So, an interesting thing happened when I changed my avatar to a picture of Stalin. Suddenly, by the hundreds, I started getting friend requests from folks in places like India, Pakistan, and Morocco. Everyday after work I was accepting scores of friend requests thinking once I got to 5K, I wouldn't have to deal with it anymore. I must have added at least a thousand friends this way over the past couple of weeks.
Additionally, I started getting random messages and things posted on my wall by anti-communist fascists. These people felt liberated by my Stalin pic to forego all standards of politeness and decency and took it as a license to utter the most vile and threatening insults.
What interested me the most however was the response of self identified leftists whose view of Stalin precisely mirrored the views of the rabid fascists. The "leftists" were more polite of course but they were appalled that I would demean and defame leftist thought by championing Stalin. They viewed my aggrandizement of Stalin to be damaging to their leftist brand and perceived my Stalin apologism as misguided and wrongheaded.
I continue to maintain that these Anti-Stalin views result from an acceptance of false narratives and anti-communist ruling class propaganda. I just finished reading a superb article on this very subject and recommend it to anyone that may be interested in the topic. I highly encourage folks read the article in its entirety."
Following Billy Bob's advice, here's the article he suggested. But before we look at it, let's examine the "prequel", the opinion piece by one Garry Maclachlan who, apparently quite influenced by Trotskyist arguments, started the whole exchange.
The Problem with Stalin and Stalinism
I felt an urge to write this short article because I see good intentioned socialists on social media sharing posters with quotes from the late leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Djugashvili (actually, Ioseb Besarionis dzе Djugashvili)– Joseph Stalin. But do they truly know what Stalin and Stalinism represents?
The Russian Revolution had crumbled due to a massive decline in the working classes through famine and war after Stalin rose to power and workers were exploited, workplaces controlled by managers and military officials and a new Ruling Class of beaurocrats had emerged under Stalin’s regime. Workers would lose their jobs if they missed a day for whatever reason and would get the death penalty for striking. Leon Trotsky called it a ‘deformed worker’s state’, other international socialists call it ‘state capitalism’, believing that if Trotsky were alive today would reflect and call it that himself. Whatever the name, the U.S.S.R was not a union, it was not socialist and there were no soviets.
Many of the same socialists who idolise Stalin are also great admirers of Vladimir Lenin yet although Stalin was a close comrade of Lenin in the early 1900’s, when Lenin was nearing the end of his life after a series of strokes he warned, “Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution.”
This wave of young social media Stalinists proudly remind us how Stalin effectively defeated the Nazis but neglect the fact that it could be argued that Stalin allowed the rise of fascism in Germany in the first place due to the German Communist Party (who were affiliated to Stalin and followed Russian orders) did not build a rank and file, working class, antifascist movement against the rise of Hitler. Stalinist organisations also crumbled antifascist movements in Spain against Franco and destroyed the general strike.
What type of new world would the Stalin worshippers like to see? Marx called for the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, meaning a new society where the workers who create the wealth have complete control of the means of production. They democratically decide in their communities and workplaces the best way forward for the society. For the workers, by the workers. It could be described that this type of society is controlled from the bottom up which is entirely different to Stalin’s top down dictatorship where he himself made the decisions and he could not be removed from his position if the ordinary people didn’t like it.
The Ruling Class of today use Stalin and his dictatorship to turn people away from socialism. They explain that life under Stalin is what life under socialism would be like. They highlight that he presided over the ‘death of millions’. Their argument that Stalinism was socialist or communist is a farce but it gives us socialists a difficult time trying to convince people that a new and better world is possible.
In conclusion, Stalinism is counterrevolutionary and has dampened the flame of possible revolutions in many countries. To promote Stalin is to do the fight for a better society a great injustice. Stalin was a tyrant who epitomises the defeat of the Russian Revolution, was a brutal authoritarian and gives socialism a bad name. Therefore I appeal to the well meaning poster sharing Stalinists to look for a new idol and at least try not to get one of their lackeys to ram an ice pick in my head if they get into power.
Before we examine
An article by Garry Maclachlan, “The Problem with Stalin and Stalinism“ appeared on the Solidarity Website 27 Feb 2019. Some discussion ensued on Facebook, but I thought it would be best to write a response here.
Why should anyone be concerned now, about a Soviet politician who died almost seventy years ago?
What makes it worth discussing him in a small Scottish socialist party?
Socialist parties exist to propagate the ideas of socialism and to attempt to win political power. The basis of their appeal has to be the political and economic programme that they advance in the here and now. They do not impose on their members a single view of history. We do not insist that party members have a consistent view on the causes of the First World War, Churchill’s policy on the Second Front, or the correctness of Gaitskill’s policy towards the Common Market. If we can allow a diversity of views on history that has affected our own country, there is certainly no need for uniformity on Soviet or Turkish history. The strengths and weaknesses of Ataturk or Stalin as leaders of their countries in the 20th century does not affect Scotland in the 21st.
Garry says he is perturbed by seeing well-intentioned socialists sharing quotations by the late Soviet leader on Facebook. But why should this be worrying?
Presumably, the quotes themselves seem to say things that most socialists can readily agree with. It does not seem to be what the quotes say that perturbs him. Instead, he seems to think it risky that, well after the cold war, young people forming a favourable view of the USSR.
This is because the individual person, Stalin, came to represent much more than one person. In the terminology of Soviet propaganda, Stalin became a ‘banner’ (Figure 1). His name and face became a symbol for the victory of Soviet Power over German Imperialism, and still, within the countries of the former USSR is a symbol of the power of the working classes over the new capitalist classes (Figure 2).
For the capitalist classes in the West Stalin has become the symbol both of the peril that was defeated, and of the communist spectre that they fear may haunt them in the future. Stalinism is the label that the press here give to the economic system the Communists established: publicly owned industry, coordination by national plans, the subordination of the market to the plan, prohibition of the private employment of wage labour.
When the Labour Party takes timid steps back towards Clause 4 socialism, it is denounced by the liberal press as becoming ‘stalinist’. But that only works as a denunciation if ‘stalinism’ is seen as a very bad thing indeed.
So we have a paradox. In Russia, the opinion of Stalin is overwhelmingly favourable. A recent Levada poll shows that 57% have a favourable opinion of Stalin, 18% having a negative view (with the rest don’t know or no opinion). This from a population made up of people either old enough to directly remember the USSR or who hear about it from their own family.
Garry Maclachlan worries that the ruling class uses Stalin to discredit socialism. That is certainly true in Britain, but they can only do that as the end result of a propaganda campaign running over decades. In the West, it is enough to label a politician like Corbyn as being sympathetic to ‘stalinism’ to discredit him.
But who has the more realistic view of Stalin, Russians or us?
Are the Russians right to believe their own memories rather than our press?
Turn it around. Who will have a more realistic view of Thatcher, people in Scotland who experienced her, or Americans who only got favorable press accounts of her?
A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre
The negative image Stalin now has in the West had to be constructed. Back in the 1940s the popular view, including the press view, was favorable (Figure 3). Communist ideas enjoyed broader supporter support than at any time since. CP membership peaked at 56,000 in the late 40s. They won two MPs and over 100,000 votes in the 1945 General Election, with its candidates getting an average vote of 14.6%. The Party also took over half a million votes in the following year’s local council elections winning 215 council seats. At this point, during Stalin’s lifetime, association with him did not harm socialists. Stalin was the veritable spectre of communism and the fear this spectre instilled in our ruling classes allowed Attlee and Cripps to embark on the nearest thing to a transition to socialism that Britain has ever seen.
In due course, the powers of Old Europe entered into their holy alliance, NATO, to exorcise this spectre. Along with military preparation went ideological warfare. Contemporary readers will be familiar with the Integrity Initiative, which exists to covertly spread anti Russian stories through the press and internet. We know that they directly pay stipends to reporters, including some in Scotland to ensure that they place such stories.
But this is but a pale shadow of the efforts that the Secret Intelligence Service(SIS) and the CIA ran from the 50s to the 70s to disseminate stories hostile to the USSR. This effort went to the extent of funding historians and whole University schools (Glasgow School of Soviet Studies comes to mind) in order to develop and spread this propaganda. As a result, several generations grew up in the Anglo Saxon countries with anti-communism and anti-stalinism as part of their education. For the working class who did not go to university this came in the form of crude tabloid stories. For those who, with the expansion of university education, got a higher education there were the more sophisticated stories developed by paid historians like Conquest or the openly fictional works of the fascist Solzhenitsyn.
Tories were not the targets of this propaganda. The target was the labour movement and the left. The aim was to cultivate a ‘responsible’ left who would repudiate the USSR and in doing so would reject the ideas of a nationalised planned economy. The state would then pitch these against those in the labour movement who were seen as potentially sympathetic to the communism. From the MI6 standpoint these were a broad group which, in the 1970s ran from Harold Wilson to Arthur Scargill.
The SIS propaganda really paid dividends when Kinnock chucked nationalisation of industry and adopted the market socialist ideas developed by Prof Nove of Glasgow( a man with a SIS background). Shortly after, when Blair completely removed clause IV from the Labour constitution the work was done, and the schools of (anti-)Soviet Studies could be disbanded.
Now, 20 years later, the capitalist press is worried that the Spectre is re-awakening. A new generation, not exposed to the intensive propaganda of the past is expressing support for communism. The Nov 4 2017 Washington Times ran the headline:
Another poll reported
“One in five (23%) of Americans age 21-29 consider Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin a ‘hero’; 26% for Vladimir Lenin; 23% for Kim Jong Un,”
This is understandably worrying for the capitalist press in the USA. The last thing they want is to return to the situation of the 1940s when Stalin was widely seen as a hero. But it is strange that a member of a small Scottish socialist party should have the same worries.
A revival of Soviet imagery on the internet goes hand in hand with increases in class polarisation and increasing support for socialism. Far from being inversely related as Garry seems to fear, when Soviet imagery captures the imagination of youth, support for socialism rises. We should welcome it with open arms.
The last thing we should be doing is reviving the old SIS lies about communism killing millions. Thanks to the internet, Millennials have access to counter-narratives that were out of reach to previous generations. Just two links for now:
From Sputnik Holodomor Hoax: Joseph Stalin’s Crime That Never Took Place and from CounterPunch The Ukrainian Famine: Only Evidence Can Disclose the Truth
The Western press spreads absurd stories about 66 million deaths under Stalin. Well in one sense, all social systems have a 100% mortality rate. None offer immortality. So in a big country, there will be millions of deaths per decade. This real issue is how many premature deaths there are and whether life expectancy is going up or down.
You can not hide millions of premature deaths. They show up as declining population and declining life expectancy.
When you look at the actual population figures they show the opposite of what Garry claims. It was the deconstruction of the ‘stalinist’ system in the 1990s that brought about a catastrophic rise in the death rate. Figure 4 shows the trend of the Soviet population, steadily rising, except when interrupted by the German invasion. It is worth noting that anti-soviet sources often include deaths due to the German invasion as ‘victims of communism’.
If we contrast that trend up to the fall of communism with what happened after, the difference is dramatic (Figure 5). As soon as capitalism is restored deaths of poverty and despair shoot up. For Russia this amounts to some 12 million excess deaths. They are clearly visible in the graph. For a year by year breakdown, see Table 2.
At a time when capitalism in the UK and in the USA is bringing about terrible rises in death rates and declining life expectancy, what is point of repeating discredited cold war propaganda about life expectancy in the USSR? We should unhesitatingly state that it is socialism that brings longer life expectancy and capitalism that brings poverty despair and early death (Figure 6).
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