I deeply resonate with what you’re saying. If yours is indeed the position of Novorussia’s fighters and activists, largely shared by the people, if indeed you stand united behind it, then I will be cheering you on and speaking out in your defense. If you stumble and make mistakes, even terrible ones, I will be sharing your pain and rooting for you to survive, pick yourselves up and get back into the struggle.
However I am writing as an American activist, about patience and responsibility. Revolutionary patience, and revolutionary responsibility.
A revolutionary outlook transforms the color of everything. There is revolutionary anger and revolutionary love, revolutionary principles and revolutionary clarity. There is another vital distinction which those newly caught up in a revolutionary process may not yet know, understand or even see the need for: revolutionary patience.
Revolutionary patience. It has to do with knowing and living in the love of the people, believing in the power of an organized people, knowing that growth and change take time and organization takes work, knowing that processes unfold organically, and trusting that the arrow of history is on our side. Trusting that things are changing beneath a seemingly calm surface and when enough pieces are in place they will burst forth. Being ready to strike hard when the moment is right, but hold back and wait when it’s not. The patience to refuse a gambit, and the humility to play for the team, not to be the star.
Please allow me to share some thoughts on the outcomes of two revolutionary situations from my childhood – Korea and Vietnam – that played out very differently for the countries involved and had very different consequences for the world as well. And the part that revolutionary patience and responsibility – or lack thereof – played in those dramas.
The situation in Ukraine reminds me of Korea in 1950. A people’s government, with roots in the struggle for independence from Japan and protected from the US occupation by the Soviet Red Army, faced off against a brutal puppet government made up of former Japanese collaborators, rich landowners and industrialists and American-trained thugs, propped up by American arms and advisors. A government that ruled by intimidation and death squads, not unlike the one you face in Kiev, at a time of huge flux in world affairs.
On paper South Korea (ROK) had an overwhelming military advantage over the Democratic People’s Republic (DPRK), and they threatened loudly and often to reunite Korea by the sword. The leaders of the DPRK well understood that the ROK’s conscript army had no will to fight, but a small US force in Korea served as a tripwire, which made it the Soviet Union’s business too.
The record shows that Stalin tried hard to talk Kim Il Sung, the DPRK leader and hero of the resistance to Japan, out of a military solution, despite each day’s provocations, each day’s bitter harvest of murdered leaders and activists in the South. Kim is reported to have requested Stalin’s go-ahead some thirty times, with increasing urgency, before the Soviet leadership gave in, or perhaps just resigned themselves to being unable to stop him.
As predicted, the ROK army crumpled and fled in panic before the DPRK troops, who drove the remnants and the American force before them the length of the peninsula and almost into the sea. It was a complete rout – and a complete surprise to the Americans.
The larger result was a historic disaster for Korea. A full scale American invasion and massive bombing campaign utterly leveled North Korea and killed a huge proportion of its population. The DPRK armed forces were nearly wiped out and the DPRK only survived because the Chinese Red Army was provoked into intervening. The seemingly-doomed ROK was restored and lives on to this day under American occupation. 60 years later the DPRK remains under active threat of renewed war and destruction, impoverished by the costs of perpetual mobilization for war.
Geopolitically also, the war was an historic disaster, providing the pretext and narrative for the Cold War, for destroying the anti-imperialist and communist-led workers movements in the US and gravely weakening them in many other countries, for founding NATO, isolating the Socialist Bloc countries and setting in motion preparations for an assault on Russia and China using nuclear weapons – a war that the record shows very nearly happened.
If the leadership of the DPRK had trusted Stalin’s advice, and – bitter and horrifying as the cost might be – patiently supported the struggle of their countrymen in the South without trying to finish it with a military blow, the Cold War might have been much harder to launch and the Korean people might have been spared the much worse nightmare that ensued.
By contrast, the much more patient strategy of North Vietnam, while unable to prevent a war in the South that saw several hundred thousand activists, leaders and former resistance fighters murdered, followed by a devastating American War that killed millions, was able to avert the kind of total destruction visited on North Korea – and “in the fullness of time” they won! Vietnam is one country now, and at peace. But the victory of the people’s forces and liberation struggle in Vietnam was also a world-historic win over the Empire, one whose consequences helped shape what is possible today, nearly 40 years later.
This afternoon, I came upon a man, old before his time, begging for money on an American street corner. He told of being unable to live on his disability pension, and of being denied his veterans benefits because while serving in Vietnam he had been dishonorably discharged. When I asked him what for, he said it was because he tried to shoot his officer, a gung-ho young lieutenant who had gotten two of his buddies killed. He seemed still ashamed or regretful, 40 years later, about having missed.
Troops killing their officers, in the heat of battle or by a platoon agreeing on tossing a fragmentation grenade into their tent (known as “fragging”), was a huge and widespread problem for the US Army in Vietnam. Troops were often incapacitated or uncontrollable due to massive drug use. Refusal to obey orders to attack grew increasingly common. Huge numbers of servicemen’s riots and demonstrations took place inside Vietnam and “Stateside”.
The more patient Vietnamese strategy, though it took over 20 years to final victory, thus dealt a global strategic defeat to the US-led Empire. To this day our Masters of War don’t dare try to raise and field another conscript army, and can only field such armed forces as they can afford to pay cash money for. Which is why, unless they can persuade the American people that their homes are in mortal danger from Russia and ISIS, the collapse of the dollar will be the Empire’s death blow.
Coming back to the present, consider the need for Putin’s Russia to win in it’s challenge to the Empire, the race to collapse the Empire through building a global “de-dollarization alliance” before the Empire can gather the strength to launch a world war. A strategy which leans heavily on the battle of ideas and counts on the support and strivings of billions of people across the world, but also on exploiting and harnessing divisions and conflicts between and within ruling classes. If you see yourself as part of and responsible for the success of that global strategy, this poses a painful choice between taking your opportunities or declining them. As I’m certain it did for Putin in March and April. Decisions and actions taken over the next few weeks, months and years will profoundly shape the range of possible outcomes for the planet, and Ukraine is at the epicenter. There is a huge opportunities in the power vacuum, as the Junta’s forces collapse, for the millions who long to break the hold of the kleptocrats and banksters and unleash a deeply necessary revolution, but of course the Ukraine struggle is, by design, also a potential flashpoint of global disaster.
There is no strong analogy with events and moments in the past that could dictate the right moves for today. But revolutionary patience is a way of being, not a strategy. It is what lets us refuse gambits and protects us from being ruled by our egos. It gives us freedom to be responsible for the larger consequences of what we do.
Trusting the people of Ukraine, continuing to organize and teach at what ever cost and risk, waiting for the time when the unity and force of millions can overwhelm any intervention, may get a better result for Ukraine, Russia and the world. Or maybe the time is now. Revolutionary patience gives us the freedom to look at that question objectively, balancing the promise of grasping “a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large,” against the danger of “the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Please forgive my arrogance in addressing you like this. I write from my heart, from my own very different experiences and without expectations.
Yours in struggle,