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.

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Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm  Comments (13)  
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The life of Trotsky

Excellent post by Michael Ezra a propos of Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky, but mainly taking apart Isaac Deutscher’s hagiography of Trotsky. Extract:

In [Deutscher’s] account of the Kronstadt rebellion, there is no mention of Trotsky’s famous order, “shoot them like partridges.” He  was also not immune from errors of fact. For example, Deutscher claimed that the Kronstadt rebellion was “led by Anarchists.” In truth, as Robert Daniels had previously shown (American Slavic and East European Review, December 1951), it was “a strong opposition movement … in Communist Party organisations” that had been at the forefront of the rebellion. Despite the fact that thousands were killed by the Bolsheviks for this rebellion, Deutscher does not draw the logical conclusion that P.G. Maximoff had earlier drawn:

As in many other instances we have here a clear case of mass murder subject to criminal prosecution.

If anyone is any doubt as to the way Deutscher viewed Trotsky, his following sentence should give some clarification:

The passions of [Trotsky’s] intellect and heart, always uncommonly large and intense… swelled into a tragic energy as mighty and high as that which animates the prophets and the law-givers of Michelangelo’s vision.

Some interesting stuff too in the comments thread.

And from an opposite perspective, the Cedar Lounge Revolution on a review by Robert Harris of Service’s book. Also an interesting comment thread.

Or, for a totally different sort of Trotsky biog, check this out.

Bonus links: Trotsky on terrorism 1 & 2, Exile in Buyukada, Peter Taafe on Robert Service, Trotsky on factionalism, Sergei Essenin.

The image at the top comes from a wonderful photoset which goes with this nice post: The Trotsky Museum.

Click here for related posts, including Trotsky’s bad driving, Hitchens and Service chatting about Trotsky, Stalin’s nemesis, Trotsky’s ashes based into cookies.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 11:10 am  Comments (7)  
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Poumaholic

Some alternative histories: The shipwrecked: anti-fascist refugees during WWII. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia a century after his death. Rising East: London radical history day. Karl Pfeifer in Jerusalem.

Marek Edelman: Two more for the list: Terry Glavin’s post has a fascinating comment thread (I agree with The Plump), plus: This mandolin kills fascists.

La lucha continua: Venezuelan anarchism: Introducing El Libertario. Save Obtilia Eugenio Manuel. A visa for Principe Gabriel Gonzalez.

On old and new Stalinisms: Repelling Stalinoid attacks on Makhnovism. Happy Honecker! Nazi-Comintern collaboration and the DDR. A glorious leap backward. Socialist Unity: From Soviet Union to the GDR, and the People’s Republic of China. Stalin a mass murderer after all.

The democratic socialist tradition: The uncollected Michael Foot. Changing times: Minnie Lansbury and Poplarism. Reading about George Lansbury. Tom Paine for today.

Theory and praxis: Murdering the dead: on Amadeo Bordiga today. Castoriadis and magnanimity.

Politics and morality: The IMG and the morality of the Brighton bombing. The new McCarthyism and the BNP. A fitting tribute to Anna Politkovskaya.

See full size imageDurham Miners' Gala, Michael FootFrancisco Ferrer's PicturePolitkovskaya
Below the fold: Libcom’s most recent anarchist biographies. (more…)