Stalin, Mao, Castro and all that!

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Sun Jul 9 13:43:50 MDT 1995

On Sun, 9 Jul 1995, Chris Burford wrote:
> Subject: Stalin, Mao, Castro and all that!
> Hello Chris [S]
> There are very few fools in my opinion on this list, and you are
> certainly not one of them. It helps a lot to have some
> non-marxists such as yourself on the list and recently I bought a
> book by Hayek because I thought if you rate him highly there must
> be something in him. (Getting round to reading it is another matter :)
	Which book did you buy?  There are better places to start than

> Although some members of the list still do write in terms of
> championing individuals, and it is hard to divorce our attitudes
> to individuals from ideas, I was surprised you reacted so strongly.
	Yes, we can chalk up the strong response to frustration.  I am
very attuned to historical circumstance, and very self-consciously
dialectical in my approach.  But I've been reading so much lately that
borders on complete moral agnosticism that it sometimes disturbs me (and
those readings are not all from this list).  I simply believe that we
cannot continue to whitewash mass murder; to discuss such matters in
completely antiseptic terms is simply unacceptable.  I am certainly not
accusing you, Chris B., of doing this--but talk of Stalin's
"achievements" while hardly recognizing his monstrous crimes is simply an

> I don't agree with your assumption that moral outrage is a
> core component of marxism, although it often motivates the
> non-marxist left, and the marxists will often align with it when
> progressive.
	Well, I agree with you that from the perspective of "essential"
components of Marxism--as a scientific perspective--moral outrage per se
is not a "core component."  But it is motivation that is so profoundly
important in all politics.  "Objectivity" is a relationship between human
consciousness and reality--it is not something "out there" divorced from
how we perceive it.  It is not neutrality.  There is no such thing as
neutrality.  Each of us brings to discourse our own premises--moral and
otherwise--and occasionally it is a healthy exercise in moral outrage
that puts the fire back in social analysis.  Marx did say, after all,
that dialectics is both "critical and revolutionary"-- and since we are
not apt to divorce facts from values, but to see values in their
relationship to facts -- I think it is essential that radicals who wish
to call themselves by that privileged distinction retain a sense of
moral purpose.

> Rather some of us are saying that to avoid repeating history we have
> to understand it.
> You grant
> >>>
> one cannot abstract such individuals from their
> historical circumstances--which often dictated various means of achieving
> certain ends that in the final analysis, only undermined the end itself.
> <<<
> To expect Castro to have the same understanding of homosexuality in the
> seventies as some of us may have in the 90's is ahistorical. Further to
> assume that even if he did have the understanding we consider to be
> correct now, that he would have known how to translate it into an
> administrative structure acrosss the country. Further to assume that
> we are at a moral pinnacle in knowing about these problems. 10 years
> ago no one knew about child sex abuse. Should Freud be denounced for
> complicity?
	Hey, I completely agree that it is wrong to judge other contexts
from one's own context--at least for analytical purposes.  But lots of
societies, including our own, have had a long history of anti-gay and
lesbian cultural practices.  When those practices move beyond the purely
cultural conservatism that marks say, the Christian Coalition--which
apparently, has never reached the point of '90s enlightenment and
tolerance--and embrace the political, that is the point at which to speak
out and defend the rights of the "undefendable."  It must be understood
that when power is centered in the administrative apparatus of the state,
the simple prejudices of a leader can become political policy and a
prescription for social repression.  I couldn't care less how Castro
--or Ralph Reed--feels towards gays and lesbians; but when such
prejudices become political policy, a line has to be drawn somewhere.
The point is that Hayek is right in this regard--when the state has such
control over social, economic, and political life, it is political power
that is the only power worth having, and it is political power that is
 ultimately, the nexus for social repression.  And this is a
lesson which up till this point in history, has been virtually universal.

> Concerning China, I have not read anyone defending the Cultural Revolution
> although I think that as things started to go wrong in China in the mid
> fifties one of the motivations was to find any way to avoid repeating the
> Soviet and "Stalinist" structure of society that was fast being established.
> Once any society starts to imprison people without a code of inspection,
> tragedies and worse can occur. 20,000 are said to have died in concentration
> camps run by the British. A fact not widely publicised.
	British colonialism and imperialism, I suspect, has caused the
death of far more than 20,000.

> When you think
> of Kennedy, and I guess a number of subcribers to this list may have some
> warm feelings about Kennedy, should we have a sense of outrage that
> he took the decision to send US troops to Vietnam which resulted in the
> Me Lai massacre (sp?) If history had been a little different he might
> have been put on trial rather than say, Honecker.
> No body talks about Kennedy as a war criminal, because close up to the
> facts you can see the dynamic of history to which Kennedy contributed but
> did not control. We have to see Kennedy, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler
> as part of history. Hayek too should be evaluated, like Smith and Locke,
> and I have no doubt that your forthcoming book on Ayn Rand will add
> to serious scholarship, even if it does not start a mass movement.
	Yes, I do agree that each figure must be understood within their
respective contexts, and as you see, I claimed as such in my original
post.  But there is a delicate balance that has yet to be fully assessed
and understood between contextual understanding and evaluation.  We can
understand that within the context of German history and philosophy,
there was much that contributed to the atmosphere of anti-Semitism and
racism.  And if the Nazis won the war and history had been written by the
victors, there would be few voices left to defend the Jews, the gypsys,
the gays, the Slavs, etc.  I simply think that as social scientists, we
need to address these delicate issues.  We don't have to subscribe to an
absolutist sense of morality in order to be moral.  And in recognizing
context, we don't have to sanction the tragedy that unfolds within that

> I may have to differ with you about moral outrage being an obligatory >
component of Marxism. Perhaps you did not quite say that? > Regards, > >
Chris B. > > > > > --- from list marxism at ---

					- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics

     --- from list marxism at ---


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