Stalin and Stalinism (Was Open and Closed Minds ...)

Matt D. afn02065 at
Tue Jun 27 16:44:26 MDT 1995

Leo writes:

>'Prejudices' so understood involve basic values -- something akin to the
>Kantian a priori. One of my basic values -- and hence my 'prejudices' -- is
>that my mind is 'closed' with respect to the use of mass murder for political


>It is simply morally and politically repugnant and indefensible, and I
>am not in the slightest bit interested in discussions of its virtues with
>those who would be its apologists. Stalinism is the name given to the
>politics (and crimes) of the Soviet state in its period of mass murder of
>millions of human beings, and to the politics of those who have supported and
>defended that state.

Bracketing (not denying!), if we might for a moment, the issue of Stalin's
crimes ... It would seem to me that it's rather unfair to reduce the
enormous social, political and cultural upheavals that took place in the
Soviet Union between 1928 and 1953 to the "work" of any one man--even
Stalin.  And so is it unfair (and unproductive) to forswear any
investigation or analysis of these events and developments--negative AND
positive--on the basis of a "Stalin = bad" perspective.

>Today, those who deny the nature and practices of the
>Stalinist state are little more than 'Red' holocaust revisionists, and those
>who would explain away its crimes in one or another fashion are 'Red'
>versions of Nolte and the German 'conservative historians' who would
>rationalize the Nazi terror as a response to the 'Soviet threat'. While
>analyses of the causes of Stalinism may be complex and admit many different
>views, there is nothing remotely complicated about the moral and political
>nature of Stalinism itself.

Whoa!  Let's leave the Stalin=Hitler/Communism=Nazism parallels for the
likes of the Discovery Channel (tm)...  In any event, to approach this
period of Soviet history in a manner other than "What new perfidy did J.S.
perpetrate today?" is not the same as "denying" or "explaining away" anything.

I have the feeling that this is sort of what Scott Marshall has suggested in
the past.

Also, and this bears perhaps on Doug's "open-mindedness" -- the terms
"Stalinism" and "Stalinist" have been used all-too-often in the past as
perjoratives tossed about by reactionaries and anti-communists, especially
those who fancy themselves "of the left".  So it's important not to approach
their usage uncritically, or in a simplistic fashion.  (Of course, there are
a few on this list who enjoy tossing those labels around with seeming
abandon--but we can presume that's offered in something like a spirit of fun.)

>My prejudice with regard to Stalinism appears to offend Doug, for whom an
>open mind concerning this topic is important. When such fundamental values
>are in conflict, there is little to be gained by conversation. Cloak it up as
>you will, condemn those who insist upon stating the bald truth here as
>McCarthyites if you want, but the historical (moral-political) character of
>Stalinism -- both in the Soviet state and in the sycophantic Communist
>Parties from around the world which were dependent upon that state -- is a
>closed issue for those who place any value on the dignity of human life, on
>democratic norms, and so on.

Well, compared to what?  Stalinism came and went.  In some ways (I think
mostly superficial) it "strengthened" socialism.  In other ways (I think
more fundamental) it weakened it.  It was a great tragedy for millions of
folks.  Still, it didn't destroy socialism all by itself.  And all things
considered, a socialist world with the blemish of twenty years of Stalinism
would still approach utopia compared to the capitalism that we're living
every day.

Stalin is a part of socialist history.  We can learn from it, and we should.
 And then we can move on.  As for "overcoming" the legacy of Stalinism, I
think it was Paul Cockshott who has pointed out that for workers around the
world, rightly or wrongly, Stalin is not the evil shade that he seems to be
for so many American (and European?) marxist intellectuals.

-- Matt D.

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