Right off the bat, I want to go ahead and say that I was driven to write this due to a debate that recently took place online. However, I’m not one to dedicate an entire entry to an argument on social media. This was just the most recent argument I’ve had on this issue. I’ve had similar(or identical) discussions in many other places and with many different people, so I decided to write this so that, maybe, I won’t have to say the exact same things over and over again in the future.
These discussions usually begin with a “left”-communist asking – usually in a sarcastic or degrading manner – why Marxist-Leninists insist on talking about dead leaders and their contributions. Specifically, they wonder why we still uphold Stalin. According to them, this is a waste of time, a turn-off to those living in the present day. They say we need to put our minds on the matters at hand, rather than “worshipping” figures from the past.
These ultra-“leftists” seem to be ignorant to the fact that, if we were to ignore the successes and failures of the past, we will likely make mistakes that could put the entire movement in jeopardy. It took a lot of trial-and-error for the first socialist revolutions to take off. What these ultras are suggesting is we start from scratch and make the same, or even worse, errors, due to our lack of historical knowledge. In doing so, we will be making ourselves infants in the movement. We will be pushing the revolution back decades. Of course, each place and situation calls for different strategies and tactics, but Marxism-Leninism, being a science, is already open to and prepared for such differing methods and environments. What the ultras are suggesting is to throw out the science as a guide and put on blindfolds. They want the movement to learn everything all over again. Over a century of study and practice should be thrown out the window.
But, being the super-edgy ultras that they are, this only applies when they are speaking with Leninists.
In the recent online debate, the person suggesting these things was a self-proclaimed Trotskyist. He was telling we “Stalinists” to stop “living in the past” since Stalin is dead and can not physically do anything for us now, while proudly proclaiming himself to follow another -ism of another dead man. So, while telling us that we should “get over” or accept the bourgeois lies that have been heaped upon Stalin’s historical legacy, he was simultaneously complaining about how Trotsky was “denied justice”. That is, while he was telling “Stalinists” to stop talking about the past, he was bringing up the past for his own defense. When we try to refute bourgeois myths regarding Stalin, he said that doing so was “pointless”. When we brought up Trotsky’s treacherous actions, he suddenly was fine with talking about the past in order to legitimize his own stance. I can’t possibly be the only one to see the double standard there. He’s actually fine with talking about historical events(despite claiming otherwise), just so long as the discussion doesn’t trample on his stubborn beliefs.
But Trotskyites are not the only ones to do this kind of thing. Anarchists will say the same things to we “Stalinists”, but the moment you bring up, say, Bakunin’s power-hungry attitude, they’ll suddenly find it necessary to talk about and defend historical figures. Every group or movement, political or otherwise, looks to history for legitimacy. Religious people look to books written by people who have been dead for thousands of years. Capitalists still read and produce the works of John Locke. The philosophy sections of every bookstore are filled with works by dead people. What I’m getting at is, history is the key to understanding the present. Without a knowledge of the past, we would be lost in the current times. We will have no understanding of why things are the way they are and how we can move forward. You have to understand how something is constructed before deconstructing and building something new.
Therefore, it should be easy to understand why we Marxist-Leninists find it necessary to study the works and actions of Stalin or any other socialist leader, in order to find out what worked and why, as well as what didn’t work and why, and to assess how to implement what worked into the differing circumstances of our time and place. Literally every other group or movement does this very same thing, so pointing your finger at Leninists for it is just hypocritical.
Now, with all of that said, it’s time to get to the crux of why defending Stalin is so essential to the Communist movement today, 60 years after his death.
Stalin oversaw the world’s first implementation of the socialist system. This system had the international bourgeoisie shaking in their well-polished shoes(unlike any of the ultra-“left” ideologies, which have either been tolerated or even utilized by the capitalists). The slanders thrown at the figure of Stalin are not directed at a single man, but at communism in general. It would be downright ridiculous to say that if Stalin hadn’t been elected as General Secretary the borgeoisie wouldn’t have continued spreading lies about the “horrors of communism”. If Trotsky or Kropotkin or any other semi-leftist figure had somehow succeeded in implementing socialism, it would be they who would be labelled as mass-murderers by the bourgeois propagandists. But neither of those figures succeeded, so the capitalists have no qualms with them or the movements they helped to create, because they aren’t a threat to bourgeois power. Marxism-Leninism, however, is a threat to the capitalists. Capitalists despise communism as a whole, not just a single man. Therefore, the defense of Stalin is in fact the defense of the socialist system, the power of the masses.
Let’s take a look at some of the outrageous accusations made against Stalin(and therefore, communism in general).
STALIN, THE MONSTER
For the idea of Stalin being one of the most “ruthless dictators in history” being considered “common knowledge”, there sure does seem to be a lack of any kind of consensus regarding his supposed atrocities, even among bourgeois scholars. Those members of the anti-communist intelligentsia, who go into their “studies” with a pro-bourgeois bias already ingrained in their minds, can’t seem to come to a conclusion on just how “bad” Stalin supposedly was. There is a pretty damn clear-cut idea of the crimes of all of the individual fascist regimes – there are mountains of evidence, documentation, etc. detailing what was done and how. But when it comes to the Stalin-era USSR or any other socialist country, everything is jumbled. One can’t help but to think these anti-communist “experts” are just shoehorning in their deathtolls when each of them gives a different account and estimation. Usually these numbers differ from each other by hundreds of thousands, if not millions. I have heard everything from 50,000 people killed by communist states, to 600,000, to several millions, to even billions. That’s right, some claim Stalin was responsible for the deaths of billions of people(which would mean, considering the human population at the time, he would have killed off half of humanity). Where are these numbers coming from, and why are these “experts” in so much disagreement? If Stalin was truly the monster they claim him to be, shouldn’t they have some kind of concrete proof, something that slightly resembles a consensus?
The more diehard of the anti-communist “experts”(Robert Conquest and co.) have no problems with using the likes of Hearst media as their sources. Hearst was an open sympathizer of the Nazi regime in Germany, when such sympathies were trending in the American anti-communist movement. His outlets were not worried about hiding these sympathies or praising the German fascists as “protecters” against the “communist threat”. Hearst himself visited Nazi Germany, and that is where he got his estimations regarding the “atrocities” of Stalin’s USSR. He got the information he wanted from Nazi propagandists and republished these estimations in his American media outlets. This is where Conquest and many others go to for the sources of their works. So, the most prominent and popular accusations against the USSR come, not from first-hand accounts or even hard evidence, but from pro-Nazi “yellow media”, which in turn got its information from Nazi propagandists. If this isn’t shady then I don’t know what is.
And supposed deathtolls are not the only inconsistencies in anti-communist rhetoric. For instance, half of the anti-communists(the far-rightists) claim that Marxism-Leninism is actually a Jewish conspiracy to undermine democracy and rule the world in a secretive shadow-government of some kind. I don’t think I need to go into why this claim is utter and complete nonsense. On the other hand, the other half of anti-communists(liberals, ultras, etc.) claim that Marxism-Leninism, specifically Stalin, was anti-Semitic. This claim persists today by people who obviously know next to nothing about Marxism-Leninism or Stalin. They read the Wikipedia page and believe that’s all the information they need to make this sweeping condemnation. They apparently don’t know that two of Stalin’s children married Jews, and that his grandchildren were therefore Jewish. They can’t put two and two together and come to the realization that, if Stalin was anti-Semitic, he would never have wanted to label himself as Marxist, as Marx was a Jew. And chances are they never bothered to learn what the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was – the first haven for the oppressed Jewish people of Europe. If Stalin really did want to “kill the Jews”, he did a terrible job, as the population of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast(which he helped to create) consistently rose during his time as leader.
There are other, more minor, accusations against Stalin and communism in general that contradict each other completely. Some say that Stalin was a “Russian Nationalist” who pushed for “Russofication” of the various states and nationalities which existed within the USSR. One big problem with this theory: Stalin wasn’t Russian, he was Georgian, which was an oppressed nationality during the days of the Russian empire. Another accusation, which is more annoying than serious, is that communists are either chaste prudes with no taste for excitement, or we’re perverted, animalistic sexual deviants. It all depends on which flavor of anti-communist you’re talking to.
What this all boils down to is: Anti-communists are opportunists to the worst degree. Anti-communist rhetoric changes from “expert” to “expert”, from one day to the next. It is completely unworthy of any kind of scholarly trust. But respectful dialogue and research is not their priority. Their priority is simple: demonize communism in any way possible. Tell whoever is listening what you want them to think. Forget about facts and consistency: if you’re talking to a neo-Nazi, tell them communism is a Jewish conspiracy out to kill white people. If you’re talking to a gullible liberal, tell them Stalin and Hitler were “basically the same”. Just so long as you get people to despise communism, you can become an “expert” on the issue. That’s all that matters.
So, to go back to my earlier point, when it comes to anti-communism, facts frankly do not matter. Therefore, in the realm of anti-communism, Stalin is just a name on which the anti-communists can place all the blame so as to discredit communism. If he had never been born, or had never become leader of the CPSU, the name would be different, but the accusations would remain the same. Just as inconsistent and nonsensical, reaching for thin air just as much. For in their attempts to paint Stalin as a monster, they aren’t simply trying to demonize a single individual, but the whole of the communist movement and ideology. This is why defense of Stalin is important, because countering the slanders thrown against him is to counter anti-communist lies in general. This is about much more than just a single figure.
CATERING TO BOURGEOIS IDEAS
So we see that, no matter who gains any position in a socialist state, no matter where or when a revolution takes place, the bourgeoisie will always slander communism as a whole. Not just Stalin or Ho Chi Minh or Enver Hoxha or anyone else, communism is the bourgeoisie’s target.
However, the capitalists are very eager to utilize those anti-communist “leftists”, in an attempt to basically say, “SEE?? We were right all along! Even other communists admit that successful revolutions are doomed to tyranny!” And in return, the anti-communist “leftists”, in their ignorance to bourgeois class interests, will take this as a cue to propagate bourgeois lies in order to try to further their own positions in the movement. They believe that, if they take part in the slandering of the successes of socialist states, they will somehow make a revolution of their own. They believe that, if they cater to bourgeois sentiment, by helping to discredit socialism at every turn, they can somehow sneak through bourgeois hegemony and create a revolution that has no historical foundation and no scientific basis. This is nothing more than holding hands with capitalists in order to attack anything that ever gets accomplished in the communist movement.
Sure, in words they will admit that the bourgeoisie, its media and scholars, has its own class interests and portrays these interests as interests of the “whole people”. But in practice, the ultras seem to forget all about this fact. They’ll call the ruling bourgeois ideas lies one minute, but the moment a bourgeois anti-communist “expert” slanders a socialist or anti-imperialist state, suddenly the ultras say, “Well, this is something the bourgeoisie is actually being honest about.” It’s strange that pretty much the only times these ultras believe the bourgeoisie is when they attack socialism. It really makes one wonder who or what they are supposedly fighting for.
Before the fascists became a nuisance to liberal-capitalist power, the bourgeois media had no problems with them. In fact, liberal-capitalist media and leaders praised fascists on many occasions before the outbreak of the Second World War. This is because fascism and liberalism both cater to the bourgeois class. Socialism, on the other hand, being a theory and system fighting for working class power, has always been slandered and condemned by capitalists of all stripes(liberal and fascist). If these socialist states were really as capitalistic as the ultras claim, the international bourgeoisie would have been seeking an alliance with them(outside of war time), instead of, you know, invading post-revolutionary Russia fourteen times and trying to cripple it with sanctions and secretive acts of aggression. The bourgeoisie so feared the USSR and others because of the threat of worldwide proletarian revolution. If the successful revolutions weren’t examples of working class victory, the capitalists wouldn’t have had much to worry about.
The ultras – Trots, anarchists, councilists, syndicalists – claim that going along with bourgeois anti-communist rhetoric is the “best thing” for building a new proletarian movement. That the only way to bring about a revolution is to distance themselves from the successes of the past. To hold up the bourgeois anti-communist banner. This is just plain lazy – beating around the bush of defeatism. Aiding the capitalists in their suppression of “unsavory” forms of communism(i.e. those which have actually lead to the overthrow of bourgeois power). This, much like bourgeois anti-communism, is opportunist to the extreme.
So, what does this “leftist” anti-communism amount to? Nothing more than being in full compliance with the ruling ideas of capitalist society. It is “communists” joining hands with anti-communists. It is “revolutionaries” joining the bourgeois choir of slandering any and every revolution. None of their ideas for revolution are original or groundbreaking, because revolution, to them, is secondary to ridiculing those revolutions that ended in victory. Trotsky spent more time helping bourgeois governments track down communists, writing incomprehensible works slandering every revolution that happened during his time, and trying to solidify his place as a Great Leader of some sort in order to satisfy his ego. His followers are doing a good job of carrying on that legacy today.
And none of this is about “hero-worship”, as evey ultra claims. The “cult of personality” is a bourgeois creation which we Marxist-Leninists oppose, and which Stalin himself opposed. You see, we Marxist-Leninists don’t actually call ourselves “Stalinists”, because Stalin, though a strong and committed communist, did not formulate any new theories for a new epoch of development. Trotskyists, on the other hand, proudly proclaim themselves to be followers of Trotsky, and named their theories after him, while simultaneously saying M-L’s “worship” Stalin. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Likewise, anarchists can’t stand to see anyone defending Stalin, but the moment you bring up the faults of Bakunin, Kropotkin, or Petrichenko, all gloves are off.
In the debate I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Trot making all of the accusations continuously took pot-shots at the Left – how “fucked up” it is, how it’s wrong on almost every level, how it’s basically a lost cause. He said that maybe he should just become a liberal. I said that would be perfect, because “communists” who spend all of their time slandering and attacking the Left and successful revolutions might as well just join the ranks of bourgeois anti-communists. After all, they’re pretty much already there.