Excellent Piece on Stalin

On Socialist Methods & Stalin-Era Purges, by Mike Ely of the Western Maoist grouplet Kasama. I have the same issues with Kasama as I have with the rest of the Western Left, and there is no need to go into them at this time. I don’t even support Marxist revolution in the West. My attitude is we don’t need it. It didn’t work very well in Eastern Europe anyway.
Nevertheless, Ely of Kasama, an organization which upholds Stalin as a member of the Marxist tradition that they follow, seriously condemns Stalin’s killings and repressions, for good reason I think.

The communist movement (justifiably!) denounces the beating of Rodney King, the killing of Oscar Grant, the shooting of Amadou Diallo, the assassination of Malcolm or King, the jailing of Peltier and Mumia, the holding of so-called “enemy combatants” without evidence or trial… These are outrages — and often the innocence of the victim is a part of that outrage.So what does it mean, if someone…can (with a wave of their hand) minimize the state execution of hundreds of thousands of people (without trial and often, it must be said, without evidence)? Is it that different because those were nominally socialist cops who pulled the triggers?

Indeed! I have always wondered about this, but I figured most Commies were simply so insane that all police repression in capitalist societies was pure evil, whereas all police repression in Commie societies was fine and dandy. This never made sense to me. Repression is repression, end of story.

There were in the 1930s quotas for arrests (just like there were quotas for other forms of production) — i.e. the cops in a particular locality were required to produce so many spies and reactionaries. Imagine what that produced? There was permission to torture signed at the highest level. Imagine what that meant for the emergence of “confessions” and new denunciations of new suspects for the machinery.

That there were actual quotas for arrests in the 30’s in the USSR is outrageous. Obviously, cops just rounded up anyone they didn’t like and called them a spy. The fact that torture was allowed means, obviously, that any confessions obtained are obviously tainted. About time Communists said this.

And I am saying that huge numbers of those who were caught up in this were not spies, or reactionaries, or saboteurs, or deserving of death or punishment.There was explicitly a policy (high in Stalin’s government) of “punishing ten to make sure one doesn’t go free.” There was a terrible ratcheting up of harshness, so that the punishment for a casual remark could be denunciation, imprisonment and worse. (Should someone disappear into prison for saying “I wish the Tsar was back”? Mao, by contrast, said that people should be allowed to make such remarks without fear.)
There was in the 1930s USSR a conscious policy of “mopping up” — i.e. assuming that the time had come to remove everyone who had ever been suspect, or a problem, or had gotten some taint on their record (support for non-Bolshevik parties in their past, involvement with an internal opposition, travels or relatives abroad, history of “making trouble,” and so on.)
And there was a policy of blanket blaming all kinds of industrial breakdowns, snafus, accidents, shortfalls, confusion, chaos, delay, and disagreement on conscious sabotage — to deflect anger and impatience from those in power.
There was a conscious policy at the highest levels of using imprisonment and execution as the means of enforcing discipline within the government i.e. getting republic and enterprise officials to say “how high” when told to jump. (Molotov’s own wife was imprisoned after World War 2, held as a kind of hostage to his continued service.)

Incredible. The first sentence really hits you hard. Vast numbers of those arrested were not even spies, saboteurs or even reactionaries. In fact, many were die-hard Communist revolutionaries. That someone could go to prison for a simple casual remark is madness. Even Mao agreed. That this period was used to “mop up” anyone who was felt to be a troublemaker now or in the past shows the fraudulent nature of the purges.
And any failures in production were seen through the insane paranoid lens of sabotage, when it often was not the case. And imprisonment was used as a discipline-enforcing measure in the party, even when the victims were completely innocent. Outrageous!

And the charge that the punished were agents and saboteurs were (in the main) fantasy, paranoia and conscious frameups.

Yes, the majority of those persecuted were not even guilty of the charges against them. How tragic.

The purges involved an overlay of several things:a) a determined terrorizing of the “middle management” (including especially communist leadership at the republic and enterprise level) to enforce an extreme responsiveness — in part as part of the preparation for war.
b) an approach to solving political problems and disunity that rested heavily on police killing or disappearing those raising political disagreements.
c) a runaway process of mutual denunciation and witchhunting that raged far outside any single central control (mutual denunciations, clique struggle by arrest, settling of old grievances and suspicions) etc.
d) an acute high level line struggle over how to deal with the threat of Nazi invasion (with Litvinov, Bukharin and perhaps Tukachevsky on the side of continuing to seek alliance with Britain and France, and Molotov and Stalin deciding to deflect Hitler by seeking a “non-aggression pact.” It was a struggle analogous to the sharp fight between Lin Biao (on one side) and Mao with Zhou Enlai (on the other) over how to deal with the mounting threat of a Soviet strike on Chinese nuclear facilities.

That’s probably one of the best summaries of the purges I have ever seen.

Anyone who thinks that second kind of repression (recklessly using the full means of an established state in this way) is justified or should be imitated, has abdicated a responsibility to learn from this past, and has really announced their determination to become new oppressors. And even if you don’t think so, everyone else will!And I might add: that people who want to conduct mass campaigns of execution should declare themselves early and loudly — so they can be carefully kept far far away from revolutionary preparations and future state power.

Indeed. For Chrissake, let’s not do this again. If for only one reason, because no one will ever let us come into power again for the fear that we may turn our guns on them at some point. Bottom line is Communists just flat out need to quit killing people when they are in power. At the very least, we can begin to get rid of the “Commie murderer” meme that the Right loves so much.
On the other hand, there is value in Stalin. See here later on in the post:

Stalin was the leader of the International Communist Movement for 40 years and helped solidify much of Communism’s advances during that time. In that time, the Soviet Union developed the world’s first socialist economy- something only barely glimpsed within Lenin’s time.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union developed the first planned economy, and struggled to develop the first collectivized mechanized agriculture (in the place of an extremely backward peasant society). In this they succeeded with great results.

The Red Army met and defeated the most powerful army in the world. 3.5 million highly mechanized Nazi troops invaded — confident of conquering the first socialist country. And these (previously invincible) armies were hurled back to defeat. In the end, after 27 million Russians died due to Nazi atrocities, it was the troops of Joseph Stalin that took the Nazi capital Berlin, and drove Hitler to suicide!
Under Stalin the communist movement became truly international — with the Comintern (and its fraternal parties) appearing all over the world. While Stalin led the world movement, there were new seizures of power.
When he died 1953, the communist forces were in power in a third of the world, and in his time at the leadership of the CPSU he led a series of important line struggles to uphold and strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat and forge a road forward toward socialism. His struggles with the rightist, state-capitalist line of Bukharin, and the defeatist line of Leon Trotsky were important and historic contributions to communist practice (and theory).

The truth? From another post:

I think it’s really time to break out of the whole paradigm of “the Great Peerless Helmsman Comrade Stalin” vs. “the Murderous Bloodthirsty Tyrant Stalin” debate…Comrade Stalin laid somewhere in the middle of those two stereotypes.

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4 thoughts on “Excellent Piece on Stalin”

  1. Stalin was a Great Russian national military socialist at the end, not a true believer in internationalist communism, just used it as a prop.
    The true believers in the Soviet’s last stages probably non-existent.

  2. May I politely ask how you would reconcile what you write here with your obituary of Solzhenitsyn, a man who had the incredible physical and moral courage to make some of these criticisms of Stalinism, in Russia, while Stalin was alive?

  3. Yes, Solzhenitsyn was wrong on many issues (including the 110m) and became less and less likeable in his dotage (he seemed to think he was Tolstoy, among other things) but to dismiss him as ‘a fascist’ is hard to justify. He pointed out (correctly) that the behaviour of Soviet troops in Germany was comparable to the behaviour of German troops in the Soviet Union, and he said that Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany had similarities as ‘totalitarian’ regimes, but that doesn’t make him a fascist.

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