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

By Javier Sethness

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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

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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

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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)”

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On Sunday, August 19th: “Double Crisis Over Iran: Trump’s Warmongering and Anti-Regime Struggles of Working People and Women”

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Ahwazi family (courtesy Wikipedia)

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

More information: <arise@internationalmarxisthumanist.org>
https://www.imhojournal.org
https://www.facebook.com/groups/imhorg/
https://www.facebook.com/LAMarxists/

Coalition Hosting Two Panels at Left Coast Forum: “Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism: What is Internationalist Socialist Solidarity?” and “One Year of the CPRSJ: A New Kind of Anti-War Coalition”

The Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice is pleased to announce its hosting of two panels at Left Coast Forum at the Los Angeles Trade Tech College (LATTC) next Saturday, August 25th: “Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism: What is Internationalist Socialist Solidarity?” and “One Year of the CPRSJ: A New Kind of Anti-War Coalition.”

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The first session, “Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism: What Is nternationalist Soialist Solidarity?”, will run from 11:30am-12:45pm. Panelists include Frieda Afary, John Reimann, Alexander Reid Ross, and Sina Zekavat, with Javier Sethness moderating. The description follows:

In light of the fate of the Syrian Revolution, which has been crushed by the bloody counter-revolution carried out by Bashar al-Assad together with his Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese allies, there has debate in the global left about the meanings of imperialism and anti-imperialism, and the political implications these carry. Many authoritarians claiming leftism cross-over with the white-supremacist right’s open support for the Assad Regime by denying its crimes and overlooking the imperialist role played by Russia and Iran in Syria, focusing exclusively on the U.S.’s supposed opposition to Assad’s rule.

This tendency is a worrisome development, suggestive as it is of a red-brown alliance (or axis) that is not consistently anti-imperialist but rather, only opposed to U.S. Imperialism. It also fails analytically to see how the U.S. has increasingly accommodated Assad’s counter-revolution. In contrast to such approaches, participants on this panel will present anti-authoritarian class analyses of militarism and imperialism. Panelists will discuss the red-brown alliance (or axis) as recalling the “Holy Alliance” and fascism; the concept and reality of imperialism in the Middle East; the current wave of popular protests in Iran; left and right interpretations of geopolitics and political geography both historically and today; the lessons of the Bosnian genocide; and the tragedy of the Syrian Revolution.

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The second panel, “One Year of the CPRSJ: A New Kind of Anti-War Coalition,” runs from 5pm until 6:15pm. Panelists include Mimi Soltysik (Socialist Party Los Angeles), Javier Sethness (Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation [personal capacity]), and Kevin B. Anderson (International Marxist Humanist Organization).

The Fall of Der’aa: Assad’s Counter-Revolution Triumphant

By Javier Sethness

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Aftermath of Assad regime air strikes over residential areas in Der’aa, Syria, 14 June 2017 (Muhammed Yusuf/Anadolu Agency)

The latest news from southern Syria is that Assad Regime forces, backed by heavy Russian aerial bombardment, Iranian artillery strikes, and allied paramilitary infantry, have fully retaken the revolutionary city of Der’aa near the southwestern border with Jordan. This is the very “birthplace” of the Syrian Revolution, as it was in this city in March 2011 that 15-year old Mouawiya Syasneh and his comrades, expressing their youthful sympathies for the ongoing Arab Revolts—which by that time had toppled Zine al-Abidine bin Ali and Hosni Mubarak—wrote graffiti on a wall in southern Der’aa, proclaiming in Arabic, “Your turn, Doctor,”[1] “Freedom” (حرية), and “The People Want the Fall of the Regime” (الشعب يريد السقوط النظام).

The indignation felt at the regime’s callous threat to disappear fifteen teenage boys accused of collectively authoring such seditious messages was the spark for the Syrian Revolution against Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party. As of mid-June 2018, Syasneh was still alive and fighting the Regime, following his taking up of arms, presumably with the Free Syria Army’s (FSA) Southern Front, in 2013. At that time, he declared that his “opinion of the revolution ha[d]n’t changed. For us, the revolution continues,” whereas his comrade Samer Syasneh recalled that, “In the beginning, I was proud of being the reason for the revolution against oppression. But with all the killing, the displacement and the homelessness over the years, sometimes I feel guilty.”

There is no lack of evidence of destruction in Syria. Since March 2011, armed conflict in Syria has caused 3 million homes to be razed, with the Regime accused of responsibility for 90 percent of this destruction. More than half a million Syrians have been killed, including 200,000 civilians, and the Assad-Putin-Iran axis has been found responsible for more than 90 percent of these civilian deaths. More than half the country’s population, or about 12 million people, have been displaced either internally or across international borders—though in the face of a resurgent chauvinism both in Europe and the United States, as in countries neighboring Syria, increasingly more refugees are being forced to return, in violation of international law, despite the immense risks. The fate of Der’aa, bombed into submission by Russia, Iran, and the Regime and thus violently reintegrated into the Ba’athist State, resembles that of Darayya, Eastern Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta, other rebel-held territories that have fallen in the recent months and years, after having been subjected to devastating scorched-earth tactics.

An estimated 350,000 Syrians fled the Regime’s offensive against the Der’aa governorate which began on June 12, being so forced to enter the desert and request asylum from neighboring Jordan and Israel, both of which cruelly maintained their borders closed, notwithstanding the plea by the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria that 750,000 lives were at risk. Several displaced children have been reported as dying already due to thirst, scorpion bites, and exposure, and the Regime has repeatedly bombed field hospitals for the displaced. At least two hundred civilians died in Regime and axis attacks on the city. Many of those displaced lacked rudimentary shelter against the desert heat and winds, with little to no food. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government shamelessly has refused entry to these would-be refugees, and even clarified that it would provide material aid to these “enemies of the State” only insofar as Assad would permit this. Indeed, in a telling manifestation of capitalism’s basis in accumulation by dispossession, both Jordan and the Syrian Regime have celebrated Assad’s capture of the Nasib-Jaber border crossing from FSA control, anticipating a reactivation of exploitation and extraction within the free-trade zone that had existed there until the Revolution. Nevertheless, the Jordanian people have mobilized in a spirit of mutual aid to support those fleeing Assad and Putin’s war machine.

Continue reading “The Fall of Der’aa: Assad’s Counter-Revolution Triumphant”

Report Back on CPRSJ May 12 Demonstration

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On Saturday morning, May 12, members and friends of CPRSJ demonstrated outside the Federal Building in Westwood, LA, and then marched over to the Israeli Consulate. We did so two days before the Gaza protests were to reach their culmination, four days after Trump’s abrogation of the Iran nuclear agreement, a few weeks after Trump’s missile attack on Syria, and amid ongoing wars in Yemen, Syria, and vs. immigrants inside the US.

Our slogans included the following:
Free Gaza!
Free Palestine!
No War! No Trump!
Stop Trump’s War Threats over Iran!
Protest US attacks on Syria!
Stop Israeli Murder of Peaceful Demonstrators!
Stop the Wars on the Syrian people!
Stop Saudi-US War on Yemen!
US Hypocrisy: Bomb Assad but Don’t Admit Refugees
Support Immigrants and Refugees Everywhere!

Although we had not requested a permit, the LAPD showed up and seemed to know a lot about us and our event, all the while videotaping us too via bodycam during an ostensibly amiable conversation.

This is first of our monthly Saturday morning demonstrations, with topics varying according to events. Keep in touch for news about our next one with a focus on ICE, which is scheduled for Junipero Serra Park, Union Station, 10am, June 9.

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Call for Action, May 12th: Against Wars in Syria and Yemen, Threat of War on Iran, and Attacks on Gaza! For Immigrants and Refugees!

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Photo credit: “abosherkoshamalhawa” via Deviant Art

The Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice is calling for a demonstration on Saturday, May 12, 2018, at 10:00am to commemorate Nakba Day and 70 years since the founding of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, which continues to this day. We will express our solidarity with the Syrian and Palestinian peoples, as well as all immigrants, displaced people, and refugees. This will be our first monthly demonstration, which we are planning to hold the second Saturday of the month.

Continue reading “Call for Action, May 12th: Against Wars in Syria and Yemen, Threat of War on Iran, and Attacks on Gaza! For Immigrants and Refugees!”

Imperial Theatrics in Syria: Where Is Justice for Syrians?

By Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice

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Douma, Eastern Ghouta (File: Reuters)

On Friday evening, 13 April, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the commencement of joint U.S. missile and air strikes with France and the U.K. against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in response to the Syrian military’s alleged use of chemical weapons during the siege of Douma on April 7th. This chemical attack on Douma has reportedly taken the lives of more than forty people and, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society, at least five hundred others have presented with symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical weapons—likely chlorine and possibly also sarin.

Continue reading “Imperial Theatrics in Syria: Where Is Justice for Syrians?”