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Workers Vanguard No. 863

3 February 2006

Imperialist "Democracy" at Work

U.S. Torture Machine

Amnesty International: "Gulag" and Anti-Communism

Part Two

We print below the conclusion of this article. Part One appeared in WV No. 862 (20 January).

Amnesty International (AI) was launched by British attorney Peter Benenson in 1961, at the height of the anti-Soviet Cold War. Benenson looked to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a model, and among his collaborators was his longtime friend Roger Baldwin, who helped set up AI’s section in the U.S.

Baldwin was a contradictory figure. During World War II, he assisted the Civil Rights Defense Committee, which defended Trotskyists against Smith Act prosecution for their opposition to U.S. entry into the interimperialist war. But he was also head of the ACLU in 1940 when it purged the well-known Communist Party member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from its board. Eleven years later the ACLU incorporated an anti-Communist resolution into its constitution, and throughout the McCarthyite witchhunts the organization regularly exchanged confidences and information with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. (Baldwin resigned as ACLU director in 1950 to campaign for international “human rights.”) Among AI’s other founding fathers was Lord Peter Archer, who went on to serve as solicitor general in the Labour Party government from 1975 to 1979 as it administered the British occupation of Northern Ireland, carrying out vicious repression that included frame-ups and torture of Irish Republican Army members.

From its inception, AI excluded from the category of “prisoners of conscience” those accused of advocating violence or carrying out violent acts. Under this rubric, AI refused to defend left-nationalist guerrillas fighting U.S.-backed puppet regimes and those imprisoned in anti-colonial wars of liberation. In 1964, AI dropped its designation of Nelson Mandela—imprisoned in apartheid South Africa—as a “prisoner of conscience” because he advocated armed struggle to overthrow that bloody white-supremacist regime. Francis Boyle, a former member of AI’s board of directors, noted in CovertAction (13 June 2002) that AI is “the only human rights organization in the entire world to have refused to condemn apartheid in South Africa.”

Also excluded from AI’s umbrella are those charged with espionage or treason (although this never stopped Amnesty from championing Soviet “dissident” and imperialist spy Anatoly Shcharansky). Thus Amnesty refused to give its vaunted “prisoner of conscience” designation to Mordechai Vanunu, the courageous Israeli nuclear technician imprisoned in 1986 for publicly exposing the Zionist state’s nuclear arsenal.

While calling for inquiries into the case of Black Panther Party leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), who was framed up by the FBI and Los Angeles police and imprisoned for 27 years for a killing they knew he did not commit, AI refused to call for his freedom. It took until 2000 for Amnesty to call even for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther spokesman and renowned journalist framed up on false charges of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.

AI has repeatedly acted as a shill for U.S. and British military adventures. Its 1986 report critical of the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime was timed to help the Reagan administration gain additional Congressional funding for the counterrevolutionary Contra terrorists. To make the case for invading Iraq in 1991 after Saddam Hussein’s troops had entered Kuwait, the first President Bush appeared on national TV waving a copy of an AI press release retailing a concocted story by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter that Iraqi soldiers killed 300 Kuwaiti babies by ripping them from their incubators and tossing them on a hospital floor. It took over ten years for AI to even mildly oppose the U.S.-imposed UN sanctions that killed over one and a half million Iraqis.

In 1996, AI sponsored a 25-city U.S. movie tour featuring a spokesman for the Croatian nationalist regime of Franjo Tudjman—an admirer of the fascist World War II-era Ustashi regime—who retailed lurid tales of mass rapes in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serbians. This was part of an international campaign by liberals and feminists to drum up support for imperialist intervention against Serbia, culminating in the 1999 U.S./NATO war. At the time of the failed U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002, Amnesty jumped into action—to condemn President Hugo Chávez for “crimes against humanity.” At its human rights film festival in Vancouver the following year, AI censored the film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which documented the failed coup.

In the past period, Amnesty has faced criticism from liberal opponents of the Iraq war for its failure to oppose the invasion. In fact, William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, attacked antiwar organizations for not joining Bush’s “war on terror,” railing that “the political left” has failed “to give the necessary attention, analysis and strategizing to the effort to counter terrorism and protect our fundamental right to security.”

One prominent member of AI is Diana Negroponte, wife of John Negroponte, Bush’s Director of National Intelligence. As ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, John Negroponte oversaw the U.S.’ dirty war against Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua. Working through Honduran military commander Gustavo Álvarez Martínez and his sadistic death squads, Negroponte used Honduras as a staging ground for Contra attacks on Nicaraguan hospitals, schools and bridges.

Diana Negroponte also sits on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House, whose main activity is supporting the counterrevolutionary Cuban gusanos. Her “human rights” colleagues at Freedom House include such Cold War criminals as Reagan’s former UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who used her post to champion U.S.-backed torturers in Latin America and engage in bellicose diatribes against the Soviet Union. Another Freedom House veteran is Clinton’s former CIA director James Woolsey. After leaving the administration, Woolsey and his fellow neo-cons at the Project for the New American Century wrote to Clinton in 1998 urging military action against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and his purported “weapons of mass destruction.” A leading light at Freedom House is Samuel Huntington, whose book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order provides ideological justification for the Bush gang’s occupation of Iraq.

Soviet Dissidents and Trotskyist Defensism

Anti-Communism has always been a hallmark of Amnesty International. Throughout their histories, organizations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have played a significant role in the imperialists’ propaganda offensive against the USSR and, today, against the Cuban, Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean deformed workers states. AI was particularly instrumental in aiding the imperialist “human rights” crusade of the Democratic Carter administration in the late 1970s by turning a slew of anti-Communist Soviet dissidents into international causes célèbres.

As Trotskyists who fought for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, we noted that among the Kremlin’s crimes was that its stifling repression drove pro-socialist members of the intelligentsia into the arms of “democratic” counterrevolution. We sought to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and re-establish workers democracy through proletarian political revolution. From that standpoint, we defended the right of free political expression even for anti-Communists provided that they did not actively work for the overthrow of the workers state. We also opposed the Soviet bureaucracy’s stripping dissidents of their citizenship while they were abroad.

In contrast to the bourgeois civil libertarians and the fake leftists who joined in the imperialist anti-Soviet campaign, we stated in “Imperialists Howl Over ‘Human Rights’: The Main Enemy Is at Home” (WV No. 163, 24 June 1977):

“We repeat the warning we have sounded since the beginning of Carter’s ‘human rights’ ploy: behind the liberal rhetoric stands the threat of imperialist war, principally directed against the Soviet Union. We are no friends of the Kremlin bureaucracy, which murdered thousands of Left Oppositionists, including Trotsky himself, and suppressed soviet democracy for all dissidents, socialist or otherwise. But in the face of this imperialist propaganda blitz aimed at undermining the Soviet degenerated workers state, we insist that the incomparably greater danger is the restoration of capitalism through bloody counterrevolution.”

In their efforts to undermine the Soviet workers state, AI and its brethren prominently publicized such pro-imperialist “dissidents” as right-wing Zionist Anatoly Shcharansky and Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov. We supported Moscow’s refusal to allow Sakharov, the father of the Soviet nuclear bomb, to emigrate to the West. This was a vital measure in defense of the Soviet Union, keeping its military secrets out of imperialist hands. Shcharansky was no mere “dissident”—he was guilty of treason for passing secrets to the West, something that even members of the bourgeois press at the time acknowledged (see “Shcharansky Is Guilty As Hell!” WV No. 212, 28 July 1978).

Proletarian Rule and the
Early Soviet Republic

Common to the entire spectrum of bourgeois ideologues—from Bush and the right wing of the Republican Party to AI and Democratic Party liberals—is the longstanding maxim that the Soviet Union, born of the only successful workers revolution in history, was the epitome of brutal repression. Barely a month goes by without another tome rehashing anti-Communist slanders—from outright reactionaries such as Harvard’s Richard Pipes, a former member of Reagan’s National Security Council, to ex-leftists like the authors of The Black Book of Communism (1997), an amalgam of Cold War propaganda and CIA lies about supposed Communist “crimes.” The 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, declared, “More broadly, ‘Gulag’ has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself.”

These apologists for the bourgeois order want to impose the idea that capitalist society is the only world possible. They uphold the capitalist profit system built on centuries of the most vicious colonial oppression. In its highest stage, capitalism created a world dominated by a handful of imperialist powers, whose struggles for markets and sources of raw materials and cheap labor has led to two world wars and the plundering of colonies and neocolonies. Capitalism is a system predicated on exploitation and mass impoverishment, on brutal racial and national oppression and imperialist depredation.

One of the main techniques of the bourgeois ideologues has been to equate Communism with fascism, thereby not only smearing the former but also trivializing the unique and unspeakable crimes of the Holocaust, in which the capitalist government of Hitler’s Nazis murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies and others in a demented effort to eliminate whole peoples from the face of the earth. Some 27 million Soviet citizens died as result of the Nazi invasion. It was the Red Army that liberated central and East Europe from the fascist scourge.

In the London Guardian (19 September 2002), columnist Seumas Milne remarked on the equation of Communism with fascism: “The battle over history is never really about the past—it’s about the future.” He added, “Those who demonise past attempts to build an alternative to capitalist society are determined to prove that there is none.” The capitalist rulers are bent on spreading the most despicable lies in the hope of finally putting an end to the spectre of the October Revolution.

The world bourgeoisies and their mouthpieces loathe the fact that Lenin and the Bolsheviks applied the measures not only necessary to attain state power but essential to defend and consolidate working-class rule. In the name of “democracy,” the capitalist powers subjected the Russian Revolution not merely to the hammer and tongs of military encirclement and invasion, provocations and isolation, but to mountains of slander as well. Foremost among the slanders is the big lie that Stalinism—with its police-state repression and stultifying censorship, its bureaucratic privileges and economic mismanagement, its Great Russian chauvinism toward the USSR’s minority peoples—was the offspring of Leninism.

The main anti-communist argument is that the roots of the Moscow Trials of the 1930s and of the Stalinist gulags are to be found in the October Revolution itself, and in particular the “Red Terror” during the Civil War. In reality, the October Revolution was carried out with barely any human losses. As we wrote in “Black Book: Anti-Communist Big Lie” (WV No. 692, 5 June 1998):

“The fact that the Russian revolutionary proletariat, which came out of WWI decimated in an economically devastated country, was able to win the Civil War was itself irrefutable proof of the depth of support for the revolutionary cause. The workers fought heroically, sacrificing themselves to the point that the most conscious proletarian layers were virtually wiped out.”

Repression of counterrevolutionaries became more severe as counterrevolutionary atrocities increased—e.g., the 1918 attempts on the lives of Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks and the massacres of Communists and the terror wreaked against Jewish villages during the Civil War. Civil law in the early workers state guaranteed political rights for parties that recognized the rule of the soviets and codified the humane rehabilitation of common criminals. The early Bolshevik regime made a major distinction between the workers state’s legal codes—which had a more permanent quality and were based on rehabilitation and integration into society rather than on the cruel, religious concept of punishment—and the necessary and extraordinary measures needed to crush the forces of counterrevolution. The measures of the Red Terror and the campaigns of the Red Army against counterrevolutionaries were dictated by the laws of civil war.

Proletarian Justice

It would have been a crime had the Bolsheviks not utilized all means necessary to ensure victory. Trotsky, commander of the Red Army during the Civil War, explained in Terrorism and Communism (1920): “The working class, which seized power in battle, had as its object and its duty to establish that power unshakably, to guarantee its own supremacy beyond question, to destroy its enemies’ hankering for a new revolution, and thereby to make sure of carrying out Socialist reforms. Otherwise there would be no point in seizing power.”

For this task not only the Red Army was required. The war against counterrevolution was understood as an episode requiring temporary and drastic measures, and for that purpose the Cheka (Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage) was established. The Cheka’s methods reflected the proletarian morality of the Soviet power. In 1918, Cheka head Felix Dzerzhinsky issued the following instructions:

“Let all those who are assigned to conduct searches, take people into custody, and imprison them behave solicitously toward those being arrested or searched. Let them be much more courteous even than toward close friends. Let them remember that the incarcerated cannot defend themselves and that they are in our power. Each and every one must remember that they represent Soviet power, the workers’ and peasants’ government, and that any verbal abuse, rudeness, injustice, or impropriety is a blot upon the Soviet power.”

—quoted in Anton
The Time of Stalin

When a small Moscow journal, Cheka Weekly, published a letter calling for the use of torture, the Cheka responded, “The proletariat is merciless in its struggle. At the same time it is unshakable and strong. Not a single curse at our most wicked enemies. No tortures and torments!” The Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the highest governmental body, passed a decree that read, “Although the Soviet regime resorts of necessity to the most drastic measures of conflict with the counterrevolutionary movement, and remembers that the conflict with the counterrevolution has taken the form of open armed conflict, in which the proletariat and poor peasants cannot renounce the use of terror, the Soviet regime fundamentally rejects the measures advocated in the indicated article, as despicable, dangerous, and contrary to the interests of the struggle for Communism” (quoted in Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge [1972]).

The Cheka Weekly was closed down, the authors of the letter dismissed and forbidden to hold office in the Soviet republic. In the U.S., the authors of the Justice Department memo justifying torture, Alberto Gonzales and Jay Bybee, have been rewarded with appointments as U.S. attorney general and federal appeals court judge, respectively. Amnesty International and other liberals are concerned that such moves tear away at the “democratic” facade of murderous U.S. imperialism.

The revolutionary Bolsheviks intended their prisons to isolate counterrevolutionaries and rehabilitate them with the aim of reintegration into the society. What anti-communist ideologues portray as the “regime of forced labor” for counterrevolutionary prisoners was based on the idea that productive labor is the norm for all able-bodied citizens of a workers state. Article Two, point 18 of the 1918 Soviet Constitution explained, “The Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic considers work the duty of every citizen of the Republic, and proclaims as its motto: ‘He shall not eat who does not work’.” In a 29 June 1918 speech, Trotsky stated, “For centuries the workers and peasants have been cleaning the dirt of the ruling classes, but now let [the former ruling classes] clean [the dirt] which we are leaving behind, until such time as they join the working class in the pursuit of a common goal. We must place them in such conditions that they will lose the desire to remain bourgeois” (James Bunyan, The Origin of Forced Labor in the Soviet State 1917-1921 [1967]).

Prisoners were offered “full opportunities for moral regeneration.” This meant labor aimed at training them to work and acquire skills, enabling them to be integrated into society as productive members of the working class. Even under conditions of extreme hardship, the Bolshevik regime insisted that working conditions in the prisons be covered by the general labor code that provided trade-union pay rates, food rations and other benefits.

Trotskyists Were Main Targets of Stalinist Repression

Following the political counterrevolution of 1923-24, the Stalinist bureaucracy made permanent many of the measures employed temporarily by the young workers state and twisted them into the most grotesque opposite of what the Bolsheviks had implemented. Under the Stalinist regime, prisons were transformed from institutions for re-education through labor into instruments of punishment through forced labor and all the old “tortures and torments” denounced by the early Soviet government.

The prisons under Lenin and Trotsky’s regime, which were filled with active counterrevolutionaries, cannot be equated with the bureaucracy’s concentration camps, which were filled with old Bolsheviks, left-wing intellectuals and class-conscious workers, as well as numerous others caught up in the web of Stalin’s terror. To consolidate his power, Stalin had to murder virtually every surviving member of the Bolshevik Central Committee of 1917 during the bloody purges of the 1930s, disproving the equation of Bolshevism with Stalinism.

The central purpose of Stalin’s terror was to repress and intimidate the proletariat whose political power the bureaucracy had usurped. Its primary victims were communist oppositionists, beginning with the Trotskyist Left Opposition, whose program was centered on the fight for international socialist revolution.

Significantly, the imperialist “democracies” had little problem with the Moscow Trials. The conservative Kremlin bureaucracy offered to the world bourgeoisie the renunciation of proletarian revolution internationally in exchange for empty pledges of “peace” toward the Soviet Union. Thus Stalin’s regime was seen as a “reasonable” alternative to the Bolshevik-Leninist opposition led by Trotsky. What the bureaucracy’s anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” meant was captured in Stalin’s 1936 interview with American journalist Roy Howard, where he explicitly disavowed the early Communist International’s aim of world socialist revolution as a “misunderstanding.” Stalin’s support to “democratic” imperialism through the policy of the “People’s Front” served to chain the proletariat in the capitalist world to a mythical “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie. Its results were seen in the brutal suppression of the 1936-38 Spanish workers revolution by the Popular Front government that included the Spanish Communist Party.

New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty and U.S. ambassador Joseph E. Davies were among those who, as Trotsky put it, “assayed the Moscow trials as unalloyed gold.” Ambassador Davies’ 1941 book Mission to Moscow, later made into a film, was a despicable apologia for the purge trials. Time magazine picked Stalin as their “Man of the Year” for 1939 and 1942. As Trotsky noted in Their Morals and Ours (1938): “The big bourgeoisie of the democratic countries watched the execution of the revolutionists in the USSR, not without pleasure, though feigning abhorrence.”

In Stalin’s prison camps, the Trotskyists were the most resolute defenders of the prisoners’ rights. This produced innumerable cases of individual and collective heroism, which won the admiration of even those prisoners who did not share their revolutionary Marxist convictions, including many ex-Stalinists and purged bureaucrats. Most importantly, the Trotskyists remained steadfast in their defense of the October Revolution. Individual Trotskyists who survived the executions of 1937-38 were among the hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries in Stalin’s prison camps who requested to be sent to the front to fight against Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the USSR. When Stalin refused to allow this, they did what they could for the Soviet war effort by agreeing to the extension of the working day to 12 hours. In 1941, Stalin ordered a further wave of executions of political prisoners, including Trotsky’s sister Olga Kameneva and former Left Opposition leader Christian Rakovsky.

For New October Revolutions!

While Amnesty International takes no formal position on the violence and terror unleashed by the imperialists in war, it is resolutely opposed to the violence of the oppressed in their struggle for freedom. Projected backward in history, for the likes of AI “violent” slave rebellions such as those led by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser, as well as the Haitian Revolution, would have been unacceptable. AI & Co.’s campaigns for the bloody capitalist rulers to live up to their Constitutions, Conventions and Declarations serve to ideologically fortify a brutal system of exploitation that on an hourly basis maims, kills and tortures—not merely through military and police violence but through poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and preventable industrial accidents. It was with the aim of ridding the world of capitalist barbarism that the Bolshevik Party took power, and that is the reason why Amnesty & Co. so despise the October Revolution and the workers state it created.

We fought for the defense of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe against the capitalist class enemy. We threw the bulk of our forces internationally into the incipient proletarian political revolution in East Germany in 1989-90, fighting for a Red Soviet Germany in a Socialist United States of Europe. Immediately following Boris Yeltsin’s August 1991 coup, our comrades in Moscow distributed thousands of leaflets titled “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” calling for the workers to sweep away Yeltsin’s rabble. Today we are steadfast in our unconditional military defense of China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam.

As the founder of American Trotskyism, James P. Cannon, affirmed, “Who touches the Russian Question, touches a revolution.” The Soviet Union may be gone—but the necessity of defending the Russian Revolution is as vital as ever. The imperialists and their liberal torchbearers seek to rewrite history in order to ensure that the rule of capital is never again challenged. They would like to wipe out of the consciousness among the proletariat and the oppressed any attachment to the program or ideals of communism.

Our aim is to educate revolutionary-minded youth and proletarian fighters with the aim of building revolutionary parties modeled on Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, in the U.S. and internationally, to lead the working class to power. Thus will be finally realized the goal expressed in the workers’ anthem, the “Internationale”: “The international Soviet shall be the human race.” Only then will mankind be able to achieve a society of abundance, free of coercion, where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.


Workers Vanguard No. 863

WV 863

3 February 2006


Down With Imperialist Nuclear Blackmail!

U.S. Hands Off Iran!


For United Labor Action to Smash the Taylor Law! Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!

Defiant NYC Transit Workers Reject Contract


European Dockers Strike Against Union Busting


Twentieth Annual Holiday Appeal

Free Mumia! Free All Class-War Prisoners!


Black Freedom and the Proletarian Revolution

(Quote of the Week)


The “N” Word: “To This Day, I Wish I’d Never Said the Word”

A Salute to Richard Pryor


On the Anti-Smoking Witchhunt



Fight Racist Reaction on Campus!

(Young Spartacus Pages)


Defend the De Anza 8!

(Young Spartacus Pages)


Imperialist "Democracy" at Work

U.S. Torture Machine

Amnesty International: "Gulag" and Anti-Communism

Part Two


From Early Soviet Correctional Labor Law


International Solidarity with TWU, ATU