Repudiating the Stalinist Legacy: Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part III/III)

By Javier Sethness

“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

tank prod
Soviet women working on wartime production of tanks (courtesy David Goldfrank)

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.

Holodomor Denial

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

Continue reading “Repudiating the Stalinist Legacy: Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part III/III)”

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What Were Stalin’s Real Crimes? Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part II/III)

By Javier Sethness

Fergana
The meaning of forced collectivization: an irrigation project in Fergana, Eastern Kazakhstan, 1935 (courtesy David Goldfrank)

“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.”

– Hannah Arendt1

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’t critical 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

Civilizatsia
Courtesy Voline, The Unknown Revolution

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

Map_of_the_ethnic_groups_living_in_the_Soviet_Union
Ethnographic map of the former Soviet Union. Date unknown

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

Continue reading “What Were Stalin’s Real Crimes? Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part II/III)”

Bolsonaro’s Brazil: The Next Stepping Stone for the Neo-Fascist International

By Zachary Medeiros

Brazil
Students at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro demonstrate against police raids carried out ahead of the election (Courtesy Crimethinc)

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.

Continue reading “Bolsonaro’s Brazil: The Next Stepping Stone for the Neo-Fascist International”

War, Imperialism, and Class Polarization on a Global Scale: From East Asia to the Middle East and from South Africa to Europe

by Kevin B. Anderson, International Marxist-Humanist Organization

Earth

Adapted from a presentation to the Chicago Convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization, July 13, 2018.

Today’s Nuclear World, Capital, and the State

In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their famous “Doomsday Clock” on the danger of nuclear holocaust to “two minutes to midnight–the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.”  This resulted, they wrote, primarily from Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” against North Korea and his vow to upend the Iran nuclear pact, and also from North Korea’s continuing weapons tests and “Russia’s deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile” (“It is 2 minutes to midnight: 2018 Doomsday Clock Statement,” Jan. 25, 2018). Even after tensions eased with North Korea, the administration continued plans for an estimated $2 trillion buildup of US nuclear weapons. While some of this began under Obama, according to arms control expert Lawrence Wittner, Trump’s escalation includes plans for “low-yield” nukes that the military could use under a new “nuclear posture” that “lowers the official threshold for use of U.S. nuclear weapons,” allowing the military to “employ them in response to non-nuclear attacks upon civilians and infrastructure, including cyberattacks” (“Trump’s Getting Us Ready to Fight a Nuclear War,” History News Network 6/18/18). Related to this is a massive buildup of US naval forces in what the Pentagon is suddenly calling the “Indo-Pacific,” and which is clearly aimed China as a rising power (see “Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is a War with China on the Horizon? TomDispatch 6/19/18)

This brought to mind the sixtieth anniversary of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, first published in 1958 during the most fraught days of the Cold War, when threats of nuclear annihilation filled the discourse and Marxism had to be reconceptualized for our time as Marxist-Humanism. One of the book’s greatest achievements was its development of the theory of totalitarian state-capitalism for the nuclear age, in terms of the Hegelian absolute, of life “in an age of absolutes, on the threshold of absolute freedom out of the struggle against absolute tyranny” (p. 24).  Nothing signified the absolute development of the contradictions of capitalism more than nuclear weapons, which threatened, then as now, to wipe humanity off the face of the earth at the same time that new, humanist liberation movements were developing everywhere, from civil rights, to African liberation, to the peace movement itself.

Just as the Great Recession a decade ago bared the danger of outright systemic collapse after decades of complacency about the underlying stability of the capitalist system, Trump’s wild nuclear threats last fall laid bare the fact that we are still in the nuclear age, wherein a single leader can order mass destruction far beyond anything even Hitler carried out.

Since those wild threats of last year, Trump has held his photo op with Kim Jong-un, but who besides his apologists believes that peace is at hand on the Korean peninsula and in the region?  At the same time, the Trump administration continues to move closer toward war with Iran, continues to support Saudi Arabia’s murderous war on Yemen, while accelerating its war at home against immigrants by forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents in a policy reminiscent of slavery or the Nazi concentration camps.

Continue reading “War, Imperialism, and Class Polarization on a Global Scale: From East Asia to the Middle East and from South Africa to Europe”

In Defense of Freedom and Humanity in Afrin!

by Ali Kiani

Afrin

Response to Fredo Corvo, “Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?” (Libcom, 5 March 2018)

Over the past decade, the Kurdish people of Rojava and Afrin under the threat of internal war in Syria have surprised the world in their struggle for freedom by creating a democratic model of self-government that empowered women to rise to the top leadership of every aspect of society, including the Peshmerga militia, to a greater degree than all the authoritarian and reactionary regimes of the Middle East. Women holding key positions in self-government and army, reflecting the belief that women’s rights should be at the center of every important decision-making process in society, is one of the important breakthroughs in the struggle of people in the Middle East for freedom and democracy.

This is one of the important reasons for not only jihadist but also all ideological and religious authoritarian regimes that are united to destroy this liberty phenomena that is growing among the freedom movement in the Middle East, as we have seen in the example of a Yazidi women’s liberation militia that was shaped after this model.

Continue reading “In Defense of Freedom and Humanity in Afrin!”