Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism by Michael Parenti
This book made me consider what the purpose of a book is. I don’t have to agree with what is said for it to be important. It is enough for the material to raise questions and make me consider things I may otherwise have missed. This can only lead to refining arguments and follow up research to deepen understanding. Some ideas have to be agitational to develop your principles, oysters wouldn’t produce pearls without the grit that gets trapped in them. I was happy as a clam to receive this book and the grit was generated by Marxist historian Michael Parenti who flexes his intellectual mussels to analyse the forces that brought about the demise of the USSR and the expansion of the “free market” into Eastern Europe. The devastating consequences of this are clear to see with the destruction of the social wage and a fascist resurgence. There’s something fishy about how this was able to occur, Parenti looks back at what led up to this catastrophe and offers a nuanced exploration of the various factors that contributed to the developments mentioned. Although everyone will have their own opinions and biases when interpreting history I do believe that this book covers numerous key factors that must be vigorously pondered before jumping to any conclusions on what occurred.
It’s easy to criticise when comparing something to your own ideals. In the case of social revolutions, it is necessary to consider what the alternatives are and what limited the reality. A key theme of this work is that nothing beyond theory is perfect and ideas concocted with the ideal in mind are doomed to fall short. The material conditions will dictate what is possible and the leader of a particular country or organisation is not as important as the external forces like war, trade and popular will that guide decisions. An example of this used by Parenti is the Soviet Union decision to centralise aspects of the state apparatus to preserve the revolution. In theory, not doing so would have been better for socialism. Local, self-directed, worker participation could be the bedrock of a new democracy. However, when under constant attack through war, espionage and other types of shithousery and subterfuge it is not possible nor wise to structure a society in this otherwise preferable decentralised manner. The speedy industrialisation carried out would have been necessary whether it was Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky or Sarah Jessica Parker in charge. the ambition was to industrialised as Great Britain had done in 100 years, in just 10 years! It’s impossible to say but very likely that without doing so the country would have been crushed by the Nazis or another imperial power soon after. The actions were not ideal but when analysed the process seems necessary, even if implementation could have been better with hindsight and wider awareness.
I believe in humans engaging with each other to get things done and with that in mind, I think it is dangerous to dismiss what has happened in the past without reflecting on why it happened that way and what could be done to construct something more effective going forwards. To take advantage of any ruptures in the status quo all available resources must be utilised, the material foundations laid down by struggles of the past are a crucial part of that. This book highlights this in an entertaining and interesting way which I think would help anyone regardless of their political orientation to develop their perspective on the world.