Stalin in Clerkenwell Green

From Eric Lee:

This article appears in Solidarity.  Feel free to add your comments below.

It was a beautiful May morning, one of the first warm and sunny days we’ve had all year. In Clerkenwell Green, hundreds of people were assembling for the annual official London May Day march. Many of you will not have been there — in fact there were very few trade unionists at all on this year’s march.

So let me tell you who was there — the twentieth century’s greatest serial killer, Joseph Stalin. Stalin was on several banners, and not only his image side by side with Lenin and Mao, but huge banners just with his picture alone — and quotations from his writings.

As I marched along with some trade union leaders and a traditional brass band, I could not help feeling ashamed at what the march would have looked like to onlookers, of whom there were many along the route. Ashamed and disgusted.

It’s disgusting because holding aloft iconic images of Stalin at a trade union march shows a complete lack of moral judgement. Seventy years ago, it may have been understandable — the second world war was raging, the Soviet leadership had not yet acknowledged Stalin’s crimes. But after 1956, anyone who still believed that Stalin was a great revolutionary leader was delusional.

Many of the marchers holding hammer-and-sickle flags or Stalin images would have been from various far-Left Turkish organizations and maybe in Turkey, there is no strong anti-Stalinist left. (Not that that’s an excuse for their igorance.)

But there were also British far-Leftists, supporters of tiny fringe groups proud of their adulation for a man who is responsible for millions of deaths of innocent people, a man who contributed so much to destroying everything the Russian revolution had achieved, killing off the entire Bolshevik party in the process.

The British anti-Stalinist Left was represented by “Trotskyist” groups like the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, who were there in strength, manning their book stalls, selling their newspapers. But there was no evidence that they challenged the Stalinists or even politely asked them to put their repulsive banners away. It seemed as if the Trotskyists and Stalinists were happy to march side by side, letting bygones be bygones. No enemies on the left and all that.

This in intolerable. If there are some, few individuals with personal “issues” who need to express themselves through things like the “Stalin Society”, that may be their right. But that doesn’t mean that they are welcome at our May Day celebrations. They are not welcome.

We must make an effort to ensure that this disgrace never repeats itself and that in 2014, there will be no banners with Stalin’s picture at the London May Day march and rally.

How do we do this? We begin by debating and confronting the Stalinist Left, demolishing their arguments and educating their members and periphery. We fight them on their turf and we fight them seriously. This is a fight over historical memory, over truth, and it is a fight we must win in order to cleanse and revitalise the Left.

At our own events such as a May Day march, we must take a firm stand of no platform for totalitarianism — no portraits of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or Kim Jon Il to be displayed. Enough is enough.

And finally, we must compell the leadership of the TUC and the unions to take May Day seriously. They must wrest it from the hands of the lunatics and the fringe. They must bring the hundreds of thousands of trade unionists who have marched under the TUC banner in recent years to come out on May Day too. The trade union leadership must help us to reclaim the holiday.

Stalin’s portrait must never again be paraded through the streets of London.

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Of course it’s an issue that you never ask people to lower their banners on the May Day march, that you have respect for each other, etc.

    But parading around giant portraits of Stalin is deeply sick. The organisations present were in a difficult situation – but it’s a situation that DEFINITELY crosses the line and should not be tolerated. Confrontation in this case was definitely called for.

    A distant facebook friend recently made a post celebrating the birthday of Joseph Stalin and had I called him on it I would’ve undoubtedly got an earful of “trendy leftie” and “Trot opportunist”.

    Stalin was an utterly repulsive figure, not only him but the conservative cynical bureaucratic ruling clique he represented. They sabotaged and polluted the workers’ movement internationally, killed millions, displaced millions and wrecked the USSR.

  2. Good on you Eric! I have been shocked in recent times by the amount of Facebook pages that carry similar images. Uncle Joe is being disillusions me no end. It seems to me that people consider any group who oppose the US alliance as being anti imperialist and for that reason must be good. Wake up ! read history! Ger anti fascist anti Stalinist

    • “It seems to me that people consider any group who oppose the US alliance as being anti imperialist and for that reason must be good.”

      yes, many people do. recently i even read some sympathy of the tsarneyevs’ in their “rough treatment” because, y’know, what they did they did to americans. (not perhaps exactly pertinent here but i had to get that one out.)

  3. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if you allowed the Stalin banners and challenge them during the March? I am sympathizing with them but free distribution of ideas should be allowed even if it involves something as repulsive as Stalinism.

    • I apologize for making a gross omission in my comment. I meant to say that I am [not] sympathizing ….

      • Thought as much Karan !

  4. Thanks for the comments. I completely agree.

  5. As a libertarian socialist I am equally sickened by all the images of Lenin, Trotsky, Castro, Guevara etc.It’s sad that the left often doesn’t hold itself to the same standards of justice and democracy that it expects from its opponents.

    • why Trotsky???

      • It’s true that images of Trotsky aren’t often seen on demos, but his is an iconic image in parts of the left press. I don’t want to rehash a lot of old arguments on a splendid non-sectarian site like Poumista, but I did say I’m a libertarian socialist. If you’re still wondering “why Trotsky?” Google Kronstadt 1921.

      • couldn’t agree with you more on the Kronstad and other mistakes made by the Bolshevics (I’m not a trotskyist ) but he does not deserve to be placed in the same company as the others mentioned!

      • If an avowedly right-wing government did what the Bolsheviks did in Kronstadt, you wouldn’t be describing it as a mistake would you? I’m curious, why do you exclude Trotsky from my rogues gallery but not Lenin?

      • sorry I miss read Lenin as Stalin ( the original post was Stalin in Clerkenwell Green ) You’re playing on my words if you think I described the kronstadt as just being a mistake. Who would you raise banners to?

  6. On the whole, I think it’s pretty pointless raising banners to anyone. There are lots of historical figures and some contemporary ones on the left that I admire, but most of them aren’t well known to the public at large. There are many links to articles and websites here on Poumista, about admirable men and women, who, unlike my rogues gallery,including Trotsky, never had blood on their hands.However much we admire an individual, carrying their portrait on a placard or a banner in a demo seems too much like Russian peasants carrying icons. Just as an aside, I was present at a demo in Washington DC in the 1970s and there was a large contingent of members of a Maoist party led by a guy called Bob Avakian. They were all carrying placards with a photo of Avakian, with vaguely Leninesque cap and beard. The sight was quite surreal and most of the public present must have been totally bemused.

    • Agreed Adrian Banners = cult of the personality. As socialists we have muc work to do in the coming epoc. I personally believe in leaning from the mistakes of the past especially the dangers of the resurgence of Stalinism

  7. Well, it’s a bit difficult carrying on a conversation on the comment section of an article. I think we probably agree on more than we disagree Ger, but I’m the world’s slowest typist, so I’ll leave it at that, except to congratulate the folks at Poumista for their excellent work!

  8. Thank you for fascinating discussion and for kind words.

    Parading any idols is not something real radicals should do, and I see Trotsky as a murderer for his role in Kronstadt (see ). But somehow it seems very wrong to see him in a list with Stalin etc. His struggle against Stalinism later on is something we should value.

  9. […] Stalin in Clerkenwell Green […]

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