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The Left Archive: “Mastering Bolshevism” Pamphlet from the Internationalists, 1968 July 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist), Irish Left Online Document Archive, The Internationalists.
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The term Stalinist is bandied around a fair old bit in further left political circles, sometimes correctly, sometimes not. But for an example of a truly ‘Stalinist’ document one need not look further than this, a reprint by the Internationalists of “Mastering Bolshevism” by Stalin.

The Internationalists, who when they grew a bit older became the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist) [of which more here] were founded by Hardial Bains who – it must be admitted – worked prodigiously to promote Maoism as an aspect of Marxist-Leninism, then when that failed the test during the Sino-Albanian split went with Hoxha and Albania.
That such an exotic bloom should flower, albeit temporarily and in a very limited way, in Ireland is testament to Bains who apparently studied in Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1960s.

The political purpose of the Internationalists is evident in the quote on the cover from Stalin himself:

Trotksyism has ceased to be a political trend in the working class… it has changed from the political trend which it was seven or eight years ago into a frantic and unprincipled gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and murderers acting on the instruction of the intelligence services of foreign states…(1937)

The then contemporary nuance is explained in a preface on the inside cover which argues that:

… the target of attack is modern Soviet Revisionism, the ‘revisionist’ parties in the imperialist countries and elsewhere, trotskyism [note the lower case ‘t’], ‘Castroism’ and various other shades of liberal bourgeoisie ideologies vying for influence in the revolutionary ranks, e.g.. ‘new left ideology’.

[To which the only answer might be that if this pamphlet is agin them then I’m for those new leftists and revisionists.] But during this period the ‘new left’ and attendant supporters was in the ascendant and this sort of gesture was presumably necessary by their lights.

That said the small issue as to whether Stalin’s (unbelievably repetitious) ruminations on Trotsky et al had any bearing at all on how socialism of whatever form should be progressed in Ireland in the 1960s seems to have escaped those who published and distributed this pamphlet.

The advert on the second last page promoting “Necessity for Change Progressive Books and Periodicals”, or plain old Progressive Books as we knew it later is interesting [although perhaps not quite as interesting as the question of how such a small group could afford a bookshop… now that’s what I call dedication]. The term “Necessity for Change” came from a conference Bains had organised to found Marxist-Leninist parties, but it’s indicative of the propensity for sloganeering, something that carried on into the CPI (ML).

A small note: Oddly enough this is the only piece of material I’ve ever had any qualms in putting up due to the author of the content. But it’s an archive and reflective of the times, ideas and people involved…

Comments»

1. Starkadder - July 21, 2008

On the subject of the Kulak butcher, here’s an article by
Johann Hari on the British Stalin Society and some of its
members.

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=155

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2. Mark P - July 21, 2008

Now this is some comedy gold. They really were barking mad, weren’t they?

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3. Jim Monaghan - July 21, 2008

Let us not be complacent. look at the willingness of many leftists to make excuses.
There were at least 3 Irish victims of the Gulag. Many Irish leftists knew them and kept their mouths shut.
Cathal O’Shannon jn said recently about his father keeping Uncle Joes photo up on the wall.
The solidarity movements make many excuses as well.
Maybe it is age but I think telling the truth however acqward is a necessary virtue.
On the particular sect. I found them the most religious in ther approach. With the possible exception of the WRP?Healyites I find the Trotskyist groups somewhat rationale, at least in comparison

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4. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

I’ve seen stuff a lot more repetitious than this. And probably written some!

Anyway. the pamphlet does the raise of the importance of paranoia in post-revolutionary politics, something which can be observed after every major, and a lot of minor, revolutions from the American forward. And obviously was of particular importance in the USSR. Clearly there were no massive networks of Trotskyist wreckers out to dismember the USSR and restablish capitalism. That such a belief could take hold is a demonstration of the importance of paranoia, but there is plenty of it in the way left groups think about and talk about other left groups, which we can easily see today.

Having said that, I sometimes wonder if we have gone too far in the other direction. Certainly, we can be sure that foreign powers had agents operative within the USSR. From some of Trotsky’s correspondence I read in my mispent youth, I seem to recall that he was of the opinion that there were a network of people still loyal to him and aimed to overthrow the government within the USSR at exactly the time this pamphlet was produced. Certain events in Spain over the next few years would suggest that there was the capacity for deliberate obstruction in a time of serious danger from fascism and fratricidal violence from political groups beyond the orthodox communists. As for the idea that it is unlikely that leftists opposed to the USSR would cooperate with capitalist powers, Orwell’s behaviour as an anti-communist informer might suggest otherwise.

So I guess what I am asking is do people think this whole thing was all paranoia, or might there have been more truth in it than we allow? One ex member of Militant I spoke to said Trotsky was delusional about the network inside the USSR. The paranoid dynamic was clearly the result of the peculiarities of Russian history, and of the Russian revolutionary movement, but as I’ve suggested above, it is far from absent today. Can we be sure that such a thing could not happen again? I’d be interested what others think about these issues, and in a serious way for discussion rather than rants from opposing sides. In terms of reticence about posting this, I think that as an historical document it’s the sort of thing we should see, but not only that, how are we to avoid the mistakes of the past if we are ill-informed about them?

Having said that all that very reasonably: the Internationalists? Nutters.

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5. Mark P - July 21, 2008

Garibaldy:

There are unlikely to be many rants from opposing sides about this pamphlet. The only people who defend Stalin, the Stalinist purges or Stalinism these days are a few mentally infirm old codgers and a few people with mental health issues. One or two of them might show up in this thread but nobody will take them seriously. Those debates are long over.

The one point you raise that is of historical interest is the issue of the existence of the Left Opposition or its successors within the Soviet Union. Here the issue is not that Trotsky was “delusional” but that he didn’t yet understand the full scale of the Stalinist mass murder campaign. He didn’t realise that his supporters were, by 1937, long dead in mass graves along with almost all of the other Russian revolutionaries.

As for “deliberate obstruction in the face of fascism” in Spain, that’s a pretty good description of the role of the Stalinists in opposing the Spanish revolution and, much like everywhere else where they got the opportunity, murdering their political opponents.

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6. ejh - July 21, 2008

there is plenty of it in the way left groups think about and talk about other left groups, which we can easily see today.

A true enough point.

Certain events in Spain over the next few years would suggest that there was the capacity for deliberate obstruction in a time of serious danger from fascism and fratricidal violence from political groups beyond the orthodox communists.

Ah – as it’s my day for specifics, you wouldn’t care to supply some? (Note – I’m very far from holding the view that everything wrong with the Republican side was the fault of the Communists, unlovely though they were in a number of respects.)

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7. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

Well I guess it depends what you mean by defending Stalin. One can be of the opinion that the policy of consolidating the Revolution, and concentrating on the economic development of a very backward territory in order to be able to stave off any future invasions and transform the lives of the people there, rather than trying to export revolution on the point of a bayonet when in no material or military position to do so, was the correct one, without suggesting that all the decisions taken by Stalin or perhaps more correctly by the government during his period or leadership were all correct. So in that sense, I think it was better that Stalin succeeded to leadership rather than Trotsky.

Certainly mistakes were made by the CP in Spain. But the point I was making is that they weren’t the only ones to engage in this type of activity. And frankly, I have little doubt that if some political organisations about today ever got power, we could easily see the purge dynamic get up and running. The question then becomes whether there is something in the culture of the further left or whatever you want to call it that needs identified and changed. Given the discussion on the other thread about left unity, should we not be more prepared to accept people’s bona fides rather than dismiss them as cranks, nutters, informers, etc?

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8. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

EJH,

The anarchists seizing the telephone exchange and preventing communications functioning effectively; or the fact that some groups felt that they should be able to opt in or opt out of military campaigns in the face of the fascist threat.

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9. Mark P - July 21, 2008

“One can be of the opinion that the policy of consolidating the Revolution, and concentrating on the economic development of a very backward territory in order to be able to stave off any future invasions and transform the lives of the people there, rather than trying to export revolution on the point of a bayonet when in no material or military position to do so, was the correct one…”

Well yes you can, but that wouldn’t have anything much to do with historical events in Russia.

Unless of course when you say “consolidating the Revolution” you actually mean “destroying the emancipatory and socialist content of the Revolution and replacing it with a bureaucratic dictatorship”. And if when you say “transform the lives of people there” you mean to add “by butchering them in their hundreds of thousands”. That would bring your rather vague statement of principle back towards the reality of the Soviet experience.

Of course you’d still have to correct your woefully inaccurate depiction of the Marxist programme, as “exporting revolution on the point of a bayonet” wasn’t part of it. You’d probably also have to replace the stuff about “building up the economy” with “labour under the anti-Marxist delusion that it is possible to build socialism in one country”.

Then we’d end up with a proposition that goes something like this:

“One can be of the opinion that operating under the delusion that socialism can be built in one isolated country, gutting the revolution of its socialist and emancipatory content and replacing it with a bureaucratic dictatorship and proceeding to transform the lives of people there by murdering hundreds of thousands of them was the correct approach to take…”

That would probably be less palatable even to the disappointed old Stalinists of the Workers Party, but it would bear a rather closer resemblance to history.

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10. ejh - July 21, 2008

Ah – insofar as the telephone exchange was actually “seized” (as opposed to being udner the control of the anarchists since the fascists were driven out of Barcelona) it wasn’t really much to do with “preventing communications functioning effectively”, was it? It had a great deal with the fear of being illegalised, imprisoned and shot at the behest of the Communists.

I say this being well aware that some of the anarchists had no compunction in shooting people of whom they disapproved and that they didn’t tend to respect governmental order unless it suited them: nevertheless

(a) I don’t think they were obliged to hang around and let themselves be knocked off in Communist prisons ;

(b) the Communists themselves were only the party of order when it suited them: they were quite happy to undermine any minister and ignore any instruction if they felt like it. And they were the only group on the Republican side who can plausibly be painted as agents of a foreign power – and not so much “plausibly” as that’s exactly what they were.

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11. ejh - July 21, 2008

Unless of course when you say “consolidating the Revolution” you actually mean “destroying the emancipatory and socialist content of the Revolution and replacing it with a bureaucratic dictatorship”. And if when you say “transform the lives of people there” you mean to add “by butchering them in their hundreds of thousands”. That would bring your rather vague statement of principle back towards the reality of the Soviet experience.

Well, up to a point. But it’s reasonable to suggest that the Trotskyist strategy simply wasn’t realistic in the circusmtances in which the USSR found itself after the Civil War and that only a policy of consolidation and accomodation had any chance either or succeeding, or of being accepted by anything other than a very small proportion of the population.

There’s more than arguably a case for the view that Trotskyism not only tends to be about party lines, but that historically it constitutes an attempt to explain the failure of the USSR on the basis that the political party in the country took the wrong line. And that as such, it really comes up with a lot of wrong answers to the question which it seeks to ask.

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12. WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2008

I don’t know. I tend to think that functionally Stalin and the expression of power relations that his rule typified (and which persisted in an increasingly attenuated form subsequently) was profoundly detrimental to Communism. We can argue the toss about his personality – sociopathic or much much worse – and how that also expressed itself in the structures of the CP, but I keep coming back to the thought that the structures themselves, semi-militarised, covert to a degree, supposedly democratic but in practice hardly at all, allowed him to take control.

Beyond that the question has to be asked whether the existence of the USSR under Stalin, and then subsequently, was of any particular global utility. I tend to think that it was in relation to defeating fascism, but that is in some ways to counterpose one then utterly brutal totalitarianism against a much worse one. After that it served as a sort of equaliser globally. But again to what effect considering that its actual existing structures served as a negative example to populations who otherwise might have been attracted to Communism (of whatever form). So at best a very mixed balance sheet.

Re paranoia as an aspect of the struggle, well yes, oddly I’d agree Garibaldy, but again I’d point to the structures which allowed paranoia to be acted upon. As regards any serious oppositional networks, or indeed Western ones, most most unlikely. It’s still stunning to see how little idea the west had as to what was going on inside the USSR during the last years of its decline.

In a way I think the ISN have some handle on this as regards the ‘culture’ issue of the further left, but… I don’t particularly know how their conclusions could be applied in practice.

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13. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

I can see that this is not going to be the debate that I was hoping for, as we’re getting sidetracked down the rights and wrongs of this and that specific policy or set of policies in the USSR.

Having said that, if we want to talk about the specifics of conditions in the USSR, then let’s do it in the round. Firstly, the state never had anything like the firm control of the territory or the population that some people like to think. The continued resistance of the kulak class and the NEP men to the socialist programme – never mind the religious, right-wing nationalistic, and other remaining reactionary elements throughout the territory – is something that needs to be factored in when we consider what consolidating the revolution meant. It meant building a power strong enough to defend against external and exteremely serious internal threats. Primarily, economic development, and in heavy industry. As for socialism in one country. I’ve never regarded that – and I believe that the Bolsheviks never regarded it – as anything other than slogan about what was most necessary to defend the revolution until the wheel turned and revolution happened/could be encouraged abroad. In the same way that I’ve never thought people really believed that Electrification Equals Communism. On a related nore about production and internal enemies, the best way to view de-kulakisation, it seems to me, is as the second round of the civil war. Quite a large proportion of those on the receiving end of repression were good value for it. As Trotsky himself understood, but which people today tend to forget. It was a them or us situation. Unfortunately that had serious consequences for the political and economic development of the regime.

As for the business about emancipation. I thought that lifting people out of gross poverty, improving life expectancy, literacy, health services, the position of women within society, dealing more sensitively with the nationality question than the previous regimes, removing the power of the aristocracy and church, electrification etc might have had some emancipatory content. In fact, it might be a revolution in people’s lives. Something which they achieved themselves through a collective herculean effort by the Soviet peoples. And something which was given voluntarily as they believed they were building a better future. Which they did, regardless of the huge mistakes made.

As for the specifics of the Trotskyist programme. Again, when are we talking about? The emancipatory content of militarising all labour? The way in which Trotsky was far some sympathetic to arguments for organised opposition within and beyond the Bolshevik party until he became clear that he was losing the battle for control of the party? The call to invade Germany in 1933, which could only have ended in a war against all the western capitalist powers, and almost certainly Japan nipping in to attack the eastern USSR as well? What could have been done differently in terms of security of the state? Let’s take workers’ militias. Inevitably, there would have been a need for a standing army, particularly in the context of the fascist threat. Something I think Spain showed most visibly.

I also have some sympathy with EJH’s point about the emphasis on the political line being somewhat misleading, although I’d take it in a different direction. We are talking about clashes shaped by fundamental social, political, class and geopolitical factors. The range of practical options open to any leadership were limited. Hence why I don’t think Stalin as leader was particularly different to how anyone else is likely to have been. Certainly there were things that happened when the influence of Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev was at its height that bear comparison to the sometimes brutally pragmatic approach taken under Stalin. Krondstadt and the NEP being perhaps the most obvious examples.

I think that much too often when examining this question, the notion of historical materialism that all Marxist groups adhere to in some form or another when analysing the present or anti-colonial struggles or whatever get thrown out the window in favour of pavlovian responses to certain words or issues. So the Internationalists stand at one end of this, and the automatic urge to denounce any suggestion that the USSR after about 1925 might have been progressive stands at the other.

On Spain, had I been an anarchist, I’m sure I would have acted as they did. But the point stands that the CP were not the only ones to behave in a less than comradely and shortsighted fashion. And – frankly – as with the USSR, in the face of a fascist threat, some repression of dissident elements was probably necessary to try and field an effective army.

As for the oppositional networks. As I say, I doubt they were massively significant. But equally, I do think they were not entirely figments of the imagination. On the paranoid thing, the problem with the ISN approach is that it seems to me to preclude the option for disciplined political action.

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14. ejh - July 21, 2008

Certainly there were things that happened when the influence of Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev was at its height that bear comparison to the sometimes brutally pragmatic approach taken under Stalin.

But I don’t think there’s anything remotely on the scale of the purges. I don’t just mean in terms of numbers, but I mean in terms of sheer lunacy in all sorts of ways.

some repression of dissident elements was probably necessary to try and field an effective army

That may be so, but it was not really for that reason that the Communists repressed dissident elements.

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15. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

The purges happened in a concrete set of historical circumstances. I more interested in understanding why they happened, and thus get a better idea of how to avoid any repetition that simple denunciation. And were as often – if note more often – driven from below as from above. IIRC, Stalin complained about the excessive actions of people at certain points. They may well have been lunacy. But Europe was in the grip of a great deal of political madness, and they should not be separated from that context.

On the repression in Spain. We can agree to differ I think.

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16. Mark P - July 21, 2008

Well, scratch a Stick and they haven’t travelled too far from the Internationalists it seems. Endless, weasel justifications for some of the greatest crimes in human history, all wrapped up with pious nods towards the wonders of the Soviet Union and its tremendous advances. You’d almost think that we had travelled back in time to a period when the monstrous Stalinist dictatorship was still a super power and when its fan clubs of credulous cretins still wielded influence in the labour movement.

The programme of the Left Opposition – as Garibaldy would know if he hadn’t rotted his brain reading apologias for Stalinism – was for careful, planned industrialisation at home, voluntary collectivisation, workers democracy and support for spreading the revolution abroad What Stalinism meant first and foremost was the consolidation of the power of the bureaucracy over the working class, the rolling back of many of the achievements of the revolution (some of which Garibaldy quite mendaciously attributes to Stalinism).

The Soviet working class and peasantry did indeed achieve heroic things in the revolution, but the Stalinist dictatorship should not be credited with their achievements nor should they be blamed for “volunteering” to be victims of Stalinist terror and dictatorship.

Anyone who thinks that Stalin’s Soviet Union was in any sense “socialist” shares no common understanding of that term with me. You cannot have socialism without workers democracy at every level. You cannot have socialism, even “actually existing socialism”, in one country alone. You cannot have socialism where the working class remain as wage labourers and have neither economic power nor political freedom. Anyone who at this point in time still makes excuses, or partial excuses, or weasel worded justifications for Stalinism is no comrade of mine and is not in my view part of any left worth having. They are closer to holocaust deniers than to socialists.

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17. Mbari - July 21, 2008

Hardial Bains travelled the world founding minor Maoist parties, the most significant of which is probably the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada. Interestingly enough most of their focus these days is on democratic renewal, changing Canada’s electoral system, things like that. They might still be bitter about not being allowed to call themselves the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), as Elections Canada decided that might confuse voters.

The Canadian knockoff of the Daily Show made fun of them pretty well, by the way: http://www.cbc.ca/mercerreport/video_player.html?communist_party_ad

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18. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

Actually Mark, I’ve never read any apologias for Stalinism. Most of the Soviet history I’ve read was written by Trotsky, Deutscher and various other Trotskyist groups. As well as a few anti-communist historians. Remarkably, I’m able to think for myself. And I don’t really think that positions on events in the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s are relevant to the possibility of cooperation in Ireland in 2008. Besides which, clearly the problem with the USSR was the lack of democracy. It was, however, still a progressive entity. As the utter carnival of worldwide reaction since its downfall has proven.

I am interested in understanding why things happened as they did. Which means trying to judge them dispassionately, and understand why people behaved as they did. Understanding why what happened happened, as I’ve said above, will help us avoid the repetition of such things. The USSR went badly wrong. And from quite an early period. But that occurred because of a lot more than simply Stalin. And quite a lot to do with perceptions of external and internal threats. These are circumstances that are liable to repeat themselves in any future socialist government anywhere in the world. Just look at Venezeula and Bolivia, neither of which are fully fledged socialist revolutions, but both of which have met hostility at home and abroad, attempts at a coup or illegal attempts to give democratic legitimacy to bourgeois economic interests or whatever. So far they have been handled it seems to me in the right way, unlike in South Africa, where too much was surrendered to the pursuit of a quiet life.

I won’t dignify the holocaust denier remark with a response, but I will ask where is the programme for dealing effectively with counter-revolution from home and abroad in Mark’s version of events. I can see no sign of it. And perhaps if we have been ready for a socialist revolution for over a century, and Trotsky has provided the way forward, why there has never been a trotskyist revolution anywhere in the world.

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19. WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2008

I do wonder Mark P about the almost theological purism of the idea socialism is only achievable in one country alone. If it is that refined a concept one wonders if it’s achievable at all.

Garibaldy, I take your point about the lack of revolutions centred on Trotsky’s ideas. But that said I think that just demonstrates how unuseful the idea that Stalinism is as a categorisation of anything other than the specific period within the USSR during and for some period after his death. For example, both Allende and Castro can be seen as being influenced by fairly mainstream Communism of a pro-Soviet tinge to greater or lesser extent, but I don’t see anything per se Stalinist about those two examples – although obviously far from immune to strongly critical critiques. What I do see is a lot of basic pragmatism in the sense that the orientation was towards then existing support structures that would assist. Now that doesn’t make any of these people angels. Indeed I’d be very critical of Castro. But it does sort of take us beyond the sterility of a discussion of which strands are of greater or lesser merit well over half a century after their height, and indeed in contexts none of us have been involved in. And it explains why broadly speaking revolutionary activity tended to – in the main, there are some notable exceptions – to position towards Moscow (or indeed Beijing) rather than other groups.

That said, I can’t see anything much about Stalin to celebrate (not that I’m suggesting that that is what you’re doing) or indeed what I’d consider as a pretty grim distortion of communism during his rule and for some time after.

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20. WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2008

Can I just add that while I do think that in broad brush strokes Trotsky or Stalin would have been essentially similar in terms of leadership of the state, or rather the general positioning of the state (i.e. to the West, to Nazi Germany), in the detail it’s near impossible to see Trotsky overseeing the sort of unhinged purges that Stalin did, and that isn’t to whitewash Trotsky who wasn’t averse to certain methods when and as, but simply that Stalin was a vastly more dysfunctional personality.

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21. Starkadder - July 21, 2008

It’s the big question…would the Soviet Union “have
worked” if Trotsky, Bukharin, or even a
longer-lived Lenin held power?

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22. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

The way I see it, the great man theory of history is not compatible with a Marxist analysis, even though the importance of agency must be acknowledged. So I doubt if it would have been all that different myself due to the circumstances.

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23. Mark P - July 21, 2008

Starkadder:

On that question, both Garibaldy and WbS are correct in a sense. If Trotsky or Bukharin had “come to power”, simply swapping them for Stalin, you’d probably have got a bureaucratic dictatorship but not the utter carnage of Stalinism. Just swapping the personalities at the top would have probably avoided the grotesque body count of Stalin’s rule, but it wouldn’t have led to socialism. In fact it was for a period probably open to Trotsky to mount a military coup, which would likely have resulted in exactly that happening. A more benign dictatorship but a dictatorship still. The Left Opposition, as Marxists, were of the view that for the Revolution to survive it must spread and it must allow much greater democratic power to the working class than is allowed under capitalism, not much less.

The absolutely fundamental problem facing the Russian revolutionaries was the failure of the revolutionary wave that swept Europe after the first world war. It simply was not possible to build a socialist society in mostly illiterate, backwards, isolated Russia alone. The Stalinist attempt to do so, with its particularly barbarous brutality and caught up as it was in the interests of the rising bureaucracy, was perhaps the worst case scenario but an attempt to do so led by more benign personalities at the top would not have worked either.

It is important to realise that this was an understanding shared by Lenin, Trotsky and all of the other Bolsheviks. Russia was “the weak link in the capitalist chain” and a revolution could start there, but socialism could not be built there without the assistance of the workers of the more advanced countries. The material resources were not there to do it.

This isn’t a “purist” notion, as WbS suggests. It’s an entirely practical one. Just as one coop can’t opt out of the capitalist economy, neither can one country just opt out of the world market. Civil war, famine, invasion, mass illiteracy and in particular an incredibly backwards economy do not provide the material conditions necessary for socialism.

Garibaldy:

Actually yes this stuff does still matter. About a fifth of the world’s population still lives under Stalinist dictatorships. Nobody who sends solidarity greetings to Kim Jong-il, second emperor of his dynasty, or to the vermin who control the Chinese state apparatus is a comrade of mine. When I read a motion from the most recent Workers Party Ard Fheis saluting “the continuing struggle of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Korean people for national independence, sovereignty and socialism” it makes me feel physically ill.

It also makes me wonder what precisely your vision of socialism is, because frankly if you and Kim Jong-il are struggling for the same thing I can assure you that I want no part of helping you or allying with you.

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24. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

Mark,

My personal position on the DPRK is simple. It’s an issue of sovereignty. Cuba gets all the sympathy as a country oppressed by an aggressive imperial power. And it deserves every ounce of support it gets from whatever source. Korea, on the other hand, gets none of the same understanding when it comes to the system. We should not forget that 10% of the US nuclear arsenal is aimed at the Koreans (and it was only the President asserting civilian control that prevented MacArthur from dropping the bomb during that war), that the centre of the country has been turned into a landmine, and that it has been under a very real threat of invasion and indeed annihilation. During the first famine crisis in the mid 1990s or so, pressure was put on China and Japan to hold off on food aid until political concessions could be wrung from the DPRK. That is genocide in my book, but we hear next to nothing of it. I’d have thought it was the treatment of the DPRK that should make progressives sick. It should be left alone to follow its own path. As for the nature of the government there, the stress on the leader etc, again I think we should strive to understand why that is as Marxists. Should Korea be united under the auspicies of the WPK, I would expect it to be a very different place. Korea is the front line of imperialist aggression, and that is the view The WP takes.

As for China, I wouldn’t hold it up as a model for socialism. But it is possible that it can sometimes play a progressive role by providing for a more multi-polar world, and restraining some of the excesses of others.

As for my vision of socialism. It’s about emancipating humanity from its chains, and enabling people to live free from poverty and oppression, and allowing each individual to achive his/her full potential. That requires much more democratic control that has been seen in socialist states hitherto, and for ultimate success, international cooperation. Nevertheless, those individual countries that can make steps towards building more egalitarian societies should do so.

Not an easy thing to do in the slightest. And very far away. So the question becomes, what do we do in an imperfect world? Internally, fight for every democratic advance, and the strengthening of the welfare state, and the labour movement. Internationally, support progressive movements and states, even if they are far from being perfect. That means cooperating at home and abroad with everyone from the progressive elements within the bourgeoisie to the likes of the Internationalists where common ground can be found. Slow pragmatic steps, especially in the period we live in.

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25. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

Coincidentally, I just came across this

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/21/asia/incheon.php

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26. Mark P - July 21, 2008

Garibaldy:

I don’t give a flying fuck about the concept of “sovereignty” myself, agreeing as I do with Marx that the working class has no country. However I do care very much about imperialism and I absolutely agree with you that socialists should oppose any imperialist attack on either North Korea or Cuba.

But opposing an imperialist attack on a country is not a reason to prettify the regime in power in that country, still less to declare that its leaders are struggling for the same goal we are, or that the place is socialist. Far from it. Ba’athist Iraq did not cease being a vicious, capitalist dictatorship when Saddam Hussein went from henchman of the Western powers to their target. Should the US attack Iran, that country will not just because of that fact cease to be a theocratic hellhole.

North Korea and Cuba are both bureaucratic dictatorships, and thus by definition not socialist. Without democracy, there is no socialism. Both countries are heavily bureaucratised and run by a parasitic social layer. There is nothing to be gained for our organisations here, for the working class there or for the cause of socialism in general to award their dictatorial regimes the title of socialist. Now as Stalinist regimes go, Castro’s is relatively benign when compared to that of the second emperor of the Kim dynasty. But broadly speaking the same issues apply – capitalism has been abolished, but a brutal, parasitic bureaucracy controls both countries.

Not only are the regimes in both countries not socialist, they are the enemies of socialism. In a time period when the very concept of socialism has been dragged through not just mud but oceans of blood by Stalinism it is important to be very clear on this.

By the way, you say that you don’t hold up China as a model for a socialist society, but you don’t make it clear whether you regard China as socialist at all?

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27. Garibaldy - July 21, 2008

No, I don’t think China is socialist. For a large percentage of people, it lacks even the basics of the welfare state.

As for sovereignty, sovereignty of the people (i.e. the working class, rural and urban) rather than national sovereignty is what I believe in.

I think that Cuba is nowhere near as out of touch with its people as the eastern European regimes became. In fact, I think it’s clear that a large majority of its citizens support the government, even though they want liberalisation. Which I certainly would support (as I would if it happened in Korea). As for the nature of the regime, it’s very easy to go to Cuba and talk to people who oppose the regime, and they don’t get jumped on and carted off.

I think it’s fairly clear we are poles apart on how regimes like the USSR and Cuba should be seen. Essentially I would see them as socialist states that failed to be responsive to the needs of their peoples through a lack of democracy, but that produced many impressive achievenments, and that had a progressive role in the world, especially in decolonisation. Nevertheless, I don’t think that means that we can’t and shouldn’t come together to defend democracy in Ireland, fight sectarianism, promote trade union rights, and progressive social legislation and government action.

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28. Pete - July 21, 2008

You just keep on trot trot torot along Marky P – what the fuck has this shit got to with anything – by the way the Soviet Union was socialist – not socialist in the sense of a new jersalem religious trot sense – which is nice and I support your struggle – the reality of the out come of a Marxist Revoultion both bad and good

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29. Mark P - July 22, 2008

Well here’s the thing Garibaldy, my definition of socialism (and it’s one shared by Marx and Lenin amongst others) is of a society in which the workers of the world control production and distribution collectively and democratically. It involves a process of moving towards the abolition of wage labour and of the state itself. Without workers councils, or some more modern, more sophisticated replacement there is no socialism. Without democracy at every level there is no socialism.

What we get in states like Cuba (on the benign side) or North Korea (on the crazy end of the spectrum) is an oppressive and overbearing state, resting on a massive parasitic bureaucracy and with no democratic control whatsoever. This is not any form of socialism worthy of the name. And I think that the association that has been created by the miserable history of the 20th Century between those forms of society, Stalinism, and socialism is one of the greatest barriers to popularising socialist ideas once again.

On an issue raised in one of your previous posts, that I forgot to get back to you on: The idea of forming alliances with “the progressive elements within the bourgeoisie” is to me both tactically foolish and a betrayal of principle. Firstly you would have to find these “progressive elements” and you will, in my view, be a long time looking. The interests of the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) are fundamentally and irreconcilably opposed to the interests of the working class.

In practice, nothing has been more detrimental to the interests of the working class in the neo-colonial world in particular, than the stageist blind alley that Stalinism has led powerful revolutionary movements up. From the Tudeh, who identified the Mullahs and their backers as the “progressive bourgeoisie” and got butchered by their allies as a result, to the Iraqi CP who identified the Ba’athists as the progressive wing of the bourgeoisie with much the same result, to the Indonesian PKI who suffered the worst carnage of all, this has not just been a wrong turn it has been a complete and utter disaster. The independence of the workers movement from all capitalist parties and factions should be considered a basic principle of our movement.

Finally, I agree with you that none of these disagreements should prevent us from working together to fight sectarianism, promote trade union rights and so on. But I do think that these disagreements are a fundamental block to ideas of common socialist parties. What we mean by socialism, what we are fighting for, is very different to what you mean by the term. And what we regard as useful strategies for getting there are very different to your own views on the same.

Pete:

Piss off back into the dustbin of history, there’s a good lad.

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30. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

Calm ourselves… there’s little point in rerunning arguments long exhausted long before we were born. I don’t think Garibaldy is a Stalinist and I don’t think Mark P your points are without foundation, indeed you’d be surprised how much an ex-Stick like myself agrees with you, but… that said all these things are opinions and interpretations… what was the best way forward post the establishment of the USSR, what was the best tactic for small political groupings in overwhelmingly hostile societies and circumstances. It’s very easy to say on the one hand ‘Stalinism’ was a necessary evil, or on the other that CPs were fools to try to build alliances with other parties/groups in a society, not least because we can’t be certain either way. We have the comfort of living in largely placid societies where holding our political opinions may be an inconvenience, may occasionally bring down some state attention on us or may make us the source of jokes. Not really comparable with the pressures that led to the sort of bad choices good Communists of all strains made over the years, are they?

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31. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

One other thought. Since all these are opinions and interpretations – there is no serious science behind them – it follows that there is no one way. Indeed if human history teaches us anything it should teach us that trying to strait-jacket events into pre-ordained structures is a futile, although sometimes noble, endeavour. And it leads to terrible distortions both of analysis and action. And both those purportedly Stalinist and those supposedly following Trotsky are prone to that particular problem.

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32. Phil - July 22, 2008

The continued resistance of the kulak class and the NEP men to the socialist programme – never mind the religious, right-wing nationalistic, and other remaining reactionary elements throughout the territory – is something that needs to be factored in when we consider what consolidating the revolution meant. It meant building a power strong enough to defend against external and exteremely serious internal threats.

No. If your regime’s facing “extremely serious internal threats”, then you need to let those ‘threats’ into the system, even if that means you end up tearing it up and starting again. A democratic regime – and socialism is democracy if it’s anything – doesn’t defend itself by repressing its people. ‘Internal enemies’ is another name for citizens.

On a related nore about production and internal enemies, the best way to view de-kulakisation, it seems to me, is as the second round of the civil war. Quite a large proportion of those on the receiving end of repression were good value for it.

I’ll pass that on to my mother-in-law the next time I see her, I’m sure it’ll give her a good laugh. Back home, her father used to make clothes for the family, but during the famine he had to sell the sewing-machine for food. All he could get for it was a bag of crusts.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Right – that’s what they tell the eggs.

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33. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Mark,

I wouldn’t disagree with your definition of socialism. The concrete historical circumstances that produced the regimes of the past are gone, and there is neither the desire nor the expectation that they could or should be mimicked. On the progressive elements of the bourgeoisie, much smaller than they were say 60 years ago when the welfare states were being created, but still extant. The No campaign contained some, and those commited in the UK to say defending a national health service should be cooperated with. In NI, this means cooperating with those interested in fighting sectarianism, supporting integrated education etc. None of this is to surrender independence of action.

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34. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Phil,

Do you think the anti-Bolsheviks were commited to creating a peaceful, pluralist democracy? Or was it likely they would try and wipe them out? Take a look at the history of the Civil War, of the actions of anti-Soviet forces in areas conquered by the Nazis, and get back to me.

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35. ejh - July 22, 2008

The absolutely fundamental problem facing the Russian revolutionaries was the failure of the revolutionary wave that swept Europe after the first world war. It simply was not possible to build a socialist society in mostly illiterate, backwards, isolated Russia alone

Yes, but by the same token it wasn’t possible to pursue a revolutionary policy any more because nobody was in a position to implement it and hardly anybody wanted it. When you’re at the leadership of a state, you don’t have the option of simply appealing to a very small and radicalised minority – you have to find something to do which works and which has support.

I agree very much with WbS in #31. And I’m prone to quoting these verses from Eliot which I think are pertinent:

We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum

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36. ejh - July 22, 2008

On the argument about the progressive achievements of the USSR – I think this was a sustainable argument only until the Western rivals of the Soviet states had achieved pretty much the same things, and had done so with a generally higher standard of living and a rather greater degree of political freedom. After that, it became much harder to maintain that the USSR had actually achieved anything.

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37. Phil - July 22, 2008

Garibaldy – if you want to talk about the Civil War, we’ll talk about the Civil War. But you provided justifications for an artificially-engineered famine, in the name of building socialism. I think that position is badly mistaken.

WbS – OK, I’m calm. I’m calm. Look, I’m calm, all right?

ejh – yes. The problem is, we can, or at least think we are.

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38. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

I never said anything about the famine, which I don’t accept was artificially manufactured. I was talking about collectivisation, and the continued hostility of large and influential segments of society to the Bolshevik project. I also would not cut off the civil war, or indeed the experience of the Bolsheviks and peoples of the Russian empire under the Tsar and the Kerensky government, as a separate discussion. These experiences shaped the political culture that produced the USSR as it was. Which was my original point about paranoia, and the danger of replicating it within left groups, rather than acknowledging that people can come to different conclusions in good faith. But I think everyone is (a) not going to change their minds on Soviet history and (b) getting bored with the ins and outs of Soviet history in the 1920s and 1930s to start going over the famine too.

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39. Phil - July 22, 2008

Garibaldy – you were talking about “de-kulakisation” – the state’s programme to destroy the kulaks as a class. I wasn’t aware that you were drawing a line between that programme and the famine; I don’t think most people would.

Meanwhile (give or take a few years) in Spain, I’m struck by your acknowledgment that “mistakes were made”. I’m not usually given to quoting St George, but I’ll make an exception on this occasion. Homage to Catalonia, chapter 11:

“‘Trotskyism’, according to Frente Rojo (the Valencia Communist paper) ‘is not a political doctrine. Trotskyism is an official capitalist organization, a Fascist terrorist band occupied in crime and sabotage against the people.’ The P.O.U.M. was a ‘Trotskyist’ organization in league with the Fascists and part of ‘Franco’s Fifth Column’. What was noticeable from the start was that no evidence was produced in support of this accusation; the thing was simply asserted with an air of authority. And the attack was made with the maximum of personal libel and with complete irresponsibility as to any effects it might have upon the war.

there was the malignant cartoon which was widely circulated, first in Madrid and later in Barcelona, representing the P.O.U.M. as slipping off a mask marked with the hammer and sickle and revealing a face marked with the swastika.”

Chapter 14:

“I wandered back to the centre of the town. Over the P.O.U.M. buildings the red flags had been torn down, Republican flags were floating in their place, and knots of armed Civil Guards were lounging in the doorways. At the Red Aid centre on the corner of the Plaza de Gataluna the police had amused themselves by smashing most of the windows. The P.O.U.M. book-stalls had been emptied of books and the notice-board farther down the Ramblas had been plastered with an anti-P.O.U.M. cartoon–the one representing the mask and the Fascist face beneath. Down at the bottom of the Ramblas, near the quay, I came upon a queer sight; a row of militiamen, still ragged and muddy from the front, sprawling exhaustedly on the chairs placed there for the bootblacks. I knew who they were–indeed, I recognized one of them. They were P.O.U.M. militiamen who had come down the line on the previous day to find that the P.O.U.M. had been suppressed, and had had to spend the night in the streets because their homes had been raided. Any P.O.U.M. militiaman who returned to Barcelona at this time had the choice of going straight into hiding or into jail–not a pleasant reception after three or four months in the line.”

Like you, I am interested in understanding why things happened as they did. And I don’t think ‘mistakes’ cuts it. (Whoops, sorry mate, thought you were a Fascist. Still, no hard feelings eh?)

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40. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

In Spain, I would suggest that in the middle of a civil war tolerance levels for opposing factions collapsed on all sides, especially as time went on and things got more difficult for the republic, and brutal and repressive measures were taken against opposing factions. Were the CP the only people calling their enemies fascist agents?

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41. Mark P - July 22, 2008

Garibaldy, given that the Stalinist CPs all around the world were hysterically denouncing Trotskyists (and all non-Stalinist Communists were considered Trotskyists) as fascists, wreckers and murderers in a hysterical and prolonged campaign it seems more than a little bizarre to ascribe this behaviour in Spain to a lack of tolerance resulting from war conditions. Where the Stalinists had the opportunity, as in Spain and the Soviet Union and a little later in various resistance movements against the Nazis and later still in places like Vietnam, they consistently ramped this campaign up from slander to murder.

Other left currents have, at times, said all kinds of hostile or unreasonable or unfair things about their rivals. In periods of extreme trouble they have sometimes resorted to violence. Only Stalinism however resorted consistently to the systematic persecution of all other revolutionary trends whenever they were in a position to do so. This stems both from the impoverishment of their own politics – ie they couldn’t defend their actions and policies by reasonable argument because there are no reasonable arguments for Stalinism – and from their role as tools of Soviet foreign policy.

Getting back, to your claims about the “progressive bourgeoisie”, I’m entirely baffled by your claim that there were such involved in the No campaign to Lisbon. Who precisely are you talking about?

In the North, forming political alliances with the dreary liberals of the Alliance (or similar bodies) has much the same effect as giving up on class politics entirely. Only working class unity can cut across sectarianism. The Alliance are opposed to any form of working class action and so they cannot be allies of those whose politics is all about encouraging it. On the up side, at least the allegedly “progressive” allies you’ve identified there are only likely to bore you to death with endless waffling platitudes rather than actually exterminating you. Could this be the strategic step forward Stalinist politics has been waiting for?

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42. ejh - July 22, 2008

Were the CP the only people calling their enemies fascist agents?

The phrase “more sinning than sinned against” does rather suggest itself here.

If it helps, I do think the war would have been lost before the end of 1936 had it not been for the Communists. But what happened after that….

Only working class unity can cut across sectarianism

Ah, this isn’t true, is it?

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43. Phil - July 22, 2008

Were the CP the only people calling their enemies fascist agents?

Well, yes, as far as I know. But what’s the point of this question? Surely a dispassionate approach would start from acknowledging what actually happened rather than immediately skittering off into apologetics (it never happened like that, it was a one-off, it was a mistake, it was a series of mistakes, the others were doing it too, the others would have done it if they could…)

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44. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Ejh,

I think that is a key point. The republicans lost in Spain. And lost I would suggest for two main reasons. The first was because they proved incapable of getting an effective military force organised until it was too late. And secondly, and this is related to the first, the failure to agree on a minimum set of demands around a democratic, secular republic that would alienate the smallest part of the population possible. Once the fascists were defeated was the time for deciding what form of republic could have been developed subsequently.

Mark,

In terms of the No campaign, I’m thinking of organisations like PANA, which draw in people from beyond the left commited to the defence of democracy within the southern state. As for NI, I said cooperating with not forming political alliances with. I am well aware that only workers’ unity can conquer sectarianism, but in the interim we should fight for progressive measures that will facilitate the emergence of that unity while constantly agitating for it. So because Alliance or others aren’t committed to socialist politics we should scorn working with them on integrated education and housing? Or that doctor from Tyrone, who is also part of the United Community group. We should scorn him and that too? Why is the SP in the Water Coalition with elements it is politically hostile to (such as the trade union “bureaucratic leadership” and IIRC Alliance and SDLP)? Isn’t that exactly the type of cooperation I am talking about?

As for the 1930s, the hysterical denunciation of rival groups on the left was perhaps the defining feature of the period. Including attitudes towards the popular fronts where they emerged from those on the left who opposed them. I guess we’ll never know who the Trotskyist groups would have behaved towards other tendencies as they never managed to achieve power. Although those times and places of trouble as you put it where violence was used by them may be suggestive.

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45. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Asking that question Phil is not an apologia, it is designed to get some context. If there is a political culture where all groups suspect their rivals of being fascist agents that is slightly different than one group denouncing the rest, while the rest say nothing of the sort.

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46. ejh - July 22, 2008

And lost I would suggest for two main reasons.

Well, possibly a third*, which is that it was impossible to operate effectively in a situation where absolutely nobody could trust the Communists.

I really do think you go far too far in finding justifications for the actions of Stalinists in general. Far too far.

[* I can also think of several others]

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47. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

There were others of course. Such as the failure of the western states to arm the Spanish government, and the free hand they gave to the fascist states. Because they put fear of communism above the defence of democracy. I’m not looking for justifications so much as explanations. Which are best found by looking at things in their total context. Whether it is this issue, or any other in history.

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48. Mark P - July 22, 2008

Garibaldy:

I am absolutely saying that socialists shouldn’t be wasting their time on working with the Alliance to establish integrated schools or whatever. That would be a terrible waste of extremely limited resources. We’d be much better off campaigning around education cuts and putting forward in those campaigns a programme which includes united trade union action in defence of workers pay and conditions as well as advocating things like integrated schooling, posing the education issue in class terms rather than in “let’s all hold hands and be nice to one another” terms. The Alliance won’t get involved in any such campaigning work of course, but they are no loss.

The Water Coalition is, as I understand it, moribund along with all of the many and varied anti-water charges campaigns other than the non-payment focused We Won’t Pay Campaign. When it was around it was a trade union led body. I quite obviously am not suggesting that socialists should refuse to have anything to do with trade union campaigns. Quite the opposite.

As for PANA, I think that your attitude here is bizarre. PANA has a mostly notional list of affiliates, but in practice it consists of a few old lefties with small amounts of cash backing provided by the likes of yourselves. It was a very minor player in the No campaign (with no posters, few leaflets and little media or street presence) and whatever “bourgeois” affiliates it has played no role at all. You are chasing phantoms here if you are looking for some progressive wing of the bourgeoisie involved in the No campaign through PANA. This did not exist.

Getting back to the 1930s, there was nothing hysterical about opposition to the betrayal of working class independence that the Popular Fronts represented. But even if some criticisms were less than temperate, that is quite different from the organised campaigns of denunciation of their opponents as fascists run by Stalinists everywhere and falls far, far short of the murder campaigns the Stalinists ran wherever they had the opportunity. Their behaviour was qualatively different from that of any other hard left current and it was so for quite easily explainable reasons. Reasons that don’t reflect well on the Stalinists of that period, nor on their later apologists.

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49. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

As I say, CPs did lots of things that were wrong. I’m not disputing that, nor do I wish to see these things replicated in the future. As for the nature of the criticisms, I wonder if the difference in the campaigns was more to do with size and resources rather than a totally different mentality. I have to say that when faced with fascism, the popular fronts were the correct approach. Fasiscts were and are a qualitatively different force than other right-wing elements, and when faced with a major fascist threat, the correct thing to do is unite with whoever opposes them where the workers’ movement is insufficiently strong to defeat them on its own. It is basic survival.

On progressive elements among the bourgeoisie, as I said they are far fewer than they have been in the past. This is one of the things that has resulted in the left being more isolated than ever before. The absence of a strong social democratic element in politics and culture has proven a major impediment to the left influencing larger formations such as trade unions, and intellectual life and popular culture. As for PANA, I guess I was regarding Labour and people affiliated to it as essentially part of the bourgeois consensus by this point.

On integrated education. It is of course a class issue, all the more because it offers a comprehensive education, as well as the essential breaking down of sectarian boundaries. We also have to acknowledge that without the actions of parents in setting up the integrated schools without government support, there still wouldn’t be any. Clearly this is only an issue that can be decided at a political level, by state action. But at the minute, around 7% of pupils are educated in integrated schools. This represents a limited but very positive development in my book, and a justification for that pragmatic action. As for the Water Coalition, afaik, there has been continued activity after the announcement of the suspension of the implementation of water charges, (I think there has been at least one meeting but might be wrong), although it is fair to say that the union movement is seeking ways to focus on how it can influence the parties at Stormont on a more permanent basis, and the Water Coalition may be receiving less attention as resources are diverted. Not that that is a good idea.

More broadly related to the existence or otherwise of a progressive bourgeoisie, the emergence of the United Community group at Stormont can only be good for working people. It might not take the class approach we would like to see, but the weakening of sectarian politics can only be welcomed. None of the left groups is anywhere close to an Assembly seat, and when the council reforms are put in place even a council seat will become massively more difficult (Part of the reason the Provos were so keen to see the number to cut to 7, as they and the DUP will benefit most). So given that is the situation, the United Community group becomes all the more important. We have already seen the Shared Future strategy abandoned. Who else is to provide a voice for that approach in the Assembly?

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50. Hugh Green - July 22, 2008

A side note on integrated education: it is a class issue, but maybe not quite in the way it’s being represented here. Northern Ireland doesn’t need a series of integrated schools supplementary to the existing grammar/secondary and a few comprehensive: it needs academic selection abolished, and religious control of schools abolished, probably in that order. These are the two mechanisms by which the middle class dominates the education system in the North, to the detriment of children from lower income families.

I acknowledge the big successes to date of some of the schools, but there’s little future for additional successful integrated schools as long as you have a system of academic selection, since integrated schools in catchment areas outside Belfast become de facto secondary schools with scarce local support, as appears to have happened here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7448414.stm

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51. Phil - July 22, 2008

Asking that question Phil is not an apologia, it is designed to get some context.

I don’t accept this. To put the tactics being criticised in context you need to acknowledge what they were – in other words, you need to have the discussion and come to some sort of judgment, then look at what else was going on at the time. That’s just the sort of discussion your demand for context (to be supplied by other people) seemed designed to forestall.

I wonder if the difference in the campaigns was more to do with size and resources rather than a totally different mentality

That’s “the others would have done it if they could” from my list (in comment 43).

Handy test: does your argument work just as well with the words “this criticism is invalid because” prepended to it? If so, there’s a chance it’s an apologia.

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52. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Hugh I agree, and alluded to the comprehensive nature of integrated education earlier. Absolutely we need to abolish the system as it stands, but that is a longer term project. The great failure not just of Ruane as an individual but of her party in failing to come up with a suitable alternative to the 11 Plus in the 6 years since McGuiness abolished it has been utterly disgusting, and will damage tens of thousands of working class children year after year.

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53. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

Phil,

The tactics, criticisms, accusations of treasons, secret agents in Spain etc are entirely familiar from every modern revolution, to get back to where I started. But just as the Jacobins were not the only people to advocate the guillotine for their opponents, and just as the Bolsheviks were not the only people to advocate banning and repressing opposition parties or elements, so too the Spanish CP (for which I suspect btw we should read republican government as a whole) was not the only group to demonise and act violently against other factions in Spain. Context is everything in judging an action. But as I’ve sad above, things were done that were wrong and should never be repeated.

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54. ejh - July 22, 2008

the Spanish CP …was not the only group to demonise and act violently against other factions in Spain.

No, but it was enormously the worst. That’s why it’s not just context, it’s proportion. Of coure all parties in a civil war behave badly to a degree, and all have good reasons as well as bad for doing so. But the Stalinists really do stand out, not just in Spain, but elsewhere, for the sheer degree of lies and sheer degree of violence*. This is why they can’t really be extended the same degree of sympathy as can other parties who faced similarly difficult situations.

[* not to mention the fact that they were taking secret orders from a foreign power, which as I say above, is true of no other party involved on the Republican side.]

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55. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

To me this is unbelievably simple. Which is probably why any suggestions I have should be taken with considerable quantities of salt. But nonetheless.

My major problem with those parties which seek inspiration in Trotsky isn’t him (not at all, I would see him as perhaps one of the few figures of stature post Lenin in Marxism – and one of the most thoughtful) nor their programme (at least in the main, I’d have quibbles about emphases and as noted above I’m left pretty cold by grand sweeping assertions that this is the truth, but more their structure which seems all but indistinguishable to those which allowed a sociopath of Stalin’s dimensions to come to power in the USSR. And all the assurances in the world that people are somehow ‘different’ this time don’t really impress me.

As regards North Korea, well, I can’t see how any serious defense can be made for it as a state, and I don’t really agree with a state sovereignty line on it. Nothing left me colder in the WP as the years went on than to see the ranked masses at the back of Ard Fheiseanna from NK and the PRC. Dismal politics.

I’ve already mentioned that taking a moral high ground on the past is tricky, but clearly parties which took the Moscow line acted – once more – indefensibly in Spain and elsewhere during the 1930s and on through to at least the early 1980s. And this raises a different point. There is a tendency to be loyal to the USSR due to the lack of alternatives. I don’t dismiss the USSR, it had some pretty good attributes, but… as noted above, once the West outstripped those – and it did – uncritical loyalty to the USSR, which had national interests that often cut across supposed ideological stances, was pointless. If anything dissent was absolutely required.

However, I just can’t buy into a stance either which seems to argue that anything short of absolute perfection is useless. CPs, of all brands, but mostly Moscow line, did have some positive effects, not least in goading capital into concessions for fear of revolution. Popular Fronts (and IIRC Trotsky eventually supported them as part of the action against fascism) still seem to me, for all their flaws to have been, and still be, a good idea dependent upon circumstance. Nor can I see the value of locking oneself away behind barriers of ideological certainty from alliances with other forces which may assume a progressive hue from time to time. To me that’s simply a recipe for permanent marginalisation. Satisfying – perhaps – in the short term, but not so much in the medium to long term.

And here’s the thing. Reflecting on the idea that it is the structure that determines some of the worst distortions of Marxist organisation on a party basis, isn’t it telling how poorly such parties operate broadly? For all the talk of democracy the splits, fractures, alienation and so forth within them is gruesome. The poor old SWP get’s a hammering from near everyone for how it operates in alliances, and so on. The WP had a reputation for ‘discipline’ that could keep people within or without the circle. The SP much the same.

Aren’t these clues – and it’s far from a novel idea – that perhaps there is a fundamental flaw in the structural aspects of these organisations? All avowedly Marxist, all with distinct ideological differences. And that’s not to criticise those within any of those parties, but just to say hold on, what’s going wrong here? Because, their size alone in the RoI and the UK is so small, and so marginal to political activity that it’s hard not to think something is going wrong.

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56. ejh - July 22, 2008

Yeah, it’s a point that’s been troubling me.

Surely any political organisation worth its salt has to be able to tolerate serious differences of intellectual opinion within its ranks. (If it cannot do so in conditions of normality it surely will not do so in conditions of conflict.)

Now I really can’t point to any Trotskist organisation that has been able to do so for any length of time. Some (the old IMG comes to mind, perhaps) have been better than others and not all the reasons for the failure have been the same – it’s not necessarily intolerance of dissent, it’s often simply that if you think it necessary that your organsiation gets it right, you’re going to split away whether your disputants expel you or not. Nevertheless as a political trend, Trotskyism doesn’t and presumably can’t put a great deal of emphasis on accepting disagreement.

But the same is generally true of radical parties (and frankly non-party and anti-party movements). It’s hard to think of very many Left organisations, let alone avowedly Marxist ones, of whom this is not true – or at last true beyond the point where I’d be comfortable with them.

It’s possible that this is not inevitable. But I do think the constant desire to be right, the unwillingness to say either that we don’t really know, or that it may not matter so much either way, has an ultimately dismal effect on political organisation, and that old nostrums such as “march separately and strike together” do more for the production of memorable political slogans than for constructive political activity. There’s a very strong rhetorical tendency in a certain Left approach to view all political problems as deriving from a given organisation’s politics. I don’t think this is nearly as true as the rhetoricians would like to believe. To some degree – and to a sizeable one – I think it’s better to try less hard to get everything right.

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57. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

ejh, that completely sums up my views on this matter too. And again, just to stress, it’s not restricted to one strand or other, but seems endemic. And you really – I think – get to the heart of it when you talk about ‘being right’.

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58. Dunne and Crescendo - July 22, 2008

Nice to see the Trots and the Tankies still hate each other and get very personally upset about Spain and the purges, which none of us have anything personally to do with. Apologies to the one person above who does seem to have a family connection to the USSR.
I think ejh has a good point. I can think of no far left organisation, Trot, Stalinist or otherwise that tolerates serious internal discussion of the sort that challenges the leadership and their thinking; they all pretend they do but in reality they don’t.
On the Ukrainan famine, I agree the Soviets didn’t plan it, but the Brits didn’t plan ours either-its how they behave during them! And the Ukrainian response to the Nazis has something to do with Stalinist repression too.

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59. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2008

The ISN isn’t bad at discussion etc…

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60. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

D&C,

Tankie is not a word that I’d consider is much used in our little island. I’d never heard it until I met some CPB people. And I’d agree with your point about the Ukraine in WWII but only to an extent.

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61. Dunne and Crescendo - July 22, 2008

Fair points Garibaldy. But I think Tankie is a bit more humerous and less offensive than Stalinist.
I’d also agree that there were plenty of nationalists and anti-semites in the Ukraine that would have collaborated anyway. But the wider population had been antagonised so much by Moscow that many were prepared to give the Nazis the benefit of the doubt at first (to their cost).

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62. Garibaldy - July 22, 2008

I see your point. On both points. Still, I just don’t like Tankie. Maybe I just don’t want to be associated with the British left!

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63. Phil - July 22, 2008

Apologies to the one person above who does seem to have a family connection to the USSR.

Accepted. In any case, I’m as guilty as the next poster of remote emoting – I’ve got no connections of any sort in Catalonia.

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64. Starkadder - July 22, 2008

What’s the nickname for a follower of Rosa Luxemburg?

I’m inclined to be more influenced by Frau Luxemburg
than either Mr. Trotsky or Mr. Stalin.

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65. Ian - July 23, 2008

I must say I find the Stalinist revolution of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s a fascinating period of history. Stalinism was as much a cultural and societal revolution as well as the repressive state apparatus most people think of. I think the use of class war rhetoric combined with the sense of self-empowerment ordinary workers were given by the process (which ironically, enabled the state apparatus to grow in strength and then actually repress these very instincts) is an excellent example of what Soviet/Bolshevik socialism sought to achieve yet in the process, revealed and hindered itself by its own flaws.

It’s very easy to taint Stalinism in retrospect (and justifiably so) but initially it must have seemed like it had the (exciting) potential to genuinely ‘build socialism’. I’d argue, as others have also said, that the particular context of Russian Society at the time was ill-suited to the project undertaken. How anyone today or even 40 years ago could take the tools of Russian Stalinism to heart is beyond me, given its poor long-term suitability for the society which it was originally based around.

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66. Paddy Duffy - July 23, 2008
67. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

Luxemburgist?

Ian, that is a key issue which brings us back to the original leaflet. How Stalinism was any time post 53 say seen as a serious means of implementing or sustaining a revolutionary society is beyond me too. Actually, probably before that too…

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68. John O'Neill - July 23, 2008

Stalin vs Trotsky

I think the problem with the above discussion is that it is too narrow. I have read a fair few books on the Russian Revolution, Spain, Stalin, although fewer on Trotsky and I would accept I probably have not read as many as either MarkP or Garibaldy. Here are some of the questions I wonder about when thinking of the discussion above.

Was the revolution brought about by the existence of a mass party on the cusp of power or a political vaccuum caused by historical circumstances?
When did the bolshevik party cease to have rigourous debate internally with open factions?
When did the power of workers councils get replaced with Party control or in other words, when did the destruction the emancipatory and socialist content of the Revolution and replacing it with a bureaucratic dictatorship actually start – before Stalin?
Did democratic centralism as an organisational method help to quash democratic discussion within the party?
Was Kronstat the death of the Revolution?
Did the ‘cult of the personality’ exist before Stalins rise to power?
Was forced collectivisation necessary?
Did the ‘autonomous republics’ of the USSR ever actually have any autonomy?
Was the NEP the return of capitalism?
After the failure of the risings/revolutions across Europe should the USSR have surrendered to capitalism.
Was the German CP (under comintern direction) social fascist line a significant help to the Nazi rise to power?
Was the Popular Front tactic a retreat from socialism?
Was the Winter War justified?
Could anyone possibly believe that Bukharin, or any of the other 19 charged, was guilty of; murdering Kirov, trying to assassinate Lenin, plotting to assassinate Stalin, conspiring to wreck the economy, spying for British, French, Japanese, and German intelligence agencies?
Was the non agression pact forced upon the USSR?
Was the post Stalin USSR a return to NEP lite?
Could political pluralism had made any difference to the USSR?
Did Stalin defeat Hitler or the sacrifice of the red army or both?
Was peaceful coexistence the only option in a nuclear world?

Spain
Why didn’t the Spanish Republic offer Morroco its independence and deprive Franco of a massive proportion of his army, why didn’t anarchists or communists call for this?
From the start of the Civil War should the anarchists have postponed land redistribution (which was extremely popular) to concentrate on defeating Franco?
Should the POUM, as Trotsky advised, have joined the CP?
The Communist Party was a very insignificant force but had an almost overnight transformation into a mass party – how did this happen and what was the class background of this influx?
What happened to the refugees who left Spain for the USSR?
What happend to the German communist refugees in the USSR during the non agression pact?

North Korea
Is it socialist? The Kim il Sung ‘Juche’ philosophy has formally designated the military, not the proletariat or working class, as the main revolutionary force remotely Marxist?
Would we accept workers conditions in North Korea or China for Irish workers?

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69. Mark P - July 23, 2008

Bloody hell, John. A mere 30 or so questions to get the conversation started, some of them amongst the most contentious in socialist history…

The first question I think isn’t suited to an either/or format. I don’t think that there would have been a succesful revolution without the organisational backbone and political leadership provided by the Bolsheviks. I think that the most likely outcome, would have been various much less coherent revolts, civil war or wars and the establishment of a right wing military dictatorship. Events in Italy after the war, or Germany or Hungary provide a pretty good clue as to how things might have gone. On the other hand, I don’t think that merely having such an organisation would have been even remotely sufficient without an extremely militant working class, turmoil amongst the peasantry and the revolutionary situation created by the war.

There are then a number of questions which point towards the (undoubtedly correct) view that even pre-Stalin, the revolutionary state and the Bolshevik party had eroded or removed many of the freedoms that the revolution brought. This happened in the economic sphere and also in terms of political rights both inside and outside the party. I don’t think that this process can be understood outside of the almost unbelievably desperate conditions in which these measures were introduced. This included economic chaos bordering on collapse in an already backwards economy, potentially starving cities, massive foreign invasions, preparations for a life and death battle with the Whites followed by the Civil War itself, near total isolation from the world economy, internal revolts led by both leftist and rightist forces and the certain knowledge that should they fail that every last revolutionary would be executed. As I said in my earlier posts, it was not possible to build a socialist society in isolation in Russia and this would have remained true no matter what force had found itself in the leading role. The revolution was ultimately lost in Milan and Berlin rather than in Moscow.

In desperate circumstances all kinds of wild ideas were thrown around by the desperate revolutionaries. Actually repressive measures were brought in. Although these were only ever intended as temporary measures in desperate times, even as temporary measures quite a few of them were serious errors. And those temporary measures did indeed make it easier for Stalin to rise, both directly in terms of consolidating the machinery of power and perhaps more significantly indirectly, by helping the growth of the bureaucracy, the layer Stalin’s power was based on.

I think we can learn from the Bolsheviks errors as well as their successes, although too often these kinds of discussions become mere exchanges of polemics. Liberals, right wingers and anarchists tend to ignore the context, the material conditions, almost completely and like to locate Stalinism in some “original sin” of Bolshevism or revolutionary Marxism. Stalinists make a blessing out of every error and a triumph out of each grim necessity. Some Trotskyists be so keen to defend the revolution against both of these tendencies that they can deny or simply downplay the real and sometimes tragic mistakes made by the pre-Stalin Bolsheviks. None of that is at all helpful.

I was going to leave it at that, but there’s one other question I can’t resist answering, the one about Democratic Centralism. The problem with that term is that it has been used by so many people to mean so many different things that it is almost meaningless. For instance, as John notes in one of his questions, the party organisation of the Bolsheviks before, during and immediately after the revolution was very different to that of the Bolsheviks after the banning of factions. Which is Democratic Centralism? I personally think that organisation according to the principles of “freedom of debate, unity in action” was of great benefit to the revolution. On the other hand the banning of factions was a significant error, one made in desperate conditions and intended to be temporary but still an error.

I am still of the view that “freedom of debate, unity in action” is a very good way of encapsulating the way that revolutionaries should organise. However, the exact organisational form that that should take is very much context specific. I don’t think that it is necessary for a revolutionary organisation to have the precise structure of the Bolsheviks in 1917, but I don’t think that’s an inherently bad way to organise either. It all depends on context.

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70. Dunne and Crescendo - July 23, 2008

Re John’s questions; one of the most shameful and tragic stories are those of anti-fascists from Germany and elsewhere who sought refuge in the USSR and were then placed under suspicion themselves and as bad, the thousands of Red Army soldiers who having endured horrific conditions in Nazi camps were then sent to camps in the USSR because again, they were under suspicion/punished for having been prisoners in the first place.

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71. Dunne and Crescendo - July 23, 2008

Just on the appeal of Stalin in 1967; remember that China and Albania were seen as alternatives to staid Soviet bureaucracy by some in the west. Fidel and Che flirted with the Chinese in response to lack of Soviet support for revolutionary war in the Americas.

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72. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

Serious and astute questions John, and deserving of far more consideration than they can get here. I guess I’d regard as the central one, the question of whether given the failure of the revolutions elsewhere should the USSR have surrendered to capitalism. If the answer to that is ‘no’, then a lot of the other issues facing the people at the time become easier to answer, and the answers they adopted make more sense. As for the socialist and emanicapatory content, clearly political rights had been hugely restricted well before Lenin’s death, but I think that is a much wider question, that is much more difficult to answer, and involves the massive sense of participation in creating a better future that people had that someone alluded to above. As for autonomy, I don’t think the USSR ever functioned in a top down way to the extent that people think. Local party elites had more manouevrability than is often realised (one of the things that contributed to the purge dynamic) which also offered some potential for responsiveness locally, or local corruption. In terms of anti-fascism, as I’ve said above, maximum cooperation was necessary given the strength of the enemy in places like Germany and Spain. As for Korea, as I understand it, Juche is self-reliance, and John is alluding to the army first policy that was initiated in the 1990s to help overcome the crisis caused by the collapse of the USSR, and ward off the perceived threat of military intervention. I’m not so sure that should be seen much differently than say NEP. On party organisation, I am a believer in democratic centralism as I have experienced it in action, where there is freedom of discussion at branch and higher levels. I’m also fairly convinced that the liquidators would have succeeded totally without it.

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73. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

I can’t help but feel there is an irony that democratic centralism is still seen as a feasible organisational plan in parties of the further left whatever their tendency, when in practice both at state level, and as importantly, at the level of parties within liberal democracies it has been an abject failure in that it has produced hierarchical and dogmatic structures – not least in leaderships that have remained entrenched over decades. I don’t blame the parties, or those in them, but I do think that that form is simply wrong and almost guaranteed to produce a narrowness of vision and action.

Interesting point about China in the 60s, D&C.

Garibaldy, I do think that NK is so grim that quite frankly almost any successor state would be an improvement, and if we’re talking about national sovereignty as the predicator of support it seems a bit tenuous in a context where SK exists. Supporting totalitarian structures really requires extraordinary circumstances to justify that support. I just don’t see them in NK.

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74. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

Do you understand why they are frightened, or do you think it’s all in their heads?

As for democratic centralism. It’s pretty much what every political party practices. The differentce it seems to be is in an absence of ideological coherence.

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75. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

But frightened of what precisely? The consumer society? US atom bombs raining down on them? In either case I think that their paranoia is matched only by their ruling elites wish to remain in power at pretty much all and any costs.

I also think it’s unwise for an Irish political party to express undue loyalty or support to a regime which by any clear yardstick belies any serious notion of socialism. If one mapped that attitude onto other nations supposedly demonstrating their own sovereignty we wouldn’t see the same support exhibited at all… and it can’t be because juche, or the form of distorted socialism NK adheres to has any commonality with the ambitions of those who support them. So I guess I find it inexplicable.

And worse again, in domestic political terms here in Ireland the linkage with them is pure poison opening up people to scorn and suchlike. I’d hesitantly suggest that it did more harm to the party in some respects than almost any other ideological issue in discrediting it as a serious political force – particularly post split. It became a convenient short hand for writing of the party as headbangers.

There are differences as regards democratic centralism reified as it is inside certain party structures – to an ideological level – and the way that it expresses itself in bourgeois parties.

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76. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

I don’t think it’s a case of undue loyalty, I think it’s a case of opposing aggressive actions against a vulnerable society, which reveals imperialism at its worst, especially during the famine. Also interesting to note that the same position is a normal part of communist and workers’ parties internationally, rather than being something unique to Ireland. Unpopular positions sometimes, but it is more of an issue for people opposed to the party who would use something else to accuse it of being full of headbangers. The democratic centralist thing I would suspect is a bit similar. The party works the way it works. Members have a strong voice. Personally, I identify with a system that gives the Ard Fheis and the elections to the Ard Comhairle/CEC the final say as to who leads the party and what its policies are.

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77. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

It may well be something communist and workers’ parties have as an international position but it’s simply untenable either ethically or as serious politics. As regards a vulnerable society? I really wouldn’t buy that at all. Imperialism at its worst? Hmmm… that only works if one ignores the support prior to the 1990s when NK was not averse to actions which would be described as … well ‘adventurist’ at best. It’s not like it suddenly changed when the USSR collapsed.

You may well be right that opponents will attack a party anyhow, which is true to an extent, but the egregious nature of the support for NK is vastly more problematic.

I should add that NK reminds me of the old saying about to save the village we had to destroy it… the same could be said of the NK people…

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78. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

I think it is indeed a vulnerable society, and the interference with aid efforts demonstrated it, never mind the strategic issues. I don’t think a change of system through external action would be progressive, and Iraq should have cured anyone of any delusions about that.

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79. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

I’m not suggesting a change of system through external action – my point re the village is that their own regime has no scruples about profoundly negative impacts on their own people – and I’m not sure that socialism includes that in its rubrics. That said I wouldn’t weep if the PRC went in across the northern border however unlikely that might be and I’d think that since there are no internal divisions it is highly unlikely the stupid quagmire that Iraq was both before and after would be replicated. But it ain’t going to happen one way or another.

I really think that there is a profound necessity amongst orthodox CPs and others to be able to distinguish between regimes that say they’re socialist and regimes that actually are socialist. In the former camp I’d place NK, Albania back in the day, the PRC itself (I see that you share that view, re the PRC not being socialist), in the latter, for all its flaws I’d put Cuba.

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80. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

No I’m sure you’re not suggesting an invasion. But I don’t think that we could have ruled out the possibility if the DPRK looked weak enough in the 1990s, or even more recently. Given the axis of evil speech was followed up with Iraq, and now Iran looks not impossible (and it’s amazing how much of the script for Iraq is being both followed and swallowed by large numbers of Americans), I don’t think we can put all Korean fears down to paranoia. I’m also far from convinced that some of the “inside footage” has been genuine.

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81. Mark P - July 23, 2008

What I find bizarre about this discussion is that the only argument Garibaldy – or to be fair anyone but the maddest hardline Stalinist – ever makes for the Stalinist Parties continued support for North Korea and the Kim dynasty as pioneers of socialism amounts to saying that we should defend it against imperialism, which may have unpleasant plans for the area. This is almost a perfect example of a non-sequitur argument.

Nobody here supports an imperialist invasion of North Korea, or a blockade or sanctions or whatever. But only the nostalgic Stalinists somehow jump from that fairly unproblematic position to sending fawning greetings to Emperor Kim II, as the leader of the Korean people’s struggle for socialism. It’s demented stuff.

North Korea is a hellhole. It is entirely undemocratic, to a degree that would have made the Sun King blush. It is ruled by a military oligarchy who keep their people almost entirely isolated from the outside world. Not only is there no free press, the only media available to North Koreans waxes lyrical about thunderbolts announcing the birthday of the God Emperor.

I think part of the reason for this self destructive behaviour on the part of the various Stalinist parties is a long ingrained political culture which has to look towards some existing state as the home of socialism. It’s the same kind of thing that led the Internationalists to hold Hoxha’s Albania in such comically high regard.

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82. Paddy Duffy - July 24, 2008

Mark P’s braindead Trotskyism is such that the facts are never an obstacle in his constant tirades against Marxism-Leninism.

The Albania of Enver Hoxha emerged out of the national liberation war against the Italians and Germans. In the first General Elections of 1946 the communist got two-thirds of the vote.

In March 1991 in spite of the influence of foreign governments the Albanian people in an election for the Peoples Assembly returned the Party of Labour of Albania with 162 seats in the 250 seat Parliament. The pro-capitalist Democratic Party came second with 65 seats.

Subsequent elections and the increased influence of imperialism saw to it that the pro-capitalists eventually gained a majority – a process we are all familiar with in capitalist countries.

The DPRK has defended the sovereignty of the Korean people who live in that part of the peninsula. The south is a prop for imperialism with many thousand of US soldiers based there.

I recommend (with some minor reservations!) the books by Chris Cumings – especially ‘North Korea – Another Country’.

Cumings is a professor of history at he University of Chicago – hardly a bastion of defenders of “hellholes”

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83. WorldbyStorm - July 24, 2008

Garibaldy, I think the idea that the footage is fake is untenable. By any measure the self-admitted actions of NK, from kidnappings, etc indicate a profoundly dysfunctional state. That socialists, good genuine socialists, would feel it necessary to defend that seems to me to be pointless.

The idea that SK, for all its faults is somehow worse than NK is absurd.

But beyond that, why would people pretend that NK was somehow worse than it was? What political objective is gained? No one bar a tiny tiny minority would look – the vast majority of left socialists included – to NK as a way of running any society. Even on its own terms it is the antithesis of what I and I’d guess most others believe to be socialism. So it’s not as if its some sort of way forward that the West feels it has to, at all costs, crush lest we all follow juche.

And to be honest I seriously doubt you and Paddy would live there either given the choice. Which makes the stuff about SK simply odd, since SK is broadly speaking a liberalish democracyish. Not great, not awful. Better than some worse than others, and frankly the idea that it spread north would – to my mind – be certainly no worse than any other suggestion and might lead ultimately to some genuine socialism north of the DMZ rather than the distortion that we actually see.

Paddy, a defence of Albania under Hoxha is a brave endeavour, but again a pointless one. That was yet another oligarchical state which besmirched socialism. There’s no getting around it. As for the 1991 vote… please. In some post Stalinist states post-Marxist parties did well initially, others not so well. Curiously the former seems to have happened most in the more Stalinist states. Now why would that be I wonder?

The defence of sovereignty argument is great. But again, sovereignty only has meaning in the context of people, and I think that globally we can make fairly reasoned evaluations of how good or bad various regimes ‘treat’ their populations. Guess what my assessment of NK is?

It really does come down to being able to distinguish between the reality and the pretence of socialism. I can’t also help but feel though that it’s a bit about power. States have power. States that claim to be socialist are implicitly superior, etc, etc and consequently can be evaluated on the most superficial terms where all faults are wished away supposedly because the alternative is worse. Well, since we live in the alternative – bad and all as it can be – that doesn’t seem to be accurate at all…

Nah, I’m with Mark P, who, Just as G isn’t a Stalinist (but to paraphrase him on another issue is not entirely correct on this issue), isn’t a braindead follower of Trotsky…

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84. Garibaldy - July 24, 2008

Well there was footage of mobiles being used before they were able to be used there. And why would people lie about a state that most people already find objectionsable? Ask the Iraqis. But anyway, I don’t really have anything to add to what I’ve said before on the issue of why I think solidarity should be extended.

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85. ejh - July 24, 2008

There is an extraordinary line in this piece:

Five years later, the US joined the Korean War and carpet-bombed the North until every man, woman and child was living in a tunnel or a cave.

When I first read this, I felt sure this couldn’t be true. Is it? If it’s even close to the truth, it shouldn’t be impossible to imagine the sort of collective fear and paranoia that must have grown out of that experience, and which has never been given the chance to ease.

Re: the Bolshevik model. It wqas a model designed for a certain place at a certain time under certain conditions. Even if we agree that it was appropriate then, to try and reproduce it in very different conditions is to misuse it. All it is likely to do (and does do, time and again) is to make adherents to the model unpopular with the rest of the left, since they will stick together far too closely to make working with them at all comfortable.

It will also have (and does have) the effect of damaging the ability of those adherents to properly discuss, examine and change their own ideas and analyses. What will tend to happen in practice is that organisations will develop a largely fixed analytical scheme which will always ask much the same questions and always produce much the same answers. These will seem convincing to those who are already convinced by them, but will seem deeply unsatisfactory to everybody else. The convinced will then annoy everybody else by telling them that they don’t understand.

It’s an “epigones” thing. Th great Mrxists, like other grweat thinkers, produced vast quantities of thoughts, ideas and schemes relating to all sorts of human and political problems. However, all of them were aware – as their followers are not – that only a very small quantity of those ideas were core, central, necessary. Everything else is just a development of those ideas, subject to revision, alteration and quite likely disposal when circumstances changed or when they realised they might well be wrong.

The core is small: everything else is dispensable. We know (and need to know) very little for sure. We should probably not, therefore, try and build political formations based on the opposite assumption.

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86. Garibaldy - July 24, 2008

Thanks for that link EJH. A very interesting piece. One of the more interesting aspects of reactions to the DPRK versus Cuba is how people will make adjustments for the embargo on Cuba, but none for the situation of the DRPK. Hopefully seeing that type of info from a fairly objective historian will prove of use.

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87. ejh - July 24, 2008

It might be fair to observe that Cuba is rather less grim than North Korea as a place to live. And it might also be fair to ask whether “none” is an entirely accurate description.

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88. Garibaldy - July 24, 2008

That might well be true, but we don’t know a great deal about life in the DPRK. One of the more interesting bits of that article was the discussion of communal life (which seems to have been severely damaged by the famine as can be imagined), and I remember from the programme that dissident videos are passed around. I guess we wouldn’t often associate vcrs and TVs in households with our image of Korea. There are moves towards reform within Korea, which can only be a good thing. Hopefully economic improvement and an improved security situation will allow things to open up more.

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89. ejh - July 24, 2008

we don’t know a great deal about life in the DPRK

You don’t suspect that if it were better than it is, we would know more?

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90. Garibaldy - July 24, 2008

well I’ve spoken to lots of people who’ve been there who did not find it the way people suggested, and any one from there I’ve met has not been the epitome of authoritarian brutality. It is far from a perfect society, but I would be careful about believing it was an undisputed hellhole as well.

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91. Mark P - July 24, 2008

The notion that people have to secretly pass around dissident video tapes because there is no free press and no other means of mass communication outside of the ludicrous propaganda pumped out by the God Emperor’s apparatus does not, strangely enough, help convince me that North Korea is a socialist state or that the God Emperor is leading the struggle for socialism.

As for the the “lots of people who’ve been there”, on carefully organised and shepherded political visits, that’s almost beyond parody. The Webbs and many others made utter fools of themselves more than seventy years ago on much the same basis. And here comrades is tractor factory number 36, look at how the happy workers wave to you! Tomorrow it’s time to visit model collective farm number 174 where the happy peasants will recite to you the many blessings brought to them by Kim Jong-il’s control of the weather!

I remember speaking to a member of the ISN, by the way, who had been sent on a visit to the place back in his Workers Party days. He was of the view that it was such a godawful place, despite the careful control of what they were allowed to see, that the visit was one of the first things that made him question the WP’s vision of socialism.

As for Paddy’s “contributions” to the discussion, I’m actually enjoying them. It’s hugely entertaining to have this kind of throwback spout the kind of drivel that is normally missing from left wing discourse since his ilk mostly gave up or died off.

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92. Dunne and Crescendo - July 24, 2008

In the 1930s there were no shortage of people who claimed that what was being said about the USSR and the purges etc were lies. Lies invented by the capitalist press, including fake photographs of Ukrainian famine victims etc. Lots of honest socialists wanted to believe that the reports were lies. Some went to the USSR, thought something was wrong but felt it would be betraying their beliefs to say so. Ever hear of Harry Pollit? The 1930s CPGB leader was a decent guy by all accounts. He knew that his sweetheart Rose Cohen had been falsely accused and then executed by the regime in Moscow. He accepted it for the greater good! That was tragic but in someways in the context of its time understandable (if wrong).
Defending the lunatics who run the DRPK in this day and age is just sad.
By the way, there was a revolution in Cuba, but the Kim gang were put in power by the Red Army, not by popular struggle, though the Koreans are told that Kim invented guerillia warfare, along with everything else. In my view the greatest single obstacle to socialism in western Europe was the fact that it was associated with dictatorship.

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93. ejh - July 24, 2008

In my view the greatest single obstacle to socialism in western Europe was the fact that it was associated with dictatorship.

I’d like to believe that, and to some extent I do – it may well be what prevented the Italian and French CPs, for instance, from gaining great electoral success. But I wonder if it’s not also true that over the period when socialists and their organisations have become more distant and hostile to Stalinism, their public support has also declined: to the point, now, where both Stalinists and public interest in socialism are largely invisible.

It’s a complex story,and I know we could cover it by saying “well, it’s because the damage was done in the Stalinist years” but to be honest I think that would be a thesis serving a purpose rather than one answering to the facts. The truth is that there’s very little belief, currently, that egalitarian ideas are either more economically productive than the free market, or more productive of social freedoms. I don’t agree with that, but it’s a view that comes out of the real experiences of people largely younger than myself in the societies in which they’ve grown up, and while those societies remain reasonably civilised, democratic and economically productive, it’s a view that will continue to be hegemonic (if I may) and will arguably deserve to be.

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94. Dunne and Crescendo - July 24, 2008

Maybe so. But I can remember on dozens of occasions;
‘if socialism is so great, why can’t the people travel?’
‘if socialism is so great why do people want to come here?’
‘If socialism is so great why did they build a wall to keep them in?’
‘why are the party leaders allowed travel where they want?’
‘why don’t they admit those plane crashes?’ etc, etc….

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95. ejh - July 24, 2008

Plane crashes?

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96. ejh - July 24, 2008

(Of course I heard the same things myself, many times, growing up in England in the Seventies. But the people who said them almost always voted Labour and if they’d been asked to define their politics would likely have called themselves socialists.)

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97. ejh - July 24, 2008

(What I’m trying to say, perhaps a bit clumsily – and I apologise for posting again, but I’m about to go out – is that I think the collapse of the USSR was really important in forming people’s views about socialism, but not, really, because Western socialists had been closely identified with Stalinism. They hadn’t, not for two generations, and I think people by and large understood that. But I do think people felt something to the effect that if there was socialism, it might very well turn out like that, regardless of the wishes or intentions of the socialists. To that degree it didn’t matter how much we did or didn’t distance ourselves from Stalinism, it couldn’t have changed anything.

Old ways seemed not to work: new ways seemed better. That’s been the real story, I think.)

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98. Dunne and Crescendo - July 24, 2008

Re plane crashes; there were always rumours that Soviet airliners were crashing and the government covered them up, some of which has been proven correct. I worked for a while with a CPI member from Ballymun, who was fairly cynical and when I asked if he was going to go on one of the party’s trips to the USSR said ‘no fucking way, the planes are shite and if I’m killed over there they won’t tell anybody.’ His tongue was firmly in his cheek but when CPI members talk like that you know you have PR problems.

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99. WorldbyStorm - July 24, 2008

Aeroflot had a woeful safety record. That much is entirely factual. Indeed it was the freeish market which smartened it up.

ejh, your last point in 93 tends to be unfortunately close to my view as well.

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