Uncritical Stalinists?

This poster was plastered on the walls of Manchester University by a group called Communist Students last week, inviting to a “debate and discussion on Stalinism, what it is, and why we oppose it”. What does it say in huge letters? “Stalinism is anti-communism”. A clear enough statement, right?

Or so you would have thought. In a letter to the Weekly Worker, Stuart Randle, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, claims that Communist Students were “uncritically plastering a mass murderer’s face around the university”, which he professes to find “downright offensive”.  It stands to reason that the comrade’s cognitive skills are severely impaired. Either that, or he is deliberately lying.

I cannot say much about the other claims Randle makes, but I’m sure Chris Strafford will address them in next week’s edition of the Weekly Worker.

As for my own personal experiences with the SWP, they haven’t been the most postitive so far. No doubt there are many well-meaning, dedicated, and very active comrades in that organisation. Yet at the same time, it is abundantly clear that the SWP leadership hates democracy and open debate like the devil hates the holy water. It’s a pity when younger comrades adopt these attitudes, as evidenced by the fact that the notion of “open debate” seemed to cause such offence to Stuart Randle’s sensibilities that he deemed it worthy of highlighting in his letter.

Randle further complains about Weekly Worker’s publishing an SWP member’s name “without asking his permission”. But the comrade’s name appears on SWP websites many times, e.g. as a writer for Socialist Review. No, it’s not the publication of names that the SWP is really worried about - they just dislike criticism of their politics and activities.

I like how Randle uses a quote by Oscar Wilde that he doesn’t understand (“eyes on the stars…”) at the end of his letter. If my own experience is anything to go by, then the SWP have turned another out-of-context Oscar Wilde quote into their motto: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”


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3 thoughts on “Uncritical Stalinists?

  1. You wrote (see above) “This poster was plastered on the walls of Manchester University by a group called Communist Students last week, inviting to a “debate and discussion on Stalinism, what it is, and why we oppose it”. What does it say in huge letters? “Stalinism is anti-communism”. A clear enough statement, right? . . .”

    I think that Stalinist ideology was communist (Marxist) ideology. These adjectives, like many others in political science, are not well defined. How can people debate without agreeing on the meaning of terms. Who is a Marxist? Here is what I wrote about this recently:

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    The term Marxist means different thing to different people. My tentative definition is shown below, Do you agree with it?

    How to distinguish a Marxist from a non-Marxist? Everyone who believes that proletarian dictatorship is needed, after the overthrow of capitalism, to improve social conditions, is a Marxist. The idea of proletarian dictatorship unites all kinds of communists: Stalinists, Trotskyites, Leninists, etc. Anarchists are not Marxists because they are against any form of state (capitalist or proletarian). But all communists are Marxists and all Marxists are communists. These social engineers, like Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, form parties that are said to be “the vanguards of proletariat.”

    The failure of Bolsheviks, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is a very powerful argument against Marx’s idea of proletarian dictatorship. But some disagree, saying that the theory is good but was not applied properly. They blame an individual–Stalin. This implies that communist ideology is not falsifiable. Facts consistent with the theory are used to validate it while facts that are not consistent are attributed to something else. A theory that is not consistent with reality must be either revised or rejected. Marx, if he were alive, would not miss an opportunity to compare his theory of  proletarian dictatorship with the results of its implementations. 

    2) The term Socialism also means different things to different people. When I was young I was taught that Socialism is proletarian dictatorship. It was introduced to us (in Poland) as the transitional system between capitalism and communism. But that is not how the term is used in America today. My impression is that American Socialists reject Marx’s idea of proletarian dictatorship; they believe that social conditions can be improved via progressive reforms (not by revolution). In other words, they are not Marxists. Is this impression correct? 

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
    .
    Ludwik Kowalski, the author of “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality,” at

          http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/life/intro.html

    It is an autobiography illustrating my evolution from one extreme to another–from a devoted Stalinist to an active anti-communist. This testimony is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

  2. Hi Ludwik, thanks for your comment. I’ll be as brief as possible as this blog entry is about the attitudes of the Socialist Workers Party (UK) rather than a discussion of communism more broadly – which would take up more time than I have got on my hands right now. I’d be interested in debating it some other time with you – maybe when I get a chance to read your memoires.

    You’re right – Stalinists (or Marxist-Leninists, as they refer to themselves) claim to be true to the teachings of Marx and Engels – just as the Catholic Church claims to be true to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But there are differences between loving thy neighbour/Jehova’s Witnesses/Mother Theresa on the one hand and the Spanish Inquisition/the crusaders/Evangelical Christians on the other – though objectively they are all Christians. Likewise, there are differences between Stalinism and other communist tendencies.

    Here are, off the top of my head, some of the aspects of historic Stalinism which Communist Students would regard as anti-communist:

    -nationalism, ‘socialism in one country’
    -anti-semitism (‘rootless cosmopolitans’, Doctors’ Plot)
    -purges and mass murder of 100,000s communists
    -cult of personality
    -unaccountability of leadership (to the party and to the working class)
    -a communist party without factions, no party democracy
    -powerless workers’ councils, no workers’ democracy
    -total concentration of power in the hands of Stalin and his most loyal henchmen
    -imposing ‘socialism’ from above by military might, not by a conscious revolution of the masses (e.g. Poland)
    -counterrevolutionary ventures and crushing of communist revolutions in other countries (Spain) if it served short-term foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union
    -uncritical alliances with pro-bourgeois forces, Popular Fronts
    -no criticism of the Central Committee’s line permitted

    Etc, etc… I had a very quick look at your memoirs. You say that anti-Stalinist communists blame everything on one person (Stalin) and “throw away experimental data which disagree with theoretical predictions.” I disagree with this kind of analyisis. Some of the developments I outlined above, such as the banning of party factions, were emergency measures implemented during the Civil War in Russia – understandable, but still mistakes that no communist should be uncritical of. Stalin, however, turned these measures into “communist theory” and exported them to other countries long after the Civil War was over. Other points (Popular Fronts, Moscow trials, counterrevolution, etc) were entirely the doing of Stalin and his clique.

    If you “throw away the experimental data”, you end up repeating the same old mistakes – the Socialist Workers Party (UK) conventiently blames the horrors of Stalinism on one person while having similar attitudes towards the questions of democracy and open debate.

    Some of your memories bear titles such as ‘From hell to freedom’ (or similar). I’m sorry, but you won’t convince me of the freedom that capitalism brings. I know that freedom well – it is the freedom of the rich. Likewise, I am surprised at your analysis of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ – it has nothing to do with “supremacy” of manual workers. All it means is the political and economic dictatorship of the majority – in other words, democracy.

    I’m Polish, by the way. My father was 9 years old when Stalin died.

    Take care!

  3. PS – Marx famously said “criticise everything existing mercilessly”. When you compare this to “Stalin is always right”, you should understand why Communist Students consider Stalin an anti-communist.

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