The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” – Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois – let alone socialist – principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty – to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Look beyond the headline, and read past all the wriggling and obfuscation, and Jeremy Corbyn’s article in todays Morning Star is somewhat better than his comrades in the STWC and than that paper’s pro-Putin editorial line:

    NB: “Russia has gone way beyond its legal powers to use bases in the Crimea. Sending unidentified forces into another country is clearly a violation of that country’s sovereignty.

    “Interestingly in his press conference yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin backed away from his previous support for Yanukovych, declaring that the latter was political history.

    “That may have been because opinion polls in Russia are showing only 15 per cent support for military action. It is to be hoped that combined with the great economic cost and potential consequences of the military course this will result in a reduction of tensions.”

    • Babs said,

      It’s also worth pointing out Putin could lose the support of his wealthy buddies if they can’t withdrawn their money stashed abroad should Russia be hit with sanctions, visa restrictions and bank accounts frozen.

  2. The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism | OzHouse said,

    […] Mar 05 2014 by admin […]

  3. Jim Denham said,

    RT presenter says the station’s world view “makes me sick”:
    Rees and German are regular inteviewees on RT…

  4. Bob-B said,

    So given a dispute between relatively liberal capitalist states and much more authoritarian capitalist states, these ‘socialists’ favour the latter. Do they expect ‘socialists’ in the latter states to do the same? Or are they also allowed to say my enemy’s enemy is my friend and hence to support the relatively liberal capitalist states?

  5. Socialist Action Defends Russian Army’s Rights. | Tendance Coatesy said,

    […] Shiraz Socialist points out, there are still neo-stalinists still around who justify this in the following way. […]

  6. Babs said,

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Surprise, surprise: Spode speaks on Russia Today:

  8. richardarmbach said,

    Interestingly we have had not a single word of criticism of Putin from Israel. Which rather makes nonsense of the claim that the interests of the West and those of Israel are the same.

    • rebeccalesses said,

      Yesterday the Israeli foreign minister issued an anodyne statement: “Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, is anxious for peace for all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not escalate to a loss of human life. Israel hopes the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully,” the ministry said in a statement.”
      Source: Breaking silence, Israel urges diplomacy in Ukraine | The Times of Israel

      • richardarmbach said,

        Thats an expression of concern not a criticism.

    • richardstifarmsalute said,

      I really don’t like Jews, and I thought I’d find a way to crowbar my obsessive hatred for them into this thread somehow.

      • richardarmbach said,

        How did Jews get into this ?

  9. Rilke said,

    Anti Stop the War Coalition As Failed Neo-Menshevik Cretinism Promote and Justify Wars Coalition …heh heh heh

  10. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Neo-Stalinist is just the wrong term for Putin and his apologists.

    Putinism owes a considerable amount to Stalinism but far more to Russian Nationalism, Slavophilism, Orthodoxy and neo-liberal managerialism all of which are mixed together in a post-modernist cocktail.

    Putin rarely if ever himself invokes Stalin but has extravagantly praised Nicholas II’s authoritarian minister Stolypin as a model.

    Under his tutelage the Russian film industry has produced bombastic WW2 films like Fortress Brest and the new Stalingrad (the first of which does implicitly criticise Stalin and the second of which presumably also does so if it is at all faithful to Grossman’s Life and Fate as billed) – but also a lavish hagiography of the proto-fascist White Admiral Kolchak.

    While Stalin dynamited churches, Putin funnels so much money into commissioning new ones that the Orthodox church can’t build much less staff them all.

    Stalin collectivised and industrialised by force, Putin is perfectly happy to maintain the privatised state-klepto-capitalism he inherited from Yeltsin.

    Stalin by fostering manifold national identities (at least for those nations he didn’t attempt to extirpate altogether) sowed the very whirlwind that was to destroy the Soviet Union, Putin is arguably a conventional Great Russian chauvinist.

    And so on…..

    Our inability to recognise the new orders in Russia and in China as something genuinely and terrifyingly new and to formulate a proper Marxist analysis of how they came into being and where they might well be taking the world is one of the most depressing things about the post-mortem left.

    But zombie-like we can only repeat the ritual formulas the dim tatters of our consciousness retain from our former life.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I too disagree with the term “neo-Stalinist” (or “-ism”) in this otherwise excellent article, though, perhaps, from a a slightly different angle. The real tankies and Stalinists in the west, prior to 1989-91 at least believed they were supporting a socialist (or at least non-capitalist) system based upon nationalised property relations and a planned economy. Today’s Putin-lovers *know* his regime is capitalist, but support it simply because its at odds with the west: “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is about as sophisticated as this analysis gets.

    • Rosie said,

      When Arab leaders want to evoke a hero of the past, it’s always Saladin. Ghadaffi and Saddam Hussein both used to summon up the spirit of a great Arab warrior.So it’s Stolypin for Putin? An appropriate hero for a guy who rose to ranks through the KGB. Stolypin’s methods of dealing with opposition are being enacted now, according to this.

      “Yesterday, Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin wrote here about Putin’s renewed crackdown on the media: what began just days before the Olympics with a Kremlin attack on Dozhd, the last independent television station in Russia, has now extended to, arguably the best news site in Russia. On Wednesday, the site’s editor-in-chief was fired and replaced with a Kremlin loyalist, and the whole staff quit in protest. Yesterday, the Kremlin went full-China on the internet, the holy of holies of the Russian opposition. Using some flimsy legal pretexts, it banned access to various oppositional news sites, to the website of Moscow’s biggest radio station, and to the blog of Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest. Last week, the owner of Dozhd announced that, due to the clampdown, the channel is going to close in a couple months.

      Within the span of a couple months, the Kremlin, by hook and by crook, has cleared all the media underbrush. There’s suddenly not much left of the independent media, even of what little of it there was left after Putin’s first two terms at the wheel. “

  11. Gabriel Levy said,

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