STALINISM IN THEORY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Tue Mar 21 11:31:14 MST 1995


As I said, I think the Stalinism-Marxism handwringing is rather
old.  The strategy thus far is to ferret out from Marx's writings
those nuggets that can be misused out of context in the hands of
miscreants.  So far, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is the
most damning candidate, though if you read Hal Draper's works on
Marx your hopes to condemn Marx will be scotched.

The links to Lenin are obviously more promising.  Justin
Schwartz's citation of Victor Serge's notable quote, however, says
all I think that needs to be said.  I used to follow the
professional cold war Sovietologists, of which many have stated
publicly that the Bolsheviks' original intent was democratic, and
they broke under the pressure of the Civil War.

There is the question of analyzing Stalinism and all similar
dictatorships that came after according to (1) historical
materialism itself (also my suggestion), (2) Stalinist Marxist
theory, (3) the various linkages between Stalinism and prior
Marxism theoretically and practically.

This is my view: if you want to pinpoint the ideas that have
caused mischief in the past and ensure that they don't cause
mischief in the future, why not look at the philosophical
underpinnings of Stalinism itself?  This too is old but it is
useful.  One might compare Stalinist ideas with those that came
before, but first one ought to establish how Stalinism misused
those ideas.

I researched this topic extensively several years back before I
got into the history of Trotskyism, CLR James, etc.  There has
been much much much written about Stalinist philosophy, but there
is still room for generalizations.  I am suffering from a
dislocated shoulder so I'll make this brief.  I'll list a few
theoretical notions that have caused much mischief.

1. "The unity of theory and practice": I don't believe any such
thing has ever existed, will exist, or can exist.  I sympathize
with the original impetus behind this notion, but its formulation
cries out for abuse.  When one looks at the horrible abuses
perpetrated by Stalin and Mao under this name, the phrase becomes
sullied beyond purification.  The stupid pragmatism with which
this slogan was enforced destroyed the arts and the sciences in
the USSR in the 1930s and in China during Mao's even more vile,
irrational, and nihilistic "Cultural Revolution".  Theoretically,
the crime began in January 1931, when Stalin censured the
philosopher Deborin and inaugurated the New Turn in Soviet
philosophy which made it ecclesiastical.  An intellectual abortion
called "the Leninist stage in philosophy" was manufactured and
didn't die out until the USSR was finally destroyed.  History has
proved beyond a doubt that such Machiavellian crypto-pragmatism is
the most impractical thing in the world.

2.  "Proletarian literature" / "proletarian culture":  I don't
recall these ersatz entities in Marx.  For Marx, the proletarian
revolutionaries "do not want to remain as of old"; they remake
themselves as they remake the world (THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY).  The
task of the proletariat is to abolish itself as a class.  The
proletariat and the bourgeoisie exist only in relation to one
another; when the contradiction is abolished, the proletariat
disappears together with the bourgeoisie and the contradiction
between them.  The proletariat is the universal class, the only
one that can and must abolish all injustice and not just its own.
Ergo, the romanticism of the uncultured "working stiff" (stiff = a
dead thing) doesn't exist for Marx.  For Marx the universal is not
the proletariat as it is, the revolution, or even socialism.  The
universal is unalienated humanity, that heals the divisions and
wounds within itself, developing all its capacities in full.  We
know of course that "proletarian literature" was only the
political pornography of the bureaucratic party apparatus.

3.  Collectivism, or the war against the individual:  Marx's
repudiation of collectivism in THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY and elsewhere
is almost clairvoyant.  (Funny how this supposedly boring
unpublished book of interest only to specialists was published in
full in English translation only in 1964.)  Collectivism is the
first principle of totalitarianism.  The masses are just masses,
not individuals; only the Farther of the Peoples or the Great
Helmsman is allowed to have any personality at all (see STATE
CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION by CLR James et al).  Closely
allied with the myth of collectivism is:

4.  The death of the subject / the fiction of the self /
theoretical anti-humanism: the most pernicious, dehumanizing,
horrendous social-fascist notion ever devised by the sick brain of
the intellectual.  This notion of course is as popular among the
postmodernists as it was among Stalinist creeps like Louis
Althusser.  In answer to the question 'was Stalin an ogre': yes,
but to understand this one must know that one must dehumanize
oneself before dehumanizing others.  Intellectuals are paper
people; they think the masses operate only on animal instinct (can
the subaltern speak?), but their lives are even wispier, riding
whichever way the ideological winds blow.  The smarter among them,
whose chief occupation is discerning which asses to kiss, realize
the evanescence of their unitary self.  The point of being part of
the bureaucratic-managerial stratum is always to be
other-directed, to not have a self, and if these educated,
sophisticated people don't have a self, well, how could these
blue-collar dumbbells and hayseeds possibly have selves either.
Wallowing in the effluvia of their own self-satisfied artificial
existence, they overlook the fact that everyone who ever emerged
from the mind-numbing and soul-destroying monotony of a hard life
of toil and poverty took as his/her first spiritual priority the
acquisition of a coherent, defined, unitary self.  Look at the
biography of every single writer who ever existed that came from
the bottom: Richard Wright, James Baldwin .... I could go on and
on.  Every one developed their sense of self through reading,
through thinking, and through writing.  They had to do it to keep
their sanity.  Not a one worried about 'the anxiety of influence',
the totalitarianism of discourse and the metaphysical bane of
language, or the evils of the Enlightenment.  They all craved
enlightenment; modernity pulled them out of superstitious
semi-feudal darkness of the mind.  They didn't have the luxury of
dissolving themselves into the media environment and bellyaching
about the uselessness of reason.  The average person would give
his eye teeth to be able to slow down the rat race long enough to
develop a self, but the intellectual, bored to death with his
paper self, thinks his campaign against individuality is somehow
progressive, when it just draws the totalitarian bonds of capital
(private or state) tighter and tighter.  It is to spit.

Undoubtedly, further philosophical underpinnings of Stalinoid
totalitarianism will be adumbrated.  I just mention a few that
leap out at me.  Because whenever somebody throws any of the
nonsense criticized above at me, I don't bother to argue with
them.  I will never call them comrade.  I will walk away and never
speak to them again.


     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

     ------------------



More information about the Marxism mailing list