Democratic Green Stalinist?

I don’t tend to use this site for real time political polemics (see here for a rare example), However, I followed the recommendation from Socialist Unity for the new issue of Democratic Green Socialist‘s new special 1989 issue. And I found most of the issue taken up with caveated apologies for Stalinism, with nostalgia for Uncle Joe. The issue shows that, even in 2009, Stalinophilia remains a persistent problem on the left. For example, Anne Edmonds says the DDR and the Stasi weren’t all that bad, Luke Ivory says “defend October” (a Stalinophiliac trope), John Wight laments the passing of the USSR, Andy Newman says there was good as well as bad in the DDR. Kevin Williamson‘s excellent article, “Freedom is a Noble Thing”, is a shining exception, and Graham Jepps’ brief review of Victor Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tuleyev is good too. Here’s Williamson:

[…] The collapse of the Berlin Wall was another such occasion best swept under the leftist carpet.  All over the world million rightly celebrated whilst many on the Marxist left grumbled privately among themselves.  Instead of raising a glass of cheer to the overthrow of the totalitarian regimes of Easter Europe they rued what might have been and predicted gloom and doom “under capitalism” for those who lived in the former Communist Bloc countries.

Many on the left still harken back nostalgically to a time when supposedly progressive leftist regimes created repressive obscenities like the Cheka (December 1917) and the Stasi (1950).  How could such a state of confusion exist?  What do secret police and surveillance and repression of political opponents have to do with progressive politics? Are universal suffrage and free elections not the foundations stones of democratic progress?

How could the left have become so blasé about democracy?  Lest we forget Chartists and Suffragettes had given their liberty, and even their lives, to prise universal suffrage from the grasp of a privileged elite.  It is on their traditions and gains the modern progressive leftist stands.  Only an obsolete antideluvian left would be as politically disorientated as to utilise the methods and ideology of revolutionary movements which took place in pre-democratic eras.

For the progressive left the concepts of freedom and democracy need to be positioned at the centre of everything.  The real challenge is to find new innovative ways to extend and deepen democracy into every area of life – economic and social – rather than undermine it through a contemptuous attitude towards its current failings.  It’s a challenge that will sort out the liberationist wheat from the authoritarian chaff.

P.S. To further avoid sectarianism, here are a couple of recommendations from the back issue: John Wight on James Connolly, Willie Duncan on Barca FC, and Stewart Hunter on the Spanish Civil War.

UPDATE: For the antidote, read this wonderful short post about 1989 at Facing The War.

UPDATE 2: From the new Socialist Review: Mark L Thomas, Mike Haynes and Colin Barker look at the tumultuous events of 1989 that brought down the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia, and the impact of market capitalism which replaced them. Chris Harman looks back at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the continued relevence of the theory of state capitalism.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm  Comments (13)  
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  1. I see John Wight’s article does not mention the millions murdered by Stalin nor the terrible business of the Gulag system that Solzhenitsyn so well described. These are probably minor and irrelevant details for him.

  2. […] Slavoj Žižek on 1989, and here is one of my favorite blogs quoting some good words) Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  3. Actually, your comments are slightly unfair-the DGS is many things but its not Stalinist. Both Gary Fraser and Steve Arnott, the editors of the DGS and former Solidarity members, have written articles regualry attacking Stalinism. In fact Fraser in particular uses the DGS to promote his anti-socialist views

  4. I don’t actually think that DGS is actually Stalinist, and it is also clearly heterogeneous. I highlighted one anti-Stalinist article in the current issue. But I think there is a strong streak of Stalinophilia, or of Stalinophiliac nostalgia that runs through many of the contributions. This current issue is the high point of that, with its orgy of nostalgia and apologias for what was basically a totalitarian system.

    Unless socialists genuinely overcome Stalinophiliac nostalgia, we cannot claim to be truly concerned with democracy. As greens, too, we need to reckon with the destructive power of the productivist industrialist ideology these articles also reflect.

  5. To be an honest I have re-read the DGS and its not accurate to say that its Communists issue was an orgy of Stalinist nostalgia. There are one or two dodgy articles-the one by Luke Ivory and John Wight are clearly Stalinist, but others are more nuanced. The articles by Kevin Williamson and Gary Fraser are clearly anti-stalinist.

  6. Well, I did single out Williamson for praise. I didn’t read the Gary Fraser article. From a superficial skim, it looks fine, and I’ll read it better. Perhaps orgy was too strong a word!

    The issue of Stalinism seems to me so fundamental to poltics that the co-esistnce of anti-Stalinists with Stalinists in the DGS project strikes me as problematic. The trick is pulled off by the presence of people like Wight and Newman, who are ambivalent about Stalinism, and by the power of notalgia, which blinds people.

  7. I agree-I think the DGS were inviting these people on as guest contributors. If you read the section about the DGS you will find that its politics are very much in tradition of democratic socialism. You should also read the debates on Marxism the magazine published in its last issue.

  8. For info. The DGS has no members as such as it is not an organised political group. It was set up within Solidarity in Scotland as a kind of forum for members who were not in the International Socialists (CWI Scotland) or the SWP, as it was felt they dominated Solidarity too much. It is actually merely an online magazine. I myself was a founder member as I was told it would be a Marxist group but left when I realised that it was very reformist and social democratic orientated. I then joined the CWI as I have long been a Trotskyist.

  9. Is your opinion that Trotsky was a Stalinist. The DGS invited contributions from a number of different groups with varying politics. The basis of my article was essentially to outline an orthodox Trotskyist position. Whilst opposing the Stalinst bureacracy and the crimes commited by it Trotsky still supported the USSR for capitalist counter revolution and called for a political revolution which would then kick start an internation revolution. He realised that a capitalist counter revolution would set back the living standards of the working class in the nations of the former USSR as well as resulting in a pushing back of the class struggle and weakening the socialist movement internationaly. 20 years on I don’t think this is controversial. If you think the Trotskyist CWI is Stalinist then you should try meeting some genuine Stanlists.

  10. Thank you for the useful clarification Luke. On your second comment, actually to some extent I think that orthodox Trotskyism was to some extent, as I put it in the post, Stalinophiliac in its mistaken insistence on the need to “defend” the gains of October by “defending” aspects of the Soviet Union. I am utterly opposed to the idea that the Soviet Union at any time after 1924 (in fact, probably after some time in 1918, and certainly 1921) was any kind of “workers’ state”, degenerated or otherwise. The notion that the nationalisation of property is the litmus test for a “progressive” way of organising society, or even as a true expression of a socialised economy, is, in my view, mistaken. For me, workers’ control over their day to day lives (including and especially capitalist production) is the key to a workers’ state, and this was singularly lacking in the Soviet Union even before Stalin took over.

    I appreciate Trotsky’s wisdom on many issues, and he has been a fundamental influence for me. I particularly appreciate, for example, his critique of the emergence of a bureaucratic caste and his critiques of Stalinist strategies against fascism. I need to re-read your article now, but I recall that I did not disagree with all of it, just am tired of the “defend” October formula.

  11. Well i didn’t actually give it a title and just went with the editors suggestion! Please don’t re-read my article. Otherwise I’ll have to re-read it if you respond again!

  12. Splendid answer Luke, which made me much more well-disposed towards orthodox Trotskyism. Now I have to re-read it!

  13. […] Democratic Green Stalinist? […]

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