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Economic and Political Consequences of the Attempted Socialization of Agriculture in the Soviet Union (page 7)

by Erwin Marquit
(Nature, Society, and Thought, All rights reserved.)

Assessment of Stalin’s historical role in historical context

One of the principal reasons for being concerned today with the assessment of the role of Joseph Stalin is the connection between such assessment and the current ideological differences among Communist parties in the industrialized capitalist countries as well as differences within the individual parties. In the wake of the collapse of the socialist systems in Europe, the ruling classes of the industrialized capitalist countries, no longer seeing themselves threatened by an alternative economic system, began to unravel the social welfare system that had been forced upon them by long years of struggle by the working class in defense of its class interests. Trade-union rights also have come under fierce attack. While the immediate danger is not the imposition of fascist regimes, which would be the case if the capitalist system itself was threatened, the right-wing assault on people’s rights and welfare in order to maximize capitalist profits gives rise to the need for the working class to form broad-based multiclass political alliances directed against the most reactionary right-wing forces. Ultraleftists within the communist movements reject such alliances as revisionist reformism. Invariably, they see no problem with Stalin’s destruction of the worker-peasant alliance,

which Lenin saw as the necessary foundation for the construction of socialism in the USSR.

Similarly, they are quick to condemn the defense of the worker-peasant alliance by Bukharin and others as rightist revisionism, and have no problem with justifying the mass execution of over 600,000 Communists as right-wing conspirators. They can express outrage at the confessions extracted by torture of prisoners by the CIA as well as confessions extracted during “interrogations” at local police stations, yet are quick to accept the confessions at the Moscow purge trials of the 1930s extracted by torture and beatings and explain the absence of material evidence at the trials by stating that conspirators do not put their plans on paper. For most of them, the only basis for their belief that those executed were guilty of crimes is their naïve dogmatic conviction that Stalin would not have violated Soviet legality. Like Herr Palmstroem, in Christian Morganstern’s poem, they believe “that which must not, cannot be.” (2) For others, however, their extreme dogmatism leads to an indifference to questions of socialist legality—destroy what stands in the way, real or potential—a mentality that led Pol Pot to murder some 20 percent of his people. Some years ago, Ludo Martens, leader of the ultraleftist Workers Party of Belgium, sent me copy of his book, Another View of Stalin (Antwerp EPO, 1994).

When I met him in Havana in 1997 at a conference on socialism, he asked me, “How did you like my book?” I replied, “Wasn’t the execution of 70 percent of the members of the Central Committee of 1934 a violation of democratic centralism?” He hesitated before responding, and after some thought replied, “Yes, but it had to be done.”

Their dogmatic inability to think rationally about the past carries over to their inability to apply Marxist analysis to the strategy of class struggle in the current situation, which calls for the formation of broad alliances to defend democratic rights against fascistlike attempts to destroy opposition to corporate rule. The attempts by Communist parties in the bourgeois parliamentary democracies in the twentieth century to go it alone to socialism bore no fruit. The only electoral victories won by Communists were in alliance with social democrats and progressive bourgeois or petty bourgeois strata during the period of the Popular Front. The only real parliamentary transition to socialism in Europe was in Czechoslovakia in 1948, and was made possible only by an alliance of Communists and Social Democrats.

Erwin Marquit
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

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1. The draft of the first edition of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, in most respects a Marxist-Leninist critique of the Stalin period by Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, then a member of the CPSU, began circulating informally in the USSR in 1964. After Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as leader of the CPSU in 1964, criticism of Stalin was limited to the phrase cult of the individual; no details about the terror of the 1930s were permitted, nor criticism of forced collectivization other than what had been allowed in Stalin’s time. Stalin was, in effect, rehabilitated. Soviet publications such as History of the USSR, written in 1974, again justified the excesses—for example, the 1928 Shakhty frame-up trials in the course of which confessions were beaten out of members of fictitious organizations of wreckers and saboteurs “in the service of Russian and foreign capitalists and foreign intelligence;” Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky were again referred to as leaders of the Right Opposition, who “expressed the interests of the kulaks and other well-off elements in the villages that were opposed to the socialist reconstruction of agriculture” (Kim et al. 1982, 252, 259). Medvedev was expelled from the CPSU in 1969 after his book was published in the West. His Party membership was restored in 1988.

2. The Impossible Fact

Palmstroem, old, an aimless rover,
walking in the wrong direction
at a busy intersection
is run over.

“How,” he says, his life restoring
and with pluck his death ignoring,
“can an accident like this
ever happen? What’s amiss?"

"Did the state administration
fail in motor transportation?
Did police ignore the need
for reducing driving speed?"

"Isn’t there a prohibition,
barring motorized transmission
of the living to the dead?
Was the driver right who sped . . . ?”

Tightly swathed in dampened tissues
he explores the legal issues,
and it soon is clear as air:
Cars were not permitted there!

And he comes to the conclusion:
His mishap was an illusion,
for, he reasons pointedly,
that which must not, cannot be.


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