’t need their labors, which is to say, those who profit from their relationship with the state more than they do with the market.

Consequently, in America we have not reached the degree of antipathy between capital and labor that Lenin was able to take advantage of, or perhaps to fabricate, in Russia. However, the more the government regulates the economy, the more businesses have to toady up to government functionaries to survive or thrive, the less the businesses need to care about the laborer. The degree to which the government regulates the economy is the degree to which they are able and incentivized to create tensions between capital and labor.

The government that is free to help us is the government that is free to crush us (“The power to tax is the power to destroy”). But that’s OK, because they’ll help us by crushing our opposition first, right? Right? And that will make us more free.

We ought to fear a free government like we fear STD’s. Oh wait. We ought to fear a free government like we fear traditional Christianity. Yeah, that’s it. Those terrifying evangelicals who will curse us with their Bible verses if we don’t convert and then force us to go to their home schools and sit under the teaching of their totalitarian, patriarchal fathers who compel their women (i.e., property) to bear lots of children so we can maintain the replacement rate of childbirth above 2.1 because those freedom loving Nor’easters need viagra just to give us 1.3 – those freaky, bitter evangelicals who want to lower taxes so they can take over the world with the cash it puts in their pocket. Yeah, those guys. That’s who we should be afraid of. ‘Cause they’re obviously racists and homophobes who need treatment.

So they feared that the “free government” would fall into the hands of other social classes than their own. They are positioned for classaphobia (to use the hip, edgy jargon of the post-modern, authentic media). It is us against the world. And if we don’t win, we will starve. If we do win, we don’t know what would happen, but can anything be worse than starving?

But think about it. If the government isn’t free – if it is defined by a constitution and limited by a free people, then it can’t make you starve can it?

And so the Russian people lost their soul and their country. And their bodies. Today, Russia is in the process of unbreeding themselves out of existence.

Second, notice that they agreed that American political institutions were preferable to their own, “but they were not very anxious to exchange one despot for another.” No, I suppose not. But for all our faults and for the cracking foundations of our society, we have not yet had a despot rule over us as a nation. Of course, we have petty despots, like school administrators and home owner’s associations. But those are petty. We can deal with them by involving ourselves in a self-governed community.

Only, if we don’t self-govern, we invite others to govern us. When they do, you can rest assured they will appeal, they do appeal, to classaphobia. If we accept their wolfish invitations, we won’t starve. Indeed, like Chicken Little, we will be eaten. Do you want to see what I mean? Look at the inner city, the creation of the party and policies of Lyndon B. Johnson and all who worked with him, sneering in private, smiling in public, broken in politics.

Do not believe for a moment that it will end any better than it did in Russia if this evil, deceitful, manipulative form of politics is allowed to spread.

Now I want to quote the most important paragraph in the whole book when we read it to seek analogies to our situation. Mr. Reed writes this:

Foreigners, and Americans especially, frequently emphasize the “ignorance” of the Russian workers. It is true they lacked the political experience of the peoples of the west, but they were very well trained in voluntary organization.

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