The fact that Stalin needs to be defended at all is reason enough to analyze the dominant intellectual climate pervading today. He was the chief architect of the first socialist state in the world, he was the bravest general who prevented Hitler’s racist expansions, he was the primary implementor of Leninist policies aimed at empowering the masses into becoming active participants in nation-building, he was the biggest anti-capitalist voice the world has ever witnessed, the greatest anti-colonial force, and in the words of Paul Robeson, he was the “shaper of humanity’s richest future while laboring for peace and ever increasing abundance, with deep kindliness and wisdom”.
For these factors alone, in this current climate of hostile capitalism reaching its highest peak, Stalin’s legacies should have been providing inspiration to the communists world over. And yet, more than the advocates of global capitalism, the prominent progressives today dissociate themselves from Stalin’s legacies. Stalin has emerged as the untouchable, the wretched, and the hated – among majority of politically aware.
How did such a transformation come about to be? What values did he exercise during his lifetime? What threats did Stalin pose after his death? Why does he need to be defended? Was something really wrong with Stalin? Or is something really wrong with some of us in the progressive movements who refuse to identify with ‘Stalinism’? Probably an ideal starting point of analysis would be ‘Stalinism’ itself, and how it irks the orthodoxies across political spectrum. Although he staunchly opposed this word, it becomes conveniently necessary for us as a phrase that explains two specific elements manifested in Stalin: the theoretician and the revolutionary.
Political Thought: Challenging Eurocentric Marxism
Orthodoxy demands strict adherence to the canonical texts, or the dominant interpretations of those. It is often argued that according to Marx, capitalistic contradictions were to pave the economic grounds for enabling socialism as the first step towards a communistic future in advanced industrialized societies world over. For such a theory to validate itself, the industrialized Germany was predicted by Marx as the imminent battleground to cement the first communist victory. Russia, a peasant society clearly was not a candidate. Marxists in the western world instead drew inspirations from and considered Germany’s mere potentials in the 1920’s as more revolutionary than the actual Russian working class takeover of the Czardom.
And yet the dominant interpretations of Marx in our times may have too often committed the fallacies of treating humanity as a sea of static/passive subjects tuned to respond to political systems in predictable manners. Worse, for those holding the texts immutable, bringing to fore the issues of culture, media, gender, colonialism and racism might appear improbable. In the quest to theorize “true traditions of Marxism”, such interpreters might have actually overlooked the possibility that political theories are progressive only in the sense that they can be applied uniquely.
For politically progressive theories to emerge effective, it is crucial that they acknowledge the existing cultural status quo; for human compositions are diverse, their social locations are unique, and their political needs are circumstantial. While the leadership goals may be deeply rooted within the contexts of overarching ideologies, the means and tactics need to be carefully devised. Whereas Marxism as the emancipatory philosophy remains unparalleled, its usability may depend on how it is improved upon through distinctive adaptations.
Detractors allege, Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” was a clear departure from Marxism. Socialism could not be established without world revolution, they say. However, such an assertion remains deeply problematic and possibly becomes anti-Marxist by virtue of its dogmatism, if at all. After all, the “world” historically of course meant the educated “advanced” societies of Germany and England. During 1930s, it meant that the Germans and the English were superior races even if it was to enable communism. When Stalin reiterated that Russia did not require any foreign support, he was also alluding to the racist world order that had been treating Russia as a backward peasant society. Being “lowly born” to a cobbler father in an oppressed Georgia, Stalin was an organic revolutionary. Among all the 1917 leaders, he came from the lowest strata of social hierarchy, had been educated in a racist institution that segregated the likes of him, an atheist from the start, a railroad workers organizer living dangerously, and as the one who worked the hardest among the original Bolsheviks, barring none, Stalin knew more than any of his comrades, about the state of being oppressed. “I became a Marxist because of my social position and the harsh intolerance aimed at crushing me mercilessly,” he once said.
Stalin’s assertion that Russia, overwhelmingly a peasant society, could build socialism on her own, was drawn from his lived experiences. Condescending overtures from the western socialists he could not accept, not just from a racial location, but also because Stalin, an ardent student of nationalism and colonialism, simply could not trust those who desired for western interventions/cooperation irrespective of their leftist tendencies. If Trotsky, hailing from a privileged background, formerly a Menshevik critic of Lenin, and forever the friend of the western liberals, was in charge of defending Bolshevism from the civil wars, he was clearly not doing the best. And Stalin, as Trotsky’s nemesis, and as head of the Party he technically organized and enabled into being, demanded – and realized – not just military autonomy, but also economic autonomy for Russia.
Stalin’s theory for a socialist country was only as much of a deviation as Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” from Marxist canons. And yet, why Stalin has been derided as a theorist is precisely because his deviation resulted in a pronounced antagonism towards the imperial powers of the West. His revolutionary patriotism challenged the colonial world order. His imposition of sanctions against the warmongering foreign powers posed an unprecedented dynamic. Just when his detractors wished to court the so-called educated advanced classes from across the borders in wishful thinking for a world revolution, Stalin ruthlessly succeeded in establishing socialism that embraced the lowest social strata at par, or as higher than the traditionally privileged. When Stalin’s Red Army engaged in continuous battles with the reactionary White Army, merely the names did not differ; it was destined to be the victory of the indigenous working poor against the racist coalitions. Stalin’s surge of power was not simply a Soviet affair of communist progress; it marked the beginning of a new era for oppressed people world over, a defining moment in history when the colonized subjects for the first time demonstrated to the world they could build a society free of either racist or patronizing interventions.
Those who attack Stalin for “Socialism in One Country” should as well recall that if Marx proposed a theory for the working class to claim power in Germany, and if Lenin applied it uniquely to Russian situation, it was Stalin who vastly improvised upon both, and made it possible for socialism to materialize in over two-thirds of the world. It was Stalin who brought life to Marxism, made it feasible for, applicable to, and acceptable in realms of freedom struggles fought on behalf of communists world over against colonizing master classes in formerly enslaved continents of Asia and Africa. If Marx is relevant to this day and if communism is duly recognized as the most potent weapon against the colonialists and imperialists, it was because Stalin exemplified Marxism as a liberating force, salvaged it from philosophical quagmires, freed it from theoretical dogmas, various determinisms, and saved it from being reduced into purely elitist academia indulgences at the Frankfurt School.
Organic Revolutionary: Tackling the Imperialistic Threats
Precisely because Stalin made Marx relevant for the majority of working poor in the world, he invited the unforgiving wrath of big business interests and the intellectuals alike. Anticommunism remained the prevalent ideology in the West with “Red Scare” repercussions. Any historical analysis of Stalin’s revolutionary career presents before us two contradictory schools of thoughts. Predictably enough, the accounts which exist today as “facts” are the ones that were commissioned by the Nazis, the British and the American administrations to incite anticommunism. Whether we choose to believe global capitalism’s narratives or we believe in the accounts of those that witnessed Russia through progressive lenses squarely falls within our own levels of consciousness, inquisitiveness, and political ethics; quite independent of Stalin’s life and legacies.
World’s most credible journalist of the age, Walter Duranty, who represented New York Times from Moscow won Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Stalin’s Russia and yet succumbing to enormous pressure for revocation of the award Pulitzer committee had to reevaluate his case. Turned out, there was no fraudulent reporting done by Duranty. His chief critic, Gareth Jones, circulated myths about the “Ukraine Famine” as the first major assault on Stalin’s economic policies. Jone’s version continues to be instructed world over today, despite the fact he has been revealed as the Foreign Affairs Advisor to British PM David Lloyd George who in turn was Hitler’s admirer and collaborator. For his fictitious claims, Jones also relied upon the reports by Malcolm Muggeridge, a catholic campaigner who – only as recent as in 2010 – has also been exposed as a British spy operating for MI6. The man who validated Jones and Muggeridge happened to be world’s media baron of the day, Randolph Hearst, a former mining heir, a staunch capitalist, a devout warmonger and Hitler’s formidable supporter who claimed “Hitler was going to bring a century of peace to Europe”. Hearst’s journalism policies were so dubious that Upton Sinclair described his staffers to be “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous wars.” And yet Hearst went on to publish series of anticommunist articles and a bogus famine photo submitted to him by Robert Green. Louis Fischer exposed Green’s identity as an absconder from Colorado prison who never visited Ukraine to begin with. “The Nation” weekly published “Hearst’s Russian ‘Famine’” caricaturing Green, Jones and Hearst in March of 1935, which finally ended the debate.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, why Walter Duranty’s works today lies in rubbles, while “Ukraine Famine” continues to demand recognition as a premeditated Stalinist genocide is because of a book written by a political conservative Robert Conquest 15 years after Stalin’s death. Conquest documented the “Great Purge” of 1936-38 from publicly available, but limited materials in the only book of its kind, and his interpretations are today widely endorsed. As a virulently anticommunist, (a speechwriter for Thatcher, admirer of Reagan, recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W Bush), Conquest interpreted Stalin’s legacy as a mere continuation of Lenin’s communism and denounced both as engaging in violent premeditated murders. Similarly in “Gulag Archipelago”, the only work discussing the Gulag, Solzhenitsyn, a Cossack religious elite who condemned communism from his class position, organized against the Party, and was predictably rewarded with Nobel Prize by the West, described Stalinism as merely a consequence of Lenin’s policies of planned economy, secret services and labor camps. For Conquest, the starting point was the “Show Trials” following Sergei Kirov’s assassination. A theory was developed claiming that Germany had no role in the murder of Kirov, Stalin’s closest associate, and that he was killed by Stalin himself so that Stalin could further kill rest of his colleagues to consolidate power. Such absurdities were popularized as facts by none other than George Orwell who dramatized the sequences in his widely acclaimed Nineteen Eighty Four.
Although the “Show Trials” were meticulously recorded, and were actually attended by foreign journalists and independent observers who have attested to the acts of treason as Nazi’s “Fifth Column” interventions, Orwell was initially perceived to have simplistically treated them as secretive Stalinist purges. However, recently in 2003, Orwell was exposed as a having been a motivated spy for British McCarthyism, engaging in creating a list of communists he used to befriend, with the sole aim of turning them over to the government. Orwell was the Big Brother himself and the condemnation of Stalin’s justice system needed to be declared as “Show Trials” to further his anticommunist agendas. Why Orwell’s imagination of the trials takes precedence today over first hand accounts by American Ambassador Joseph Davies, British parliamentarian D.N. Pritt, IPR secretary Edward C Carter should be no surprise, considering the ruling interests of any age author the dominant history.
Likewise, selective historical highlights include the non-aggression Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a way to discredit Stalin, while conveniently overlooking the preceding treaty of worse dimension signed by Britain with Germany as a Nazi-appeasing Munich Agreement. In matters of postwar divisions on sphere of influence, submitting to American and British dominations were quite welcomed by the West and NATO continues to flagrantly violate the UN to this day, but continuous Cold War tactics needed to be employed in fomenting dissent in the countries within Soviet Sphere. After an emphatic victory over the Nazi forces, which resulted in enormous sacrifices on part of the Soviet Union, whose 27 million communists laid down their lives (as opposed to less than half a million Americans), an ingrate West (with FDR no longer alive) refused to credit Stalin adequately. Not once during the 30 years of Civil Wars and Second World War did any “advanced society” come forward to aid the Soviet Union.
Revolutions of the proletariat against the capitalists as Marx predicted were not going to be romantic, idealistic, or reformist. Stalin duly inspired his successors Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh to develop communism as an anti-colonial force that eventually led to replace much of the old world order. Most societies that adopted Stalinism were probably not quite capitalistic, but all of them were quite ripe for anti-colonial revolutions nonetheless. China, Vietnam, North Korea, Lao, Cuba, Egypt, Algeria, Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Czech Republic, Albania, East Germany among scores of others chose communistic futures for themselves adopting Stalinism’s strongest asset: an ability to creatively apply revolutionary tactics with an aim to ensure socialistic progress; a philosophy whose resurgence is more relevant today than ever before in history, considering the colossal oppressive world hegemony which has succeeded in sabotaging progressive imaginations.