The Shadow of Stalinism Yesterday and Today

Edited October 2022.

The profound damage Stalinism inflicted on the working class movement is clearly palpable 30 years after the fall of the degenerate Soviet Union. The political basis of Stalinism, opportunism and parasitism in the workers movement, remains as the foundation of all of the petty bourgeois pseudo-left’s activity. Increasingly, the pseudo-left even tries to revive the old Stalinism. Not only is Stalinism being regurgitated in its most totemic forms – as in Russia, where Stalinist tradition and mythology compliments nationalism — but it is raised anywhere that bourgeois forces seek to bury the revolutionary strivings of the working class.

History books, whether printed in Moscow or published by Harvard, ever more stridently repeat the old Stalinist lies. Various pseudo-left groupings under new titles and old ones alike all recapitulate Stalinist politics. 

The Stalinist line is essentially this; Socialism is a national caprice, whose enacting is to be entrusted in and deferred to the bourgeois class that opposes the working class. The working class, adhering in perpetuity to the contours and priorities of its national bourgeoisie, is prepared by the Stalinists without end with promises of power which never come to fruition. The subordinate position of the proletariat thereby is to forever elevate new generations of parasites who serve as a vast agency of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement. This “two stage theory,” of “socialism in a single country” or rather, the concerted struggle against the independence and the unity of the working class across national boundaries, is the keystone of Stalinist politics. Whether in reference to nations where the Stalinists directly prop the national bourgeoisie or in those “socialist” nations where they have previously stood in for a time as self-delimiting surrogates for a national bourgeoisie. 

Stalinism thrives on historical and political ignorance. It is the nostalgic delusion of the older generation of pseudo-leftists, grown comfortable and counter-revolutionary in the post-Cold War world. Stalinism draws the younger, illiterate backward generation of pseudo-lefts who find a reflection of their own confusion in the aesthetics of the “real existing socialism” of the Stalinism that was.

Stalinism’s indisputable record of hellish repression should be indefensible. However there is a constant effort to cloak it, to excuse it, to blame outside forces for these crimes. The mass murder and top down dictatorship of the apparatus featured in the Stalinist countries were all carried out in the defense of parasitic bureaucracies. All of which arose from the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the national liberation movement.

Stalinism is politically and intellectually the child of deep pessimism and opportunism. Stalinism is an exercise in deception, claiming for itself a radical disposition that hides a conservative outlook. Stalinism is idealist, arguing for “peaceful coexistence,” “socialism” in one, nationally isolated country, “socialism” with authoritarian leaders. It characterizes “socialism” an economy without equality of income, benefits and consumption; “socialism” with no input from the direct producers and consumers; a “planned” economy based on the bureaucratic departmental brokering of a small minority….

The anti-socialist character of the economy of the Soviet Union is impossible to ignore. The property relations of which the Soviet and Stalinist countries were composed were essentially a national protectionist measure made possible by the crisis of capitalism. The economy was directed from above to satisfy the immediate position and priorities of the ruling bureaucracy. The latter balanced against the revolutionary tradition of the Soviet working class. The main direction of Stalinism everywhere is the restoration and defense of capitalism under favorable circumstances for the bureaucracy.

Stalinism invokes a litany of opportunist ideas in its international policy, “two stage theory,” the “popular front,” “peaceful coexistence,” “socialism in one country,” the idea of “social fascism” directed against opponents on the left, the “bloc of four classes,” the emphasis placed on the Blanquism of the petty bourgeoisie — down to reactionary  guerrillaism …

Stalinism glorifies the actions of despotic petty bourgeois movements everywhere. At the same time seeking accommodation with imperialism. Stalinists are unable to differentiate between different expressions and social layers of the national liberation movement based on a class analysis. This results in an admiration for petty dictators, nationalist bourgeoisie and third world movements of the petty bourgeoisie. 

The list of fallacies, banalities and propaganda lies which are framed by Stalinism as “real existing socialism” is much longer and more striking than the few points of Stalinist statist economics in which the remnants and influence of the Russian Revolution and the efforts of the working class continued, for a time, to be apparent. The claim of Stalinism to represent the October Revolution is a longstanding absurdity. Criticism of this lie must begin with the role of Stalinism in the 1930s in physically eliminating virtually all the Bolshevik party that came to power through the October Revolution in 1917, and anyone else who disagreed with Stalinism—in their hundreds of thousands.

What did this counterrevolutionary coup result in politically? The betrayal of the working class across the world.

In Germany the Stalinist KPD refused to stop the rise of Fascism, proclaiming, infamously, “After Hitler, Us!” The true enemies of the workers were held to be not Fascists, but the Social Democratic Party and any united front with them to halt the march of Fascism was bitterly rejected. The KPD was subsequently left to the mercy of Hitler’s Regime while Stalin eventually signed the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 when his conciliation with Anglo-Franco imperialism resulted in no agreement for mutual defense.  

This despite subordinating the Communist parties of Western Europe to the national bourgeoisie of each country, including in France, where the government was propped in a “popular front” with the Communist Party under the direction of Soviet foreign policy. 

In Spain, the Stalinists likewise propped the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. Stalinism stifled and isolated the revolutionary action of the Spanish proletariat, including through outright terror and suppression against the left, resulting in the demoralization and defeat of the Spanish Revolution and the victory of Franco.

The Communist International founded by Lenin itself was dissolved during the war by Stalin as a gift to its wartime allies in the capitalist West. It was never revived post-war. Instead “peaceful coexistence” was pursued despite the war preparations of American imperialism.

After the war a “Soviet sphere of influence” was established based on agreements between Stalin and Western imperialism, for example the infamous “percentages agreement” between Churchill and Stalin in which they cynically divided the continent. Stalin heeded the agreement in refusing to lend support to the Greek revolution, instead letting bourgeois forces win control of the country.

Outside the “Soviet sphere of influence,” in the advanced countries of Europe after World War Two the strictest subordination to the bourgeois parties and European capitalism was observed. Stalinism gave imperialism decisive aid in preventing a post-war revolution, rebuilding capitalism and “labor peace” in postwar Europe.

In Eastern Europe, in the wake of WWII, the creation of authoritarian regimes and forced command economies resulted in democratic fightback by the workers. This took place in Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in the early 80s, and elsewhere. These were all put down by military measures by the Stalinist USSR.

After leaving the Eastern Bloc, Titoist Yugoslavia welcomed capitalist investment by partially reintroducing the market. Tito used a cloak of “democratic measures” in the workplace to promote income inequality and speedup. All this in an effort to promote exports to the capitalist countries. Reliant on the presence of the Soviet Union to stake out an independent position, Yugoslavia broke up into communal ethno-states in the early 90s as capitalism was restored. Similar processes made a mockery of the “independent” micro-Stalinisms of Albania and throughout the world which relied on Cold War circumstances to balance themselves between the USSR and imperialism.

After the Stalinist surrender of the 1927 Revolution to Chiang Kai Shek in China, the CCP led by Mao transformed itself into a peasant army. Mao, once brought to power, pursued “the bloc of four classes” in which he attempted to prop the national bourgeoisie and maintain some kind of capitalism, though the country was in a state of ruin. Only in the mid fifties, spurred by the Korean War, did the Mao regime chaotically attempt to centralize its economy, which it did haphazardly, ineffectually and only for a time. By the late 60s Mao was seeking a rapprochement with Western imperialism against the USSR and looked to restore capitalism in alliance with the United States, which was accomplished not long after his death.

In North Korea, a virtual monarchy was established on the basis of explicitly anti-communist authoritarian practices. These were rooted more in medieval Confucianism than anything else. The North Koreans built a hermit state reliant on the USSR for its economic function. When the USSR collapsed, the people of North Korea starved. The North Koreans tried to open Special Economic Zones where capitalist South Korea could exploit North Korean labor at the lowest possible price, but, unlike in China, this “Sunshine Policy” was rolled back and the North Korean regime was forced to negotiate for its future with hostile American and South Korean administrations, looking for the right time and bargaining chips to trade its broken down command economy for a place in the capitalist unification with South Korea. 

In Cuba a coup of guerrilla petty bourgeoisie opportunistically allied itself with the Soviet Union in the face of US isolation and hostility. They introduced a Stalinesque facade and structurally assimilated Cuba’s economy with the USSR’s to optimize its trade relationship with the latter. None of this was accompanied with the democratic participation of the workers.

In a particularly shameful debacle, the petty bourgeois primitivist Khmer Rouge, allied with the Chinese regime, slaughtered a quarter of the population in Cambodia. This was a wild genocidal attempt to impose the will of a few nationalist, reactionary fanatics with absolutely no links to any progressive tradition. The Khmer Rouge was only defeated by the invasion of the Vietnamese in 1978, in alliance with the USSR. This only foreshadowed an invasion of Vietnam by “fellow communist” China in 1979. Such are the disastrous results of “Socialism in One Country.”

The Soviets, in their attempts to forge opportunist alliances with every breed of third world regime, never put a line in the sand when it came to the intrigues of imperialism. Their client states were used cynically as pawns in the Cold War and as trading partners. Never did Stalinism seek to use its largesse to advance any supposed reckoning of the third world working classes with imperialism.

Instead, all the temporary nationalist liberation formations of the post-war ended up capitulating with imperialism either through the diplomacy of the dollar or the swift coup-de-tat. There was no strong stand by the Soviets or the Chinese.

Even where the nationalist movements put up a fight, such as in Vietnam, the Soviets and Chinese officially stood by with minimal support as the countries were ravaged. During the Vietnam War, the Chinese openly undermined attempts of the USSR to supply North Vietnam and the Vietcong. Absurdly enough, if it hadn’t been on the behest of the Soviet Union that North Vietnam’s leaders agreed with imperialism to give up South Vietnam and the rest of French Indochina after defeating the French in the 50s, the Vietnam war carried out by US imperialism would never have happened.

The Soviets did mistakenly mount a reactionary invasion of Afghanistan. There they tried to preserve, through blatant and ruinous violence,  a faltering and unpopular client regime on its own border. The Soviets ended up withdrawing in disgrace and having suffered great economic consequences.        

In the late 1980s the Soviet Union’s bureaucracy fought to reintroduce capitalism. They divided up the country for world capitalism to secure their own personal enrichment. Mass demonstrations and uprisings across Eastern Europe were channeled by the soon-to-be capitalist ruling class amongst the bureaucracy into an attack on the property forms and progressive policies remaining in those countries. This was done under the banner of rabid nationalism, leading to the total adoption of capitalism within a few years at the workers’ bitter expense.

The high hopes of capitalist restoration dwindled in the awful depression and internal strife of the 1990s. Stalinist politics, where they survived in something resembling that form, became merely a complimentary politics of the new oligarchical capitalist governments and trade unions. 

Among the young petty-bourgeois students of today, Stalinism has become a novelty interest out of disaffection with official politics. This generally illiterate attraction to the aesthetics and mythology of Stalinism is closely enmeshed by the efforts of bourgeois academics and the pseudo-left to rehabilitate Stalinism, including the Jacobin and the DSA in America.

In academia, reactionary postmodernism has encouraged the “personal narrative” approach to Stalinism. Conspiracy theories have emerged where generally agreed-upon facts used to be accepted. This includes revivals of pre-1956 lies and cover ups of the crimes of Stalin. Invariably, Identity politics is fused with neo-Stalinism to the point where often enough identity politics is the most salient aspect of its practical politics.

Stalinists have been emboldened by attacks on Trotsky by hack academics like Harvard’s Robert Service. Stalinists of the Frankfurt School and the New Left have been elevated by contemporary academia across the line.

Young students of the petty-bourgeoisie find a compliment to hysterical university identity politics and pseudo-leftism in the violence and anti-intellectualism of Stalinism. In Trotsky they see intellectualism, principles, and the call for revolution in the West. This threatens an order in which they are comfortable and in which they only want to fight for “equity” of the various identity groups. 

Renegades from all sections of the pseudo-left seek to celebrate the history and link up with remaining expressions of Stalinism. These pseudo-leftists seek ideological support to bolster their own nationalism and the obsufactation of history. 

Stalinism, the counter-revolutionary reaction to the Russian Revolution, the literal gravedigger of the generation of the Revolution, coughed up the big lie of the twentieth century. This is the lie that bureaucracy was a representative of the Russian Revolution, the working class and even “Socialism.”

This lie was upheld not only by the Stalinists, but completely supported by the  Western propaganda machine. This intellectual unity between Stalinism and imperialism was critical in constricting the imagination and self-consciousness of the world working class. This developed to the point where, in 1989, the working class was completely unable to advance their own interests in the face of the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.

The triumphalism of the bourgeoisie was itself an outgrowth of the Stalinist line that Stalinism represented “really existing socialism.”

Only with the beginning of the collapse of the Capitalist economy in the 21st century did this delusion lose some of its force. Even with these developments, the pseudo-left attempted to establish a neo-Stalinism. They rehashed all the old national chauvinism, popular frontism, two stagism, blocs of antagonistic classes, collaboration with imperialism, the idealistic holding of the state and its representatives as above and separate from society.

It is no wonder then, that the old reformism, in a time of the collapse of capitalism, is increasingly drawn to Stalinism in theory and affections. The reformists are concerned, most of all, with preventing the formation of a vanguard party of the working class. They seek to prevent the international coordination of the proletariat and to prevent the independent movement of the working class.


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