Where do Tanks come from? ☭
A very tankie essay in defense of Marxism-Leninism, specifically for “the libertarian left”
the Western Left
Since the 2016 election, especially, (and accelerated further by the ongoing collapse/pandemic/protests/riots/etc. of 2020) there has been an influx of New Radicals, finally beginning to break free of their liberal-ideological chains and becoming open to a broader spectrum of ideas that were previously unthinkable. As such, for the first time in 50 years, the (once thought to be dead) Western ‘far-left’ is on the uptake again, and enjoying its largest influx of new supporters in North America since at least 1968, and probably since the second World War. However, unlike most (in fact nearly all) other corners of the globe, Marxism-Leninism is not the dominant philosophy of rebellion amongst Westerners, but rather various currents of “the libertarian left,” including “democratic” ““socialists””, left-communists, but predominantly and especially anarchists. Which leads into the topic of this essay, illustrating a larger functional problem of anarchism — that it overwhelmingly fails to produce tanks. No, really.
First, let it be clear that the “political compass” is a terrible and naive way to understand politics, but since it serves as a basic, relative frame of reference here (and because we are not ashamed of the labels Authoritarian — nonsense as it is, nor the derogatory term Tankie — as our tanks have been proven to, time and again, tread where there is injustice and destroy it), I will frequently dub the Marxist-Leninist (ML) as being of the “the Authoritarian Left” (also broadly including Maoists, some Trots, and even revisionists) to differentiate from the aforementioned “Libertarian Left” for the purposes of this essay. I feel, as a representative of the former ‘quadrant ‘— the quadrant dominated primarily by Marxist-Leninist thinking and its offshoots — I have to say, sometimes I feel that we are not being fairly or accurately understood, and that miscommunication is harmful to us working with the Libertarian Left to form a cohesive or effective strategy. Which is why, especially, this essay is for you to help better understand those of us in the “Auth Left” quadrant.
It’s gotten a little upsetting to see our fellow leftists, who in most cases should be our natural allies and closest comrades, treat us with extreme hostility, distance, and distrust. The problem is not, necessarily, that they often disagree with our ultimate conclusions, it’s that many of them dont seem to understand how we even arrived at those conclusions in the first place, or why we would even consider ourselves as “Authoritarian Left” — except for purely malicious and self-serving reasons (and the most disingenuous takes). Being called: Red Fascists, Stalinists, state-capitalists, etc — with the most common derogatory term being, yes, Tankies. This is despite sharing nearly all the same views about opposing and ending capitalism, racism, sexism, exploitation, and other forms of oppression, along with countless other near-identical political views, wants, goals, and aims. This departure occurs where, we, Tankies, must always secretly have some ulterior motive or scheme, and where all of our sincerest efforts are perceived to be a part of a big (and incredibly convoluted) trick, according to many anarchists; and this is, to us, sort of an indicator that we aren’t being given a fair or accurate consideration of our opinions, and that it has been reasoned, incorrectly, that we have become “Authoritarian” Leftists simply because we love power, or are inherently violent or cruel, or just fucking love tanks (sometimes that one is true). But this (really) isn’t the case.
Now, a Tankie was originally a supporter of the Soviet Union who specifically endorsed the situation in which Nikita Khrushchev — someone who is largely despised by Marxist-Leninists (though he had some justifiable moments, and this was among them)— said “Send in the Tanks!” to crush the Hungarian (fascist) uprising in 1956. The fallout and public relations damage for this historical moment will have to wait for another time, but as a consequence of this, the term Tankie is now used as a catch all derogatory term to criticize ML supporters for their openness to using “authoritarian” (this is a vague and ultimately meaningless term, as it has no material grounding, but we shall wear it with pride) measures to achieve their goals. However, what I feel many anarchists are missing is the organizational need for these, often indispensable “authoritarian” methods, which are vital to create and maintain larger, complex societal processes required for revolution — including, as my main example for this essay — the procurement and production of tanks. And it is here that I want to keep this essay (loosely) focused on the driving philosophy and ideas behind the Marxist-Leninist tendencies — specifically the ideas that ultimately lead to tanks. So…
“Where do tanks come from?”
The irony of a self proclaimed Tankie writing a philosophical essay about tanks is deliberate (indeed, this essay is the KFC double-down of irony) but also something important for the consideration of any sincere and curious anarchist that dares to read onward. The accusation hurled, frequently, at MLs is that we are a bunch of LARPers (Live Action Role Players, for those of you who do not live under a rock and subsist on wifi), and like — we’ve all seen those guys, and we do get the criticism, and it’s not a totally inaccurate or unfair (although it was Vonnegut who pointed out we are what we pretend to be). But here, I’m going to flip that criticism back onto anarchists for this essay and accuse them of not having LARPed enough. And by that, I mean, not actually thought through a revolution or conflict into any actual detail, only in instances of wishful thinking. Anarchists could stand to run the simulation (in their heads at least) a few more times and try to analyze the ensuing results of revolution, for which they may be responsible.
What does modern revolution look like?
Anarchists often have a very shallow understanding of what revolution is and what it looks like — they take entirely romanticized and idealized notions of it, shaped predominantly from their white Western upbringings. They rarely want to discuss how many might emerge to oppose their revolution, or how opposition will be dealt with. They dislike conversations about operations and planning, and often assume some sort of makeshift improvisation will necessarily work against a larger, better equipped opponents through sheer grit, moxy, and self-righteousness, as if the past hundred years did not see dozens upon dozens of less organized revolutions violently quashed and crushed by capitalist states and reactionary forces.
There is a severe failure among anarchists to adequately quantify the enemy, and this is important. I mean literally, assign a number to how many people will be poised to oppose revolution when it is occurring. We need to extrapolate for a moment, what a revolution actually is and what it actually looks like in the modern, actually existing world. The anarchist conception of revolution sees perhaps only a few thousand ‘enemies,’ who need to be overthrown, and offers only localized options for resistance and organization. They see the bourgeoisie (only the largest of the bourgeoisie, mind you) and the police as the bulk of the opposition to revolution. They often assume that nearly all, or at least most of society will be at their back (or at least neutral on the sidelines), and that they wont be forced into conflict before their support can safely grow to those enormous and overwhelming levels.
The ML philosophy, conversely, understands the full scope of geopolitics that goes into the equation. In other words, ML’s “zoom out” enough to try to factor in everything happening on the globe. And in this, wide angle lens frame, we can only understand that we are not dealing with thousands of opponents, but tens of millions or more on a national level, and hundreds of millions on a global scale. The capitalist system will enter conflict with, at least some, of its internal systems fully operational, and many members of society tied to those will side against the revolution. And in understanding this framing, we can only understand that the highest stages of revolution — which we can dub “high stage revolution”, would, and does, and has historically, necessarily, resembled war.
And in “fighting a war” you encounter the same problems that you did historically — whether it be the 1871 Paris Commune, the 1919 Russian revolution, or 1930’s Spain — where anarchist theory never quite peaks to again. The forces of the existing empires are already established and entrenched, supplied and organized, and have vast proletariat-killing machines in their arsenals — most topically, tanks. Having thousands of armed revolutionaries means nothing if you cannot overcome the tanks of the empire, and the Anarchist historical track record on tank production, while creative, has never been able to compare to the massive production power proven and demonstrated by ML societies.
Tank production is a requisite revolutionary function in order to defeat an organized enemy wielding tanks themselves, but anarchists refuse to learn the lesson. Anarchists take a romanticized idea that willpower alone will somehow overturn a better equipped opponent, but Marxist-Leninists take no such fanciful liberties in our planning. And this is what is involved in “winning a revolution” — one that looks like a war — is an operational plan —necessarily involving tanks — which is needed to ultimately secure the objectives that will lead to a victory. This is where the Soviet mass produced T-34s and KV-1s can correctly be attributed as the tanks that did the most to bring about the downfall of Hitler, while anarchist tank production has never yielded any similar successes. The Soviets still have claim on some of the most effective tanks still used in the world today.
Indeed, this is where anarchism fails, despite creative attempts, and has always failed — most evidently in 1930’s Spain, but the failure in thinking continues onward to this day, is in providing the larger plans and organization, and in failing to produce tanks. And it isn’t merely an issue of having tanks, but concentrating them as well — as many historians will tell you, the French had better tanks, and a better army than the Germans in 1940, but lost, badly, because the Germans concentrated their forces and moved quickly, while the French spread their forces and moved slowly.
So from this I ask again:
Where do tanks come from?
The title of the essay is deliberate for exactly that point — tanks are a very complex piece of machinery that are a requisite for fighting an actually existing, real world revolution — yet the process to produce one is very complex and requires not only factories, but many other means of production working in conjunction with their production, all of which ‘have to be on the same page, while effectively fighting a war.’ You cannot merely produce tanks, but must also be capable of controlling and defending the elements of production, and organizing the tanks into action (as well as training and practice).
In any real world, actually existing revolution, tanks will necessarily be involved, at some point and in some meaningful and decisive capacity. They will be deployed against the revolutionary proletariat, and the revolutionary proletariat will have to make use of tanks in their conflict against the bourgeoisie. Now note that we can replace the word “tank” in this essay, we don’t need to literally be talking about tanks, or other armoured fighting vehicles — but can be interchanged with anything that is an aggregate product of heavy industry and a web of production. This could be rocket propelled grenades, anti-air missiles, jet fighters, or even non-combat apparatuses, like a healthcare system, a housing system, or a train network. However, the specific example of a tank illustrates the point with the perfect aforementioned irony, and makes a sufficient example for this essay.
But before we consider this, let us again consider an actually existing, real world revolution. Say an anarchist lead one. Some challenging questions come to mind. What does an anarchist order of battle look like? When actually existing M1 Abrams and Bradley Fighting Vehicles roll in — when real world drones are preparing to rain hellfire down on your places of organizing, meeting and gathering, when the Imperialist grand strategy for crushing your organizing is a very clean, and simple, and neat ‘defeat in detail’ strategy — how do the forces get organized at the largest scale? What’s the plan? Does one even exist? If so, who puts it forward, and how is it decided what it shall be? Where are communications centered? How do we resolve internal conflicts and disputes? Do we simply vote on it? Everyone? Constantly, while also trying to fight? Is there a sincere plan for revolution for anything more than “everybody get yer gun and we’ll take on the guv’ment?” What could that plan possibly look like?
What weapons are there to take out a tank? How many? Where do you get them from? Where should they be deployed? What about air superiority? Which bases are they stationed at, and how are those bases organized? How many people are to be deployed, and where and when and how? What logistics are supplying them? For how long? Who will replace them? Do they have enough supplies? For how long? Who has this information? Who does it get shared with? Is there a grand strategy for the aggregate total of all our forces? These are real, material questions for which anarchists don’t seem to provide any demonstrated consideration or answer. But these aren’t the sort of questions where you can just wing it. They want to think and act local, which doesn’t seem to be the way to win a war, or a revolution for that matter. Nor produce a tank. These are the products of heavy industry (something that generally requires a state to function),
Empires are neither passive nor static
ML societies have had their problematic sides even at the best of times, and we’ve never declared our societies as being immune to justified criticism (though, constructive criticism is what is needed). But they are also the only revolutionary organizational structures that can bring enough firepower or just “will to fight” to resist a much more powerful empire for any sustained period. The revolution will never be allowed to get 99% of people organized, or even 60%, or 50% — violence from the Empire will be brought to bare against the budding revolutionaries long before anything can develop that far. Revolution is not a localized phenomenon either, as every revolution ever, even back to the 1871 Paris Commune, has had multiple foreign nations intervene —and usually it is against the revolutionaries.
The biggest obstacle to revolutionary success in the modern world is the Empire, and part of your philosophy has to plan for facing down and overcoming that empire, which will immediately and quickly respond to anything that threatens it — with the full force of all of their means of production and resources aligned to defeat you. Meaning not only will the military and police be against you, but the television will condemn you for your crimes — possibly real (after all, at least some of your own allies and units will make mistakes or act rashly), and definitely imagined (how many millions will your revolution add to the Victims of Communism?) — and the Imperialist news and media — which anarchists still seem to swallow with full sincerity — will portray you (yes, even you, the anarchists who spent their whole lives distancing themselves for the USSR as much as possible) as Stalinists regardless of your own personal distaste for Marxism-Leninism, and this is what will shape domestic and global public perception. Your own anarchist allies may disown you, social democrats will declare your revolution to be “not really communist,” and you will never be given a turn at the bourgeois microphones to contest this perception. And this is all long before your revolution will have any real momentum, but after you’ve made the fatal commitment to go through with it.
You are fighting the fucking Terminator
I sometimes feel like some anarchists have failed to truly think through what any sort of revolution looks like in an era past 1871, or for any chunk of land larger than a city or small island maybe. This idea that we can all just get our muskets and rise up — this has been defeated often and repeatedly across the world over the past hundred plus years, over and over, by supplied and armed imperial armies with tanks and planes and other tools of heavy industry. Even if we were to somehow pull of a big, well planned and orchestrated “surprise revolution” it would only be a temporarily disabling blow to any Empire — because their capitalist systems are self-reproducing. The Empire is not a static, metaphysical opponent that can just be chipped away at, slowly and piecemeal, breaking down and never repairing or recovering. Modern Empires and their repressive state apparatuses are built like the fucking T-1000.
They are like the Terminator — you shoot a hole in them and they might be incapacitated or stunned for a moment but then that hole fills back in with new pieces and they come back at you as that same fully functioning war machine they were before the attack. The argument from Lenin is that the best way to fight against such a machine is with a machine of our own — a self-repairing, self-replicating, massive instrument of the proletariat, with the capacity to organize and carry out war, and that process and the underlying philosophy is called Marxism-Leninism. Revolution is not a conflict of random, disconnected individual actors, but a conflict of systems in the world, and to date the most effective “machine” that the proletariat have built was the Soviet Union, and now that it is gone, (and sorely missed by revolutionaries around the world), we might have to rebuild another one, because nothing in the anarchist arsenal is capable of dealing any lasting, permanent damage to the system we are challenging. And it’s just that — a system, not a singular entity.
Even feudal systems had this ‘self-repairing’ mechanism. When you, on occasion, managed to kill the king, the prince takes up the crown as the new king. When you kill a lord with no children, his bastard son or estranged nephew/uncle is found to carry on the titles. Systems within the larger system exist to re-assign the titles and re-organize the structure if components of the system are broken off. The problem is that anarchists are so opposed to the state, that they don’t want to even consider what operation of a system, especially a large scale massive system encompassing thousands, maybe millions, or even billions of people, could look like, instead only envisioning it as localized cells made up of a few hundred, or low thousands, at most. They see a bunch of local low thousands as being the same as a concentrated fifty thousand, and don’t seem to realize that this can allow the Empire to defeat them in detail.
Even a successful surprise revolution will not put down an empire (see in Lenin’s case — the Tsar died in 1918 but the revolution was fought for five more years). The empire reforms, regroups, recovers, and comes back at you. And when it comes, it comes with its own organized imperial army — trained and provisioned men, armed with weapons, backed by tanks, air support, and most of all logistical support and supply lines. You cannot just ask all of your fellow anarchist rebels to just pick up a gun and fight the empire however and whenever and wherever they want. There needs to be more organization and order and structure and discipline, and all of these systems are going to end up being necessarily hierarchical. If you can demonstrate an effective and successful way to fight a lasting, ongoing war non-hierarchically, without the chains of command or the various systems of the revolution, then by all means do so, and MLs will be eager to listen. But this synthesis never arrives from anarchists. Because when the enemy attacks in such a way that requires your revolution to deploy anti-air defenses to the north, anti-tank batteries to the south, and reinforce army group six with the fresh batch of reserves, you cannot do this without a structure with a plan which is organized and decided on in an exclusive and hierarchical fashion. It wont get done fast enough, if it even gets done at all.
Taking down a Terminator
When you try to have an all-anarchist, non-hierarchical army (or state), you might likely get disorganized mess. It’s not that Marxist-Leninists secretly love hierarchies and want them to exist exclusively or primarily to our benefit. It’s that they are a necessary and indispensable component of rapid organization and warfare, and well as operational planning in general, and over the past 100 years, and it is utterly impossible to fight a war, or conduct an operation in a manner where everyone involved gets totally equal say. Someone is going to be telling someone else what to do, and someone who disagrees or doesn’t like the plan is going to have to shut up and go along with it or be shot. We cannot simply have votes for everything — we may not have the time and they might be open to subversion, and may lack cohesion with a larger strategy. Unless you can offer a better and more complete strategy and structure with which to conduct a war, we need not only a system, but a self-reproducing (gasp!) hierarchy of our own in order to match the massive organizational pyramids of the empires we oppose — because it’s the only system capable of wielding enough mass and momentum to actually beat the empire back.
So how can you meet tanks and planes and organized soldiers in battle? Well, Lenin says you do it by having tanks and planes and organized soldiers of your own. But how do you do that? Well, in order to get tanks, you need … a tank factory. Yes, this is the answer to where tanks come from. But that’s just the start. You need the labour to work the factory, too, and all of the associated costs for that labour (housing, food, power, etc), as well as all the labour and materials secured to create and provide those things. They are all tied together and connected — one part of the tank producing operation doesn’t get to act independently from the others (unless it’s hierarchically situated above them) .
It’s not just the means of production that you must seize, but entire societal apparatuses — and you need them to be operating immediately and in a way that cannot be easily subverted or undermined. You need to control the farms for food, and trucks for shipments. You need to control resources to supply the factories, and you need more labour to harvest the resources. You need the power plants to provide energy, and you need anti-air defences to protect them from attack. So this sort of project is not a one time “go get yet shovel and dig” type deal — this is about building a long lasting system that can develop and grow your capacity for revolution and revolutionary war. It’s not something you can win in a day, a week, or even months, but in years. And even if it were, the bourgeoisie would mostly escape, reform, and retaliate through every possible channel. It’s literally impossible to get them all in one fell swoop, it would be a prolonged endeavor, especially since new ones would keep emerging until they are all defeated, encircled, or exhausted of their remaining resources.
Enter the Vanguard
And this is where the Vanguard comes in. A big part of Lenin’s philosophy is about putting theory into practice in the real world. Well, what does a revolution look like in the real world? When people start getting together and organizing, there is no situation in which 100% of the proletariat population is ready to go for revolution. In fact, even getting a moderate percentage of the population on board is almost impossible without some sort of crisis or catastrophe. Ergo, not everyone can or will ever be included in the decision making. A revolution starts with a few people talking to a few others. Then they speak to a few others, and slowly the ideas and theory start to spread. It will never, ever, be able to reach everyone by the time that decisive actions start needing to be taken. Bullets will be flying and there will still be onlookers wondering what is going on.
It gets a lot messier than that in the real world. When you have a few dozen like minded revolutionaries — that’s a club. Easy enough to hide or be discreet. But, when it’s a few hundred — that’s a protest or an organization, people will start to see it and know about it. When you get into the thousands, that it a legitimate movement, and now a real threat to power — one that people that hold power will likely take actions to respond to. It will also be much more susceptible to infiltration by the Empire, and will become harder to organize towards a single objective. You don’t ever, ever, get to have a 100% ready-to-go-communist population, or even a number remotely close to that before people with power take notice and react. If a hundred thousand communists or anarchists go marching in the street, the bourgeoisie aint going to look at that and just ignore it or let it slide. When the Empire decides to crack down, or try to suppress/destroy the movement, the movement may need to respond (or die) with decisions that will direct the lives of the larger society, both indirectly and directly (especially should the revolution succeed — these early decision can play a major role in shaping everything that comes after).
And so, many of these decisions need to be made, right then and there. But those decisions might be made with all the folks at home (the ones who haven’t learned any theory yet, the ones who are not marching in the streets) in mind, but they will ultimately have to be excluded from the decision making process. If their mind is not on the revolution, they wont have a full understanding of what is going on, so their contributions are less likely to be beneficial to the revolution, now in progress. Similarly, the bourgeoisie and their allies that we fight will need to be combated and oppressed, and if they are encircled or found to be within our areas of control, they will need to be repressed. Yes, you need a state to do this effectively, and yes, this is “authoritarianism” in action — resisting this is resisting actual revolution.
So those thousands of people, loaded up with theory, marching in the streets — guess what? That’s the vanguard. Or at least, a proto-vanguard, made up of most of the individuals that will come to form the vanguard. So if the Tsar cracks down, they may need to decide this is the time to fully launch the revolution. Or they might decide that they need to hide in a village or district which might not yet totally be into what is going on. Or any of a million other possible society-altering decisions that can occur when political movements clash with government and the state of the world.
And that’s what the Vanguard is, and how they end up as the decision makers of the revolution. It’s that the first people out in the streets marching and participating in revolution that need to be the ones to make larger decisions about the movement as a whole, even if those decisions sometimes might go against what the segments of society, even those with revolutionary sympathies, feel like at the time. It’s a very difficult position to be in, and it’s almost impossible to make perfect choices in any of these situations in the real world, and we, as revolutionaries, have to be realistic and understanding about mistakes occurring during revolution. A lot of bystanders wont really understand things going on around them as the Vanguard has already started shaping a new society, and the potential for conflict comes with that.
It’s disheartening in a number of ways, especially for idealistic young anarchists who want to believe that the problem with the past revolutions was just that they were impure, and that if future revolutions are done with more sincerity for communism, they will succeed where the Marxist-Leninists failed. But this is all that this notion is — idealism — wishful thinking in your head about how you want the world to be. But in the real world, it’s only been Marxist-Leninists (and -Maoists) who have claim to the only revolutions that can breakthrough and establish a real beachhead against the existing capitalist and imperialist systems on the planet. Not just a small, secure territory, but a fully operational nation with the capacity to expand further. A full on system, complete with the ability to repair damage and recover just like our opponents. Our revolutions remain the all time high-watermarks for all the attempts at toppling global capitalism, and to fail to learn the real, material lessons of Marxism-Leninism and their revolutions is to fail at history, and repeat the mistakes of a century of anarchists. Even if the final revolutionary victory against capitalism was to come from anarchism (and it wont, see below), it would only come from anarchism that has learned from Marxism-Leninism and build upon their ideas, rather than denouncing them and rejecting any sincere study and investigation of their attempts.
The Anarchists are already dead
And this is the ultimate challenge to the Libertarian Left and Anarchists who agree with revolution, but then do not want to explain what actual revolution might look like or involve. It’s not something that has direction under it’s own momentum — it’s something that must be directed and controlled. It’s not a matter of everyone just working towards revolution however they want or whenever they want, doing whatever you feel like doing, or helping however you feel like helping, but something where specific objectives and targets and tasks need to be assigned, monitored, and met, consistently, with a near monopoly on use of force (internally) and dispute resolution. If anarchists can provide a detailed and comprehensive plan that can account for this, any and every ML will be eager to examine it — but the problem is that any plan that anarchists ultimately devise, which isn’t riddled with massive obvious problems or shortcomings, usually ends up as a description of Marxism-Leninism that carefully omits Lenin and Marx. This anarchist philosophy of creating a state, but refusing to acknowledge it as such, might as well end up being called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Lenin” brand anarchism, where you take a largely or entirely ML position but then try to swap a black flag for the red.
And this is where I’m going to drop the hammer for what few anarchists actually managed to slog their way to the end of this essay. If the preceding explanations did not make it clear, let’s be forthcoming and blunt. Anarchism is outdated and irrelevant, already, it’s just a matter of the last remaining anarchists (existing overwhelmingly in the West, being predominantly white, and largely from the middle classes) to acknowledge it, but have yet to do so. If you were to add up all the anarchists in all the world (throw in all the leftcoms too!), they would still be outnumbered by the number of Marxist-Leninists in the province of Kerala, India, alone (thanks to Vijay Prashad for that tidbit). They have yet to recognize they are in the most racist, and philosophically backwards nations on the planet, and those reactionary influences have shaped and defined their worldview. They don’t realize that nearly all of the information they consume comes from the bourgeoisie, and somehow they cannot figure out why they keep ending up fighting on the same team as the Empire (Hong Kong, Ukraine, Korea, Syria, etc — it’s amazing how they always manage to end up on the exact same team as American business interests).
There is a reason that all the revolutions in the poorest and most oppressed places on the planet, still today, practice Marxism-Leninism and not Anarchism. It isn’t because they aren’t aware of anarchism — this dismissals of the Global South as not being just as politically aware as Western anarchists is backwards and chauvinist. Anarchists are not important, at all in the real world of today, and themselves need to find reason to dismiss or even dehumanize the vast numbers of Marxist-Leninist around the globe (especially in the Global South), to validate their already dead philosophy. Anarchists think that they are “eliminating the divides” by having no clear ideology or philosophy to construct society or plan, and that in eliminating those divides, they have better united us. But in all reality, those material divides are deep, and in failing to address them in same the way ML(M) philosophies do, they leave the contradictions unresolved and exploitable to the detriment of the revolution. In conclusion, anarchists need to find their lack of tanks to be more disconcerting.