nascent empire falls in love with its "liberating" political and economic
state system and decides it is time to export its domestic model to
other countries by means of war, of course. Liberation to all is the
ultimate goal. No, it is not early 21st century, the leader
is not George W. Bush, the empire in question is not the U.S., and
the export commodities are not democracy and free market economy.
It is August 1920, Vladimir I. Lenin is the leader, Soviet Russia's
invasion of Poland is the event, and the goal is inflaming the world
with socialist revolution bringing about global unification and true
liberation of mankind.
theory of "revolution export," in Lenin's
words, is this: "We have never concealed the fact that our revolution
is only the beginning, that it will arrive at a successful conclusion
only when we inflame the entire world with such a revolution." And
the gain for everybody is this: "Only the Russian Socialist Republic
has raised the banner of true freedom, and throughout the world sympathy
is moving in its favor."
revolution to all, in particular Europe, Lenin thought, is the way
to bring true freedom to everyone. But, an all-European revolution
was not to be. Lenin never did figure out why Europe had not followed
Russia's lead to revolution. However, in 1920 Lenin was presented
with an opportunity to test his theories with a bayonet. He could
not pass up the chance to push European workers with the Russian soldier's
rifle butt to the glory of liberation.
Poles had penetrated far into the Ukraine. The Red Army repulsed them
quickly, and in June 1920 it stood on the old Polish frontier. This
raised the question: What is to be done? Lenin's judgment was that
Poland too was ready for revolution. When the Red Army drove the Polish
army out of Ukraine, Lenin favored hot pursuit into Poland and through
Poland on to Germany, giving the proletariat there the impetus to
rise up. Other Bolshevik leaders warned against the invasion. Stalin,
Rudek, and Trotsky were aware of military difficulties ahead and the
low likelihood of revolution in Poland (and beyond).
then, did Lenin order the Soviet invasion of Poland? The answer, in
a nutshell, is: for domestic reasons. He knew that the Russian revolution
was quickly fizzling away; the "perversion" of capitalism was yet
to be eradicated from millions of peasant heads. Bolshevism was not
delivering at home. Only a foreign "success" revolution by
invasion could provide a positive ideological and economic
infusion at home. By setting Poland aflame, the fire may spread further
to the rest of capitalist Europe thereby saving the Russian revolution
from the economic attrition that was already almost there.
Poland reeled under a double onslaught: westward was pushing General
Mikhail Tukhachevsky advancing at an astonishing rate of twelve miles
per day while General A. I. Yegorov and Stalin slashed southwest into
eastern Galicia. Lenin expected his armies' rapid advance to delight
the Poles who would welcome the troops as liberators showering them
with flowers. Stunned Lenin watched the Poles' actual response: instead
of gratitude, jubilation, and revolutionary spirit, the Soviet armies
inspired Polish nationalism bent on fighting the intruders to death.
The export of revolution was in danger. Tukhachevsky had traveled
too fast and too far, and when he stood at the Vistula in early August
eager to take Warsaw the Poles made a stand. The Russian armies had
to withdraw to the homeland. Lenin's attempt to kindle revolution
in Europe had ended in total disaster.
reflected on the failure blaming the Poles who in the Red Army "saw
enemies, not brothers and liberators. They felt, thought and acted
not in a social, revolutionary way, but as nationalists, as imperialists.
The revolution in Poland on which we counted did not take place. The
workers and peasants…defended their class enemy, let our brave Red
soldiers starve, ambushed them and beat them to death."
may question the wisdom of expecting that an army dependent for food
on confiscation from hostile peasants could have been quickly vanquished
and then held down twelve million angry adult enemies. The Russian
armies almost accomplished the former task but then became the exposed
target of resolute armed resistance. For Lenin this constituted a
crime and treason by Polish workers and peasants who "defended their
class enemy" by defending "their country against an invader, class
notwithstanding," all of this in defiance of The
Communist Manifesto according to which "the working men have
no country." The Russian defeat at Warsaw was caused, Lenin explains,
by an atavistic phenomenon: "the patriotic upsurge."
obviously overestimated the lure of revolution.
what are the lessons of this historic episode for the current U.S.
Iraq adventure? Similarities abound. Let us start with a Lenin-like
by Bush: "We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe
that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment
and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we
believe that freedom the freedom we prize is not for us alone, it
is the right and the capacity of all mankind."
main export items of Lenin and Bush, revolution and democracy respectively,
therefore, are equated with freedom or liberty. Freedom is something
per their assumption that everybody wants and is not only entitled
to but the iron laws of history inevitably (with little help from
big human casualties of the right kind) would bring about. So, given
the opportunity that Iraq presented, Bush too would test his doctrine,
not with bayonet, but with an arsenal of awesomely destructive weapons
calculated to produce a "shock and awe" effect. What is
unique about Lenin and Bush in human history is that they are the
only top decision makers who thought that when their military
attacks a state the population of that country, due to the natural
pull of the love for liberty, would instantly join forces with the
attackers in permanently bringing down the legal and political status
quo ante. This did not happen in Poland and is not happening in
the Red Army in Poland, the U.S. forces obviously will have had much
easier time vanquishing Saddam Hussein's army than controlling the
occupied territories by holding down millions of angry adult (and
youth) enemies. There is also this similarity. The speed of Tukhachevsky's
march is reminiscent of the frantic pace at which the U.S. forces
advanced on Baghdad from the Kuwaiti border, creating the longest
supply line in history of warfare that stretched for hundreds of miles.
This made the troops significantly vulnerable to attacks that would
prove to be only sporadic, however. Obviously, the real resistance
of the Iraqis was reserved for the occupation period thus avoiding
direct confrontation with an overwhelming opponent.
initial military mission, quickly accomplished, in fact only created
conditions under which the troops became the exposed target of resolute
armed resistance. Now we hear the media daily echoing Lenin's own
complaint against the Poles who "let our brave Red soldiers starve,
ambushed them and beat them to death" as it applies to the Iraq situation.
This implies that something else was anticipated. Yet, one should
question the wisdom of expecting that an army whose Rule
of Engagement (ROE) "is such that the US soldiers are to consider
buildings, homes, cars to be hostile if enemy fire is received from
them (regardless of who else is inside)" can successfully hold down
what can only be a rapidly growing number of enemies. These enemies
are now variously referred to as terrorists, rebels, guerrilla, but
for Lenin they would have been guilty of "crime and treason." And
sure enough, Human
Rights Watch recently followed in those Leninesque footsteps calling
them "war criminals," and there is little doubt they are also considered
traitors of the wellbeing of their country. Whatever should be the
proper characterization of the individuals fighting occupation, it
remains the fact that many in Iraq don't exactly see the unfolding
drama as liberation.
be a mistake, however, and this is a small digression, to think that
expectations of Lenin and Bush went wrong because of some principled
obstacle. They thought that because there is something special about
their export product (essentially "liberty" in different conceptual
incarnations) and their armies charged with the delivery, people who
find themselves under attack would join in this attack. Namely, they
did not go wrong in judging Poland and Iraq because this sort of thing
never happens. Consider, for example, Encyclopedia Americana,
edition 1993, Volume 29, page 443, entry that reads:
10. On that day, the Croat troops in the Yugoslav Fourth and Seventh
armies, stationed on the northern frontier, mutinied, and by nightfall
both armies had been dissolved. On the afternoon of April 10, Second
[German] Army troops entered Zagreb, where a newly created Croat government
welcomed them as liberators.
Croatian people welcomed the Nazi occupation as liberation, and so
did the Catholic clergy in Croatia of 1941. The exuberance of the
latter group was immortalized
in the words of a pastor from Udbina, Mate Mogus: Until now
we have worked for the Catholic faith with the prayer book and with
the cross. Now the time has come to work with rifle and revolver.
This goes to show that a rifle or a cluster bomb (maybe even a "tactical"
nuclear weapon) combine very well with firm conviction in whatever
one's ideology may be.
we saw that Lenin decided to invade Poland against almost everybody's
advice and did so primarily for domestic reasons. Similarly, Bush's
decision to invade Iraq was made despite opposition of the whole world
(except for the U.K. and perhaps Spain). Was Bush's decision to export
democracy to Iraq (and beyond) also primarily driven for domestic
reasons? Well, a faltering, job-evaporating economy, and prolonged
near-recession offer no fertile ground for reelection!
Bush is the one ultimately responsible for bringing war to Iraq, the
usual accounts of how this could have happened in terms of the neo-conservatives'
rise to power represent a dangerous oversimplification. For, in U.S.
politics and popular culture currently there are in place plenty of
ideological elements that could just as well have "justified" the
war on Iraq. What is more, these various ideological elements are
all fully supported across the entire political spectrum from the
left to the right and opposed perhaps only by libertarians. In other
words, a war against Iraq would have been possible even had a Democrat
or a more moderate (less-oil-interest-connected) Republican occupied
the White House. The idea that democracy is so great that America
should export it was around before George Bush "took" Florida,
most prominently in the form of the so called "democratic
peace theory": since democratic states do not go to war against
each other, it is all right to spread democracy by war. Also around
was the ideal of promoting human rights around the world in the form
intervention" an excuse President Bill Clinton used for his
bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. To these, Bush and the neo-cons
simply added their policy of "preemptive war," which is just the latest
of ideologems that all lead to the same destination. These "doctrines"
negate the nation-state, subvert international law, and provide the
ever-present alibi for perpetual war in the same catastrophic ways
that some past ideologies did.
just as Lenin overestimated the lure of revolution, the Iraq experience
may show what it is like when the
lure of democracy is overestimated.