Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 16, 2012

Vyer Films: the cognoscenti’s Netflix

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

If Netflix summons up the image of a brick-and-mortar movie theater, it would be the Cineplex in a suburban shopping mall playing the latest Adam Sandler and Bruce Willis movies with a small box of oversalted popcorn sold for $5 at the concession stand. Vyer Films, which also streams movies to your computer, would be more like an art house near a good university featuring a Satyajit Ray revival and serving exquisitely delicious espresso for 50 cents a cup.

As the “about” page at Vyer Films puts it: “Hollywood makes movies for toddlers, tweens, and teenagers. We find and stream films for everyone else.” A-fucking-men.

Before I say something about three representative Vyer films, it struck me that the discussion of the digital revolution in the very fine documentary “Side by Side” missed a very important dimension. Focused as it was on the creators, ranging from Steven Soderbergh to Martin Scorsese, it left those who “consume” their products out of the equation. In the late 50s and early 60s, which for me will always remain the golden age of cinema, the price of entry into the filmmaking universe was pretty damned steep. Except for experimental artists like Ken Jacobs working with a hand-held 8-millimeter camera, most socially and artistically ambitious productions required millions of dollars to mount and then could only be seen in the proverbial brick-and-mortar theater.

With the advent of digital cameras, the cost barriers are removed for the most part.  Furthermore, even if an independent film is pretty much forced to debut in a physical theater, Vyer allows them to have a much longer shelf life.

That was what occurred to me immediately when I had the opportunity to sample three Vyer films, one of which was “I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You.” As it turned out this Brazilian film with a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, including mine, made a brief appearance at the Anthology Film Archives in New York in March 2011, a theater that conforms to the espresso-serving image conjured above. If not for Vyer, it would have disappeared into the memory hole. This is what I had to say about it back then:

The final scenes in the film consist of the geologist surveying the town that is about to be inundated with water, a necessary result of Brazil’s relentless modernization. He does not render a political judgment on the changes taking place but you cannot be left without a feeling that the changes—that he is in the vanguard of fomenting—leave him as empty as the love affair that has just ended in failure.

Defying conventional expectations of film-making, the directors have found exactly the right venue to present their work.

Anthology Film Archives was founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage. The website described this as “An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form.”

Substitute Vyer for Anthology Film Archives in the paragraph above and you will get an idea of its mission: art rather than disposable entertainment.

As it turns out, all three of the films that Vyer invited me to review revolve around the themes of modernization/globalization versus traditional societies.

That conflict is rendered in the starkest terms through the documentary “7915 Km” directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, whose brilliant examination of agribusiness “Our Daily Bread” I reviewed in 2006. The film’s title refers to the length of the Paris-to-Dakar road rally that is held annually. But you don’t see a single car or motorcycle in the film. Instead Geyrhalter travels the entire length of the route to interview indigenous peoples whose lives have been negatively impacted by both the race and by the broader social and economic forces that allows wealthy Europeans to use a large swath of West Africa as a playground. When Africans are in the position to use Europe in the same fashion–tearing up the roads of France as they rush helter-skelter to their destination–then one might conclude that the world is flat in Thomas Friedman terms.

As someone with Marxist politics and a deep love for Turkish culture, Vyer’s offering of “The Market” was made to order for me. I doubt that I can say anything about this 2008 Turkish film that can top what appears on the Vyer website, so I will go ahead and repeat it:

On its surface, The Market is a comedy. Its humor is absurd, highlighting the nonsense its characters must countenance. This “nonsense” is capitalism in its purest form: men bartering, employing their wits, acting simultaneously as comrades and enemies, and exploiting each others’ weaknesses in the pursuit of goals both noble and malicious. It is in witnessing these men engage each other and the degradation of themselves and those around them that occurs as a result that the notion of The Market actually being comedy comes into question.

In Turkey in the early 1990s, Mihram is a skilled and earnest black marketeer, looking to buy his way into the burgeoning, lucrative, and legitimate, telecom business. A boon appears when he receives a request to illicitly procure medicine for a local hospital. With a commission too significant to refuse, Mihram accepts and finds himself transformed into a folk hero, using his questionable talents for good. His journey, though, will systematically disabuse him of that notion, as the crush of reality comes down upon every step of his quest.

In many ways, The Market exemplifies why we watch foreign films. The cultural distance ironically brings us closer to the characters. As a Muslim, Mihram’s fondness for an evening beer is shameful to those around him, yet we see little harm and easily identify with his assertion of “nobody being perfect.” Turkey’s brutally competitive black market bears little similarity to our own daily forms of commerce, but the unjust havoc it wreaks on its participants is wholly identifiable and resonates with us. The truths of our existence are surprisingly identifiable when viewed through the lens of an alternate reality.

What are these truths of existence The Market throws into relief? With Mihram haggling over pennies while giant corporations lay the infrastructure for creating the wealthiest men in Turkey’s history, there is a temptation to view the film as prescient to the current global economic situation. This film, though, is interested in telling a larger story than the cycles of the capitalism. It truly is about the absurd, about the situations that persist indefinitely, and how the people within them simply endure.

A scene from “The Market”:

I would only add one thing to these insightful comments. As I was watching “The Market”, I laughed harder perhaps than most since it captured with a great deal of affection the idiosyncrasies of the Turkish man and woman that I have become familiar with as the result of being married to a Turk for over ten years and having visits from my in-laws numerous occasions (something that I rather look forward to, as opposed to what most people experience). The telling gesture, the raised eyebrow, the “tsk-tsk” of a character in a comic scene was something that made me feel right at home. As a fervent fan of Turkish comedy, I can state that “The Market” is about as funny as anything I have seen.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that the director and screenwriter is Ben Hopkins, a Briton. In an interview with the British Film Institute, Hopkins pays tribute to Yılmaz Güney, the Kurdish director of Yol, whose films about common people was an obvious model for “The Market”.  The interview reveals the spirit of collaboration that made the “Turkishness” of the film possible. Hopkins wrote the screenplay in English and had it translated into Turkish by Taylan Halıcı, a Turk living in London. After the screenplay was translated, the cast added Turkish dialect and wisecracks to lend verisimilitude.

With his love of Turkish culture and his respect for the Turks he was working with, Ben Hopkins represents the polar opposite of the forced modernization/globalization model that has created al-Qaeda and other forms of violent resistance—often justified—to a Western imperialism that not only robs people of their livelihoods as documented in “7915 Km” but their culture as well.

One of the great things about Vyer is that it makes it possible to create a “flat” world but not in Thomas Friedman’s terms. With electronic technologies such as twitter, Skype and Youtube, activists in the West have been able to offer solidarity and material aid to those fighting for democracy and social justice in the Middle East. In its own fashion, the streaming technology of Vyer allows us to hear the voices of what Franz Fanon called the wretched of the earth and help sustain innovative film-making across the planet.

On a more mundane note, let me conclude with the nuts and bolts of joining Vyer. Unlike Netflix, there is no need to pay for a subscription but simply for the films that you want to see. Once again, from Vyer’s “about” page:

Vyer Films premieres one new, previously undistributed movie every other week.

The first 15 minutes of any Vyer Film is available for free.

The full film is available for a $7 rental. The rental lasts as long as you need to view the film in its entirety. If you don’t have time to watch a film in one sitting, you can revisit it days, weeks, or months after renting and continue where you left off. Once you’ve watched the film in its entirety, you have an additional week to rewatch it as many times as you like.

You can’t beat that with a stick. You can obviously watch the film on your computer but I strongly suggest that you look into getting a flat-screen TV with HDMI input, just as I did after deciding to watch Netflix movies streamed to my computer. You plug your computer into your TV and then you are good to go.

October 15, 2012

Roman Malinovsky biography, conclusion

Filed under: Malinovsky — louisproyect @ 3:43 pm

This is chapter 3 and the epilogue of Roman Malinovsky: A Life without a Cause by Ralph Carter Elwood, the footnotes for which can be seen here: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/chapter3_epilogue.htm. For those who remain mystified by Richard Aoki, I would suggest that a study of Elwood’s book might help clarify things, especially considering the turn of events described in chapter 3, when Malinovsky no longer had any connection to the Czarist police:

He, in fact, lived to fight in some eleven battles during the course of the next year114 until he was finally wounded on Russia’s western front, captured and put into a German prisoner-of-war camp at Altengrabow near Magdeburg. In these unusual surroundings, as Malinovsky confessed in 1918, “socialism for the first time became my religion.”115 It is impossible to determine from the available evidence116 whether this belated conversion was a result of ideological conviction, boredom, remorse, or simply a search for an outlet for his considerable energy and organizational talent. In any case, he contacted the “Commission to Help Russian War Prisoners” which the Bolsheviks had established in Bern during 1915 under the direction of Shklovsky and Krupskaya. The Commission had ties with Russian prisoners in 21 camps in Germany and Austria to whom, with German acquiescence, it dispatched some 5,000 pounds of defeatist and revolutionary literature. Krupskaya “took pity on the fallen eagle, sent him linen and food parcels”117 along with agitational material. Malinovsky reciprocated by becoming one of the Commission’s most zealous and active agents. During the first half of 1916 he sent Lenin five letters describing the mood and conditions of the soldiers at Alten-grabow and with his help established a prison library of some 1,011 books. He also circulated the Commission’s newspaper, V plenu, read lectures on political economy, and discussed the Erfurt Program with the Russian prisoners of war.118 “Very enthusiastic reports” about Malinovsky’s work began reaching Lenin119 who once again sought his advice on political matters.120 Malinovsky himself later remarked that “the best period of my life was the two and a half years which I devoted to propaganda among Russian prisoners in Germany. I have done a great deal during that time for the spread of the ideas of Bolshevism.”121


During the last half of 1913 and especially after his meeting with Burtsev in Paris, Malinovsky started to show the strain of living a dual life. To his colleagues in the Duma fraction it seemed that he was more “hot-headed” than usual, that “during discussions he often became hysterical and lost his temper over quite unimportant questions.”1 When Cecilia Bobrovskaya objected to some of his suggestions on party matters, “Malinovsky made an awful fuss, got very angry, used strong language about the Moscow Party organization and about me personally.”2 He also began to drink more heavily, allegedly taking vodka by the tea cup before giving Duma addresses3 or “getting drunk night after night” when visiting Lenin in Galicia.4

Lenin felt this strange conduct was a result of the very heavy work load and the growing responsibilities Malinovsky had had to assume within both the Duma and the Central Committee. “This unsettled him, deprived him of his even temper, made enemies for him. And this undoubtedly also contributed to the acceleration of his personal crisis which broke Malinovsky and forced him to commit political suicide” by resigning from the Duma in May 1914.5 It has also been suggested that Malinovsky, after three years as a police informer, was suddenly “tortured by his double agent status” and that he “had not made up his mind where his loyalty or future lay.”6 Plausible as this suggestion may seem, Malinovsky continued to file reports with the police and made no move to sever his connections with them.

The real cause of Malinovsky’s growing unease was his fear of exposure either by members of his own party or by the police themselves. Several party members had already expressed their doubts about Malinovsky’s past to Lenin. Despite the fact that the Bolshevik leader had bluntly rejected these allegations, “Malinovsky worried more and more. He . . . became maudlin and complained that he was being treated with suspicion.”7 Some of these fears might have been alleviated when Chernomazov was removed in February 1914 and inferentially blamed for past police coups, but Malinovsky was well aware that Burtsev had good contacts within the Okhrana and would like nothing better than to expose another Azef.

Malinovsky also had to worry about the attitude of his new superiors within the Department of Police. By the time he had returned from Paris, Beletsky and Vissarionov had been replaced as Director and Vice-Director of the Department by V.A. Briun-de-Sent-Ippolit and A.T. Vasiliev respectively. Perhaps more importantly, V. F. Dzhunkovsky (Junkovsky) had taken over as Deputy Minister of Interior. Under his leadership the Department’s relationship with Malinovsky was being reexamined. While the police appointments book for this period has been lost, it is safe to assume that the intimate dinners between provocateur and Director were at an end. Malinovsky must have sensed that changes were in the offing for he asked Beletsky to intercede in his behalf with Vasiliev.8 These overtures were made but they were to no avail.

Why, if Malinovsky were the “pride of the Okhrana,” should Dzhunkovsky decide to dispense with his services and force his resignation from the Duma? Vissarionov claimed that he personally had increasing doubts about Malinovsky’s loyalty to the police but when he expressed these fears to Beletsky, the then Director had assured him that the Duma deputy was a “serious agent.”9 Vissarionov had a different reaction, however, when he later discussed his reservations with Dzhunkovsky who concluded that “it is necessary to end affairs with this man.”10 Dzhunkovsky’s own explanation of his conduct was not that he feared Malinovsky was too revolutionary but rather that the whole affair of a “spy in the Duma . . . .sickened me” and that he sought to avoid possible scandal by eliminating its cause.11 According to one police official, Dzhunkovsky was acutely afraid that Burtsev’s e’migre journal Budushschee was about to break the scandal wide open.12 It has also been suggested that some “liberal-minded police officers,”  who did  not approve of their superiors compromising the nation’s leading parliamentary body, deliberately spread rumors which led to Malinovsky’s downfall.13 And it is possible that there were bureaucratic jealousies between the Dzhunkovsky regime and the Beletsky administration which led the former to wish to minimize the accomplishments of the latter by removing their star performer.14 All of these explanations, however, assume a certain idealism on the part of the police, which is difficult to prove existed, and a willingness to give up an extremely valuable source of information15 without apparently gaining anything in return.

Perhaps a better explanation for Malinovsky’s disgrace is that Dzhunkovsky, upon taking office, re-evaluated the social and political conditions in Russia and came to different conclusions than had Beletsky two years earlier. During the course of 1912 labor unrest, which had been more or less dormant since the dying gasps of revolution in 1907, revived with a vengeance. The total number of strikers jumped by almost 700 per cent over the year previous. Reaction throughout Russia to the senseless shooting of several hundred strikers in the Lena gold fields during April 1912 had been spontaneous, sometimes violent, and ominously reminiscent of the earlier reaction to Bloody Sunday. By 1914 the strike movement was approaching 1905 proportions; May Day demonstrations were once again a common occurrence. The legal workers press, in the form of the Mensheviks’ Luch and the Bolsheviks’ Pravda which had sprung to life in 1912, was kindling this unrest and rapidly gaining a receptive national audience. The new worker insurance councils and the revived trade unions had given the workers’ movement a legal and organized focus which it had lacked during “the years of Stolypinist reaction.” And at the apex of this unrest stood the Social Democratic delegation to the Fourth Duma. No larger than its predecessor to the Third Duma, it was far more articulate, vocal and energetic in its attempts to embarrass the government and to incite the masses.

Dzhunkovsky surely reflected on the fact that the Bolsheviks were far more militant than their Menshevik rivals both within the Duma and within the broader labor movement. They also were increasingly more successful. Back in  1912, when  Malinovsky first joined  Lenin’s Central Committee, the Bolsheviks could attract only fourteen local delegates and none of the prestigious emigre leaders outside of Lenin himself to their Prague Conference. The Mensheviks were then clearly more numerous, more influential and the best bet to unify and lead the entire Social Democratic movement. Beletsky’s policy of divide and rule by strengthening the schismatic tendencies within the Bolshevik faction had therefore been correct in January 1912. But by 1914 the situation had changed. The Bolsheviks had seized the initiative and were riding the wave of worker discontent. Their Pravda had many more subscribers than Luch; their followers had captured control of 75 per cent of the trade union directorates in Moscow and St. Petersburg; the insurance councils were increasingly coming under their control.16 Standing on the legal tip of the Bolshevik iceberg was their popular Duma leader — the Russian Bebel and the Bolshevik Azef, Roman Malinovsky.

Through him the Okhrana did indeed know about future party plans, the whereabouts of local Social Democratic leaders, and the various subterfuges used to exploit legal organizations. With this information they could and did arrest Lenin’s agents and periodically close down his newspapers. But these moves seemingly had little effect on the Bolsheviks’ growing influence among the discontented and alienated urban workers. What was needed was a psychological rather than an organizational blow; a blow which would discredit the revitalized Bolshevik leadership in the eyes of both the party rank-and-file and the resurgent masses which were following them. What better means of achieving this goal than by removing their most eloquent speaker from the Duma and by allowing it to be discreetly known that a leading member of their Central Committee was in fact an agent provocateur? Not only would the Bolsheviks be discredited but a radical and increasingly vocal segment of the Duma would lose its credibility. Perhaps the liberal intelligentsia would think twice about contributing money to supposedly revolutionary causes. Perhaps the confused workers would look elsewhere for more reliable leadership and more peaceful guidance. Surely the Mensheviks would take advantage of this opportunity to right the factional balance which had shifted against them since 1912.

In the ensuing internecine struggle, only the tsarist regime and the police could profit. Thus, rather than strengthening the Bolsheviks, as Beletsky had done by planting Malinovsky in their midst in January 1912, the time had come to weaken them by removing the “pride of the Okhrana.”If this was indeed Dzhunkovsky’s reasoning, he very nearly achieved his objective.17

Malinovsky’s downfall began on 22 April 1914. On that morning Duma chairman Rodzianko received an anonymous telephone call from a woman claiming to be his well-wisher who said that the left-wing of the Duma on Malinovsky’s initiative was planning to demonstrate when Prime Minister Goremykin spoke to the Duma later that day. Rodzianko promptly called Dzhunkovsky who “was extremely surprised to hear about the planned demonstration” and who during the course of their conversation implied that Malinovsky was in fact his agent. This call probably precipitated the action Dzhunkovsky had been contemplating for some time. In return for the chairman’s word not to reveal their conversation, he promised that Malinovsky would soon leave the Duma and the country.18

The cause of the demonstration lay in government attempts to make deputies criminally responsible for statements made in the Duma and subsequently published in the workers’ press. The Social Democrats and their Trudovik allies responded with a resolution to postpone all Duma work until immunity and freedom of speech were guaranteed. Shortly after this was defeated by a vote of 140 to 76, Goremykin made one of his rare visits before the Duma to introduce the new state budget. No sooner had he begun speaking than the left-wing deputies started pounding their desks and shouting. Rodzianko was ready. He promptly warned the offending deputies and then, when the noise continued, he asked Goremykin to step down temporarily so that he could suspend for fifteen days Malinovsky and ten other left-wing deputies. Three of them — A. F. Kerensky, I. I. Chkhenkeli and Petrovsky but not Malinovsky — refused to relinquish the floor when ordered to do so by the chairman and had to be removed by the police. Goremykin began again a second and a third time only to be interrupted by the diminished left-wing contingent. After ten more Social Democrats and Trudoviks had been given the maximum suspension allowed under article 154, Goremykin was able to make his remarks in relative peace.19

Sometime during the fifteen-day cooling-off period Malinovsky was contacted by P. Kr Popov, the head of the St. Petersburg Okhrana section, who informed him of Dzhunkovsky’s decision that he was to leave the Duma and gave him 6,000 rubles with which to start a new life outside the country.20 He left it to Malinovsky to figure out how he was going to accomplish his withdrawal. In private conversations with friends, the deputy began to prepare the ground by saying that he was tired and disillusioned with Duma work. He also suggested to his colleagues that “a more active method of struggle” was called for, that the fraction should refuse to return to the Duma but should instead go out into the streets to call the masses to revolutionary action.21 When this was turned down, he took militant action of his own. The Social Democratic and Trudovik deputies decided that Kerensky should make a joint and uncompromising declaration upon their return to the Duma on 7 May. Perhaps as a result of Malinovsky’s last report, the Okhrana was able to inform Rodzianko of its content and the chairman was thus once again prepared for a hard day.22 Kerensky was warned nine times by Rodzianko concerning the tone of his declaration and then told to sit down for “insulting the Duma.” He was followed by V. I. Khaustov who delivered two sentences before being deprived of the right to speak. Then came Malinovsky. He spoke three words, was warned by Rodzianko, spoke five more and then was told to sit down. This time, unlike on 22 April, he kept speaking despite shouts from the right and threats of expulsion from the chair. Finally, the police were called to remove him by force but probably contrary to Malinovsky’s hopes he was neither suspended nor permanently expelled from the Duma.23

Time ran out on Malinovsky the next day. The Bolshevik fraction met in the late morning of 8 May but then dispersed with only Muranov and Malinovsky remaining for the afternoon debate. Malinovsky had seemed nervous but said nothing about his plans to his colleagues. At around 3 p.m., however, he marched into Rodzianko’s office and threw his resignation on the chairman’s desk. “What is this?” asked Rodzianko. “Excuse me,” answered Malinovsky, “I am leaving the Duma. I have no time. Excuse me.”24 And he left. Rumors of what had happened swept through the Duma hall much to the consternation of the perplexed Muranov. Sometime after 5 p.m. Muranov started telephoning the other fraction members to suggest that they return to the Duma immediately. They had just arrived when the vice-chairman announced from the rostrum ” ‘that a statement from member of the Duma Malinovsky has been received by the chairman of the Duma to the effect that he is resigning from the Duma’ (Markov II: ‘It would be interesting to know why’) Vice-chairman: ‘the reasons are not given . . .’.”25

That evening the reduced fraction twice sent Petrovsky to Malinovsky’s apartment to demand an explanation. None was forthcoming, nor would he meet with his former colleagues. Indeed, on Petrovsky’s second visit Malinovsky appeared in what Pravda euphemistically called “an unhealthy condition.”26 Samoilov was more candid: Malinovsky was drunk ;27 he produced a foreign passport and a revolver, said he was going to Moscow that evening, and that he had no time for explanations.28 Petrovsky’s threat of a party court-martial had no effect on the near-hysterical ex-deputy. Later that evening, before catching the 11 p.m. train, Malinovsky sent Kamenev a letter which the Pravda editor noted was “obviously written in a state of unhealthy agitation.”29 He said that after the suspensions and the limitations on the right to speak freely, he saw “no reason to be in the Duma. The refusal of our comrades to use non-parliamentary means of struggle … killed for me all possibility of remaining in … this accursed Duma.”30 Kamenev immediately replied by messenger suggesting that only “extreme nervous disorder could explain his conduct” and that he should telegraph Rodzianko requesting that his resignation be withdrawn.31 This reached Malinovsky just as he was getting into a cab and had no effect. Comrades who tried to intercept him at the Nikolaevskii Station, the departure point for Moscow-bound trains, were unable even to locate the ex-deputy.

Malinovsky dropped out of sight for the next week. The only news from him was a telegram received from a “border town” on the night of 10-11 May stating “I am going abroad, Open-letter in two days.”32 There were rumors that he had gone to Berlin where he had obtained a job as a lathe operator33 or to Lenin in Galicia. Lenin, however, wrote Inessa Armand on the 12th that the Malinovsky affair is warming up. He is not here. It looks like ‘flight.’ This, of course, gives food for the worst thoughts. Aleksei telegraphs from Paris that the Russian newspapers are wiring Burtsev that Malinovsky is accused of being a provocateur. You can imagine what it means!! Very improbable but … you can easily imagine how much Fam [sic] worried34

Pravda and the Duma deputies were faced with the difficult task of explaining Malinovsky’s totally unexpected resignation and disappearance to the St. Petersburg workers. They began by dismissing out of hand a written statement received from a man named Tsioglinsky who claimed that Malinovsky was a provocateur.35 They also denied disingenuously the Kadet assertion that political disagreements within the fraction over Duma tactics had contributed to his resignation as well as the rumor that he had absconded with a large amount of money from a strike fund.36On Monday, 12 May, Put’ pravdy came out with a special one-page edition that was distributed free of charge in which the remaining deputies “sharply condemned both the departure of Malinovsky and especially the form which this departure took; we have come to the conclusion that . . . these actions can only be explained by extreme nervous fatigue and loss of emotional balance.” Malinovsky’s continued silence put his colleagues in an embarrassing position. On the 16th they received a second telegram in which he acknowledged that “my step was irregular”37 — an explanation which the editors found a bit weak for what they considered to be a “criminal breach of discipline.”38 Finally, on the 19th the long-promised “open-letter” arrived in which Malinovsky stated he had not realized the gravity of his action at the time, that it was impossible “to justify now this politically unpardonable step. But I ask comrades when censoring me to think a moment about those conditions in which I worked and about the fact I am only a man.” The Bolshevik deputies found this explanation unacceptable and came to the conclusion that by his conduct Malinovsky “had put himself outside our ranks,” i.e., that he was expelled from the party.39

What made the position of the editors particularly difficult was that, despite the constant stream of resolutions of support from Bolshevik groups throughout Russia, their political opponents had seized the initiative and were asking embarrassing questions. Every time a Bolshevik spoke in the Duma, N. E. Markov asked “But where is Malinovsky?”40 It seemed to Chkheidze that “dark rumors” started to spread in the Duma corridors immediately after Malinovsky’s hurried exit.41 Right-wing newspapers brought these into the open with blatant queries about the deputy’s connections with the police.42 Indeed, the rapidity with which these rumors spread through both the Duma and conservative society would suggest that the police were deliberately intensifying the Bolsheviks’ crisis by selected leaks to their friends. The Mensheviks inadvertently cooperated by picking up and repeating these “dark rumors” in Nasha rabochaia gazeta thereby lending credence to the suspicions. On 11 May the paper suggested that “the events of the last few days throw a new and strange light on the political activity of the former Moscow deputy;”43 on the 13th it expressed “curiosity” about the Bolshevik response to right-wing “rumors of Azefovshchina;”44 on the 17th the Mensheviks were more specific but still cited conservative papers to the effect that Malinovsky had “served the Okhrana;”45 and on the 21st they openly challenged the Bolsheviks to deny that their deputy was a “provocateur.”46 Two days later Nasha rabochaia gazeta asserted that “rumors of provocation” had in fact been circulating long before Malinovsky left the Duma but that because of his position and factional considerations no one could call for an investigation. Since “the mysterious flight of Malinovsky . . . has allowed these rumors to surface,” the editors now demanded that this impartial all-party investigation be held.47

An investigation was held in May 1914 but it was to be neither impartial nor all-party. On 15 May, one week after the confrontation in Rodzianko’s office, the editors of Pravda received a telegram from Lenin in Poronin stating simply that “Malinovsky has arrived.”48 It would appear that the ex-deputy, fearing his police ties would inevitably be discovered, had initially sought refuge  with relatives in Warsaw.49 After a week in hiding, when it became apparent that the Mensheviks could not substantiate their charges and that the Bolsheviks were prepared to go part way in his defense, he decided to brazen it out and to deny his guilt. At his last trial in 1918, he claimed that he had intended to “confess all” to Lenin but changed his mind upon reaching Galicia and seeing the great faith the Bolshevik leader had in him.5″Shortly after he arrived, Pravda was informed that a three-man tribunal had been established at Malinovsky’s request to investigate the rumors about him. The panel was to consist of Lenin and Zinoviev with their Polish Social Democratic ally J. S. Haniecki (Furstenberg) serving as chairman. The investigation, moreover, was to be strictly internal rather than “all-party” as the Mensheviks had demanded in that the tribunal did not seek information from the Mensheviks, Trotsky or even the Social Democratic Duma fraction.51 And despite the fact that potential Bolshevik witnesses were scattered across Europe, the tribunal met formally for less than a week.52 While neither the names of the witnesses nor the nature of their accusations have been made public, it is possible to construct from other evidence the substance of the charges and Malinovsky’s probable response.

Rumors about Malinovsky’s dual employment first began circulating in 1910 and 1911 while he was still active in the Moscow organization.53 Lenin acknowledged in 1917 that he had “heard that suspicions had cropped up in Moscow around 1911 about Malinovsky’s political honesty but that these suspicions were communicated to us in more definite terms only after his sudden departure from the Duma in the spring of 1914.” He went on to say that he had never received “a single verifiable fact” concerning these Moscow rumors.54 While the facts might not have been “verifiable,” Lenin certainly heard about them in “definite terms” as early as September 1912 when Bukharin, one of those arrested in Moscow, came to Galicia specifically to warn him about Malinovsky. Lenin rejected Bukharin’s arguments, the nature of which have not been revealed,55 as did many people actively associated with the Moscow organization who saw Malinovsky as their “rising star” in 1912.56 Shortly after the deputy’s inexplicable disappearance in May 1914 Bukharin, whose relations with Lenin had cooled over the Malinovsky affair, received a letter from the Bolshevik leader seeking additional information. Bukharin replied57 and then, with his wife, journeyed to Poronin to repeat his charges before the hand-picked tribunal.

Another of Malinovsky’s principal accusers was A. A. Troyanovsky. In the spring of 1913 Troyanovsky’s common-law wife, Elena Rozmirovich, returned to Russia under the partial amnesty of 21 February as an agent of the Central Committee with the specific responsibility of finding students for the proposed Galician party school.58 She was soon arrested with compromising documents in her possession. According to one emigre account, Troyanovsky, who was a friend of Bukharin and shared his suspicions of Malinovsky, then sent a registered letter from abroad to Rozmirovich’s family in Kiev: “Elena has been arrested under obscure circumstances. If she is not immediately freed, then this is for me incontestable proof of provocation by one of the leading party activists whom I shall then call to account.” This letter, as he expected, was intercepted by the police, taken to Beletsky and supposedly shown to Malinovsky who “turned pale, started to shake, and began to shout: ‘free her, free her quickly.’ “59 A month later she was in fact released. This sequence of events confirmed Troyanovsky’s suspicions and together with Bukharin he demanded a party investigation of Malinovsky in the summer of 1913.60 “These doubts,” according to Soviet authorities, “were so nebulous that these comrades did not do anything further about them”6′ after Lenin turned down their request. If Troyanovsky’s proof was so conclusive, he should have published it in the party press rather than allowing a provocateur to continue to function for another ten months. If he was so convinced of Malinovsky’s guilt, it is curious that he attended Central Committee meetings with him in July and September 1913 and that he chose to write Malinovsky a cordial letter in March 1914 concerning Rozmirovich’s subsequent arrest.62 Rozmirovich had in the meantime returned to St. Petersburg where for a period of four months she served as secretary to the Duma fraction headed by her supposed betrayer. When the issue was raised again with Malinovsky’s sudden resignation, Troyanovsky chose to take his complaints to the Mensheviks63 while Rozmirovich rather belatedly testified in Poronin.

No investigation of suspected provocation would be complete without the testimony of Burtsev. Lenin immediately cabled him for advice on Malinovsky and for assistance in combatting Menshevik rumors.64 Burtsev responded that while Malinovsky might be an “unsavory individual” and a “scoundrel who did not fulfill his obligations,” he was not a provocateur.65 “Before Malinovsky’s departure from the Duma,” wrote Burtsev in the summer of 1914, “I had not heard even a hint of any kind of an accusation against him. The thought never entered my mind that someone someday would be able to accuse [him] on these grounds.”66 He continued in the same vein to Trudovaia pravda: “knowing Malinovsky personally, I cannot conceive even of the possibility that such an accusation could have some validity.”67 When Russkoe slovo misrepresented his position, Burtsev quickly reiterated that there was no firm evidence against Malinovsky.68

One of the things that bothered Burtsev was that he was unable to obtain precise information from the Mensheviks concerning the nature of their evidence against Malinovsky.69 The fact is that the Mensheviks did not have much in the way of precise information. As Martov wrote to Aksel’rod on 2 June: “All of our affairs revolve around one thing — the Malinovsky affair. … We are all certain without the slightest doubt that he is a provocateur . . . but whether we will be able to prove it is another matter.”70 Their evidence consisted of general rumors spread by the conservative press which even some of their own supporters were forced to deny; 7i anonymous tips, supposedly from someone inside the Okhrana, received by Luch in 1912 and Lydia Dan in 1913; and the accusations of Troyanovsky and Tsioglinsky.72 Lenin consistently taunted Martov and Dan to make specific, signed accusations so that they could be sued for libel “in an official court of a free country” but this they refused to do.73

In reaching a decision, Lenin and his fellow tribunalists therefore had to take into account the nebulous accusations of the Mensheviks in general and of Bukharin and Troyanovsky in particular; the fact that all signs since 1913 pointed to the presence of a provocateur high in the Bolshevik ranks; and the circumstances surrounding Malinovsky’s sudden departure from the Duma. In Malinovsky’s defense were his own plausible explanation that the Okhrana used his criminal record to blackmail him into resigning; the fact that the Okhrana had been known in the past to spread false rumors of provocation to further its own ends;74 and that the source of most of the rumors wastheMensheviks who stood to gain the most from the resulting scandal.

Bukharin tells of hearing Lenin pace back and forth one night in Poronin, apparently trying to weigh the evidence in his own mind.75 It has been left to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, however, to speculate on the precise nature of the Bolshevik leader’s thoughts.

Malinovsky, Malinovsky! The would-be Russian Bebel. How he worked! How he aroused the masses! What a remarkable type, what a remarkable person! A born workers’ leader, a symbol of the Russian proletariat. Lenin had sought in the party just such a working class leader — a right-hand man to complement him, to convert his ideas into mass action. What Lenin especially liked in him was that he carried out assigned jobs willingly, without questioning, but also brilliantly and efficiently. In bourgeois terms he had a so-called criminal record — several thefts — but this only high¬lighted his proletarian incompatability with private property and his colorful character. . . . Imagine him a provocateur? Impossible! . . . Who could believe the silly story that the Okhrana themselves had found it ”awkward’ to have an informer among the best orators in the Duma and had ordered him to leave? What nonsense! Was the Okhrana stupid enough to work against itself?76

It was inconceivable to Lenin that a Bolshevik Azef could have presided over the revival of labor unrest in Russia and that all of the gains his party had made since 1912 could have been with police acquiescence. As he told the Investigatory Commission in 1917, “I did not believe that this was a case of provocation, not only because I could see neither proof nor evidence, but also because the Okhrana would not gain as much as the party” as a result of Malinovsky’s winning new converts through his articles in Pravda and his speeches in the Duma.77 If Malinovsky had in fact been a spy, it would mean that current plans for a special group of “secret agents” to coordinate underground activity, plans for the establish¬ment of much-needed regional party organizations, and for the convocation of the long overdue sixth party congress in August, would all be compromised. Lenin preferred not to think of the consequences that would accrue. He preferred instead to trust his own initial and favorable impression of the man.

Only once did a fleeting suspicion cross his mind [wrote Krupskaya]. I remember once in Poronino, as we were returning from the Zinovievs and talking about these sinister rumours, Ilyich suddenly stopped on the bridge we were crossing and said: ‘What if they are true!’ A look of dismay showed on his face. ‘That’s impossible,’ I answered. Reassured, Ilyich fell to cursing the Mensheviks, who had no scruples as to the means they used in fighting the Bolsheviks.

Like Bukharin, who sensed when he came down the next morning that Lenin had regained his old confidence, Krupskaya concludes that her husband “had no further doubts” about Malinovsky.78

On the basis of these considerations, the tribunal announced on 25 May that it was “convinced without a doubt of Malinovsky’s political honesty.” It reiterated that his “conduct [in leaving the Duma] did not have political overtones but was entirely the result of nervous agitation, mental fatigue, and a temporary lapse.” Nevertheless, he had committed a “scandalous breach of discipline” and had accordingly “placed himself outside the ranks of organized Marxists.”79 Two weeks later the Central Committee reaffirmed its belief that Malinovsky “was an honest man” but on the basis of the tribunal decision “was no longer taking part in the work of organized Marxists.”80 By this time, Malinovsky had, in fact, been stripped of all his positions in the party. On 11 May Lenin instructed the Duma fraction to elect a new chairman.81 On the 15th the Moscow electorate was told to prepare to elect a new Bolshevik deputy. On the 17th Malinovsky’s wife, Stefania A. Malinovskaya, was removed as publisher of Put’ pravdy, 82 a position she had held for almost four months. On 16 June Lenin informed C. Huysmans that M. M. Litvinov would henceforth represent the party inside the International Socialist Bureau.83 And in early July Malinovsky was replaced on the Central Committee by the new chairman of his old Metalworkers Union, A. S. Kiselev.

Lenin also cracked down on the bewildered Duma fraction and on the legalistic editors of Pravda. Petrovsky, the fraction’s new chairman, was told to “bear the irresponsible departure of Malinovsky more firmly, stop worrying. … [He has committed] political suicide. What other penalty can there be . . . ? The Liquidators are not branded enough for their mud-slinging and dirt. … To work, down with the muck-rakers!”84 Kamenev was scolded for Pravda’s defensive attitude and, judging from later issues,8S soon fell into line. Many other Bolsheviks followed Pravda’s example, though with reluctance. As one trade unionist noted, “many people, and not just rank-and-file party members but also active party figures, were greatly puzzled by [Malinovsky’s departure]. The documents printed in Pravda at this time did not satisfy us even though they were very cate¬gorical.”86 V. Degot, a Social Democrat then living in Paris, wrote that “when Malinovsky resigned his mandate, accusations were heard from the Mensheviks about his being a provocateur. Deep down I felt that they were right but spoke in his defense, as did other [Bolsheviks], since I thought that these attacks were made by the Mensheviks to discredit our party.”87

There were many non-Bolsheviks who shared Degot’s opinion. Two trade union journals, Vestnik prikazchika and the Metallist which had heaped praise on Malinovsky at the time of his election, both “categorically condemned” “the very fact and especially the form of Malinovsky’s departure.”88 G. V. Plekhanov’s Edinstvo felt that the Bolshevik deputy had “betrayed the trust of the proletariat”89 while Trotsky’s Bor’ba saw his action as a “most serious blow to the workers’ party.”90 None of these papers, however, followed the Mensheviks in accusing Malinovsky of provocation or in repeating right-wing rumors. Indeed, Plekhanov found the Mensheviks’ handling of the issue to be “scandalous and disgusting”91 while the Metalworkers  Union  passed  a  “whole  series  of resolutions protesting against the unequivocal slander of Nasha rabochaia gazeta.92 The editors of Bor’ba and Tsait, a Jewish socialist organ, joined in condemning the Mensheviks’ tactics.93

Despite the fact that the Mensheviks were right about Malinovsky, they hurt their own cause by engaging in vindictive overkill. A sense of frustration permeates much of their writing in 1914. Eight years previously they had been far stronger than the Bolsheviks in terms of membership and international prestige. In 1906 they controlled the party machinery abroad and most of the newly emerging trade unions in Russia. Now, however, the situation was reversed: the Bolsheviks were steadily taking over their trade unions as well as the new insurance councils; Trudovaia pravda was far more popular than Nasha rabochaia gazeta. Lenin had seized the initiative and the resurgent labor movement was apparently heeding his militant appeals rather than the reasoned arguments of Menshevism. It seemed to Martov and Dan that no one cared if the Bolshevik leader violated party resolutions condemning expropriations, broke promises concerning party unity, and with the aid of a provocateur tore the Duma fraction asunder. Three years earlier Martov had responded to continued Bolshevik expropriations and shady financial dealings with a vitriolic pamphlet, Saviors or Destroyers? He responded to the Malinovsky affair in the same fashion in a final attempt to “destroy the grounds on which unprincipled demagogues prosper and disorganize the workers’movement.”94 If Dzhunkovsky’s intention in firing Malinovsky had indeed been to discredit the Bolsheviks and to divide the workers’ opposition, then he succeeded admirably. As the editors of Bor’ba later observed, Malinovsky’s curious departure and the charges and counter-charges which followed “dealt a most serious blow to the workers’ party . . . and threatens for a long time to come to poison the atmosphere of the workers’ movement and to do very grave damage to the political and moral authority of Social Democracy.”95

Lenin personally went on a counteroffensive against the Mensheviks. Rejecting their proposal for an inter-factional investigation of Malinovsky, he demanded instead that they be taken before a court of the International Socialist Bureau on charges of rumor-mongering and asked Plekhanov to put the Bolshevik case before the Bureau.96 The “father of Russian Marxism” refused, however, because he learned of this request only through the press and felt moreover that the dispute was merely a reflection of the root problem — the split in the party — to which all attention should be devoted.97 When the Bureau itself tried to mediate general factional differences, Lenin stated that one of the Bolshevik conditions for unity was that the Menshevik “Organizing Committee and their friends should . . . retract their accusations and slander” with regard to Malinovsky.98 And he planned to make a report on their “slanderous campaign” to the forthcoming Tenth Congress of the Socialist International in Vienna.99

One of the consequences of Malinovsky’s departure from the Duma was Lenin’s almost total absorption with the resulting scandal to the detriment of all other party business. His journalistic output declined drastically during May and June and almost everything he did write dealt in one way or another with the affair. Because of it he had to cancel temporarily the writing of an encyclopedic article on Marx which would have brought in a much-needed honorarium.100 In part because of its repercussions, he chose not to attend the special “unity conference” called by the International Socialist Bureau to discuss Russian problems. Planning for the all-important sixth party congress, which was to have finalized the gains made since the Prague Conference, went into abeyance. Perhaps even more significantly, Lenin lost touch with the rapidly changing situation in Russia and thus was caught unaware and unprepared when barricades went up again in the streets of St. Petersburg during July 1914. Bolshevik agitation, much of it by Malinovsky himself, had laid the groundwork for this near-insurrection. But Malinovsky was also indirectly responsible for the party’s inability to perceive that the situation had reached revolutionary proportions and to provide desperately needed organizational direction and coordination.

Lenin had written optimistically in June: “We have judged and ruthlessly condemned the deserter. There is nothing more to be said. The case is closed.”101 The “case” was not “closed,” however, for the Mensheviks. Frustrated in their attempts to bring Malinovsky before an inter-factional body or a court of the Second International102 and rejecting outright the findings of Lenin’s own tribunal,103 they decided to institute a “Commission of Inquiry” of their own in western Europe on the eve of the war. This commission collected evidence which indicated that Malinovsky had been frequently arrested along with other Bolsheviks in Moscow during 1910 but he alone was freed; that when some former Moscow Social Democrats living abroad reminded their comrades of these events at the time of Malinovsky’s nomination to the Duma, these warnings were ignored; that arrests in Moscow during subsequent years always followed Malinovsky’s visits; that the Okhrana seemed to know of the Duma fraction’s decisions whenever Malinovsky was present; that Rodzianko appeared to have prior knowledge of Social Democratic Duma addresses; and that Malinovsky refused to give his associates any explanation for his resignation. The commission came to the conclusion that Malinovsky had threatened Petrovsky with his revolver on the night of 8 May because he feared he had been exposed; that he went to Lenin only when it was clear his colleagues were willing to come to his defense; and that he had gone into hiding after the Galician tribunal so as to avoid further questioning by either the commission or Burtsev.104

The Mensheviks were probably correct in each of these assumptions. Malinovsky did indeed conveniently drop out of sight after his trial. Burtsev, who had been conducting a private investigation of his own, was convinced that Lenin had “concealed him in Germany . . . out of contact with the rest of the world.”105 There also was an erroneous report that he had gone to Paris.106 In fact, “Malinovsky hung around Poronin, feeling utterly miserable and lonely,”107 until at least the second week of July. Early in that month A. S. Kiselev attended his first Central Committee meeting in Galicia. On one of his walks around Poronin, he was surprised to see Malinovsky sitting in a cart with a group of peasants. “As if by command all three of us turned away from him as if he were completely unknown to us. After the cart had gone a short distance we, out of curiosity, turned around as did Malinovsky. His face reflected great fright. . . . We came to the conclusion that Malinovsky thought that he had been exposed as a provocateur and that we had come to report on this to the Central Committee. In all likelihood he assumed that we had come to liquidate him as a provocateur.”108

Shortly after this unexpected meeting took place, a disastrous war broke out which ultimately spelled the downfall for the inept, oppressive and unpopular tsarist regime. Malinovsky, if he still was in Poronin at the time, did not follow Lenin and Zinoviev on the path which eventually took them to neutral Switzerland but rather returned once again to Warsaw. Because he had resigned from the Duma, he no longer had immunity from military service and therefore as a reservist was called up during the general mobilization.109 Less than two months later it was announced that he had died fighting in a guards regiment on the Galician front.110 The Bolsheviks’ emigre journal, Sotsial-demokrat, marked the occasion with a black box around Malinovsky’s name followed by a long and laudatory obituary. Its author, who was probably Lenin,111 noted both the “cruel irony” of a Pole dying in a Russian army seeking to conquer Galicia and the “necessity of preserving [Malinovsky’s] memory from malicious rumors, of cleansing his name and his honor of disgraceful slander.”

Roman Malinovsky . . . was an honest man and accusations of political dishonesty were filthy fabrications. Malinovsky was not only an honest man, he was also a talented worker in proletarian affairs. He was no stranger to thousands of human weaknesses but he was noted for sparkling ability. He gave his talent — the important talent of agitator and orator — to the service of our great proletarian cause. … He was deeply dejected [at the time he resigned from the Duma]; he completely lost faith in himself and committed [political] suicide. . . . But the old Malinovsky awoke when he said: ‘I shall find myself again. I shall find in myself the strength to serve the workers cause and in ten or twenty years I shall make amends for my sins against the party.’ And looking at this remarkable, talented worker, one hoped that this would be so.112

No sooner had this”posthumous” rehabilitation been published than Lenin “received word from Petrograd that information about the death  of R.  V.  Malinovsky appearing in all Russian and many emigre newspapers is false. Malinovsky is alive and active in one of the theaters of military operations. They say that people who are erroneously declared dead live a long time thereafter. We hope this is the case with R..V. Malinovsky.”113

He, in fact, lived to fight in some eleven battles during the course of the next year114 until he was finally wounded on Russia’s western front, captured and put into a German prisoner-of-war camp at Altengrabow near Magdeburg. In these unusual surroundings, as Malinovsky confessed in 1918, “socialism for the first time became my religion.”115 It is impossible to determine from the available evidence116 whether this belated conversion was a result of ideological conviction, boredom, remorse, or simply a search for an outlet for his considerable energy and organizational talent. In any case, he contacted the “Commission to Help Russian War Prisoners” which the Bolsheviks had established in Bern during 1915 under the direction of Shklovsky and Krupskaya. The Commission had ties with Russian prisoners in 21 camps in Germany and Austria to whom, with German acquiescence, it dispatched some 5,000 pounds of defeatist and revolutionary literature. Krupskaya “took pity on the fallen eagle, sent him linen and food parcels”117 along with agitational material. Malinovsky reciprocated by becoming one of the Commission’s most zealous and active agents. During the first half of 1916 he sent Lenin five letters describing the mood and conditions of the soldiers at Alten-grabow and with his help established a prison library of some 1,011 books. He also circulated the Commission’s newspaper, V plenu, read lectures on political economy, and discussed the Erfurt Program with the Russian prisoners of war.118 “Very enthusiastic reports” about Malinovsky’s work began reaching Lenin119 who once again sought his advice on political matters.120 Malinovsky himself later remarked that “the best period of my life was the two and a half years which I devoted to propaganda among Russian prisoners in Germany. I have done a great deal during that time for the spread of the ideas of Bolshevism.”121

Meanwhile, the skeletons in Malinovsky’s closet started rattling once again. During the summer of 1916 Burtsev, who had defended him two years earlier but had never given up interest in the case, received new information “from persons close to the police” which raised strong doubts in his mind. In an article which the censor refused to approve, he suggested that the affair needed to be closely re-examined.122 Then on 4 November Markov stated categorically from the Duma rostrum that Malinovsky had been an agent provocateur and that he had run off with strike funds in 1914.123 His speech was promptly given wide circulation by a number of liberal newspapers. Using these as his sources, Burtsev wrote another article entitled “The Question that Demands an Answer” in which he said the burden of proving Malinovsky’s innocence now rested on the Bolsheviks and that silence would imply acceptance on their part of his guilt.124 Lenin again came to Malinovsky’s defense. “Malinovsky is presently in a German prisoner-of-war camp and therefore unable to defend himself,” wrote the Bolshevik leader in January 1917. He repeated the circumstances surrounding Malinovsky’s resignation and subsequent trial in Galicia, concluding that the tribunal “unanimously confirmed the charges of provocation [against him] were absolute nonsense. “12S

Five weeks later revolution broke out in Petrograd.



One of the first targets of the victorious revolution was the offices of the Okhrana. Vengeful crowds, sometimes incited by former police officials hoping to destroy incriminating evidence, sacked the Moscow and Petrograd offices before a systematic check could be made of police records.1 Enough evidence remained, however, for the new Provisional Government to begin printing lists of recently discovered provocateurs who had penetrated socialist ranks.2 Surprisingly, Malinovsky’s name did not appear on these lists. It remained for Burtsev to answer the question which he had raised the previous December. With remarkable perseverance, he tracked down Vissarionov and Popov who confirmed his earlier suspicions and provided some new details of their own.3 This became the basis for an expose published in Russkoe slovo on 25 March, which presented a very convincing case that Malinovsky “had for many years been an agent of the Okhrana and the Department of Police.”4 Burtsev’s argument was immediately picked up by Plekhanov’s Edinstvo and the Mensheviks’ Rabochaia gazeta.5 Victory must have been particularly sweet for the Mensheviks, after years of being accused of “malicious slander,” and not surprisingly they chose to rub some salt in Bolshevik wounds. Boris Nicolaevsky wrote a revealing five-part article on the “Malinovsky Affair” for Rabochaia gazeta6 and the paper copiously excerpted documents and testimony presented to the Extraordinary Investigatory Commission whenever they pertained to the “Bolshevik Azef.”7

Pravda, on the other hand, remained prudently silent in the absence of Lenin. The Bolshevik leader was indeed caught in an embarrassing, if not a compromising, position. He had vehemently defended Malinovsky’s “political honesty” in 1914, used his services again during the war, and only recently “rehabilitated” him in the emigre press. As late as March 1917, he did not seem to recognize Malinovsky’s guilt8 and in fact was complaining to his fellow tribunalist Haniecki that his political opponents were using the provocateur issue “in an attempt to drown our party in slander and filth.”9 Lenin could no longer deny the incontrovertible, however, after he returned to Petrograd in April but this did not mean he would eat humble pie off Menshevik plates. In May he noted that the Socialist Revolutionaries, members of the Jewish Bund, and the Mensheviks themselves had at one time or another defended police agents in their ranks — “all parties without exception have made mistakes in failing to detect provocateurs” — so why blame us alone?10 In June he called Rodzianko “a criminal” and urged that he and Dzhunkovsky be brought to trial for not having informed the Bolshevik fraction of Malinovsky’s dual employment in May 1914?11 Even in his testimony before the Investigatory Commission, while admitting that he had been wrong about Malinovsky, Lenin nevertheless stressed the ways the party benefited from his agitational work and the means it used to minimize the inherent dangers of police penetration.12

Although the Investigatory Commission produced considerable collateral documentation on Malinovsky, it was primarily interested in the culpability of former government officials and how they, rather than their agents, broke the law. It questioned Beletsky, Dzhunkovsky and Vissarionov but not Martov, Dan, Troyanovsky, Bukharin and other Social Democrats who could have provided information on the broader aspects of Malinovsky’s activity. At the conclusion of its deliberations, the Commission charged six police officials with offenses related to Malinovsky’s penetration of the Duma. Malinovsky himself, who was still in a German prisoner-of-war camp, was not indicted.13 This, needless to say, did not please the Mensheviks who once again called for a broadly based socialist court to look into all the ramifications of the affair.14

Malinovsky also wanted another investigation. In August 1917 he wrote A. S. Zarudny, the Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government: “I have the honor to bring to your attention that I wish to appear before this court and [therefore] petition for my return to Russia before the end of the war.” He went on to say that he had reason to believe that the German authorities would not prevent his return.15 Malinovsky had in fact written the German Minister of War in June 1917 and again on 18 November seeking his release. In the latter instance he noted that “because the party to which I belong has taken power in Russia, my presence in Russia at this time could bring great benefits.”16 The German Foreign Office and the War Ministry, however, felt that his disabilities were not sufficient to warrant his inclusion in the formal exchange of wounded prisoners but discussed at some length the possibility of engineering his escape.17 When this did not materialize, Malinovsky wrote to the newly triumphant Bolshevik Central Committee requesting that it formally try him on charges of provocation only to receive the blunt reply that this was now a state rather than a party matter.18

Malinovsky was freed only after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. He asked for and received, according to one undocumented source,19 Lenin’s promise of personal safety before returning to Petrograd on 20 October 1918 to seek a final determination of his case. For three days he wandered around “unable to get himself arrested” since, it seemed to him, “no one knew and no one remembered the name of R. Malinovsky.”20 On the 23rd he presented himself at the Smolny Institute to inquire about his fate. “‘Malinovsky? Don’t know the name!’ replied the commandant of the guard, ‘Go and explain yourself to the Party Committee.’ “21 Malinovsky did so, whereupon the secretary of the Petersburg Committee, S.M. Gessen, accommodated the ex-deputy by turning him over to the CHEKA.

Forty-eight hours later he was transferred to Moscow where he underwent nine days of interrogation. During this time he tended to downplay his significance, both as a revolutionary and as a police agent. When asked why he returned to Russia, Malinovsky replied that “he could not live outside the revolution”22 and that he wanted to “wash away the sins of his life with blood.”23 His interrogator found it difficult to accept the sincerity of this argument and came to the conclusion that Malinovsky was prepared to use “all of his remarkable talents in order to rehabilitate himself.”24

On 5 November 1918, one day behind schedule, Roman Malinovsky finally stood trial before the High Revolutionary Tribunal of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviet meeting within the walls of the Kremlin. The case against him was presented to seven Old Bolshevik jurists by N.V. Krylenko who had worked with the Social Democratic Duma fraction until Malinovsky had caused his arrest in December 1913. Krylenko charged his former boss with ten specific crimes beginning with the mass arrests of 1910-1911 in Moscow and ending with his “injuring and discrediting of the revolution and its leaders in the eyes of the working masses by his supposedly revolutionary activity abroad and in captivity” before and during the war.25 He said that Malinovsky was initially motivated solely by financial considerations but that adventurism and ambition played an increasing role as he rose in the party and the police. As witnesses for the prosecution he called three former police officials—Dzhun-kovsky, Vissarionov, Beletsky-Malinovsky’s wife, and one suspects several other of his earlier accusers from inside the party. Lenin, who attended the trial, apparently did not testify.26 Krylenko concluded by calling for the death penalty.

While Malinovsky had a defense lawyer named Otsep, his defense consisted mostly of a six-hour speech in his own behalf. He did not deny the charges against him though he claimed that police blackmail was the reason for his provocation. He also asserted that few arrests were made on the basis of his information, that he left the Duma of his own free will, that Lenin must have known of his dual role, and that he proved his worth to the party during the war. He concluded by repenting and by acknowledging that he expected the death penalty for his crimes.27 He was not mistaken.

Malinovsky’s strange conduct in fleeing to Lenin in May 1914, in serving the Bolsheviks again during the war, and in voluntarily returning to Russia in 1918, raise numerous questions which are not adequately answered by the very limited information filtering out of his final trial. These actions have also led to speculation that Lenin in fact knew of Malinovsky’s dual role as early as 1913, that he accepted Malinovsky as a sincere Bolshevik and a valuable double agent, and that Malinovsky therefore expected a full pardon upon his return only to be sacrificed at the altar of Bolshevik expediency and revolutionary reputation.

Many Mensheviks and some Western historians have agreed with Burtsev and Malinovsky himself that in 1914 “Lenin understood and could not help understanding that [Malinovsky’s] past concealed not merely ordinary criminality but that he was in the hands of the gendarmes — a provocateur.”28 According to this argument, Lenin “had already decided long ago, under the pressure of the evidence (circumstantial, if not direct), that Malinovsky was an agent of the Okhrana. He was hardly troubled … by the amorality of such an act, for Lenin worked from the point of view of usefulness, not morality.”29 The Bolshevik leader came to the cynical conclusion that it would do more harm to the faction than good to admit this mistake; thus the cover-up from 1914 to 1917. It might be argued, however, that Lenin was not the best judge of men and that he had made a very strong personal commitment to Malinovsky in 1912 which would be difficult for a few Menshevik-inspired rumors to destroy. It is hard to believe that Lenin would employ a known provocateur during the war and would continue to sing his praises right up to the revolution. It is important to note the abrupt change in Lenin’s tone toward Malinovsky once his provocation was undeniably proven in the spring of 1917. Malinovsky’s actions suggest that he thought Lenin knew and that he had been forgiven. Lenin’s actions suggest the contrary—that he stubbornly chose to believe the best about Malinovsky. As he later confessed to Maxim Gorky: “I couldn’t see through that scoundrel Malinovsky. It was a very fishy affair, that Malinovsky business. . . .”30

Stefan Possony has carried the “Lenin knew” argument one step further to suggest that Malinovsky was a double agent from 1913 on with his first loyalty being to the party. He argues that only this explains Malinovsky’s insistence on returning to Russia to prove his innocence, that Lenin tried to defend him in 1918, but that in the end he was “sacrificed to protect the inner secrets of the organization.”31 There are several problems with this interpretation. First, there is no indication that the party ever derived any inside information on police activities as a result of Malinovsky’s double role or that he purposefully sowed “disinformation”in his reports to Beletsky and Vissarionov. To the contrary, the Bolsheviks had virtually no knowledge about other agents in their midst whereas the police knew almost all the party secrets from Malinovsky and used this information to excellent advantage in the year before the war. As has been shown, the provocation commission, the Russian Bureau and numerous party publishing ventures were hamstrung precisely because of Malinovsky’s participation. Moreover, if he had in fact been a double agent working for the Bolsheviks, it is logical that he would have advanced this argument in his own defense in 1918 and that the party would have welcomed him as a hero, as happened in at least one other case of a true double agent,32 rather than treating him as a traitor. This would have relieved much of the obvious embarrassment over the party’s misplaced confidence in him from 1912 to 1914. Malinovsky, however, never claimed that he was a true double agent nor is there any evidence that Lenin in fact came to his defense in 1918 other than by attending his trial.

If Lenin did not know of his double role prior to 1917 and if Malinovsky was not a true double agent, why then did he return to almost certain death in 1918? Soviet observers have sought an answer to this question in Malinovsky’s rather complex and unstable psychological make-up rather than in devious political understandings or misunderstandings of the past.33 They stress that he was an adventurer to the end; that he was willing to take his chances with revolutionary forgiveness, especially since Lenin had been kind-hearted or gullible in 1914; and that at the age of 42 he was unwilling to live a life of poverty, loneliness and obscurity which emigration to Canada or Argentina would bring. Malinovsky had grown accustomed to the limelight which, at the very least, his last trial would once again focus upon him. He was also a recent convert to Bolshevism and for the first time in his life was committed to a cause other than his own personal or pecuniary interests. Naively, optimistically, perhaps even fatalistically, he sought rehabilitation and a chance to serve the new Soviet state. “Many indications,” wrote Victor Serge, “led me to believe that he was absolutely sincere and that if he had been allowed to live, he would have served as faithfully as the others. But what confidence could the others have in him?”34 Not surprisingly, they had none. In the early morning hours of 6 November 1918, immediately after the Revolutionary Tribunal had found him guilty as charged, the friendless and vainglorious adventurer was shot in the gardens of the Kremlin.


October 13, 2012

Why the Western left hasn’t, but should, support the armed resistance

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:51 pm


Nothing Left in Syria? Why the Western left hasn’t, but should, support the armed resistance

by Joe Morby on October 13, 2012

Developing Situation, Developing Attitudes

The general response of much of the Western left to the Syrian crisis seems to have turned full circle since the beginning.

To begin with, there was a guarded support for the initial popular protests and demonstrations as a continuation of the ‘Arab Spring’, but this became ever more tentative as the Libyan uprising reached its bloody climax. Wary of the mounting threat to its power, the Syrian regime engaged in strong suppression, murdering protesters and imprisoning many more; at this early stage it was described as a ‘crackdown’ on protests rather than an uprising, much less a revolution. During this time we were still learning of the various groups that were emerging in Syria, and so fears of sectarianism or Islamism were not voiced particularly loudly; these would come later as excuses for inaction were running out.

Shocked by the murder and sheer brutality of the ‘crackdown’, disillusioned soldiers defected from the army and formed a defensive militia, the Free Syrian Army, their stated mandate initially being the protection of protesting civilians. Shortly, they began to mount defensive and then offensive manoeuvres against the regime’s forces; an armed resistance had formed, and its intention was to remove the Assad government from power.

Support for the Syrian uprising amongst the Western left remained, but it was now outpaced by anti-intervention rhetoric; material assistance for the rebels, in any shape or form, would be only abetting the nations who provided it as they jockeyed for geopolitical position and control. The role of the left was therefore to continue to offer ‘support’ for the rebels’ cause without endorsing any move by imperialist foreign powers to intervene (any highlighting of the Russian and Chinese assistance of Assad as evidence of foreign meddling or imperialist influence, in contrast to the aims of NATO, was not generally entertained for long). Reports of government atrocities and attacks were often deliberately placed in doubt by a disingenuous questioning of every account’s veracity, even when this defied simple reasoning,  the implication being that Syrian rebels may have faked the shattered bodies of protesters buried in their blood-soaked flags, or falsified whole sections of towns destroyed by artillery (Phyllis Bennis, writing on Red Pepper, says that ‘anti-Assad propaganda remains dominant’ – as if after the thousands dead, tortured and fled we would need to lie about him!).

All throughout this time many leftist sources in the West argued that assisting the rebels would ‘militarise’ the situation, to the eventual gain of the imperialist powers, and that the best recourse lay in the ‘third way’, offering ‘support’ for the ongoing strikes and protests but opposing any military move that might make use of Western assistance. (‘Support’ here did not mean physical assistance through arms, logistics or equipment, but general solidarity — benign wishful thinking to boost the protestors’ cause. But this kind of support is not much use against tank shells; instead, it is a strange kind of solidarity that, in practice, is near indistinguishable from actual indifference.)

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2831

October 12, 2012

Photographic Memory

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:14 pm

For over thirty years Ross McElwee has been making a series of films that can be best described as an ongoing memoir rather than documentary. As a huge fan of the late Harvey Pekar and Spalding Gray, this is obviously a filmmaker who speaks to me. And for my more discerning readers, you as well.

The first work to gain any kind of critical acclaim and popular following was the 1986 “Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation” that showed the then single filmmaker traipsing around his native south on a series of encounters with what might be called “inappropriate” women largely to comic effect. One of them is DeeDee, a Mormon.

As he wends his way through the south, he mediates on General Sherman and the costs of war, with his search for love and worries about the state of the world dovetailing in a reunion with an anti-nuke activist and ex-lover. Since I can hardly be accused of mainstream critic type hyperbole, you will no doubt take note of the inclusion of “Sherman’s March” in my list of the 50 greatest movies ever made.

One of the main characters in “Sherman’s March” is Charleen, his former teacher who works overtime trying to find the right woman for Ross, including DeeDee the Mormon. She threatens to castrate Ross if he doesn’t put down his camera when he’s out on dates. Her advice for the pending date with DeeDee? Tell her: “You’re the only woman I’ve ever seen, I would die for you, I live for you, I breathe for you!” She adds, “It doesn’t matter that you don’t know her! That’s irrelevant!”

Seven years after the release of “Sherman’s March”, McElwee came out with “Time Indefinite”, a film that portrays him in ostensibly happier circumstances since he is now married. But like the character Joe Btfsplk in the Li’l Abner comic strip, McElwee is destined to walk around with a raincloud over his head in perpetuity. His wife has just had a miscarriage and his father has died of cancer. The film gets its title from a Bible verse cited by a Jehovah’s Witness who has paid him one of those infamous visits. It suggests the unpredictable imminence of death.

He reunites with Charleen, who has her own raincloud over her head. Her husband has set fire to their house in an arson/suicide. After Ross and his wife finally procreate, they pay a visit to her with their brand-new son in tow. She wonders how they can bring children into such a hostile and unpredictable world.

I doubt that McElwee would have suspected at the time that Charleen was something of an oracle because the infant son turned into a troubled young adult. The relationship between father and son is detailed in “Photographic Memory” that opens today at the IFC Center in New York. It begins with home movies of his son Adrian growing up, a delight to mother and father. But inexplicably, as is so often the case in what Tolstoy described as “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, Adrian becomes a rebellious underachiever with a chip on his shoulder against his father.

In doing some background research on Adrian McElwee, I discovered that his mother and father have plenty to contend with as reported in police logs in a Boston newspaper (Ross McElwee teaches at Harvard). You really get no sense of how bad things are in “Photographic Memory” but are not surprised to learn:

October 2009:

Adrian McElwee, 20, 16 Coolidge St. in Brookline, was arrested at 4 a.m. on Oct. 3 for allegedly trying to break into the apartment at 1957 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton. In the process, police said the suspect broken a banister in the lobby of the apartment building and caused damage to the door of the victim in an attempt to enter the apartment. McElwee was charged with destruction of property, breaking and entering in the nighttime and attempted breaking and entering.

February 2012:

Cambridge resident, Adrian McElwee, age 23. Officers responded to an abandoned 911 call, and met a witness who said someone had been shouting things like “get out of my purse” and “you’re on drugs,” before someone left the building. McElwee reportedly took money from his mother’s purse. When officers spoke with him, he denied being at his mother’s apartment. He was arrested at his home before midnight, and charged with larceny from a person.

McElwee is at a loss to explain how his son became such a bundle of woe. Despite the copious attention paid to his relationships with his own father in earlier films, he is not able to come up with much more than the possibility that his son has become a victim of sensory overload through digital devices including the IPhone, video games, social media and the like.

In an attempt to try to understand his son’s psychological problems, he goes to France to visit the town where he worked as an assistant to a wedding photographer when he was just around his son’s age. We are led to believe that the contrast between analog and digital might shed some light on how the two differed, but from the minute he arrives in a picturesque seaside village redolent of Jacques Tati, the relationships that are explored do not include the one between him and his son.

Mostly we accompany McElwee on a Sherman-like march around the French countryside looking for people who might know the whereabouts of his former employer and the woman that McElwee had a brief affair with at the time. There is a wistful quality to these encounters but—frankly—not with the emotional power of similar searches he has conducted in the South.

Ultimately, he returns to the U.S.A. and tries to pick up where things left off with his son. You can’t really say that the films ends up on a happy note with a red ribbon tied around it, but considering the bittersweet experiences that Ross McElwee has had throughout life and how he has made great art out them, this is a film that must be seen.

Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left

Filed under: Fascism,Greece — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm

Post image for Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left: Report + Video

Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left: Report + Video

by Louis Proyect, Unrepentant Marxist on October 11, 2012

October 9, 2012

A comment about Syria on Clay Claiborne’s Daily Kos blog

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:23 am


It’s a mistake to use the “we don’t know who’s who in Syria” argument.

First off it’s not necessary. Large-scale intervention by the US is not going to happen – at least unless Assad or one of his backers cross one of several “red lines”. These red lines are: use of chemical weapons, or mass replacement of aircraft, possibly including strike aircraft and advanced helicopters.

I expect many of the most vocal opponents of US intervention would pause at least if Assad began to use chemical weapons! And in the hypothetical case of Russia replacing Assad’s lost helicopters and jets with more and better aircraft – at this time they would also have to send PILOTS, and that would weaken Putin’s position at the UNSC, and possibly worsen his political problems at home. Putin is facing a real Velvet Revolution at home and some of his strongest supporters are fed up with him.

Second, we do know who’s who in Syria, and the only real problem there is that we can’t predict when the Syrian Army will break down from defections (but a new wave of high-level defections was reported yesterday, including 7 generals).

Last year, as part of the Arab Spring, ordinary Syrians began to demonstrate for more political freedom. No one suggested that they were being paid by the Kingdom, or by the US. It was obvious who they were.

Assad responded by murdering peaceful demonstrators. And even at that, the Syrian demonstrators were SO peaceful and so rational, even while being killed in twos and threes, that the rest of the Arab world marveled.

Eventually, Assad stepped up the killing. It is and has been his ONLY military tactic, and it was ordered by the Russians. Assad began what we now call “punishment bombing” which continues today. Punishment bombing is what the Russians did in Chechenya. It consists in saying: kill their parents and bomb their homes, and they’ll quit fighting.

Following this policy Assad has massacred civilian males of fighting age, and he has fired mortars at his own cities, like Homs, like he was playing Battleship. Level that block, then level the next. The original explanation was that these were “nests of terrorists”. That explanation made some inhuman sense once, but after over a year, it is obvious that the blood-curdling level of civilian deaths (hundreds per day) is Assad’s GOAL, not some sort of collateral damage.

The Syrian Army has not carried out so much as ONE successful military operation in this war. All they have ever done, is to shell the hell out of an area, and then flood it with troops. All they ever accomplish is to kill civilians.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

After months of unresisted murders of demonstrators, two things began to happen. Some demonstrators began to want to shoot back; and many Syrian Army soldiers began to defect.

The resistance of the FSA grew organically out of the demonstrations – to protect them and allow them to take place. And this has worked, and there still are demonstrations, many at night, but they can still be pretty large. (They are on YouTube).

Following this, in late 2011 and in early 2012 we saw more and more “defection videos”. These are impressive. If you don’t like masked jihadi freelance fighters, how do you feel about thousands and thousands of ordinary Syrians and ex-Syrian Army soldiers and officers who stand in front of a camera, show their faces and their ID’s, state their purposes and principles, and then go out to fight for freedom!? That too is on YouTube.

While we’re talking about jihadis, here are some fun facts: there are probably a couple thousand TOPS “foreign fighters” who are loosely collaborating with the FSA. They do not command, and on occasions where they have engaged in improper activities or too much self-promotion, they have been asked to leave.

But on the other hand, Hezbollah and Iran have indeed sent thousands of well-equipped fighters and officers to help Assad. We know about the Iranians because a whole bunch of them got caught (claiming to be tourists), and we also know Iran has provided pilots and technicians. We know about Hezbollah’s actions because they are averaging about three killed per day, the bodies are shipped back to Lebanon, and this is noted. These are important contributions to Assad. It has been said that Iranian officers stand behind Syrian Army soldiers and shoot any who try to retreat or run away.

So anyway, the spontaneously formed FSA brigades, many of them, have by now coalesced into umbrella brigades. The FSA is being led by soldiers, not jihadis. “Rebels” have been guilty of some improper behavior, and there have been some executions. But their discipline is a hell of a lot better than their supply situation.

You have to remember how this all went. In June the FSA were almost a joke. Then they went to Aleppo, and they have not been “rooted out” even by disproportionate and UNRESTRAINED use of force by Assad. Assad is the one who has destroyed cities, and people are blaming the FSA for going there and making Aleppo a target!

The FSA success in Aleppo and their strike against command operations in Damascus (which killed top Syrian officials) created panic on the regime side. But the only response they had was to add the destructive power of their air force to the constant mortar shells. The FSA adapted easily to being strafed, and air-launched rockets are not that destructive in a city. So Assad now rigs up his own bunker-busters, “barrel bombs” that are dropped from helicopters on civilian targets.

That freed up the jets to strafe lines of civilians queueing for bread.

Move on into July and August, and what you have are continuous one-two punches against Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs by Assad – shell, shell, shell and send in troops. The MSM has a fetish about “territory” when reporting on a conflict, but over time people realized it wasn’t like that. The FSA is killing many more Syrian Army soldiers than it is losing. The Syrian Army has lost nearly as many soldiers killed as there have been civilians killed – over 15,000.

In September, though, the story has been the ability of the FSA to kill enough tanks, planes and helicopters to make it possible to say that Assad is going to run out of these things in less than a year – unless he is massively resupplied. It’s noteworthy that the tank kills were the product of brilliant setpiece strategy – clever ways of getting the tanks to roll into the open where they could be3 hit with RPGs.

But the jet plane kills and helicopter kills – many verified via YouTube videos – are the result of magic. The FSA gunners are praying these bullets into the helicopters, or something. They may be getting a few shoulder-fired rockets now, but they haven’t had many at all. Of course, when the FSA realized that Assad wanted them to try to do in Damascus what they had done in Aleppo, they changed their tactics. Catching too many soldiers close to the cities, they rolled out across side roads and attacked lightly guarded military bases and AIR BASES, destroying many aircraft on the ground in several well-attested instances (on YouTube).

They haven’t had much regular small-arms ammo either. When the FSA do a “tactical retreat” in Salah-al-din or some other place, it’s almost always because they are just out of bullets. Mark this: when military history goes back over this successful revolution, the Free Syrian Army will stand as one of the best fighting forces, POUND FOR POUND, in history, and most of them aren’t even twenty years old. Their discipline, and the wisdom of their commanders, is a product of their personal and religious closeness. People here will surely scoff at adolescent soldiers who murmur the name of God continuously…but I bet the Syrian Army doesn’t do it, and ditto for the Lebanese. (As for the Russians, they pray to Mammon.)

The US policy is difficult but defensible (the best foreign policy is always difficult): US inaction guarantees Russian inaction. The key element appears to be, that as long as the US either does not intervene or keeps its intervention (sending some arms) secret – the Russians appear to have realized that their “red line” is replacement aircraft. There are several red lines. If the Russians send a new air force to Assad, it’s cause for a US response of some kind, because the Syrians won’t have the PILOTS. The Russians would have to send pilots with the planes, and that’s a bridge too far.

Now you have Turkey getting into the crisis. This is dangerous, and I think Obama was dealing with this instead of getting his rest for the debate because we are looking at the possibility of major escalation, with consequent OIL SHOCKS. If Turkey goes into Syria, the Russians could say, there, that’s America and NATO going in – and cast off all restraint themselves.

What is the problem with the Russians? Russia is not a geostrategic competitor any more. It’s just a MAFIA STATE that is being run by a cabal of people who want to make billions of dollars. The Russians make a lot of money from running drugs, arms and human beings (trafficking) through Syria. Assad has been just as incredibly venal as Mubarak or Gaddafi, although his personal fortune amounts only to about 60 billion.

There is nothing the West has that can compensate Putin for the loss of his Syrian profit. There is no way to give him Georgia, nothing like that. The Russians are just watching things go from bad to worse.

The most fear-worthy hypothesis is this: at the end of the day, rather than lose their little warm-water port in Tartous and their multibillion dollar drug business, and get nothing back for it, the Russians would just as soon blow up Saudi Arabia and make their own oil worth more. I’m not taking that any further, but I’m not laughing at all. Taking any appreciable percentage of world oil offline would cause the Chinese to freak out.

At the end of the day it may be that more than the freedom of a few million Arabs is at stake, and being championed by a few graybearded defectors and a whole lot of Syrian young people who like Chuck Norris movies.

by frenchman on Mon Oct 08, 2012 at 01:02:00 PM PDT

October 8, 2012

ZNet Orwellianism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:50 pm

Andre Vltchek, master of doublespeak

I just noticed a piece “When is the Syrian ‘opposition’ Syrian?” by someone named Andre Vltchek on ZNet that appeared originally on the Open Democracy website dated September 24 2012 and reported from a border town in Turkey:

A uniformed police officer appears at the door as we speak. He gives us an inquisitive look and disappears as suddenly as he entered. “90% of Syrian people are in favor of Assad’s government and only countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supportive of the ‘opposition’, and of course the West,” continues Suleyman. Soon a small circle of people is formed around our table. Once they hear that I am not ‘one of those official media people’, they begin gesturing and talking over each other, explaining that Hatay – the city they love and feel proud of – is renowned for the peaceful coexistence of various ethnic and religious groups. “There are Syrians living here for ages, as well as Armenians, Jews and other diverse ethnic groups. There are Sunni, Shia and several Muslim sects. We used to all live in peace!” “Hatay is very close to Syria”, explains an old man, sipping his strong tea. “90% of the people here are somehow linked to the major city of Aleppo just across the border. And this place – Hatay – even used to be an independent republic; it only joined Turkey in 1939.”

Then Suleyman who obviously has more on his mind, speaks:

“People here believe that the US and the west in general are heavily involved in the conflict in Syria, and that they are grooming the opposition which is both very religious and very intolerant. Hillary Clinton was here in Turkey, and she openly declared that her country would be supporting the ‘refugees’. Now, to make it clear, these people that are being called ‘refugees’ come to our city, and they rent houses here and then many of them are walking around fully armed, waving their machine guns. What is on everyone’s mind here is that they did not come here just to fight the war at the other side of the border – they appear to be quite ready and capable of igniting the violence in Hatay itself.”

There are some points to be made here. To start with, Open Democracy has been fairly consistently liberal/Islamophobic for quite some time, giving a platform to Fred Halliday when he was still alive. I had this to say about a piece on Hezbollah that appeared there in 2006:

Opendemocracy.net can best be described as Harry’s Place for the cognoscenti. With lavish funding from such sources as the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and the Rockfeller Fund and editorial guidance by such wretches as Todd Gitlin and Danny Postel, Roger Scruton (the British philosopher who got caught taking surreptitious payoffs from the tobacco industry in exchange for writing pro-smoking articles in the Wall Street Journal), the website maintains a steady drumbeat for the war on terror and against ‘Islamofascism’ and the Bolivarian revolution, etc. Unlike the spittle-flecked Harry’s Place blog, Opendemocracy tries to maintain a certain kind of scholarly detachment, which arguably makes it far more insidious.

One of their recent articles is making the rounds on the Internet. Titled “How the European left supports Lebanon” and written by Hazem Saghieh, the editor of Al-Hayat–a British newspaper hostile to Arab and Muslim radicalism, it has the dubious distinction of invoking Karl Marx in support of a reactionary agenda: “The left’s embrace of an Islamist movement supported by Iranian mullahs would have appalled Karl Marx.”

In coming across the Russian-born Vltchek’s piece through a link on ZNet, I can only conclude that Michael Albert is desperate for content, whatever the source.

Intrigued by the utter stupidity of Vltchek’s article and its shameless kindergarten variety bias, I went to his website to see what else I could find there. It turns out that our intrepid investigative journalist whose command of Turkish allowed him to understand kardeş Suleyman perfectly has had a gig writing for the Chinese press over the years. I imagine that they paid good money to get the services of a seasoned pro who could write this sort of material. From his article “Should the Internet be regulated?” in China Daily:

Could the Internet be totally free and should it be? The recent turmoil in the Arab world caused by a contentious video denigrating Prophet Muhammad shows the United States, which is busy promoting global Internet freedom, has paid a huge price with the lives of its diplomats.

In an unregulated cyber world, calumniation, fraud, violence, pornography or rumors can bring serious consequences.

India and many other countries across the world are periodically suffering from “rumors” spread by the Internet and social media.

The US-led West always promotes Internet freedom and refutes any regulation as censorship, but it should think twice if it calculates the heavy price that has been and has to be paid for “free Internet”

So obviously we are dealing with a hack for hire here. Anybody writing such garbage for the Chinese press whose publishers—the government—has one of the worst record on Internet freedom in the world and that sent one blogger to prison for a year after attacking party boss Bo Xilai. The blogger’s main crime was premature ejaculation apparently since Bo Xilai has just been expelled from the Communist Party for corruption.

So what are we to make of such a crude propaganda piece appearing in both Open Democracy, a magazine that has assailed Edward Herman and David Peterson, as well as ZNet, their roost of choice.

It suggests to me that there is a growing affinity between the liberal opinion-makers and our good friends who occupy the nether reaches of the “anti-imperialist” left at places like Global Research, MRZine, and Voltairenet. They concur that the Free Syrian Army is the worst thing that ever happened to Syria and that it would be best for the world if al-Assad crushed it.

Yesterday’s New York Times had a quite candid account of the attitude of the American ruling class and its servants in the Middle East who are supposedly the FSA’s chief supporters, in the manner of Reagan backing UNITA, the Afghan rebels of the 1970s, the Nicaraguan contras, etc. If this is the case, how are we to explain this?

For months, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling money and small arms to Syria’s rebels but have refused to provide heavier weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles, that could allow opposition fighters to bring down government aircraft, take out armored vehicles and turn the war’s tide.

While they have publicly called for arming the rebels, they have held back, officials in both countries said, in part because they have been discouraged by the United States, which fears the heavier weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.

As a result, the rebels have just enough weapons to maintain a stalemate, the war grinds on and more jihadist militants join the fray every month.

“You can give the rebels AKs, but you can’t stop the Syrian regime’s military with AKs,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, a state minister for foreign affairs in Qatar. Providing the rebels with heavier weapons “has to happen,” he added. “But first we need the backing of the United States, and preferably the U.N.”

The article portrays Saudi Arabia and Qatar as fearing “sectarianism”:

Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.

“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics, in an interview at his office here. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”

As is so often the case, you have to read between the lines when it comes to official statements from Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Frankly, I find the notion that they are afraid of “sectarianism” ludicrous. What is much more likely is that they fear the example of armed guerrillas overthrowing an Arab despot since the example might spread in the fashion of “falling dominoes” as LBJ once put it.

The presence of jihadists in Syria is to be expected. The armed struggle does rely on the participation of Sunnis who have battlefield experience. For some on the left this is reason enough to condemn the movement as a whole, even though most experts doubt that they represent more than 10 percent of the fighting forces.

Then there are those who would disagree, such as Turkish ideologue Serkan Koc who told this to Vltchek:

Of course you do realize that those people are not really ‘Syrian opposition’. They are modern-day legionnaires collected from various Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, paid by western imperialist powers. Some are members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Most are militant Sunni Muslims. One could describe them as rogue elements hired to fight the Assad government. It is important to point out that some 90% of Syrian people are still supporting Assad and I think he is now actually winning the war, although reading the western media you would never think so.

What can you say when you are told that “western imperialist powers” are paying for al-Qaeda fighters and that 90 percent of Syrians support al-Assad? We are obviously dealing with what Chomsky would call Orwellianism, all the more shameful that they appear in ZNet, a magazine that has created an altar to his writings.

October 7, 2012

Jewish high holidays

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 8:12 pm

For most of last week an odd looking truck was parked in front of my building with loudspeakers blaring music nearly nonstop. It was pretty much identical to the one that showed up in Bahia, Brazil some time ago:

These Lubavitcher Hasidim really have no intention of converting gentiles to Judaism. Their Chabad outreach activities mostly target prodigal sons. I say sons since the teenage boys who go out as missionaries are not really interested in talking to Jewish women who have lost their religion, as R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe put it, but men like me.

At least three times last week I was accosted by one of the boys, who were young enough to be my grandsons, and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” The first two times I walked past without an acknowledgment but on the third pass I replied mostly out of curiosity to see how he would react: “Ethnically but not religiously.” He followed up: “Was your mother Jewish?” In Judaism, this qualifies you to be a Jew. This means that someone like the late actor and exemplary liberal Paul Newman did not qualify because his dad was Jewish rather than his mother. Does all this sound kind of stupid and backward? Guess what, you’re right.

Establishing that I had the right bloodlines, the youth—fresh-faced, wearing braces on his teeth, and a broad-brimmed Borsalino on his head—invited me to wave a date palm (lulav) in one hand and a citron (etrog), a sort of overgrown lemon, in the other while he recited a prayer. I begged off and went on my way for a jog in Central Park.

This is one of the key rituals of the high holiday of Sukkot and here’s an expert explaining it:

This sort of instruction was what I heard from my rabbi for the three or so years leading up to my bar mitzvah in 1958. Half our time was spent learning Hebrew but only phonetically. You could read a bunch of Hebrew words (going from right to left on the page) but had no idea of what you were saying. For us boys, this was necessary in order to recite our Bar Mitzvah speech, a torture for most especially me since it involved not only memorizing the words but using the proper “tune”. I can’t carry a tune to save my life (although I have a great ear.) Here’s pretty much what I went through back then in front of the Synagogue:

The Coen brothers, having went through all this nonsense themselves, made a typically snide movie called “A Serious Man” that was almost enough to drive me back into the arms of Judaism but not quite enough.

The other half of our instruction consisted of learning about Jewish holidays much in the manner of the Youtube clip above but with even less clarity. It must be understood that the very nature of Sukkot (or Sukkos) defies comprehension, most of all by a 12 year old not entirely sold on the god business to begin with. The Wiki on the holiday states:

The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog.

The Osdoby’s lived down the street from us in our little shtetl in the Catskills. Ben, the patriarch, was a pilot during WWII and president of our synagogue. He was one of the few Jews in town that took the trouble to build a sukkah although I doubt he slept in it. There were a lot of things that mystified me about my religion but I doubt that anything came close to the shanties, the overgrown lemon, and the date palm all of which I would regard as fairly primitive by the time I got to college. Years later, as things turned out, the very fact that it was primitive stood in its favor even though there was little to connect modern-day Judaism with, for example, fertility rites among the Yanomami.

When I was working on my mother’s house to put it up for sale after she had relocated to a nearby nursing home, I stopped by to chat with Ben Osdoby, a man who I had always found intimidating when I was a schoolboy. Like my father, he was a WWII veteran whose amiability was left on the battlefields of Europe. I was on a much more even keel with him now that I had become a 60 year old man (and only wished that my father had lived to Ben’s age so I could have had the same kind of conversation.) Ben complained bitterly about how our little village had been taken over by the Satmar sect and especially how the local synagogue that he had been so devoted to was now Satmar as well. The Satmars had become more and more intrusive in these little villages in the Borscht Belt, especially with their push to incorporate eruv boundaries. The eruv was a cable that ran from telephone pole to telephone pole outlining areas where Satmars could bend the Sabbath rules. Just as is the case in Israel, the ultra-orthodox sometimes collide with the orthodox over prerogatives even if they are united in sticking it to the Palestinians.

Sukkot had more to do with fertility rites than the flight from Egypt that it celebrated, something that most archaeologists, including Israelis, think never happened. Kolel, a reform Judaism website, offers this take on the high holiday:

Meanwhile, on the week we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, and I don’t know about you, but I feel rather self-conscious about taking the central symbols of this holiday: a citron (lemon-like fruit) and a palm branch together with branches of myrtle and willow and shaking them. In discussing the ‘reasons for the mitzvot’ Barry Holtz has written in his wonderful book, Finding Our Way

The breast (or womb)-like etrog and the phallic lulav are probably vestiges of an ancient (pagan?) fertility rite, which makes sense since the Sukkot holiday and final harvest marks the beginning of the critical rainy season in the land of Israel. The Talmud makes this explicit: the waving ceremony in the Temple was to restrain harmful winds (Sukkah 37b-38a). Shaking the lulav is obviously an ancient and ‘primitive’ ritual– and therein may lie some of its transformative power, but as a highly rational, twenty-first century modern Jew, I have trouble performing acts that are so obviously rooted in sympathetic magic (shaking the lulav even sounds like rain!).

For the past four years since my mother’s death, I have been going to Yizkor services during Yom Kippur, the most solemn of Jewish high holidays. Needless to say, I never would have considered going unless a very old friend suggested it. His Judaism, like mine, consists solely of going to this service each year. Yizkor is the occasion when you pay tribute to a dead relative (the word is Hebrew for remembrance), including the recitation of Kaddish, the prayer that Allen Ginsberg commemorated in one of his more memorable poems for his dead schizophrenic and Communist mother:

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm–and your memory in my head three years after–
And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud–wept, realizing
how we suffer–
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
swers–and my own imagination of a withered leaf–at dawn–
Dreaming back thru life, Your time–and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
the final moment–the flower burning in the Day–and what comes after,
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed–
like a poem in the dark–escaped back to Oblivion–
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it
lasts, a Vision–anything more?

Ginsberg’s poem is actually very closely related to the main theme of a Yizkor service, namely the inevitability of death and the need to accept it. The service was conducted mostly in English, a function of it being held in a Reform Synagogue. This year I paid closer attention to the words than I had in the past, no doubt a function of having reached the ripe old age (if not overripe–bordering on fecundity) of 67. Death is no longer an abstraction as it was for me 30 or 40 years ago.

There were a number of readings that the female Rabbi led in the service, half of which I would guess did not originate in the Bible. Most were in the spirit of Ecclesiastes I, the verse that included the words Hemingway borrowed for one of his masterpieces:

“Vanity[a] of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.

An acquaintance of mine at Bard College named Fred Feldman became a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts. Unlike most philosophy professors, Fred seems to view philosophy as a tool for understanding the real problems of life as opposed to the shenanigans that goes on in most faculties in the name of linguistic analysis. It might surprise some of my regular readers, but Marxism does not have the answers to everything—particularly the eternal mysteries of life and death.

In 1992 Fred came out with a book titled “Confrontations with the Reaper”, a title that conjures up one of the most famous in cinema:

If you go to his website, you will find a list of articles that include some that reflect a very Yizkor-like preoccupation with death. Apparently the subject has been on his mind for a while. His tone is reassuring in a way that will be familiar to those who have read the Epicurean philosophers. Michael V. Fox has argued that Ecclesiastes was influenced by the Epicureans, hence the “earth abides forever” acceptance of death’s inevitability. Feldman writes in “The Termination Thesis”:

The Termination Thesis (or “TT”) is the view that people go out of existence when they die. Lots of philosophers seem to believe it. Epicurus, for example, apparently makes use of TT in his efforts to show that it is irrational to fear death. He says, “as long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist.” Lucretius says pretty much the same thing, but in many more words and more poetically: “Death therefore to us is nothing, concerns us not a jot, since the nature of the mind is proved to be mortal; . . . when we shall be no more, when there shall have been a separation of body and soul, out of both of which we are each formed into a single being, to us, you may be sure, who then shall be no more, nothing whatever can happen to excite sensation.”

A considerably clearer and more economical statement of TT can be found in L. W. Sumner’s “A Matter of Life and Death.” Sumner says, “The death of a person is the end of that person; before death he is and after death he is not. To die is therefore to cease to exist.”

Of course, these words are much more of a consolation to a philosophy professor or his readers than they would be to a citizen of the Congo trying to figure out where his next meal is coming from or how he or she can dodge a bullet or machete from a militia plaguing the nation.

Oddly enough, despite my advanced age, I have been brooding a lot less about death than I have in years. I guess I went through the same kind of phase that Feldman went through but kept it to myself. For the longest time, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I would immediately begin to think dark thoughts about dying. How would it come? Cancer? Heart disease?

For some reason these dark thoughts have disappeared like a brush fire that has burned itself out. In its place there is a deep calm and sense of satisfaction attached to being in the prime of life, at least intellectually and politically. With reasonably good health and a fairly secure financial situation, I look forward to the next 10 or 15 years of life as I put my shoulder to the wheel of the world historical movement that can abolish the conditions that led humanity to look in the first place for consolation from a god that did not exist.

October 6, 2012

A communist (?) poem in a bourgeois magazine

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 11:40 pm

From the latest New Yorker Magazine (Oct. 8, 2012 issue)

October 5, 2012

Roman Malinovsky biography, part two

Filed under: Malinovsky — louisproyect @ 10:04 pm

How the Social Democratic fraction in the Duma came to split.

Excerpted from chapter two of the Roman Malinovsky biography by Ralph Carter Elwood immediately below:

As leader of the Bolshevik group in the Duma, Malinovsky was the prime mover in the splitting of the united Social Democratic fraction despite the fact that this action clearly violated the mandate given him by his Moscow electors.77 Throughout 1913 he led the six Bolshevik deputies in a constant fight with their seven Menshevik counterparts over such issues as representation on Duma commissions, equal speaking rights before the house, appointment of fractional secretaries, and the choice of agitational slogans. Relations became so strained that the two groups had to meet at 7 a.m. in order to have enough time to hammer out the day’s assignments.78 In the early fall of 1913 the Bolshevik Central Committee agreed that a formal split was essential;79 this policy was duly approved by the police80 and executed by Malinovsky in November 1913. In addition to engineering the split, he provided the police with all the fraction’s files for overnight perusal,81 allowed them to listen in on private meetings of the Bolshevik caucus,82 and probably told them about planned demonstrations by the fraction.83 But Malinovsky’s Duma activities also posed difficulties for the police. As the fraction’s leader and best orator, he was expected to deliver militant speeches denouncing the government from texts often sent from abroad or composed by the combined fraction. When the police saw these texts they frequently demanded that he “change, shorten or soften”84 them in actual delivery. Thus he was forced to skip over passages concerning the “peoples’ sovereignty” in his inaugural address to the Duma and to omit entirely fifteen lines from a joint declaration in 1914. In the first instance he pleaded “nervousness” and in the second he tried to provoke the chairman’s intervention so as to escape suspicion by his colleagues.85

Prologue and chapter one are here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/roman-malinovsky-biography-part-one/

Footnotes to prologue and chapter 1 are here: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/prologue_chapter1.htm

Footnotes to chapter 2 are here: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/chapter2.htm

Chapter two of “Roman Malinovsky: a Life Without a Cause”


The personal and professional doldrums which Malinovsky had passed through in 1910 and 1911 were forgotten by the time he reached Prague in January 1912. He arrived late for the Sixth All-Russian Conference of the RSDRP and he did not possess a proper mandate from the nearly defunct Moscow organization.1 But it did not matter. At the age of 35 he was at last in the company of such luminaries of Russian Social Democracy as Lenin and Zinoviev. “His outward appearance,” wrote one of the delegates, “was quite remarkable. He was tall, strongly built, and dressed almost fashionably. Deep, numerous pockmarks gave his face a fierce expression, as if it had been through a fire. He had thick, coarse, reddish hair, and his yellow eyes slid and jumped quickly from one object to another.” Voronsky went on to note, however, that Malinovsky “seemed too loud and fussy. Talking to him made me feel tired immediately. The [other] delegates [from Russia] gave him a cold and guarded reception.”2

Lenin’s reaction was different. He was at once impressed with this Moscow worker about whom he had heard so much, especially after Malinovsky announced that as a result of “serious reflection and observation” he had at last become a convinced Bolshevik.3 Malinovsky, seemingly, was precisely the type of person Lenin had expected to emerge from the underground in great numbers but which was in fact very rare: a true worker, a man with solid trade union experience, a commanding presence, a proven orator, an energetic organizer, and a convert to Bolshevism. Lenin’s attraction to rough and uncultured individuals, like Malinovsky and Stalin, so alien to the world of the emigre intelligentsia, has been seen as “reverse snobbery.”4 He was soon singing Malinovsky’s praises, just as he was those of the “marvelous Georgian,” in letters to his friends. He wrote Kamenev that “so far we have met two of the ‘six’: Malinovsky and Muranov. They make an excellent impression . . . the soil is rich.”5 He continued in the same vein to Maxim Gorky: “Malinovsky, Petrovsky and Badaev send you warm greetings and best wishes. They are good men, especially the first. It is really possible to build a workers’ party with such people, though the difficulties will be incredibly great”!6

Lenin was insistent that his new protege be elected to the Central Committee, as Vera Lobova had proposed, despite the reservations of some of the Prague delegates. O. A. Piatnitsky quite correctly pointed out that Malinovsky had been “remote from party work, that he had not been elected by the illegal Moscow organization, that he had come to the conference accidentally, and finally that we knew very little about him.”7 “Lenin insisted on the inclusion of Malinovsky,” recalled Voronsky, but the Russian delegates objected. Learning of the decision we had come to, Lenin coaxed us, in his own words, ‘to give a little vote to Malinovsky … he has connections, and he is a workman.’ Lenin succeeded in winning over some of us, but the majority of the delegates were against Malinovsky, and we had our own candidate. The votes were counted; it was evident that Malinovsky could not secure the necessary majority. The voting was by ballot. The names of the successful candidates were not, for obvious reasons, announced publicly. It happened that neither our candidate nor Malinovsky had the requisite majority. A second vote was decided on. Lenin moved among the delegates whispering candidates’ names to them and taking the voting slips. In the evening ‘confidential’ news leaked out that Malinovsky was elected. Everyone was astonished. The ‘betrayal’ was considered by some the work of Sergo [G.K. Ordzhonikidze], by others that of Filip [F.I. Goloshchekin]. Both of them, however, swore that they were innocent.8

Lenin had even bigger plans for Malinovsky. With the elections to the Fourth Duma coming up in the fall, he persuaded the Prague delegates to approve Malinovsky’s candidature as the Bolshevik representative from the large and prestigious Moscow Guberniia.9 Because of his background in the trade union movement and his reputation for conciliationism in factional matters, he also received Menshevik support.10 “Thus, backed by both of the major factions as well as by the police, Malinovsky was able to capitalize on his popularity in the factory districts to be nominated from the workers curia on 30 September and elected by the guberniia electoral assembly on 26 October. Lenin was ecstatic. Soon after the election he wrote G. L. Shklovsky: “For the first time we have an outstanding leader (Malinovsky) from among the workers representing us in the Duma.”11 Pravda echoed this sentiment by proclaiming that Malinovsky “deservedly enjoys the warm respect arid esteem of the workers. We wish him courage and strength in his new and responsible post where this best representative of the workers will be able to display to the utmost his abundantly gifted nature.”12His former colleagues in the Metalworkers Union also sent him greetings and expressed the hope that his work in the political field would be as “fruitful” as it had been in the economic.13 Even the Mensheviks hailed the election “for the first time of a leading ‘practical’ from the trade union movement.”14 In early November 1912 some 2,000 Moscow workers saw their new deputy off from the Nikolaevskii Station as he left for the opening session of the Fourth Duma.15

Malinovsky stood head and shoulders above the other five Bolshevik deputies in terms of political acumen, organizational ability and oratorical skill. He alone of all the deputies thought to thank his constituents for their support and their greetings.16 He was forced to answer the other deputies’ mail17 and to make their travel arrangements abroad.18 Some Polish workers even wrote him asking that he, rather than their elected deputy, represent them in the Duma.19 In recognition of these abilities he was unanimously elected vice-chairman of the united Social Democratic fraction and a year later, after the split, became chairman of the Bolshevik Duma group as well as the fraction’s representative-designate to the International Socialist Bureau.20

Duma rules were quite explicit that speeches before the house had to be given within a specified period of time; that they had to keep to the question and avoid abusive language; and that they had to be delivered rather than read verbatim from a manuscript. This was no problem for a Menshevik intelligent such asN. S. Chkheidze orM. I. Skobelev but it was for poorly educated, ill-at-ease Bolshevik worker-deputies such as Badaev, Muranov, N. R. Shagov or F. I. Samoilov. Krupskaya noted that Badaev, for instance, was a “shy” but “dependable proletarian.” 21 One leading Menshevik was more blunt: “he was elected simply because . . . the right-wing electors picked the least cultured, the most ignorant of all the worker electors since they decided that such a deputy represented the least danger for them …. He played no role in the external life of the fraction. He was not an orator …. At fractional meetings he did not participate, that is, he did not have opinions of his own.”22 On the few occasions he tried to deliver a speech, he was constantly interrupted by the Duma chairman for one violation or another of Duma rules.23 Lenin tried to compensate for these deficiencies not only by writing speeches for the deputies himself and by urging his well-educated friends to do likewise but also by summoning the deputies periodically to Galicia to give them first-hand instructions and by planning a party school in the Polish mountain town of Poronin for their edification.24

Increasingly, however, the burden of speaking before the Duma fell to Malinovsky whose “oratorical powers made him one of the most frequent speakers of [the Bolshevik] fraction.”25 Even the Mensheviks asked him to deliver the party’s key opening address.26 During the first session of the Fourth Duma he spoke before the house 22 times, which is more than the rest of the Bolshevik fraction combined, and during his brief stay in the second session he spoke an additional 38 times. He also signed 54 interpellations and made five legislative proposals.27 Rodzianko, the conservative Duma chairman, found these “performances” “harsh” but “extremely clever.” “His speeches were very interesting, very absorbing, soundly based and moreover so cautiously constructed that I did not have recourse to censorship.”28 Rodzianko felt compelled to ask Malinovsky where he had been educated and must have been surprised to find that he had had no formal education whatsoever. Chkheidze, the head of the Menshevik fraction and Malinovsky’s frequent opponent in the Social Democratic caucus, reflected the common opinion that he was “an extremely active and energetic man” who had the ability to “capture the mood of the Duma.”29

Since party newspapers were allowed to print Duma speeches, Malinovsky received considerable publicity in the daily press. Pravda alone reprinted some thirty of his addresses and as a result his popularity outside the Duma grew. From all sides, he began to be referred to as the “Russian Bebel” – a somewhat premature comparison with the great German socialist August Bebel who also rose from humble origins to become an outstanding orator in the Reichstag.30

The Bolsheviks’ other big venture during 1912 was the creation of a daily workers’ newspaper which could exploit the agitational possibilities presented by the Duma. Immediately after the Prague Conference, Malinovsky had journeyed to Leipzig with Lenin and S. S. Spandarian to discuss the project with two more experienced journalists, N. G. Polataev and V. E. Shurkanov. Soon after this meeting, however, Malinovsky was told to divorce himself from all party work because of the importance of his own election campaign and the necessity of not compromising himself before it was over. As a result, he had nothing to do with the formation of Pravda in St. Petersburg during April 1912. Even after his successful election in October, he played a far less significant role in Pravda than is often assumed. Outside of soliciting subscriptions and arranging for distribution outlets in Moscow,31 he had little contact with the paper’s daily operations. Contrary to many Western accounts, he never served as Pravda’s publisher, editor-in-chief or treasurer.32 During the early months of 1913, when the editorial board was being reformed and brought under Lenin’s control, he had some limited financial and perhaps editorial responsibilities33 but even these were terminated by the Central Committee in September 1913.34Malinovsky was, however, connected with other publishing ventures. During the spring and summer of 1913 he helped establish a daily Moscow version of Pravda, Nash put’, and at Lenin’s insistence was to have been its publisher.35 When Nash put’ folded after sixteen issues in October 1913, Malinovsky started agitating for a weekly Moscow paper for which he would again serve as publisher.36He also at various times in 1913 was associated with Priboi, the party’s legal publishing house, with the workers’ insurance journal Voprosy strakhovaniia, and with the establishment of an underground printing press in Finland.37 While Malinovsky was neither a proficient nor a particularly productive writer, at least by the standards of the emigre intelligentsia, his fourteen contributions to Pravda and Metallist38 represent a greater journalistic output than that of any of the other Bolshevik deputies.

Besides his parliamentary and journalistic work for the party, Malinovsky also served as chairman of the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee. What little of Lenin’s and Krupskaya’s correspondence with Malinovsky that has been published clearly shows that he was considered the key individual in St. Petersburg.39 During his year and a half in the Duma, he used his parliamentary immunities to make at least eight trips to Galicia to see Lenin and to attend Central Committee meetings. When arrests reduced the size of the Bureau to two members, Malinovsky and his fellow Duma deputy Petrovsky, the Central Committee empowered them to arrange the escape of two exiled members of the Bureau, Stalin and I. M. Sverdlov. If the Bureau needed further replenishing, they were either to coopt new members or to name “agents of the Central Committee” to carry out its functions.

The Committee also told Malinovsky to seek additional students for the proposed Galician school.40 Since the school would be expensive to operate, Malinovsky was instructed to contact sympathetic and wealthy liberals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.41 Lenin, in fact, had considerable confidence in Malinovsky’s financial honesty and fund-raising abilities. On several occasions he insisted that party funds in Russia be put in the hands of the “Russian Bebel.”42 In March 1914 he instructed Malinovsky to approach some Moscow Progressivists, who had earlier given the deputy 2,000 rubles for the legal party press, for an additional donation of 20,000 to 25,000 rubles to be used for the calling of the next party congress.43

Lenin’s relationship with Malinovsky is perhaps best shown by the fact that he chose his Duma chairman as his travelling companion for three weeks in western Europe during January 1914. In Brussels they attended a congress of the Latvian Social Democratic Party. In Paris, Malinovsky gave an emotional two-hour address on Duma affairs to a large audience of Russian emigres44 besides engaging in his hobby of collecting picture postcards. While in Paris, Malinovsky also went to see Vladimir Burtsev to discuss the problem of provocation in Bolshevik ranks with Russian socialism’s chief counter-spy.

Lenin had been concerned about the problem of police penetration ever since the Prague Conference when, at his instruction, the new Central Committee decided to set up a three-man “provocation commission” and to enlist Burtsev’s services.45 One of the members of this commission was Malinovsky. After the arrest of Stalin and Sverdlov in February 1913, Lenin wrote Kamenev that “he had discussed with Malinovsky what measures ought to be taken” to forestall further arrests.46 The Central Committee concluded later that spring that “in view of continued arrests showing with certitude the presence of a provocateur, it was resolved to take all measures to eradicate the threat, sparing neither money nor effort.”47 In late July Lenin hastened home from Switzerland for yet another discussion of the problem with Zinoviev, Kamenev and Malinovsky. The latter told of a conversation he had had with the new editor of Pravda, M. E. Chernomazov, who related how during his interrogation following arrest in St. Petersburg in June the police had “demonstrated a thorough knowledge of recent party developments.” The meeting could only conclude that “all these circumstances merely confirm the fact that near to the ‘six’ [Bolshevik Duma deputies] there is still a person tied to the investigatory branch of the government.” Malinovsky was instructed to be “as conspiratorial as possible in relations with those surrounding” the fraction.48 Two months later the hypersensitive Central Committee, probably at the suggestion of its “provocation commission,” diverted a would-be delegate to one of its meetings from Poronin to Vienna because of vague suspicions which Malinovsky was told to investigate further.49 Burtsev, in the meantime, had been investigating at Lenin’s request the evidence against Dr. A.A. Zhitomirsky, a sometime courier of illegal literature, who was suspected with more cause of provocation. Thus, it is not surprising that the two counter-spies, Burtsev and Malinovsky, should get together when the latter visited Paris in January 1914. They talked about the Zhitomirsky case in particular and about means of combatting provocation in general. Malinovsky was especially interested in the extent of Burtsev’s knowledge of provocation within the RSDRP as well as the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the sources of his information within the Okhrana. As Burtsev later recalled, “fortunately, despite his lively interest in the matter, I did not disclose” this infor¬mation.50 Burtsev did, however, ask Malinovsky to verify cer¬tain facts concerning Zhitomirsky and was both annoyed and vaguely suspicious when he did not get a reply .51

There were, of course, very good reasons both for Burtsev’s suspicions of his Bolshevik counterpart and for the failure of the “provocation commission” to achieve any constructive results. For more than three and a half years the “Russian Bebel” had been supplying detailed information, first to the Moscow Okhrana and then to the Department of Police in St. Petersburg, on all aspects of party life. In his police work Malinovsky showed the same diligence and thoroughness that he previously revealed as the secretary of the Metalworkers Union and which he was concurrently demonstrating as a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee. At first, his schizophrenic life caused him surprisingly little difficulty; indeed, he seemed to relish the simultaneous prestige of his party role, the power of a police agent, and the adventure of playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There was, however, no question where his loyalty lay: it was strictly a case of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ and in this case the piper was receiving 100 rubles a month from the police.

The Okhrana got its money’s worth out of Malinovsky even before he joined the Central Committee. His first report was filed on 5 July 1910, six weeks after he had been released from jail,52 and it was followed by 56 more in the next year and a half.53 Malinovsky used his broad contacts and good reputation to advantage. His information concerned legal activity in trade unions and worker cooperatives as well as illegal activity carried out by both factions of the Social Democratic Party. He provided the police with lists of pseudonyms, numbers of forged passports, locations of party meetings and storage places for illegal literature. The police used this to raid a Bolshevik group in Tula and to arrest such leading Bolsheviks as N. I. Bukharin, F. I. Goloshchekin and B. A. Breslav. The Mensheviks also suffered with the arrest of V. V. Shur and V. G. Cherkin and the raid on a Liquidator group preparing a conference in 1911.54 The Moscow organization, as a result of the information provided by Malinovsky and other provocateurs in that city,55 was com-pletely demoralized and almost non-existent by the end of 1911. But even more damaging to the party’s cause than these raids in Moscow were the blows directed against the conciliator Bolsheviks at the national level who were seeking to reunify the RSDRP on the basis of the decisions of the January 1910 Plenum of the Central Committee. Crucial in this regard were the efforts of Nogin and other conciliators to re-establish an inter-factional Russian Bureau of the Central Committee which would coordinate all underground activity. The police, however, felt that their own objectives were best furthered by continued party division and factional animosity. The conciliators’ flirtation with Malinovsky in 1910 was therefore a godsend. They used information he provided to arrest some of its leading adherents such as I. F. Dubrovinsky, G. D. Lindov and V. P. Miliutin, as well as Nogin himself, thereby frustrating all attempts at reviving the Bureau and at establishing viable unified leadership at the national level.56

Lenin, for different reasons, shared the Okhrana’s dislike of conciliationism and party unity. The Prague Conference, which he called in January 1912, was intended to finalize the division that had been developing ever since the Second Congress in 1903. It would therefore be in the Okhrana’s interests to allow the Conference to proceed and to reinforce the ranks of the staunch Leninists. It is this which perhaps best explains Malinovsky’s sudden conversion to Bolshevism and his appearance at the Sixth Conference. The Moscow Okhrana readily approved Bolshevik suggestions that he go to Prague; indeed, they paid his way and gave him a bonus of 100 rubles.57 Malinovsky returned home in triumph as a member of Lenin’s new Central Committee and as the Bolshevik deputy-designate from the Moscow Guberniia to the Fourth State Duma. He gave his superiors “very detailed information on the composition of the conference, the results of its work, its proposed plans, the make-up of the newly elected Central Committee, the names of the Committee’s agents, and general information” about other Social Democratic groups which the “investigatory organs quickly put to use.”58

The decision to approve the infiltration of an agent into the State Duma was not an easy one to make, even for the Russian police. After learning from Zavarzin of the Bolshevik intention to run Malinovsky, the Vice-Director of the Department of Police, S. E. Vissarionov, travelled to Moscow to review the situation with the candidate and his Okhrana overseers. Vissarionov later claimed that he went along with the idea solely because it would give Malinovsky greater access to party information.59 At the time, however, the only police official to object was A. M. Eremin who feared a scandal would erupt should Malinovsky’s dual role be uncovered.60 No one apparently raised ethical objections to a police agent penetrating the nation’s highest legislative body in the guise of a revolutionary. The plan was duly approved by the Director of Police, S. P. Beletsky, after consultation with his superiors in the Ministry of Interior.61

Malinovsky needed police support more than he realized. After returning from Prague, Leipzig and several Russian cities where he gave reports on the Sixth Conference, he obtained a job at the Ferman plant, a small textile factory near Moscow. According to Duma regulations, a person needed six months uninterrupted employment in one place in order to participate in the election. In April, however, Malinovsky quarrelled with his factory foreman, M. S. Krivov, who threatened to fire him. Malinovsky took his problem to the Moscow Okhrana which in turn cabled the Ministry of Interior in St. Petersburg for instructions. Beletsky replied that Malinovsky was “not to be deprived of his full rights which are extremely important to him at the present moment.”62 On 25 April the surprised foreman was arrested and held in custody until 10 September. Matters proceeded more smoothly during the summer. On 17 September Malinovsky reported that the Social Democratic election committee had definitely decided to support his candidature and on the 30th he informed the police that he had been duly chosen as one of the electors from the workers curia.63

In early October, however, a second problem arose which required police assistance. Vissarionov, while reviewing the records of the various electors, noted that Malinovsky’s criminal record would prevent him from acquiring a “Certificate of Good Standing” which was required under Article 9 of the Election Code for all Duma deputies. Beletsky took the problem to the Minister of Interior and on his approval cabled A. P. Martynov on 17 October that Malinovsky’s election “should be allowed to take its natural course.” Martynov, the new head of the Moscow Okhrana section, replied that “success is guaranteed.”64 With his help “these lines in Malinovsky’s biography were erased.”65 The would-be deputy apparently bribed the bookkeeper at the Ferman Factory to give him a short leave of absence so that he could travel to Poland where he this time bribed a district clerk to provide him with the necessary certificate.66 Upon his return to Moscow “success” was achieved. On 24 October Malinovsky was chosen by his fellow electors as their choice for deputy and two days later the Moscow Guberniia Electoral Assembly made it official.67

Malinovsky’s rewards were immediate. In addition to a congratulatory telegram from Krupskaya,68 front-page praise from the Social Democratic press, and a relatively lucrative salary from the Duma,69 he also received preferential treatment from the police. In part at his request, he was transferred from the Moscow Okhrana to the Special Section of the Department of Police in St. Petersburg. Henceforth, under the name of “Iks” he would report on a weekly basis to either Vissarionov or Beletsky by means of a special telephone which the police installed in his apartment or over intimate dinners in the private rooms of fashionable restaurants.70 In recognition of his increased importance, his salary was raised from 100 to 500 and then to 700 rubles a month. This did not prevent him, however, from continuing to sell odd bits of information to his former Okhrana employers at the old piece rate of 25 to 50 rubles.71

Beletsky’s principal purpose was to use Malinovsky as a source of information concerning the personalities and policies of the Bolshevik leadership both in the Central Committee abroad and in the Duma fraction and as a means of influencing these policies in the direction which the police desired.72This meant protecting and perpetuating the split achieved at Prague. “I confess,” admitted Beletsky in 1917, “that the whole purpose of my guidance consisted in not giving any possibility for party unification.”73 Malinovsky was therefore “given instructions, whenever possible, to deepen the split in the party.”74 The first chance to implement these instructions came in December 1912 when eleven of the thirteen deputies voted to work for the merger of the Menshevik Luch with the Bolshevik Pravda and to contribute to each others’ newspapers until this union was achieved. Only Malinovsky and Muranov voted against the resolution and refused to allow their names to appear on Luch’ masthead.75 Lenin promptly summoned the other Bolshevik deputies abroad for a dressing down and with the help of Malinovsky and Sverdlov succeeded in restoring Pravda’s militant independence. To make sure that Pravda did not become too militant, Malinovsky also supplied the Okhrana with lists of the paper’s subscribers and contributors, manuscripts of articles submitted, and on at least one occasion wrote a provocative article of his own which justified Pravda’s temporary suppression.76

As leader of the Bolshevik group in the Duma, Malinovsky was the prime mover in the splitting of the united Social Democratic fraction despite the fact that this action clearly violated the mandate given him by his Moscow electors.77 Throughout 1913 he led the six Bolshevik deputies in a constant fight with their seven Menshevik counterparts over such issues as representation on Duma commissions, equal speaking rights before the house, appointment of fractional secretaries, and the choice of agitational slogans. Relations became so strained that the two groups had to meet at 7 a.m. in order to have enough time to hammer out the day’s assignments.78 In the early fall of 1913 the Bolshevik Central Committee agreed that a formal split was essential;79 this policy was duly approved by the police80 and executed by Malinovsky in November 1913. In addition to engineering the split, he provided the police with all the fraction’s files for overnight perusal,81 allowed them to listen in on private meetings of the Bolshevik caucus,82 and probably told them about planned demonstrations by the fraction.83 But Malinovsky’s Duma activities also posed difficulties for the police. As the fraction’s leader and best orator, he was expected to deliver militant speeches denouncing the government from texts often sent from abroad or composed by the combined fraction. When the police saw these texts they frequently demanded that he “change, shorten or soften”84 them in actual delivery. Thus he was forced to skip over passages concerning the “peoples’ sovereignty” in his inaugural address to the Duma and to omit entirely fifteen lines from a joint declaration in 1914. In the first instance he pleaded “nervousness” and in the second he tried to provoke the chairman’s intervention so as to escape suspicion by his colleagues.85

Beletsky, in fact, sought to protect his prize agent once he entered the Duma by relieving him of pedestrian intelligence work concerning code names, localities of party meetings, etc., and by keeping arrests in which Malinovsky might be implicated to a minimum.86 While Lenin later claimed that Malinovsky “betrayed scores upon scores of the best and most loyal comrades, caused them to be sent into penal servitude and hastened the death of many of them,”87 most of these arrests took place before 1912. There were, however, two notable arrests during February 1913 — that of Stalin and Sverdlov— which were directly attributable to information Malinovsky provided as to their whereabouts in St. Petersburg. It has been suggested that Stalin’s arrest was a result either of personal enmity between the two men or of rival ambitions they had within the party or perhaps the police hierarchy.88 More to the point was the fact that Stalin himself tended to be a conciliator during his brief stays in St. Petersburg. His articles in Pravda, his slowness in bringing the paper under Lenin’s control, and his lack of determination in enforcing the Duma split all indicated that he was following a unitary policy contrary to the Okhrana’s intentions. Sverdlov, on the other hand, was a militant Bolshevik who succeeded where Stalin had failed in bringing Pravda and the fraction under Lenin’s control. Sverdlov, however, apparently opposed plans for Malinovsky to become the publisher of a Bolshevik daily in Moscow89 and perhaps even began to suspect the true loyalties of his esteemed colleague. On two occasions in 1913 and 1914 Malinovsky helped to frustrate the party’s plans to free Stalin and Sverdlov from their Siberian imprisonment.90

He also aided his employers by diverting illegal literature and Bolshevik correspondence into their hands, by turning over forBeletsky’suse the secret printing press he was to have established in Finland, by making militant speeches so as to justify closure of legal worker congresses, and perhaps by betraying Burtsev’s source of information inside the Okhrana.91

Malinovsky’s value to the police was enormous. The information which he provided first as “Portnoi” and then as “Iks” allowed the police to keep the leading underground bodies in a state of enervation, to remain abreast of all party plans, and to perpetuate the ruinous party schism. Beletsky, like many who knew Malinovsky as a trade unionist or a professional revolutionary, recognized that “he was a gifted and able man.”92 To the police director, he was the “pride of the Okhrana.”93 Little did he know that the time was not far off when many who had formerly spoken highly of the “Russian Bebel” would instead refer disparagingly of the “Bolshevik Azef’ — a more apt parallel with the greatest of the tsarist police spies who penetrated the Central Committee of the Socialist Revolutionaries a decade earlier and like Malinovsky ultimately was sentenced to death by a party court.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.