jump to navigation

TWO ACTIVISTS: SEAN GARLAND & ALAN MACSIMOIN. December 21, 2018

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Uncategorized.
trackback

Good piece by D.R.O’Connor Lysaght……
TWO ACTIVISTS: SEAN GARLAND & ALAN MACSIMOIN.

Comments»

1. CL - December 21, 2018

‘ Garland..was a reluctant supporter of the ceasefire of the Official IRA,-D.R.O’CL

Garland ‘literally laid his life on the line to secure the 1972 ceasefire and so did two states some service.’
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/eoghan-harris-the-backstop-green-jersey-must-not-be-a-straitjacket-37630361.html

Like

Joe - December 21, 2018

Not necessarily conflicting statements.

Like

CL - December 21, 2018

True. But laying one’s life on the line does suggest enthusiastic rather than reluctant support.

Like

2. Lexy - December 21, 2018

Perhaps it means he was a late convert to the need for one till Aldershot, and indeed there was not a serious one till some months later – but he was of the view that any thought of a military victory was mindless so all military activity had to be committed on the basis of its beneficial political impact – he believed anything that could be seen as a terror attack clearly undermined his political agenda. The people who went on to create the INLA had obviously not made that jump, he only probably copped that when his and Costello’s political but not personal alliance broke down sometime in 1973.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 21, 2018

I would say that you are correct, Lexy. I got the impression that Garland’s enthusiasm for the ceasefire was notable only after the IRSP split in ’74, when, indeed, as I say, ‘he received a bullet for his pains’ or as EH puts it ‘laid his life on the line.’ (His far more able comrade, Liam MacMillan was less lucky)

Liked by 1 person

CL - December 22, 2018

Lexy, thanks for the clarification.

Like

3. Jim Monaghan - December 21, 2018

My problem with Garland and co was the development from what was a realistic assessment that militarist republicanism could not succeed to a demonising of the Republican population and the move to branding all Republicanism as fascist.The Provo war had the support of a significant sector of the nationalist population and should not be seen as a militarist conspiracy. Further, this war was triggered by British army and Loyalist atrocities. Some state that this was down to Harris but it was policy.

Liked by 1 person

4. Fergal - December 22, 2018

I’ve always been puzzled by the Sticks… hatred of violence at home that killed over 3, 000… cosied up to régimes that killed millions.. the same regimes that succeeded in making socialism a word of hatred..

Like

alanmyler - December 22, 2018

Funny how “cosying up to regimes that killed millions” isn’t a phrase that’s used when say Leo Varadkar or Gerry Adams or whoever visits the White House every March 17th.

Like

Fergal - December 22, 2018

I’d gladly second any criticism of cosying .. up to the White House

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 22, 2018

I do not think it is much of a mystery as to why a party in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s would be exercised by an Irish paramilitary organisation which was killing people in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s.

Like

Fergal - December 22, 2018

I agree with you RiD.. the sticks saw the futility of the armed struggle and were right.
The sins of authoritarian socialism in Eastern Europe… are at best forgotten about..

Like

Fergal - December 22, 2018

Were at best forgotten about by the WP… and the damage these regimes did to socialism glossed over…

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 22, 2018

Isn’t there a case – and I’m not a Trotskyist, that some of them and non-Trotskyist formations, did tend to critique both the statism of Eastern bloc and the paramilitarism of the Provisionals? It’s not that that particular part of the political spectrum was absent – Militant/SP would be one version, the DSP another, arguably BICO and its offshoots.

Like

Fergal - December 22, 2018

WbS.. I’ll bow to your superior knowledge here 😊.. the sticks have a lot of merit.. secularism, moving away from local militarism, emphasising the primacy of class.. wouldn’t deny that for a second.. there is the blind spot with Eastern Europe, becoming neo-unionists and a love affair with statism that completely ignores cooperatives and small businesses afaik

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 22, 2018

At that time BICO criticised the SU because it wasn’t Stalinite enough.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2018

Well there’s that DROC – then BICO was always super Stalinist and kind of Maoist wasn’t it?

But sorry Fergal, I wasn’t trying to correct you, more expand on your original point which was that the WP for all its many merits as you point out did not have a monopoly on virtue in these regards and others could as legitimately take up that mantle.

Like

5. James O'Brien - December 22, 2018

Couple of corrections. It’s Mikhail Bakunin, not Nicolai and the Workers *Solidarity* Movement, not the Workers Socialist Movement.

The WP didn’t abandon national demands. Its constitution declares its aim to be an independent united socialist republic. The movement abandoned a strategy of militarism to attain that demand, indeed came to see it as counter-productive. A big difference.

Garland never rejected republicanism, never mind branding it as fascist. There’s plenty of OSF writing that identifies the British state’s violence in 1969 as a critical turning point. He just wouldn’t have regarded the Provisionals as the sole representatives of republicanism, to the say the least.

He thought the early Provos were essentially mono militarists who harnessed the understandable anger of nationalists in 1969 and after for their own campaign which apart from anything else was a political dead end for socialists.

The WP never abandoned mass struggle in the north but as the bombs and shootings escalated the context became much more unfavourable for it. While they were instrumental in pushing civil rights in the 1960s the capacity for holding similar coalitions and campaigns in the 1970s was just more limited. Reality has to be faced as well.

Garland seemed reluctant to confine himself to an ideology such as Maoism. He preferred the more value driven labels of Republican and socialist rather than the strategic or tactical ones of Maoist or even Marxist. He was, though, a big fan of Lenin and was eclectic in his reading, of which he did a lot.

A rather forgotten influence was the impact of ordinary English CPGB members who he met in the 1960s. Rather than being terrible devil worshippers as per the Catholic hierarchy, he said he found them sympathetic to the Irish struggle but not militarist, solid trade unionists, and involved in community politics. He was looking for a mass socialist politics and so it isn’t hard to see why he gravitated towards the communists.

While Garland was part of the drive along with Goulding et al to shift the Republican movement over to socialism he was the major force in promoting the strategy of a mass working class party to achieve it.

————

On Alan, despite his leaving the Officials over political differences I think he brought with him their very clear orientation to mass working class politics. While not completely alone in anarchist circles for that, he was its most articulate exponent, which made him very different to most other anarchists, especially in recent years. It was the fundamental reason he left the WSM IN 2011.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 23, 2018

I accept James O’Brien’s first two corrections. As to the others, while I daresay he was closer to Garland than I, I find his apologia erroneous on several points.
As to national demands, whatever was in the constitution (was it still there when the OSF became the WP?) tended to be interpreted in a manner that excluded the actual national q.
On Fascism, perhaps Garland did not see the Provos as actual Fascists. I don’t recall hearing that he discouraged the that stigmatising of them. did he see them even as part of the republican ‘family’.
On the mass struggle, I know that there were arguments for abandoning it practically. I would suggest that the fact that it was abandoned thus in 1972 augmented the pressures to keep it abandoned and to leave the anti-imperialists of NI with a choice only between militarism and electoralism. As for Garland as inspirer of mass politics, that has to be proven. Until then, my opinion remains that it was Goulding.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2018

It’s odd, re Alan Mac I’d completely agree James that he certainly took certain lessons from OSF, and ones I’d broadly agree. Interestingly Tony Gregory took not dissimilar ones about locating oneself within the community etc. For myself that original OSF period of 1970-72/3 is the most interesting and inspiring one and in broad terms would still inflect much of my thinking. I’m almost a bit surprised that Alan Mac lasted as long as he did but I think it says something about OSF during that early period that he was able to exist within it.

Like

James O'Brien - December 23, 2018

Realistically, once organisations are beyond a certain size they always contain different tendencies. Yes, there are boundaries — and attempting to restart an armed campaign is an obvious one, as is the immediate context of a split or feud — and often the organisation itself prefers to present a more monolithic face than exists in reality, but they do exist.

Probably the WP, despite the detractors’ ramblings about Stalinism, was more tolerant of this variance than many left parties, especially the Trotskyist ones, which have a fundamentally different DNA.

Also, to DROC, the united independent socialist republic remains in the constitution.

Like

James O'Brien - December 23, 2018

I was referring to Jim M’s comment above that the WP considered all republicanism to be fascist. Unlikely as the WP has adamant socialist republicans in its ranks to this day!

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 23, 2018

Yes, wbs, the ’70-72 period could be termed the OSF golden age, but, as always in golden ages, the copper was already there. It seems to have been notably in the base of the republican tradition of the separation of the northern and southern struggles which seems to have gone back to the thirties when the Army Council decreed, fairly enough that there be no military actions in the six counties, an order that had hardened, as such orders tend to do, into a separation of political strategies north and south. This approach was accepted by both Officials and Provos. it led to an acceptance of gearing the northern struggle to the winning of the Protestant (preferably) workers by both (particularly confused in the case of the Provos, considering their military campaign, but it was their aspiration). For OSF, this stimulated the denunciation of the Provos as ‘Fascists’ tout court, and then it was a factor in abandoning the mass struggle. Neither Provos nor Officials considered the possibility of linking northern and southern struggles, which would have meant maintaining the mass movement this failure weighed harder, perhaps qualitatively harder on the Sticks than on their rivals.
A few more points: perhaps Fitz got his interventionist training from OSF, but I suspect it brought out an approach to which he was always inclined. Tony Gregory was indeed in the movement but left with Costello, whom he would leave in turn. The loss of those too emphasises my point about the party’s problems; perhaps it was affected by Garland’s ‘eclecticism’, but he was not the only one.
On Garland, I repeat: did he consider the Provos to be bona fide republicans? If so he seemed to hide it.
Finally I accept fully that the WP Constitution contains a commitment to an united Socialist Irish republic, but what strategy is offered for its achievement? for that matter, what is the strategy offered by the self-proclaimed Socialist Republicans in its ranks other than their self-proclamations?

Like

Jim Monaghan - December 23, 2018

Like all secular parties the WP are abstract republicans. Indeed, so are all parties in this part of the country. (If there is a monarchist party, someone should tell me).By demonising, I refer to their attitude to the people who vote SDLP and SF in the 6 counties and likewise in the 26 counties.Even John Hume was tarred. In the various attempts by the government here to extradite people to Britain, the voice of the WP was absent in opposition. Indeed the evolution of their name shows the transition from Republicanism to Stalinism. I am cyncially amused at the fact that Garland and co would have gulaged the entire platform of SF and far Left TDs who opposed his extradition.

Like

alanmyler - December 24, 2018

Jim I think you’re being somewhat extreme about the gulaging in fairness. I know a Trotskyist sees Stalin at every turn but really, come on.

Like

yourcousin - December 24, 2018

Alan,
Play the ball. The fact that you’re calling Jim out for that statement, and not the rest the his argument is proving his point.

The WP has been less than ecumenical when it came to other groupings within the Republican family.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2018

I’d never blame the WP for things it never did or never would do. That wouldn’t be fair. That said I do think that those of us from orthodox Marxist backgrounds do need to keep in mind that within living memory self-described Stalinists and regimes did murder Trotskyists so the concern or memory of that within Trotskyism isn’t merely rhetorical. That’s not our fault but it is something to be aware of.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 24, 2018

While we are here, what were the positions of Militant Labour and other Trotskyist organisations on extradition in the 1970s and 1980s?

Like

Alibaba - December 24, 2018

As best I know Trotskyists opposed extradition. This was so in the case of SWM, Militant Labour, Peoples Democracy, League for a Workers Republic and the Irish Workers Group. The reasoning was this:

‘In arguing with workers, militants need to explain the key issue at the heart of the extradition question.

What is at stake is the long cherished democratic right and tradition that no political activist should be delivered from the country of domicile to the hands of his or her oppressors. The workers movement internationally has always recognised and fought to defend political militants, liberation fighters, workers and trade unionists from such a fate. …

The republican movement remains to the forefront of the struggle against British imperialism. Whatever major criticism of its politics and methods socialsts and workers may rightly have, its militants must be defended against the schemes of the class enemy in Britain and Ireland.’

Source/IWG: Class Struggle, No. 1 Oct. 1987.

Like

alanmyler - December 24, 2018

YC, Jim and I have excellent fraternal relations, I’d never contemplate sending him to a gulag. Nor CMK. Some other Trots perhaps…

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 24, 2018

Thank you for that, Alibaba

Like

6. James O'Brien - December 24, 2018

If Alan lambasted Monaghan as a useless Trot who never managed to build anything and whose primary contribution is to spray the morally perfect ramblings of a political simpleton to which no one in any organisation ever pays the slightest attention, then you could say he was playing the man. The above throwaway comment about gulags being a case in point.

Instead Alan made a mild criticism that the comment was unwarranted.

Liked by 1 person

7. James O'Brien - December 24, 2018

As for Trotskyists and their obsession with Stalinism, yes I understand its origin as part of their foundational mythos, which like all myths carries kernels of truth. But it is trolling to simply – and regularly – vomit irrelevant one liners about a man who was central to building a working class movement in Ireland, a contribution that Monaghan could only dream about. A bit of modest self-reflection would not go amiss.

The Trotskyist mania for Stalinism could be taken more seriously if their man had not been in government for a decade in which he oversaw executions and prison camps, and, later in the early 1930s, was backing purge trials of Mensheviks.

As it is, the vast majority of Trotskyism is essentially just a series moral fables with vast slices of context and unpalatable fact conveniently excised, combined with a strategy of that condemns them to parasitically leeching off the much larger communist or social democratic movements. Conveniently, this has the undoubted merit of rarely having responsibility for making decisions affecting large organisations thereby ensuring absolute freedom to pluck arguments from the air at will.

Liked by 1 person

yourcousin - December 24, 2018

JO’B,
I fear you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2018

I’d be the first to point to Trotsky’s participation, and even more, in relation to negative aspects of the Soviet period, the Krondstadt rebellion was but one. Yet I think it fair to suggest that the nature of the Soviet experience did change for the worst after his departure – and again I’m not a Trotskyist. It is possible had he stayed in charge the outcomes could have been pretty awful – some of his ideas on the militarisation of labour were grim in the extreme. But perhaps not quite as grim as what did happen.

But there’s a real danger in arguing that because y did some of the same things as x that’s their equivalence is the problem when it is the things that were done that are the real problem.

I’d have a strong critique of aspects of post-Trotsky formations too – and so would many people on here I suspect, some of whom might have been in those formations (just by the way Jim M was in OSF in the early 1970s too).

But I’d also add that I think there’s a fair bit of displacement activity amongst some strands of orthodox Marxism, of which I’d feel tangentially connected even still, in relation to Trotskyism given the actual weight of formations of the latter variety, their actual influence and so on. Orthodox Marxists ran actual states. No Trotskyist party has come close. But the problem then is that to fret about Trotskyism seems diversionary and exaggerated when the outcomes in those states I mention seemed so sub-optimal on so many different levels. Frankly it’d be better use of time to try to forge a way forward from that experience while engaging activvely and openly with the negative and sub-optimal aspects.

Of course we now live in a world where orthodox Marxism is much diminished and perhaps due to that the friction between the remaining strands is much greater. There, my sense is, that rather like the old saw ‘this is no time to be making new enemies’ it’s no time to be expending energy on old enmities that are for the most part futile and/or academic. The lifeboat of leftists is very small these days, in some states not that far away such as Poland it’s almost non-existent, piling in the digs doesn’t leave much room for forward motion.

Like

EWI - December 24, 2018

There, my sense is, that rather like the old saw ‘this is no time to be making new enemies’ it’s no time to be expending energy on old enmities that are for the most part futile and/or academic. The lifeboat of leftists is very small these days, in some states not that far away such as Poland it’s almost non-existent, piling in the digs doesn’t leave much room for forward motion.

This. Energies are needed elsewhere, not on the luxury of old feuds (especially if no-one is strong enough to finally deal with the rest and move on).

Liked by 1 person

Gavin - December 24, 2018

“But the problem then is that to fret about Trotskyism seems diversionary”

If everytime you say anything the Trots calls you a Stalinist, then it’s a bit hard to avoid the “diversionary”. We might recall the origin of the dispute here…

It’s also really quite ridiculous to call Garland a Stalinst, given that he would have had quite a serious critique of Stalin himself. One could definitely say he wasn’t a fan.

The English language is further cursed with greater Trotskyist presence than French, German, Russian etc. where they really are utterly marginal. Which means the arguments have some salience as there are different tendencies vying for influence.

As for problems of “real existing socialism”, I think a lot of orthodox Marxists take these questions very seriously. I certainly spend a lot of time trying to think about questions of what went wrong and how to do it better next time.

And while some have surely tried to theorise the value of the things that should not in the least be valued in themselves – like the banning of factions or the general rarification of intellectual atmosphere, in my opinion people in the West have often vastly underestimated the sheer enormity of circumstances in trying to simultaneously industrialise and stave off a much larger and more powerful entrenched antagonists that were often very literally existential threats.

These threats really leads to the conditions of the 1930s in a much much bigger way than the person of Trotsky or the person of Stalin. Indeed the choices which were made in 1929 in a lot of ways owe a lot more to the ideological predilections of Trotsky than Stalin, .i.e. crash industrialisation and a war with the peasantry for collectivisation as opposed to a more gradualist and voluntary approach respectively.

While leadership certainly played a role, the dynamics were really much more constrained by circumstances than people generally give credit.

I describe this in quite a bit more detail here: http://www.lookleftonline.org/2018/10/the-soviet-economy-after-the-new-economic-policy/

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2018

If someone said directly you or someone else contributing here was Stalinist I’d have a problem with that – And by the by i don’t quite buy into the idea that OSF shifted from republicanism to Stalinism (it’s much more complex than that imo) but it is at least a political analysis and as valid as the complaints (some justified some not) on Trotskyist political approaches – but what does strike me is the over sensitivity (and some unfortunately personalized comments) to pretty throwaway stuff just in this thread. The gulag comment was unfortunate but the description of attitudes that I experienced in the best part of a decade in the party prior to the split on extradition is accurate so there most certainly was an irony albeit one I was glad existed in that solidarity was forthcoming and that’s the takeaway that things have changed even if there is disagreement on some fundamental and other not so fundamental issues

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 25, 2018

I’m glad that you take the q. of ‘real existing socialism’ seriously, Gavin. However, you are mistaken to assert that the c1929 change in economic policy owed ‘more to the ideological predilections of Trotsky than stalin. Certainly, Trotsky criticised the controlled capitalist policies of the NEP and demanded more industrialisation, criticisms dismissed by Stalin. It was precisely because industry was developed at a snail’s pace that stalin did his Uturn in’29 and speeded up industrialisation faster than Trotsky had demanded, as well takins steps leading to war with the peasantry, which was pure Stalin, Trotsky never having demanded it. Yes, the SU had enormous problems, but it was the stalin regime that set the schema for its development and eventual collapse.
As to our friend O’Brien, well, for nearly half the time Trotsky was in what came to be named the Soviet Union he was fighting a civil war, far more horrifying than the one we had here. Inevitably, his side imposed coercive measures that can be seen with hindsight to have been excessive, but which seemed necessary when the world’s first workers’ state was faced by opponents many of whom would end up in Germany backing the Nazis.The trouble with Stalin was that he persisted with these emergency practices and as being necessary parts of ‘real existing socialism’. Perhaps Trotsky would have done the same had he stayed in power, tho’ I doubt it. As it is, he was exiled and however hypocritical you may consider his critiques, I would suggest that they are far more valid and more relevant to achieving any socialist future than Stalin’s apologise for them.
And so, back to Sean Garland, I will accept that he had criticisms of Stalin, as I think you are in a better position to know than I. however, I doubt whether he ever challenged the central tenets of Stalin’s particular ideology: that any revolutionary movement should accept a bourgeois state for a period, and that at the end of that period it would be possible to establish a socialist society in a single country.
As for Garland being ‘central to building a working class movement in Ireland,’ that’s rather jumping the gun, isn’t it? Perhaps he may prove to have been so, tho’ I doubt it, but at the moment, the organisation on which he concentrated his energies is more peripheral than SP/ Solidarity or SWN/PBP. Garland was a brave, dedicated and hard working man. Lets leave it at that, shall we?
Two last points, yes, trotskyism has failed to lead the workers to state power in any country. The major factor in this is the one charge made against us by the followers of Stalin the sticks: our fissility. I don’t know what can be done about it now. Perhaps natural selection will sort out the wheel from the chaff. In the mean time I can only keep plugging away.
And so an happy, if belated solstice to yez all and may the dialectic bless us, every one.

Like

8. Dr.Nightdub - December 25, 2018

Interesting post here from the TreasonFelony blog, reflecting on Garland and the post-1969 split in the IRA:
https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/death-of-sean-garland-announced/

Like

9. Gavin - December 25, 2018

I beg to differ about the causes of the changes in 1929, but I wrote about it at some length in that article, so I won’t reiterate.

“I. however, I doubt whether he ever challenged the central tenets of Stalin’s particular ideology: that any revolutionary movement should accept a bourgeois state for a period, and that at the end of that period it would be possible to establish a socialist society in a single country.”

I’m not sure what precisely you mean by this. It’s possible you think there is a peculiarly bourgeois form of the state, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you mean a state which would have to carry on with a period of state capitalism.

Is this the central feature? If so, it seems clear that Lenin was a Stalinist. He definitely oversaw a period of what he termed “state capitalism” under the NEP and was one of its primary advocates. That seems to put Bukharin and Rykov into the Stalinist camp as well. And for that matter the Mensheviks, who had advocated an NEP like path in 1918.

…in which case the moniker of “Stalinsm” becomes quite nebulous indeed. And then how can this be the characteristic but the crash industrialisation under a system of planning by method of material balances of the 1930s also the characteristic?

As per the “in a single country”, I highly recommend Erik van Ree’s “Boundaries of Utopia”. It’s probably the best discussion of this question that is available. In it he clarifies a lot of questions around the history of the idea, including who believed that some level of autarky was possible (hint: Babeuf, Lenin, Kautsky, as well as Stalin), but also that nobody thought it was desirable or superior, including Stalin, but rather a necessary and practicable approach given exigencies.

We should also remember that the locus around which the post-revolutionary discussions on this question happened was the USSR, which was absolutely massive. We’re not talking about Ireland here.

And those who are opposed to any sort of “stepping stone approach” to achieving significant self-sufficiency are generally extremely vague about how revolutionary isolation is to be overcome. Are we calling for Napoleon-like revolutionary expansion? Or are we hoping to get lucky where everything happens almost all at once. I wouldn’t even necessarily exclude either of these possibilities but we should be a lot more clear what we mean.

In my opinion “Stalinism” is not really an analysis of organisational, ideological, economic or social processes. It’s dubious as a category unless it can be given a better footing than one covering almost all tendencies at one time or another and which isn’t even self consistent. Which is to say it’s really an epithet, a slur, or at best not informative since when you use it, I don’t actually know hat you’re referring to.

I will grant that it is sometimes used to mean organisational practices which are not considered democratic or fair, but then the Trots have some organisational practices that if they happened in ML party would be hard-and-fast proof of ‘Stalinsm’ and the Workers’ Party in practice is quite democratic. Again it’s simply not a productive approach to use this term rather than just talking about the organisational practice.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 25, 2018

I won’t speak to Trotskyist definitions but I find the definition isn’t per de about stepping stones which I’ve no problem with or socialism in one country which I think is problematic at this point in global development (though less so in yhe 20s on when the ussr was truly a continental power) but it’s opposite is so unlikely as to be hardly worth using as the basis for any advance. And I’d argue the organizational forms are indeed often largely shared across the supposed Stalinist/Trotskyist line of demarcation – it’s more all that allied with a focus on a single leader, cult of personality, authority centralized not merely in a CC bit in one individual,

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 25, 2018

… extreme social repression, social conservatism, etc. in some respects this is both a style of leadership and policy determined by an individual or largely so and it’s fascinating to me how varied the experience of leaderships were in the ussr from Lenin on or indeed in all Soviet style states from somewhat but far from totally relaxed to highly authoritarian. A crucial aspect is how individuals come to dominate the apparent leadership roles rather than collectives or even triumvirates and what mechanisms are used to addrsss these phenomena.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 26, 2018

Hopefully, this will be a quick reply to Gavin and Wbs, or at least shorter than my last contribution.
1. Gavin asks rhetorically ‘what is a workers’ state? Is it any different from a capitalist state?’ Well it is, indeed. It is a state in which the armed bands who enforce the laws do so on behalf of the working people, workers and peasants, against the bosses, landlords and capitalists. It is not necessarily socialist; the Paris Commune, the first expression of the phenomenon, failed to nationalise banks and soviet power tailed behind the spontaneous actions of the workers in seizing their factories until it had to acknowledge the fact by nationalising. Its administrative form, its public expression lies in the fact that it is not based on the bourgeois dominated democracy of a parliament, but on class institutions, soviets, councils of action, call them what you will.
2.Yes, it is possible to trace any revolution in terms of stages or stepping stones. The q. is when to move from one stone to the next. Stalinism tends to leave the move to the last minute, if there is to be a move at all. this is justified by the need to ‘actually achieve’ socialism in one country and not to rock that country’s boat with provocations.
3. Certainly the alternative to socialism in one country, that of a spreading world revolution, seems utopian, was, but a course can be declared impossible only if it has been tried (and, if a failure, after the failure has been analysed.) A major factor in the decline of the soviet power was the fact that there was only a Bolshevik Party in one country: no Bolshevik International until 1919. Now, of course, there are all too many would-be Bolshevik Internationals, each with its own lend. However, that is a problem for another day.
Incidentally, Gavin, that book you mention seems interesting, albeit eclectic. I must read it some time.
4. Finally, it is certainly true that trotskyist as well as stalinite groups have resorted to physical violence against rivals and dissidents. Such bodies see this as strengthening them and, like Stalin’s far greater atrocities, it does strengthen them in the short term only to weaken them fatally in the end. Such strategies by trotskyists have been justified as ‘building Trotsky’s party using Stalin’s methods.’ There is a contradiction here.

Like

Gavin - December 26, 2018

With regards #1. Right, so when Lenin carries out a period of state capitalism, it’s not Stalinist, because he does so using a workers’ state, which is not a bourgeois state, because in fact the state acts on behalf of the workers?

And then if this is the case, when is the period of a capitalist state? Between Lenin’s death and 1929? Or is it somehow also a bourgeois state, but without capitalism during the 1930s? Or is your contention that capitalism functioned in the 1930s? And if never was capitalist, then Stalinism in its characteristic form never existed in the USSR?

The more I hear, the less I understand. The only thing which seems to hold this line of inquiry together is the idea that Stalinism is bad, even if we don’t know what it is.

And with respect to #3. I didn’t say spreading revolution was impossible, but certainly revolutionary crises are not things which spring up at every moment. They are relatively rare (occurring on the scale of multiple generations) and require fundamental internal and external conditions to align.

As for not being tried, I think that’s a very difficult case to make. The soviets could impact some of the external conditions by funding and assisting revolutionary movements, and they did in fact do so. They also did so on a number of different strategies ranging from insurrectionist through (pre-war style) social democratic, through popular front approaches, through direct military intervention (in Afghanistan). And they went through this entire range of approaches over generations out of which they got only a few notable successes, and were only able to end with some sort of balance in Western Europe.

They probably should have spent more effort and money at it than they did, but there is always an opportunity cost for such things and what they did is definitely significant. Indeed I would argue some of what we are seeing in the roll-back of social democracy is directly related.

The US has had notable successes at colour revolutions, but we have to remember that this is with overwhelming capacities. In Ukraine, Nuland bragged they had spent 4 billion since 1992. The ability to surround enemies economically, to spend enormous quantities on propaganda, NGOs and buying off the opposition, and most importantly, to do so without having the USSR there to stop them are all critical to their success. Their success rate only went up so high after the world became mono-polar. We can’t expect the USSR to have been anywhere near as effective.

Was there some magic different formula which would have opened up revolutionary vistas all over Europe and beyond? Trotsky certainly seemed to think there was. As someone who has engaged in quantitative analysis of revolutionary conditions, I think it’s extremely unlikely.

Like

yourcousin - December 26, 2018

“The US has had notable successes at colour revolutions, but we have to remember that this is with overwhelming capacities. In Ukraine, Nuland bragged they had spent 4 billion since 1992.”

First off, it’s five billion. Secondly You’re arguing that the US poured in that much over a couple decades in order to foment a “revolution” at some indefinite point in the future?

Like

Gavin - December 26, 2018

“extreme social repression, social conservatism, etc. in some respects this is both a style of leadership and policy determined by an individual”

Ok, these are at least much more identifiable!

In my opinion the causal arrow here is inverted.

In periods of extreme existential crisis, organisations tend to have different opinions on which strategy to take. Since the stakes are so high, factions invariably develop and these factions then vie for influence. A fragmented leadership is unable to act, and hence there is a big pressure either to purge and/or to reduce the size of the leadership. In particularly intense periods, it generally resolves entirely to one decider.

This effect, which one might call “revolutoinary monarchy” happened in the English revolution, the French revolution, and indeed was personified in Abraham Lincoln during the civil war in the US. It is not a peculiar feature of socialists, much less the USSR, or whatever has come to be called Stalinism, especially given that the orthodox Marxist states encompassed a range of leadership styles

Now, that is not to discount culture, leadership style, ideology etc. These things have an influence certainly, and the character of responses is fairly broad, but the revolutions which survive all at least seem to be willing to go a bit further towards revolutionary monarchy and repression then we might perhaps like. The evolutionary pressures have selected certain leadership styles for these periods.

This was studied and understood by Lenin, the Bolsheviks, but even fairly widely known in Social Democracy in general prior to WWI.

As per the move towards social conservatism, I think this also has a causally inverted arrow, coming from conditions to leadership, but is also opposite in its origin. That is, it comes from below rather than above.

We can see two quite different situations where there is a broad move towards social conservatism. One is the closing of the 1920s where the party begins to relax its programme of completely reconstructing the socio-cultural sphere.

The character of the Russian population between 1917 and 1929 was one of utter and complete backwardness in a way that is perhaps hard to fully understand for the modern urbanite. They were, as a rule, religious, nationalist, superstitious, uneducated, traditionalist in terms of family, and monarchist. The Bolsheviks upended this completely, and it was largely from above. Having won the civil war, it was possible to take this really quite far, lindeed even running campaigns against things like Christmas, as reactionary religious holidays.

As the party entered into the 1930s, the population was as a whole not entirely on board with this project of completely changing everyday life. The increased social dislocations of the 1930s, and the intention to increase the democratic input (by expanding the franchise) meant that the party required an additional increase in social support to mitigate against these other rather momentus changes. The populous wanted more normalcy and tradition, and the leadership capitulated.

This is not some sui generis event either. The Czech spring gives another example. After the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was formed, they embarked on rather extreme changes to the role that women held in society. This was implemented largely from above. The changes had big positive impacts on female autonomy, education, and even sex. However, after the advent of the Czech spring, which ironically is remembered as a left reaction to the socialist government, the leadership felt the need to provide some populism and one of the major things *relaxed* (rather than imposed) was around the question of the role of women.

The social progress from above certainly never rolled back anywhere near to where it had been prior to its initiation in either case. And perhaps its better if these things happen from below, but I think it’s important to understand that the counter-reaction was not a leadership choice, but a leadership response to popular demands.

Like

Gavin - December 26, 2018

BTW, this draws from Kateřina Lišková’s work on the Czech spring, which is excellent.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 26, 2018

As Alibaba notes elsewhere blog comments are not conducive to any deep engagement on topics as complex as this. So given that and the actual time of year and responsibilities I’m facing abhaile I’ll try to compress a longer response into something a little more concise.

Firstly, I think it’s problematic to focus on social conservatism too much, it was of a piece with many other aspects of a broader definition of the phenomenon. It also seems clear that regimes of many stripes seem to default to social conservatism for a variety of reasons, it’s easy, it reinforces pre-existing social codes, it constrains cultural and other dissident, and so on. And if it was so forceful in the 30s why not in the equally or more existentially charged 50s when facing a global atomic weaponed superpower in the face of the US? And similarly why not in the 1980s as sclerotic decline became even more apparent and the existential threat to the regime was even more clear?

Secondly the ability of authoritarian states to respond, let alone assess, ‘popular demands’ seems difficult even if the will is there. The means to express those demands are usually conspicuous by their absence and the historical record of, say, the Soviets is particularly poor in regard to the levels of dissent within those societies – most evidently in the 1980s when once the opportunity occurred to do otherwise attachment to the regimes collapsed (something that came as a considerable shock to those most heavily invested in a more open, communicative and responsive society).

Thirdly I’ve no particularly novel ideas on the nature of Stalinism, and in fact am broadly uninterested in the phenomenon because it seem easily explicable by power dynamics, structural contexts and individuals. ‘Revolutionary monarchism’ seem to me to be redundant as an explanation. There’s a sort of ‘well yes, but so what’ aspect to it. It’s like saying that Irish Republican militarist structures and Leninist structures often seemed to find each other congenial, even if in individual groups one might appropriate one or jettison the other – of course they would, that’s the nature of such formations.

And – and I’ll come back to this, there’s no clear sense of how any of this applies in the contemporary or any likely future context as well as the accompanying implications for democracy, whether socialist or otherwise (for example, as above I’ll be the first to critique concepts such as permanent revolution, or revolutions breaking out in multiple states simultaneously, but there’s no clear path to revolution full stop and looking back at the 30s for one seems irrelevant at best. In any case I’ve yet to hear one that is even slightly persuasive argument for what happened during that period – the impact on the Red Army alone went far beyond any considerations of streamlining leadership decisions and into pathological behaviours and led to a situation that severely weakened the Army in the face of fascism mere years later. The state itself had stabilised by the late 1920s and external enemies while real had lost immediate power to intervene – at least in the interregnum prior to fascism. And of course there’s no real substance to the phrase ‘revolutions that survive’ in the context of the USSR. The Soviet revolution didn’t survive to the present day, and in itself underwent at least five distinct periods of change – Lenin/Post Lenin/Stalin/ Post-Stalin and Perestroika, and perhaps a post-post Stalin in regard to the Brezhnev period – and a key aspect of that was the Stalinist period in terms of delegitimising it both within the former USSR, the states around the USSR and more broadly international orthodox Marxism.

Fourth, none of this is new. I read critiques from Trotskyist and orthodox Marxists who seem to fixate on the 30s and ignore the period after Stalin – arguably the most interesting period other than the immediate revolution itself, and certainly more interesting in terms of how socialist societies should and should not be organised. And that period and after saw a wholesale reconsideration of the Stalinist era and Stalin himself. It seems completely forgotten, perhaps because some have come to this very late, that the USSR itself shifted markedly away from those approaches in the 1950s, essentially disavowed significant aspects of same and took some pains to avoid those excesses subsequently. A fixation on Stalinism in the WP in the 1980s and a bit after would have made no sense at all since the USSR itself sought to put water between itself and Stalinism in that period and had for decades, and even if the WP wasn’t quite as in thrall to Moscow as some liked to portray it they did without question keep a close eye on developments there (just to qualify that, for those who think the USSR was an undifferentiated Stalinism throughout from say the 30s to the end of the state their analysis and mine obviously differ and we’ll just have to agree to disagree). De-stalinisation within the Soviet system was a real phenomena in the 50s onwards – their attitude to Stalin and the Stalinist approach suggests that this wasn’t something they were unable to appreciate as a real phenomena with clear enough features. There’s much to criticise about the USSR in the 60s through to its demise – Hungary, Czechoslovakia, authoritarianism, treatment of dissent, lack of party and general democracy and so on but it did actually engage with the issues above and its own (internal and to an extent public) critique of the period of high Stalinism was largely negative. It seems fair to suggest that their experience of and understanding of the period would be far greater than that of people positioned much further away in time and geography – though the understanding of the differences between say Russian in 1917-1939 and ‘modern urbanites’ was well appreciated by a comrade of mine in the WP in the early 1980s who noted that Stalin and Trotsky never lived in Kilbarrack. Perhaps that last seems trite but it always struck me as a useful counterpoint to the aforementioned fixation on a politics that was focused on a very specific point in human history.

Beyond the USSR the orthodox strands tussled with and sometimes broke in trying to square various circles in relation to the legacies of the past or to escape them entirely. That’s a terrible pity, many of the impulses to forge a better Marxism that had clearly learned from the past and was able to build for the future were sincere and well meaning. But it seems to me that the Stalin period is one which in its history and legacy has next to no useful lessons for what is yet to come, bar negative ones.

Finally as a member of the party during the 80s and into the 90s the reality was that the issue of Stalin intruded not at all. It simply wasn’t, at least at local branch level, something that had a currency. Rather like other unmentioned organisations no doubt there were those who were exercised by it, but by and large the orientation – and this is ironic, of the party and the period at which it was electorally most successful and had most support and influence was one where it was in no public way defined by Stalin or Stalinism or reference to same, indeed if anything was defined by a diluting the Marxist aspect (and by the by although the party was obviously sympathetic to Leninism I do not recall if the party had publicly identified as ML at that point and I believe the formal adoption was much much later post-split) and carving out a position to the left of the Irish Labour Party.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 27, 2018

I don’t think that I can match Gavin quantitatively. but, fortunately, it is not necessary.
Firstly, he tries to muddy the waters by asking what the Soviet state was. He assumes that it is defined by the specific approach to capitalism in the economic policies followed by successive soviet regimes. In fact, these policies changed within an overall context that could be called state capitalist, whether intensive (war Communism and, later third period) or loose (NEP). The third way presented unsuccessfully by Trotsky (more state control than NEP, but less than after 1929) would fit into this general picture.I would say that after 1917 to 1991, Russia was run by a workers’ state (a ‘workers’ state with deformations’, as Lenin called it, and increasingly deformed) through a socialist government administering a state capitalist economy. It is not as tidy as your definition, gavin, but, at least it corresponds to the truth.
As to stalinism, my definition is as I have given it: opposition to Permanent Revolution in the name of strict adherence to the primary achievement of step-by-step advances outside Russia lest it affects that country’s march to becoming a socialist society in a single country.
Yes the SU did encourage associated parties to strive for state power. yes, they sent supplies. These supplies went with a line and following it was usually counterproductive. Popular Fronts tended to end being defeated by reaction, save where backed by the Russian Army. In the latter cases, in Eastern Europe, the spread of, purely formal working class state power was done on an essentially ‘Napoleonic-expansionist’ manner which contributed to laying the foundations for the current miserable state of socialism in the countries occupied. On the whole, the success of socialist revolutions occurred in inverse proportions to the SU’s help to them.
Finally, I presume Gavin is just being defensive but i find his arguments lack a centre. What comes across is the idea that the defeat of working peoples’ state power in Russia and eastern Europe was due to the superior material power of the USA, on the one hand and the conservatism of the ordinary peoples of the areas on the other. He does not admit the possibility that the rulers might have contributed by making mistakes. I don’t think that he believes that the current reaction is to be defeated using the tactics developed in Moscow in the thirties, bu he seem to believe it. In this crisis, he is not being helpful.

Like

James O'Brien - December 27, 2018

WBS: “What is the ‘theory’, what is its explanatory power about the present? These are all grand claims but there’s no substance? It’s pure rhetoric. And utterly irrelevant. You call out Trostskyists for their focus on the past and yet you now seem all too eager to replicate it.”

You questioned the relevance of thinking about the choices made in the early to mid 20th century. We think the questions they addressed are important even where the answers are unfinished. You seemed to have confused a defence of considering these questions, which I have called an interest in theory, with an advance of a particular hypothesis. And I don’t call out Trotskyists for their interest in the past. It is something I share even when I disagree with their analysis.

WBS: “And what I see here for no reason I can fathom hedged critiques of Stalin and Stalinism with ‘perhaps’ and ‘some might’ and so on and so forth,”

We don’t share your assessment of Stalin nor of Stalinism, such that it is. Gavin in particular has given reasonably lengthy responses as to why we don’t subscribe to the blanket aberration view. You no doubt disagree but it is hardly unfathomable given what he has written.

WBS: “You come in here to this site and to a comment Jim makes you gratuitously attack him in the most personal terms – entirely against the spirit and approach of this site. What happens on Facebook is not my problem. What happens here unfortunately is.”

Actually I left his comment – itself a gratuitous insult aimed at Garland – pass; other comments preceded it. It was only when Yourcousin and you chipped in to dismiss Alan’s very mild rebuke of it that I wrote that. Frankly, I think my comment is more accurate than Monaghan’s and less offensive – uselessness etc being less of a sin than gulaging – but I accept the tone was not in keeping with that of CLR so apologies for that. But that tone should not be removed for Garland either.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018

Fair enough I appreciate what you say and thank you for it. As to the rest perhaps we can agree to disagree.

Like

James O'Brien - December 27, 2018

WBS
“And of course there’s no real substance to the phrase ‘revolutions that survive’ in the context of the USSR. The Soviet revolution didn’t survive to the present day”

The USSR lasted 75 years and other ‘eastern bloc’ states such as Vietnam, Cuba, DPRK, AND China have also lasted decades. Although the USSR lost it in the end, its three generation length makes it a reasonable candidate for a revolution that survived. Certainly it is of a different order to the Trotskyist revolutions elsewhere, none of which survived 5 minutes.

“And if it was so forceful in the 30s why not in the equally or more existentially charged 50s when facing a global atomic weaponed superpower in the face of the US? And similarly why not in the 1980s as sclerotic decline became even more apparent and the existential threat to the regime was even more clear?”

The context of the existential crisis was different and more acute; after all the Nazis did actually invade and wrought unimaginable destruction. By the 1950s , the USSR had significantly more strength in depth to the West as well the Eastern European buffer states. In addition the Red Army had proven itself in the 1940s.

The intense industrialisation rush of the 1930s compressed the modernisation process of a century into a decade and did so in a period of international isolation and fear of invasion. With millions of people uprooted from the countryside and landed in the cities it is not too surprising that the brakes were applied on social issues.

“Secondly the ability of authoritarian states to respond, let alone assess, ‘popular demands’ seems difficult even if the will is there. The means to express those demands are usually conspicuous by their absence and the historical record of, say, the Soviets is particularly poor in regard to the levels of dissent within those societies – most evidently in the 1980s when once the opportunity occurred to do otherwise attachment to the regimes collapsed (something that came as a considerable shock to those most heavily invested in a more open, communicative and responsive society).”

Authoritarian states are often more responsive to popular demands and the soviets had plenty of ways to gain feedback from the masses, the soviets themselves still existed for one. What was absent was freedom for the intelligentsia to dissent openly and promulgate their views, but there isn’t any reason to think that a competent CPSU official would have been unaware of the views of the wider population in his area. They probably opened up too quickly in the 1980s. Running perestroika and glasnost concurrently was asking for destabilisation, unfortunately.

“Thirdly I’ve no particularly novel ideas on the nature of Stalinism, and in fact am broadly uninterested in the phenomenon because it seem easily explicable by power dynamics, structural contexts and individuals. ‘Revolutionary monarchism’ seem to me to be redundant as an explanation. There’s a sort of ‘well yes, but so what’ aspect to it.”

The hypothesis regarding ‘revolutionary monarchism’ addresses your point that Stalinism encompasses a cult of personality and hyper centralisation of authority in one individual. The crisis of the 1930s manifested in the paranoid yet tragically realistic assessment of foreign invasion rendered the centralisation more extreme, but the phenomena is wider – Togliatti, Tito, Politt, Thorez, Castro etc – and wider than even communism, e.g., Bebel, Adler, even Gerry Adams 🙂

“there’s no clear sense of how any of this applies in the contemporary or any likely future context as well as the accompanying implications for democracy, whether socialist or otherwise…the understanding of the differences between say Russian in 1917-1939 and ‘modern urbanites’ was well appreciated by a comrade of mine in the WP in the early 1980s who noted that Stalin and Trotsky never lived in Kilbarrack. Perhaps that last seems trite but it always struck me as a useful counterpoint to the aforementioned fixation on a politics that was focused on a very specific point in human history.”

Yes, it’s true that the struggles of the early to mid 20th century in a faraway country can’t be copied. That would be a recipe for being one of those micro-sects. However the debates serve as starting points for a number of issues: imperialism and the socialist response; revolutionary upheaval in the periphery and its capacity to spread to the advanced capitalist states; the form of a socialist states (e.g., led by workers councils or parties); state breakdown; response to rising fascism and ethnic-nationalism; economic pathways beyond capitalism, and more.

We don’t claim that any given answer from those debates are directly applicable to our era but those debates and others remain pertinent and, indeed, in some cases quite brilliant, cf the pre-1917 debates in Social Democracy on Permanent Revolution and on Imperialism. It’s true that these debates won’t win a vote in a Finglas but they are important in winning cadre over, cadre who can do so and, in general, in fostering an organisation that can do so.

Like

yourcousin - December 27, 2018

JO’B & Gavin,
You guys do realize that y’alls spirited defense of Stalinism is literally so cliche as to be laughable right? Asking for a friend.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018

A couple of thoughts James – for a start it would be a kind soul who considered Vietnam a Marxist state, Cuba is clearly exiting state socialism and will presumably have done so not long after the last of the Castro’s is gone. The DPRK – well why is anyone seriously discussing that in any theoretical context? There’s again no point in trying to make me compare and contrast Trotskyist revolutions I have no attachment or adherence to and the events that actually took place. The problem is that everyone of those latter failed in some way or another. Last year was the 100th anniversary, and it was clear that the global historical significance of 1917 was very low indeed. And seventy five years – the Irish state has done better, vastly better – indeed I could make a case that the influenced of the Irish independence struggle on the shape of the British Empire… but again who cares?

“The context of the existential crisis was different and more acute; after all the Nazis did actually invade and wrought unimaginable destruction. ”

The social conservatism came well before the Nazi’s set foot across a border – came well before the agreement with the Nazi’s. In fact in truth we can see social conservatism creeping in from 22/23. But then I’m not a Leninist either so that doesn’t much worry me.

Authoritarian states are deeply unlikely to be ‘more responsive’ to peoples demands for the reasons I’ve articulated above. The Soviets were toothless, the arrow of leadership pointed downwards not up. And of course the state itself couldn’t allow for the clear articulation of problems.Of course officials were aware of the problems, but at every point in the Soviet existence it is clear that engaging with those usefully was of limited utility to said officials and for obvious reasons. And this is borne out fully by the experience of glasnost and perestroika. The systems for avoidance of engagement were so deeply rooted organisationally and (though I hesitate to use the word) psychologically that the system couldn’t cope any better with openness than it had with authoritarianism.

Revolutionary monarchism really doesn’t help us not least because it is unintentionally an evasion – there’s no great explanation necessary about what happened. The structures of the Leninist revolution were insufficient to contain an individual (on the level of the personal I’m of the camp that Stalin grew into being Stalin – certainly Kotkin’s analysis suggests so. But that doesn’t mitigate what happened during that period). It’s fair to say Stalin was sui generis in certain respects but of course this is yet another flaw of the ML approach – the focus on individuals, though precisely that point is made by myself above and initially.

Gavin mentions the idea that the end of the Soviets was an elite ‘dismantlement’ project in the 80s.

I worry about this – not to a huge extent because I’m not invested in this in the way you guys obviously are, but a little because it seems to be conspiracy theorism further left style. Unfortunately it doesn’t actually accord with the reality, but then conspiracy theories rarely if ever do and function as an evasion from the material circumstances.

If what is posited was the case it simply doesn’t explain why there was no attachment to the USSR at all subsequently on the part of the broad majority of citizens. The system failed massively – it failed everyone within it. Is this conspiracy theory the equivalent of international revolution everywhere? Because that’s what it has to be to hold any water at all. The system failed in every single European soviet style state, even in those that took markedly different paths such as Albania and the Former Yugoslavia. To try to paint a picture of a (presumably) malign elite bent on deconstructing the project is simplistic to the point of nonsense. Every elite went that route? Near simultaneously? It’s a crock. These regimes did not command the loyalty and affection of those they purported to represent. In that alone they failed so massively that in truth they didn’t deserve to continue to exist as they had done so. One can have some criticisms of those who marched in the DDR, or those who did likewise in Romania, one can consider that they didn’t perhaps fully engage with what might be and was lost as well as what was gained but the fact of their existence goes well beyond elite projects. And to ignore them is again ahistorical.

And here’s the thing, apologies James but all this does sound micro-sect on your parts. Sure it’s interesting, but what use is discussion of revolutionary upheaval in the periphery in 2018 when the Soviet experience and wider so throurougly delegitimised ML and even Marxist approaches? It’s like the orthodox variant of Trotskyist lines where everything goes back to such a narrow slice of history and to little effect. But worse, much worse there is the danger that it will suggest to people that some are only steps away with identifying with the worst approaches, and worst aspects of Marxist and Soviet history. Given the broad sweep of that history to wind up in this position that to me is a depressing outcome.

It’s interesting to find people putting forward a lot of the stuff I used to in the 1980s in defence of the Soviet Union. With added footnotes, though the USSR itself was no slouch at putting out enormous quantities of written material shoring up its rather shaky position. Of course it doesn’t make those defences much more convincing.

Like

James O'Brien - December 27, 2018

“for a start it would be a kind soul who considered Vietnam a Marxist state, Cuba is clearly exiting state socialism and will presumably have done so not long after the last of the Castro’s is gone. The DPRK – well why is anyone seriously discussing that in any theoretical context?”

With the possible exception of the latter, they all had significant orthodox communist influence. The fact that their roads do not conform to the Soviets’ or some idealised route doesn’t obviate their relevance. Just as I don’t agree that socialists countering anti-communist arguments can dismiss the USSR as nothing to do with Marxism, nor am I convinced that Cuba et al can be removed from the communist line.

“apologies James but all this does sound micro-sect on your parts.apologies James but all this does sound micro-sect on your parts.

I’m not sure what you are referring to by “all this”, the entire back and forth or my last paragraph, but in any case if theoretical discussion was all we did then you would have a point of micro-sectism. But not, I feel, in the context of the work we do, however small it is relative to the pre-split party.

And the dangers of abdicating from theoretical reflection is evident from the trajectory of Democratic Left, Tony Gregory, and innumerable independent leftists and republicans who invariably fade into oblivion. Of course, it is a tightrope walk navigating the Scylla of immediate work and the Charybdis of abstract theorising. Easy to fall off either side but that is no reason to neglect either.

“It’s like the orthodox variant of Trotskyist lines where everything goes back to such a narrow slice of history and to little effect.”

Well, as I said above, these debates and the others I listed provide a useful framework for thinking about important questions. They are also critical for understanding how the world came to be the way it is. At the risk of losing my Stalinist credentials (sic), I found the pre-1917 Social Democracy debates on the mass strike as well as Kautsky’s take on historical materialism quite illuminating. It’s probably fair to say had neither Gavin or I not done so that there would be no revival, however modest, in the WP in Dublin. Obviously, we don’t canvass or agitate on those, but theory *is* relevant because of its importance to activists and potential leaders. It is just not a matter of concern to the average punter or even many politicos, who are interested in tactical considerations and policy formation.

WBS:
“But worse, much worse there is the danger that it will suggest to people that some are only steps away with identifying with the worst approaches, and worst aspects of Marxist and Soviet history.”

To understand always carries the danger of excusing, or of being interpreted as doing so. And in truth I have become more sympathetic to the dilemmas facing the Soviet leadership as I become more aware of their context, even when I think they got things terribly wrong. While I think the reaction in the 1930s was massively excessive and a dark turn that sowed the seeds for its later downfall, the tragedy is that the paranoia about foreign invasion overthrow had a real basis. That doesn’t justify all the purges, but disregarding it simply blocks any path to understanding what happened.

“There’s again no point in trying to make me compare and contrast Trotskyist revolutions I have no attachment or adherence to”

The points raised ate not just directed at you, despite the ‘hook’ of responding to particular points any given commenter makes.

The WP and Garland get labelled – and dismissed – as Stalinist and anti-republican, not just by commenters on this site but repeatedly across FB, not least Jim M of this parish. We can ignore it, as we often do, or attempt to respond as do our interlocutors. The issue of Stalinism, such that it is, comes up but strategy and political choices can only be considered in conjunction with alternative approaches, of which Trotskyism is a leading one, and indeed the ideology of two of the principal contributors to this thread. It is, therefore, entirely legitimate to ask what is the record and strategy of the alternatives. The same applies to criticism of various WP policies. The alternative is an idealist and moralistic approach to understanding why things turned out the way they did, not least the negative things.

I disagree with your other points re authoritarian states, revolutionary monarchism, the fall of the USSR, and social conservatism but children prevent me from delving into it now.

Happy Christmas!

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

Elite decadence and subsequent elite defectors, elite competition and then consequent state destruction are measurable quantities which actually occur on a fantastically regular basis throughout history.

Far from being a “conspiracy theory”, this is an empirically tested theory with a huge amount of documentary evidence.

I thought Kotz theory was broadly plausible, but working on Cliodynamic analysis convinced me it was a key part of the story. Peter Turchin’s book Secular Cycles provides 4 major case studies with significant quantitative data and a large number of more qualitative examples. If elite-competition proxy variables, a causal leader of elite defectors, is removed as a variable from the analysis, the analysis becomes far less predictive.

Here is another analysis which makes quantitative use of the elite defectors in understanding state collapse and political violence:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022343312442078

In terms of responsiveness in authoritarian regimes, again, this isn’t just some ML paranoid delusion. Peter Turchin suggested to me that responsiveness tends to be measurably higher, though I admit to never having run an analysis or seen one. I’d love to produce an experiment on the question. It is, however, not the sort of answer that ingratiates you to funding bodies.

Fullbrook has a book on the “Participatory Dictatorship” in the DDR which looks at this question in some detail. Suffice it to say that the mechanism of transmission is no mystery. The apparatus to assess sentiment was extremely well developed, and encompassed not just a very extensive complaint system, but the Stasi itself was constantly centrally reporting disconent so as to stave off the possibility of something like ’53.

The Coffee crisis episode is an excellent window into how this took place. Indeed now available internal Stasi documents demonstrate the extent to which they state security apparatus was terrified that people were unsatisfied by their coffee. They actually changed foreign policy and foreign development as a response to this in order to ensure adequate coffee supplies.

We can perhaps contrast this with the results of sentiment in a democracy such as the US, where statistical data demonstrates that individual sentiment of voters has no statistically significant impact on policy, regardless of how many people enjoy it.

https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

Now this is in no way to say that you’re better off with an authoritarian state, or that we’d not be better off with a more democratic socialism. It’s also not an attempt to justify anything that transpired. I’m just pointing out that the assumption that sentiment is more accurately accounted under formal democracy, and that it cannot be accounted in a more authoritarian setting is likely wrong.

As per the value of theory, I don’t at all confine myself to analysis of the USSR. I spend a lot of time looking at other states, including ancient, medieval and bourgeois states. However, there are peculiarities in the real formerly existing socialisms, such as the long periods of equality, which make them quite unusual and worthy of analysis specifically for socialists. The lazy dismissals of everything post ’18, ’21, ’23, ’52, or whatever will serve us not at all in learning lessons.

As for dispensing with 1917, I think you’ll find it’s impossible. As soon as you try to run away, somebody will be bringing up the gulags.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018

With the possible exception of the latter, they all had significant orthodox communist influence. The fact that their roads do not conform to the Soviets’ or some idealised route doesn’t obviate their relevance. Just as I don’t agree that socialists countering anti-communist arguments can dismiss the USSR as nothing to do with Marxism, nor am I convinced that Cuba et al can be removed from the communist line.

I’m not removing them from the communist line. Explicitly not. I’m suggesting that they are yet more examples of failure of one sort or another.


I’m not sure what you are referring to by “all this”, the entire back and forth or my last paragraph, but in any case if theoretical discussion was all we did then you would have a point of micro-sectism. But not, I feel, in the context of the work we do, however small it is relative to the pre-split party.
And the dangers of abdicating from theoretical reflection is evident from the trajectory of Democratic Left, Tony Gregory, and innumerable independent leftists and republicans who invariably fade into oblivion. Of course, it is a tightrope walk navigating the Scylla of immediate work and the Charybdis of abstract theorising. Easy to fall off either side but that is no reason to neglect either.


Well, as I said above, these debates and the others I listed provide a useful framework for thinking about important questions. They are also critical for understanding how the world came to be the way it is. At the risk of losing my Stalinist credentials (sic), I found the pre-1917 Social Democracy debates on the mass strike as well as Kautsky’s take on historical materialism quite illuminating. It’s probably fair to say had neither Gavin or I not done so that there would be no revival, however modest, in the WP in Dublin. Obviously, we don’t canvass or agitate on those, but theory *is* relevant because of its importance to activists and potential leaders. It is just not a matter of concern to the average punter or even many politicos, who are interested in tactical considerations and policy formation.

What is the ‘theory’, what is its explanatory power about the present? These are all grand claims but there’s no substance? It’s pure rhetoric. And utterly irrelevant. You call out Trostskyists for their focus on the past and yet you now seem all too eager to replicate it.


To understand always carries the danger of excusing, or of being interpreted as doing so. And in truth I have become more sympathetic to the dilemmas facing the Soviet leadership as I become more aware of their context, even when I think they got things terribly wrong. While I think the reaction in the 1930s was massively excessive and a dark turn that sowed the seeds for its later downfall, the tragedy is that the paranoia about foreign invasion overthrow had a real basis. That doesn’t justify all the purges, but disregarding it simply blocks any path to understanding what happened.

It justifies none of the purges. And again we’re back into this dynamic of excessive, and irrelevant consideration of a time that Marxists should IMO be clear was an aberration.


The points raised ate not just directed at you, despite the ‘hook’ of responding to particular points any given commenter makes.
The WP and Garland get labelled – and dismissed – as Stalinist and anti-republican, not just by commenters on this site but repeatedly across FB, not least Jim M of this parish. We can ignore it, as we often do, or attempt to respond as do our interlocutors. The issue of Stalinism, such that it is, comes up but strategy and political choices can only be considered in conjunction with alternative approaches, of which Trotskyism is a leading one, and indeed the ideology of two of the principal contributors to this thread. It is, therefore, entirely legitimate to ask what is the record and strategy of the alternatives. The same applies to criticism of various WP policies. The alternative is an idealist and moralistic approach to understanding why things turned out the way they did, not least the negative things.
I disagree with your other points re authoritarian states, revolutionary monarchism, the fall of the USSR, and social conservatism but children prevent me from delving into it now.
Happy Christmas!

I’ve spent good years on this site trying to puncture some of those myths – trying to suggest the WP was much much more than a ‘Stalinist’ party, that it had a broadness that people simply ignore, that even in the 80s there were those who were actual republicans (though frankly I find that a more difficult task than the former even as a republican in those days and after) and that it had substantive achievements – not least flying a flag left of social democrat reformism at a state level in the 1980s – and that it has a relevancy today and a legacy that while it may be conflicted and contradictory contains within it many important aspects, many lessons for activism and engagement to this very day and is filled with sincere and committed people who some will not agree with on various issues but nonetheless are worth listening to.

And what I see here for no reason I can fathom hedged critiques of Stalin and Stalinism with ‘perhaps’ and ‘some might’ and so on and so forth, terms like Trot thrown around as a pejorative, fights picked and insults of others who make frankly mild criticisms. You come in here to this site and to a comment Jim makes you gratuitously attack him in the most personal terms – entirely against the spirit and approach of this site. What happens on Facebook is not my problem. What happens here unfortunately is.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018

Elite decadence and subsequent elite defectors, elite competition and then consequent state destruction are measurable quantities which actually occur on a fantastically regular basis throughout history.
Far from being a “conspiracy theory”, this is an empirically tested theory with a huge amount of documentary evidence.
I thought Kotz theory was broadly plausible, but working on Cliodynamic analysis convinced me it was a key part of the story. Peter Turchin’s book Secular Cycles provides 4 major case studies with significant quantitative data and a large number of more qualitative examples. If elite-competition proxy variables, a causal leader of elite defectors, is removed as a variable from the analysis, the analysis becomes far less predictive.

Here is another analysis which makes quantitative use of the elite defectors in understanding state collapse and political violence:
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022343312442078

Gavin, you’ll simply have to accept that this analysis of yours is deeply uncompelling to some of us – not least because it completely misses the woods for the trees when more prosaic and self-evident explanations are right in front of us. Cycles of elite defection? It would have been staggering if given the broader alienation there wasn’t elite – such as it was, alienation as well even though for those elites the system actually worked in ways that they didn’t for others in the system. The security and intelligence apparatus, the military, the political elite – all those were at the top of the apex with considerable privilege not extended to the rest of the population. They had travel and other perks not afforded to the latter.
All this is so well accounted for by contemporaneous texts, news reports, reporting from regime sources themselves and so on. You can certainly run your numbers – that’s entirely up to you, but even the most cursory examination of the overall history/context would suggest problems a lot deeper than elite decadence and elite defection.

In terms of responsiveness in authoritarian regimes, again, this isn’t just some ML paranoid delusion. Peter Turchin suggested to me that responsiveness tends to be measurably higher, though I admit to never having run an analysis or seen one. I’d love to produce an experiment on the question. It is, however, not the sort of answer that ingratiates you to funding bodies.
Fullbrook has a book on the “Participatory Dictatorship” in the DDR which looks at this question in some detail. Suffice it to say that the mechanism of transmission is no mystery. The apparatus to assess sentiment was extremely well developed, and encompassed not just a very extensive complaint system, but the Stasi itself was constantly centrally reporting disconent so as to stave off the possibility of something like ’53.

No one said it was a mystery, simply that it didn’t work terribly well. Discontent was rife – alienation from the regime was almost monolithic and apparent even within the structures of the regime – and that latter was a phenomenon that for obvious reasons wouldn’t be evident to those entities, or would be concealed from them.

The Coffee crisis episode is an excellent window into how this took place. Indeed now available internal Stasi documents demonstrate the extent to which they state security apparatus was terrified that people were unsatisfied by their coffee. They actually changed foreign policy and foreign development as a response to this in order to ensure adequate coffee supplies.
We can perhaps contrast this with the results of sentiment in a democracy such as the US, where statistical data demonstrates that individual sentiment of voters has no statistically significant impact on policy, regardless of how many people enjoy it.
https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

What about the areas where the regime didn’t do similar – where in fact it ignored public opinion. And the further obvious problem of the alienation described above. The regime did not and was not able to assuage that alienation. There were limits to what it would allow itself to do – it constrained many areas, and in doing so further exacerbated alienation. It moved, rather like Stormont in the North in the 1960s precisely as little as it had to. That is – per definition what authoritarian regimes do after all. In the end the regime collapsed. It had totalist methods of control and domination and they didn’t work. These things are clues. They really are.

Now this is in no way to say that you’re better off with an authoritarian state, or that we’d not be better off with a more democratic socialism. It’s also not an attempt to justify anything that transpired. I’m just pointing out that the assumption that sentiment is more accurately accounted under formal democracy, and that it cannot be accounted in a more authoritarian setting is likely wrong.
As per the value of theory, I don’t at all confine myself to analysis of the USSR. I spend a lot of time looking at other states, including ancient, medieval and bourgeois states. However, there are peculiarities in the real formerly existing socialisms, such as the long periods of equality, which make them quite unusual and worthy of analysis specifically for socialists. The lazy dismissals of everything post ’18, ’21, ’23, ’52, or whatever will serve us not at all in learning lessons.
As for dispensing with 1917, I think you’ll find it’s impossible. As soon as you try to run away, somebody will be bringing up the gulags.

There’s nothing lazy in arguing that there is more relevant and less relevant. The idea one can map today onto 1921 is an absurdity, it’s ahistorical nonsense both politically and in all other ways, no-one in public or any area of policy today would think it useful to emulate 1980 let alone 1965 when I was born or before that – unless one were interested in reforging the social and economic context. I’m sure you’re no more keen on that than I am.

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

WBS: “Gavin, you’ll simply have to accept that this analysis of yours is deeply uncompelling to some of us.”

Science requires a higher standard of argument than that. I have provided compelling replicable empirical data which can predict state collapse with a causal explanation that works, when coupled with other important factors, for many societies in history.

I’m not sure why, but it seems to have poked a sore spot.

WBS: “The security and intelligence apparatus, the military, the political elite – all those were at the top of the apex with considerable privilege not extended to the rest of the population. They had travel and other perks not afforded to the latter.”

The ratio of material remuneration to elites relative the population in the USSR was on the order of 1:8 and was actually falling for much of the period of the USSR. You can talk about privilege, but it was nowhere on the scale of the west (over 1:300 now in the US), and the higher echelons of society were well aware of this.

Further, polling inside the bureaucracy of the USSR showed a significant percentage – over 30% – wanted to engage in some sort of privatisation regime. There is also a lot of documentary evidence that they were interested in getting some of the fruits that their peers in the west were enjoying. I recommend reading David Kotz on the subject before making up your mind.

This simply wasn’t the kind of thing the general population were calling for at all. There is no evidence which suggests they were, and poll after poll, they demonstrate that the majority still aren’t.

Now it’s fair enough that you disagree, but I think you have to be a bit more charitable with your disagreement. I lived in the collapsing carcass of the USSR, and Peter Turchin is the son of a communist dissident scientist who escaped with his father as a late teen in the mid 80s.

These theories aren’t being put forward out of some malign intent to hide failings, but quite the opposite. They are intended to uncover what dynamics were actually at play.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018


Science requires a higher standard of argument than that. I have provided compelling replicable empirical data which can predict state collapse with a causal explanation that works, when coupled with other important factors, for many societies in history.
I’m not sure why, but it seems to have poked a sore spot.

I’m never certain how to engage with people who with no means whatsoever of knowing suggest my state of mind. I also think such rhetorical devices are a bit childish. I’ve some sympathy, said it before on here to you, with more robust approaches to political activity and dynamics, but I also think there are clear limitations – you’ve actually not provided conclusive empirical data (with all due respect providing a link and a couple of references is simply not going to cut it on an informal discussion on a blog). To further suggest that they are the last word on the matter ‘cos science’ is consequently problematic. I’ve posited basic reasons for the collapse of the system, based on multiple analyses which have been made. There’s again nothing novel in them. Rather than dragging in yet another arguably redundant explanatory model why not actually tackle the reason I’ve offered for the clear alienation of those within the regime?

The ratio of material remuneration to elites relative the population in the USSR was on the order of 1:8 and was actually falling for much of the period of the USSR. You can talk about privilege, but it was nowhere on the scale of the west (over 1:300 now in the US), and the higher echelons of society were well aware of this.
Further, polling inside the bureaucracy of the USSR showed a significant percentage – over 30% – wanted to engage in some sort of privatisation regime. There is also a lot of documentary evidence that they were interested in getting some of the fruits that their peers in the west were enjoying. I recommend reading David Kotz on the subject before making up your mind.
This simply wasn’t the kind of thing the general population were calling for at all. There is no evidence which suggests they were, and poll after poll, they demonstrate that the majority still aren’t.
Now it’s fair enough that you disagree, but I think you have to be a bit more charitable with your disagreement. I lived in the collapsing carcass of the USSR, and Peter Turchin is the son of a communist dissident scientist who escaped with his father as a late teen in the mid 80s.
These theories aren’t being put forward out of some malign intent to hide failings, but quite the opposite. They are intended to uncover what dynamics were actually at play.

Study after study notes that it isn’t simply the actual ratio of difference between incomes (as in the West) but the perception of the ratio of difference. The cross comparison with the West at the time is largely irrelevant – I may lust materially after Big Candy Rock Mountain but it’s the guy who lives across from me who has the dacha on the enclosed estate who is going to cause the real irritation.

As to polling within the USSR – you don’t think there might be basic material reasons why any such an exercise was problematic? That the answers might be skewed in some ways? No? And of course – understandably – and I’d be the first to argue the demise of the USSR followed a particularly catastrophic course and that it should have been managed in a completely different way once it was clear it was in train, some people wanted a return to the status quo ante.

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

“To further suggest that they are the last word on the matter ‘cos science’ is consequently problematic.”

I didn’t say it was the last word. But surely it deserves a lot more than the summary treatment it received, which is to first dismiss it as a conspiracy, and subsequently to ignore it without taking the time to read or evaluate the argument.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2018

Perhaps I’m being slightly unfair but if we already have material reasons that explain decline and collapse of the USSR and other regimes – reasons that are well rehearsed, understood and generally accepted I have to ask where the need is to engage with ideas of elite decadence/defection other than as a side issue of marginal relevance? I’m not saying that those phenomena had no part to play at all (indeed you yourself in your comment raise precisely how inequalities between party elites and the broader mass might also serve to destabilize yet further the regime) but they’re not it seems to me in a rational analysis the major reason for the demise of the regimes (and if they were given those in the elites were supposedly those best inculcated with regime nostrums that would suggest yet more problems with the overall approach to running these states and potentially the impossibility of successfully doing so over extended periods of time – which as it happens I tend to think may be the case but that is I’d accept purely intuitional and of no objective value ).

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

WBS: “Perhaps I’m being slightly unfair but if we already have material reasons that explain decline and collapse of the USSR and other regimes – reasons that are well rehearsed, understood and generally accepted…”

I think it’s important to re-evaluate them, because I simply don’t think they’re true, despite being well worn and widely accepted.

And yes, internal inequality is vitally important, but insufficient in itself for state collapse. The fact that we have it reducing in the USSR until the 80s makes it unlikely to be a driving variable.

As per there being a contradiction within socialism around how to keep the state apparatus from negating itself, I think this is indeed a big problem. I’ve a number of thoughts on possible answers, but they’re too long to fit in the margin.

Like

10. Jim Monaghan - December 25, 2018

Stalinism was a rather ecletic thing. It varied from at least Third Period to Popular Frontism. Like DeValeraism, Gaullism, it was a reflection of the needs of the ruling clique around Stalin.The line could change overnight, and the foillowers who were caught out of step, well….The two parties which could be described as say pro Moscow here have some sharp differences as well as rivalries. Books have been written. A few libraries. Indeed at this stage Trotskyist groups have a quite broad range of strategies etc. ( SP and SWP here).
Alan M made a point about the crimes of US Imperialism. “Funny how “cosying up to regimes that killed millions” isn’t a phrase that’s used when say Leo Varadkar or Gerry Adams or whoever visits the White House every March 17th.”. Moving on from this point. It should be agreed that the USA as the biggest Imperialist power commits probably by far most crimes. Now this does not provide an excuse for other crimes. Indeed closer to home, I argued with people whose unconditional defence of the armed struggle always started off with “sure didn’t the Brits do worse”. I remember a standup row over the term “progressive atrocity”.So for this reason, let us ignore the crimes of Stalinism, the gulag, the mass murder associated with collectivisation, famines, deportations of entire nations etc. (Sure wasn’t Hitler worse). Let us not mention the gassing of the Kurds by Saadam. The various repressions in Eastern Europe. Let us support the Palestinians but not the Crimean Tatars or the unfortunate Uighurs.Now that is what, silence. But there are those who go in for the school of “You cannot make omlettes without breaking eggs.” Which may be true, but some glory in the breaking of eggs. And the lovers of breaking eggs are not confined to any particular tendency. I have a memory of McGiolla praising Alexander Dubček after the fall. I could not help but think he would have refrained from doing so before, in the interests of defending “actually existing socialism” (Is this the term.). I see the criticisms of Stalinism which some say Garland shared in this light. I wonder what his private views of the Kim dynasty were?
I find it hard to accept that the people in the Trade Union movement and the media who were the most loudspoken in calling the prisoners, fascists, did so on their own bat. I cannot remember any issue regarding the oppressed minority in the 6 Counties where WP memebrs in the Trade Unions and eleswhere did not do their best to obstruvcat any mild solidarity.
As for dreams. My remaining one is to witness a genuine socialist revolution, like the early days of the Russia, with genuine democratic soviets or whatever they choose to call their elected bodies.If it is a United Socialist Ireland, so much the better. If I live long enough to give it a few cheers, Believe it or not, I can do applause very well. I will be happy.

Like

11. Gavin - December 26, 2018

This compilation of responses to the question “Is the Term “Stalinism” Valid and Useful for Marxist Analysis?” is probably relevant.

https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/siso.2018.82.4.555

Like

12. Alibaba - December 26, 2018

Whenever the word ‘Trots’ is mentioned, I ask myself is this done out of ignorance, or malice or as a casual jibe? I take it for granted that the first two things don’t apply on this thread. But about the third one I wonder, I really do.

Coming back to Alan MacSimoin I remember checking out radical politics when I was younger. Alan sauntered up to me and said “I see you have the Trots”. Somewhat taken aback I turned sharply to him and said “I am a Trotskyist inspired activist. What are you?!” But Alan was very quick to put me at my ease, when he leaned forward saying gently “Don’t worry, I have a prescription for something that will cure you of that”.

And then began a series of discussions about anarchist politics. And then began a long friendship nourished by the nudge-nudge, wink-wink healthy cynicism that only Alan could bring along.

We went our separate ways politically, though our paths crossed so frequently, always uniting and fighting in pro-choice campaigns, trade union battles and so on. And yes, in ways I never saw with some other leftists.

I have little familiarity with the person or politics of Sean Garland. Yet the people whose judgement I value tell me he showed considerable strength of character and courage. I suggest we say our goodbyes to both men, but never to our memories of them. I am influenced by their dedication and determination against all the odds in times marked by the discrediting of socialism in the eyes of so many, following the failures and carnage of the twentieth century. And I suspect you are too.

Like

Gavin - December 26, 2018

“Trots” is fairly different given that Trotskyists generally self-label. It is definitely used as an epithet though as well.

Alan MacSimoin was a very articulate advocate of dual-organisational syndicalist communism and he used what was an essentially Marxist analysis of class society and capitalism. I’m personally indebted to him for learning about the production orientated view of socialism.

He was also incredibly fair and clear with his arguments. While I came to disagree with him on a fair number of tactical and strategic questions, for instance the utility of elections, he was always able to disagree without imbuing his interlocutor with evil intention. This is hard enough to do for most of us at the best of times.

I think it’s a real shame that the WSM went down the identity politics road, and I think it really was very distressing for Alan who had put more than 25 years of work into influencing people to a class orientated view, only to see it crumble under the weight of some rather odd ideas such as privilege theory and intersectionality. It certainly wasn’t a road he wanted at all.

He also remained fairly steadfastly anti-imperialist, something that most anarchists, and indeed Trotskyists find exceedingly difficult. He warned against attempts at US expansion in Iran and elsewhere and in my last conversation with him, he said people calling for war with Syria were completely out of line. Again this despite him being able to talk about Assad in extremely caustic terms.

Despite his very different opinions on organisational questions, the state and elections, he probably had more in common with Sean Garland than he did with the remainder of the WSM.

Like

Alibaba - December 26, 2018

I agree that it must have been ‘very distressing for Alan who had put more than 25 years of work into influencing people to a class orientated view’ to see the WSM go the way it did. But he didn’t let that overwhelm him because if he hadn’t been so involved in its development — his life would have been certainly far less fulfilled.

I believe that is true of so many of us on the diminished and impoverished left.

Liked by 1 person

13. Alibaba - December 26, 2018

I don’t mean to disregard the considered thoughts here on the nature of Stalinism. But I find it difficult to figure out such complex matters in blog posts. Still, any food for thought is welcome. Better still, thank you for the links. This means I can put them aside for reading later when I get the time and my interest is sparked.

Like

14. Gavin - December 26, 2018

In response to yourcousin’s comment:

“First off, it’s five billion. Secondly You’re arguing that the US poured in that much over a couple decades in order to foment a “revolution” at some indefinite point in the future?”

The exact figure she stated was €4.6 billion, but I meant to convey the scale not the exact figure.

Did the US intend to have some revolution at some unspecified point in the future? The answer from the perspective of the US security state who carry out these combined influence, propaganda and state/making operations is: it depends. If extra-constitutional regime change is what it takes to obtain compliant governments then they are definitely willing to take the plunge. And given that they understand what is at issue, they like to lay the ground work for such operations in advance. Yes, they do definitely think in these terms.

When the USSR fell, Ukraine was very friendly with Russia. There were basically no ethnic divisions between Ukrainians and Russians of any significance. They were also extremely positive towards the soviet union, with 81.7% voting in favour of retaining it in the referendum. Further, they were consistently one of the more favourable towards communism, with high majority figures. In 2009, 62% of Ukrainians felt hey were worse off under capitalism than Communism.

This made it Ukraine a relatively difficult (and expensive) nut to crack, but the potential rewards were big for pitting Ukraine against Russia, in geostrategic terms, limiting Russia and expanding NATO, as well as the capacity to isolate Russia economically.

They went about it by systematically promoting Ukrainian nationalism. First of a relatively liberal variety, but coupled with an old Nazi propaganda slur, the Holodomor, which was used to sow distrust of not only Stalin, and Communism, but also Russians in general. One can see clearly this idea rising from non-existence to prominence very clearly by looking at google ngrams which shows sudden existence of the term in the literature only after 1992.

The entire period since 1992 is characterised by a lot of US involvement in the media sphere, in promoting various political groupsings, and essentially trying to find a way to stem Russian influence while buying it themselves.

This culminated with the recent change of regime, which was a premeditated attempt to remove a non-compliant oligarch. The project started with a coordinated campaign to demand a deal with the EU which was never actually on offer. This didn’t seem to perturb the US in the slightest. They convinced a population which was feeling severe economic distress that there was a way out, by promoting a saviour: Euromaidan.

This was coordinated at the highest levels of the State Department as is very clear from the leaked conversation between Nuland and Pyatt, where she basically names the people that should constitute the next government. Low and behold the names thrown about are almost exactly what was achieved in the extra-constitutional change.

The extent to which this was achievable merely with very clever media handling coupled with NGO activities, and assistance from the state dept (all known quantities, which can be viewed in the public domain), and how much of it involved dirty tricks and clandestine activities is impossible to know. In my opinion it was a combination of both.

Now we have an extremely nationalist Ukrainian government presiding over a civil war breaking on ethnic grounds and the US actively training and supplying known ultra-nationalist fascist groups such as the Azov battalion.

So, there is your answer. The US invests in hegemony and is wiling to go all the way to get it.

Like

yourcousin - December 26, 2018

Gavin,
A lot to respond to and I’ll be honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination to spend as much time behind a key board to respond to everything as a proper rebuttal would require.

Euromaidan was never offered, a trade deal with the EU was. We’ve been over this before here, but my exchange with Chekhov over at Three Thousand Versts has gone over much of this ground already:

http://threethousandversts.blogspot.com/2015/02/demonising-russia-wont-stop-bloodshed.html?m=1

I would contest the idea of the famine in Ukraine being a post soviet construct, just no.

And in truth these comments have proved quite a detour (although still highlighting) from the point that WP has been less than ecumenical with other elements in the Irish left.

But I must say that with the eloquence, and gascony present on this thread I’m thinking that in short order the WP will be able to field more than five councilors.

And in all sincerity I hope so, because all bullshitting aside people need to have groups advancing in diversity to address the issues that are facing them now, all over the world.

Liked by 1 person

Gavin - December 27, 2018

“I would contest the idea of the famine in Ukraine being a post soviet construct, just no.”

But I never said that did I? I said the Holodomor was a post-soviet construction. There was indeed a soviet famine that impacted Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. It was a combination of weather, and the unintended consequences of policy decisions.

It however definitely wasn’t a “Ukrainian genocide” which is what the term is associated with. It impacted the Russophone areas of Ukraine most heavily, as well as Russia itself. We have extensive archival evidence (almost unprecedented in scope including the secret state) none of which points to any attempt to eliminate Ukrainians or even to eliminate anyone. The policies were all with the intent of increasing productivity through collectivisation and avoiding starvation in the urban centres (including Ukrainian urban centers).

Indeed many of the policies which lead to the unintended consequences were being most zealously undertaken by Ukrainians themselves.

The entire story is a bald faced lie, whose origins are with the Nazis, and which was embraced by the Banderite fascists and then promoted by the US with gobs of funding.

Like

yourcousin - December 27, 2018

Gavin,
Again you guys are kind of missing the forest for the trees so far as the aim of the criticism goes. Instead of focusing on 21st century problems you’re literally blaming Ukrainians for the famine in 1932.

I would point out that the US does not recognize the Holodomor as genocide itself, so I’m curious as how we’re responsible for it. Though I’m sure it’s being coordinated at the highest levels.

But off of the top of my head, I fail to see how a man made famine, confiscating even basic food stuffs from populations, preventing travel to other areas and rejecting aid are “unintended”. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if you take all the food, then keep people where there is no food I would have thought the outcome would be a forgone conclusion.

Also noting that Raphael Lemkin himself considered it genocide, so I’ll go with him on that one. But yes I’m sure that he too was duped by the Nazis.

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

“Instead of focusing on 21st century problems you’re literally blaming Ukrainians for the famine in 1932.”

The Holodomor is an entirely 21st century problem, as it is a plank in a current state strategy of division, and it didn’t even exist as a theory with any prominence prior to 1992.

“I would point out that the US does not recognize the Holodomor as genocide itself, so I’m curious as how we’re responsible for it.”

You identify with US foreign policy decisions do you? 🙂

The US promoted the story in Ukraine, funded a range of think tanks and NGOs promoting the story, and basically paid for “research” to justify the theory.

The entire thing was done to cynically promote US interests by creating ethnic tension in the Ukraine. This is relevant today, and any attempts at pretending this is a dead issue are frankly stupid.

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018
yourcousin - December 27, 2018

Gavin,
“You identify with US foreign policy decisions do you?”

I’m American. Everyone here knows it. To address America as “they” would not make sense.

“This is relevant today, and any attempts at pretending this is a dead issue are frankly stupid.”

We’re not here to actually discuss the merits of the Ukrainian genocide. Because one of us is convinced that it’s a State Department conspiracy.

But please clarify for me. Do you acknowledge the fact that the term “Ukrainian genocide” has been used since the events themselves?

Do you refute Lemkin?

Do you feel that the Ukrainians have so little agency that they do not remember their own dead?

“Indeed many of the policies which lead to the unintended consequences

Again, let me repeat myself,

“I fail to see how a man made famine, confiscating even basic food stuffs from populations, preventing travel to other areas and rejecting aid are “unintended”. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if you take all the food, then keep people where there is no food I would have thought the outcome would be a forgone conclusion.”

If you want to discuss the issues surrounding Ukraine, fine. But calling everything US hegemony and likening anyone who doesn’t toe the line to Nazis, Banderists/monoists, or US stooges is not the way to develop meaningful debate.

So yes two Americans arguing about Eastern Europe on an Irish political blog when one is essentially a Stalinist and the other is a disaffected unionist redneck is kind of stupid.

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

“Do you acknowledge the fact that the term “Ukrainian genocide” has been used since the events themselves?”

It has indeed. But largely by the Nazis, and ultra-right wing Ukrainian nationalists. Lemkin, of the US War Department, decided to employ in an anti-soviet manner, but it was so stretched that even the majority of the cold-warrirors preferred not to adopt it.

Certainly very few historians were willing to go so far in the direction of genocide inflation until recently, and these even had to be employed largely outside of academia since the story borders on academic fraud.

“Do you feel that the Ukrainians have so little agency that they do not remember their own dead?”

It was not only Ukrainians died, and those that died didn’t do so because they were Ukrainian. This is the whole point.

And if we’re talking about burying dead, what of the vast scale of ethnic division that has been opened up leading to a civil war and one of the largest mass displacements in recent European memory? Apparently the consequences of this tall tale are not to be accounted for.

Like

Joe - December 27, 2018

“a disaffected unionist redneck”
Always remember it is an Irish political blog, yc. When I read that first I thought “Begob, turns out yc is a backwoods DUP man”. 🙂

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

“I’m American. Everyone here knows it. To address America as “they” would not make sense.”

It certainly does when we’re talking about activities of the security state…. unless you actually identify with these activities.

Like

CL - December 27, 2018
yourcousin - December 27, 2018

Joe,
Just imagine that were true Joe! Think of the bridges we would’ve been building. If it makes you feel any better, my dad is Baptist!

Like

Gavin - December 27, 2018

What the “Holocaust” ngram shows is that you are unable to read graphs. There is a consistent usage going back even to the 1800s. There is a 0.0% use of the word Holodomor.

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

There is zero percentage on the ‘Holocaust’ graph between 1800 and 1960.
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Holocaust&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CHolocaust%3B%2Cc0

There is zero percentage on the Holodomor graph between 1800 and the 1990s.

Neither graph proves anything one way or another about whether the Holocaust or the Holodomor actually happened.

Like

Gavin - December 28, 2018

No, there absolutely isn’t 0%. Try changing the period of inquiry to between 1800 and 1900. Or between 1900 and 1950. You’re misreading the scale.

Like

yourcousin - December 28, 2018

Me:“Do you acknowledge the fact that the term “Ukrainian genocide” has been used since the events themselves?”

You:”It has indeed. But largely by the Nazis”

No. It was used by the guy who coined the term genocide and who’s entire family was killed by Nazis. Like literally 40+ of them so yeah, I’m going to go with his take, and I think most folks would agree.

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

‘The graph is meant to demonstrate that the story has been promulgated as part of a directed propaganda strategy in the period post soviet collapse.
It isn’t meant to demonstrate what actually happened. What happened is clear enough,’-Gavin

The steepness of the Holocaust graph after 1966 is hardly due to propaganda purposes. Similarly the Holodomor graph shooting upwards in the 1990s is not necessarily due to propaganda purposes.

‘What happened is clear enough’-reputable historians would disagree.

Like

Gavin - December 28, 2018

“Neither graph proves anything one way or another about whether the Holocaust or the Holodomor actually happened.”

The graph is meant to demonstrate that the story has been promulgated as part of a directed propaganda strategy in the period post soviet collapse.

It isn’t meant to demonstrate what actually happened. What happened is clear enough, and it wasn’t a genocide. It’s a sorry state of things when the state department can get lefties to regurgitate their recycled nazi propaganda though.

Like

yourcousin - December 28, 2018

“What happened is clear enough, and it wasn’t a genocide. It’s a sorry state of things when the state department can get lefties to regurgitate their recycled nazi propaganda though.“

WTF are you talking about? You’ve provided no evidence for non genocide famine and you’re literally conflating Nazis with their victims. I mean your biggest argument is a google graph which doesn’t even hold up when you simply type in “Ukrainian genocide”.

Not sure if you’re understanding how this debate thing works.

Like

15. Gavin - December 27, 2018

“I would say that after 1917 to 1991, Russia was run by a workers’ state (a ‘workers’ state with deformations’, as Lenin called it, and increasingly deformed) through a socialist government administering a state capitalist economy. It is not as tidy as your definition, gavin, but, at least it corresponds to the truth.”

If my argument seems rather uncentred, I blame it on this “Stalinsm” whose core characteristic seems to always retreat to further vistas when we try to explore it.

I was (genuinely) trying to understand how your definition makes sense given how difficult it was to apply to the experience of the USSR, but now I see it didn’t apply to the USSR at all. Stalinism’s core characteristic is apparently to take a stageist view of revolution elsewhere and the manner in which it would be encouraged.

This makes our disagreement more understandable, but it seems to me the pressure of concrete example make it impossible to uphold.

For instance, where does it put soviet support for the PFLP, or the Communist Party of Indonesia? Both were looking to have proletarian states. Both were looking to have a proletarian dictatorship in armed revolution when the opportunity presented itself.

There are literally dozens of interventions, which, as I said are across a range of organisations over three generations. Those organisations in turn took very different assessments of the climate in their respective environments, and yet proletarian dictatorship with a period of workers lead developmentalism was definitely one of the most common features.

If the core problem with “Stalinsm”, is not copying the mould of the Soviet revolution elsewhere, how does this problem express itself in the ideology that is promulgated as Marxism-Leninism? Certainly you’ll not find this view in “Foundations of Leninsm”. Is it then conveyed by some other means?

There were certainly times at which the soviets thought a collaboration with bourgeois elements was preferable, as in Spain ’36 or China. But these were from arguments regards the balance of forces and/or imperialist pressure. And while ultimately the republic was lost in Spain, it was won in China. Surely we can acknowledge that a different balance of forces might call for different approaches?

“What comes across is the idea that the defeat of working peoples’ state power in Russia and eastern Europe was due to the superior material power of the USA, on the one hand and the conservatism of the ordinary peoples of the areas on the other.”

Superior economic, militar, political, and propaganda power, coupled with the fact that revolutionary conjunctures require quite specific and remarkable circumstances.

It was an unfair fight from the start, and only got worse after WWII with the adoption of a bipolar world. Surely this has to account for a lot of the difficulty if we’re to take a materialist view.

“He does not admit the possibility that the rulers might have contributed by making mistakes.”

If you had read with eyes to see you’d have noticed I thought the Soviets were probably too conservative, especially under Krushchev, but that the sentiment is very understandable as there is always a risk when you try to stoke confrontation with a much more powerful enemy.

Do you fight now, or wait until you are stronger? Indeed Krushchev thought that he’d be able to build productive forces and the value of a good example as a better way to win. This was more wrong in my opinion than either the period which proceeded or the one which followed with respect to soviet foreign policy. But strangely Krushchev’s view would sit better with our “Democratic Socialists”. But then is Krushchev a Stalinst? Perhaps they are also Stalinists.

Which brings forward another problem with the Trotskyist lens – it seems to know three examples of interventions of the USSR under Stalin (Spain, China and Germany), and all other examples disappear. An analysis built by a political competitor trying to slag his opponent for maximum effect has been generalised to an understanding of the entire period of the USSR, all of it’s foreign policy relations over 3 generations, and reduces the history to one man: Stalin.

To make matters worse for your theory that I’m merely defensive, I think the Soviet Union was effectively dismantled by the intelligentsia and bureaucratic elite in the 1980s. I think David Kotz does an excellent job describing the course of events.

The problem isn’t that I’m against critical analysis of the USSR, or of questioning actions by the leadership. It’s that I think the critical analysis marshaled by Trotskyists is simply wrong.

It’s always easier to claim that the riskier road would have been better if you have no responsibility for the decision. We should be aware of this difficulty when making assessments.

And it might do to have slightly more humility given that Trotskyist revolutions have had precisely zero successes. I don’t think that’s an accident.

And regards state capitalism post 1929…

A short comment is insufficient to carry a full argument but I think the idea of the USSR as state capitalist post 1929, seems to stretch the meaning of capitalism well past the breaking point. It was a system which made use of comprehensive planning, had no capitalists, in which money didn’t function as a circulating capital, in which both money expansion and prices were set by fiat under planning constraints, and in which there were no cyclic crises of overproduction. This Dunayevskaya-Cliff innovation seems to be a very flimsy theory which caught on purely for propaganda reasons.

The USSR had a host of economic problems, but capitalism wasn’t one of them.

Like

yourcousin - December 27, 2018

“And it might do to have slightly more humility given that Trotskyist revolutions have had precisely zero successes”

I’m not sure how many of your successes the working class can take.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 27, 2018

Well, I am ready to out ‘umble Uriah Heep if it helps my argument.
Yes I am a failed revolutionary. All Trotskyists are. But then, Gavin, James O’Brien, you have yet to succeed. And your current benefitted from the continuing prestige of its association with the largest state in the world. Ours did not, which did not help us prevent our notorious divisions. Moreover, while the post Lenin SU could claim major revolutionary successes, further investigation shows that, as I said last time, these successes were achieved only by breaking with its directions. In China, in ’48, the Russian line was to revive the disastrous coalition with the bourgeois Kuomintang, a directive ignored by Mao, who went for broke. In Indonesia, the revolutionary PKI had its leader, Aidit, in the capitalist government. It was only when his party’s position was threatened that it turned to insurrection – too late. In Vietnam, Ho is, very properly, an acclaimed national hero, yet his southern comrades nearly suffered a similar fate, when the South Vietnamese puppet regime, backed by the CIA, broke the Geneva agreements and cancelled elections in its territory, provoking the long war that ended in its defeat. The Caribbean revolutions were won, if, it now seems temporarily with little direct political input from Russia. However, as these were the states where, for obvious reasons, the SU appeared more attractive than in the imperial metropoles on the North Atlantic, they gravitated to Moscow.
Gavin does not understand the criticism of Stalin. It is that he reverted to a strategy of revolution that the Bolsheviks had had to reject in order to lead the working people to state power and that he revived it as a schema for all Communist Parties, while bringing to the fore to cover its failures the nostrum of a Socialist society in a single country.
Gavin would seem to claim that this was achieved. There was state planning, no capitalists and no cycles because of the planning.. There were, of course, shortages features that didn’t ought to happen under socialism), commodity production continued in the agricultural sphere and, to maintain the facade of socialist efficiency, the planners had begged credit from the global corporations. Over all was the fact that the command economy, defended by the KGB was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up technologically with that of the despised imperialists.
A final point. J.O’Brien tells us how in the DDR the Stasi enabled the government to understand the needs of the people better than a democratic regime could have done. Well, perhaps, come the revolution we should allow the Special Branch to run matters and dispense with and representative or delegated assembly. More seriously, his description of matters reminds me of Dublin castle during the old Unionist administrations. It listened and resolved a number of agreements, mostly concerning agricultural issues (but, then, Ireland was even more agricultural than now.) However, it could not resolve the major national question, and when sections of its staff tried, they were thwarted by their colleagues. Something similar was the story in the Germandemocratic Republic.
And an happy and, I hope, revolutionary year to one and all!

Like

16. Gavin - December 27, 2018

Sorry, I should have replied to this above

WBS: “If what is posited was the case it simply doesn’t explain why there was no attachment to the USSR at all subsequently on the part of the broad majority of citizens. The system failed massively – it failed everyone within it.”

This indeed would be a problem for the theory if it were true, but it isn’t.

While a notion that things should be reformed was widespread, the idea that the USSR should be dismantled or that socialism should be removed has been consistently unpopular from the first referendum which asked the population if they’d like to retain the USSR, which resulted in an overwhelming yes, to decades of polling data which demonstrate that only in one single year did a majority not favour a socialist soviet state over what they were left with.

This isn’t just my contention, but the results of polling from the Levada centre, and Pew Research polling.

Whether it “failed massively” is a question that is rather more subjective. If we’re looking at quality of life, it definitely improved quality of life substantially over its period of existance, and it’s removal disimproved it for the majority.

Like

Jim Monaghan - December 27, 2018

It was all CIA and Soros money. Or maybe outside agitators.

Liked by 1 person

17. CL - December 28, 2018

” The percentage of farms collectivized rose from 9 to 65 percent from October 1929 to March 1930 and exceeded 90 percent by the end of 1935. Mass resistance to collectivization—in the form of revolts, slaughter of cattle, and destruction of machinery—was answered by the imposition of ever higher delivery quotas and confiscation of foodstuffs….
The result of Stalin’s policies was the Great Famine (Holodomor) of 1932–33—a man-made demographic catastrophe unprecedented in peacetime. Of the estimated six to eight million people who died in the Soviet Union, about four to five million were Ukrainians. The famine was a direct assault on the Ukrainian peasantry, which had stubbornly continued to resist collectivization; indirectly, it was an attack on the Ukrainian village, which traditionally had been a key element of Ukrainian national culture. Its deliberate nature is underscored by the fact that no physical basis for famine existed in Ukraine.The Ukrainian grain harvest of 1932 had resulted in below-average yields (in part because of the chaos wreaked by the collectivization campaign), but it was more than sufficient to sustain the population. Nevertheless, Soviet authorities set requisition quotas for Ukraine at an impossibly high level. Brigades of special agents were dispatched to Ukraine to assist in procurement, and homes were routinely searched and foodstuffs confiscated. At the same time, a law was passed in August 1932 making the theft of socialist property a capital crime, leading to scenes in which peasants faced the firing squad for stealing as little as a sack of wheat from state storehouses. The rural population was left with insufficient food to feed itself. The ensuing starvation grew to a massive scale by the spring of 1933, but Moscow refused to provide relief. In fact, the Soviet Union exported more than a million tons of grain to the West during this period.”
https://www.britannica.com/place/Ukraine/The-famine-of-1932-33

This could be propaganda. Maybe the Encyclopedia Brittannica is a mouthpiece for the U.S. state department?

Like

yourcousin - December 28, 2018

CL,
Well if you could only read the graphs then of course you would understand the answer to that question 😉

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

When i attended the Carrigroshane Hedge School i was taught that zero equalled zero. Now years later I find that in Google in the Holodomor graph zero equals zero but in the Holocaust graph zero is not equal to zero. A scientific advance beyond my peasant brain.

Like

yourcousin - December 28, 2018

Unfortunately since you’re a peasant there’s nothing to be done for you. If only you’d been a member of the industrial proletariat.

Like

Gavin - December 29, 2018

It’s a rare thing in discussions of political economy where an argument can be objectively, conclusively and provably false. You’re however managing to embrace just such an argument. The graph does not show zero for the Holocaust graph now matter how many times you repeat that it does. I recommend changing the scale if you can’t figure out the interactive feature which show the ratios of ngram usage at a given time. Embracing ignorance out of embarrassment and then attempting to share it is surely not the appropriate way to proceed.

Like

Gavin - December 29, 2018
Gavin - December 28, 2018

The Great Famine was a serious tragedy which resulted in the deaths of millions of people. It was the result of a combination of weather related reductions in harvests, and policies which were undertaken as a result of a number of confluent factors, including the hopes to increase the efficiency of agricultural production, and increase the amount of unused labour in industrial production.

In common law jurisprudence we recognise different forms of murder. There is murder with intent, there is murder in passion and then there is the accidental killing of a person. All three are weighted differently because we understand that the root causes are fundamentally important.

You can’t prove the “Holodomor” theory by showing that people died in the Great Famine. This is a well known and well documented fact. Instead one has to actually provide evidence that there was an intention to kill Ukrainians because they were Ukrainian, because this is the theory which is being promulgated.

For good scholarly accounts I would recommend Davies / Wheatcroft and Tauger, to see what the internal intentions and the causal pathway is for the event. It’s abundantly clear from internal letters, dictates etc. that the intention was to carry out collectivisation. There were certainly punative policies which were enacted because of what was deemed intransigence, but if you look at who is doing this, it’s more commonly Ukrainians carrying this out in Ukraine. A theory of genocide simply can’t stand up to the actual facts.

This matters deeply because the US has helped to generate a very extreme ethnic conflict. It is now actually mobilising IS trained forces in concert with Banderite facists in Pravy Sektor to carry out military operations. There have been dawn raids of socialists and anarchists I know in Lviv. There were mass killings of trade unionists, there is now marshal law declared in large swaths of the country, and the fascists in Azov and Pravy Sektor have become increasingly powerful. Communism is illegal and anyone (including anarchists) taking part in anything which can be cast as glorifying communism (like May day) can be arrested, but often as not are allowed to be attacked by paramilitaries.

Socialists should be extremely wary of aiding and abetting the spread of this historical nonsense in the service of creating real death today.

Like

Jim Monaghan - December 28, 2018

“You can’t prove the “Holodomor” theory by showing that people died in the Great Famine. This is a well known and well documented fact. Instead one has to actually provide evidence that there was an intention to kill Ukrainians because they were Ukrainian, because this is the theory which is being promulgated.”. What a defence. So Stalinism with its insane overdriven Collectivisation and other economic blunders killed a lot of ethnic Russians as well. The treantment of minority nations and ethnic groups in the USSR when Stalin took charge was the same in essence as Tsarism but more systematic. It reminds me of those who want an explicit document signed in fron of witnesses about another mass murder. One rebuttal of a Stalin fab club member. https://louisproyect.org/2017/03/24/what-caused-the-holodomor/ and another https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/24/socialism-betrayed-inside-the-ukrainian-holodomor/
One of the most extreme effective eliminations was of the Crimean Tatars. With this Sunni Muslim nation, Stalin finished the task of the Tsars, making them a despised minority in their ownn land. I wonder are the Zionists taking inspiration from thgis “success” in their treatment of the Palestinians.

Like

yourcousin - December 28, 2018

”This is a well known and well documented fact”

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wujVMIYzYXg

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

‘In common law jurisprudence we recognise different forms of murder. There is murder with intent, there is murder in passion and then there is the accidental killing of a person’-Gavin

Then there is murder by depraved indifference. Unlike Hitler, Stalin may not have been a racist and genocidal maniac; Stalin was just a depraved mass murderer.

Conflating criticism of mass murder by Stalin in the 1930s with support for current U.S policy towards Ukraine, as Gavin attempts, is transparently phony logic,- and utterly ‘unscientific’.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 28, 2018

Then there is murder by depraved indifference

There is not, and no serious scholar of the criminal law would say there is.

Also, since there has been so much , ahem, discussion about genocide here:

The crime of genocide requires 1) an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, religious or national group and 2) acts (starvation; killing; torturing; removal of children).

So the question is: is there proof of intent to destroy..? Is there?

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

‘In United States law, depraved-heart murder, also known as depraved-indifference murder, is a type of murder where an individual acts with a “depraved indifference” to human life and where such act results in a death, despite that individual not explicitly intending to kill…
The common law punishes unintentional homicide as murder if the defendant commits an act of gross recklessness. A classic example of depraved-heart murder under the common law is in the case Commonwealth v. Malone, a Pennsylvania case in which the court affirmed the second-degree murder conviction of a teenager for a death arising from a game of modified Russian roulette in which each player pointed and fired the gun at the other, eventually resulting in the death of one of them.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depraved-heart_murder#Common_law_background

Stalin may not have been genocidal in relation to Ukrainians in that he did not target them because of their ethnicity. But he certainly acted with depraved indifference to human life and millions died as a result. Whether this fulfills the legalistic niceties of a definition of murder hardly matters.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 29, 2018

The definition you supply is really just a minor variant on murder. This allows intent to be found where a person does an act, albeit without the intent to kill or grievously injure, but the act is of such a character death is a virtual certainty. Anything short of that is, in most countries some form of manslaughter.

Whether this fulfills the legalistic niceties of a definition of murder hardly matters.

Why then did you get involved in discussing the legalistic niceties of murder?

Like

CL - December 29, 2018

‘Then there is murder by depraved indifference

There is not, and no serious scholar of the criminal law would say there is.’ (RID, above )

“New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law – PEN § 125.25 Murder in the second degree
A person is guilty of murder in the second degree when:…

2. Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person;”
https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/penal-law/pen-sect-125-25.html

I rest my case.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 29, 2018

I rest my case.

Which is apparently that legal defintions should not matter? Or are you just looking for internet points?

The definition you cite, by the way, just repeats what I said on intent, you realise.

Like

CL - December 29, 2018

You claim that there is no such crime as murder by depraved indifference.
I cite the crime of murder by depraved indifference in the penal code of the state of New York and give the legal citation and reference.
Yet you continue to claim that such a crime does not exist.
Enough!

Like

Gavin - December 29, 2018

“Stalin may not have been genocidal in relation to Ukrainians in that he did not target them because of their ethnicity. But he certainly acted with depraved indifference to human life and millions died as a result. Whether this fulfills the legalistic niceties of a definition of murder hardly matters.”

First, it matters whether it was an attempt to wipe out an ethnicity as I’ve said repeatedly because that story is being operationalised to maximise ethnic tensions today. Very little responsibility is being taken for this present fact.

And in none of this assessment has the reason for the collectivisation and crash industrialisation been appraised at all. Far from being some malignant indifference, the entire approach was born out of a political and economic crisis which made the central committee (almost universally, including the ‘voluntary collectivsation’ proponents Bukharin and Stalin, of whom Trotsky was not a party) fear an invasion, total economic isolation due to the impossibility of obtaining credit, and a grain crisis in urban areas which threatened to repeat the mass death experienced in the early 1920s. I write in more detail about this in my article in ThinkLeft.

The decisions about how to proceed have to look at what the consequences of other paths could have been. I am open to other suggestions for approaches they should have taken, but the collectivisations were intended and deemed necessary to save human life. One could easily argue they were wrong (though I myself am very sceptical), but it was indeed the intent.

Like

18. Joe - December 28, 2018

Janey.
I wonder what the two activists would have made of this long thread discussion.
Sad to admit that I haven’t the concentration levels to read stuff online that’s more than two or three paragraphs long.
Sean Garland appears to have presided over and been a sort of father figure to the recent enough revival and re-energising of the previously almost dormant WP. What has impressed me, as an onlooker, about that revival has been the production of policy papers on housing and other nitty gritty stuff. It’s interesting to see that the new members of the WP seem to have taken on the orthodox communist orientation of the party, lock stock and barrel. I’m not as impressed with that as with the policy work and work on the ground in communities. But Sean Garland would be happy with it I’d say.
And somewhere in the long thread above someone (from WP I think) stated that they are aware of the balance needed between on-the-ground practical work and stuff on theory and history. And pointed out, I think, that if you ignore ideology and theory there’s a danger you end up as just another community independent representative.
And one of the few times I heard Sean Garland speak at a WP event, when I was a member back in the eighties, I recall that he made just that point. Along the lines of “We have to have an ideology. Without it we are nothing”.

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

‘“We have to have an ideology.’ An obvious point, But the question is: what ideology?

““Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”-Keynes

‘ When asked if his ideology pushed him to make bad decisions, Greenspan said he found a “flaw” in his governing ideology that has led him to re-examine his thinking.’
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96070766

Like

Joe - December 28, 2018

Yep. Trying to recall but I think he would have said ‘our ideology’ – ‘we have to have our ideology’.
What that ideology was/is I’m afraid I probably didn’t know then and don’t know now.

Like

CL - December 28, 2018

Yeah, but like FF you have an ideology,-even if you don’t know what it is.

Like

alanmyler - December 28, 2018

“Sad to admit that I haven’t the concentration levels to read stuff online that’s more than two or three paragraphs long.”

You and me both Joe. Impossible to follow that discussion on the mobile phone. Our comrades need to embrace the brevity of the Twitter generation.

Like

19. yourcousin - December 28, 2018

Gavin,
Let me take a slight detour on the straight line between Stalin’s past times in Ukraine to the war in the Donbas.

And honest question here, what are you hoping to accomplish here?

I mean you have two councilors, count em two, only one of whom is elected on your platform. We’ve got local elections in five months, IIRC correctly. In Dublin where you’re at there are 27ish progressivish left councilors including greens, and independents like Cieran Perry and Christy Burke, but excluding Labor. So a sizable chunk out of the 63 seats are in play so to speak, with 15 being SF.

So in the voter pool you’re going to be all “housing plan” and bread and butter stuff. But your plan to win cadres over (which by the way no one says anymore) is to literally be an unreconstructed Stalinist, and come into a site full of regular commenters many of whom travel in the same circles as your coveted cadres and generally be pompous, rude, full of hubris in your comments here? That’s excluding talking down to, and insulting commenters and the memory of Tony Gregory just off the top of my head. And trying to overcome facile arguments with volume and straw men.

I mean how do you thinks this looks to everyone who reads this blog? And this a serious question.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 28, 2018

What is this ‘we’ shit? You live in the US.

And accusations of pomposity, arrogance and rudeness is rich given that you and I are permanent fixtures here. You consistently rank as one of the rudest posters on here; and your contributions have never risen above exasperation at the other posters, some asinine workerism, or general snark. Do you just come here to pick fights?

Perhaps remove the log from your own eye …blah, blah, blah.

To be perfectly honest, I think this thread is cursed, and the primary problem was the original article which amounted to a denunciation of two people who cannot respond. It should have been obvious that this coat-trailing would cause problems.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 28, 2018

YC has long had a strong interest in Irish republican left politics, something he’s never hidden from anyone anymore than his location. Though you’re right the thread is cursed but let’s also keep in mind where it turned from political to personal on foot of which a very reasonable apology has been made and I’d prefer to draw a line under all this right now.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 28, 2018

YC has long had a strong interest in Irish republican left politics

He has a much stronger interest in acting like a prick.

This thread did not turn personal, WbS. It started off personal with the original piece. Both men were still warm when it decided to ‘honour’ them, decrying their politics as useless and moribund whilst not making even an attempt to set out an alternative. Such an unparticularised indictment was always going to provoke.

And then the usual suspects dog-piled in here.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 29, 2018

YC’s approach may be intemperate but he’s generally asking political questions – bar the references to the personalised attacks and in fairness to Gavin I think YC confused his comments with James but I don’t particularly want to keep going over ground that I’m happy was dealt with very fairly by James and I’d certainly prefer not to open that again hence my request for people to stop but it’s a bit much to try to complain about the original piece as being personalised.

I didn’t write it, it isn’t hosted on this site, and was linked to by Irish Election Literature because he rightly thought people might be interested in the analysis – and rereading it it’s not personal in that sense at all. It is overtly political and actually more positive than I would have expected from that quarter. I don’t agree with much of the assessment of either man but I don’t see the supposed insult – I didn’t know Garland, met him only twice really. I did know Alan a bit and have already noted he was of huge help and support to this site but again, again I can’t see the offence. I note that none of those more directly associated with him and his political strand at this point seem to be taking offence either.

Frankly the complaint that it is too soon to make a political analysis might hold true a day or so after someone passed away, but now seems a stretch. And one thing I’ve noticed is that almost invariably the analyses and overviews I’ve read have been clear that both men were doughty fighters for their class who kept on keeping on throughout and that they had many admirable qualities. It’s a bit unlikely that people will be converted to their approaches isn’t it? So of course there will be critiques offered. As to the line that somehow others approaches have failed and that invalidates their opinions, and by the way I’d argue there are huge problems with Trotskyist approaches too – I really don’t think that anyone on the left can say hand on heart that there’s been massive success, at least not if we are talking of this state, island or those around us. That is in no sense to dismiss the approaches being championed by say SG or indeed AMS but we’ve a way yet to go and I think that’s something both men would acknowledge.

Look, you’re absolutely free to differ on all this but one thing I must ask is that the personalised attacks stop. I’ve said it before – what happens on FB and elsewhere is not my problem, but this is becoming a problem.

As for the usual suspects – well who on this thread comments here frequently, and who comments perhaps a couple of days a year. No shame in the latter, all are welcome, but again there’s clear approaches encouraged on this site, it’s worked across a decade and allowed for people from different points of the political compass to interact reasonably well.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 29, 2018

And just on the point of political failure – I think my political approach has failed, so far and likely in my lifetime. I think the causes I champion are always on the back foot. I’ve never yet voted for a party or group that when I did so entered a government of the left. None of us have. I’ve never voted for FF/FG or indeed the LP. No person I ever voted for sat at Cabinet. No person I voted for was a Minster. No party I voted for (bar DL which I left before it joined government) entered cabinet. And ironically or not the one DL TD I did vote for didn’t get re-elected that time.

I don’t say these things as indications of my political purity but of the dismal failure of the politics that I hold. But for all that it has failed I’m glad that those I have voted for (bar that one individual at that point) have kept to a left line – eschewed coalition, etc, etc.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 29, 2018

Rosencrantz, it is clear you don’t understand political criticism. I did actually state where I thought the two activists were weak. I doubt whether you read the piece.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 29, 2018

he’s generally asking political questions

Everyone is asking political questions on here, though. I just pointed out that he is consistently “intemperate” and gave a typology of his contributions.

As I said above, an unparticularised indictment is always going to provoke. On top of that we had a number of contentious, if not false, claims (Garland was a maoist, it would seem) made. Stuff like this is coat-trailing and bound to bring out ill temper, even if it was unintentional. Add in the usual conclusion (as seen in many pamphlets) which will only set out an alternative in the vaguest terms, and I think you have a guaranteed winner.

I did not say or imply you wrote the piece. I am just pointing out that bad feeling was always likely to follow and that the old favourites of ‘stalinist’, ‘useless trot’ etc. were bound to appear given what started it.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 30, 2018

I went back and had a read through your comments and I suspect some might ascribe snappy, and even snarky, qualities to your style. But I’ve never once thought that that was in and of itself a problem (and for the record had a reread of YC’s comments just now and retract intemperate – they’re snarky but no more). YC is someone who has done great work on and with this site over the years – contributed posts, given trusted advice and assisted hugely in co-moderation and de facto co-organisation of the CLR. This doesn’t give him or anyone a free pass but it does tend to make me a little sceptical that he’s a problem when you’re quite literally the only person ever to complain about him in ten years (and I see you took him to task a while back over international policy, and weren’t ungenerous with the snark then yourself – though calling him a ‘prick’. Really? For the temerity of disagreeing? I didn’t see YC ever go near that sort of stuff on this thread) and all this in the broader context of the thread.

But there’s another point that needs to be made clearly. Discussion on this site is simply not the equivalent of going onto a party facebook page and spitting bile about someone or attacking someone elsewhere on social media, the purpose here is entirely different, we’re not the public face of anyone, we are a niche site which people come to, we don’t go to them, don’t try to encourage anyone in, don’t particularly advertise our presence (bar twitter which people sign up for and FB likewise neither of which carry original content) and we don’t broadcast more widely to the world. I don’t appreciate other peoples battles being fought on this site – and no more than I’m going to complain about what James or whoever comments on elsewhere nor am I going to hold Jim or someone else to account for what they do elsewhere – here it’s a case of leave your guns at the door and come on in and engage reasonably well.

To attempt, as as has happened to attempt to limit what can be discussed amongst a varied group of people from many political backgrounds who comment here regularly is simply wrong. That’s what is so irritating about the fact people turned up to complain about discussion here and in ways that cut against the stated approach of this site completely.

Now I’ve a personal reason for feeling sore about all this hassle too, and for being frustrated and worse that my call for a line to be drawn under this has been ignored. I spent last week in hospital with someone who was rushed in with a medical emergency, someone known to some of those commenting here and I know for a fact of this unfortunate event was known to some commenting. So at the very point where that emergency was subsiding, all the anxiety and tension was beginning to fade away just a little, though much has to be done and continues to be for that person after their return from hospital I have to put up with a pile of shite shovelled onto my metaphorical doorstep. Merry Christmas -eh?

Like

Barnes - December 30, 2018

This might be as welcome as a fart in a space suit but is there an anti Americanism to this. Who is he to come over here telling us what to do type stuff.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 28, 2018

Actually, considering that I disagreed with both Fitz and Garland, I thought I was honouring them. However, I do take their politics seriously, and despite the marathon length of some contributions I think I am correct to do so.

Like

RosencrantzisDead - December 28, 2018

I believe others will have the decency not honour you in the same way when you are building a campaign of mass resistance in the sky.

Like

Daniel Rayner O'Connor - December 29, 2018

Well, apparently RID did read or hear that I said Garland was a maoist. I had it on good authority that he was in the ’60s, but that, as I said, too, he had abandoned this position long before the eighties.In any case, why should it matter, now, except as a matter of historic accuracy?
As far as the discussion is concerned, I fail to see how mild criticisms of different socialist positions could justify long winded defences of the Soviet apparatchiki.
Unfortunately, Rosencrantz is reducing the whole thing to a new personalised banality. If this discussion were not cursed before, it is now. Unless someone adds something particularly stupid to it, I will refrain from further comment.
Except, if people are really joining the WP out of interest in historical materialism, I fear that in a few years time it will breed two, three many Eoin Harrises. Ta! Ta!

Like

Gavin - December 29, 2018

I’m glad you asked me yourcousin, as this also ties into signs of hope. The Workers’ Party’s immediate prognosis is that we’re a very small party with little in the way of public representatives. This is to be expected for any project that starts small. For projects to start big is tricky in Ireland. Even the SocDems went from 3 to 2 TDs, and what they’re trying to sell is close to Labour Party mark 2.

Projects which have success generally take about 15 years to find their feet, and many do not. The keys to success are being able to build an organisation that can function to carry out the tasks necessary to make contact with the working class and help to find interventions that are relevant to the conditions that they are feeling.

And to build that organisation, you have to have cadre. You can feel free to call them whatever you like, but if you don’t have them, you’re going nowhere.

The point of elections then for us in the medium term is two fold. It helps to put us into constant contact with people so that we can understand where they are, and they can come to know us. The second is to help train our cadre on carrying out this task as we grow.

We’ve been growing quite rapidly over the last year. The appetite for a radical socialist party that is also concerned with getting stuck in with bread and butter issues is only increasing.

We could of course through in the towel if we thought one of the other projects was sufficient, or could eventually be turned round, but we don’t, and the people who join us generally do not either.

The Trotskyist parties are bigger, so we tend to get people who are either more interested in foreign policy, more interested in technical policy, more interested in the republican tradition or more interested in historical materialism. Indeed many of the things that you find seriously distasteful are of zero negative impact on our recruitment as the youth simply do not share your cold-war anti-communist attitudes.

I wish we could offer people a realistic prospect of 30 councillors tomorrow, but we can’t. We’ll have to settle for trying to lay the basis for a party which can have serious influence in the unions, activity in the communities and can eventually be seen as a viable organ of the working class.

Like

20. GW - December 29, 2018

Enough already comrades?

I’d like to hear about *your* political surprises of 2018 and signs of hope.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - December 29, 2018

I’m with you GW.

Like

21. CL - December 29, 2018

And for anyone who just cannot get enough of Soviet agriculture in the thirties, the Davies, Wheatcroft book, ‘ The Years of Hunger’ is online,-all 580 pages.
https://eastsidemarxism.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/r-w-davies-stephen-g-wheatcroft-the-industrialisation-of-soviet-russia-volume-5-the-years-of-hunger-soviet-agriculture-1931-1933.pdf

Like

Gavin - December 29, 2018
22. Joe - December 29, 2018

I know some respected voices have called for a line to be drawn in this debate.
But I have to, I just have to, come back to the idea that this thread is ‘cursed’. Historical materialist that I am (well I think I am but I’m too lazy to confirm that by actually reading about it), I’m also big into folk tradition and belief.
I wonder what the two activists would think of the thread being cursed? Am I right in saying that both had a sense of humour? I wonder what they’d think of the idea that the fairies or Biddy Early or someone had infiltrated the CLR to put a curse on a thread?

And finally (!), good response from Gavin to yc’s last intervention. If I’m not mistaken Gavin will be a WP candidate in my area in the locals and, so far, he’ll have my number 1. Old habits die hard.

Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: