marxism-digest V1 #1195

M A Jones mark at
Sat Aug 7 09:18:39 MDT 1999

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> One may also ask: why was capitalism restored? Why did Eastern bloc
> citizens find it so difficult to resist restoration? Why have Russians
> unable to generate a powerful grassroots movement to topple the weak
> Yeltsin regime and rebuild socialism upon a new foundation? You'd rightly
> point to imperialist encirclement, insertion into the world market, etc.
> However, while I understand your desire to expose capitalist crocodile
> tears and blithe application of double standards,  I think it would be
> amiss to ignore the ill effects of repression executed in the name of
> socialism upon *citizens' political capacity*. Isn't it that socialism
> needs active, intelligent, & enthusiastice citizen-workers (unlike passive
> consumers under capitalism) who love (not just passively accept) socialism
> to safeguard its achievements and bring it to a higher level (especially
> under the context of capitalist encirclement)?

Destalinisation began in 1956. The period between then and the fall of the
USSR was more than a decade longer than the period of Stalin's unchallenged
leadership (1929-53). I don't quite buy the idea that the reason why people
in Eastern Europe are 'unable to generate a powerful grassroots movement' is
because they were in the thrall of a sickening stalinist dictatorship which
put them off socialism etc. You can argue that the regimes were the lineal
descendants of stalinism. I think I'd rather not simply exchange views about
that, because it immediately becomes the formulaic exchange of labels, eg
'state capitalist' 'degenerate bureaucracy' or whatever. I'd prefer to
investigate the quite complex evolution of the USSR and eastern Europe after
1953 in proper empiric detail. Before doing that I think it's important to
try to establish some common ground about the nature of the Soviet Thirties,
the crucible decade in Soviet state formation, and that's what I'm trying to
do. But for what it's worth, it has to be said that in Russia today the
ONLY viable mass party/popular movement is led by the KPRF (routinely
denounced by some as stalinist, fascistic etc).

The real reason why there are no 'powerful grassroots movements' in eastern
europe  is the same reason there are so few anywhere: because of the
conjuncture, which has fatally (for the revolution) disarticulated national
liberation from social class emancipation, without at the same time
permitting the emergence of a new authentically-international proletarian
upswelling or movement. I think this is a bad thing for those of us living
thru it, but also a good thing in a general sense, because it means that the
obverse of the globalisation coin is, for the first time, world revolution
as the only way out of capitalist crisis/proletarian political impasse. This
is a huge thing, almost unquantifiable in its significances, but it does
point the way to the World Revolution and the birth of true proletarian
internationalism which Marx and Lenin spoke of. Obviously, 'socialism in one
country' is now historically meaningless and irrelevant, so there cannot be
a reversion to High Stalinism, which does not offer a path to emancipation
any more than say Syndicalism or Trade Unionism does. But as I say, Russia
is one of the few places on earth where a Communist Party which acknowledges
Stalin as inspiration, is the most popular electoral party by far, at least
twice as popular say as Luzhkov's Fatherland. You can only ignore the
implications of that by decrying the electors themselves, which I'm sure you
would not do. I disagree with your characterisation of workers under High
Stalinism as passive, unintelligent, unenthusiastic (if that's what you;re
saying). I think there is plenty of evidence to show a quite different kind
of Soviet worker, and I'll be trying to deploy some of it.

Louis wrote that the Bolsheviks were democratic before the revolution, so
why weren't they afterwards, if not for the wicked Stalin etc?:

> Now that you mention it, the Bolshevik Party operated under extreme duress
> prior to seizing power. Under Czarism, they were a clandestine
> who faced beatings, jailing, torture and murder. If anything, the advent
> WWI increased the repression. Antiwar voices were hounded into silence.
> it was exactly during this period of extreme terror and repression that
> Bukharin challenged Lenin in the public pages of a Bolshevik newspaper on
> core programmatic elements, including the national question. A wrong
> position on the national question, if adopted by the party, could have
> arguably resulted in a defeat of the revolution. But Lenin did not object
> to this challenge because it was normal and accepted. Bolsheviks
> with each other vociferously, often and in public.

Lenin did not object? That is surely wrong.

But aside from that (for now), this charcterisation ignores both the context
and the moment which shaped the difference inside the Party before and after
the revolution. For one thing, 1917 was the crest of a revolutionary wave,
not just in Russia but throughout the world. The Soviet Thirties on the
other hand saw the consolidation of the still shaky Soviet power in the
midst of growing reaction and a rising counter-revolutionary wave. This is
almost enough by itself to explain the different inner-party atmosphere,
even leaving aside the absolutely clear and documentable connection between
the Purges in the late Thirties and the threat of fascism and a two-front
war against Germany and Japan.

But in any case, there is simply no meaningful comparison to make between
the pre-revolutionary Bolsheviks, a clandestine, hunted party whose
inner-party debates were almost definitionally of no direct interest to the
Russian masses, who were unaware even of their existence; and the
post-revolutionary Party which, especially after the post-1924 'Lenin
enrolment', was totally different, organisationally, aspirationally,
sociologically and in terms of its historical status as the Party of state
power trying to manage an industrial economy, improve labour productivity,
plan investment etc (a Soviet person inadvertently explained it to me by
saying that, when she got a job working for Coca-Cola (in 1992) who were
then setting up in post-Soviet Russia, she found, with surprise, that the
corporate atmosphere was almost exactly like that inside the old CPSU:
'These Americans behave just like Komsomols,' she said somewhat bitterly,
'they are faceless, insecure, backstabbing corporate apparatchiki,' or words
to that effect.) Pre-1917, Bukharin or anyone else of course could debate in
the Party press, but that hardly alters the fact that what Lenin wanted to
create was a party 'ruled by martial law', as he put it, where 'everyone
would be a cog or screw', activated from above: he said that to Rosa
Luxemburg in about 1905; funnily enough, it is usual to  blame Stalin for
describing people as 'vintiki', 'screws', but actually what Stalin said (and
he was consciously, ironically, referring to Lenin's earlier statement) was
that 'we should drink a toast to the 'vintiki' because they are the ones who
build everything and make it all possible', and not the high bureaucrats and
Party officials: and that definitely was Stalin's attitude and was one
reason for his popularity. He was seen as the defender of the little people.
If you read not just contemporary propaganda, but memoirs, letters, diaries
etc, or if you talk to people old enough to remember what it was like, you
see this clearly; western sovietologists shrug it off by referring to it, in
the usual way they insult ordinary Russians, as the 'tsar and his
counsellors' syndrome: ie the notion that people always blame
the Tsar's ministers for whatever goes wrong: 'If only Comrade
Stalin knew,' etc. But I don't think people were quite so stupid.

Bukharin got the same right to speak as any small vintik working on the
shopfloor, or in ideological production or wherever, not more nor less and
why not? Why *should* he get more, *in principle*? The fact that Stalin
treated the bosses with such even-handed harshness was something ordinary
people simply adored about him; he dished out to them what these
self-important grandees loved to dish out to the other 'vintiki'. He evened
things up; it was great to know that, no matter how bad or oppressive things
were on your own Kolkhoz or factory floor, the Boss was on your side and was
leaning just as hard on the people who were screwing you. John Scott
describes factory meetings were directors got terrible roastings from the
workforce, who were quite sure that Stalin was on their side and also wanted
to root out slothful and corrupt management (Scott had left Russia by this
time). But when resolutions on foreign policy (for example the Nazi-Soviet
Pact) were put to the same workers, they voted 'unanimously and without
debate' for the resolution: they knew what was allowed and what was not;
there was a kind of social contract here, and it worked.

Speaking of 'inner-party democracy' which is alleged to have been
Lenin's main metier, you say:

> Stalin put an end to all this nonsense. He made sure that he would put
> teeth into the "Bolshevization" strictures of the 1924 Comintern. Not only
> would it be essential to have democratic centralism, it would be important
> to weed out oppositon in the party prior to party conventions. If, after
> all, Bukharin or Zinoviev, were transmitting alien class influences, it
> necessary to protect the ranks of the party from such germs. Eventually
> this led to the death penalty for incorrect ideas.

If politics are in command and ideas are a material force, it's really no
surprise that they should come surrounded by policemen and judges. You may
think this is cynical, but it surprises me that we so rarely reflect on the
problem of how ideological discourses must inevitably be subject to
legitimising, controlling, shaping processes, in circumstances where a
revolution has created a strong state in order to defend its social basis
from besieging enemies. But in fact all you are doing here, in the guise of
a 'left libertarian' critique of the 'zinovievist' Comintern, is
very familiar anti-soviet, bourgeois-liberal ideas about human rights,
individual freedom of expression etc. This has nothing to do with Marxism,
or with Lenin's views either (I repeat, it was he who tried to shape a party
which would operate 'like a factory under martial law'). A socialist state
which permits the freedoms you seek, in conditions of capitalist
encirclement, will inevitably be crushed, and what will follow will really
be the kafkaesque nightmare of modern post-soviet Russia.

> Because of this, the Stalinist movement internationally operating under
> Stalin's guidance became characterized by sycophancy. It was impossible to
> criticize Stalin or else face expulsion. This meant that when the CP of
> Cuba, for example, operating under the guidance of its big brother in the
> US, backed the thug Batista, anybody opposed to the turn would have to
> his mouth shut. Everybody knew that the American party was the
> belt of Stalin's wisdom.

Louis, Stalin was already dead and you are describing Khrushchev's policy
not Stalin's. This is the key issue: not was Stalin a great democrat
like Lenin (I'm sure he was, and they both shared the same general
approach, which Trotsky and Bukharin and all the leadership came to
share) but whether or not Stalin was still trying to overthrow world
capitalism or not, and ditto Khrushchev.

Khrushchev was an appeaser. Some people think Stalin was an
appeaser, too. They say he tried to appease Hitler, and later, Roosevelt.
Nestor and Julio suggested that Latin American CP's were disgustingly
compromised even in Stalin's time. I am sure this is true. However, I do not
think that *the historical record*, if you examine it carefully, suggests
that Stalin was an appeaser. He was not. His attitude to US imperialism
1945 was (as David Horowitz in 'Stalin and the Bomb' documents) defined by
the need to prove to the West that the USSR could not be intimidated, while
not allowing tensions to rise to the point where the Third World War (which
Stalin considered inevitable, altho he also told Mao for instance it may be
delayed 'for decades') would take place while the US had the Bomb and the
USSR did not. This stance defined Stalin's policy towards China, in the
Berlin crisis (1948), and over Korea. Since the USSR did not have viable
means to drop nukes on the US until after Stalin's death, we can only
speculate what difference that might have made; but there are some grounds,
based on things he said and did, and on things in the archives, for
supposing that he would not have indulged US imperialism the way that
Khrushchev did. Stalin, like Lenin, did not believe in peaceful coexistence
as a goal, only as a tactic; he believed that inter-imperialist
conflict and war was always going to happen, and that
the problem for the USSR was to stay out of it as long as possible, and to
so act that the process of revolution which generally followed war, could be
stimulated. Khrushchev and his successors, apart possibly from Andropov, did
not believe this. They believed in 'strategic parity' and MAD, which they
though safeguarded the socialist bloc, and froze the international system
into Two World Systems. This was merely the formularising of the terms of
betrayal and capitulation which were dictated by virtue of the fact that
none of Stalin's successors except Andropov, were able to consolidate power;
all were hostages to internal party deals and feuding, and in order to make
the pay-offs they needed to make, they all, starting with Beria's failed
attempt on power in 1953, had to court the West for one reason or another.

It did not take long for the 'thaw' to come. By 1956 Khrushchev was going on
guided tours around British nuclear weapons facilities and denouncing Stalin
from the Party podium. It is usual to say that this pathetic outcome  was
Stalin's fault too: after all, this was his (?state-cap ?degenerate etc etc)
system, these were his creatures that he'd promoted.  But that is actually
deny *everything*: industrialisation, Soviet victory in world war two, the
preservation of the principal social gains of 1917, everything. It was this
total process which produced both the limits and potentialities of the
soviet system. Soviet victory was so absolute, comprehensive and stunning
that no-one questioned it: as Stalin said, the war was an 'all-round test'
of the Soviet system, which it passed. Those who had endured so much, and
won so much, saw no reason to change much and once they had the bomb, they
felt secure. But what they in fact inherited, politically speaking, was a
corpse: a party and state so completely warped by the Thirties and
Forties, by the whole climacteric of Soviet collectiviation and
industrialisation, followed by the staggering human and material
losses of the war (which in fact the USSR NEVER made good)
that it was truly a factory under martial law,
militarised and unthinking, and deprived of intelligent leadership
(Khrushchev was simply a fool). Ideological regeneration might have
been possible under different external circumstances, but the realities of
Containment placed a terrible premium on stability redefined as
political paralysis. There was too much to lose, and nothing
for that particular leadership to gain, from embarking on
the absolutely-necessary Cultural Revolution.

Stalin had said to Zhou en-Lai in 1948 that 'if the Chinese communists take
power, and if China and Russia stay united, then the victory of world
socialism is assured.' That was one "if" too many and once Khrushchev
destroyed the link with China the project was just as surely doomed.

Lou quoted stalin:

> "Our Party alone knows where to direct the cause; and it is leading it
> forward successfully. To what does our Party owe its superiority? To the
> fact that is a Marxian Party, a Leninist Party. It owes it to the fact
> it is guided in its work by the tenets of Marx, Engels and Lenin. There
> cannot be any doubt that as long as we remain true to these tenets, as
> as we have this compass, we will achieve success in our work."
> Who in the world would write simpleminded nonsense like this ? Actually,
> the words are by Joseph Stalin, from "Foundations to Leninism".

But this was written for the benefit of the Lenin Enrolment, not you and
me. These were tens of thosuands of new recruits who had barely
given over polishing the  icon lamps in their village church, who
wore bast shoes and  whose own fathers had sometimes shot the
first Commissars Lenin sent into the countryside with imported
Fordson tractors because they believed that machinery was the
work of the devil (as E H Carr  relates). These were sometimes
people who quite literally never saw an architectural rightangle
or a vertical line before they left their tumble-downs and came to
Party school in a provincial town somewhere. It astonishes me that
we can so clearly fail to contextualise things (and BTW, this
is a large, compendious textbook of Marxism and, formulaic
as it is, there is much that is good and worthwhile in it). This
textbook was the beginning of a gigantic process of social uplift
which did indeeed turn these people into the engineers, constructors
and fabricators of the Five Year Plans. It is really a shame to elide
the extraordinary achievement of those years in the name of our jaded,
over-clever modern Marxism.

> Let us take a close look at Stalin's intervention into the American
> Communist Party in order to understand how unlike Lenin's Bolshevik party
> these Comintern parties had become. Let us review what Lenin understood as
> Bolshevism in the early 1900's: simply put, democratic centralism in
> and a newspaper that allowed various tendencies within Marxism to contend
> with each other.

Really? That is simply wrong. It is simply not what Lenin believed the Party
should be. He wanted a militarised party capable of organising an
insurrectionary seizure of state power. As for the account which follows of
the Soviet Twenties and of Stalin/Bukharin relations, I do not think it is
remotely near the truth.

Mark Jones

More information about the Marxism mailing list