Stalin


We need Stalin now – in Newcastle. Recently, the lid was partly lifted on systemic corruption among the political and business elite: wads of cash in brown paper bags, ‘washing’ illegal ‘donations’ through front organisations, hasty political decisions made to line the pockets of the big capitalists … it goes on. At the same time, the immense stupidity of those decisions became apparent. For instance, the railway line will be cut by two stations, or the equivalent of less than 3 kilometres. In it’s place, the proposal is to build a ‘light rail’ line – for the cost of over $200 million. Sorry, it’s not stupid if you are out to make a profit from public funds: someone has to benefit from that decision in light of the kind of money being doled out. Add to that the fact that developers get their greedy hands on the land freed up to construct even more useless buildings.

So the whole process has been shown to highly corrupt. Anyone would expect an immediate inquiry. Not at all. Instead, there is an unseemly haste to act on the corrupt decisions before any such inquiry can begin.

So we need Stalin today, to sweep his iron broom through the political and business elite.

Stalin and corruption 03a

Stalin and corruption 04a

Stalin's Tobacco 03

In the fashionable cynicism of post-USSR times, it is difficult to recapture the sheer euphoria at the achievement of the USSR itself. In 1922, after long and difficult negotiations, the excitement could hardly be contained. Here is Stalin in December of that year when the new agreement was announced.

here, in the world of Soviets, where the regime is based not on capital but on labour, where the regime is based not on private property, but on collective property, where the regime is based not on the exploitation of man by man, but on the struggle against such exploitation, here, on the contrary, the very nature of the regime fosters among the labouring masses a natural striving towards union in a single socialist family (Works, vol. 5, p. 153).

But, comrades, today is not only a day for summing up, it is at the same time the day of triumph of the new Russia over the old Russia, the Russia that was the gendarme of Europe, the Russia that was the hangman of Asia. Today is the day of triumph of the new Russia, which has smashed the chains of national oppression, organised victory over capital, created the dictatorship of the proletariat, awakened the peoples of the East, inspires the workers of the West, transformed the Red Flag from a Party banner into a State banner, and rallied around that banner the peoples of the Soviet republics in order to unite them into a single state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the prototype of the future World Soviet Socialist Republic.

We Communists are often abused and accused of being unable to build. Let the history of the Soviet power during these five years of its existence serve as proof that Communists are also able to build. Let today’s Congress of Soviets, whose function it is to ratify the Declaration and Treaty of Union of the Republics that were adopted at the Conference of Plenipotentiary Delegations yesterday, let this Union Congress demonstrate to all who have not yet lost the ability to understand, that Communists are as well able to build the new as they are to destroy the old (p. 161).

I have been reading what is called the ‘resistance genre’ of histories of the Stalin era – Fitzpatrick, Viola, Edele and others. They tend to follow a social history approach, focusing on everyday life in the 1920s and 1930s. People, they argue, engaged in ‘subaltern strategies’ to counter the various planning initiatives and to make ends meet. Quotidian realities were therefore the key, and the economic and social situation quite chaotic. Most of this stuff is deeply liberal, focusing on another aspect of ‘dissent’, with the agenda of showing that the government had little or no support. However, it also undermines the totalitarian hypothesis, for a government that exercises at best haphazard control is hardly a totalitarian one. The problems with such an approach are that they make no sense of the massive popular support for Stalin and the government after Hitler’s attack. Wouldn’t people simply abandon the government and support the Nazis, as they did in parts of western Ukraine?

However, Losurdo offers an intriguing interpretation of the situation. He notes all of the data used by the social historians and points out that this is what it is like working in a socialist economy. Workers and peasants now have immense autonomy, so they can down tools at will and have a discussion. They can take half a day off if needed for important personal matters. They are free to express their opinions and act on them. For a capitalist system, such insubordination is simply unacceptable. Workers need to be disciplined and kept in line so that profits can be made. On this matter, Stalin himself equivocates, at times calling for greater efficiency and discipline, but at other times noting the benefits:

At the Ford plants, for example, which function efficiently, there may be less thieving, nevertheless they function for the benefit of Ford, a capitalist, whereas our enterprises, where thieving takes place sometimes, and things do not always run smoothly, nevertheless function for the benefit of the proletariat. (Works, volume 7, p. 314).

It seems as though many people do not realise Stalin wrote anything. As Christina tells me, they express surprise when she tells them I am reading through all of his written work – not that I should be reading it, but that he wrote at all. Ah well, the Cold War has much to answer for.

In the midst of his theoretically important (and long) address to the fourteenth conference in 1925, he has this great vignette on vodka and building socialism with white gloves. The context is the need to avoid being indebted and thereby dependent on Western Europe and North America:

A word or two, by the way, about one of the sources of reserves—vodka. There are people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves. That is a very gross mistake, comrades. Since we are not receiving loans, since we are poor in capital, and since, furthermore, we cannot go into bondage to the West-European capitalists, not being able to accept the enslaving terms that they offer us and which we have rejected, only one alternative remains—to seek sources in other spheres. After all, that is better than bondage. Here we have to choose between bondage and vodka, and those people who think that it is possible to build socialism in white gloves are grievously mistaken. (Works volume 7, p. 349).

Even in Georgia today, you can buy a bottle of Stalin vodka:

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Stalin vodka 01

One of the tricks of developing new positions within a tradition is to assert your fidelity to the tradition while building a new argument out of the old. In the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin, the tradition was named ‘Leninism’, and each of course claimed to be the faithful interpreter of that tradition. On the matter of revolution, Trotsky argued that only a world-wide socialist revolution would secure socialism. And he could quote Lenin in support of that position. The reality was clearly otherwise, so Stalin argued – again interpreting Lenin – for the viability of socialism in one country. But what did that mean? Battening down the hatches and looking inward?

No, it actually drew on the image of a ‘light to the nations’ from Isaiah 49.

Soviet Russia was to be ‘living beacon illuminating the path to socialism’, ‘a torch which lights the path to liberation from the yoke of the oppressors for all the peoples of the world’. Or, to borrow a New Testament image, it was to be ‘light from the East’ (Works Vols 4: 62, 408, 181-86). Practically, that meant support for the many anti-colonial struggles throughout the world, a position Stalin first developed as a consequence of the ‘national question’ (or better ethnic diversity) in the USSR.

Socialism in one country 01

Socialism in one country 02a

It was of course the constitution of the USSR. The constitution of 1924 contains this crucial declaration, indicating that one of the key factors involved ethnic diversity (or what it likes to call the ‘national question’):

The will of the peoples of the Soviet republics, who recently assembled at their Congresses of Soviets and unanimously resolved to form a “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” is a reliable guarantee that this Union is a voluntary association of peoples enjoying equal rights, that each republic is guaranteed the right of freely seceding from the Union, that admission to the Union is open to all Socialist Soviet Republics, whether now existing or hereafter to arise, that the new union state will prove to be a worthy crown to the foundation for the peaceful co-existence and fraternal co-operation of the peoples that was laid in October 1917, and that i t will serve as a sure bulwark against world capitalism and as a new and decisive step towards the union of the working people of all countries into a World Socialist Soviet Republic (Stalin, Works 5, p. 404).

A constitution is always a work in progress, so the 1936 version (sponsored by Stalin) extended affirmative action to women, religion, education and so on:

Article 122. Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

Article 123. Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R., irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, any establishment of direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.

Article 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

Incidentally, article 124, which Stalin included in the face of stiff opposition, eventually led to the rapprochement between Stalin and the church during and after the Second World War. The church petitioned for churches to be re-opened, religious personnel to be admitted to jobs, and religious candidates ran in the 1937 legislative elections.

By 1977, the revised constitution summed up the affirmative action position as follows:

Article 34. Citizens of the USSR are equal before the law, without distinction of origin, social or property status, race or nationality, sex, education, language, attitude to religion, type and nature of occupation, domicile, or other status.

The equal rights of citizens of the USSR are guaranteed in all fields of economic, political, social, and cultural life.

Article 35. Women and men have equal rights in the USSR.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political, and cultural activity, and by special labour and health protection measures for women; by providing conditions enabling mothers to work; by legal protection, and material and moral support for mothers and children, including paid leaves and other benefits for expectant mothers and mothers, and gradual reduction of working time for mothers with small children.

Article 36. Citizens of the USSR of different races and nationalities have equal rights.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by a policy of all-round development and drawing together of all the nations and nationalities of the USSR, by educating citizens in the spirit of Soviet patriotism and socialist internationalism, and by the possibility to use their native language and the languages of other peoples in the USSR.

Any direct or indirect limitation of the rights of citizens or establishment of direct or indirect privileges on grounds of race or nationality, and any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness, hostility, or contempt, are punishable by law.

Needless to say, constitutions express certain ideals that are not are always practised in reality, but in its initial articulation it was the first affirmative action constitution in the world.

Ever the biblical student, Stalin writes to comrades in Czechoslovakia regarding Matthew 25:13:

Advantage must be taken of the lull to strengthen the Party, to Bolshevise it and make it “always ready” for all possible “complications”; for “ye know neither the day nor the hour” wherein “the bridegroom cometh” to open the road for a new revolutionary upsurge. (Works, vol. 7, p. 68)

Stalin reading 02

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