On Friday, December 21, we held an emergency demonstration outside the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles to protest against the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s threats to commit war crimes against the Kurds, Assyrians, and Arabs within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during an invasion of Syria east of the Euphrates that has been announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The prospect of this new Turkish offensive has been been facilitated by Donald Trump’s sudden order on Wednesday, December 19, to withdraw all U.S. special forces from Syria within 100 days. As a result, SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel has warned that “More than four million are exposed to the danger of massive displacement, escaping from possible genocide.” Meanwhile, while Erdoğan has reportedly postponed the offensive to coordinate with U.S. withdrawal, his military still has been making preparations for the invasion.
Shortly after our action ended, John Parker, a writer for the new Struggle-La Lucha online periodical who was not present at the action, wrote this about our demonstration over the Action LA listserv:
“This is actually reactionary and encourages the U.S. war against Syria. Iran and Syria are primary targets of U.S. imperialism.”
Please allow us to respond publicly to this problematic framing of our demonstration.
We invite Parker, our comrades, and our readers to review the content of our coverage of the Syria withdrawal, with particular emphasis on the slogans from our action, which can be found here. Readers will find that these are not remotely reactionary, but rather internationalist and based in humanism. They follow our choice to support Syrian workers and peasants of all ethnicities in their struggles against Bashar al-Assad’s bourgeois-terror regime and his authoritarian backers, Russia and Iran.
As to Parker’s assumptions that Assad is a primary target of U.S. imperialism, and that there is a “U.S. war against Syria,” we would direct comrades to Saturday’s news:
“United States special representative for Syria James Jeffrey confirmed that the Trump administration is not seeking to oust dictator Bashar al-Assad….”
Solidarity with Popular Struggles in Iran
Regarding the charge that we serve U.S. imperialist interests vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran: we deny this accusation as well. We have covered the popular uprisings in Iran from late 2017 to early 2018 in multiple fora; held multiple actions against U.S. war threats against Iran; cosponsored one public event critical of both Trump’s militarism and the regime, as well as a panel in solidarity with Middle Eastern—including Iranian—political prisoners; and just recently signed onto an open letter published on Oakland Socialist that criticizes CodePink’s planned visit to Iran for appearing too uncritical of the regime’s propaganda.
We wish to emphasize here that, although we are highly critical of the Islamic Republic and openly proclaim our solidarity with Iranian workers, women, prisoners, and ethnic, religious, and gender/sexual minorities—this does not mean we favor imperialist war-mongering against Iran, whether this comes from the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, or other reactionary Gulf kingdoms.
By Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice
Friday, December 21, 2018, 11am-1pm
6300 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, Donald Trump abruptly announced that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL, or Da’esh) had been defeated in Syria, and that it’s “time to bring our great young people home.” Whereas this kind of haphazard decisionism is typical from Trump, his immediate mandated withdrawal of an estimated 2,000 U.S. special forces from northeastern Syria, otherwise known as “Rojava” or the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), was apparently agreed to only in coordination with neo-Ottoman Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with whom Trump spoke by telephone on December 14. Against the advice of senior members within the Trump administration, apparently without even consulting Republican legislators, and shocking coalition partners UK and France, Trump ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria within 100 days. Vladimir Putin responded by celebrating the decision.
In a public statement released today, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a military coalition founded at U.S. behest in October 2015 which comprises Kurds, Arabs, and Assyrians/Syriacs, among others—declared that Trump’s sudden move will negatively affect the ongoing campaign against IS/Da’esh, which, contrary to the president’s conclusion, has not yet been defeated. See map below:
Key: Red refers to Regime-controlled regions; black to Da’esh/IS; green to anti-Assad opposition/Turkish-supported occupation; yellow to Kurdish self-administrative forces (courtesy https://syria.liveuamap.com/)
Indeed, Trump’s announcement may very well allow for Da’esh to reconstitute itself, considering that a deadly ailment must be fully treated, if it is not to recur. To this point, the SDF has warned that it may have no other choice but to release its suspected Da’esh detainees with their families “very soon.” In this sense, the president’s mandated withdrawal from Syria appears quite hypocritical and self-defeating, when juxtaposed with his public condemnation of the Obama administration’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which according to him, led to the rise of the Islamic State.
This is not to defend the U.S. military presence in Syria, whether in terms of bases, troops, or air support—for the U.S. air strikes over the past four years have killed thousands of civilians, involving attacks on hospitals, prisons, and family-members of suspected IS militants. Instead, we wish to recognize the grave danger that Trump’s impulsive decision-making implies for the Kurds and other ethnic minorities of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), in light of Erdoğan’s own declaration on Wednesday, December 12, of an imminent offensive combining an estimated 24,000 Turkish military and Turkish Free Syrian Army (tFSA) fighters against the remaining northeastern region of Syria east of the Euphrates River, where Kurdish-majority self-administration forces hold control. As with established precedent vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the war in Yemen, it is clear that Trump made a deal with Erdoğan over the DFNS that at least in part involves arms sales—though it is not clear at this moment if $3.5 billion was the only “win” Trump negotiated in this impersonal, neo-colonial “deal.”
“In a totally fictitious world, failures need not be recorded, admitted, or remembered. […] Systematic lying to the whole world can be safely carried out only under the conditions of totalitarian rule.” – Hannah Arendt1
So far, in parts I and II of this response to “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective on Stalin,” we have seen how the “Proles of the Round Table” and their host Breht Ó Séaghdha have systematically lied on their infamous ‘Stalin podcast’ about the history of the Soviet Union, from covering up the Barcelona May Days (1937), the GULAG slave-labor camp system, the Hitler-Stalin Pact (1939), and the NKVD’s mass-deportation of Muslim and Buddhist minorities during World War II to declaring mass-death through Stalin’s forced collectivization of the peasantry to have been “extremely successful.” It is clear why Jeremy and Justin confidently present such a fraudulent version of history: were they even to mention any of these realities, it would become clear that their presence as Stalin apologists on a radio show ostensibly dedicated to an examination of “revolutionary left” history and theory would be immediately revealed as absurd. Yet here we are.
In this final third of my critique of this travesty, we will examine Jeremy and Justin’s genocide denial and their enthusiasm for the Moscow Show Trials. In contrast to the “Proles of the Round Table,” we will explore how anti-Semitism, ultra-nationalism, and sexism are essential aspects of the Stalinist legacy. We will then close with some comments about Soviet ecocide and a critical analysis of neo-Stalinist international relations today, which cover for pseudo-anti-imperialist executioners.
While the breadth of Jeremy and Justin’s Stalin’s apologia on this interview is quite astounding, few aspects are as vile as their denial of the genocidal Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Justin is very clear about their view: “there was no mass-famine,” and the idea of Holodomor (the “Great Ukrainian Famine”) is a “myth.” Jeremy jumps in to claim that “Ukrainian nationalists” sought to undermine Stalin and “intentionally starv[e] the Soviet Union.” First, let’s note that, in making the latter claim, Jeremy unwittingly admits that the Soviet Union was imperialist, and should be that way: the implication is that Ukraine and other former colonies of the Tsarist Empire exist to serve Russia, or, in this case, Stalin’s regime. Beyond that, certainly there was famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933: the “Proles of the Round Table” are almost unique among neo-Stalinists, in that, rather than claim that the reported Holodomor death-toll has somehow been exaggerated for political purposes, they claim that it never happened. In so doing, they quite literally ape Stalin’s refusal to accept the reality of famine in Ukraine in spring 1932 upon receiving word of it from Vlas Chubar, Bolshevik leader of Ukraine, after which the General Secretary denied famine relief and banned the use of the word from all official correspondence.2 While climatic conditions played a part, it was arguably the unrealistic quotas for the extraction of grain from the Ukrainian peasantry following in the wake of the “extremely successful” experience of forced collectivization that tipped the peasants into the first famine (spring 1932); once Stalin doubled down on the confiscation of grain and cattle after hearing initial reports of the famine, adding reprisals against those villages that failed to meet production quotas by cutting them off, this exacerbated an already disastrous situation. The result was the death of nearly 4 million Ukrainians, more than 10% of the population, with an additional 1-2 million Caucasians, Russians, and Kazakhs succumbing as well.3 Unsurprisingly, Justin and Jeremy have nothing to say about these Central Asian and Caucasian Muslim victims of famine.
To advance their lies about Ukraine, the “Proles of the Round Table” rely on one Grover Furr, a Stalin propagandist who also denies the Holodomor by citing the work of Mark Tauger, a supposed historiographer who actually quite fraudulently argues against the idea that the British Empire or the Soviet Union were responsible for the Great Irish Famine or the Bengal Famine, in the former case, or Holodomor, in the latter. As Louis Proyect has shown, Tauger wants to exclusively blame “environmental conditions” for these devastating catastrophes, and thus hide the role of political economy, power relations, and imperialism. This is the kind of ideology that the “Proles of Round Table” hold up as legitimate historical investigation.
Following the argument of the Jewish Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, originator of the concept of genocide, historian Norman Naimark holds Stalin responsible for genocide, if we consider the term’s original definition, which meant to include social and political groups. In targeting the “kulaks” for elimination and thus provoking the Holodomor, Stalin certainly was genocidal. This conclusion becomes even clearer when we review Stalin’s imperialist policies, his regime’s concurrent purging of most of the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership for their putative “nationalism,” and his August 1932 letter to fellow Politburo member Lazar Kaganovich, in which the General Secretary “set [forth] the goal of turning Ukraine into a real fortress of the USSR, a truly model republic.”4
Apologism for the Moscow Show Trials and Terror
“The insane mass manufacture of corpses is preceded by the historically and politically intelligible preparation of living corpses.” – Hannah Arendt5
While we have examined the Purges in parts I and II, let us now focus specifically on Justin and Jeremy’s apologism for the infamous Moscow Trials of the “Old Bolsheviks” (1936-1938), which were clearly nothing more than show trials. Justin begins by mistaking the Bolshevik leader Gregory Zinoviev for “Alexander Zinoviev,” a Soviet philosopher, and then mentions Trotsky’s analysis of “Soviet Thermidor” without in any way clarifying its application to Stalinism in power: that is, with reference to its historical antecedent—the French Revolution—whereby the bourgeois Directory seized power after overthrowing the Jacobin leaders Maximilien Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. To be clear, Stalin’s counter-revolution is highly suggestive of the legacy of the Directory—which is not to suggest that either Lenin or Robespierre were revolutionaries. In parallel, the “Proles of the Round Table” will mention Trotsky’s analysis of Stalin’s guilt over Hitler’s rise—written years after his expulsion from the party—and somehow consider this as retroactive criminal evidence for Trotsky’s supposed conspiracy against the General-Secretary-to be (as in the Left and United Opposition). Yet tellingly, they will not present the actual content of Trotsky’s argument: namely, that Stalin’s Comintern policy on “social fascism” facilitated the Nazi takeover of Germany.
Continuing on, Justin states that Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev “recanted” following their joining with Trotsky in the United Opposition to Stalin—but no reason is given as to why. Certainly, as in the case of Nikolai Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev feared for their lives and that of their loved ones, particularly after seeing the example made of Trotsky, who was expelled ignominiously first from the Communist Party, and then the Soviet Union altogether (in 1928). Instead of contemplating such factors, the “Proles of the Round Table” begin to attempt to explain “why […] the Purge [is] beginning to become a necessity [sic].” Attempting to insert a victim-blaming narrative, Justin and Jeremy suggest that not all the “Old Bolsheviks” were “Communists”—meaning Stalinists—and therefore imply the necessity of their liquidation—and, in many cases, that of their families, who were also murdered so as to prevent revenge attacks against the Party emanating from the “clan” of those executed.6
“It is in the nature of ideological politics […] that the real content of the ideology […] which originally had brought about the ‘idea’ […] is devoured by the logic with which the ‘idea’ is carried out.”
What’s the biggest problem with the “criticisms” of Stalin raised by the “Proles of the Round Table”? That they are so disingenuous and anemic. One of the three critiques raised—about Spain—in fact isn’tcritical of Stalin, while we’ve seen (in part I) how the “criticism” on deportations is entirely misleading. A related question might be to ask how it looks for two presumably white U.S. Americans to criticize Stalin for some (1-2%) of his deportations of ethnic Germans, but not to do so when it comes to the dictator’s mass-deportations of Muslims, Buddhists, and other indigenous peoples. At least Mao Zedong judged Stalin as being “30 percent wrong and 70 percent right.”2 For Jeremy and Justin, though, Stalin appears to have been at least 90%, if not 95%, right. Maybe we can soon expect the “Proles of the Round Table” Patreon to begin selling wearables proclaiming that “Stalin did nothing wrong.”
Besides the aforementioned Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the May Days, and the mass-deportations of ethnic minorities, let’s now consider five of Stalin’s real crimes.
1. “Socialism in One Country”: Stalinist Ideology
His revision, together with fellow Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, of the tradition of socialist internationalism to the reactionary, ultra-nationalist idea of “socialism in one country.” Stalin and Bukharin arrived at this conclusion to compete against Lev Trotsky’s rival concept of “permanent revolution,” which calls first for a European and then global federation of socialist republics. This Stalinist doctrine, which demanded that the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy be considered first within the Third International (or Comintern), can explain both the General Secretary’s demand to crush the anarchists in Spain in 1937 and his effective facilitation of Hitler’s rise to power by means of the disastrous Comintern policy that considered the social-democratic (that is, non-Stalinist) opposition to Hitler to be “social-fascist.” The General Secretary would only reverse course and endorse a “Popular Front” strategy after Hitler had taken power.3 Stalinist ultra-nationalism finds contemporary purchase among neo-fascist, national-Bolshevik movements, whereas—perhaps ironically—the Comintern doctrine on “social fascism” has echoes today among ultra-leftists disdainful of coalition-building with more moderate political forces (e.g., as in the 2016 U.S. presidential election). Moreover, Stalin’s preference for “socialism in one country” can help us understand the Soviet Union’s continued sale of petroleum to Mussolini following this fascist’s military invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935.4 Within this same vein, and anticipating the affinity of today’s neo-Stalinists for campist “analyses” of international relations, Moscow variously supported the feudalist Guo Min Dang (GMD) in China, the Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Afghan King Amanullah Khan, and Ibn al-Sa’ud (founder of Saudi Arabia) during this time on the grounds that these leaders staunchly opposed the West, despite their great distance from any kind of socialist paradigm.5
2. Stalinist Imperialism
His “Great-Russian” chauvinism, as manifested in his brutally imperialist policies toward ethnic minorities—particularly the deportations of Muslims (as mentioned above in part I)—and other subject-peoples of the former Tsarist empire, whose colonial project Stalin enthusiastically embraced. Though Georgian by origin (his birth name was Ioseb Jughashvili), Stalin (whose Russian nom de guerre means “man of steel”) was “the most ‘Russian’ of the early leaders” who advanced not only “socialism in one country,’ but […] a socialism built on a predominantly Russian foundation.”6 According to Dunayevskaya, Stalin’s “national arrogance” was “as rabid as that of any Tsarist official.”7 In contrast to his mentor and supervisor Vladimir I. Lenin, who at least formally supported the right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities of the Tsarist empire while greatly violating this principle in practice, Stalin was openly imperialist on the national question: according to the terms of this relationship, the colonies were to be “plundered for raw materials and food to serve the industrialisation of Russia.”8 It therefore remains clear that, under the Soviet Union, “Russia was not a nation state but an empire, an ideological state. Any definition as a nation-state would probably have excluded at least the non-Slavs, and certainly the Muslims.”9 Accordingly, the official history taught in Stalin’s USSR rehabilitated the mythical Tsarist narrative that the Russian “Empire had brought progress and civilisation to backward peoples.”10
In Georgia, a former Tsarist-era colony located in the Caucasus Mountains, the social-democratic Menshevik Party declared independence in 1918 to found the Georgian Democratic Republic, otherwise known as the Georgian Commune, wherein parliamentary democracy and a relatively collaborative relationship among the peasantry, proletariat, and political leadership lasted for three years, until Stalin and his fellow Georgian Bolshevik Sergo Ordzhonikidze organized a Red Army invasion in 1921 which crushed this courageous experiment in democratic socialism. The errant ex-colony of Georgia was thus forcibly reincorporated into the ex-Tsarist Empire—by then, the “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic,” part of the Soviet Union.11 Besides Georgia, this “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic” would include Azerbaijan and Armenia, which had also been occupied by the Red Army in 1920.12
In the Muslim-majority provinces of Central Asia, otherwise known as Turkestan, the poorest region of the former Tsarist Empire, Lenin and Stalin sided with the interests of the Russian settlers against the Muslim peasantry.13 In Orientalist fashion, the Bolsheviks considered Central Asia’s “Muslims as culturally backward, not really suitable to be communists and needing to be kept under a kind of tutelage.”14 Yet in light of the sustained Basmachi revolt waged by Muslim guerrillas against Soviet imperialism in the first decade after October 1917, Stalin also recognized the significant threat these colonized Muslims could pose to the Soviet Union—hence his active discouragement of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism by means of cutting off the USSR’s Muslims “subjects,” many of them ethnically and linguistically Turkic, from the rest of the Ummah (Islamic global brotherhood or community) abroad. An early 1930’s law punishing unauthorized exit from the USSR made observation of hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, quite impossible.15 The expulsion from the Communist Party (1923) and subsequent imprisonment (1928) of the Volga Tatar Sultan Galiev, a pan-Islamist “national-communist” who envisioned organizing the Turkic Muslims into a fighting force against Western imperialism, followed a similar logic.16
Originally published in The Socialist with a new post-electoral update:
Since Bolsonaro’s victory, which was quickly greeted with warm wishes from Washington to Beijing, the forces of reaction in Brazil have wasted no time in pushing their offensive forward. Sergio Moro, the US-backed judge who put former president Lula in prison, is now the new Justice Minister, a cushy reward for his blatant corruption and defiance of Brazilian and international law. Confident in his impunity, the Army Chief of Staff recently admitted threatening Brazil’s Supreme Court so they would keep Lula behind bars. The fascist government is promoting a project called School Without Political Parties, which would ban “leftist” material, language, or debates in the name of combating “communist indoctrination” in education. Most recently, Bolsonaro sabotaged a Cuban medical program that provided essential care to poor, underserved parts of Brazil, threatening the lives of countless people.
Only a few decades removed from military dictatorship, Brazil is on the verge of becoming a fascist state once again. On October 7, Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain under the old US-backed military regime, won 47% of the vote in the presidential election’s first round. Bolsonaro’s triumph, which was almost enough to win him the presidency outright, was the result of a number of factors.
First, Brazilian democracy is on life support, and arguably nonexistent. Since the parliamentary putsch of 2016, which removed president Dilma Rousseff from office on a budget technicality, the Right has only escalated its multitiered attacks on democratic society. As in Venezuela, their inability to implement their Wall Street-approved policies through electoral means has led it to abandon even the pretense of democracy. Nostalgia for the “law and order” of the dictatorship are common, as are calls for military intervention. Long afflicted with pervasive racism, sexism, and class inequality, Brazilian society itself has lurched further into a fascist fervor, bolstered by dismal economic conditions. This madness is exemplified by the brazen assassinations of people like Marielle Franco, the army occupation of Rio, and the bloody attacks of Bolsonaro’s supporters on women, leftists, journalists, and black and LGBTQ+ people. Lynching is becoming the order of the day.
Second, the Brazilian left is in a crisis of its own. The Brazilian situation has demonstrated the enduring truth of George Jackson’s observation that fascism “emerged out of weakness in the preexisting economic arrangement and in the old left.” The dominant party, the Worker’s Party (or PT), is hobbled by a lack of leadership, an exaggerated reputation for corruption, and its inability to break with the prevailing logic of Brazilian capital. Its most prominent figure, two-term president Lula, was convicted and imprisoned on a ridiculous and evidence-free charge, most likely in coordination with the US government, and prevented from running for president in direct defiance of international and Brazilian law. While Lula posed no revolutionary threat to Brazilian or international capitalism, he was insufficiently committed to the hard-right, neoliberal agenda that the Brazilian ruling class and its foreign allies desire, and far too popular among the masses. His designated replacement, Fernando Haddad, is ill-equipped to combat, let alone defeat, this fascist resurgence, and trailing in the polls. The PT still enjoys a notable mass base, but the tide is against them, and the PT seems unwilling to move beyond the confines of electoral politics.
Lastly, we have the foreign element. The rapid rise of Bolsonaro and his party to the cusp of power would not have been possible without the aid of the United States. Steve Bannon, who has become something of a global fascist whisperer since leaving the Trump administration, appears to be a key figure in Bolsonaro’s campaign, offering him advice on social media and data manipulation. His influence, and perhaps the influence of organizations like the CIA, has helped Bolsonaro rise from a minor candidate to one who commands a decisive majority. To the shock of no one who’s ever read the Wall Street Journal, the Wall Street Journal has given its blessing to Bolsonaro, continuing its longstanding tradition of backing dictators to keep the Third World rabble in check. Even the less brazen organs of the US ruling class, like the New York Times, have enabled Bolsonaro’s campaign by framing him as little more than a crude populist, instead of calling a fascist spade a spade.
Breht Ó Séaghdha’s much-anticipated, “big,” and supposedly “spicy” interview on “Revolutionary Left Radio” with Justin and Jeremy from the “Proles of the Round Table” about Josef Stalin and the historical record is a sustained, nearly three-hour long fraud that above all insults the memory of Stalin’s millions of victims. Unfortunately for the host Ó Séaghdha, who misleadingly presents his guests Justin and Jeremy as following an “empirical and statistical approach” to the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the reality is that he platformed neo-Stalinist propagandists on this episode, and either could not or would not challenge them on their myriad lies covering for what the Marxist-Humanist Raya Dunayevskaya rightly terms “the greatest counter-revolution in all history.”2 Given the friendly tone between Ó Séaghdha and his guests during this interview, as reflected in his admission at the outset of his “love and respect” for his “comrades and friends” Justin and Jeremy, his identification of the “Proles of the Round Table” as being “one of [his] go-to podcasts” represents a dangerous concession which reveals that he is following his guests’ lead when it comes to historical events.
Before analyzing and correcting the numerous distortions presented by Justin and Jeremy on this particular episode of “Revolutionary Left Radio,” I must express a very fundamental concern for Ó Séaghdha’s profession in the introduction of the need for leftists “always to show solidarity with our Jewish comrades,” given that not oncein this three-hour interview does either the host or the guests discuss or even mentionthe Molotov-Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet, Pact signed on August 23, 1939. Following in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and the Anschluss with Austria, the terms of this non-aggression treaty, agreed initially to ten years, represented a ‘honeymoon’ for the two totalitarian dictators Hitler and Stalin, setting forth the terms by which Poland, Finland, and the Baltic regions were to be divided after the Nazi invasion a week later.
In Tinísima, Elena Poniatowska depicts even so hardened a Stalinist as Tina Modotti, a nurse who worked in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with Red Aid International, affiliated with the Third International (Stalin’s Communist International, or Comintern), as reacting to the news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact by refusing food, desiring death, and considering this “the betrayal of everything for which we’ve fought.” Arguing with her partner Vittorio Vidali, himself a high-ranking Comintern agent responsible for numerous assassinations of non-Stalinist supporters of the Spanish Republic, Modotti asks:
“And the dead? And the relatives of the dead—who will calm them down? You know how much I love and admire the Soviet Union; you know how I revere Stalin. Everything you say is fine, Toio [Vittorio], but an alliance with Hitler—never!”3
Indeed, as historian Catherine Evtuhov relates,
“The agreement stunned leftist intellectuals and workers, who had believed that Moscow was the vital center of international revolution and anti-Nazism. As Arthur Koestler recalled, the sight of the swastika flying at the Moscow Airport [to mark Ribbentrop’s visit] destroyed his allegiance to communism.”4
The Hitler-Stalin Pact not only carved up Poland and much of the rest of Eastern Europe, but also involved the NKVD and Gestapo exchanging political prisoners, including Communists, and Polish prisoners of war; trade in oil, wheat, and weaponry between the two hegemons; and Stalin publicly praising Nazi victories.5 Furthermore, between 1939 and 1941, Stalin’s regime deported a million and a half Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to the Far North, Siberia, and Central Asia; approximately one-fifth of those deported perished. Stalin’s forces were also responsible for executing at least 17,000 captive Polish officers in 1940.6
With Stalin thus neutralized, Hitler received the green light with which he infamously launched World War II and, shortly thereafter, the Holocaust, or HaShoah, which accelerated in June 1941 when Hitler turned on his erstwhile ally by invading the Soviet Union. Alongside the estimated 25 million Soviet people who died in the war, at least 1 million Jews in Ukraine and five million other Jews were murdered in Poland, the Soviet Union, and other territories of Eastern Europe which were conquered by the German Wehrmacht for Hitler’s pathological, ultra-nationalist concept of Lebensraum (“living-space”).7 In fact, in January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels, chair of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was executed on Stalin’s orders by the Soviet Belarusian State police before he could bring to light documentation of the Nazi genocide of over 1.5 million Soviet Jews in these same territories conquered by the Wehrmacht “from the retreating Soviets”—territories which previously had been occupied by the Red Army, following Hitler and Stalin’s mutual agreement.8
When it came to actual war with Hitler, Stalin’s myopic incredulousness about the reported 84 intelligence warnings he received about German preparations for invasion led to the immediate destruction of one-fourth of the Soviet air force, effectively granting the Nazi Luftwaffe aerial supremacy during the beginning of “Operation Barbarossa.”9 Whereas the Red Army had “approximately the same number of men on the Soviet western order as the Germans and significantly more tanks, guns, and aircraft,” the USSR’s security was endangered for two important reasons: the Red Army was comprised of peasants who were often demoralized by collectivization and famine, and it was led by inexperienced officers who had effectively been promoted through Stalin’s devastating Purge of an estimated 90 percent of “the highest army commanders, all the admirals, about 90 percent of corps commanders,” and several “divisional and brigadier generals” just a year to two years before the start of World War II.10 That the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had ordered his troops to occupy the new territory gained through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which lacked any defensive fortifications, was not helpful, either.11
Moreover, Stalin’s disagreement with and overriding of the “leading Soviet military strategist,” General Georgii Zhukov, led to multiple disasters. To name just a couple: first, in August 1941, when Stalin refused to withdraw Red Army divisions from Kyiv (Kiev), the Wehrmacht proceeded to encircle and imprison more than 3 million Soviet officers and troops by the end of the year;12 and second, when, following the successful December 1941 counter-attack to rescue Moscow, Stalin hubristically enjoined offensives across the entire western front that “exhausted his troops and exposed them to Germany’s new campaign, this time aimed at the Caucasus and its oil fields.” Once Kyiv fell, the Nazis systematically murdered its Jewish population—some thirty-thousand men, women, and children—in the massacre known as Babi Yar.13 Beyond this, Stalin’s refusal to sign the Geneva Conventions (1929) governing the treatment of prisoners of war (POW’s) arguably greatly harmed his officers and troops captured by the Nazis, who, in contrast to Western POW’s, were initially generally refused food and medical treatment, if they were not summarily executed. In point of fact, it was on Soviet POW’s that the Nazis first “tested” Zyklon-B gas in the Auschwitz death-camp (September 1941). An estimated three million Soviet POW’s died in Nazi captivity.14 Hitler’s regime did not think to exploit Soviet POW’s as forced labor until November 1941, alongside the millions of Ukrainian and Polish Ostarbeiter slave laborers, though it had no reservations leaving intact collectivized farms in occupied Ukraine, thus “taking advantage of the Soviet invention for extracting resources from the rural population.”15
In light of these incredible omissions about the nearly two-year period of collaboration between Hitler and Stalin, the Holocaust, and the General Secretary’s numerous strategic blunders during World War II itself—which Jeremy and Justin outright ignore, mischaracterizing Hitler’s military defeat in May 1945 as Stalin’s “accomplishment”—it becomes clear that no one on this show has any credibility discussing the historical record.
To put it lightly, it is extremely problematic for anyone appealing to history to uncritically champion the genocidal and imperialist state-capitalist monster known as Stalin in 2018. As Rohini Hensman rightly points out, and as we shall explore more in part II of this response, “Stalin […] in his time had rehabilitated tsarist imperialism.”16 In 1927, Alexander Berkman identified Stalin’s rule as being equivalent to “Tsarist Socialism,” perhaps following Nestor Makhno’s lead in denouncing the “Bolshevik tsars” the previous year.17According to Hannah Arendt’s analysis, class struggle and internationalism were absent within the politics of Stalinist totalitarianism, beyond merely opportunistic use as legitimating ideologies.18 Dunayevskaya correctly identified the Stalinist bureaucracy as “the most deadly, the most insidious, [and] the most dangerous enemy because it springs from the proletariat and cloaks itself in Marxist terminology.” So why on Earth would revolutionary leftists want to promote the legacy and supposed continued relevance of such decidedly counter-revolutionary distortions of socialism?
There is clearly something rotten in the heart of the Western left, for both neo-fascism and the red-brown alliance are on the rise. Indeed, “[t]his alliance between neo-Stalinists […] and neo-fascists […] is a twenty-first century version of the Hitler-Stalin pact.”19It should not be surprising, then, to contemplate that Ó Séaghdha uncritically interviewed the pro-Assad propagandist and Russia Today correspondent Rania Khalek six months ago. Amidst such stark realities, I concur with Hensman that we must pursue and tell the truth as well as seek to bring morality and humanity into politics, among other critical tasks,20 and it is in the spirit of these maxims that I respond critically to Ó Séaghdha’s “Stalin podcast.”
Sunday, August 19 6:30-8:30 PM
Westside Peace Center
3916 Sepulveda Blvd., near Venice Blvd. (free parking in rear)
Suite 101-102, press #22 at door to get into building
Culver City (LA area)
Speaker: Ali Kiani, longtime Iranian Marxist and translator
Trump’s bellicose threats against Iran reached new heights in recent weeks when he tweeted in all caps, “YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” an obvious reference to a US nuclear attack. These are no mere threats, as Trump has been working since his election to build up support for war with Iran, meeting with hostile regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Israel, supporting Saudi war crimes against Yemen, and stirring up a Republican “base” long itching for such a war.
At the same time, working people and women inside Iran have since last winter been engaged sustained unrest, whether the street uprisings of rural working people that chanted “Down with the Dictator,” the young women casting off their headscarves, or the most recent unrest in the South where Arab and Persian-speakers came together to protest economic conditions and dwindling water supplies brought about by regime policies that take no account of climate change.
How can we as progressives and revolutionaries oppose Trump’s imperialist warmongering while not falling into the trap of taking an uncritical stance toward the regime? How can we be antiwar and anti-imperialist while at the same time supporting our Iranian sisters and brothers as workers, women, and oppressed minorities?
We need to fight in the U.S. on immediate social justice issues like Black Lives Matter or immigrant rights at the same time as we oppose the entire system of racial capitalism. Similarly, we support all over the world those who struggle against class, ethnic, national, or gender oppression, even as we oppose global capitalism, war, and imperialism in all of their forms.
Sponsored by the West Coast Chapter, International Marxist-Humanist Organization
Co-sponsored by the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice