The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, March 01, 2004

Stalin and socialism

I'm going to leave this subject for a while - as I said, sometimes you just have to start again from the beginning. But meanwhile, I'd like to make one point clear:

My long-held, and downright wrong, position on Stalinism was based not on what I'd learned from the left, but on what I'd failed to learn. Almost everything that can truthfully be said against Stalin and his regime was said in the 1930s, or in memoirs of that period, by the left. Trotsky, Serge, Ciliga, Trepper, Ginzburg etc had no illusions whatsoever that Stalinist policies were anything other than catastrophic. The modern Trotskyists, such as Tony Cliff, Ted Grant and Ernest Mandel, were if anything more unsparing in their exposures of the crimes, disasters and lies of the Stalin era (and subsequent eras).

I read them all, and some of the anti-communists, as well as fairly standard histories. I wasn't ignorant of or skeptical about the basic facts. What I was sceptical of was the idea that there was some alternative. And the focus of that scepticism wasn't Russia, but Germany. In theory I agreed with the proposition that revolutionary opportunities were missed, and the Nazi rise to power could have been stopped. But I didn't believe it.

The argument goes as follows: Even in 1933, the socialists and communists between them had more than twice as many votes as the Nazis, and probably more guns. The main reason why they were unable to combine and stop Hitler was the insane Stalinist policy of treating the Social Democrats as a more dangerous enemy than the Nazis. The German working class was split.

I must have read this a thousand times. But after about the hundredth time, my eyes glazed over. 'Yeah, yeah, the German workers could have stopped Hitler. But they didn't. What does that tell us about the German workers? And who really did stop Hitler, eh?'

Add in a bit of unexamined British chauvinism and you end up somewhere you didn't expect. I was certainly anti-Stalinist as far as the present and future were concerned, and never did anything to promote Stalinism as such, but with regard to the past I conceded far too much to it. This was entirely my own fault, and not that of those socialists from whom I could and should have learned better.


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