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Stalin: Attempting to Resurrect a Political Corpse

March 28, 2023

March 5 marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union for 30 years. The Popular Unity (UP), a recently founded left-wing party [n.b. In Brazil], commemorated the date on Twitter exalting “70 years of the Immortality of Joseph Stalin”.

By: Bernardo Cerdeira

In several tweets there are statements like these: “the life and work of the ‘man of steel,’ as he was known, are still alive and gain strength every day.” Or even: “Stalin’s legacy illuminates the path of the class struggle and reinforces the need to make the revolution and smash capitalism.”

The UP was only missing calling Stalin the Great Leader of the Peoples as the Stalinists did in the “golden” era when all the Communist Parties shamefully submitted to the cult of personality and bureaucratic adulation.

Stalin and Stalinism were completely discredited when the ruling bureaucracies restored capitalism in the USSR, China, and the other former bureaucratized workers’ states, and when the masses rose up and overthrew the dictatorial regimes that oppressed them. Therefore, those who want to resurrect Stalin can only do so by carrying out a great falsification of history.

‘Gravedigger of the Revolution’

In reality, Stalin was the chief dictator of a counterrevolutionary regime with methods similar to fascism, which murdered more than a million communist opponents in order to defend the material privileges of his bureaucratic clique. It was a regime that massacred millions of peasants and members of minority nationalities in the USSR, persecuted LGBT people, and rolled back rights that women had won with the Russian Revolution.

Stalinism was the opposite of Bolshevism and Marxism. This bureaucracy was the product of the defeat of the world revolution and the retreat and isolation of the USSR. To assert itself in power and defend its privileges, it had to try and execute in the Moscow Trials the entire Old Guard of the Bolshevik Party, that is, the leaders who had been at the forefront of the Russian Revolution.

In the words of Trotsky, Stalin was the “Gravedigger of the Revolution”.

Stalin and the Second World War

But the UP’s exaltation of this nefarious figure does not stop there. It claims that the “important role played by Stalin in the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and in the defeat of Nazi-fascism in World War II are undeniable facts that insist on refuting the bourgeois versions of history.” This legend is also a widespread falsification. In truth, the heroic struggle of the Soviet people that defeated Nazi-fascism took place in spite of and against Stalin, whose role in the Second World War was disastrous; for example, the criminal execution of 40,000 officers of the Red Army, including its best generals, only three years before the invasion by Hitler’s troops. Or the Stalin-Hitler pact and Stalin’s reliance on Hitler’s promises, which left the USSR unprepared at the time of the German invasion.

Father of Capitalist Restoration

The UP also goes so far as to say that “during the more than 30 years of Stalin’s rule, the peoples of the USSR put an end to unemployment, hunger, illiteracy and economic crises, through the construction of socialism”.

“Socialist construction”? Do they want us to believe this farce? The 30 years of Stalin’s rule, plus another 30 years of rule by his collaborators and disciples, buried the gains of the Russian Revolution and prepared the restoration of capitalism in the 1980s.

It is enough to look at the trajectory of Stalin and the Stalinist clique he formed. The ruling bureaucracy of the USSR and those of the new bureaucratized workers states that were formed after World War II were undermining the social bases of these states and ended up restoring capitalism in all of them. The former Stalinists became bourgeois. This is the example of China and Russia. And many Communist Parties were directly transformed into bourgeois parties, like the majority of the PCB [of Brazil] which became PPS (today Citizenship) or the former Italian Communist Party which, after ruptures and mergers, today is part of the Democratic Party, a bourgeois party. This history cannot be erased.

Why the struggle against Stalinism is still important today

Many young comrades and sincere communists are of the opinion that the historical struggle of the Trotskyists against Stalinism, since the Left Opposition was formed in the USSR in 1923, no longer makes sense today. Some Stalinists and neo-Stalinists claim that the struggle between Trotskyists and Stalinists is a “fight of fanatics” like in a soccer match.

The issue deserves a political and theoretical response that will help the new generations to draw their own conclusions. The ideological, political, theoretical, and programmatic combat against the legacy of Stalinism is fundamental today because the role played by Stalinism—which relied on the weight of the USSR and the usurpation of the legacy of the Russian Revolution—was so violent and so harmful for the world workers’ movement that it influences all the opportunist, traitorous, and bureaucratic currents to this day.

The theory of camps

For example, Stalinism was responsible for systematizing and giving a theoretical body to the policy of class collaboration and unity with the bourgeoisie, through the Popular Front policy approved at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

The policy of the Popular Front was based on the “theory of camps” or “progressive bourgeois camp,” which replaced the idea of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat with the conception of the struggle between two camps: on one side, the camp of the reactionary bourgeoisie, the ultra-right and fascism; on the other side, the “progressive” camp formed by the working class, the popular sectors and the “progressive” bourgeoisie.

According to this theory, revolutionaries should fight for progressive governments to come to power and rule with their support or participation. This is the opposite of what the leaders of Marxism said: that revolutionaries can never participate in or support bourgeois governments because they will lead the workers’ movement to terrible defeats.

In today’s world

Currently, uniting with the bourgeoisie to govern is practically universal in the world left. Just look at the Broad Front Lula-Alckmin and sectors of the Centrão [Brazilian trade union federation] in the current government. Or the so-called “progressive” governments in Latin America. Or the social democratic governments in Europe. And all of them have led and currently lead to defeats.

The theory of camps is closely linked to the false theory of “socialism in one country” which proclaimed that socialism could be achieved in the USSR because of the exceptional conditions of the country, i.e., because of its territorial extension and natural wealth. Therefore, the fundamental task of the communists of the whole world would be to defend the USSR, subordinating the world socialist revolution to the interests of the USSR. This is also contrary to the principles of Marxism that socialism can only be an international system, which implies the working class taking power in the advanced capitalist countries, otherwise the capitalist world economy would end up prevailing.

The greatest evidence of the failure of “socialism in one country” is that the countries of so-called “real socialism” totally succumbed to the pressures of world capitalism, and the Stalinist bureaucracy decided to restore capitalism and transform itself into a new bourgeoisie, as in Russia and China.

Falsifying history

Stalinism, to justify its dictatorship, produced a falsified history that the political regime of socialism would be a one-party regime, the Communist Party, which should totally eliminate workers’ democracy in the Soviets (Councils), transforming them into decorative bodies and establishing a bureaucratic dictatorship that became a one-man dictatorship, that of Stalin. And this dictatorship was based on a monolithic party, without the right to any democratic debate and in which any criticism could be punished by firing squad.

In order to justify the persecution and murder of revolutionaries who opposed it, Stalinism introduced moral degeneration into the workers’ movement. It created a veritable school of slander and falsifications. It imposed the “anything goes” rule against critical revolutionary currents. And it justified, as never before, violence and assassinations within the workers’ and revolutionary movement. Those methods are now accepted as valid and justified by bureaucrats, traitors and opportunists of different currents all over the world.

These falsifications of what socialism would be, of class independence, of the political regime of a workers’ state, of the revolutionary party and of the morality of revolutionaries are still present to this day among the vanguard. For this reason, far from being a “fight of fanatics,” the struggle against these falsifications and against this inheritance of Stalinism encompasses central problems for the workers’ movement and is of fundamental importance for the new generations of communists.

Historical Balance: Is the Trotskyist critique important?

Many say that these criticisms of Stalinism may be correct, but they minimize them, trying to play down the importance of those who make them. A typical “argument” of this sector of the vanguard is that Trotskyism has not led any revolution, so it does not have the political authority to make such criticisms.

This is a very poor argument. The correctness of theoretical and political criticism does not depend on whether its authors led a revolution or a state. Marx and Engels could not lead any revolution because the historical epoch in which they lived did not give them that opportunity, but no serious socialist will question their role as founders of scientific socialism or their criticisms of the reformists and anarchists. The historical role of Trotskyism as an opposition current to Stalinism is enough to demonstrate its importance in history.

But, above all, it is an erroneous argument in its content. What was the greatest revolution in history, the first, the most complete and consistent? Was it not the Russian Revolution? Who led it? After Lenin, who was its maximum leader, Trotsky was undoubtedly the one who stood out the most and was president of the Petrograd Soviet. Who was the founder, organizer and main leader of the Red Army that defeated the counterrevolution? It was Trotsky. Stalin played a secondary role in the revolution.

Other leaders who later became part of the Left Opposition played a prominent role, such as Rakovsky, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Ukraine; Ivan Smirnov, who was considered the Lenin of Siberia for his leading role in that region during the civil war. Preobrazhensky, People’s Commissar for Economic Affairs; Piatakov, who according to Lenin was the most prominent member of the Central Committee. Antonov-Ovseenko, who led the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917.

The Trotskyists in the USSR were imprisoned, sent to forced labor camps and then shot, including these leaders. The Trotskyists had to face not only the Nazi and imperialist counterrevolution throughout the world, but also the counterrevolutionary action of Stalinism which made a united front with world reaction. They were defeated and massacred, but their criticisms and diagnosis proved correct and maintain all their force and relevance.

Article first published at www.pstu.org.br, 3/15/2023.

Translation: John Joseph

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