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Friday, March 10, 2006 

Celticfire's "What About Stalin?"

Celticfire runs a pretty good blog I've started reading (found it through the Burningman's Red Flags). Earlier in the week he posed a question: should revolutionary socialists uphold the Stalin period and if so what parts? Very important questions for those of us coming out or currently invovled in organizations that came out of the anti-revisionist (and specifically M-L-M vein) trend. Before I posted the comments had focused on the CPUSA and it's revisionist errors. What follows are some comments I made; the whole thread is here.

I'm very taken with thomas lb post concerning CPUSA given the content of the thread. It really connects to one of my main thoughts about the Stalin period concerning the growth of Soviet and international revisionism, which ultra-orthodox folks have always placed on solely Khrushchev while absolving Stalin of any role.

I feel like such a position stems from major misunderstandings of the Stalin period, the connections between socialist defeat/capitalist restoration and growing authoritarian state apparatuses, and the crisis of socialism. While I reject the bourgeois historical reductionism that claims of the "all systems (/except capitalism) produce monstrous dictators," I don't think that we should uphold a man who in many ways a new tsar.

I don't really buy Avakian's recent claim that a cause of capitalist restoration is because "most of the time, most communists are not communists." I especially reject this view with regards to the upsurge of Soviet revisionism and the first consolidation within a once socialist country of capitalist-roader power. The reason why many in the CPSU (and by extension much of the international communist movement) bought into Khrushchev’s revisionism is that his critique of Stalin was grounded in a lot of truth. A very good piece on Maoism as an attempted response to these failures was published in Freedom Road magazine a couple years back in the issue on Revolution In the Air.

Does this deny the incorrectness of their line, or their anti-revolutionary practice and outlook? Absolutely not! Does this mean that some, perhaps even many in the party fell victim to the sort of ideological outlook Avakian describes, most certainly. But pretending that Stalin wasn't a crazy, paranoid autocrat doesn't mean that we are ceding a major front of struggle to the enemy. Instead, it’s correctly applying Cabral’s revolutionary maxim to “hide no difficulties.” Our movement fucked-up under Stalin, in really bad ways. And like all forms of liberalism, a refusal to recognize this is a slippery slope to telling proverbial lies and claiming proverbial easy victories.

Two questions that I would pose that are helpful for me in evaluating the Stalin period are:

1) In the realm of anti-revolutionary actions, was Khrushchev’s pact with the West any worse than Stalin's alliance with the cutting edge of world fascism (especially given the CPUSA and other revolutionary forces in the 30's and early 40's correct line on the united front against fascism that included an alliance with the same ruling classes that Khrushchev was selling out to)?


2) If Stalin had not built such a police state in the USSR and consolidated such an iron grip on the ComIntern, would capitalist restoration been possible in Russia without a civil war and would Khrushchev’s revisionism been able to so greatly influence the international communist movement?

On 1) I would say no, Stalin's alliance with Hitler was no better than Khrushchev’s revisionism. And while I am a committed anti-revisionist (and this opinion is not really based on anything other than my gut reaction), I find Stalin's alliance more disgusting. I think that this is important because it shows (imo) a real beginning for socialist betrayal that is more grounded than the "since they expelled Trotsky" non-sense. FRSO [Fight Back]'s slip into revisionism, grounded in their refusal to accept in any way the crisis of socialism, is yet another real world example of how a "culture of appreciation" for Stalin can lead to really bad line.

Also, in the realm of interacting with real people here, I was involved in a major argument last week with leaders in my union (informal all friends kind of conversation) over whether Stalin was “less bad” than Hitler. Whatever limited theoretical gains can be made from studying Stalinist thought pale in comparison to the political suicide upholding the “5 heads.” We cannot fight on all fronts and expect to win on any.

on 2) I would answer flatly, No. After capitalist restoration in China there was armed struggle and an underground Maoist movement that has lasted going on forty years. (The fact that some hard-line Stalin supporters like Fight Back's publishers write this movement and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations/general strike off as anti-revolutionary is another example of the point I'm trying to make with question 1). There was some struggle in the Soviet Union, but the ability to engage in anything like real struggle within the Soviet police state was greatly different from post-Cultural Revolution China. Look at Prague. Likewise, had there been anything like open debate and exchange within the ComIntern, rather than Soviet domination and first-among-equals bullshit, the spread of revisionism would likely have been much more limited.

In the end, the Stalin period drives home key questions about the need for democracy and ideological hegemony that is not simply militaristic red-fascism during socialist transition. A failure to get this has lead to myriad failures on other fronts, especially around issues of gender, national oppression and sexuality. It shows that state power can make real advances (like Celticfire points out in his initial post). Similarly, a strong ideological center in the international movement can work to address major contradictions within certain countries’ parties and produce real positive improvements in those parties’ line (ComIntern’s role in rectifying the CPUSA’s line on the Black national question is primary in my mind here). Yet most importantly it shows that if we are not struggling to build people power (and not simply consolidating the state power we have won), we will fail. Perhaps not immediately, but at some point we will fail.

And I don't want to hear another word about Moses!

Yeah, Avakian's "the need for communists to be communists" article, transcription, editted talk, whatever it is - is crap.

Did you notice this part? I've read it 5x over to make sure I wasn't seeing things, or missed something, but it's there:

If comrades do not study and grapple with communist theory in this way, and the application of that --and not something else--to the many social questions and world affairs that they think about and act on; if, as a key part of that, they are not continuing to familiarize themselves with, and to grapple with, the body of work and method and approach of our Chair; then the powerful pull of spontaneity, and what is out there in the movements of opposition and more broadly in society and in the world--all that will lead them to increasingly apply and take up some OTHER world outlook and method.

Avakain reffers to himself as "Our Chair"?!??


I think your comments about Avakian are right. And the Stalin issue is a big, multisided one.

Good work on your blog! :)

I agree that Avkainan's article is crap. It is important for communist to interrogate themslves, and to want revolution - but the conclusion Avakian draws is not a communist one!

Avakian makes the conclusion, or allusion that because we have "communist leadership" (ie Avakian) we should obediently and without question follow that leadership.


He does makes some good points, but his conclusion is downright wrong.

Celtic, that OUR CHAIR shit is so crazy! So long as we go on shouting this shit or talking about "Democratic Korea" instead of really grappling with pressing questions of line and doing the hard work of organizational and base building the revolutionary movement in this country will continue to be something similar to a comedy of errors, just without the comedy part.

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