I love May Day. On that day, I get to congregate with fellow Leftists. And this particular May Day would be special for two reasons: 1) I was eligible for a half-price bus ticket to NYC because of my age and; 2) I didn't know what to expect after the Baltimore riots. See, the May Day celebration in NYC has always addressed unjust law enforcement.
Having gone down early so I could browse a couple of book stores, I waited for the festivities to start. There were the usual speeches about workers' rights and how American Imperialism ties in with immigration problems. The speeches contained some good content as well as a justified anger at the current conditions and events.
While down there, I talked to a few police officers as well as some fellow leftists. What I wanted to know from the officers was how they felt about the celebration/protest. I know they could not give a personal opinion but I asked anyway. For a couple, they only cared about the protest being peaceful. Another officer stated that he would be glad to tell me what he thought if he was off duty.
I talked to a fellow leftist who was wearing the emblem from the flag of the Soviet Union on his shirt. This emblem has always bothered me and I count it as the leftist equivalent to the 'stars and bars' of the Confederate States of America flag. He made it clear that he didn't want a return of the old Soviet Union under Stalin. Instead, he wanted a new Soviet Union based on democracy. However, when I asked him about Lenin, he demonstrated the key weakness shared by many of the young protesters who participated: a lack of education.
My leftist friend seemed quite unaware of the criticisms of Lenin made by some of his contemporaries from within the ranks. These criticisms came from people such as Rosa Luxemburg, Anton Pannekoek, and Karl Kautsky. Noam Chomsky (click here), not a contemporary of Lenin, echos many of these criticisms when he states that when Lenin took control, his elite-centered takeover of the Revolution and his rule over Russia was, politically speaking, a turn to the Right. My leftist friend also did not know about the purges practiced by Lenin.
His lack of knowledge of Socialism seemed to typify the same in many of the young protesters. Many of these protesters were chanting 'shut the system down' and 'f___ the police.' They would also occasionally yell at bystanders who seemed to be well off. Such expresses the sentiments of Russia's Bolsheviks who wanted revolution to be followed by a centralized government under their control. These Bolsheviks would eventually go after anyone not belonging to their own group.
In contrast to the Bolsheviks were the Mensheviks. They were different from the Bolsheviks in at least 2 ways. First, The Mensheviks believed in the soviets. A soviet was nothing more than a workers' council where decisions were made. The Mensheviks wanted Russia to be ruled by the soviets. The Bolsheviks opposed that because decisions made by the soviets could be made independently. Second, the Mensheviks perceived that Socialism needed to take place in stages and develop over time for it to succeed.1 The Bolsheviks spoke revolution now because of a lack of patience. The result of how Lenin and the Bolsheviks pursued revolution was that they became another version of the Tsar's regime. Here we should ask if the slogans chanted by my young fellow Leftists indicate that they would follow the Bolsheviks' example if they had the opportunity to get power.
But if that is not enough, what the chants listed above showed was an ignorance what Martin Luther King Jr taught. King not only opposed external violence, he was against internal violence as well. Internal violence was the violence that comes from hating or being bitter. One way such violence is expressed is through words. Rather than fighting people, King sought to win his opponents over. And when that would not work and his opponents were oppressive, he sought to use the law to restrain their abusive behaviors. Here, we should note when one's goal is in winning people over, one is not seeking to conquer.
Now, especially toward the end of his life, King was a fan of neither the Communism of the Soviet Union nor Western Capitalism. But he was a Socialist of sorts. He accomplished much in his life and he did that by trying to persuade rather than trying to intimidate or force people to join. So we should ask how the chants described above could possibly win over opponents. Rather, such chants were challenges supporting the survival of the fittest. Again, that was the kind of Socialism practiced by the Bolsheviks as they sought to dominate not just the counter-revolutionaries, but dissenting fellow Socialists as well.
In addition, regarding the chant aimed at the police, we have to consider the job of the police officer. There are at least several parts of a police officer's job that I could never do. Yes, the anger at those police officers who practice abuse and racism is justified. But the chant used against all police officers was not. And judging a whole group by the actions of some is nothing more than bigotry. We should also note that in nonviolent revolutions, which is the only kind where the revolutionaries do not seek to subjugate all, cooperation of those who enforce the law is required for success. This was shown in the removal of Milosevic from power in Serbia as well as in the Arab Spring. And it was also shown when Chavez was briefly overthrown in Venezuela in the early 2000s, but he regained power when a massive number of peasants came into the city causing those who initially supported the coup to give up. If we are really concerned about conducting successful nonviolent revolutions, how is it that we can win over the police when we verbally attack them?
If the Left is going to have a chance at changing this country, we must learn the history that tells us what has succeeded and what has failed. And we have to decide is whether we prefer to conquer others or persuade our opponents to join us. If the young protesters at NYC's May Day celebration are a reflection of where the Left is, then those who afraid of its politics can rest easy not just for tonight, but for many nights to come.
- A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, by Orlando Figes, pg 190, 211