Stalin & Marxism

Guy Yasko guyy at
Fri Mar 10 17:54:54 MST 1995

I think the metaphor of contamination that people have been using in the
discussion of Marxism and Stalin needs examination.  Like Jon Beasley-Murray@
and Justin Schwartz, I'm not convinced it's the best way to look at the problem
of Stalinism. If the problem lies at such a deep level of Marxist thought, then
how does one account for the differences among Marxists?  One could say that
most of them didn't  have the chance to develop into Stalinists, but there's no
way to know for sure.  Some might claim that Trotsky was essentially no
different from Stalin and that given the chance, he would have become another
Stalin.  Maybe so, but all we know is that despite his faults, Trotsky did not
become another Stalin.  This suggests to me that a contamination framework may
not be the best tool in helping us understand the past, and that there is
something more at work here.   At the other extreme, one splits hairs over good
Stalinists and bad Stalinists, much like the Americans did with Nazis and
fascists after WWII. @Here one considers only the individuals, and not
Stalinism as thought.

I can identify one more problem with the general framework of contamination:
even after a rupture with Marxism, the authoritarianism and violence may remain.
I run across many instances of this in research on '68.  This continuity of
violence and authoritarianism indicates that something beyond Marxist thought is
operating here.  Of course, it's possible to argue that this form of white
terror results from a move from Marxism to liberalism or a failure to move away
from Western metaphysical thinking; that is to say, from a failure to develop a
true alternative.  However, such an answer raises questions of specificity.

When one encounters such an impasse, it usually indicates that there is a
problem with the general analytic framework. The resemblances to theological
arguments over the nature of sin should also tip us off.

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