Stalinism is the absolute negation of Marxism

August 11, 2015 at 7:42 am (democracy, Guardian, history, Human rights, labour party, Marxism, posted by JD, stalinism, trotskyism)

My old comrade John Cunningham makes an important point (one that needs to be hammered home more often) in a letter published in today’s Guardian:

Above: Serge, anti-Stalinist Marxist

Jonathan Jones (Labour centrists like me aren’t cynics: we’re the left’s only true ethical wing, 8 August) regurgitates, yet again, the tired old myth that Marxism and Stalinism are somehow basically the same. That the one emerged from the other. This is nonsense (as nonsensical as the idea that there is such as creature as a “Corbynite”). The democratic left, the far left, the anti-Stalinist left (call it what you will) in the UK and elsewhere has a solid and honourable record of anti-Stalinism, actually much better and more consistent than either Labour centrists or the right (Labour or Tory). The left’s analysis and critique of Stalinism, through the writings of Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky, Victor Serge, the Critique group in Glasgow, the now defunct journal Labour Focus on Eastern Europe and numerous contributors to the New Left Review (to name just a few of the many voices involved) has been thorough, detailed, nuanced and totally damning.

The centre left and right, by contrast, have had little to offer other than moral outrage, which they were all too ready to drop when circumstances suited them. The left in western Europe has nothing to apologise for in its attitude to Stalinism. As for “the chains of a brutal history”, the left was the first to expose the crimes of Stalin and has fought long and hard to destroy those chains. Stalinism is not a continuation of Marxism, on the contrary it is the absolute negation of it.
John Cunningham
Adlington, Lancashire


  1. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Stalin was an Orthodox Christian amongst other things. He was clearly a clever man that managed to obtain power over the likes of Trotsky and other revolutionaries. Trotsky led the Red Army while Stalin was taking power. Clearly the man was not daft. And Trotsky got the ice pick on his heid.

  2. Political tourist said,

    Would a Trotsky run Russia have looked that much different?

    • Steven Johnston said,

      The end result would have been the same, I agree. He was just as brutal, look at what happened to the Kronstadt mutineers.
      But, would it have been any different under anyone? Given the power they would have had?

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      The ice picks would have gone into different heads.

  3. steveb said,

    The outcome of the Soviet Union was determined by the conditions of Imperial Russia. All roads would have led to the same, indeed the outcome of WW2 would most certainly have been different in the absence of Stalin.

    • dagmar said,

      You mean – the rise of fascism in Germany might not have happened? Or the invasion of Poland might not have been left unchallenged/the country would not have been split up between Greater Germany and the USSR? Or do you mean the war would have ended much quicker, supposing there was no Hitler-USSR pact for the first two years of the war, during which the Soviet leader didn’t have to regret having purged almost all top Red Army generals and try and gain lost time? Or the war might not have taken place at all?

      Lots of “ifs” there, but you say it’s “certain” it would have been different in the absence of Stalin – and I certainly agree with you; so which one of the above are you referring to? Or which other “different” do you mean?

      • steveb said,

        dagmar, it could have gone any way but one thing for sure is that Hitler would have emerged regardless of Stalin. The allies may still have defeated Hitler but it would have taken much longer, without the USSR, but, the devil is in the detail, and who can predict exactly the butterfly effect. The certainty being that the course of USSR history was determined by the state of Imperial Russia.

  4. dagmar said,

    You don’t think that a drastically different policy by the Comintern and therefore by the KPD, one which did not describe most of the German labour movement as “social fascists”, might have prevented the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power? I think a fair number of mathematicians might want to differ.

  5. Political tourist said,

    The Wall Street crash helped Hitler along no end.
    Without Stalin and WW2 the USSR would probably have collapsed from within and from attacks from outside a lot earlier.

  6. jschulman said,

    The Communist Parties outside of Russia wouldn’t have become mere tools of Russian foreign policy and they wouldn’t have denounced German Social Democrats as “social fascists” and “the main enemy” rather than Nazis — that would’ve been one significant difference. Read Trotsky on The Rise of Fascism in Germany. Had the German Communists followed his advice — form a United Front with the SPD and fight the Nazis both in parliament and in the streets together — Hitler would’ve never been able to take power.

    • dagmar said,

      There you are steveb, jschulman wins a prize, though only gets a A- due to the “read Trotsky” bit. You don’t have to read Trotsky to be aware of the bleeding obvious.

  7. Steven Johnston said,

    For the Trotskyites here, which part of this resolution do you violently disagree with, that would lead you to murder those proposing it?

  8. Dave Draycott said,

    If Trotsky had been running the show you can maybe shave a few millions off those murdered, deported internally or sent to the Gulags. Or maybe not. Stalin appropriated the Left Oppositions policy on industrialisation, collectivisation and the Ukrainian famine would have happened,given Trotsky’s support for show trials of SR’s in the early 20’s we may still have had show trials in the mid 30’s (just different defendants) and so it goes. The problem was not so much Marx as Lenin who established the apparatus of the one party police state. Stalin and Trotsksy fought over his legacy and both in their different ways, one as a murderous dictator the other as the arrogant inspirer of a truly tiny political tradition remained true to Leninism. The idea that the Trotskyist Leninist Left, which is what I take it is referred to offered the strongest resistance to what was in fact simply a variant of its own politics is an absurdity. The reformist democratic socialist left exemplified by the likes of Nye Bevan give the strongest resistance by offering a differing path to one stuffed with corpses. When Krushev met the Labour Leadership, including Bevan in the late 50’s he said if he had lived in Britain he would have voted Tory. Says it all.

  9. Rilke said,

    So many worthless tautologies: if things had been ‘different’ then they would have been ‘different’. Utter drivel. If the teenage Stalin had turned left instead of right at the junction on Nevsky Prospekt then he would have been run over by a tram – and guess what? The world would have been ‘different’. Grow up! Next, it will be, ‘what if the pyramids were build by aliens?’ Idiots! History is exactly that which cannot be changed, that is why it is called ‘history’. The only thing that can be changed is our understanding of it.
    Read Hegel’s Philosophy of History then Lukacs’ ‘General Observations’.
    I’ve told you once before Jim, you better clean this blog up quick! Debate is fine, but idiocy does not help any one!

    • Political tourist said,

      Or as they say in working class communities, if your auntie had balls she’d be your uncle.

      • dagmar said,

        Those who use phrases like “as they say in working class communities” wouldn’t know one from their arsehole, except maybe as part of an excursion done during their sociology/ethnology degree, which probably ended with them having a number of teeth less than when the trip began.

  10. Dave Draycott said,

    Idiots eh 🙂 but you have the leisure to waste your time on something as terminally indecipherable as Hegel. If you have the time to read this stuff and Lukacs you must be between jobs or be a man of independent means. And of course the ‘what if’s’ are helpful. We get all the shite about Trotsksy that he was different to Stalin, sharp dresser, intellectual, pince nez that make him look like an early 20th Century college professor. So he must have been a nice. In reality whereas Stalin was a murderous psychopath, Trotsky was just a maderous bastard. That you see is the point. And that is why all Leninism is worthless. I suspect it’s the conclusions reached that Rilke objects to but lacks the ability to rebut and political tourist, ‘as they say in working class communities’ suggests you’re well named.

  11. Rilke said,

    It is my judgment that the phrase ‘…terminally idecipherable…’ Is meaningless. If you can assess the ‘indecipherable’ nature of a statement then you are already some way to understanding that it is not ‘termnally’ so. Good old Hegel really helps some times!

  12. Dave Draycott said,

    I was about to explain why your above statement is bollocks but why negate the negation me owld mucker.

  13. Rilke said,

    Because defensive excuses implicate the guilt they seek to exonerate.

  14. Dave Draycott said,

    Just got bored. But if you insist. If you find something indecipherable it denotes lack of understanding not an assessment necessarily and if it’s terminally so, no way forward. Bit like your politics which has never made it out of the seminar. Suspect the Labour Movement will manage without Hegel. Bye, bye.

  15. Rilke said,

    Poor old Dave…he is the sort of lower college educated clerk class bigot who thinks that if you can read Hegel then you cannot be ‘working class’ and who also thinks he has the right to tell people what they should read in order for them to be properly political committed! I am third generation coal miner and NUM foot soldier. My grandparents were autodidacts who could quote Burns, Shelley and Milton verbatim, among many others. The Labor Movement would do well to rid itself of patronizing chumps like you. By the way, words connote as well as ‘denote’, but what ‘maderous bastard’ means is certainly indecipherable to me!
    Ponder thereon!

  16. Dave Draycott said,

    Made it from a Council house to Uni as it happens Rilke. But that was in the days of paid for tuition fees and maintenance grants. Reading Hegel doesn’t prevent you from being working class never said it did. I only picked up bits from ‘trying’ some time ago to read a CLR James book, ‘notes on the dialectic.’ Right little snob aren’t we. Despise the ‘clerk class’ and then we get the family history to cement your superiority. My father was ‘just’ a working man and no worse for it. As someone once said it’s the the content of your character that matters. Aaah, we have to throw the autocorrect at me. Glad I touched a nerve. ‘Ponder thereon,’ even the autocorrect wants to split it into two. Pompous, fogyish, expression.
    Not a surprise from someone who started by accusing people of talking not just drivel but utter drivel, old boy. Pip, pip. Where the hell did that come from me owld mucker.
    You clearly have the need to generalise out criticism of yourself into ‘if you read Hegel you can’t be political.’ No, but what use is Hegel was the point. The effort could frankly be better spent elsewhere. We were discussing the tortuous irrelevance of Leninism but you are more comfortable with the minutiae of nowt. Aaah, there’s indecipherable for ya.

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