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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Legacy of Stalin—not a saint, but an important part of history

It's been a while since I wrote an article about the legacy of Joseph Stalin (AKA Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин/ იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე სტალინი). This is a real controversial subject here in the US. While we Maoist take a lot of crap off  some Trotskyists and anarchists, they really go after Stalin, his supporters, his legacy, his memory. Most of what they say is not good.
The four main positions leftists have of Stalin are; 1. he is a great hero and all the bad publicity is due to Western Propaganda; 2. That he made a lot of mistakes and did kill people, but he saved the international communist movement and played an important role in history; 3. that he was a real nasty murderer and his crimes out-way his accomplishments; and 4. that he was bad at every thing he did and actually did a lot of damage through Marxist history.
I take the second position. I don't make a hero of him, but he industrialized the Soviet Union, he fought Hitler, he has inspired the really heroic revolutionaries of the last century and some positive political movements today look to him for inspiration. In short, he was a bad man, but communist movements needed him at the time.
There are not a lot of Stalinist groups in the US. I do know of one Stalinist person here in Wichita. We get along fine. I have and do work with Stalinist groups and that seems to work fine for me. Stalin is popular in some countries: Pakistan, some Latin American nations and some European countries.
But here in America I have come across a lot of Trotskyists who are rabidly anti-Stalin.
For example, I belong to a Facebook page called Marxist Internet Archive. The people who run it are great, even though some are "Trots." They realize why some people support Stalin and they agree he had some redeeming values. The page they run tries to allow all types of Marxist to post and leave comment on subjects important to building a Marxist movement. They have said they do not want to discourage young Marxists who may have some juvenile ideas today, when they might eventually mature and take a more serious Marxist line. And there are a lot of Maoists and Stalinists who visit the page.
But their are people who visit the page who are really difficult to get along with. If there is ONE big dividing issue for that page it is the role of Stalin in communist development.
Here is an example of the type of comments the page gets on Stalin, largely but not always, from Trots:

First there was the purges and killings:

Wael Bakerjian- (On Stalin)  Indefensible, plus the Soviet project was state capitalism at best.

Rowan Glass How do you justify the mass execution of hundreds of old Bolsheviks?

Sascha Nemseff Villagran - Stalin was a criminal who executed millions of innocent people. Just because of that everyone should condemn him.

Elizabeth Cook - Stalin's tampering in the German revolutionary period and the Spanish revolution can't be denied. How can anyone continue to defend this "graveyard" of many a revolution?

Jonathan Feldman -Yes, XXX (aimed at me, សតិវ​អតុ), that's why the Stalinists killed so many anarchists in Republican Spain, to speed up the defeat of the Nazis.

Actually I admit that a lot of people did die in purges. Much of that was not necessary.  For example, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (Никола́й Ива́нович Буха́рин), a major Bolshevik legislator after the Russian Revolution, had some bad ideas about Marxism, so Stalin put him on trial and he was killed. There are Stalin supporters who claim that Bukharin and his ideas were a danger to the Soviet Union. In some ways they WERE dangerous. But did Stalin really have to kill him. I would argue he did not.
Some posting persons said Stalin encouraged his supporters to kill anarchists during the civil war in Spain. I would agree that his active opposition to anarchists, during that conflict, split the Republican movement and weakened the regime. That helped the Francisco Franco fascists win. Mistakes were made. At one point Stalin tried to make a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. But in the end, the Soviet Union lost more than 20 million people who bravely fought the Nazis. Without the "Russian Front" Hitler might have won the war with the West. At best it would have taken many years longer to defeat Nazi Germany without the Soviet Union's involvement. And there is no way so many Russians would have committed themselves to fighting the Nazis if they were not loyal to Stalin. Stalin had a lot of support in that country among the common people. That can't be denied.  
But the accusations have gone way beyond just "Stalin killed people." Some Trots have written posts claiming that Stalin's policy of "Socialism in one country" was a failure. They accuse him of everything from being anti-Marxist, to being a fascist. They have called him anti-worker, anti-communist and bringing ruination to the Soviet Union and the entire international communist movement:

Les Evenchick -Stalin is dead but his anti working class policies live on in the actions of ma(n )y co.munist parties that support theeft with g of the capitalist class though lesser evil. politics, the support of union bureaucrats, and the support of anti working class govts like those in Syria and Iran.

James Rotten -Marxism is about worker control. Stalin was about about Stalin control. (And Stalinism about bureaucrat control).

Roland Sheppard -Russian Counter-revolution Social Demcrats were wilcolmed by Stalin and became part of Stalin's bureaucracy.

Lev Santana
 -It's impossible to justify, Stalin was anti-marxist, and leaded a counter revolutionary burocracy.

Wally Kennedy Stalin was about as communist as Ronald Reagan ... he dragged the genuine ideas of socialism into the gutter and drowned them in the blood of the real socialists and communists by his methods of mass murder. He killed millions of the cream of the working class. Communist my arse ... doing deals with Hitler ffs

The majority of these comments are from Trots. Their man,
Leon Trotsky (Лев Троцкий) wanted a policy of "permanent revolution" rather than "socialism in one country."
The bottom line is that Stalin's policies won out and he industrialized the Soviet Union. At the end of VI Lenin's (Владимир Ильич Ленин) reign, the Soviet Union was in ruins. Had Stalin not tried to industrialize that nation, it may have easily fallen. If that happened the Soviet Union would have been one more short-lived socialist experiment, as with the Paris Commune or the brief Hungarian Revolution of 1919. Both communist revolutions were quickly snuffed out.
By the end of the Lenin era of the Soviet Union, the country was not doing all that good economically. If we can believe Encyclopӕdia Britannica:

"The policy of War Communism, in effect since 1918, had by 1921 brought the national economy to the point of total breakdown. The Kronshtadt Rebellion of March 1921 convinced the Communist Party and its leader, Vladimir Lenin, of the need to retreat from socialist policies in order to maintain the party’s hold on power. Accordingly, the 10th Party Congress in March 1921 introduced the measures of the New Economic Policy. These measures included the return of most agriculture, retail trade, and small-scale light industry to private ownership and management while the state retained control of heavy industry, transport, banking, and foreign trade. Money was reintroduced into the economy in 1922 (it had been abolished under War Communism). The peasantry were allowed to own and cultivate their own land, while paying taxes to the state. The New Economic Policy reintroduced a measure of stability to the economy and allowed the Soviet people to recover from years of war, civil war, and governmental mismanagement. The small businessmen and managers who flourished in this period became known as NEP men."

The country needed to build up the economy. Stalin did that.

"The late twenties and early thirties were perhaps the most transformative period in Soviet history. It was during this period Stalin consolidated his grip on power and was allowed to rule with impunity, instituting his “revolution from above” on the Soviet people. He actively transformed the culture of the time, giving birth to a new Russian nationalism, rejecting the earlier Bolshevik conviction that the family was a bourgeois institution, and even forcing artists and writers to embrace “socialist realism.”
These cultural changes were, however, minor adjustments when compared to the vast changes his economic policies brought to the everyday lives of the Russian people....
...He led an industrialization drive that has had few historic parallels."

So even from this bourgeois publication there is agreement that Stalin did build up the economy. This article is typical of many other bourgeois publications and assessments that grudgingly agree that Stalin's economic ideas WORKED.
But would Trotsky have been able to improve the economy and save the Soviet Union? There is no way of knowing that for sure. What we DO KNOW for sure is that Stalin DID save the Soviet economy and in doing so—saved the country and the revolution. In doing so he preserved the Soviet Union, through World War II and through the beginning of the cold war. This is NOT bringing communism to ruin. It is NOT the destruction of the international communist movement at home and abroad. Regardless of the nature of Stalin's regime—whether it is seen as true Marxism, true Socialism, or a true workers state—It existed and survived.
Also important is that Stalin inspired other revolutions, including that of Mao Zedong (泽东) in China, in 1949.
 Despite all the flaws of the Soviet Union, and there were many, other revolutions were possible. Both the Soviet Union and China helped Vietnam's communist movement defeat both French and US imperialism.
Despite all of its flaws, the Cuban Revolution was able to survive in US imperialism's "back yard" due to help from the Soviet Union. The island nation would have been quickly crushed if it did not have such support. That is the same Soviet Union that Stalin was able to save from ruin. Some revolutions, such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, may not have seemed to have much in common with Stalin, but such a revolution may not have been able to survive at all without support from the Soviet Union—the same Soviet Union that Stalin saved.
For me, Stalin is not a great hero. He was not a very moral man and his treatment of human rights were terrible. But without him, Hitler might have won World War II and all of the revolutions that took place in the 20th century may never have happened. While we have had many revolutions that were riddled with mistakes, we can study the history of these countries and learn from their mistakes. For this reason Stalin played an important role in the history of the 20th century. I don't post his picture very much. I don't quote him a lot either. But I can recognize his importance.
There are a lot of Marxists who I admire way more than Stalin—Mao, Jiang Qing (), Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah and Salvador Allende just to name a few.  But I don't rag on Stalin. I work with a lot of pro-Stalinist people and groups, in the spirit of international Marxism.
While I work with Trots when it is possible, I reject all the ridiculous claims that it is anti-worker or anti-Marxist to have anything to do with Stalin or Stalinism. Such statements come from juvenile leftist who are not able to separate the reality of history from their idealism. Such people are not that much different from what Lenin called "left-wing communism." History does not always leave us with saints or heroes as leaders. Even Abraham Lincoln violated human rights on a grand scale and yet few people, bourgeois or leftist really care about that. The man played an important role in history by freeing slaves. That is seen as important enough to ignore all Lincoln's faults. Few of histories heroic people avoided having "skeletons in their closets." Some of such flaws were minor while others were major, such as getting people killed. What we need from the left is what we see on the right—the acknowledgement that sometimes bad people have done important things in our history. Sometimes the important accomplishments out-way the crimes.


Stalin - Proletariatets Befrielse Orkester

Was he a saint, 
 a hero, 

or a monster?

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