Forwarded from Nestor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Jan 31 15:09:02 MST 2000

> [...] Getty-Naumov [are said to] argue that Stalin's reign of terror
> had nothing to do with
> consolidating his personal rule. And that Bukharin gave credit to
> Stalin as a guardian of the revolutionan, despite a long record of
> vocal opposition since the war on the Kulaks. J. Arch Getty, upon
> whose "research" Zizek's article rests, [...] His previous claim to fame
> was "Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party
> Reconsidered, 1933-1938," a book that makes the case that Stalin's
> Terror was fairly minor. Getty thinks that thousands rather than
> millions were executed. Getty is the favorite of paleo-Stalinists on
> the Internet such as Adolfo Olaechea, the maniacal London spokesmen
> for the defunct Shining Path.

It is not necessary to be an Olaechea to read these theses with some
interest. While it is absurd to disregard the influence of Stalin's
struggle for personal rule, and it is frankly outrageous to assume
that Stalin's Terror was "minor", it is also true that neither fact
can make us forget that Stalin's ascent was a Thermidor in EVERY
sense, that is, in the sense that it destroyed the basic spirit of
revolutionary struggle but also in the sense that it did so while
keeping the basic structures of a Russian State on foot and free from
imperialist intervention.

It is a common mistake among mainstream Trotskyists (not necessarily
of Trotsky himself) to blame Stalin's personal thirst of power for
the tragedy of the revolution.  It is also stupid to assume that the
Terror was part and parcel of the Bolshevik party, or of Bolshevik
ideology. Things like the Lenin Promotion explain many of these
events far better than a Primeval Bolshevik Sin, but foreign
intervention and encirclement could hardly fail to produce, if not a
Stalin, some form of authoritarian regime (the main difference lies,
probably, in that while for Stalin this State was a goal in itself,
for Lenin, Trotsky, and even Bukharin, it was just a transitional
stage in the struggle against imperialism).

[After an impressive beginning, where the spirits of the Old
Bolsheviks are summoned together with that of Yezhov, the reviewer
quoted by Louis Pr. goes on like this:]

> Until now, the official line has been that the purge was a coup to
> clear any rivals from Stalin's path to supreme power. He personally
> ordered the assassination of Sergei Kirov [...] thus excusing a reign
> of terror against anyone, be he Trotskyist or "White Guard", who could
> be identified as their enemy. Robert Conquest [ ...]made as
> complete a case against Stalin as the available archival
> evidence allowed.


Personally, I did not need Conquest's research to know that something
horrible had happened during the late 30s in Russia (even though many
Russians cherish those times today, a wonderful explanation of what
does "capitalism" mean on which I expand a little afterwards!).  But
his was, true, an important milestone. What I do not understand is
why can this work be opposed to something that should appear almost
as an obvious thing, namely that, as J Arch Getty (arch-Getty?! what
a name!) has been discovering, things were not exactly that easy.  It
does not particularly stun me (nor does, IMHO, imply the need to
revise radically the "established story") to know that

> the Terror [...] had not been a meticulously planned campaign to crush
> opposition to
> Stalin but rather stemmed from internecine strife between left and
> right in the Nomenklatura that Stalin exploited to his own advantage.

[Maybe I am not amazed because I am Argentinian, and know the ways of
the State in dealing with the internecine struggles between wings of
the revolutionary movement during a Bonapartist avatar of

 But this newly recovered evidence stresses more than ever that
Stalin's attempt at autocratic power was SOCIALLY MEANINGFUL, that he
was the man that the Russian State needed to crush the actual classes
at work, and that his personal struggle was interwoven with the large
political drama of an isolated revolution in a backwards, encircled
country where, five years after revolution, the working class had
been decimated and was in the grip of the selfish petty peasant. It
is absolutely unimportant to establish whether

> Stalin, [...] probably had no hand in Kirov's murder,

or not. The really important thing is that he was the only one who
could benefit from that murder, in the sense that since it

>  panicked the Nomenklatura, coming as it did on the heels of
> the great famine and an upsurge of discontent with Moscow's leadership
> from the countryside,

it couldn't but smother the already suffocated political dissenters
(dissenters tended to express, knowingly or unknowingly, social
classes, and if there is one thing in this world that cannot stand
dissent, that thing is the State, in Capital Letters).

Now, that state gone, Russia is in the grip of imperialist power and
its local lackeys. So, we should not be surprised to find out that
attempts to restore the state _as such_ (the best legacy of Russian
socialist history, keep this in mind, the best thing in the past of
the Russian workers!) meet good reception from the masses.

The problem does not lie in unraveling the inner workings of the
formation of the Stalinist state, since these inner workings are not
essential to understand its historic role.  The problem lies in how
to restore not only the State but also the revolutionary ideology
that got Russians to save their own State from the machinations of
imperialists, only to see their own socialist revolution headed by
policemen and bureaucrats.

It is interesting to perceive that the Russians are discovering that
even those policemen and bureaucrats were far better than the
"democrats" they have now, but it is not enough. I still believe that
history will ask the Russians to take the burden of humanity on their
own shoulders again, as the only means to save themselves.
We shall see.  In the meantime, these attempts to unravel the
political meaning of the struggles within the Nomenklatura cannot but
be welcome, even though we find them of little interest or even when
we do not agree with them. Historical consciousness is the first step
of political independence.

Louis Proyect

(The Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list